A good brand development process typically means change, or at the very least a questioning of the place and purpose of an organisation. This process inevitably throws up hurdles to overcome, but in doing so, can produce some inspiring results.
This was the case with the Wordsworth Trust, an organisation founded in 1891 as a living memorial to William Wordsworth and his contemporaries in the Romantic cultural movement. Although willing to embrace the branding process, there were nevertheless some in the organisation who questioned its relevance and value.
‘Historically, the Trust had seen marketing as a necessary evil and had probably never really thought about the brand at all: things like Mars bars and Jaguar were brands, but not the Wordsworth Trust,’ says Paul Kleian, now MD at Tapir.
The Trust’s properties include Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home at the height of his creative output, and the architectural award-winning Jerwood Centre.
Together they present the Trust’s Museum and its extensive collection on Wordsworth and Romanticism. Its range of activities reaches academics, tourists and the local community through an ongoing outreach programme.
But despite obvious strengths as a long-established and invaluable cultural heritage organisation, the Trust lacked a coherent commercial strategy at a time when guaranteed funding was becoming scarce. To reach more people, more effectively, this needed to be taken seriously, says Kleian.
‘The Wordsworth Trust didn’t have a brand or a clear cut ethos of what the organisation was for. Staff and trustee perceptions all differed and in each case was different from what most visitors thought.
I started by explaining that they would have to set aside personal feelings in this because the brand is about what the customers think—the scholars, tourists, students, pupils, artists and poets who visit and benefit. The Trust is actually a very complex organisation that isn’t aiming at any one of these groups but all of them, and that has to come across.’
The Trust agreed to engage designers and three companies were shortlisted. ‘Two companies were providing rough designs of logos at the pitching stage, even though they barely knew the organisation,’ says Kleian. ‘I was insistent that we appointed designers who would engage with as many people as possible within the Trust so that everyone felt that they had ownership of the process and results.’
While the visible outputs of a branding process are often a new logo and colour palette, this belies the value and depth of the process. ‘Anyone who is thinking of starting a branding process should be deeply suspicious of any design group which immediately starts creating graphics,’ says Kleian. The process is actually a careful examination of who you think you are, what your customers think you are and where you would like to be.
‘We held workshops that are designed to draw out the vision and values of the organisation and everybody spoke at these. We used image prompts and analogies with other things like celebrities or vehicles to examine the Trust’s attributes. This is a good exercise to get people to think about what they are. It turned out that the perception of the Trust was of a highbrow organisation for older, middle class people. But they wanted to offer a journey and experience that is open to everyone.’
The workshops gave staff the opportunity to discuss what the Trust is all about, says Kleian. ‘The designers presented as having completely open minds and this in turn opened minds in the workshop. It was very well done. It became clear that we all thought of the Trust in different ways, but we also started to look at it as if from the outside looking in. It was a clever approach and by the end of it a lot of heads here were nodding.’
After the workshop, a document of findings was published to the workshop participants and stakeholders who could not attend, but no new visual identity.
From these findings Kleian and the designers identified four fundamental ‘pillars’ for the organisation: accessibility, knowledge, creativity and heritage. These were distilled into an expression of the Trust’s purpose, namely: ‘Sharing inspiration from the past for the future’. Once these unifying ideas were in place they could be reflected in graphic designs, including the logo.
Informal research showed that the two things people most closely associate with Wordsworth are writing and daffodils, the latter being the inspiration for his celebrated poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. The designs for the Trust’s main visual identity captured these associations with symbolised renderings of a quill and daffodil.
Along with the primary logo, Sumo produced a set of design guidelines that are now used by the Trust to create its own printed material, signage, exhibition graphics and so on.
The team went backwards and forwards with these graphic ideas, selecting typography and a colour palette which reflected nature and the local landscape and also developed different visitor brands under a set of ‘Discover’ icons. It was important that everything was seen as academically authoritative to scholars, but the visitor-facing icons needed to help attract tourists to the venues too.
Much more than a new logo, the branding process gave the Wordsworth Trust an opportunity to look carefully at itself, from the outside as well as from within, and to forge a clearer vision of its identity and purpose. This identity is now communicated through bespoke graphic elements that are flexible enough to speak to its wide range of audiences and promote all its venues and activities.
But where the design process stops, the new Wordsworth Trust culture is only beginning to emerge. ‘It’s not over internally—it’s an ongoing process,’ says Kleian. ‘I think we’ve done a lot to make everyone think about their customers and people now ask about the story behind the things we’re doing. The designers’ consultative attitude really helped the Trust’s processes to become more consultative too; it was a really great way to work.