3 Lessons We Learned From Rebranding Gusto

Why a successful rebrand should be a collaboration

Jason Marder
Jan 27, 2020 · 5 min read
A new sign-in page that celebrates humans at work.

July 22, 2019, was a big day for Gusto. We launched a completely overhauled brand and a massively improved product experience.

What happened seemingly overnight started with nearly two years of tough questions: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What do we have to do to get there?

The answers kept pointing to the idea that our brand is our product and our product is our brand. This meant that a new identity system would have to be built by brand and product, together.

Pro tip: Get leadership input early. We led workshops for our leaders to visually interpret our brand identity, which directly informed our creative choices. Images courtesy of the author.

So what’s a brand? And why does it matter?

Well, it turns out to be incredibly elusive, so buckle up. Is a brand a logo? A mission? Your website or customer support? The last interview your CEO did?

It’s every one of these things and so much more.

Brand is in every choice a company makes and how people experience those choices.

The irony of such a concise definition is that it shows you just how big the scope of brand really is.

So let’s make it a little more tangible.

  • If you’re a clothing company, your brand is not just the style of your garments. It’s the fabrics you use, where they came from, your packaging, your website, the return process…
  • If you’re a restaurant, your brand is not just your food. It’s the plates and silverware, your staff, your physical space, your menus, your bathrooms…
  • If you’re a physician, your brand is not just your license to practice medicine. It’s your communication style, your empathy, your office’s interior design, your staff, how often appointments start on time…

Does it make more sense now? Brand = product and product = brand.

The drama of ‘another rebrand’

If you’ve heard of Gusto, you might be asking, “Didn’t you just rebrand?” Well, sort of.

We changed our name (from ZenPayroll to Gusto) and our logo (because the old one probably wouldn’t work anymore), but we left the brand behind. The more time passed, the more different Gusto felt across touch points.

Finally, it reached a breaking point. There was suddenly a clear business case for building a holistic brand with longevity.

Does this feel like one brand to you?

Adding seats to the table

Even with leadership bought in, the excitement wasn’t universal. Readying the product for the last brand launch was a massive undertaking with many late nights and code changes. Understandably, the idea of “another rebrand” sent shivers down many Gusties’ spines.

Building the new Gusto would mean a big investment. We knew it’d be worth it and we had to convince everyone else it would be too. And that’s exactly why the brand had to be built around a table rather than in a silo.

The core team was equal parts agency and internal. There were product designers (👋), copywriters, and brand designers. It created real but important creative tension that led to more resilient decisions.

So how might product designers make a brand better?

Here are three lessons we learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

1. Leverage your superpowers

In the time since our name change, the industry-wide conversation about accessibility and inclusive design became much louder. We had a long way to go to become a hallmark example of inclusive design. And being a company that empowers humans at work, we had no choice but to make meaningful progress.

And who knows accessibility better than anyone? Product designers. Our quest to find the perfect primary and secondary brand colors was always mediated by contrast tests. Talk of readability, x-heights, letterforms, and glyphs were as much a part of our typeface conversations as assessments of their expressiveness and humanity. By grounding our foundational brand choices in accessibility, product design made the new Gusto a lot more durable.

Accessibility was embedded in every brand decision because accessibility is deeply human.

2. Give the brand a reality check

Driving consensus around visual elements is an incredibly painstaking process. Things like logos, colors, and typefaces elicit strong reactions that can be hard to articulate.

So how might product designers move decision-making from a matter of opinion to a matter of fact? By creating conversation through visualization.

We zeroed in on the final logo by testing it across product touch points. We scrutinized contender typefaces by putting them in dense tables, just like those our users see every time they run payroll. By pressure-testing brand elements through prototyping, we were able to make more confident creative decisions with lasting power.

Pressure-testing brand elements through prototyping helped us make tough choices.

3. Push the brand into the future

Our team was constantly envisioning ways to innovate our product and service experiences in line with our new identity. But the rest of the company, many of whom are unfamiliar with the value of brand, had a harder time imagining the tangible impact.

To inspire the company with the promise of our new brand, I built a “realistic fiction” version of Gusto three years into the future with the goal of showcasing new product ideas rooted in celebrating humanity at work. Across the company, it drove home the ways that brand materially influences our product and the value it adds for our users.

Vision work helped the company understand how our brand can drive innovation and make our product more human.

New beginnings, bright futures

We’re still at the very beginning of life as the new Gusto and we still have a lot left to figure out. But the brand we have now is a whole lot sturdier because of the multidisciplinary team that built it and each member’s unique skills.

Our brand and our product now scaffold each other, rather than compete against one another. And as they grow, we’re able to make better, faster choices, while feeling more confident in how those choices are experienced.

(Psst—we’re hiring in SF, Denver, and NYC.)

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Jason Marder

Written by

Design @ Stripe. Previously redesigned Gusto. Life enthusiast. Lover of all things delicious. www.jasonmarder.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Jason Marder

Written by

Design @ Stripe. Previously redesigned Gusto. Life enthusiast. Lover of all things delicious. www.jasonmarder.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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