At Silverback®, we work with a range of clients across different industries, every day advising them and steering them on their brand journey. So when we decided that it was time to give our own brand a refresh, we thought it would be easy – wrong! All of a sudden we found ourselves in our clients’ shoes, having to make important decisions about our brand that could potentially make it or break it. With a room full of talented designers and design critics who all hold Silverback® very close to their hearts, we knew we had to get it right.
Silverback Studios Ltd. was founded in 2010, by Malcolm Gilbertson. At the time, there were a lot of agencies out there that he felt fell short of what a client would expect from an agency. He wanted to run a company that did things the right way, gave two hoots about producing great, original work every time, and treated staff and clients well. He was determined to throw off the shackles of the traditional client/agency relationship instead focusing on building trusting, fun and effortless partnerships.
This still rings true today and sits at the core of what the agency is all about, building relationships and in turn creating powerful, intelligent design. It is testament to this way of working perhaps that our clients tend to stick around – some have worked with us for as long as we’ve been here!
Malcolm bravely stepped into the unknown and started working with his first client out of his spare bedroom (a concept that we are all too familiar with at the moment!). Quickly, he realised he needed an office space to invite clients to and found our first studio space in Loxwood, West Sussex. Soon Mal took on apprentice, Jake Harris, who has stayed with the Troop and is now a rather talented, fully-fledged digital designer! Jarrett Owen joined shortly afterwards to help head up the digital side of the business. Mal and Jarrett had worked well together previously and saw an opportunity to create a unique creative and digital parallel service. Over the years, the agency has grown steadily to a multi-disciplined design agency, with four main areas of expertise – branding, creative, digital and copy.
At the beginning of 2020, we moved into a beautiful barn conversion in the Surrey Hills, our new home coinciding with 10 years of business. Little did we know that our time there as a troop would be short-lived due to Covid-19. Like millions of other people, Zoom became our new normal. A few months on, we are gradually returning to the barn and it’s so good to be together again.
Today, we offer a full design service including brand strategy both off and online. Our clients range from small start-ups and boutique companies to large high street retailers and global, professional service firms. The variety is what makes us tick and has made us specialists in several fields. We’ve created everything from marketing campaigns, promotional materials and product brochures, through to training apps and bespoke websites.
With our 10 year anniversary approaching, we all agreed that it was the right time to refresh our branding, to reflect the company it is today and to match our vision for the future. Some initial research with clients and our team showed that the agency needed to establish a stronger sense of identity to appeal to the types of clients we want to work with, as well as attracting the right type of talent to join our troop. The company already had the basis of a distinctive and characterful image but we needed to draw on the positive connotations associated with the name and build an engaging and ownable brand. We needed to practise what we preach!
Speaking to our clients, overwhelmingly the feedback was that 99% of the time, we ‘get them’, we have an instinct for what will be right for the client, we don’t try to steer them down a creative route that will win us design awards (although it’s always a bonus!), instead we work closely with them to do the right thing for their brand.
The website had evolved incrementally over time but we felt that it could do more to show the real Silverback® and to be a more useful tool for prospective clients. So we set about looking at every aspect of our brand.
“I knew as the agency approached its 10th Birthday that it was the right time to take a close look at our own brand and consider a refresh. I’m not one for change for change’s sake, so one of the first things we did was to ask our trusted clients, old and new, what they thought of our branding. The feedback from them and our staff in the studio has been invaluable and has helped shape the brand as we embark on the next chapter. I am immensely proud of my team and all that they have achieved, especially through Lockdown. I hope you like our new branding as much as we do!”
We kicked off the brand refresh with a series of workshops internally to pick apart our brand – to revisit our purpose, our reason for being and to map out our vision for the company. Part of this process meant revisiting our internal brand values as we knew that these would underpin our branding and would become even more important as we grow.
It was no mean feat articulating our brand strategy but we got to a place where we felt it truly reflected who we are now and where we want to go.
We also established our brand purpose and promise for our company to keep us on track. We wanted to ensure that our cause was achievable but aspirational at the same time.
Silverback comes from a place of respect for the work and our people, both clients and the Troop alike. We have built a culture of genuine, down to earth people with a common goal to produce excellent work whilst having fun! We are not afraid to take risks sometimes, to be courageous and challenge conventions. We pride ourselves on building trusted and effortless partnerships.
As part of the process, we revisited our brand values to be more relevant to who we are today. They are:
We are not afraid to take risks, to be courageous, to stand up for what we believe in and what we feel is right.
With our clients’ knowledge and our expertise and creativity, together we believe we create strong and differentiating communications.
What you see, is what you get. We are down to earth, honest and sincere. We genuinely care about everything that we do.
This is the bit that makes us different. We are a talented group of specialists that instinctively know what is right for our clients and the brands we work on.
We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to have a bit of banter in the studio and with our clients (where appropriate!).
Previously, our strapline was Powerful, Intelligent Design. This is just as relevant today as it was when we set out but we have repurposed it, instead simply using Your Creative Partner, as our strapline. We are all about collaboration and becoming an extension of our clients’ teams.
We’re always asked why we’re called Silverback. Well, silverbacks are big, strong and powerful, with an innate wisdom that goes back for generations, almost to the beginning of time.
So how does that relate to a design agency in the Surrey Hills?
Silverbacks are respectful of their troop, protecting and nurturing it with their lives – they thrive on collaboration, are brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, and know instinctively when they’re right.
“At the time, I was reading a book about silverbacks and their troops and I imagined a place where everyone respected each other and worked together towards a common goal, like it was second nature.”
Our research showed that the name Silverback was distinctive and established but the ‘Studios’ had a mixed perception – so we decided moving forward we would be known simply as Silverback®. We knew also that we should be clearer about the story of the silverback and why this wonderful creature was chosen as the name for our agency.
“When filming Mountain Gorillas in the Congo, I encountered a magnificent Silverback named Mukunda (which means likeable). There are around 700 wild mountain Gorillas in the wild and Mukunda is unique, he roams into villages outside the forest – never threatening and always curious, an individual; bold; a communicator for his species.”
Thanks to James Incledon Photographer & Videographer, the name has always stuck and so we decided not to keep him hiding in the forest but to bring him to the forefront of our brand story as a steadfast symbol to lead the way.
We worked up a range of directions to share with our clients and partners. We didn’t realise how difficult it was to be a client until we stepped into their shoes! It was important to us to get their input, as well as our staff and other people that know the agency well. The feedback was very reassuring and intriguing in places, showing us the importance of working together, that they consider us an extension of their team, which fits absolutely with our ethos of collaboration.
We decided on a simple, friendly logotype in black and silver, keeping some of the heritage of the old, the upper and lowercase giving it more personality and friendliness. Like a gorilla, it is bold and strong. The intentionally larger than normal registered mark represents the moon that shines ‘silver’ on the gorilla’s back.
We made a conscious decision not to use the gorilla in our logo but instead to create an emblem of our friendly ambassador, Mukunda. This gives us more flexibility to use him as an endorsement or by himself sometimes, for example on social media. He is a symbol of collaboration to our partners – a trusted friend, an ally and a valued partner. The moon shines on his back creating the ‘silver’ – his knowledge, experience and instinct. He has even been animated so he can be watched marching as your page loads on the website.
For us, silver symbolises wisdom, community, collaboration, empathy, compassion and heart. The moon is there as a steadfast symbol, shining silver on Mukunda’s back. It is there to guide him through the jungle. The relationship between Mukunda and the moon is symbolic of our partnerships with our clients. With your knowledge and our expertise, there are no limits to our creativity.
As well as the logo and emblem, we have designed a brand toolkit that comes together to create a distinctive look and feel for Silverback®. This includes colour palette, fonts, image style and tone of voice.
Black, white and silver have always been the main colours for our brand and we saw no reason to change these. We decided to introduce green as an accent colour to underline and pick out information. We spent quite a bit of time choosing the right green – we wanted something vibrant and also a colour that you would find in nature, in the jungle where a silverback gorilla would live.
Our headline font is Filson Pro, a friendly, clear but bold font and to contrast, our secondary font is Quasimoda, used for everything that is not a headline.
The silverback gorilla and his troop inhabit the jungles of Africa, a lush, dense, environment with an abundance of flora and fauna. The amazing palette of colours and textures are our inspiration. The images are a collection of macro shots that can be used as background images or feature shots. Our people photography are natural shots to capture the real personality of our Silverback® troop.
We know the big part that copy plays when it comes to good design. There is sometimes a tendency to write in a way that is overly formal and full of jargon. We were keen that our tone of voice reflected our values and our straightforward, honest approach, with a touch of humour where suitable. We want the reader to feel engaged, as if they are having a conversation with us, to get a feel for what it might be like to work with us. We worked with one of our specialist copywriters to make sure it was just right. To help embed our new tone of voice, we have written a simple guideline for employees, so we are all writing in a consistent way when it comes to the brand.
“We take the time to get to know your brand, living, breathing, smelling it, and picking spiders out of its hair. Because we really care about the work we do, and the people we work with. No job is just another job to us. It’s an opportunity to create something new we’re all proud of that makes your brand more successful – it’s what we get out of bed for (as well as coffee and chocolate croissants).”
Troopwork® is teamwork but taken up a notch. It’s where a collective effort between us all creates standout work we never thought possible on our own. You bring your insights and knowledge, we step it up with our creativity and wise silverback eyes, then effectiveness, loyalty and success are born. We’re only successful if you’re successful.
One area that we find is often overlooked is registering a name of a product or a url for a website. It can be a long process, so we applied early on to register Silverback® rather than Silverback studios. We have also registered Troopwork® and the url YourCreativePartner.co.uk.
When the opportunity came up to move the troop to a brand new studio space on a farm in the Surrey Hills, we jumped on it. Visiting the site in the early days gave us a glimpse of what the future might look like (along with a glorious view of the countryside). We were lucky enough to be able to influence the interior design and so, of course, being designers we were quick to get out the swatch books and choose our finishes to tie in with our new brand identity! The furniture was carefully chosen to use natural wood finishes, contrasting with silver and black metal cabinets and the green was used as an accent colour for soft furnishings. The result is a striking but calming environment that pleasingly fits with our new brand identity. Thanks to Julian Millar at MPS and Sven Furniture.
We knew from the start that we wanted a website that showed the ‘real’ Silverback®. It’s easy to hide behind a website and sometimes when you then meet the people, it comes as a surprise, there is a mismatch. We are all about being honest and proud to be who we are. We wanted the copy to sound like us, to be conversational, to engage the user. The use of bold headlines and engaging copy draws the user in, encouraging them to find out more. The new website clearly shows our different specialist areas, showcasing the work we are most proud of with eye-catching visuals. Where appropriate we use some humour and fun to show that human side, to make a connection. Mukunda is never far away and animates as the page loads. The result is a clean, slick, responsive site full of useful content and insight, giving the user a real flavour of what they could achieve with Silverback®.
The new identity has been rolled out across all our printed items including stationery, signage, banners and our presentation templates. We have also designed assets for our digital media including an animation of Mukunda walking, social media assets and a digital newsletter template.
We’re just at the start of our journey using our new branding and can’t wait to get our teeth into the rollout.
“It’s exciting to see how Silverback have gone from strength to strength. Their collaborative approach and great client relationships make for long term success. Having an agency who gets your brand and helps you take it forward is vital in a competitive and every changing world. Silverback are always looking to go beyond the obvious and propose ideas that you might not have thought of. This ability to innovate sets them apart and means that they genuinely add value to every brief.”
We have always believed in investing in and rewarding our people. They work hard, we reward them, they stick around – win, win! We know that actions speak louder than words, we need to live the brand and what we stand for. We encourage our employees to give each other kudos, be it for an amazing piece of work or a great cuppa, via our online system. Every month there is a winner for the most kudos given which is awarded at our team pub lunch, Firsty Friday. We find it incentifies our people and even through lockdown has kept the troop connected and motivated. At the end of the year, we have an ‘awards ceremony’ to celebrate our combined achievements. It all ties back to our ethos of working together and Troopwork®.
It’s so important to make sure employees are on-board with the new branding so we have created an inspiring brand handbook for existing troop and updated our Welcome book for new starters. We have also put together a set of behaviours to further embed the branding so our troop knows what is expected of them, in a fun and simple way. We want Silverback® not only to be attractive to prospective clients but also to be appealing to future employees as a good place to work.
We can’t be called Silverback® and not give back to the incredible creatures who’ve inspired our ethos. The more videos and articles we see, the more respect and affinity we feel for gorillas. Sadly though, they’re severely under threat due to deforestation, disease and poaching, where they’re sold as pets and trophies, or as medicine and magical charms. So we’ve adopted a gorilla from the Susa group of mountain gorillas through the WWF – it’s the least we can do. He’s called Ihoho (pronounced e-hoe-hoe), meaning ‘incomparable beauty’, which is how gorillas are considered in Rwanda.
The WWF helps protect gorillas by safeguarding their habitats and training the rangers. To find out more, visit http://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/great_apes/gorillas/
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