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99designs: The Power of Branding

Posted At: December 9, 2013 4:30 p.m.
by Ashley Jones

99designs logo

Many often resist the thought of change. For most organizations, rebranding is a daunting task, but a necessity in order to keep up with the changing tides of the growing marketplace. 99designs, a San Francisco-based online graphic design marketplace, puts a fun and creative spin to the challenging rebranding process with its community contests.

The community contests, which focus on finding innovative designs for an organization’s potential rebranding efforts, offer companies the opportunity to engage with their customer base while giving designers the chance to showcase their artistic abilities and build relationships with potential clients.

For each contest, designers are asked to create a new logo for the organization. A select panel then judges the designs, and the winning designer is awarded a cash prize.

“The contests are a great way for companies to get a broad perspective from designers and for designers to meet new clients,” said Jason Aiken, product manager at 99designs. “It’s also awesome PR for us because it gets people talking about our company.”

Since launching in 2008, 99designs has quickly become one of the fastest growing online graphic design marketplaces in the world. The online marketplace, which has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Forbes, has held approximately 257,000 contests and has more than 260,000 registered designers in 190 countries worldwide.

“We’re always on the lookout for interesting ideas for design contests to give our designers a fun new challenge,” said Lauren Gard, PR manager at 99designs. “Oftentimes, our ideas stem from some kind of public controversy or compelling news around a major brand.”

Two of the company’s most popular contests generated national attention and even sparked a little controversy, too. 99designs recently hosted branding contests for two professional sports teams to get fans excited about rebranding their teams. Each contest gained hundreds of unique entries and served as a way for the sports community to connect with its most loyal fans.

The New Orleans Pelicans

After the New Orleans Hornets, a National Basketball Association team, unveiled its plans to change the team’s name from the Hornets to the Pelicans, 99designs created its first professional sports rebranding contest.

“The logo contest gained a lot of attention and was a cool way for designers to express their creativity,” Aiken said.

To select the winning design, 99designs ran one external poll and two community polls. The contest had a remarkable turnout, receiving more than 1,000 submissions. Although the rebranding contest was a success, it was met with resistance at first.

Aiken noted that change is always difficult and can sometimes cause controversy, which is good from a PR viewpoint.

“Brands have to be prepare themselves for resistance and negativity,” he said. “It takes time, but people will adapt to the new brand and become okay with it.”

Ultimately, some organizations are faced with trying to figure out how to change its brand or update its brand in a way that preserves how people feel about that brand. The winning logo for the Pelicans contest did just that.

The Washington Redskins

After earning positive results from the New Orleans Pelicans rebranding contest, 99designs launched a community contest to help promote a potential mascot transformation for the Washington Redskins, one of the world’s most expensive and historical sports franchises. The company’s graphic design community submitted more than 1,800 entries for the National Football League team, which was facing criticism for its derogatory name.

According to Gard, “The goal with this contest is to rebrand the franchise based on three different name suggestions with a logo that’s a little more positive. And to have fun with it!”

Aiken added that the Redskins contest was immensely successful because of the public’s interest in the controversial topic.

“People are so passionate about the Redskins,” Aiken said. “The contest was really the perfect storm of everything coming together. There was tension politically and a lot of talk surrounding the name change so the contest got a lot of attention.”

The winning logo incorporated two D.C. icons, the Washington Monument and the Pentagon, and judges thought the logo’s sleek look would work well for branding and merchandising.

Several of the Redskins contest designers gained public recognition for their work and were featured in the print edition of The Washington Post, as well as online, and dozens of other designers’ work appeared in articles in Fast Company, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and other major media outlets.

“It’s rewarding to think 99designs may play even a very small role in helping to promote change — numerous journalists and Redskins fans indicated they were on board with a name change after seeing what a potential Redskins rebrand could look like,” said Gard.

Although the Redskins have yet to change their name, hopefully the team’s owner Daniel Snyder will take note of the tremendous reaction the 99designs’ rebranding contest received.

The power of branding

The power of branding simply cannot be underestimated. If the sports and PR industries have taught us anything, it is that change is all a part of the business. Aiken noted that organizations must remember why they are rebranding in the first place and that there has to be practical reasons for doing so.

“When it comes to the rebranding process, the most important thing is knowing who you are, knowing what you are trying to achieve and knowing who you are trying to reach,” he said. “Be purposeful.”

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