Pinky Joshni working at her textiles shop in Udaipur, India. Credit: Allison Joyce
Pinky Joshni working at her textiles shop in Udaipur, India. Credit: Allison Joyce

Eight weeks later – early lessons from an INGO rebrand

It was the endless question at Traidcraft Exchange, asked countless times over five years: should we rebrand?

The arguments in favour were compelling: we don’t sell crafts, we’ve moved away from the concept of aid and we do very little exchanging. But there is so much value in the trust and recognition that a charity’s name builds over time.

It wasn’t a simple decision, but on the 21st of September, Traidcraft Exchange became Transform Trade. The brand change moved from a question to a reality.

Eight weeks on, we can share the early insights from life after the switch. For any charity leaders, comms staff or anyone who lives in fear or hope of a rebrand – this is what we’ve learnt so far.

It never goes to plan

We had the launch date planned for months. On Wednesday 15 September, we would send our new look website and new identity out to all external contacts and supporters.

On the 8th of September, Queen Elizabeth II died and the country went into a period of national mourning. We had to delay the launch.

Ultimately, the extra time was welcome to get everything in order. But it illustrates the point: no rebrand happens in a vacuum – things will go wrong, and plans will change.

It’s good to say goodbye

The rebrand at Transform Trade is the tip of an iceberg – the sharp end of three years of strategic discussions, organisational shifts and new initiatives. Changing our identity has allowed us to say goodbye to so many things that needed to end.

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One example is the concept of “aid”. An early principle of the Traidcraft era was “trade not aid” – puzzling then that it features so prominently in the name. Renaming ourselves Transform Trade mirrored a shift away from channelling large statutory grants – to more participatory, localised grant-making which puts communities in the driving seat.

It has enabled us to say goodbye to a traditional aid model, both in name and in practice. The semantic shift gives us a constant reminder of the direction of travel – away from aid, towards true partnership.

People will make a choice

We’ve had lots of positive feedback about the new look and Transform Trade identity and good early results to back that up. But at the same time, unsubscribe rates on our email list are higher than usual and will likely remain so for a period.

What we are seeing is that the clarity of our name change is forcing people to make a choice. As we become more focussed, some supporters will miss the things we have lost. Others will realise that we were never who they thought we were. With every opportunity, there is also a cost.

A label is enough

A major conversation that comes about during a rebrand is around tone of voice and brand personality. These are interesting debates that are often difficult to translate into concrete rules.

One change we have made as a result of such conversations is that we talk about ourselves less and the people we work with more. We try to make the distance between the supporter and the communities we work with as small as possible.

In other words, when we are talking about our best work, we don’t say: “Transform Trade did X or Y”. Instead, we talk about the person who did the hard work – the farmer, artisan or worker. We trust that our name and logo will be enough to share our part in the story, and allow others to truly own their success.

You never arrive

It is easy to assume the question of rebranding is binary: will it be good or bad? On the other side of an identity change though, it becomes clear that everything depends on implementation.

A new brand toolkit will help you get noticed, and perhaps recognised – it can shift the perception of an organisation. But every time someone sees our new logo, they also see us – our content, our work.
Transform Trade is a better name than we had before. The colours and fonts we now use are more suited to this current decade. But this brand is only as good as we make it. The journey continues to make all this mean something important. We still need to do the work.