Barnaby Ellis, Head of Creative:

If you work for, or follow, any company long enough you will almost certainly experience some sort of rebranding exercise. From small tweaks that some people might not even notice to total overhauls, these can be contentious projects for everyone involved – customers and employees alike.

The new branding for the UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC, is a great example of the fuss that can ensue. In October 2021, the corporation made a subtle tweak to the main logo. It also overhauled the individual identities of its sub-brands – its TV channels and its online apps (news, sport, iPlayer, Sounds, etc.). The changes may have gone unnoticed by the casual viewer, but they had some people up in arms. So why the controversy?

First, when it comes to visual design, everyone has an opinion. Ask multiple groups of people their opinion and you will get multiple, often conflicting, answers. “I love it”, “I hate it”, “It’s nice”.

Second, people don’t like change. This is certainly true for a major broadcaster that interacts with millions of people every day. But it is also true for smaller brands and companies. And it definitely affects employees of those companies. What was wrong with what we had?

And thirdly, rebrands cost money and take time. For an organisation like the BBC, which is funded by the British taxpayer, both of these factors can become a national debate. But the same debates are often had by any brand or company that is devoting efforts to this sort of project. Haven’t they got more important things to do? What a distraction. What’s the ROI?

So, what has that got to do with me and the company I work for? Because we’re going through a rebrand right now, and it was instigated by me.

Confession time. I’ve never liked our branding. I love the name and the story and how it is relevant to everything we do. But it is really really long when spelt out. I have never understood the kerning between the f-t-y of fifty. And the colour is a bit meh.

But more fundamentally the brand doesn’t reflect the company we are today, let alone our ambitions for the next 5+ years. Eight years ago our client base was mainly small to medium-sized Microsoft Partners. Alongside those companies we now create campaigns, build tools, develop websites and run social media for some of the biggest tech brands in the world – Google, NTT, WWT, Dell and even Microsoft themselves.

We also do a lot of brand and web work for our clients. And in the back of my head, I am always a bit nervous that these companies will look at our branding and website and judge us. If they do then they won’t see the company we are, feel the passion we put into our work, get a flavour of the experience of working with us, or have confidence in the results we can deliver.

So I decided to bite the bullet and suggest we overhaul the brand. The first step was to pitch the idea to Chris, Fifty Five and Five’s owner/founder.

Chris is incredibly open to suggestions and changes to the way that we work. I think it is one of the reasons everyone loves working here. We are always looking inwards and thinking about how we can improve how we do things. Nothing is sacred (except the name!)

But there is something personal about creating a business and a brand and then having someone else come in and criticise it. The business is Chris’ baby. He even designed the current logo (maybe he can answer the kerning question?!).

As with the BBC example, I knew such a project would face questions.

So (almost) everyone at Fifty Five and Five does have an opinion. After all, this is the industry we all work in. This is why we have involved everyone in the process – from surveying their thoughts at the start to sharing the work and getting feedback during – the input of the team has been invaluable.

This broad involvement has also helped deal with any internal resistance to change. Though I have to say, one of the great things about this project is the broad understanding that it’s long overdue!

So, after the faux horror of criticising his baby, Chris had questions, especially around cost and timelines. And the answers were: “it is going to be more expensive and take longer than you think”. Why? Because for the first time in the company’s history we’re going to do it properly, from the ground up.

Chris is open and reasonable, but we don’t have bottomless pockets or a team sitting around twiddling their thumbs. He does understand the importance of doing this work well. He appreciates the thoroughness of our approach (the 55!), has engaged with the process throughout and is excited with the results. Not only is he itching to launch but every day he is pitching in a new idea for how we do this.

There is another benefit I haven’t touched on yet. A rebrand can not only impact the industry you work in but it can also have a profound effect inside the business. It can reinvigorate and inspire the team. If we can all have even a fraction of the excitement that Chris has about our new brand then this will spark great things. Hopefully this fawning end will cover my earlier confessions about the current brand…

Chris Wright, Founder:

When Barnaby first suggested we needed a rebrand my immediate reaction was – haven’t we just done that? I was referring to the new website we built a year ago. We updated some colours and the imagery on the website. Everything else stayed the same. Including the logo.

His answer was no. And then he proceeded to tell me that not only was the brand dated, but it also didn’t reflect who we were today, and it could even be holding us back. You’ve read these comments above, I assume, so I won’t elaborate further.

As he was speaking a number of thoughts went through my head:

  • The brand isn’t dated.
  • We have changed a lot over the last few years.
  • We don’t have time to do something like this.
  • We can manage as we are for now. Let’s focus on leads.
  • Is the brand dated?
  • This is the sort of project agencies spend months and months on, with very little results.
  • Hmm, the brand is dated, isn’t it?
  • We don’t have time.
  • Do we have time?
  • Ahh… we should really consider this, shouldn’t we?
  • I designed that logo! It’s my baby.

The thoughts above flashed by in about 20 seconds. By the time Barnaby finished his pitch I knew he was right. Then he surprised me and showed me a concept one of our Senior Designers had created. It wasn’t perfect. But it was great. It was awesome. It was exciting. It sealed the deal as far as I was concerned.

I did ‘design’ most of the current brand. I definitely designed the logo (and to answer the above question, I have no idea why the kerning is like that!). The air quotes around the word ‘design’ there are very deliberate. Like most people who found a company, a lot of the stuff we did in the early days was quick and dirty. To get going, to build momentum. When you build a business, an awful lot of the work is almost willing things into life so you can progress and improve (more crudely: “fake it till you make it”). That is basically where our current brand came from.

So I agree, the brand is dated. And I have absolutely no problem with people, experts in their field, looking at what I did eight years ago and ripping it up. One of the things I love about the growth of Fifty Five and Five is hiring a whole range of subject matter experts and seeing them do their thing. As Barnaby says above – “for the first time in the company’s history we are going to do it properly, from the ground up”. That’s fantastic, that’s what we do for our clients, so why not for us?

This blog is the first real piece of content we have put out there discussing the project. We will be doing a lot more, and being open on the process and our progress.

I want to finish on this point. Fifty Five and Five has been through a lot in the last few years. Just before COVID hit we knew we needed to evolve the type of clients we worked with. We knew we wanted to expand and enhance the services we offered. We started as a content agency and quickly came to offer a whole bunch of complimentary services. But like any company, we needed to tweak and improve what we did to ensure we were offering the right value. We also wanted to push our ambitions, and work on different projects with more varied briefs.

Then COVID hit and everything got turned upside down. A huge positive from this period was it made us look really hard at the company and question everything. We looked even harder at the work we did, and who we did it for. But we also looked at how and why we did it. We came out of this period so much stronger than we were going into it.

We have just finished our financial year (March 21), and it was our best ever. Which is awesome. But the next 12 months are going to be even more transformational. More growth, exciting plans for the business and new clients. And our re-brand is not only going to be front and centre this year, but it’s going to drive a lot of our growth. I can’t wait for you all to see it.