Rebranding a digital services company (government contractor)

Roles: Brand champion, producer

All told, the process took 9 months which is twice as long as we wanted, but also pretty perfect since I always think of this process like making a baby.

A rebranding process consists of:

  • Discovery (Conception)
  • Foundations (Gestation)
  • Identity (Labor)
  • Activation (Delivery)

The Starting Point

In August 2020, I was brought on board at Rise8 as the “brand and marketing ninja”. My first act in this role was to change the title. We’re not ninjas. We’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We’re Risers. 

Founder and CEO Bryon Kroger brought me into his startup early because he felt that an intentional and well-curated brand was going to be the ticket to our heads rising above a sea of noise in the GovTech space. Bryon was about to choose an agency and wanted a brand person on his side of the fence to manage the process and be there to catch this baby when it was born. 

Starting position: The Rise8 brand as it stood

When we started the rebranding process, Rise8 had a logo, a set of Google fonts, and a color: red. We also had a team of people who were communicating with customers daily, a Linkedin page with not much going on, and a lot of work going out into the domain in the form of documents, slide decks, and one-page sell sheets. 

They were also about to be awarded a federal contract that was going to set a lot of eyes on them. They had no brand to speak of and a website that didn’t align with who they were. This rebrand needed to happen yesterday.

Phase 1: Discovery & Positioning

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” -Jeff Bezos 

Some of the things our customers said about us during interviews with our brand agency

How do you know what people say about you when you’re not in the room? You get someone to ask them. And stay out of the room.

The conception phase of this rebrand started with a phase of discovery which informed our choices regarding positioning. Discovery digs up things we have little control over (what people say about us when we’re not in the room) and, armed with those insights, we’re able to then make choices about how we’re going to position ourselves for the future to influence what people say about us from that point on.

We carried out:

  • Market research
  • Customer interviews
  • Brand audit

The end result was:

  • Insight about our audience 
  • Choices for how we position ourselves to meet the needs of this audience

To me, this is the most important and exciting part of a branding exercise. This is where we learn if people experience us the way we hope they do. This is where we learn if what we think we are matches what they think we are. 

What we think doesn’t matter if it doesn’t land that way with our audience. If we think we’re fast but customers don’t experience us that way, then we are not fast.

The insights gained from this phase informed the entire process which followed. In the final product, the words you hear Rise8 saying, the things you will see on our website…these came directly from their customers and peers. They are what people say about they when they weren’t in the room.

I’d like to take a moment to contrast this with a previous experience I had in a rebrand process. I once led a rebrand for a services business that thought they were high-end. They believed that customers saw them as the premier option. 

When I carried out a listening exercise, I discovered that, in fact, the brand was seen as the budget option. At this point, we had three options:

  1. Kick against what our customers are telling us and continue to be something we weren’t.
  2. Change everything to become the brand we thought we were.
  3. Correct course and live the truth our customers were sharing with us.

For that brand, we did the honest thing. We said, “Hey, ok we’re picking up what you’re putting down. We’re cheap and fast.” We repositioned to mirror back to our customers what they shared with us and the business exploded in new growth. In every market, there is room for a cheap and fast option.

I always tell people: “Good. Fast. Cheap. You can pick two.” While that brand was fast and cheap, Rise8 fast and good.

In short, if you do a listening exercise and you discover that your customers and peers don’t think about you what you think about yourself, don’t be too proud to adjust your messaging to meet their experience of you. 

This, however, wasn’t the case with Rise8. I thought we were hot. Turns out, we were hot.

Armed with the insights from discovery, we set out to work through what to do with those insights. We know what people say about us when we’re not in the room. What do we do with that information?

Positioning is about laying all options on the table for the ways in which we position ourselves in the marketplace. Having also done a heavy audit of other brands in our ecosystem, we were able to identify holes in the market in terms of how these brands positioned themselves. Once we identified those gaps in the market, we could find which gaps we fill and then commit to one. This commitment would become our north star. 

Our north star was clear: Continuous impact

Phase 2: Foundations

With our north star in place and our compass calibrated, we started the longest phase of all: developing the building blocks of the brand — the brand foundation. Time to give this baby a beating heart.

This is important because the results of this work will inform all future brand communications. The output of this phase was their:

  • Brand story
  • Brand promise
  • Brand values
  • Brand voice and tone

We co-labored to end up with pages and pages of copy that accurately reflected our story, values and promise for all different audiences. Something very important about the final delivery of this phase was that we remember that we were speaking to many different audiences including federal customers, end-users, and recruits. All of these points of view were considered in the penning of these words and that really spoke to the empathy I wanted to see in this brand. 

Phase 3: Identity

This is where labor begins in earnest and we get to see the fruits of the last few months take shape visually.

Building upon our positioning, story, and values, our agency partner worked with us to develop the visual manifestation of the brand:

  • The logo
  • Fonts
  • Colors
  • Assets like textures, icons, and other artifacts
  • Usage guidelines (aka brand bible)

To describe the visual direction of our brand is to say that the direction utilizes mirroring & pairing to represent our approach to creating impact.

Our logo comes in two parts. A wordmark and a logomark. There is a greater Rise8 logo and an artifact -a lone 8- which can be used on its own. The 78º slant is a nod to the origin of our name, the proverb “fall 7, rise 8”. The two sides of the 8 represent pairing.

Phase 4: Activation

The final phase is to deliver it all into the world and this is where I, as a brand person, catch the baby and take over. Without me in the picture, Rise8 would have continued working with outside suppliers to activate the brand and turn it into social media interactions, video content, blog posts, etc. These engagements would require teams of many people and lots of cash. Or one in-house brand director.

At this point, armed with a library of assets and very specific guidelines for how they are to be used, I set out to achieve a number of things:

  • I archived all old brand (aka “legacy”) assets.
  • I provided the team with new templates.
  • I set out to update slide decks we use regularly, some with an eye-watering 100+ slides.
  • I created a Shopify storefront for Risers to access branded items for their clothing and lifestyle.
  • I strategized and launched a rollout for our external audience which includes this piece of content you’re currently reading.

In the end, the Rise8 brand turned out to be incredibly honest and masterfully turned out. It’s classy and elevated, inwardly serious and outwardly spirited just like Rise8.

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