The Perks and Pitfalls of In-House Rebranding

How to successfully rebrand without hurting your company. And how we did it at SwingDev.

At first sight

When I first started working at SwingDev, I got a dream task for any brand manager — rebranding. They gave me as much time as I wanted, as many resources as I needed, two great designers to work with, and a lot of freedom from the board. See? Totally dreamy.

Split personality

My mission was to create a brand that would both attract new clients and be interesting to potential employees. We are a software development company. Our clients are entrepreneurs, mostly from Silicon Valley — people who want their products to be profitable and popular. They are active on social media, they are open, and they are often talkative and energetic. Many of our employees are programmers, mostly from Europe — they spend their days in front of a computer, deeply focused on their work, and don’t like to be interrupted. Being the center of attention is usually the least of their desires.

Now, how do I make these both types happy? We’re not Netflix for goodness sake.

Excerpt from SwingDev Brand Book made by Tomasz Cichos and Mikołaj Wilczyński

First step — listen

I spent my whole first month at SwingDev getting to know the company, our teammates, their interest, and yes, the board members as well. I spoke with project managers about our clients… a lot. We also had two open meetings, where every employee was invited to share their opinion or bring their own ideas. There were many voices to synchronize, but not an impossibility.

The main thing I learned was that programmers use social media differently than me, and I needed to adjust our brand messaging to their habits. If you’re working in any marketing position in a tech company, you probably struggle with the same issues.

First of all, developers are big on security, so they’re not fans of Facebook. They see LinkedIn as a hunting ground, where headhunters are constantly hitting them with job proposals. Twitter? Sure, they’re there, but mostly as passive users. The media that programmers actually use are — I don’t see a point in tiptoeing around it — ugly. How they consume the news: https://news.ycombinator.com/. How they share knowledge: https://www.reddit.com/r/programming.

It was an eye-opening realization for me. We need to give our audience concrete content. No catchy slogans or impressive complicated designs would work for the long-term. If I wanted to create a brand that was likable and trustworthy, I needed to provide our audience with valuable knowledge.

Screenshot from SwingDev.io website

The new branding had to be a promise of this high-quality content.

Fortunately, the same strategy resonates with entrepreneurs. That’s how we got to a meeting point for both our target groups.

Engage the whole team

We decided on three primary aspects of keeping our brand values alive:

1. Daily. Twitter account created by the whole SwingDev Team. We made a Slack channel where people share interesting Tweets with their critical comments. Then, the marketing team transfers it into the company’s Twitter publications.

2. Weekly. Medium publication — SwingDev Insights — where our specialists share their knowledge of programming, through managing to marketing topics.

3. Monthly… or so. Once in a few months, we organize the microConf — an event for fresh and seasoned developers that’s held in our Warsaw office (each time on a different aspect of the tech industry).

We also started a rather risky, but highly in-line with our beliefs, a process of helping our developers build their personal brands. That’s a topic for a whole other article, so let’s stop at this short teaser for now. ;)

Having experience in working at a few advertising companies, I feel confident to say that if we cooperated with an external agency on SwingDev rebranding, we would release a lot of unnecessary marketing publications and create ads that might be well designed but not visible and attractive for those who they were aimed at.

Important, but not urgent

When you reach an ad/brand agency for rebranding, you are a client who can demand effects on certain deadlines, and you don’t have to care about their other projects… or anything other than your project for that matter.

When you’re making a rebranding in-house… there will always be some wireframes for a very important client (who absolutely can’t wait) to do before your tasks.

It’s important for us to remember that as brand managers, we are obliged to constantly take care of the brand. That doesn’t mean pushing our current project at all costs, because we set a deadline and want to deliver it proudly by showing our perfect Canva/PowerPoint presentation in front of the board. It means keeping our eyes wide open and weighing the priorities over and over again. If you lose a single client because of an internal project, you don’t take care of the brand you work for properly.

Excerpt from SwingDev Brand Book made by Tomasz Cichos and Mikołaj Wilczyński

There is a lot of frustration to handle, and you have to handle it with grace. Imagine that you’re at the emergency room and they gave you a green bracelet. We all know what that means. You’ve been branded as injured but not in any direct danger, so you have to let the yellow and red bracelets go before you. It doesn’t matter that you need attention too. You’re more or less fine. You can wait.

New branding can wait.

But does it have to, really?

There is a lot of stuff that you can do on your own, without involving the design team. The obvious is research, checking out the competition, browsing through Pinterest, portfolios of the best brand agencies, etc. Check out Felicia C. Sullivan’s publication: “How to Build a Brand” for more guidance.

My Tip: Create tasks. Whether you use Jira, Trello or any other managing tool, create as many tasks as possible and as detailed as possible. For one, it’s more likely that a designer will complete a small task than do 20% of a bigger one, even if there is exactly the same work to be done. I’ve learned this from developers to be true. I got inspired by Agile Software Development. :) Also, creating tasks takes a lot more time than it seems. Don’t sit on your hands when you’re waiting for the design team to work on branding. Write tasks for future steps!

Excerpt from SwingDev Brand Book made by Tomasz Cichos and Mikołaj Wilczyński

The other thing you can do is seek opinions on what you’re working on from any other team member. Branding is not a mirror of how you want the company to be seen, and it’s not even a mirror of your bosses perception…

One of the most common starting points while creating a brand is treating it like an animal or person with certain features. Giving your brand a character and portraying it as a living being is okay if you have a concrete product or line of products. When your “products” are services, eg. software development — the character of your company is a mirror of the character of your team. That’s why, in our case, in-house rebranding was so important.

The most rewarding outcome, for me as a brand manager, of doing this project internally, was the fact that our whole team became experts on SwingDev brand. With any new activity or project, it’s easy to check in with our guidelines and adjust it to what has been agreed on. We signed our new brand with words:

Design for social media made by Tomasz Cichos and Mikołaj Wilczyński

And it couldn’t be more real.

It took a lot of time. Not just mine. I engaged every single soul at SwingDev in this project, believe me. Did we save money by not going to a fancy agency? Probably. However, what is most important — we created branding that truly shows who we are. It’s not just a set of values and shiny stock photos that we now would need to adjust to. The values that are now so nicely described in our Brand Book by our CEO, Jo Overline, were clearly visible in our behavior first.

Excerpt from SwingDev Brand Book made by Tomasz Cichos and Mikołaj Wilczyński
A brand is a perception or set of associations consumers have of a business. Those perceptions originate from the story you tell about your business, the vision, the values you hold, the products and services you offer, and how your customers are transformed as a result of using those products or services.

Felicia C. Sullivan, “Let’s Talk About How to Build a Brand”

The truth is we already had a great story. We just needed to make an equally good cover for it.

PS

Did you notice?

We didn’t change the logotype. ;)