Kaizen has seen a great deal of success since our founding in 2014. Entering into the top 50 of the Startups 100 last year, being named the Fastest Growing Independent Agency of 2017 by the Drum, and our constant drive towards bigger and better opportunities have all gone towards highlighting our achievements.
Likewise, in the last two years we’ve more than doubled in size, and in 2018 we broke a seven-figure revenue for the first time – despite having no external funding.
But where you start a business isn’t always where it needs to end up, even when seeing success. Kaizen recently completed a rebrand of the business and our marketing channels, launching with our Future of Content event in early May. Transparency and clarity has always been vital to us – so we decided to provide a full account of how we came to that point, how we conducted our rebrand, and what it means for Kaizen in the future.
Table of Contents
Defining a brand is simultaneously one of the most challenging and the most rewarding tasks a company has to complete. It involves every aspect of the business – from hammering down internal values and their external representation, to creating a visual rendering of both, to telling people about it, and creating a portfolio to back it up.
For Kaizen, this process began taking place one year ago, in August 2017. Earlier in the year we had completed a partial rebrand – in that we had built a new website, featuring a new logo, with new values, colours and imagery. It was a step up from the previous website design. But there were issues with it.
While the new website looked better than the previous one, it was unfocused. The process leading up to its launch was divided between copywriters and designers, with the two acting almost entirely independently, with no set process in place.
It was a good learning experience, but primarily from the perspective of what not to do. The end result didn’t reflect where the company was headed or what the senior team expected from Kaizen in the future. In fact, it was more reflective of where Kaizen had been six months prior to the new site launching.
The primary issues were:
There was no clear company style. The new tagline that accompanied the website (“Building Content Visibility”) was descriptive, but not particularly engaging, and it didn’t connect to any great degree with the imagery which was on display, save that it was the same topic. Similarly, all the content on the site explained a great deal, but there was no personality to it, making the brand entirely forgettable.
There was no aspirational approach. Along with the lack of personality, there was no sense that Kaizen had any ideas greater than completing the type of projects we did on a day-to-day basis. While we were starting to attract larger, more premium clients, they were being put off by the small-time appearance our site presented. Our imagery was of buildings in the Shoreditch area – where we were based at the time – suggesting that we were a small agency operating on a small-scale. We wanted to ditch the “local coffee shop” feel and operate on a level closer to brands like Apple and Google.
We weren’t displaying our capabilities. Something that’s vital to everyone at Kaizen is our high-tech approach to our work. We have in-house developers working with the latest coding languages. Our PR team uses a coverage tool built in-house to meet their needs. Our CEO pre-ordered a Nintendo Switch.
Keeping at that forefront is something we do as a matter of course – but our website was entirely static, with little more in the way of tech than drop-down menus and light-up buttons.
So, having decided that we needed to conduct a secondary rebrand, we were determined to make the new one last. The first step on this was to establish the requirements for a new rebrand. This came in two parts – what we didn’t want to do, and what we did.
What we didn’t want to do:
What we did want to do:
Brand Declarations, and Logo Design
Once we had set out our requirements for the new brand, it was a case of deciding how to proceed. The next step we took was to form a team to handle internal branding. Unlike on our previous attempt, this team met regularly, sharing ideas and concepts and following a much more definitive project plan.
The core idea that drove the rest of the rebranding was “Future”. We could see from our requirements that our priorities were our technology and a focus on what was to come, and it fell out naturally that we wanted to show that clearly. Kaizen literally means “continuous improvement”, so we needed to show that we would be improving far into the future.
This in mind, we started looking at both our core values, and at our logo design.
On our existing site, we had six values we considered vital: Kaizen (the process of continuous improvement), inquisitiveness, hunger (for challenge and drive), effortlessness, transparency, and collaboration.
While potentially admirable, the presence of six values that were alternately too disparate and too similar meant that there was no real force behind any of them. We had to cement what was really meaningful to us.
While the original statements had been created by distilling down results from a survey conducted internally that explored what people felt Kaizen meant to them, to create our new values, we then distilled down those values into fewer, better thought-out ones.
We looked at each of the values we had and looked at what was really important out of each of them – what the ideas could mean in a practical sense. Thus values turned into commandments.
The first value we ensured we retained was “Kaizen”. It would be hard not to, given that it’s our name – but we wanted to expand on it. We developed it out into a clearer mission statement: “We Must Always Improve On Yesterday”.
By lengthening it from one word to a clear directive, we both made it more obvious what it meant, and it became not just a value, but also an instruction to every member of the company. That set out a guideline for how we wanted to present our other values.
Following on from that, we combined aspects of our “Hunger” and our “Inquisitiveness” into a much clearer goal: “Our Reach Must Exceed Our Grasp”. We wanted to continually be tackling bigger and bigger challenges and stepping up our game. While this is touched on by the first value, this one didn’t just promise that we would improve – it would force us to.
The last goal also drew on our “Inquisitiveness” value and gave it purpose: “We Must Always Ask Why”. This isn’t a suggestion that we bother people with endless questions. Rather, it’s a firm message that we didn’t want to box ourselves into traditional approaches and systems. Familiarity breeds contempt, and repeating the same actions over and over means a lack of creativity.
By questioning why something works, we can disassemble it and identify features we want to keep while discarding those that are no longer relevant. We have recently begun to look at different ways to use our ideation sessions in order to keep creating fresh, new ideas. This is an example of asking “why” our ideations succeed – and developing new strategies based on the answers.
The logo was the stepping-stone to the design for the rest of our branding, with our entire website literally developing from its look.
We initially looked at some minimalist options. Our previous logo, an impossible shape, was a clear and simple design, which we liked, but didn’t offer any significant meaning, which we didn’t. And because of our drive towards a futuristic appearance, we still took cues from companies like Apple and Nike for simplicity.
We were also, at this point, thinking about how it would influence our site. Accordingly, we started looking at a number of other sites to inspire ideas, including:
These gave us some great ideas about what we wanted our logo to feature. But it still took a great number of iterations of the logo (shown below) before we settled on one we liked – a simple K, rendered with sharp edges. The geometric-built hexagon followed shortly after, turning the K from a block colour into empty space.
We developed versions upon versions of the different logo options to help us make this decision. But this process not only helped explore the logo itself, but also the palette we wanted to use. From each of the logo options discarded, we drew out colours that we felt would work with our image of the future – shown in the palette at the bottom right of the selection below.
The final design, visible everywhere here on our site, used these colours and geometric shapes to create a glass- or ice-like effect that we felt really captured the transparency and space-ship sensation that says “future” to us.
These geometric designs inspired us so much that they influenced the rest of the site.
As mentioned above, we wanted to display how high-tech we could be, while holding on to our successful and clear site architecture.
Before we went ahead with designing the new pages, we went through a process of heat-mapping, click-tracking, and A/B testing on the old site, with a particular focus on choosing the right page titles for our navigation. This led to changes in the new site like replacing “Agency” with “About Us” and “Our Work” with “Case Studies”. We also added a Content Hub in place of “Resources” and added more information into it.
We then formed all of these into a site structure as coherent as possible – and mapped old pages to the new ones to make life easier for our developer.
Once the framework was in place, we needed to fill it out with design and copy. This was where we could start building out a clearer idea of our personality.
The copy side began with creating a tone of voice document to keep track of how we talked about ourselves. While it explored certain words we used, the most useful feature of this was that it included two sections: “What We Are” and “What We Aren’t”. And of these, there was one statement that influenced most of the website:
“We Aren’t: Loose Wiring”
What we meant by that was that our old website, and our old brand, had information spewed everywhere. Relevant information, but not well-placed or set out, leading to too in-depth information and tools that had misguided intent.
One of the results of deciding that we wanted to avoid this same problem was that we created a new set of pages – the guides to our processes. Each of these is attached to one of our services and is accessible from the service pages.
Previously, all of the information that was on these pages was on the service page itself. It meant the pages were cluttered and featured walls of text which could put off potential clients who didn’t want to spend their day reading.
So, instead, we confined all the technical talk to these separate pages, and made the service pages themselves a top-line view of what we could offer and what we have created in the past – much more palatable for a casual viewer, who could still find the deeper details by clicking through.
“No More Loose Wiring” influenced much of the website from that point on, meaning we focused on minimalism and showing rather than telling.
As mentioned, once we had pinned down the colours and the geometric shapes, the website itself became a really clear vision in our minds. We took the space theme a step further, building out planets to provide a sense of adventure and exploration, while setting our homepage on an actual planetscape to highlight a feeling of having already arrived.
Each of our webpages features the planets as part of the header. But it was important to us that none of them should seem generic. Each needed its own personality. So every single one of the pages on our website with the planets has them in a slightly different arrangement – a different constellation. It’s a small touch, but it’s a signifier of our renewed interest in attention to detail. And our 404 page features something a little different…
One of the other small but important features of the new site is the interactivity. While the old site was functional, it lacked some modern design features, like animated buttons and interactive elements. Additionally, as SEO experts, we knew the importance of mobile in modern web design.
These all in mind, we created a mobile-first website with a selection of subtle interactivity options. Buttons now light up, the planets move with the cursor, and images – particularly on our “About Us” page – respond to being hovered over.
We also improved the site speed as we went. One of the more visible ways this occurred was with pictures. As images load, the site draws traced placeholder SVGs, and holds the image position so the page doesn’t jump around. Once the image is loaded, it animates to the full version.
This lazy loading reduces bandwidth and speeds the initial load time – and it means that even a half-loaded page looks high quality rather than incomplete.
Each of these little details contributed to an overall sense that the site was modern rather than dated.
Launching a Rebrand
With the website, logo, and voice created, we needed to actually tell our clients and the industry about our new steps forward. We felt it would be fitting, as we were so focused on the future ourselves, to develop a campaign revolving around the future of the industry.
What we created was the Future of Content campaign – an extensive whitepaper exploring the direction of content marketing and its likely uses of technology in years to come, and an event featuring a talk summarising the key points from the study.
Both were a great success. For the event, we wanted to show all of the technology we were capable of working with, and so we presented attendants with a variety of different booths, including an AR project our team had created, and VR games and experiences on the Oculus Rift. This was in addition to some excellent talks, both from our team and from industry experts Helena Langdon and Lauren Razavi, and we passed out physical copies of our whitepaper in tote bags branded with the Kaizen logo to those who came. More can be read about the event in our dedicated blog post here – and the video highlights can be seen here.
At the same time, we began producing other Kaizen merchandise, some of which we shared at the event, and some of which we use internally – including pens, laptop stickers, notebooks, and mugs.
All of the rebranding would be unimportant if it hadn’t had any results. Some of the standout numbers include:
These are all highly rewarding results – but it’s the less clearly defined outcomes that we consider to be the most valuable from our efforts.
Not only have we had a wholly positive client response to the new look and feel, internally there has been a much clearer vision as to who we are and what we want to achieve. Ideation sessions are fuelled with a sense of “what would we create if we could do anything?” and a push towards newer technology over anything tried and tested.
All in all, there’s a much greater sense of internal ambition, with Kaizenites setting their sights on multiple cross-media projects that can help advance the content we create.
There are still usability changes to be made to the site, and our voice will continue to develop over time – in line with the Kaizen methodology, continuous improvement. But for the foreseeable future, we finally have a voice that our employees can rally around.
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