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The Quirky Academic – KJT’s Brand Journey

KJT has spent several months redefining and redeveloping its company brand – including a new logo, color palette, typeface, mission/vision and key messaging…not to mention a retooling of its website, client materials and social platforms. Hear from KJT’s CEO [Michaela Gascon] its Design Manager [Melissa Lippa] and Sprout Growth Services’ Creative Director [Peter Simpson] on the what, why’s and how’s of a true brand journey!

Q:      Michaela, as a veteran KJT employee and the company’s new leader, can you tell us why you felt a KJT brand refresh was needed at this time?

MG:    In 2007, when the company was founded, we came out of the gate focused on building a pipeline of client work, hiring staff and putting KJT on a growth trajectory for the future. Several years later, when we started to really lean into Design Thinking, we updated the logo a bit and adjusted the tagline to be “Insight by Design.” Up until last year the brand just ‘rode along’ in a passive way. Today, our revenues are at historical highs, and our count of employee-owners has grown to keep up with our engagements. As such, the company’s leadership felt the time was right to get into the driver’s seat with a disciplined brand strategy that reflects who we are as a company, anchored by our core values.

Q:      What were the first steps on KJT brand journey?

MG:    We approached everything very analytically – as if one of our clients needed our help to make a business decision. We used the same basic service design principles to facilitate the creative process, including our initial deep dive sessions with Sprout. There was a lot of Co-Creation going on with our own team and with the Sprout marketing team. Many perspectives were shared about how our brand currently plays in the marketplace – and how we find the white space for KJT to differentiate itself within the competitive, and fractured, landscape. We Evidenced through the entire brand journey, from copy editing to design selection. It was an iterative exercise, akin to our own research, prototyping and Sequencing to ensure we balanced the Co-Creativity with alignment.

Q:      Were there any surprises along the way?

MG:    We used the brand archetype wheel as one of our tools in classifying KJT brand characteristics. I was unsurprised by everything that pointed to the Sage brand, which signifies guidance, expertise and sharing knowledge to help clients make better decisions. That’s what consultants and market researchers do at their core. We also fit neatly into the Creative category, which matches with the KJT methodology, representing design thinking and client collaboration.

What pleasantly surprised me was the energy around Magician, which is all about innovation and cutting-edge technology; turning a complex situation into a simple solution. It was a learning for me, to give more credit to KJT’s innovative ability to make more out of data and create valuable knowledge for our customers to implement.

ML:     As Michaela said, most of our work confirmed what we already thought about the brand, it just gave us the tools to basically tell our story. Throughout the exercise, our overall personality trait continued to come back to ‘Quirky Academic,’ which feels completely accurate!

Q:      Peter, can you give a Creative Director’s perspective on the best way to create or refresh a brand?

PS:     For me, it’s critical to have the strategy work in place first, as well as a start to the ideation before you begin creating the visual elements of a brand. Otherwise, it won’t be true to who you are, and clients/consumers might not even understand what you do. By the same token, if your strategic underpinning isn’t there, the work is oftentimes subjective based on personal preference. That inevitably adds time and costs due to multiple interpretations and iterations as you go through the review process with key stakeholders.

Q:      What can you tell us about the new look and feel of the KJT brand?

PS:     KJT is a fairly young and modern company that serves a sober purpose – delivering market research to the healthcare segment, where the client decisions they influence can have a real impact on patient outcomes. So, the brand can’t be frivolous or whimsical…but at the same time, we wanted to differentiate from the staid, conservative research brands out there. We had to find a middle ground that represented friendly, approachable – and even fun – combined with the characteristics of discipline and expertise that engender trust in the KJT brand. We had to capture that duality, as well as represent their portfolio that provides both qualitative and quantitative research to several different healthcare segments. Finally, we needed to leave enough space for the company to grow – so the visual language doesn’t look worn out a couple of years from now. Here’s where we netted out:

The KJT Masterbrand logo portrays the friendly, modern and approachable nature of the company through its rounded features and engaging colors. We made ‘Group’ a secondary element, resulting in a simplified and streamlined mark that sets a tone better aligned to KJT’s unique brand identity and the company’s overall value proposition. The double speech bubble represents a two-way conversation, meaning co-creation as well as an homage to qualitative research represented by the white bubble and quantitative research with the donut chart:

We also moved to an engaging and emotive color palette has also been developed to support the KJT brand and to empower the business in all endeavors as it moves forward.

All these visual elements of the brand are aligned to the company’s new Mission/Vision statements, which Sprout helped KJT to develop:

Q:      Melissa, as KJT’s Design Manager, how are you implementing the new brand elements?

ML:     The new brand elements are helping us to up-level all our 1:1 client materials, including the company’s primary work products: reports and presentations. With the new branding, we’re able to showcase KJT, as well as our work, so we’re now presenting our best selves to our clients, alongside our best work.

When you do a deep branding exercise like this, you also want to take the opportunity to polish everything up, from new team headshots on the website to updating colors, fonts and imagery throughout the marketing portfolio. It’s now a united look and feel throughout that’s clean, fresh and fun.

Q:      Can you tell us about updates to the KJT website?

ML:     We’ve taken the time to improve the KJT web experience by both implementing the visual elements of the brand, as well as simplifying the navigation and improving its functionality. We’re also working on a dynamic content strategy to regularly showcase our people and capabilities, including team highlights, opinion pieces, thought leadership, research reports and trending topics. It’s another opportunity to present the KJT brand through our messaging, inviting people get to know us even better than before and displaying brand characteristics such as approachability, collaboration and expertise.

Q:      How has the new brand been received internally?

MG:    Company leaders who participated in the full exercise have told me they really enjoyed the process of critically thinking about who we are, who we’ve been and where we want to go as a company. To be really intentional about our brand has energized a lot of our people who worked on the project.

It’s brought a lot of overall excitement to the full KJT team. Employees are embracing the brand as an important part of our company culture, which continues to evolve positively.

Given our growth and development in the past year, it was the perfect time to roll out the new brand, which gives us an opportunity to introduce new clients and new employees to who we are, while building momentum and enthusiasm around where we’re going as a company.