An Overdue Look in the Mirror
Reflecting on the Hybrid Marketing Rebrand
Hybrid Marketing launched in 2015 with a simple goal: to create a cannabis-specialized agency joining our creative design and strategic marketing abilities and expertise.
The name came easy. Hybrid – a term well-known in the cannabis industry, but also a term that accurately represents who we are as an agency. The branding, however, well, that could wait.
Out the gate, our customers came first.
As a small team, we were 100% focused on ensuring we met and exceeded the expectations and needs of our earliest clients (that’s still our primary focus).
That meant standing up one of a designer’s least favorite things; a quick and dirty logo, followed by a quick and dirty website and some quick and dirty business cards—the essentials.
For the next few years following that initial launch, our team was laser-focused on bringing in new customers and broadening our expertise in the industry. We managed to sneak in a few minor evolutions of our branding and digital presence along the way, but they were merely bandages to get us by.
Fast-forward to 2021; our team gathered in person for the first time in nearly a year for our annual kick-off meeting. It was a day filled with reflections from the past year and projections for the year ahead. We aligned on our business goals and objectives with a significant takeaway: it was time to look at our “packaging.”
Our Director of Strategy, Jonathan McFarlane, often used the term packaging to describe how we present ourselves to the world through branding (and more). And as our team tripled in size, the idea of a rebrand was the awakening we all needed to kick off the year.
We finally launched this exploration of the Hybrid rebrand in June of 2021. And unlike the previous iterations of the brand, we wanted to approach this the same way we’d approach a rebrand project for a customer.
It started with an opportunity for self-reflection through the process of brand discovery. Who was Hybrid today? What did we stand for? What was our mission, our vision, and our values? What were our goals and objectives? How were we going to reach our target audience? How about personality? What actor or actress would perfectly portray Hybrid on-screen?
These questions were asked of every team member as it was essential to understand the different perspectives of our various departments. This also helped ensure the team is deeply invested in Hybrid’s future.
And just as quickly as we hit the ground running, we reached our intermission.
Q3 and Q4 of 2021 brought us more customers and opportunities to support them. It also brought us growth in our team, allowing us to meet the demand for exceptional cannabis branding and marketing services.
So, we took a little intermission on our side project.
2022: The Official, Overdue, Hybrid Rebrand
2022 brought a new kick-off meeting, and we officially laid plans to work on our rebrand.
But this time, it was different.
We knew that the likelihood of us having enough downtime to give this rebrand the attention it deserved was slim, but we had a creative team that was passionate and committed to making it happen no matter what it took.
It took harnessing that passion and excitement and letting it drive us to take on the extra work, often outside regular business hours. Late nights, early mornings, and occasional weekends are not something our culture would expect or demand, but something we were inspired to do.
Our best-laid plans were looking to be coming to fruition finally.
From the beginning, we wanted to take the same steps we’d guide a customer through on the journey of a rebrand. That was still the plan, and we were sticking to it.
Having already gone through an internal discovery less than a year ago, we needed to revisit where things left off and ensure our business objectives were still aligned.
Fortunately for us, not much had changed, and we could move quickly through our internal discovery process and write a creative brief to guide the visual exploration.
The creative team kicked off this process with an internal meeting to ensure we all understood the brand’s direction based on our discovery. Then each team member embarked upon a personal voyage to find inspiration for the new visual identity.
This process is a bit different for each person.
For some, it’s an immersion into Dribbble, Behance, Pinterest, and other digital sources. For others, it was flipping through the latest issue of Communication Arts or a classic branding book. Or maybe even eating a gummy and turning on a favorite album.
Wherever those journeys took our team, they all came together around our conference room table, sharing moodboards that brought inspiration. These moodboards included color palettes, typography styles, illustration styles, photography styles, patterns, textures, etc.
We made some minor refinements and narrowed down these ideas to guide the next step in the process.
Brand Identity Development
As we wrapped up the moodboard phase, each team member brought some amazing ideas to the table.
There weren’t any clear frontrunners or immediate eliminations. It only seemed right to let each direction evolve into the next step in the process. That meant allowing each person on the design team to continue their creative journey, bringing their concept to life.
To do this effectively, we had to allow the creative process to happen, requiring time and space.
For me, ideas often arrive via dreams, or perhaps I’m not fully asleep, and my mind wants to work. From there, my ideas usually move to a steamy shower door.
This process can take days of shower doodles.
I transfer the ideas that make the first cut to paper in a sketchbook. Others on the team took to their tablets using Procreate, and some moved directly into Illustrator, exploring typography.
We set an internal deadline to regroup and review our concepts. The only parameters were that each concept needed to be presented beyond just a logo.
The concepts had to show suggested color palettes, the hierarchy of the typography system, suggested photography styles, illustration styles, or supporting graphics that would be used in branded collateral.
This is the same way we present brand concepts to our customers to showcase how the visual identity lives outside the logo.
The design team met, and everyone presented their concepts for the new brand. As expected, there were a lot of great ideas from which to choose.
The decision would require input from the rest of the team, so we called an all-hands meeting. First, we each presented our concepts to the entire team and then solicited feedback through an anonymous survey.
Now, I wouldn’t always recommend a mass voting process to decide on brand identity, but in this situation, engaging the entire team made the most sense because this directly impacts us all.
When the votes were tallied, the results brought us to a hybrid of the concepts for the final direction. We solidified a direction for the new wordmark, and the supportive brand elements would blend ideas from other concepts.
The wordmark was a custom typeface created by our digital designer, Russ Ault. The letterforms were designed to have balance and fluidity, representing our team’s ability to work as a unit, be flexible, and meet the needs of our customers.
With the wordmark/logo in place, we needed to finalize how the other visual elements would come together and bring the brand to life. The essential items to tackle during our brand extension were:
- Color palette
- Typography system
- Photography styles
- Supporting graphics and treatments
As we explored color, we didn’t want to alienate the original Hybrid palette completely, but that palette was cold and lacked depth. We wanted the new brand to have some warmth to bring balance.
We carried over the primary teal color from the original brand and paired it with colors inspired by the cannabis plant.
This included dark greens and purples with pops of golden yellow and orange. Stark white was replaced with a more natural off-white and some secondary pastels closed out the palette to give the brand a modern aesthetic.
The result was a bright, bold, and playful palette that would allow us to have some fun.
With a wordmark that used letterforms with a lot of character, we wanted to keep the rest of our typography system clean and simple. We experimented with countless combinations of typefaces but, in the end, landed on a combination of Seriguela Display for primary heading and Poppins for subheadings and body copy.
Seriguela gave us contrast, being a condensed font with some unique curves that brought flair without competing with our wordmark. Finally, Poppins balanced everything out as a nice, geometric sans serif.
Regarding photography, we knew we had to shoot as much of our own photography as possible. We all enjoy photoshoots, and custom photos can make your brand stand out.
We scheduled an internal shoot based on some inspiration gathered during moodboarding. The goal was to capture still-life-style photos using funky and unique items paired with everyday office implements.
Our color palette reflected our still life items and some fresh flowers and foliage. We also purchased cannabis clones that we potted to connect the photos to our industry.
With the custom photos wrapped, we wanted to add a secondary photo treatment to our brand guide. Everyone was interested in using halftone imagery and creating visuals resembling screen printing. This idea was inspired by our name and thinking about how halftones and overlays are used to blend colors to create new colors.
The final touch to the new brand was a series of gradient backgrounds that blended colors from our palette. These gradients also represented the fluidity and agility of our company. Our team’s skills and expertise blend and flow together seamlessly to create our incredible agency.
With our brand extension complete, we were poised to launch the new and improved Hybrid Marketing brand.
The big reveal for the new Hybrid brand really came down to designing and launching a new website. We approached this with a collaborative effort, similar to the early phases of brand development.
We looked for inspiration, consolidated ideas, and then moved into wireframes and mockups. This was our first exercise in utilizing all of our newly designed brand elements together, and it took some experimentation to determine the proper balance and hierarchy of everything.
For the next couple of months, we worked together to design, build, and refine the website as the anticipation and excitement built for the big launch. We solidified a launch deadline to hold us accountable. As the day approached, it was all hands on deck, and the passion and energy that fueled the start of this project were at an all-time high.
Launch day arrived, and with the flip of a switch, we published the new Hybrid Marketing site, and the new brand was officially in the world.
In my career, the idea of the cobbler’s children not having shoes was always the reality regarding internal branding.
But this time, it was different.
We have an incredible team driven and committed to doing something new and innovative to make our packaging shine. There was tremendous pride in the work at every step, which is precisely what we see when we focus on work for our customers.
The new Hybrid brand was a labor of love but was also about packaging our company in a way that showed our current and potential new customers that we are the best at what we do.
We are creative, we are strategic, we are forward-thinking problem solvers, and we are passionate about doing amazing work and having a hell of a great time doing it.
We avoided taking a long, hard look in the mirror for many years because we knew what we saw could be better. But it was time. And it felt good to give ourselves some self-love.