What triggered the realisation that the Ragged Edge brand needed a bit of attention?
Eighteen months ago I received an email that began with ‘unfortunately’. Never good. A potential client had chosen to go with an agency they described as ‘almost identical in terms of quality of work, ambition, understanding of our business, and cost’.
Once I’d launched my phone across the room, I took a few breaths and it started to sink in. The agency they’d chosen weren’t that similar. For better or worse, the experience of working with us would have been materially different, as would the end result.
We were anything but identical. But we hadn’t done a good enough job at communicating that. We were a branding agency with a brand problem.
What did you do after the penny dropped?
In the wake of that email we spent a lot of time looking at other agencies, and talking to clients about their own experiences.
As businesses, branding agencies share similar values, go after the same clients, the same talent, and follow a similar process to deliver the work.
That shows in most of our identities, which are designed to take a back seat to the work. Carefully designed, but deliberately neutral and inoffensive. All supported with copy that functions as a checklist of indistinguishable brand buzzwords.
The upshot? By putting the work first, we’ve commoditised ourselves. Without any other meaningful differences, we’re forcing clients to judge us by case studies and a grid of logos. We’re reinforcing the impression that all agencies are the same. No wonder creative pitching is still a thing. We knew we needed to change things.
Why did you feel it was necessary to go back to the drawing board?
It was obvious that fixing our own brand problem required more than a new identity. We knew we’d have to redefine Ragged Edge from the inside out. Everything was up for grabs.
I’m not going to pretend it was easy, or that we got everything right. Timings and process slipped. We made multiple false starts, and decisions went back and forth. We began to question whether we would ever get to the end of it. A six-month project became an 18-month project.
If nothing else, it reinforced the value of what we, as an industry, do. And why in-house rebrands rarely work. It’s much easier to be effective as a third party, coming in without being weighed down by too much knowledge, free to make recommendations and choices.
It also gave a valuable insight into our clients’ experience of the process. Particularly the weight of the decision-making, knowing that they’re going to have to embrace the results for years to come.
What was the hardest part of the project?
We always say that if your brand strategy doesn’t change what you’re doing, it’s not a strategy. So we committed to practising what we preach. That was daunting. It meant opening up every part of a business that we’d been optimising for over a decade. And it meant making choices that would take us well beyond our comfort zone.
Talk us through the process
We started by asking when we were at our best. Our most effective work had come when we were using brand to help people solve seemingly insurmountable problems. How do you make people care about their energy provider? How do you get people who live for the moment to invest in their future? Helping visionary teams and individuals battle improbable odds, and using brand to change behaviour, change organisations and change categories. Those are specific challenges, faced by a specific set of people. We call them changemakers, the basis for our new brand.
By defining ourselves around the specific challenges we were best at, we were able to double down on building an agency to solve them.
We used the strategy to redefine our culture. It gave us clarity around what we value as an agency, what we offer our team, and who we hire and how we work. It gave us the direction to change everything from our benefits package and individual objectives, to our process and the makeup of the leadership team.
It was only once we’d figured all that out that we started work on the identity. The ambition was to create a system where every design and writing decision communicated the idea at the heart of the changes we’d made internally.
What’s been the most noticeable outcome so far?
It’s changed who we work with. When an enquiry comes in, there’s now a strong chance we’ll have to turn it down, or refer it to someone else. That’s scary, particularly when there’s a significant budget attached. The first few times it happened we wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake. But that selectiveness means the people we end up working with really buy into what we’re doing. They have shared values and they believe in our approach. They understand what we do differently, and that’s why they’ve chosen us. Not because of our past but because of their future.
And by changing ourselves internally – who we work with and how we work with them – the output has changed too. In the next few months, as our latest work starts to make its way into the world, I’m confident the change will be clear.
You say not everyone will love your new identity. How's that a good thing?
If we’d ended up with something middle-of-the-road, we’d have failed to deliver on the brief we’d set ourselves. You can judge the success of that for yourself. Does it work? Did we go far enough? But I love that not everybody likes it. Ragged Edge is no longer for everyone. That’s a good thing, even as it terrifies me to write it.
But the biggest change is yet to come. The new brand isn’t the end, it’s the start of a process. We know that to deliver on the promise we’ve made to ourselves we need to keep pushing beyond what’s comfortable. We have so much more to change.
Do you see other agencies adopting a similar approach?
Over the period we’ve been working on our brand, I’ve noticed other agencies becoming bolder and more directional in how they express themselves. I see that as a real positive. We shouldn’t be battling with everyone else to work on the same jobs – that’s a terrible message to send to clients and to the industry as a whole. It commodifies our talent and undersells our expertise. We all have distinct strengths. We should play to them.
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