Alexa Lombardo

Posted on Feb 06, 2023Read on

Evolving Gitcoin's Brand Strategy: An Intro

TLDR: Gitcoin is evolving, and so is our brand strategy, which will mean some changes to our visual identity too

  • For the past few months, we’ve taken inventory (as a community) of our brand and embarked on our brand evolution and expansion journey

  • The precursor to much of the visual work was the much less pretty strategy work, which started with an examination of what brand means and how it gets translated, followed by a deep exploration of our existing brand elements, then an examination of the broader landscape

  • This post walks through what brand is and why it matters

  • Then, it walks through the steps we took - the research, the discovery, the discussion - to lay a foundation for evolving brand strategy

Why are we talking about evolving the Gitcoin brand now?

Gitcoin was founded with the purpose to further the development and funding of open source software.

Over the years, how we fulfilled that purpose changed - from bounties to hackathons to Gitcoin Grants. So has how we describe our purpose, switching between words like open source, public goods, and most recently, shared needs. In the same vein, as our vernacular has evolved, so has our look and feel. Illustrations have shifted from robots to astronauts, colors have shifted from dark to light to dark again. We’ve also had open forum discussions call attention to our evolving language and visual identity.

Today, we’re at a critical point in our evolution, perhaps as critical as when we unlocked the potential of Quadratic Funding, the mechanism that has to date made our Grants Program so successful. We’ve taken years of learnings and turned insights into action, creating a range of pluralistic tools that can be leveraged at scale, opening unprecedented opportunities for local communities and their supporters to build for global impact.

And with this change - this next phase of our evolution - comes the need to re-look at ourselves, and in particular, our brand - which is much more than our logo and illustration style, it’s the emotional connection that comes from the total sum of expressions by which we’re recognized. Inevitably, as we evolve, so do these expressions. But how?

How do we even define brand?

The terms brand and brand strategy are frequently used interchangeably. There isn’t always a shared, clear understanding of what they actually mean, or how they’re different from each other. This lack of clarity can sometimes result in misunderstanding – and a communication breakdown around a critical part of any organization or business.

So first goal: define Brand.

For many modern companies, their brand is their single most valuable asset. Nike. Patagonia. Coca Cola. This is also becoming true for many recognizable brands in the web3 space - Uniswap, Aave, Lens, Zora, FWB.

What first comes to mind when you think brand? Probably logo. Maybe color. Maybe typography. But it’s also likely something else; something intangible yet incredibly powerful at the same time. It’s a feeling. It’s the gut reaction that happens when someone thinks of the brand.

It’s not just the logo, the font, the color palette. It’s more than the visual identity (all of those things – logo, font, palette - plus other visual elements like iconography.)

It’s more than the verbal identity (the vernacular or words you use, voice, and tone.)

Brand is the emotional connection that our audience, community and customers/users have with our organization. It is shaped by our name, logo, overall visual and verbal identity, marketing and advertising, and—most importantly—the experiences customers associate with us. It’s the sum of all expressions by which an entity (person, organization, company, business unit, city, nation, etc.) intends to be recognized.

This means:

  • How people identify us

  • How we express ourselves

  • How we create a shared understanding, appreciation or association

  • …through memes

  • …through visual cues like logo, color palette and typography

  • …through written cues like unique vernacular

  • …through serial content like blogs, podcasts

  • …through events and experiences online and off

A few things brand has the power to do:

  • Garner loyalty

  • Inspire word-of-mouth marketing

  • Convert users to ambassadors or evangelists

  • Set us apart from others in the marketplace

But isn’t it different for decentralized brands?

I recognize that a lot of this sounds “traditional” and a lot of web3 brands might scoff. But these things are part of human psychology. Yes, while there are some nuances for decentralzed brands or headless brands, that does not mean most of these aspects go unshared.

A lot of decentralized or headless brands will say the major difference is the brand is not created internally and thrust upon others, but is created by the community from the ground up, and is in their control. Other Internet says a decentralized brand belongs to no one, and can be remixed by anyone. It’s a meme. It can only be “designed” in a very limited sense. It has its own autonomy, generated by the contributions of individual actors, a million person chorus acting as one.

The fact is, brand is not nor has it ever been in our direct control – it’s always in the minds of our community. This is true for all brands, not just decentralized ones. There’s always someone creating, contributing, and someone else taking in, absorbing, and interpreting on their own - this is not new to web3.

With that being said, there are ways we can take action to shape our brand indirectly in order to strengthen it and shift perception. It doesn’t need to be “yolo’ed.”

How do we decide on those actions? How do we even know what kind of brand we want to have? How do we decide how we want to be perceived? How do we help shape the way our community perceives us as a whole? This is where brand strategy comes into play.

Brand strategy is the ‘big picture’ plans and tactics deployed by an organization to create long-term brand equity and competitive advantages from branding.

Aka, it’s:

  • a plan to actively influence how people perceive our brand

  • clarifies where we’re headed

  • defines what we’re are trying to achieve

  • provides a map and compass, setting a True North so to speak, to help us get there

  • helps us figure out what to do, and perhaps even more importantly, what not to do

It’s not (important clarification here!)

  • a business strategy, which is also being worked on simultaneously.

According to Other Internet, “headless brand strategy is an ecosystemic affair and entails the mobilization of a decentralized set of actors. At its core, it revolves around giving agency to different stakeholders in a way that lets them coordinate more effectively and feel connected to the brand. What projects can do, in this context, is provide the resources, tools, and wayfinding devices for different stakeholders to converge around a single narrative.”

We love a good iceberg meme - here’s one for Brand:

Why does this matter for Gitcoin?

  1. To help us articulate and communicate our core values: People usually buy into why you do what you do before they buy into what you do. To attract and retain loyal contributors we must understand and communicate what we stand for.

  2. To help us identify weaknesses in our brand experience: If the experiences our audiences have interacting with us aren’t consistent, we’ll struggle to build trust and customer loyalty.

  3. To filter out ill-advised ideas that would damage your brand-building efforts: It’s easy to succumb to shiny-object syndrome. A clear brand strategy makes it easier to make prudent decisions.

  4. To create accountability: Committing to a clear brand strategy helps keep everyone in the organization accountable, focused on high-yield initiatives that will actually move the needle. It helps us stay on track.

  5. To focus our marketing efforts: By narrowing and clarifying the scope of your marketing efforts, we can ensure smoother and more effective execution of marketing campaigns. We know who we’re targeting, we know what they care about, and we know how to speak to them.

  6. To help designers and creatives do better, more effective work: Without a strategy to underpin creative decisions, they are inherently subjective and arbitrary. Brand is also critical to driving product design and user experience.

  7. To align and engage the team in the vision: A major part of the brand strategy process is getting our team to buy into the vision and values of our brand.

Components of an effective brand strategy

  1. Values: These are the beliefs that inform everything we do.

  2. Vision: The message that speaks to our target audience, telling them what we’re here to do and why we’re here to do it. It tells them what to expect when they interact with our brand.

  3. Mission: A brand mission is how we work towards our vision – or the “how we do it” complement to the “what are we here to do”.

  4. Positioning statement: A positioning statement encompasses all of the above and effectively communicates value proposition to your ideal customer or target audience(s).

  5. Audience: This is who we’re here for - and our target audience should be laser focused.

  6. Voice and tone (as well as specific messaging/vernacular): A framework around how we communicate.

  7. Look and feel of our brand identity: A good strategy can guide the creative expressions of our brand identity to make sure they are aligned with our positioning goals and the tastes of our main audiences.

So, what does all of this mean for the Gitcoin brand?

When not building a brand from the ground up, there are two ways we can talk about updating Brand Identity. They are brand refresh and rebrand.

A brand refresh is when a brand attempts to modernize its image while maintaining its core identity and strategy. A rebrand is a complete overhaul of the brand’s identity and strategy, typically enacted when the current brand strategy fails.

At Gitcoin, we haven’t had a clearly defined brand strategy informing design in the past, thus it is challenging to objectively say whether or not we’ve succeeded or failed. However, given the success of the Gitcoin Grants Programs, which can be considered our “MVP,” the subsequent initiatives that have succeeded and ultimately “spun out” of Gitcoin, and the brand affinity and equity we’ve established among our core audiences, it is appropriate to say we enter this next phase of our evolution with a range of achievements, and therefore owe attention to past visual and verbal expressions.

Where do we begin with Gitcoin’s brand evolution?

Brand Strategies begin with insights and research, which is what we’ve been doing since this initiative kicked off a few months ago. We began the brand evolution work with a DAO-wide brand attributes workshop during a DAO-vibes takeover. Since then, we’ve conducted numerous discovery interviews, competitive/landscape research and working sessions in order to put pen to paper on a brand strategy that can inform the intentional evolution of those brand expressions - from typography and color palette to tone and merch. And that’s what we’re excited to begin sharing in the hope to kickoff a robust discussion around brand, and answer any questions you might have about this work.

Below summarizes our work to date, including:

  1. Brand Attributes Workshop 

  2. Discovery Interviews

  3. Brand Strategy Audit 

  4. Brand Visual Audit 

  5. Brand Working Group Work

  6. Market/Competitive Insights

All of this is the foundation upon which we’re building a brand strategy. We hope that by sharing this here we can gather any questions and comments that arise and in turn answer them through future discussion forums. 

I. Brand Attributes Workshop

To kick off the brand evolution work, we hosted a Brand Attributes workshop where we asked the community key questions from which themes started to emerge. These informed the themes we explored further in subsequent working group sessions as well as in key interviews. *See FigJam here. *

The TLDR: 

  • Questions we asked: 

    • What makes us different?

    • How would others describe us?

    • How do we sound to others?

    • What impact will we have?

    • How do people feel interacting with us?

  • Themes that emerged: 

    • We are unbound by existing systems

    • We are hopeful for a better future

    • We empower people to make positive change

    • We enable regenerative initiatives

    • We celebrate the many, not the few

    • We believe in the power of collaboration over competition

    • We educate around the value of public goods

    • We welcome people with open arms

    • We are leaders not followers

    • We create foundational infrastructure - things to be built on top of

    • We help foster more equitable, whole lives

    • We invest in our community and their communities

II. Discovery Interviews

**Next, we interviewed key thought leaders across the organization, asking them a series of questions that would help us distill key insights (specifically areas of alignment and misalignment), uncover key strategic opportunities, understand history and flag challenges. *Find full Discovery Findings here. ***

  • Where We Are: We’re in the in between - a state of flux - but we know there’s greatness in our future.

  • What We Do & Why We Do It: We’re mission aligned and inspired - we empower communities to fund their shared needs. This expansive purpose shapes our product vision.

  • What & Who We’re Here For: We are for the greater good. We’re human centric and community first - and we build in service of their needs.

  • What’s Next: Our current brand identity isn’t always serving us - and there are opportunities for us to optimize to make the community feel more connected to our vision. A lot of what’s been done in the past was “yolo’ed,” and we’re ready to be more intentional with our visual and verbal expressions.

III. Brand Strategy Audit 

Simultaneously, we reviewed publicly available expressions of Brand Strategy (Mission, Vision, etc.). As part of our work, we reviewed and referenced our community’s past work and defined a set of challenges. *Find entire Brand Audit here. *

  • Challenge 1: Lack of Cohesive Narrative Across Past, Present & Future: There was no single source for our brand narrative - the where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going, which made it challenging identify intentional messages

  • Challenge 2: Mission Incohesion: expressed in different ways in various places across owned and partner channels; additionally, there wasn’t a common thread connecting our mission to our product roadmap

  • Challenge 3: No Defined Community Aligned Values: our values were never clearly codified for our community - and while they were several iterations of them, none felt wholly embraced

  • Challenge 4: No Defined Personality Traits: while our brand has a personality, it often feels like an afterthought, and was never specifically defined in a set of traits acknowledged as shared by us/the community.

  • Challenge 5: Inconsistent Messaging: Overall inconsistencies;Style, tone and comms hierarchy are unclear; often lacking call to action and reliant on descriptive, prescriptive language rather than inspiring or insightful

IV. Brand Visual Audit

Next, we reviewed publicly available expressions of Brand Identity (Logo, Illustration/Graphics, Web Design, etc.) to showcase where our Strategy and Identity are working in or out of alignment in order to make strategic recommendations for future design considerations.). 

As part of our work, we reviewed and referenced specific visual expressions across touchpoints including but not limited to: 

*Find entire Brand Audit here. *

  • Challenge 1: Logo Cohesion: There are inconsistencies in how our logo and lockups are used 

  • Challenge 2: The Astronaut (or Robot) as a Symbol: While we use this as a symbol, some of the symbolic elements are misaligned with what we do

  • Challenge 3: Iconography & Illustration: Iconography style inconsistencies which can create confusion and mistrust, plus not serving the core utilitarian purposes for communicating information

  • Challenge 4: Website Visual Impact: Across certain touchpoints, we’ve intentionally created moments for users to feel connected and engaged with the overall experience - but interactive elements are inconsistent and lack relevance to our messages/intentions 

  • Challenge 5: Inconsistencies Across Product & Protocol: “Vibe” inconsistencies across product and protocols

V. Brand Working Group

We created a smaller working group (a precursor to what we’re now calling Pods - comprised of cross-workstream contributors) to begin ideating around Brand Strategy that builds upon our existing Brand Purpose, creating a cohesive Brand Narrative - giving us more clarity around key strategic elements and considerations that can inform the evolution of our visual identity. 

To better understand our process, visit our Brand Evolution Board

  • Our aim was to begin to define how we would align the DAO around a set of common values and objectives so we can collectively do a better job in allocating resources, setting priorities, executing, and evolving towards a shared “North Star.”

  • Here, we looked closely at the role of audience within the strategy, reviewing past surveys to understand audience needs and where their current affinities lie 

  • We examined our product pipeline and positioning to better understand where we fit in the market today and where we’re going 

  • We took into consideration our own organization - the DAO - and what that means in relation to brand strategy

  • We began to define our mission, vision and values, the foundation of the brand strategy 

  • Last, we shared this work with a bigger working group for feedback, as well as with Design contributors  in order to begin looking at design considerations - and that’s where we are today!

VI. Market/Competitive Insights

While we strive for originality, we must also take into consideration market trends and forces as well as what our “competitors” are saying and doing. This helps us ensure we’ve got an edge but are also remaining top of the game. Here’s a summary of our findings.

What comes next? Honing our brand strategy 

With this foundational work completed, we looked to define our Brand Strategy. The Brand Strategy is not meant to be overly prescriptive. Rather, it aims to offer a framework as well as a set of tools that should give contributors and the community a clear sense of direction. It also helps to inform design development and decisions. . Simultaneously, it should also act as a membrane, not as a hard shell. We want to build a brand that feels inviting and inclusive enough for contributors to take it and turn it into something outside our wildest dreams in order to inspire greater affinity and connection across our audiences.

That Brand Strategy became the lens through which to continuously evaluate and refine design. Stay tuned for upcoming posts that map out that strategy and give explicit examples around how we’re applying it.