How a Successful Rebrand Restored Stakeholder Trust in the Government of Canada

by Feb 17, 2016Brand, Strategy0 comments

“The intangible effects of a rebranding can be profound. This situation proves it.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As a student at the University of Ottawa, I would walk from the Rideau centre to campus a lot. Every time, I would pass a few homeless people along the way. I always thought to myself: Why isn’t anything being done about this homelessness problem? I felt really guilty about it too, as if I should have taken matters in to my own hands. If you were to have told my younger self that only a few years later, I would be helping homelessness initiatives in Canada through marketing, I would have called you crazy… Yet, here we are.
I had the incredible pleasure of working very closely with the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), a division of Employment Social Development Canada. They are in charge of delivering a nationwide program to reduce and eliminate homelessness in Canada. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. There’s a division in the federal government dedicated to homelessness? I had the same reaction when I got their call. And the answer is yes. On top of that, HPS, as well as the communities they fund, are making a HUGE difference in Canadian homelessness. It’s a great initiative. You might also be thinking: Where does marketing come in to play with trying to reduce Canadian homelessness? Good question. Allow me to explain:

The need for a rebrand.

HPS partners with its stakeholders (local organizations called community entities and community advisory boards) to help implement the Housing First approach – said to be the proven way of achieving this daunting mandate. The problem is that Canada is an incredibly diverse country; this is true for Canadian homelessness too. The homelessness needs in Vancouver, BC are totally different from those in St. John’s, NFL. This idea was echoing throughout the frontlines too. Some of their community members were vocal about how the Housing First approach wasn’t suited to meet their local homelessness needs.
This resistance to operationalize the government’s strategy was a result of many factors. One of which, was the communities’ perception that the Canadian federal government wasn’t aligned with their local needs and initiatives. The communities felt as though HPS was taking a top-down approach, rather than working with them.

"The problem is that Canada is an incredibly diverse country; this is true for Canadian homelessness too. "

HPS got the memo. The feedback was loud and clear. The team at the Homelessness Partnering Strategy actively briefed the Minister’s Office on these issues and that it was time for a change. In effort to improve program delivery, HPS set forth a plan to improve the way they communicated with these stakeholders - that’s how marketing comes into play. The rebranding of HPS was among the priorities in this plan.

HPS' old brand.

This was the HPS banner prior to the rebrand:
This banner was developed internally. The concept behind the circles was to graphically represent Canadian Homelessness initiatives. The large circle represented HPS surrounded by smaller ones, which were said to be the communities. The choice of colours was simply explained: “We couldn’t use any colour that was employed by a major Canadian Political Party, except for the royal Conservative blue, which paid homage to the Tories (who were in power at the time). Without being able to use shades of red, blue and orange, you don’t have many colours to choose from. So, green, brown, and yellow it was!” Some people internally were quite vocal about disliking this look. I’ll paraphrase their opinions:

  • The combination of green and brown is very outdoorsy. This is kind of inappropriate for a homelessness organization…
  • The circle concept accurately depicted the top-down approach that was felt by the communities. Everything seemed to revolve around HPS, when it should, in fact, be a more collaborative effort.
  • The look was too corporate – it corresponded with the Government of Canada’s (GoC) standards on common look and feel, but it didn’t reflect the uniqueness of this community-based initiative.
  • “This look might have been okay for the 90’s. But it’s 2015.” (I’m convinced that Justin Trudeau stole his famous line “Because it’s 2015” line from someone at HPS… But that’s for another time 😉

In short, this branding didn’t represent the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Plus, the communities didn’t identify with it at all. The need for a rebrand was well justified.

HPS' Rebrand.

Through various consultations with the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and extensive research, we came up with criteria for their new look.

  • It must be professional and corporate; as to still respect the government standards on common look and feel.
  • It must not use the colours of any major Canadian political party. Here again, red, blue, orange were out of the question. Green was still okay to use though…
  • It should reflect the uniqueness of HPS’ community-based program, a model that is rarely used in the federal government.
  • The design had to be more organic and purposeful than the previous one
  • Lastly, it had to renew the communities’ trust in HPS and inspire collaborations that would help to achieve the core mandate: to reduce and eliminate homelessness in Canada.

This was the end result:

It was apparent that this was still a federal government initiative with the Canada logo at the bottom right hand side of the page, but this rebrand definitely reflected the uniqueness of the HPS program. It was professional and, at the same time, very organic. The design – use of colours, paint strokes and massive lines - was dynamic. It was suggested that the lines appeared to represent homelessness initiatives from coast to coast. The use of green was subtle (it didn’t suggest that HPS was partial to the Green Party of Canada) and this colour was also the common point between the old and new look. The shades of grey fittingly represented the fact that homelessness initiatives aren’t so black and white. This new look really appealed to HPS. They only hoped that the communities would feel the same way…

Launching the rebrand - renewed trust.

HPS launched their new look at a national workshop they organized in the winter of 2015, where representatives from all community entities and advisory boards were present. The response was overwhelmingly positive. An HPS representative spoke with me after the fact about how well the communities responded to the rebrand during this workshop. Congratulations and compliments were given left, right and center. The renewed look certainly inspired everyone in the room. The communities seemed to really warm up to HPS; they were much more receptive and collaborative during the proceeding presentations and discussions as compared to the resistance that was felt at previous workshops. This look didn’t only inspire and engage the communities, it did the same for the people working at HPS too - proof that a successful rebrand can have an incredible impact on both internal and external perceptions.  The rebrand couldn’t have occurred at a better time either. HPS was launching several other innovative initiatives following its rebrand. It was said that the communities’ renewed trust in HPS greatly helped the adoption of a national online homelessness forum – to my knowledge, the first of it’s kind in the world - and the national Point-In-Time Count.

Concluding thoughts

The intangible effects of a rebranding can be profound. This situation proves it. In the case of HPS, it can truly be said that something as simple as a renewed brand image helped restore their communities’ trust. It has since significantly improved the way HPS and these communities collaborate to locally implement the federal homelessness initiatives designed to achieve their core mandate. When you really think about it, this rebrand helped to reduce homelessness across Canada. That’s truly priceless. It was an honour for me to take part in this undertaking. I want to personally thank HPS, the designated communities and everyone else that deserves credit for contributing to this incredible homelessness cause. For everything you do, thank you. If you are unfamiliar with the incredible programs that are being offered to reintegrate Canadian homeless people back into society through permanent housing and supports, I highly recommend that you to read up on it.

Meet the author.

Taro Abarbanel-Uemura

Marketing Strategist

Meet Fortified Marketing's founder and lead marketing consultant. Taro loves reading fascinating articles on various marketing-related subjects, just as much as he enjoys writing about them. When he isn’t savouring a latte while working on his newest blog post, he can be found at a coffee shop in Ottawa's Little Italy, or marathoning shows and documentaries on Netflix.

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