Written by Marc Bolick
Times of crisis just might be the best moment to craft new strategy and launch a new brand.
DesignThinkers Group USA was born out of a trust relationship between my co-founder, Joel Van Dyke, and the co-founder of DesignThinkers in Amsterdam, Arne van Oosterom. Since our founding in 2012, we educated the market and grew our practice alongside our DesignThinkers Group colleagues around the world.
Our business grew as the market began to adopt design thinking as an innovation methodology. Steadily, the market for our consulting and innovation capability building services began to take off.
Then, the pandemic hit. And everything changed overnight.
Need for a New Vision & Strategy
By August 2020, we were at an inflection point. We had been in business for eight years, but we didn’t feel like celebrating. While we leaned heavily into retooling our services for a virtual world, our business had slowed significantly becasue of the pandemic. We weren’t sure when, or if, things would ever be the same.
Our strategy was emergent, meaning we had a set of services we offered that we adjusted and iterated as the demand for design thinking evolved. It wasn’t the result of a formal process; it wasn’t written down and our services were constantly evolving.
So, amidst some of the most turbulent times in decades, we decided to embark on a purposeful vision and strategy development process.
Gaining Fresh Insight, Inside and Out
Before we started the series of strategy workshops, our team knew we needed to talk to our customers.
We kicked off our vision and strategy development by scheduling a dozen customer interviews aimed at understanding how the pandemic was impacting their business and what areas were top-of-mind. After collecting client data we sorted and made sense of the data. All this was done online and iteratively over a few weeks.
What emerged was a clear set of themes that our clients were struggling with, including employee engagement, DEI, sustainability, organizational agility, managing innovation, and dealing with change fatigue.
To complement this outward-facing data, we conducted a survey of our team to get a sense of what they wanted from our strategy development process. These fresh data points fed into a series of vision and strategy sessions conducted in August 2020.
Co-creating a New Future
To help develop our vision and strategy, we engaged an expert facilitator and good friend, Robert Bau, and used Lafley and Martin’s five-step Playing to Win framework. I can’t say enough about how important it is to have an experienced, external facilitator to guide strategy development!
Over three half-day online sessions, we made sense of the research data, shared our personal aspirations, mapped ideal projects, explored competitors, conducted SWOT analysis, unpacked the DesignThinkers Group brand, created “onliness” statements, and itemized our team skills and capabilities (PHEW!).
Between each session, I reviewed the outputs with Robert. He then created reflections and starting points for the next session.
This work led us to a clear vision of where we wanted to go as a team, a set of service areas to develop and refine, markets we would focus on and the winning formula we would use to carve out our unique value proposition.
Deciding to Rebrand
After a few months of testing and iterating our vision and strategy, we started thinking about our brand.
The DesignThinkers Group brand had served us well. But there was a strong force of gravity that was pulling us toward something new — a new brand to capture our new vision and service mix that our team could enthusiastically champion to help clients get to true impact. So we decided to launch a new brand.
I knew we were embarking on a journey that would shape who we, as a team, would become and would propel us forward, together, to the kind of work we all want to do. But I knew it would be hard. And it wasn’t clear how it was all going to come together.
I recall a conversation with a friend on a bike ride one evening. We were pedaling along and catching up on things when I shared that we were embarking on a rebrand. She said, “Oh! Well, good luck. We just went through that and it was all-consuming for our founders. Be prepared to spend a lot of time and money in the process.”
The Journey to reshift
2021 was a bridge year. We did a ton of internal work to expand upon the vision and strategy we had set in the co-creation sessions. It became clear that our services needed to include tools and methods beyond design thinking to include systems thinking, strategic foresight, human behavior, agile concepts and other methods and toolsets.
We also started exploring new names. Boy, was that hard! We engaged another outside team and a group of trusted friends to brainstorm possible new names for the company. It was difficult, messy, frustrating; it didn’t get us to something we were comfortable with, but, it provided fodder for the next steps.
By 2022, business started to pick up and life was slowly returning to a sort of new normal. Two years after our initial strategy work, we asked Robert to help us refresh the strategy and prepare for the rebrand. The clarity that emerged set us on the path we needed to be on — but there was still the question of our new identity.
In fall 2022 we engaged theturnlab to help us to craft our story and come up with a new name. This process was hard because we had to put our future in the hands of a new partner.
theturnlab team were patient and diligent at guiding us through the process. They presented us with a short list of names, and we eventually landed on reshift.
Those months leading into 2023 were intense, agonizing, exciting, stressful, frustrating…you name it, we felt it. But we emerged with reshift. And it felt right!
Launching the New Brand
If the vision and strategy was stage one, and finding the name and story was stage two, stage three was all about bringing the new brand to life in how we present ourselves to the world.
We needed yet another partner to get us across the finish line. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the amazing Cheryl Farr and her team at Signal Brand Innovation. I call Cheryl my ‘brand whisperer’ — she has been the most helpful and supportive partner we could have ever imagined, who appeared at just the right time.
As I write this, we are three weeks into our launch and we could not be more excited. We have a new set of clothes in the form of our visual identity, website, and brand style guide created by our long-time team member, Cecilia Rivera. Our customers are reaching out to congratulate us on the new brand and scheduling time to learn more about reshift.
The Bottom Line
All of this renewed excitement about who we serve, what we do and who we are is incredibly rewarding after our three-year journey. It’s great to have a new brand. It’s even better for that brand to feel like a perfect fit — like a pair of shoes that were made just for us to wear.
The most important reward by far is how it has energized our team. We’ve all been through a three-year soul searching, a kind of collective walkabout to discover who we want to serve and how we can help make the greatest positive impact for our fellow humans.
We have arrived at a new beginning. We have made a shift and innovated our own business and our brand identity. The risks were high and the costs were significant, but we used our own process, methods and design principles to get to this renewed sense of purpose.
Was it worth all the effort? Heck yeah!
Author Marc Bolick is founder and managing partner of reshift, an innovation support partner for leaders and teams seeking Big Change. He draws on decades of experience in product and service innovation to facilitate collaborative problem solving and drive impact for the most complex challenges organizations face.