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When a Branding Agency Evolves Its Own Brand

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As our brand strategy + design firm grew and evolved, we needed to stop and take ourselves through our process, The Mercury Method. So, we became our own client! Mercury Creative Group founder, Justin Bieganek, sits down to answer the questions that we ask our clients.

Q: How did you know your brand needed to evolve?

A: When our brand strategy tools were no longer working.

We have been a virtual company for well over ten years, but even we had to work differently to deliver our strategy sessions. These were full-day in-person sessions that needed to switch to virtual. So I began refining all our brand strategy tools and processes to deliver our services online and virtually. It wasn’t that the techniques and our proven method didn’t work, it just wasn’t possible in our new, virtual-only world.

I began refining all of our tools, and we worked through our first rebrand fully virtually. It went so well that we realized there were more benefits to this process than we imagined. We delivered our sessions in 90-minute weekly bursts and created homework to engage the working group in between sessions. We also recorded our sessions and captured conversations in chat that saved our team transcription time. One of the big wins was engaging more of our client’s team. Some were more comfortable collaborating via chat, and others found it easier to share their insights on camera.

I also received an added bonus. I included one of our newest employees, Emily, in this process. With her marketing expertise helping brands grow, and her eagerness to jump right in, Emily provided live feedback and refinements as we went along. We would discuss what worked and what to change after each session. Sometimes, on the fly, with private chats, as we were in sessions! Our ability to be nimble and flexible allowed us to gather all the insights we needed, as well as document our process and determine what to change for the next client to make each session even better.

Q: What did you learn the most?

A: Don’t get comfortable. And trust your team.

2020 was nuts. But good nuts too. Growth doesn’t happen when you are comfortable. We were growing quickly, and we needed to build our team to service our clients well. I utilized my network to find the talent we needed to help us. We worked with two brand strategists, who brought their years of experience and talents as word-nerds to Mercury. They jumped right in and did what Emily and I did. Took our process and refined it as we went along, to fit the client’s needs, as well as make notes to make this process even better. It was two parts scary to one part crazy fun. And it worked! Of course, it did. 1 + 1 = 11. But 1 + 1 + 1 = priceless! (Quoting Marty Neumeier again on the 1 + 1 = 11) Diane and Cheri, thank you! We all knew what we were doing, and because we trusted each other’s talents and tools, we made our client’s brands shine. Jessica Kelley, thank you for connecting us to these two 🙂

Q: What made you the most uncomfortable?

A: Our website and communications.

We were solving brand problems. We brought clarity to the brands we worked with, and most importantly, helped align leadership and their teams to speak confidently about their brand’s essential value. We transformed brands from the inside out.

What we were not clear about for ourselves, in our own communications, is what we do and how we do it…and for whom. Heck, we were off-brand! Pretty hard to sell our services when our brand elements and communications are not speaking to the value we bring to our clients. Oof.

Q: Then what did you do?

A: Hit the bar for a beer! No, no (at least not yet). We began to look at all our communications, primarily our website and our proposals, as those were the tools that prospects were engaging with the most.

My initial thought, as it is with many of our clients, was that our website needed an audit and an update. I liked the messaging and visuals that were in our proposals. But I knew that most of the proposal content was not on our website. So I tore through both the website and the key proposals. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that, just like our clients, we had too many messages. Although they all resonated with our business, they were competing for attention. Many of our clients come to us with website requests, and then, through our initial consultation, we realize together that rather than jump right into web design, their brand needs to evolve from a strategy perspective instead. It’s funny, but I was the same way as a “client” of my own. The messaging and design got my attention first.

Q: How did you get started?

A: We started internally and picked out all the good stuff.

During our team meetings, we started exploring some of the exercises we take our clients through. We asked and answered some intriguing questions with our team.

One of the things that held true was our Brand Expression; our brand look and feel. It is fresh and dynamic with a clean elegance. We have a serious side that comes out when we strategize, so our color palette uses a dark grey and fiery red to convey strength and sophistication. We also have a seriously fun side – that’s where the pop of bright blue comes in.

Our name and brand logo are also relevant and strong. Mercury is the messenger of the gods; and we are the messengers for some really cool clients and their brands. The design of our logo is a nod to the winged helmet that allowed Mercury to swiftly deliver their messages. And the wings form the letter “M” in the center.

Q: When did you know you needed a partner and how did you choose one?

A: We couldn’t decide what messages to get rid of.

I realized that as a team we were comfortable – too comfortable -with our messaging. Our team exercises were engaging and intriguing, but we were simply rearranging our messages rather than truly auditing and identifying our differentiator. We were in the forest and couldn’t see the trees. We needed a fresh perspective.

During the time that our team was dipping into our own rebrand and website work, we were working with a brand strategist who consulted on a few projects with Mercury clients. We had a great rapport and a lot of similar processes. I asked if she’d take a look at all of our messaging and ideas. She agreed and came back with 3 thoughts that challenged me and made me kind of, um, uncomfortable.

The story of our brand name was interesting and compelling but lost in the content. She had to dig to find it.
She pulled out a list of 7 different lines and asked, “which one of these is your tagline?”. I could easily answer but she couldn’t. She challenged me by asking, “how would your ideal audience know that?” I saw her point; they wouldn’t know.

Then she told me that The Mercury Method is truly our differentiator. It’s brilliant, and it made sense to her, but it needed to be simplified and explained so our clients could self-identify that our process can help them. That was the biggest “A-ha” for me. That’s what our team was too close to and couldn’t see. We were doing it every day, but not explaining it on our website.

I knew I had the right person because she was ok with making me uncomfortable. She actually said – “if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of changing the way you present your method, you’re on the right track, AND I’ll help you dig in, challenge you and your team, and help hold the tension through the process”.

This is what Mercury has always done for our own clients and what we needed for ourselves.

The brand strategist took us through our Mercury Method. It was truly collaborative, flexible to our needs, and understanding of our expertise. And she kept us out of the ditch and drove us forward to provide clarity to our brand and in our proven process. The Mercury Method works! And we were able to take a step back and experience it ourselves. 

Oh, and by the way, I convinced Cheri Quinn, the brand strategist who helped us, to become part of our team. As a lead brand strategist, she now helps implement The Mercury Method with our clients.

See, even the fella that built most of these tools needed help to get back to the strategy. Strategy first. Design second. Strategy first pays off! It’s what we do.

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