Ever wondered what it’s like to work with a branding agency? Are they really worth it, and do they really live up to the hype? If you’re considering a brand collaboration, you might want to know what goes on behind the scenes.
Here, in an exclusive interview with Wendy Dupley, Executive Director (ex- Executive Director) of the City of Abbotsford’s Economic Development (CAED) and President of the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC), we get to see the “inner world” of working with an award-winning branding agency like Original Ginger. You can also read about our work for City of Abbotsford Economic Development in this Original Ginger case study!
Let’s join her now, as she sits down with Todd, one of OG’s directors…
Todd: Thank you for meeting with us today, Wendy.
Wendy: Great to be here, Todd.
Todd: Ok, let’s dive right in. Tell us a little about your background.
Wendy: You can probably tell from the accent, but I’m originally from the UK. Back in 2007, I immigrated to Canada and worked for the government of Alberta for a few years before moving to BC. Over the years, I’ve worked for both the private and public sectors, but I’ve really focused on Economic Development (ED) and helping local governments develop their full economic potential.
Todd: What brought you to the City of Abbotsford and their Economic Development (ED) Department?
Wendy: When I got hired by the City of Abbotsford in December 2014, I was tasked with establishing their new economic development department – what would eventually be called the CAED. When I arrived it was a blank slate. There were no formal programs or strategies in place to attract global investors. I was starting something from scratch. But that was the draw, you see. I would be able to put my own stamp on it.
Todd: It sounds like you have a lot of enthusiasm and new ideas. What was the main challenge for you, from a branding and marketing perspective?
Wendy: Branding a municipal government department is a complex process. You’re promoting not only the diverse functions of the local government, but you’re also marketing the community itself. So, I looked at what the City had in place. They had a logo and a tagline, “City in the Country”, but that didn’t portray the type of image that I wanted to market. We needed to create a brand identity that was really innovative and out there. But not too “out there”, because you don’t want to alienate prospective investors.
Wendy: There are a lot of factors to consider when you create branding for an organization like the CAED. There’s no “one product” to promote. The brand needs to reflect all industries and all sectors, as well as the people and the community – this project had so many stakeholders. Plus, there was only me in the beginning. The CAED was so new, it wasn’t even a full-fledged department yet. So, right at the get-go, I knew we needed some help designing the right logo and branding elements. And I knew more design work would follow, so the CAED placed a request for proposal (RFP) into the market and approached some of the organizations the City had used in the past.
Todd: How did you come to work with Original Ginger – a branding agency in the Fraser Valley?
Wendy: I was reading a lot of proposals, and then I came across Original Ginger’s article on LinkedIn, it caught my eye. It was very creative. Very visual. And it said to me that they would have some really “out of the box” thinking, which I was looking for. Though to be honest, I was a bit hesitant at first. I was thinking of using an agency the City had no previous relationship with. It’s definitely going out on a limb. But it was something you said to me, Todd…“you have to trust the process.” And that was it for me. Those words resonated and I knew I could entrust this agency with my vision and my brand.
Todd: How was it, working with Original Ginger’s branding consultants?
Wendy: You know this, Todd. I was bringing forward a challenging project. When you’re working with several City departments, they all have to feel that they are part of the process. So we had several layers of staff to go through, to obtain approvals. I should probably ask: how did you manage to work with all of us?
Wendy: I think what helped was the process that OG used for one-on-one meetings and consultations. They recommended bringing in all the important stakeholders which helped me forge critical connections in the community, to build trust with somebody like me, who was new to Abbotsford. The OG team also set up an in-depth brand discovery workshop, which led to new taglines and logos.
Todd: How was the workshop process?
Wendy: It was very unique, and I felt very supported throughout. It was good that OG was there to recap, reconfirm and reiterate to the working group what we were trying to do. We were there to create a brand strategy, brand messaging and visual identity unique to the CAED. And as the OG team kept reminding us: “you know a tagline can be authentic AND inspirational”. They kept us on-task. And we finally settled on a great new tagline, “Tomorrow’s Thinking Today”, one that reflected all the aspects of the CAED that we wanted to promote.
Todd: How did that tagline go over with the City Council and all the stakeholders?
Wendy: That’s another instance where I felt very supported by the OG team. When we presented the idea to City Council, OG provided some much-needed context on why we were doing this and why we weren’t going to be using the City logo. By the end, the Council clearly understood the need to stand out and why we were taking the path that we did.
Todd: In your opinion, what was the main benefit from working with a professional branding agency like OG?
Wendy: One of the most helpful tools they provided was a personal Brand Guide for the CAED. The Brand Guide acts as an anchor piece. It’s something you can keep referring back to as you continue to evolve your brand. Like a compass, it provides clarity as you embark on different marketing strategies. You can keep going back to the Brand Guide and say, “yes, this still resonates and is still consistent with who we are as a department.”
Todd: So, what was the feedback after the official brand launch?
Wendy: Of course, in the beginning, there were a few naysayers. But upon completion, the City staff got really excited about the possibilities of using the new brand. In fact, they often adapted the CAED logo for their own marketing materials. Quite a few of them suggested that we also do a rebrand for the City of Abbotsford. But a rebrand on that scale is very expensive.
Also, the local business community really liked the visual identity that OG came up with. I guess the new brand really resonated with them because it accurately portrayed the diverse business community that was in the process of growing.
Todd: And you continued to work with Original Ginger on several other CAED initiatives and campaigns, such as the annual Mayor’s Breakfast… Why did you choose to stick with them over the years?
Wendy: I think that kind of gradual involvement just happens as people witness the brand coming to life. They were so enthusiastic with the new tagline and logo, that, as we evolved the brand over the years, it was a natural fit to use the OG team to revamp our website and to make some wonderful marketing and promotional videos, such as the one used for the Mayor’s Breakfast. And pieces of our branding have been cropping up everywhere throughout the City’s other departments; from HR straplines inspired by our messaging, to our brand colours being used in job postings. It’s quite cool to see that momentum…
City of Abbotsford Economic Development – Ag-Tech Launch Storytelling Video Project
City of Abbotsford Economic Development – Mayor’s AR Video Simulated Augmented Reality Video
City of Abbotsford Economic Development – Many Crops of Abbotsford Video Project
City of Abbotsford Economic Development- Smart City Presentation Video
Todd: How is the new brand working for you long-term? Do you continue to see great results?
Wendy: Definitely. Some of the local businesses have been able to attract more overseas contracts and orders. One business secured a significant new contract from Korea based on the collaborative work we did promoting its growth. The new CAED tagline, “Tomorrow’s Thinking Today” also really resonated with the Intelligent Communities Forum (ICF) and helped the City secure an award as one of the ICF’s “Top 7 Intelligent Communities” in the world. I would also say that the brand just really helped with positioning the City of Abbotsford as an attractive destination that is investment ready.
Todd: Then, do you have any advice about the branding process and how to get the best out of any partnership with a branding agency like OG?
Wendy: I would say, really “live the brand”. Make sure your brand is consistent through your messaging, customer experience, your website, your social media, your stationery etc. Anything you are doing internally or externally. I would also say, don’t underestimate the time that you need to do this properly. It takes several months to just go through the brand discovery process and the consultation workshops. Not everyone will love that from the outset. But that consultation piece is critical, and it’s worth investing that time up front, because that’s what’s going to ensure a successful outcome.
Todd: So, who or what is responsible for a brand’s long-term success?
Wendy: People think you create a brand and that’s it. It really isn’t. That’s just the start. The responsibility for managing the brand lies with the owners – in our case, the CAED. We’re ultimately responsible for making sure that the brand remains consistent. Because, without consistency comes confusion, and when people are confused, they don’t totally buy into your brand.
Todd: How do you get staff on board with a rebrand or new brand? Is it difficult?
Wendy: I think culture change is a gradual thing. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you continue to live your brand and you do it consistently, you see that gradual change and people start to adopt it. But I never regret the path we embarked on. If we had not hired the branding team at OG, our department would have been absorbed into every other City department. We wouldn’t have the strength of identity to take our message out into the global marketplace. We just wouldn’t stand out from the crowd.
Todd: So what’s your definition of branding success? How do you know when you’ve got a winning brand strategy?
Wendy: For me, success is something that has longevity to it – something you can see evolve over a period of time, as the brand continues to be adapted by the organization. If your brand can evolve and grow along multiple channels, that’s how I’d measure success. If it doesn’t work three years in, then you probably didn’t get it right to begin with… I think it all goes back to getting that brand discovery process right and establishing your vision and values at the outset. Right now, it feels good we are five years in with the new brand and it has continued to evolve in a positive direction.
Todd: So, any parting tips for anyone thinking of a brand transformation?
Wendy:Again, don’t rush the discovery process. It gives you the opportunity to really learn about yourself, to reflect on what you are trying to do as an organization, and to make sure your values and vision align with your overall brand. I would also say the three things you need to ensure success are brand consistency, authenticity and leadership. Leadership is essential for an organization to truly “live the brand”.
Todd: Those are some really great points! I like the leadership one…From our perspective, it’s so important to have a strong leader. They often need to be the champion of the brand, during and after the brand launch.
Wendy: As a leader, or as a department head, you have to be able to stand behind your brand. If you can’t, then you haven’t got it right. And remember, branding is the first step of a long-term journey. It’s a continual process of discovery and identification.
Todd: I completely agree, Wendy. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. There’s a lot of great insights here for anyone thinking of going through a Brand Discovery process of their own.
Wendy: You’re welcome, Todd. It was wonderful working with your branding team. I really enjoyed the process. For the CAED, it was perfect timing. And for me, a relative newcomer to the City of Abbotsford, your brand discovery process allowed me to better identify the community’s strengths, opportunities and challenges. Remember, you just have to trust the process. Spend time on the process and then you’re going to get to the outcome you want.
Todd: Great words of wisdom. Thanks again Wendy!
This concludes our sneak peek behind the branding and marketing process at Original Ginger. If you have any questions, or your economic development organization needs help with producing premium marketing/communications content, feel free to contact us toll free at 1.855.298.8650 or through our contact form.