Rapid Growth

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Rebranding - a case study of the Forward Partners brand

Seth Matisak

Head of Design @ Forward Partners

As our companies evolve and grow we gather more learning so it's important that our brand evolves with the insights we've gained from this experience. There are times when the evolution outpaces the brand and your core messaging becomes lost. Recently it became painfully obvious at Forward Partners that this had happened to us.

Key takeaways

  • There will always be signals that it's time for a rebrand
  • Always test and learn from you users.
  • With user testing and a clear set of goals Forward Partners was able to create a clear and consistent brand experience

How do you know it's time to iterate on your branding?

There could be quite a few reasons for a rebrand. Your company has decided to enter a new market, you’ve outgrown your original company mission, your company has gone stale, your branding doesn’t resonate, people have no idea what you do. The list goes on, but today let’s concentrate on “people have no idea what you do” because to an extent this is the problem we were facing at Forward Partners. People in the tech community knew we were a VC but they didn’t know the whole crux of the company:

That we will invest up to 250K for an idea and we have a dedicated team with a dedicated framework to help you take that idea and grow it into a valuable business in 12 months.

This idea had been refined enough that our current branding wasn’t communicating the benefits of investing in us or the benefit of founders coming on board. By testing our current website we learned just how much of a disconnect there really was and it was scary:

“I didnt know you guys did that! That’s really cool and I would definitely apply to be part of that.”

“I thought The Path Forward was a different company.”

“You guys are an incubator, right?”

With consistent quotes like these coming from user testing it became painfully clear that we weren’t communicating what the Forward Partners brand stood for.

Our brand goal is to attract the most impressive founders and what we learned is that our old site was hard to navigate, had no voice, was visually inconsistent and didn't clearly explain the benefits of working with us. Right away it was clear we were missing the mark of communicating to one of our target audiences: people looking to start a business and those that already have one. We talked to tech minded individuals and investors too and because we couldn’t communicate the value of Forward Partners to founders we certainly did not instil confidence to potential LP’s (our second targeted audience) that we were a world-class operation and that our techniques resulted in great products with the potential to generate great returns for the fund. We also gathered a lot of insight into what our targeted audience expected out of a world-class VC and highlighted key features in our brand experience that we were missing.

It turned out that we had a very fractured and inconsistent brand experience through our marketing materials, website, investor decks and tone of voice that didn’t really communicate how Forward Partners differed from normal VC’s or incubators.  

 

Our old brand experience

 

What exactly did we iterate on now that we have insights from our targeted audience?

With our insights in hand we had very clear goals on what we wanted our branding to better communicate. These are the goals we came up with:

  • We needed to communicate our value proposition much more clearly
  • We needed a strong & confident voice (not cocky) to communicate that value proposition
  • We needed our branding to appeal to both men and women (our current brand experience catered more to men)
  • We needed to present ourselves as personable and approachable yet professional
  • We needed to do all of the above in a way that communicated to both founders and LPs

With our customer interview insights completed and our goals clearly in focus we were able to work our way through the development of a a new logo, typeface, colour palette, tone of voice and the style of imagery we would use. Ideally you’d want to tackle those things one at a time but being in the lean startup world we worked on a few at once in a very condensed timeframe. Companies that usually go through these kinds of iterations spend months, if not close to a year exploring and refining ideas. Uber and Deliveroo’s rebranding took a year or more to conceive.

Let’s break down each task and see how the final product came out for us. Each part of the Forward Partners branding had to work together to strengthen and communicate the overall brand of Forward Partners.

 

Logo

Even small adjustments have big effects. Because softer curves are more approachable, we adjusted our FP icon from a blocky “P” to a more traditional soft curve “P”. The typeface in the logo is another change. Gone is the ALL CAPS FORWARD PARTNERS and in it’s places is a title case typeface that features different weights in the curves of letters to suggest flexibility while the overall height, roundness and boldness of the type portrays strength and approachability. Angled edges on the ascenders and descenders help compliment the FP icon, which represents the overall growth pattern we expect of our companies.

 

Typeface

The old typography was a mess to say the least. Inconsistent use of several different typefaces meant we could never nail down an experience that was trustworthy. Overhauling the typography and maintaining its consistent use around all marketing points was a huge aspect of the rebrand. We chose to use the geometric Gilroy font family as our main display font, which appears as our main headers throughout our brand.  With it’s extra bold weight we get a confident and strong tone but it's also friendly and personable with its geometric shapes. When paired with lighter weights and our body copy Open Sans font we achieve really good visual hierarchy allowing viewers to easily scan and find the content they want to read.

 

Colour

Forward Partners has always used a mainly black and white colour palette to let our partner companies pop more but as we’ve mature more as a brand we decided that to help us have more of visual voice we needed to incorporate colour and movement into the brand. We used a two tone aqua colour palette to evoke some energy to our identity. The colours are gender neutral so we don’t alienate men or women. Another key goal of ours.

 

Visual Language Element

One way to help connect a brand's visual appearance other than fonts, colour and imagery is to incorporate a visual language. Brands will use unique icons, textures, shapes and even sounds to help strengthen the brand experience. In the case of Forward Partners we decided to play off the angle of the FP icon. In our branding we use a 23 degree diagonal shape, which appears as a gradient, solid shape or line in all of our branding.

 

Voice

To help strengthen our new branding it was important we develop an approachable, factual and confident voice. Instead of having a few different voices speaking for us we now have one unified voice telling the world about Forward Partners.    

 

Imagery

Our old site contained imagery with heavy colour overlays so copy could be placed over it. It deemphasized the photography and gave off a very male dominant and unapproachable tone. We changed our approach of our new imagery so our personalities and human side showed through more. We needed the imagery to hit on the approachability aspect we were trying to capture.

 

 

By breaking down each element of the branding you can see how each helps strengthen the overall goals we were trying to achieve. The logo or typefaces on their own wouldn't be enough to better communicate what Forward Partners is all about. We need every piece to work together to deliver a consistent, memorable and easy to understand brand. Based on the feedback we’ve gotten we have more than succeeded. 

Seth Matisak

Head of Design @ Forward Partners

Seth brings 7 years of design experience from around the world including Washington DC, Cleveland, Ohio and Malta having won awards for his print and packaging designs. He has a strong passion for all things branding and helped maintain brand standards for world-wide corporations (Nestle, Nokia, John Deere, Kimberly Clark and Sherwin Williams) while also creating new and engaging brands for start-ups, city organisations and charities while his ability to transition his layout and branding skills to the digital world has resulted in clean, intuitive and modern web designs.

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