Prime Chuck Creative | BATS Improv
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BATS Improv innovates the craft of improvised theatre through engaging, playful, creative performance and training. It is San Francisco’s most highly acclaimed and longest-running improv company and school and the center for the unique style that BATS pioneered — a one-of-a-kind blend of theatre and comedy inspired by audience suggestions and created on the spot by highly skilled actors.
As creative as this organization is, they were having trouble identifying and communicating their brand. Their logo was used inconsistently and didn’t accurately convey their professional playfulness. Show posters and marketing emails had no unifying design or point of view. Their website was uninviting, hard to navigate, had no clear message, and didn’t present all the information that their customers needed. On the back end, it was very difficult to manage, resulting in out of date information and constant stress for the webmaster. They needed a complete brand and website overhaul.
Adding to the rebranding challenge was that BATS is really three organizations: a company and theatre, an improv school, and a group training and custom entertainment provider. Like so many nonprofits, BATS was understaffed, with no dedicated marketing or communications personnel. Past experience with consultants had not produced measureable results, in part because the recommendations were not implemented. Thus, BATS leadership’s decision to rebrand was met with skepticism from some staff and company members.
original Home page
Step 1: Assessment
Working closely with BATS’s managing director and artistic director as well as their marketing consultant, Jeff Fox of The Blueshirt Group, we reviewed existing marketing and development materials, past research, and customer and community feedback. We noted the lack of consistent visual identity (as shown at right). We examined customer needs, vision, core purpose — how BATS perceives itself. We asked the client to determine a measurable goal for the rebranding, which they decided was full houses for shows and classes.
Step 2: Research & Discovery
To better understand how BATS presents itself to the world, who its customers are, what they want, and how they perceive BATS, we
- conducted a stakeholder focus group
- spoke informally with students, audience, staff, company, and board
- attended shows
- participated in a beginner’s improv class
- carried out paper and online surveys of audience, students, and corporate training clients
- reviewed secondary research on improv and the Bay Area comedy and theatre marketspace
- reviewed reports from two previous consultants
- spoke with BATS PR agency
We wanted to find out where customer perceptions and BATS messaging are aligned and where they do not connect. We also wanted to determine how major stakeholder perceptions fit in with both of those.
Specifically, we explored and synthesized data on the following:
- the comedy/live theatre market in the Bay Area
- the competition
- customer needs and demographics
- common misperceptions
- core purpose
- core values
- core competencies
We presented our findings to a group of major stakeholders (company members, staff, board, high-level volunteers), listened to comments and concerns, and gathered feedback. Like many arts organizations, BATS Improv has inspired a tight and loyal community with strong opinions. It’s important to be transparent in your process and provide several opportunities for stakeholder feedback if you want the community on board with rebranding (which you definitely do). This is especially true with nonprofits, where recognition, authority, and ‘being in the loop’ can be more meaningful compensation than the paycheck.
Step 3: Insights & Creative Brief
Our research led us to a number of insights, including
- BATS customers fall into two general categories — audience and student — which require somewhat different messaging. Each of those categories has a dedicated and a casual subgroup, which offers another opportunity for refining marketing and development messages.
- BATS most dedicated customers (both audience and student) value the community the organization has created as much as the art and entertainment it produces.
- Most customers at that time were unaware that BATS is a nonprofit and gives back to the community through outreach programs like Laughing Stock, which offers free classes to those with life-threatening illnesses and their caregivers. Most customers said that knowing BATS did such work significantly raised their estimation of the organization and made them much more likely to donate.
We kept such insights center-stage as we created the customer profiles and articulated BATS’s vision, purpose, core competencies, values, personality, and brand message.
We then presented a draft creative brief to the board, senior staff, and other stakeholders that included
- an overview of the comedy/live theatre market and BATS’s competition
- customer needs and profiles of the top four types of customer
- common misperceptions about improv and about BATS that could be countered in company messaging
- vision (click to enlarge)
- core purpose
- core competencies
- brand message
- general guidelines for the new visual ID
After we incorporated the stakeholder feedback, we handed the creative brief off to Ozzo Design to create the new visual ID and website design.
Step 4: Visual Identity
Using the elements expressed in the creative brief, our partner Ozzo Design created half a dozen choices of logo and palette while we offered about ten candidates for taglines. BATS formed a stakeholder committee to help select the new ID.
We were delighted that they chose the Golden Gate-colored ‘BATS bridge,’ which so elegantly places the organization in San Francisco while expressing its values (creativity, collaboration, playfulness) and personality (engaging, friendly, professional). “It’s a bat. It’s a bridge. It’s a crown. It’s a mustache.” The viewer is a full participant in creating meaning for the image.
Step 5: Website
Working closely with Ozzo Design, we guided BATS through development of the new site map and helped them select the design. Ozzo created wireframes as well as mockups of key pages to help BATS get a clearer idea of the design candidates.
Once the design was confirmed, BATS realized that creating site content was a bigger job than they could handle themselves. Initially, they had hoped to port over most of the content from the old site, but this was not possible: new pages needed to be written, old copy needed heavy editing, and the site required current, professional photos.
(Some clients hope to save money when rebranding by recycling old content or creating it all themselves. Because most clients don’t have the time or expertise to produce high-quality material on schedule, we recommend working with a professional to develop your site content. It often costs less in the long run, results in a better product, and greatly reduces client stress.)
BATS hired us to project manage all client-facing aspects of website development and to write/edit the copy. We decided weekly conference calls were needed for updating, discussion, and decision making as well as to help the clients stay focussed given the other demands on their time.
Before & After: Home page
Before & After: Shows page
Before & After: Company page
Step 6: Implementation
As part of our rebranding package, we offered BATS a brand book (really a style-usage-experience guide) and a 1-hour training session for staff. Our brand books formalize the client’s brand and marketplace elements and provide communications tools such as an editorial style sheet and boilerplate copy.
Using concrete examples, we demonstrated how BATS could create a brand-consistent customer experience — from the design of the lobby to fundraising emails to how staff answer the phone. We also provided BATS with a compilation of the marketing and communications recommendations, ideas, and copy bits that had come up through the course of the project but weren’t within the scope of rebranding. (Once our thinking caps go on, especially when working with such a fun and creative organization as BATS, they tend to stay on.)
When we conducted our first focus group/brand workshop with staff, board, and company members, skepticism toward the rebranding was quickly replaced by excitement. After we presented the research findings and creative brief, several longtime company members told us that the new vision statement, in particular, re-energized and renewed their love for the organization. Branding is a hollow gesture unless it first generates enthusiasm within the company itself.
BATS rolled out the new logo and website in the summer of 2014. Their Facebook page, emails, posters, signage, and all other print materials were updated to consistently express who they are. They are currently planning to remodel their lobby to further reflect their brand.
The website features selects from their new YouTube channel. We’ve posted two of our faves below. Humans love BATS.