When your brand needs a new identity

Food company Small Giants, which makes crackers from cricket flour, decided to rip up its branding and start from scratch. Its co-founders explain how they approached everything from finding a new name to nailing a fresh visual identity.
Small Giants hero

In March 2020, insect-based food brand Crické bagged £150,000 in investment. The company – which had its origins in trips its co-founders Francesco Majno and Edoardo Imparato took in southeast Asia – decided it was time to shift direction, find a new manufacturer, scale up production and, crucially, rename and rebrand itself.

Up to that point, the founders had built the brand themselves. ‘When we started with Crické, we thought about it from our own perspective. We found a name that was OK for us, but we didn’t really put ourselves in the customers’ shoes,’ says Edoardo. It turned out the name was riddled with problems. ‘The accent isn’t on the English keyboard so, for most countries in Europe, it’s difficult to even find us online. Some people were thinking, is it “crikey” or “cricket”? So there was a problem with the pronunciation.’ In addition, Crické is tied to the word ‘crickets’ – but what if they wanted to expand their product line to other insects? ‘It was very limiting,’ he says.

The founders were convinced they needed a complete branding overhaul to compete more broadly with other healthy on-the-go snacks. Obviously, this was going to require some help. The fledgling company decided to turn to London-based branding agency Midday Studio after being impressed by its work in the food-and-drink industry.

The first step was to share with Midday their vision of where they wanted to take the company, and the research they had done in their previous brand-building work. They had already tapped Crické customers for feedback, which helped them to identify the problems with their name and brand, and also gave them a clearer idea of why people were buying their products.

With Midday, Francesco and Edoardo mapped out the customer persona they were targeting. Previously, they had – rather too broadly – aimed at three personas: ‘sporty types, environmentalists, and foodies’. With the agency, these types were blended and refined into a single ideal persona, the defining feature of which was a passion for trying new foods.

Mission, values and inspiration

Pinpointing their target audience was a critical step that coincided with crystallising and refining their mission. Since founding Crické, ‘we created the values basically unconsciously,’ says Edoardo. ‘It was a flow, nothing written down.’ After speaking for hours with Midday, the agency then showed the founders a presentation with the values and mission. This process was a revelation, Edoardo explains, and underscored just how invaluable an outsider perspective can be.

‘Even if you don’t work with an agency, I really suggest speaking to someone else who is not involved in the project full time, because they can basically sum up everything in three words. It’s like, “OK, that’s what you think, but the real core is this.” It’s much easier to work with someone else who is not 100% involved,’ he says. ‘It can be someone outside your circle or bubble, or an agency, but it’s really important to have the feedback of someone else. This is something we learned the hard way.’

Crické’s early forays into branding had lacked originality. The company had tentatively tried to imitate brands it admired, such as Oatly. The need for novelty was even more pressing as the founders looked to pivot towards the broader on-the-go snack market, where branding is competitive and high quality. The team sought inspiration from a variety of food-and-drink categories, pinpointing brands like Hippeas, Dalston Soda and Ugly Drinks as particularly compelling.

‘Always stay curious and disruptive; don’t stay in your comfort zone,’ says Francesco. ‘Keep your eyes wide open to everything that could be an inspiration to you, not just [brands within] the limited area of your business.’

A bold new direction

Having honed their target audience and mission, and casting more widely for inspiration, the founders presented a mood board to Midday with a rough brand vision. The agency came back to them with three concepts and a list of names. Together, they weighed up the pros and cons of each. The investment and the agency’s input had boosted the founders’ confidence and they opted for ‘Small Giants’ and a bold new direction.

‘We are trying to do something very bold, which is bringing insects into the western diet, so our brand identity also has to be bold. Before, Crické was a little bit shy because there was a lack of security in ourselves,’ says Edoardo. ‘If you play it safe, it’s very difficult to shine on the shelves, on social media and everything else.’

Small Giants ticked all the boxes that Crické didn’t – it’s easily comprehensible, pronounceable and typable across Europe. It’s not restricted to crickets, and doesn’t even mention insects explicitly, but rather alludes to them suggestively. The way they broach things is ‘similar to Red Bull in a way; very memorable and evocative, but not just putting insects or bugs in the brand name’, Edoardo says.

Nailing the visuals and tone

The next challenge was bringing an illustrator on board. This was crucial to the ‘weird and wonderful’ identity Small Giants sought to create. The agency presented some options, but the founders were enthralled by the surreal work of Brazilian illustrator Fernando Molina.

There were initially linguistic obstacles that made conveying the vision and specifications challenging. But before long, on a creative level, ‘it was just like he was speaking exactly the same language,’ says Francesco. ‘He already had some characters that were similar to what we had in mind, so it was there.’

Fernando’s humility and responsiveness smoothed the tricky process of adapting the illustrations across everything from web to packaging. ‘Anything we asked for, he was available to change – say, the colours or the movements of the cricket,’ says Edoardo. The curvy, jaunty vibe of the illustrations they ended up with enabled Small Giants to have an insect front and centre, while remaining inviting and appealing.

The playfulness of the visuals and animations and vibrant colours fed into the overall tone of voice the brand tried to cultivate. The idea, Francesco says, is to ‘always be weird and wonderful – to have people being curious. We want to be informative but we don’t want to be boring.’ Using such bright colours was extremely important, Edoardo adds, to convey the right mood when the topic is something like eating insects.

Perhaps the most surprising thing amid all that striking, weird and wonderful use of colour is the revelation that Small Giants’ illustrator is colourblind.

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.

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