It’s come time to redesign your website. But thinking through your website redesign strategy has revealed some issues with your overall brand. Perhaps your logo is a bit out of step with the times or you’re hearing from your audiences that what they think about your brand doesn’t line up with what they see and read about when they come to your site.
So now, you’ve got two tasks ahead of you: redesign the site and reinvigorate the brand. But wait. Should you redesign the site first and worry about brand later? I mean, the site is how audiences engage with you every day. But no—the brand should come first. How can you redesign a site without knowing what your core colors, typography and brand values are? But then. . . that might delay a website redesign for months, and the director of development needs to hit their quarterly numbers like, yesterday. We need that site!
Quite the conundrum.
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this dilemma. Whether you’ll rebrand first, or redesign your website first depends on many factors and it’s important that you weigh them all correctly. The key is to approach the process methodically and based on a combination of facts, needs and wants. Answering the following questions will help:
1. What are Your Strategic Priorities?
In our work with clients, we’ve found it helpful to think of strategic priorities in the form of a pyramid, similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where core operational needs form the foundation, and higher-level, more aspirational needs appear at the top:
Using this model to assess your priorities, begin by asking if your most basic organizational needs are being met.
First, do you even have a website? And if so, does it provide the fundamental proof of your existence as an organization; does it provide your mission, services, impact and contact information at a cursory level?
Second, do you have the capability through your website and online tools to bring in revenue for the organization? Is there a giving, ecommerce or services-for-hire section; is the software running that page capable of securely and accurately accepting and processing donations and revenue?
And lastly, what are your immediate organizational needs? Is there an event or fundraising campaign coming in the immediate future that would require you to have a high-quality website (or section of a website) and tools in place to accommodate that event?
If any of your core operational needs are not being met through your current website, then this puts the website upgrade or redesign in priority position. Clearly, updating an antiquated logo will not address critical, short-term operational needs – and in this case, delaying a necessary website upgrade in order to focus on a rebrand can actually do damage.
If however, your basic operational and marketing needs are being addressed through your current website, then although it may need improvements in design, content or technology, you have some runway to assess your higher-level organizational needs, specifically things like the level of your organization’s awareness among your constituencies, how deeply audiences are engaging with your organization (online or off) and the quantity and quality of your best and recurring funders.
It’s this second set of “higher-level” needs, which will benefit from a brand assessment and overhaul. That is to say, if your day-to-day operations are being adequately fulfilled, you’re able to step back and focus on deepening audience relationships and attracting more and higher quality donors – longer term goals that a strong brand can help deliver. In this case, the rebrand would occur first and then feed the eventual redesign of the site.
2. How “off” is the brand?
One key to determining whether you should first rebrand or redesign is the relative quality of your brand.* Put bluntly, is your brand “way” off? Meaning, do people see your logo and core messaging elsewhere, think you do one thing and then come to your website and realize that’s not what you do at all?
Or is the logo (“mark”) and associated typography and graphics so antiquated and out-of-step with current trends that potential donors are put-off, or feel that they’d be more fulfilled giving to a competing organization? If so, then you’re looking at a full-on brand exploration and overhaul. This is a worthwhile – but demanding – endeavor, and in our experience takes from 3-6 months depending upon the organization.
However, if you’re generally satisfied with your brand and how you’re being perceived and received in the marketplace – and yet, feel that your core branding elements can use some polishing – then you’re looking at a brand refresh. In our experience, this is typically cosmetic, and entails updating existing core elements of a logo, typography and colors, without redesigning the basic footprint of these assets. Typically, a brand refresh is a simpler, quicker endeavor, and can be done just prior to, or in parallel with a formal website redesign.
Understanding how much work your brand needs will help determine where that branding process falls within your overall website redesign strategy. In general, a brand refresh can be done in conjunction with a site overhaul, whereas a major rebrand should be given the proper space required to do the job right, i.e. as a stand-alone project prior to a site redesign.
3. How “bad” is the site?
This question ties back to your assessment of strategic priorities. The decision here is straightforward. If the website is holding your organization back from running its operations online, then overhauling that site becomes the priority. (Again, we’re hard pressed to find a donor who didn’t give because they didn’t like the shade of purple the client was using. We have however, seen donors walk away from giving because a site crashed, or because the giving process was insecure, or because the site didn’t show users where the money was going).
Your site assessment, however, shouldn’t just be limited to operations or functionality. If your website’s content isn’t engaging your site visitors, or doesn’t properly reflect who you are, or the mission you fulfill, then you’ll need to plug that gap, either through specific updates or a comprehensive content strategy.
Whether you feel the site’s story, content, technology or design (or all of the above) needs improvement, recognize that some or all of these items can be addressed temporarily through upgraded plugins, rewriting of content, and spot-design fixes. In other words, if your brand is truly lacking, but your site provides an adequate overall experience, then you may consider investing time and resources necessary to develop your brand and then enter into the website overhaul. (After all, brand will inform the site design, and even choices of user experience and functionality).
Hopefully, I haven’t caused you more confusion than when you first arrived at this post! But these are foundational marketing issues, the outcomes of which will impact your bottom line. Accordingly, it’s important to think deeply about your goals in relation to where you are now and balance those factors against budget and schedule. Using a decision-making framework like what I’ve laid out above can help you process this information and establish a rebrand or website redesign strategy. Good luck on what is a challenging – but ultimately, fulfilling – path. If we can help, we’re only an email away.
*Remember that “brand” entails not simply a logo and colors, but the overall set of feelings and expectations a person has about your organization, its mission, services, values and impact. To that end, a rebrand entails much more than a redesign of a brand “mark.” However, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting the definition of “brand” to its graphic/physical elements.
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