We were recently invited to participate in San Diego Startup Week’s first ever brandathon. “What’s a brandathon?”, you ask. Good question. The idea was to pair start-up companies who need branding help with agencies that specialize in branding, and have each company and agency pair compete as a team against other company and agency pairings to see which group could come up with the most effective rebrand in a single day. We said, “why not?”.

As one fellow agency representative pointed out, it was much more of a sprint than a marathon. We had about three hours to work through a process that we usually spend a couple of months on! We dove as deeply as we could with Juan Ortiz-Romero, LendIt’s CMO, to develop a rebrand approach based on quickly-attained insights and a bit of our branding instincts.


We won the competition but that was not at all our main objective. We were there to help a company (we were paired with mobile app start-up, LendIt), to work alongside other talented creatives in a pressured environment, and to experience the dynamic energy of San Diego Startup Week.

In the end all of the agency/company teams deserved accolades for discovering creative and viable rebrand approaches in a very short amount of time. The other agencies that generously participated were HuemanelyThe Collective, and Office of Awesome.

Through this unique experience, we were reacquainted with a few principles of creative development. These truths surfaced in the fast paced setting, like old friends, reminding us lessons learned on our agency’s journey.

Ask and listen

Ask great questions and listen to the answers. This may not be an absolute requirement for great branding, but I believe it is. You’ve got to gain insights for your brand strategy to stand on. You have to ask the questions aloud to your team, client, passersby, anyone who can lend deeper understanding. So often we start off listening but then think, “we’ve got this”, only to miss out on additional thoughts and ideas. We started the brandathon acutely aware of how short the timeline was, and the risk inherent of not asking and listening, thus we were 100% focused in the discovery phase, careful not to miss a single piece of info.

Follow strategy

Once the questions are asked and the answers recceived, some sort of strategy must be developed. As marketers we sometimes fall into the trap of looking for solutions first. Great branding is built on a strategic foundation that connects the solutions with a  bigger, unifying, and grounded concept. We found that, under the time pressure of the brandathon, this was especially evident as we worked to develop multiple marketing materials in a short period of time.

Begin anywhere

This is one of our favorite items from Bruce Mao’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. So often a project gets stalled because it’s leaders are paralyzed. This can come from not clearly seeing the end result (which you rarely do), or being afraid to pursue a particular idea (who isn’t?”. Bruce reminds us to just begin, and that is what we had to do with one day to work. And it was a welcome reminder that this approach is amazingly effective in helping teams gain momentum.

Trust your instincts

Although we would never suggest that an actual rebrand effort be limited to a single day, this exercise was a reminder that gut instincts are accurate. Creative teams that solve tough brand challenges regularly develop a keen sense of what will work for a particular brand, audience, or marketplace. The take away here is not to solve every problem with your first, gut level thought, but rather to capture the initial thoughts and treat them with reverence. They will often be the idea that wins the day.

The brandathon was great! Big “thanks” to  San Diego Startup Week, our fellow agency participants, the companies who participated, the judges, and all of the SDSW attendees. We learned and grew, and were reacquainted with some familiar but important truths about what we do as branding experts.

A Quote From Lendit CMO:

“Their professionalism was evident from the start by the level of detail they packed into the initial brand conversation, where they asked and inquired about our company background, audience, and platform in general. The questions weren’t so much about the business as much as they were about our end user, and it meant a lot to know they had a deeper understanding of who this re-branding is for.

The best part of the event was the big reveal! Not only did the imaging and color apply a fresh new pop of life to our brand, they also took the time to work out creative examples, a positioning statement, and they even suggested a new font.

I was blown away by what they had created in only a few hours. It was clearly recognizable as our company, yet the details in the logo and design elements gave it the humanized touch we wanted.

We don’t think we could be happier with the work you gave us. We will be back for more.”

– Juan Ortiz-Romero, LendIt CMO

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