What Happens When a 46-year-old Branding Agency Rebrands Itself?

Monigle’s transformation reflects the era of the assimilated brand leader.

The variety and assortment of responsibilities that appear in the title of brand leaders has expanded enormously in the last five years. The simple CMO and VP/Head of Brand has gained appendages. Titles such as “Director of Employer Brand,” “Chief Marketing and Experience Officer,” “Head of Culture & Brand Engagement,” “Vice President – Insights, Brand & Corporate Strategy,” and “Head of Change Management, People & Brand” are increasingly commonplace.

These “pick n’ mix’’ titles shine a light on the brand leaders (and their CEOs) that are challenging the role that brand plays crossing into adjacent domains including culture, experience, and innovation, and in some cases even change management and corporate strategy. If corporate identity represented Brand 1.0 and positioning defined Brand 2.0, then the experience era that marks Brand 3.0 is defined by the assimilated brand leader.

The Assimilated Brand Leader: “An individual who assumes the responsibility of brand ownership to serve the broader business objectives in a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary way by creating organizational alignment, driving strategic decision-making, and fulfilling the CEO’s transformation agenda.”

The repercussions for all brand professionals — be it on the agency or client side — are far-reaching.

Moving brand beyond simply positioning and marketing is no longer optional. For five years, we’ve been changing in anticipation of this new reality. Monigle’s rebrand embodies the transformation and the challenger mentality that we set for ourselves as one of the country’s largest independent brand firms and the like-minded brand leaders who put their trust in us each day.

The Origin

Monigle was founded in 1971 by Glenn Monigle as a corporate identity firm, evolving to how we define ourselves today as a brand experience agency.

Founder of Monigle Associates, Glenn Monigle

The firm developed a reputation for solid performance year after year, working with blue chip clients such as Rockwell, Bank of New York, Eaton Corporation, Avis and Bank of America. This caught the attention of the big holding groups in New York and London. While an exit is the dream of many entrepreneurs, the owners repeatedly rebuffed all overtures, believing in the value of remaining fiercely independent.

It was this independence that provided the freedom for the firm, now led by Kurt Monigle and Rick Jacobs, to look to the future.

Principals Kurt Monigle and Rick Jacobs 

Preparing for Brand 3.0

In 2012, Kurt and Rick recognized that the quickly changing worldview of the brand leader – driven by digital proliferation, elevation of sophistication levels across B2B clients, and the importance of cross-departmental alignment — would have a profound effect on the business and that change was critical to keep up.

They identified a cadre of senior talent with big agency experience who had become disillusioned by the realities of working for holding company brand agencies. Unencumbered by having to deliver financial results to an outside investor, Kurt and Rick could deliver on an authentic promise of seeking to become “better, not bigger.” Attracted by the opportunity to reimagine the agency’s business and define a culture, these emerging leaders joined forces with existing team members to create a diverse team of trailblazers with a shared set of values.

“I tell every associate, whether they’ve been here two weeks or 20 years, that if we’re doing the same thing in five years’ time that we’re doing today, but we’re twice as big, we will have failed,” said Rick. “Our goal is to become sought-after by the smartest, most interesting people — both as an employer by prospective team members, and as a consultant by prospective clients who have compelling problems to solve and value someone who challenges them.”

A new culture of empowerment and risk-taking

Experimentation and risk-taking were encouraged, and every new project became an opportunity to learn and iterate, challenge and renew. Team members were empowered to chart new courses and given freedom, while holding each other accountable for creating work that propelled our client work (and each other) further.

New service offerings materialized: experience design, journey mapping, employer brand and brand ambassador programs, innovation strategy, retail experience design, and brand activation and implementation.

Monigle’s client base diversified, with clients such as Ally Financial, IFF, Schneider Electric, TechnipFMC, Deloitte, Kodak, Sunovion, Malibu, Vail Resorts and the Denver Broncos complementing our deep focus in health care.

“In four years,” said Kurt, “we’ve seen more change than in the previous 40.”

A new breed of people has led to a new breed of clients that value a challenger mindset.

Catching the Brand up to the Business

“Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast.” – Charles Dickens

“As our business and culture evolved dramatically, we realized there was just one thing that hadn’t kept up,” said Justin Wartell, Monigle’s Managing Director. “Our own brand!”

So a branding agency began the process of undertaking its own rebrand. It was an opportunity to codify all the elements of our business transformation, accelerate the shift in perceptions for those that know us from our past, and set a clear course for the future.

Determined not to succumb to the cobbler’s shoes syndrome, the rebrand was run to the same high standard that any client project would be. Expert practitioners led each of the workstreams, keeping leadership out of the day-to-day work development to ensure that the brand was truly built bottom-up and reflective of the essence of the organization.

“Looking at the mix of work we’re doing today compared to what we were doing four years ago revealed a startling insight,” said Carolyn Bugg, Director of Strategy, who led the development of the brand platform. “Not only are we moving into new service offerings, but an increasing number of projects are taking place post-rebrand, sometimes immediately after another brand firm has finished its engagement. Our job often ends up being to drive continuity and make the work of others function in the real world.”

This revelation became the underpinning for the brand foundation, corroborating the Brand 3.0 philosophy where the hard work truly begins on day two and beyond, after the brand has launched. With an existing strong foundation of ‘Day 2’ services, especially branded environments and our online brand center platform, BEAM, this reality jived well with Monigle’s internal spirit of rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty to bring brands to life in the real world.

Hard-working Brands that Move People

Monigle’s internal launch coincided with the 46th anniversary of when Glenn Monigle first opened the doors of his agency, having left Pittsburgh for his love of Colorado’s mountains and skiing.

The essence of the new brand, captured by a challenger mindset, is the thread that connects back to our origins and reflects the spirit of working together and getting things done.

“The biggest challenge we’ve set internally speaks to the way we’ve reorganized our service offerings to reflect the Brand 3.0 reality,” said Gunnar Jacobs, Executive Director. “The traditional matrix of ‘insights, strategy, expression’ have been rolled up into a single category. New service categories — experience, culture, activation and management — have stepped into the vacuum, and align with the complex assimilated challenges that brand leaders face sustaining a brand from day two to day 2,000 and beyond.”

“Our new brand isn’t about us,” said Gabriel Cohen, Chief Marketing Officer. “One of our clients recently said at their brand launch, ‘Today is the wedding day. Tomorrow, the hard work of making the marriage work begins.’ This means that it’s no longer enough for us to play the part of the wedding planner. We must now learn to be the marriage counselor as well.”

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