Rebranding a fast-growing tech company

From the first day I joined Thanx in 2012, I wanted to redesign the company logo. Three years later, I finally accomplished that goal. This is the story of that journey.

What is Thanx?

Thanx is a data analytics startup that gives brick and mortar businesses insights into the behaviors of their customers—something usually only available to online businesses. Thanx’s technology works because a company’s most loyal customers are also the best customers for the bottom line. By super-serving those loyal customers, merchants make more money; loyal customers are statistically more likely to return, and they tend to spend more when they do.

Customer Loyalty SAAS is a nascent space bringing together high tech product design and big data analysis with the techniques pioneered by companies such as Bain & Company (where Thanx’s CEO hails from).

Thanx is a relative newcomer company in this nascent industry, but we’ve got big partners, investors, and merchant clients on our side. We’ve partnered directly with Visa, MasterCard, and Amex, and we’re backed by Sequoia Capital and other VC pioneers. We are fortunate to work with great local, regional, and national brands such as Mixt Greens, Lou Malnati’s, and Mina Group.


The original Thanx logo

“It cost about $90,” said Thanx Founder and CEO Zach Goldstein of the logo he commissioned in 2009. “But when you’re two people bootstrapping a startup, borrowing desk space, and engineering everything from the ground up while you try to raise capital—that logo was a great choice at that stage.”

Indeed, in 2009 it was a good foundation on which to build a young company’s brand. But with a little time, some of the logo’s deficiencies became clear. When I joined Thanx in 2012, I summarized the issues with the logo:

  • The shopping bag wasn’t the right symbol. As Thanx started signing up more and more clients, it was clear that merchants where you “shop” by putting things in a bag weren’t really the right fit. Thanx was more attractive to restaurants and QSRs, services like salons, car washes, parking lots, etc. Few of these industries used a shopping bag. Plus, Thanx wasn’t about shopping, it was about rewards.
  • The look was too “Web 2.0”-ish. The lowercase t, the gradients, and the shadows were all holdovers from design trends that had already sunset by 2012.
  • The logo just didn’t rate high in terms of readability, memorability, flexibility, endurance, and scalability (more about these and other Objective Design Criteria later).

The app or the brand: Choose just one

Shortly after I joined Thanx, our small team (then 7 people) set about planning our product roadmap. We had some deadlines. We needed to ship a new version of the mobile app in a few short months. This 2.0 version would be redesigned from the ground up—visually, functionally, and technically. It would be the perfect time to introduce a new logo, right?

Reality check. With 6–8 weeks to design everything (and Christmas in the middle of the timeline), there was no way to design 45+ screens and conduct an extensive rebranding exercise. After discussing the business realities with Zach and our Head of Product Aaron Newton, it was clear I had to focus on the app, and it would probably ship with the old logo.


As I worked on the app over the holidays, I couldn’t help but think about the logo, and try out ideas. Early in the process I had sketched out a hand-lettered logo that was heavily influenced by the wood background I was using for the UI. I scanned it in and made a quick mockup with the logo included, and texted a photo to Aaron.

Aaron liked it. Zach’s reaction, on the other hand, was less than enthusiastic. He loved everything about the app mockups but the logo didn’t strike the right chord with him.

I had to admit the rushed sketch was based on instinct and not backed up with the careful research and strategizing I’d usually undertake in a normal rebranding process. Yet we had no time to do any of that. I admitted defeat and we fell back on the existing logo in order to ship the app in the first quarter of 2013.

In retrospect, it’s perhaps best we did. My quickly-sketched logo was too focused on an aesthetic that would let Thanx’s brand stand out from the competitors. But there are lots of other factors to a successful, strategic rebranding, and I hadn’t thought those through yet. We would later realize Thanx’s brand shouldn’t even be the primary focus of the app. The really important brand in a loyalty app is the one you’re spending money with — your favorite restaurant, café, salon, or whatever — not the app itself.


Meanwhile, none of us thought we’d have to put up with the old logo for long. We all planned to address it shortly after the app launch, undertaking a full and proper rebranding process. But, as is always the case in startup life, business conditions and other priorities shift and change like ferrofluid. New products need to ship, updates need to be made, new people get hired, marketing and sales happens whether there’s a new logo or not. It would be almost a year and-a-half before we were able to make time on the product roadmap to accommodate the rebranding effort.

I admit that this was difficult for me. I grew to resent the old logo, because it made everything else I designed look dated and amateurish. It was embarrassing to put Thanx work in my portfolio with that old logo on it.


Fast forward

By late 2014 the company had grown, we had hired a new designer, Jason Li, and our product roadmap for 2015 looked like it might have room for both an app redesign and the rebranding project.

When I outlined the rebranding process for Zach, Aaron, and our new Head of Marketing Kane Russell, I had an unpleasant sense of deja vu, realizing we didn’t have time to do it all before we were scheduled to completely redesign the mobile app.

I proposed a timeline that tackled phases 1 through 3 of a 5-phase approach, interrupted by the mobile app redesign. It would mean we’d have an all-new logo ready for the new app, but we might not have new identity system applied to anything else. Then, while our engineering team was building the mobile app, the Design Team could shift back to the last two phases of branding, applying the new logo and brand direction to literally everything else we’d made in the past two and-a-half years — website, sales and marketing collateral, publications, social media assets, presentations, business cards, and much, much more.


The rebranding process

Most designers follow a standard industry methodology when creating a brand identity; that process has remained largely consistent over the past 50 years. Mine is not too different. The five phases are:

  1. Research & Analysis
  2. Strategy
  3. Design
  4. Build
  5. Launch & Maintain

It’s not strictly a waterfall process, since some of the tracks can be paralleled, but it’s folly to skip too far ahead. For example, starting the Design Phase before you’ve actually done any research into the company’s goals, or analysis of the competitive landscape.


Phase 1: Research & Analysis

I typically begin with an Internal Audit and Competitive Analysis, which tells us where we are, and where the industry is, from a brand perspective.

Competitive Analysis

I collected logos, color palettes, app icons, and website screenshots from about 40 companies in the rewards space, plus a few other businesses that weren’t exactly in the same industry, but who might be viewed as similar in the eyes of the public.

This research normally shows trends in the style of logos, colors, etc., so you can differentiate your brand from the pack. Differentiation is nearly always one of the strategic goals of a rebranding project; unsurprisingly, it was on our list.

In 2013–’14 blue was the most popular choice for logos in the mobile rewards and payment spaces.

Competitors’ logos ran the gamut of styles. Color choices were similarly all over the map, although blues were dominant, likely because blue is considered to evoke feelings of trust. However, quite a few logos in this space utilized more daring choices like pinks, purples, and oranges. Research indicated no specific colors were associated with this space in the minds of the audience.

Internal Audit

I collected visual examples of everything we’d created in the last 2 years — the sum total of our brand identity — and presented them in categories:

  • logo
  • color palette
  • mobile designs
  • web designs
  • photography style
  • illustration style
  • icon style
  • data visualizations
  • email designs
  • sales collateral
  • in-store promotional materials
  • company stationery
  • company schwag

Showing pictures of everything together underscored the challenges of our current brand identity. The logo was the worst problem. But in the past year and-a-half we’d redesigned almost everything else, doing it piecemeal and without a focused vision. The result was that numerous aspects of our visual identity no longer matched one another, and the entirety failed to project the quality of our products and services.

Four pages from the 35-page Internal Audit.

External Research

When designing a brand identity you need to balance the aspirations of the company with the ways your audience already sees you: How do we want to be seen? + How do our customers see us? = your brand’s identity.

At Thanx we have the atypical challenge of having two distinct audiences: 1) The Consumers who use our free app to earn rewards from their favorite places, and 2) the Merchants that actually pay us to enable relationships with those customers. The Design, Product, and Marketing teams are constantly aware that our visual identity, our user experience, and our communications need to resonate with both these audiences, even though they can be quite different. I call this the Dual Audience Challenge.

I scheduled interviews with our merchants and created surveys we could send out to both audiences. The questions would be vastly different for each audience, with the exception of a few basic things like, “What do you think of our logo?”

“I think your logo’s a little gimmicky, it’s got a shopping bag, right? It doesn’t seem consistent with how you portray yourselves. I think of Thanx as a very smart organization, analytical, very to-the-point, and the shopping bag just doesn’t seem in line with how I look at Thanx.” –Howard Bloom, Owner of Proper Food (a Thanx merchant customer)

Developing Personas

Creating personas — sometimes known as user profiles — is just as much art as science. They’re equal parts data and vision.

Research only gets you part of the way to understanding your audience. If you only consider your current customers, your product will stand still. To build a brand that will grow, you have to imagine the customers you want.

To develop customer personas you typically look at data about their behaviors and characteristics, you send surveys, and conduct in-person user research. But you can only do that for current customers. You can’t do that for the customers you don’t have yet.

For example, your data might show that “we’re really big on the coasts but we need to grow in the Midwest.” But the data won’t tell you how your future Midwest customers differ from those on the coasts.

The personas you create also need to imagine how those future customers behave; for example:

  • How will they use your product differently?
  • How will they respond to the voice of your brand?
  • Do their shopping behaviors differ?
  • What phones do they use?

To get these answers, you can look to business objectives and market analysis. For the first, ask yourself where you want to grow your business; for example: a) increase number of merchants with 100+ locations by 10x, or b) saturate region X with new merchants. For the market analysis, seek out third-party research about those types of merchants or industries.

With data about existing customers and future customers, you have a story to tell about who you’re serving today and tomorrow.

Personas typically consist of three imaginary people who are indicative of your customers across the spectrum, two near the ends and one in the middle. They’re made-up people whose characteristics are culled from all the data you’ve collected.

Because of our Dual Audience Challenge, we made two sets of personas — three for our Merchants, three for Consumers. I printed them out poster-size and hung them on the wall of the office, so we could be mindful of these “customers” anytime we made brand, product, or marketing decisions.


Phase 2: Strategy

Now we could combine our initial gut instincts about our direction with what we’d learned doing the research and analysis. It’s always a good sign when Phase 1 backs up your early hypothesis and informs it with new information and perspective you didn’t have before. During Phase 2 you codify your objectives and can finally develop a timeline for deliverables.

Objective Design Criteria

I met again with our core decision-making group and reinforced the primary goals of a logo. In the immortal words of Paul Rand:

  • A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.
  • A logo doesn’t sell (directly), it identifies.
  • A logo is rarely a description of a business.
  • A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.
  • A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important than what it looks like.

As Rand pointed out, “there is no accounting for perceptions. Some people see a logo the same way they see a Rorschach inkblot.” The point of the process is not for everyone to like the logo; the point is to create a logo that performs all the functions above. Design is inherently subjective — no single design will satisfy all people.

In every identity design project I develop a bullet list I call the Objective Design Criteria. These are things that any good logo must do; a totally objective list of goals everyone can agree on.

An effective brand identity:

  • Is recognizable and memorable
  • Is flexible for present and future applications
  • Is lasting
  • Is unique in our industry
    - Is legally protectable
  • Works well across media and scale
    - Black and white or color
    - Tiny favicon or huge billboard
    - Reproducible on many materials and surfaces
    - Translatable to other languages and cultures
  • Is conducive to motion applications

Alongside this you list your Strategic Goals — goals which can be more subjective. For the Thanx brand ID we had these four:

An effective brand identity will:

  • Be bold, memorable, and appropriate
  • Provide a clear and consistent image of the company
  • Communicate the company’s persona
  • Have enduring value

I printed the two lists side-by-side on a poster-size sheet and hung them on the office wall. This is helpful to the Design Team—and to decision-makers—when evaluating various logo designs; you can go down each list and ask yourself whether a given sketch fulfills the goals. I often use a 1–10 scale, such as “This design’s only a 6 on memorability.”


Design Brief

Design Briefs are essential to an identity project because they lay out a roadmap and state your goals in a way that all stakeholders can agree on. A Design Brief is the contract you enter into to fulfill the brand identity’s aesthetic and strategic goals.

Long-term design projects can suffer from lulls between design reviews, where stakeholders and decision-makers don’t see much of what the designers have been working on. Revisiting the Design Brief at the start of each review meeting provides a reminder of the goals and keeps everyone focused.

Our Design Brief succinctly summarized: 1) our audiences and the three most important attributes that define us in their eyes (Hal Sperlich’s “Killer ABCs” — PDF), 2) competition (perceived and real), 3) our vision, 4) brand tone, and 5) the aforementioned Objective Design Criteria. The resulting document was a very brief wiki page; here’s the summary statement:

Our visual identity should be bold, memorable, and provide a clear and consistent image of Thanx as the customer relationship company of the future, helping merchants engage their customers with smart yet simple tools. Our visual identity should project the company’s friendly, smart, and professional persona. It should have enduring value and position us for growth over the next 5–10 years.

Determining Design Deliverables

An important part of our Strategy Phase was to know just how much we were trying to tackle so our two-person Design Team could plan this identity redesign alongside our other work. As in-house designers we’re responsible for mobile apps, websites, emails, print materials, and plenty of other projects, so we couldn’t afford to take four months off to concentrate just on the brand redesign. Using our earlier Internal Audit we identified a first bucket of deliverables that were essential for launching a new logo, so we could estimate a timeline. Those first deliverables included:

  • Brandmark
  • App icon & favicon variants
  • Brandmark + logotype
  • Typography
  • Colors
  • Illustration style
  • Photography style
  • Iconography

Moodboards

Moodboards have enjoyed a resurgence among visual and digital designers in the past five years or so. Ten years ago this tool was mostly used only by interior designers and the like, but graphic designers have rediscovered it and there are even some great new digital tools to make moodboards.

For a logo project, moodboards are the visual equivalent of the Design Brief, showing examples of the type of style you’re going for. This helps everyone discuss subjective things like style, feel, and color, using real examples from other brands, before you start sketching your own ideas. This way you can rule out approaches that seem too trendy, off-brand, or inappropriate. It also helps to know early-on if your CEO hates a particular color : )

Moodboards are also one of the funnest parts of a project for a creative professional, as you get to consume lots of great design for research, and every designer gets inspired by the great work of others.

We created moodboards for:

  • Logos (some of our inspiration is pictured above)
  • Photography style
  • Illustration style
  • Patterns
  • Branding miscellany

Phase 3: Design

We had a roadmap, we knew what we wanted, and what to avoid. Now came the real meat and potatoes: Sketching and exploring symbols, designs, and type treatments.

Symbol & Type Explorations

In reality, my fellow designer Jason Li and I had been sketching all along, as ideas came to us. But now that we had a design brief, criteria, moodboards, customer research, and everything else in place, we could really let loose and try all kinds of ideas. We put everything down on good old fashioned paper, whether it was a sheet full of sketches from a brainstorm session or an idea that came to one of us in a restaurant, scrawled on a napkin. Over several months we collected nine pages full of sketches.

Just some of the 9 pages of sketches.

I usually categorize logos into four main groups: Strictly Representative, Symbolic, Abstract, and Typographic. Naturally, there can be some fuzziness to these groupings, but most logos tend to fit into these categories fairly neatly.

As we sketched hundreds of ideas, we discovered some challenges particular to our brand. Some insights became clear:

  1. There was no killer symbol. Unlike a house painting company where you can use a paintbrush, or movers where you can use a moving van, it’s hard to conjure a single symbol that represents all the things a business like Thanx does (especially the more abstract or complex concepts). Also, Thanx is different things to our Dual Audiences: to Consumers we’re “the app that earns me rewards from my favorite lunch place”; to Merchants we’re “tools that help me make more money with little effort.” Those different things are hard to symbolize in a simple pictograph. We tried hundreds of ideas, but nothing seemed to stick.
  2. The right balance of friendly and professional was critical. Our old logo wasn’t professional enough. Our new one needed to reflect our deep expertise in our field, and position the company for growth. At the same time, it would need to avoid looking too corporate and staid. It needed to balance a professional look with our friendly and approachable nature.
  3. Abstracts looked too blandly corporate. We tried lots of abstract patterns, shapes, and geometries, but few of them made it past the sketch phase. There were a couple that advanced further, but ultimately abstract visuals seemed too cold or impersonal, not reflecting our friendly and approachable qualities.
  4. Emphasizing the X too much was a bad idea. Where the old logo isolated the A for no apparent reason, there was some logic to explorations where the X was highlighted. After all, the odd spelling of our name can be confusing when heard over the phone (“That’s Thanx with an X”), so we considered emphasizing it visually in the logo. In the end, this proved too gimmicky in nearly all interpretations, and it was far less important compared to the logo’s other goals.
  5. Shortening the name didn’t work. Trying variations like THX and TX proved too problematic, since those abbreviations mean other things and would be confusing.

It seemed increasingly likely that we’d end up with a typographical logo. As we went on, more and more of our sketches emphasized or relied on type treatments. It was unlikely that we’d come up with a representative, symbolic, or even abstract logo that could “say” what Thanx does or is. We focused more of our attention on typography, lettering, and fonts.

There were some missteps along the way too…

Eventually I scanned all the good ideas and organized them into loose categories. A matrix helped us examine the groupings and decide which concepts were worth exploring further.

Jason and I chose some leading contenders. We turned the sketches into vectors and added color and type options. After a week or two of fine tuning we had a primary option and three others that were worth consideration by our small committee of decision-makers. We put together a proposal showing the four directions.


Option 1 was the Design Team’s strong favorite. It featured a custom T monogram with a period made from a starburst seal — a symbol we were already using to mean “rewards.” It was all contained in a rounded square identical to an app icon on your phone, reinforcing to consumers that Thanx was a mobile solution. The wordmark was a custom typeface with a ligature joining the “Th”, influenced by the original sketch I had done way back in 2012, but using a more modern approach.

Option 1 Reactions
Everyone liked this approach but there were some notable issues. For starters, the capital T script caused some confusion with a capital J. While the Design Team didn’t believe anyone was going to think our company was named Jhanx, we agreed that it could use some tweaking to fix this. Also a problem: using the starburst as the period was clever, but it was illegible at small sizes—it just looked like a dot.


Option 2 leaned heavily on our brand attributes of friendly and approachable. We first paired it with stronger, more angular typefaces to counter this; we also tried a rounded font that reflected the x symbol.

Option 2 Reactions
This approach was hotly debated. Let’s face it, a heart and the notion of love are pretty strong messages to imbue a corporate logo with. While the approach had some strong merits, ultimately it didn’t seem like the right fit for our brand. Months later, when we started using Slack, we’d realize this design was very similar to their logo, and we were glad we hadn’t gone in this direction, especially since we’d imagined animating it in ways that were extremely similar to the way Slack ended up doing theirs.


Option 3 was the one abstract we liked enough to go beyond the rough sketches. It combined a + and × to make an asterisk. The nexus of these also resembled the starburst symbol we used for rewards. This symbol felt a bit too cold so we chose gold to warm it up, and paired it with a rounded font to make it more approachable and look less like a bank’s logo.

Option 3 Reactions
This abstract symbol had strong potential for motion and the clever use of the + and × joining to make a trademark-ready starburst was promising, but ultimately it was difficult to make this logo look good in other colors, and shifting our primary brand color to gold would be challenging.


Option 4 was a rare pictograph that kind of symbolized Thanx, at least as far as the “rewards” concept. The gift box featured a capital T cleverly embedded in it.

Option 4 Reactions
The risk to symbolizing such a narrow part of the business—just rewards—was that it didn’t really speak to the Merchants’ perception of our business, just the Consumers’ perception. To top things off, mere days before the presentation I discovered a previously-unknown competitor with a remarkably similar logo. Option 4 was ruled out.


Evaluation & Consensus

Because evaluating art and design is inherently subjective, I like to keep decision makers focused on the Objective Design Criteria we’d all agreed on during Phase 2. During design reviews I’d display the poster-sized printout of the Design Criteria and our Design Brief on the wall next to the logos I was presenting.

I also printed out a table containing the criteria, and rated each logo. I gave separate blank copies to each participant to fill in their own ratings.

We largely agreed. There were things about Options 1–3 that could work great, but some also had liabilities that were hard to overcome. Option 4 was out, and Option 1 was the strongest contender. The concerns about the capital T looking too much like a J were first and foremost, so we went back to the drawing board for some tweaking.


Phase 4: Build

Refining the wordmark

I revisited my type moodboards and went back for another round of searches through font sites, looking for inspiration. I collected a number of character sets that could help make the wordmark and the monogram T more readable and better exhibit the personality of our brand. When conducting readability tests of the logo at small sizes and on 72 dpi screens—as it would appear on our website, for example—it didn’t look as readable as I was hoping. So I also made adjustments to the character weight.

Some of the myriad variations I tried before honing in on the right wordmark.

I spent weeks tweaking the letters, but the feel just wasn’t right on any of them. I was going crosseyed and dreaming of Bezier curves. Finally I enlisted the help of some outside designers for a fresh perspective. Their feedback was particularly helpful in bringing me back to reality. I had gone too far down a certain path and needed to reel it back in a bit. As one colleague said, the strengths of the original wordmark were starting to get lost in the later iterations. I backed up, regrouped, and worked on a few refinements to the original, tweaking the weight, fixing the kerning, and perfecting the curves. Within a couple days, the wordmark looked nearly perfect.

By this time I had removed the T monogram from the left of the logo. It seemed repetitive and confusing—some people might read it “T Thanx”. But early on, we knew we wanted a more simplified app icon; our old one featured the whole word “Thanx” and was hard to read on your phone.

The T monogram with the star as a period was a simple, cleverly understated idea, but as we discovered early on, the starburst just didn’t read at small sizes. We tried many variants along the way.

Variants of the monogram along the way.

At one point during explorations, I was inspired to multiply the stars. Not just one star—five! In one burst of pure magic, I had the solution. It wasn’t a period; it was a burst of stars. Distinctive four-pointed stars, on the same angle as our italic typeface. Playful, memorable, and utterly trademarkable.

Our new stars burst forth from the wordmark. We had our final logo.

The hidden significance in the stars

I chose a four-pointed star because it’s also an X, reinforcing the spelling of our name. I placed five stars because it’s also the number of letters in our name, and it’s a pretty great rating for an experience (or an app—hint, hint). Lastly, I arranged the stars at the end of our italic wordmark in a pattern and sizes that imply motion and sparkle. And if you look closely, the pattern also makes an X.

Done!

Or is it?


Brandus Interruptus

We had a new logo, but what about the rest of the brand visuals? We hadn’t touched our color palette, we needed to adjust our photography style, redesign our website…so much left to do. But there was a more pressing deadline; the new iOS and Android apps needed an all-new look.

We put most of the brand work on hold for the first few months of 2015 while we concentrated on redesigning our mobile presence from the ground up. We had tons of UI and UX work ahead of us. But this time we had two designers instead of one! By early spring we had the initial mobile direction locked in, and Jason took the lead on the mobile project so I could dedicate more time to applying the new brand identity to other parts of our visual assets.


Some things change, some stay the same

Early in the process it was clear there were certain parts of our old identity system we’d retain. We were pretty happy with things like our icons and illustration style, and we’d invested a lot of time in them over the years. A company at our relatively small size also couldn’t afford to throw out everything and start over with all new custom photography, illustration, etc.

I made a list of things from our old visual identity we would probably keep, plus things we’d need to create completely or make major changes to.

Keep (with minor changes):

  • Color palette
  • Typography
  • Illustration style
  • Motion style
  • Data visualization style
  • Email templates

Needed new (or major changes necessary):

  • Photography style
  • Social media assets
  • Sales & marketing collateral
  • Website
  • Mobile apps
  • In-store merchant marketing materials
  • Corporate collateral (stationery system, etc.)
  • Signage
  • Schwag

With this list we could prioritize and fit the work in between our other work and supporting the Engineering Team as they built the new iOS and Android apps. We also knew we needed some of these things done in time for the launch of the apps, when the new logo would go public for the first time.

We began with just updating the logo on anything that didn’t need to be completely redesigned. Then, when the mobile apps were launched, we’d have our new logo ready to ship on our website, ebooks, blog, and other stuff, even if they hadn’t been redesigned. Swap old logo for new…easy, right?

$ rm old-logo

We’re not a very old company and most of what we produce is digital and theoretically easier to update than print docs, but how many digital files would we actually need to update? How many JPGs, PNGs, GIFs, PDFs, Powerpoint, Keynote, and Word docs? How long would it take? There’s no Finder or Terminal command for “Find all instances of your logo.”

We could search our mobile and web repositories for the word “logo,” and we could also count all the PDFs we’d produced for marketing purposes. That was a start, but that would account for maybe 1/3 of the instances. But we still weren’t really sure.

Because curiosity isn’t the sole purview of cats, Jason and I decided we’d keep track as we updated to the new logo in every file we’d created. We figured our fellow nerds at Thanx would also appreciate the final numbers, plus it’s helpful to quantify this type of design file maintenance when justifying the time investment to management.

It ended up being a monumental task that took several weeks. In the end there were over 200 instances of our logo updated on our various public-facing images, websites, and documents. And that was just at the time of the launch.


Phase 5: Launch & Maintain

Reaction

The new Thanx logo debuted in the all-new 3.0 version of Thanx, in the App Store and Google Play, in July 2015. The app garnered 5-star ratings and has maintained consistently high ratings ever since. (My colleague Jason wrote a great article about the app redesign process.)

We weren’t terribly afraid of a negative reaction when we launched the new logo, but you never know. There have been plenty of instances of rebrands gone awry. There’s always some customer reticence to change.

“Branding, for better or for worse, is now a conversation. Gone are the days of the monolithic, immutable brand, set in stone for the ages. Today, a brand is whatever its customers say it is, the result of a complex matrix of interpersonal recommendations and connections on social media…” — Fast Company

However, we were pleasantly surprised: the response was positive across the board. Our merchants liked it, investors liked it, and our new app was getting 5-star reviews.

“Love the new logo — more personality than the first edition.”
“New logo looks great! Well done.”
“The second one does feel so much cleaner! Sharp.”

Finish line, or start of a second sprint?

As a bare minimum, we’d applied the new logo to all public-facing media in time for the mobile apps to debut. Here’s what shipped:

  • Mobile apps
  • Website & blog
  • Social media presence
  • Sales & marketing collateral

But launching a new logo isn’t the finish line. We still had to apply this logo to tons of things we’d identified as less time-critical. Next up were:

  • Redesigned in-store marketing materials for our merchant partners
  • Redesigned marketing and sales materials (product sheets, ebooks, case studies, presentations, etc.)
  • New business cards
  • Signs for our office
  • Staff hoodies

Over the next several months we would apply the brand to these and other projects, alongside our regular work. Our two-person Design Team probably spent about 1/3 of our time on branding efforts, even after the logo had seen the light of day.


Consumer-facing print materials

Our Merchants use various methods to promote their rewards programs to their customers, but one of the key touchpoints is in-store marketing. Imagine standing in line at your favorite restaurant for lunch, and seeing a sign at the counter that says you can get a free dessert or salad. You’d want to know more, right?

Jason iterated on our existing marketing materials, which had been tested and honed for 2 years already, to improve message delivery and align the look with our new branding.

Our marketing materials need to put the merchants’ brand front and center. A consumer in a store or restaurant will only respond to messages coming from that brand, not from Thanx. So Thanx’s branding takes a back seat to that of the merchant, using their photography, colors, and wording.

At the same time, our in-house Design Team needs to turn around print materials for new merchants on a regular basis, so the materials we create need to be easily reproducible and customizable. Our templates balance the marketing communication needs with the practical needs, yet still looks good. And if the merchant’s own marketing team wants to take over, they’re free to modify our template or make their own print materials from scratch, reflecting their brand even more closely.


New website

When we’d launched the mobile apps we were part-way through a website redesign. We’d updated the old site with the logo, but it was starting to show it’s age, and the new one expanded the content greatly.

Our new site focused our color palette, used 90 new illustrations, and featured dozens of new pages.


New photography

While we didn’t have the time or budget to do all-new custom photography, we developed some guidelines for our existing photography, and solidified our creative brief for photographic assets.


New illustrations and icons

We developed a suite of illustrations for use at various sizes, illustrating everything from simple concepts to complex, abstract ones. We use these in various media, from our website to marketing materials and emails.


New product images and logos

It’s often better to show than to tell. Describing data analytics tools and email campaigns can seem a little dry, so we crafted screenshot lockups to show various tools and give an idea of the sophisticated graphs and insights.

We also developed a visual language around our product identities, using typography and illustrations.


Revised color palette

We’ve been using the popular Flat UI color library for years, but we revised and expanded it during our rebrand.

We chose 5 main colors that embody our character and friendly personality. These primary and secondary colors all have 4 tints (lighter versions) and 4 shades (darker versions). Gray has 5 tints and 5 shades. Our main brand color is called Spearmint, a vibrant turquoise-green.


New sales marketing materials

We developed all-new print and digital materials for our Sales and Marketing teams, including industry-specific fact sheets, product case studies, merchant case studies, eBooks, and more.


New signage

Our head of HR and CEO organized a hackathon where office improvement projects were the priority. We designed a cool new sign, manufactured by our friends at Pseudo Studio, we painted several accent walls in our new company color, and we even built a beer pong table!


New hoodies

All staff got new hoodies with the logo on it, and a few lucky folks got one-off branded items as prizes for special contests.

Marc sporting a new Spearmint hoodie, and Darren wearing new and old Thanx logos at the same time—heretic!

Brand guidelines

Ultimately a brand’s visuals are a living entity, evolving on an almost daily basis. While our digital assets live in a shared space on Dropbox, where anyone in the company can use them, a momentous occasion like a full re-brand also needs to be codified in a more permanent way. I created our Brand Guidelines as a PDF book, with the goal of turning it into a format that’s more collaborative in future.

A few spreads from our nearly-100-page brand book.

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About the author: Mark Bult is an Art Director and Product Designer who has worked with companies such as Thanx, Fitbit, Cloudera, and CBS Interactive. He also had a long career specializing in working with nonprofits and arts & entertainment companies. Follow him on Twitter or Dribbble.

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