Every morning for breakfast I used to have a slice of gluten-free toasted bread. I’d squash an avocado on it, add a splash of lime juice and lots of salt and pepper. It was my favourite breakfast. I loved it. I would look forward to having it every day. Sometimes I also had it for lunch. It made me happy. And then one day I was suddenly done with it. That last avocado lay in my fridge for weeks until I threw it out. I couldn’t even bear to think of it. I wasn’t sure why, but it just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

Something similar happened to me at Akvo. Over the last year, I fell out of love with the Akvo brand we had so carefully created. It used to be exciting, have an edge, always moving forward and changing, but it wasn’t working for us anymore. We tried to work out what the problem was. Imagery was one, but our experiments weren’t taking us anywhere interesting. Also, the hexagons were starting to feel limiting, and our website felt out of date. Everything was getting a bit stale.

Not one to take rash decisions, I tried to work out how to fix this. I wanted the Akvo brand to excite me again, because if it didn’t excite me, how could it excite anyone else? But having worked on the Akvo visual brand for more than six years, it was difficult to review it objectively. It was clear to me that something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was.

I called in help from Fiona Humberstone, a brand stylist who helps businesses create irresistible brands, making them stand out from the crowd. I’d participated in one of her branding workshops a few years ago, and the experience and her style resonated with me very much. In the Marcomms team we often use her book ‘Brand Brilliance’, as it contains great ideas on how to improve our partners’ (brand) experience of Akvo. We asked her to come in and do an audit of our visual brand, hoping she would be able to help us bring it back to life.

Fiona spent a whole day with Alvaro and me in the Amsterdam office. We invited other team members like Luuk, Georgia, Anita, and Peter for short amounts of time to help us bring clarity to why we do what we do, and what it is we believe at Akvo. Fiona guided us through this process, helping us work out where we stand as a business. We came to the conclusion that we may have started out as a software and tool provider for the development aid sector, but that’s not what we are today. We’re not just about tools anymore. Nowadays, we’re much more about sharing our expertise on data, offering technical consultancy and helping organisations improve the way they make decisions by using that data. This is a completely different entry point to what we do and how we communicate about ourselves and it requires us to rethink some of our narratives.

We’re always explaining to partners that collecting less data can give much more clarity, and that planning is key in deciding which data to collect in the first place. However, our own website and materials have got to a point where they contain so much information that partners may struggle to understand how we can help them. That accumulation of information didn’t happen because we made bad decisions, it’s simply part of the process of an organisation growing faster than its team can adjust to.

One of the big ideas we discussed is that we can simplify things by putting less emphasis on our tools, and more on the ways we’ve helped our partners in the past. If you look at any consulting business, they usually talk about the services or solutions they offer. They might mention that they have a bespoke set of tools to make their clients work easier, but they don’t go into too much detail. Their strength lies in supporting their clients with expert advice. And if we’re really honest, isn’t that the case at Akvo too?

Obviously, our tools are an integral part of what we do. They will not disappear, but the way we talk about them will change over the course of this year. Instead of highlighting our tools, we will focus on the expertise Akvo brings to partners. To do this effectively, our marketing and sales materials will change. We’re currently reviewing where to start, and in what order we’ll update everything.

Above: Keywords for Akvo, that will help us describe ourselves.
Top image: Avocado sandwich for breakfast. Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash.

Fiona helped us distill a set of keywords that resonate with us and that will help us update the way we present ourselves. Visually, we’ll add more space and clarity to the materials. On the content side, we’ll describe things differently. At the end of 2017, we already started work in this direction. Think of the removal of pricing from product pages to be able to offer partners more tailored advice, and the new homepage, regional pages and video that we’ll be releasing this month. It was great to work with Fiona and validate that we’re on the right track with this.

“What is it you believe in?” Fiona asked. That’s the first question that we need to answer before we take this any further. All of us believe in something and it’s important that it is the same thing, something we can all stand behind. We’ll be asking lots of Akvo staff members about their thoughts on the question, so we can all become forward thinking again and stand strong together.

Linda Leunissen is Akvo’s art director, based in London. You can follow her on Twitter (@lindadutches).

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave