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An Inside Look at NorthOne’s Brand Reinvention

How Ferst Digital Became NorthOne In Just 6 Weeks

NorthOne is Canada’s first mobile focused tech-powered banking platform designed around the unique needs of startups and small businesses. Given the impact that poor financial literacy and controllership have on small business failure rates and costs, NorthOne is building a banking platform whose very mission is to eliminate these problems. As such, it not only acts as a banking platform, but as the tech-forward Finance Department so many of these businesses could never afford.

🤔 Why did we decide to change our name?

When we started building the company, we were very proud of ‘Ferst Digital’. By naming the company after the Canadian entrepreneurs who had incubated us, and had been our thought partners since the inception of the idea, we thought we were tapping into a long-standing tradition in financial services. “Finally!”, we thought, “a smart way for a FinTech startup to build trust!”.

Over time, however, we started to see that our name wasn’t communicating the message that we had intended. It wasn’t inspiring our community the same way our technology, design, or messaging was. We took the feedback to heart, and decided to create a name, logo, and brand that would inspire both our community and our team.

⚓️ Anchoring the naming process

Anyone that has ever been through a rebrand process will tell you that it’s not easy – it can be a messy, lengthy and emotional process 😭. In order to get the best possible results, we set forth a handful of important guidelines:

 

  • Name ideas should be based on agreed upon communication goals. In early discussions, we had one person focused on using the names of famous scientists, one focused on famous mountains, and a third who couldn’t get off the idea of simplicity. In order to keep our ideas in the same ballpark, we settled on three values:

 

1) Our mission is to help small businesses progress to greater success and does so by allowing entrepreneurs move forward intelligently

2) We are a company worthy of our clients’ trustworthy and secure financial institution

3) We are an innovative banking platform, able to integrate with other services

  • Timebox brainstorming. Meetings based on creative output can easily spiral into an all-day affair, and we needed to be very effective with our time. Just because we were rebranding doesn’t mean that everything else stopped; we were also running user tests, refining our prototype, releasing awesome free tools for our community, and juggling tons of other tasks at the same time 🤹‍.

🏁 Off to the races

Every meeting was formatted in the same way:

  1. Choose a topic (i.e. ‘trust’ or ‘API’s’) that is thematically consistent with one of our values
  2. Individually brainstorm as many name ideas as we could in ten minutes, and
  3. Choose the best and burn 🔥 the rest.
  4. Choose the theme for the next meeting and book it

These discussions helped us to find out what ideas we gravitated to as a team, allowing each brainstorming session to produce a few more potential winners 🏆 .  

By running our creative sessions in this way, we were able to produce a huge amount of submissions in a short amount of time. After 3 weeks, 4 meetings and literally hundreds of name ideas, one theme repeatedly emerged: North.

‘North’ excited our team in a way that no other submission had. It represented clarity in direction, it had an air of timelessness, and sounded like a name we could trust. ‘North’ on its own, however, seemed too generic (I know you can see yourself buying North brand jeans👖). So, while we all loved ‘North’, we decided to keep the process going. In a decision that was demonstrative of our overall company culture, we didn’t settle for “good enough” – we set out to create a brand that was unmistakably ours.

We experimented with dozens of variations on ‘North’, trying to find the perfect balance of trustworthy financial services company and that of a progressive tech company. In the end, NorthOne satisfied all the goals that we had when the process begun:
1) ‘‘North’ represents a clear direction forward

2) ’One’ is symbolic of the thesis underlying our value proposition – that a banking platform can build all the functionality of a small business finance department from a single, tech-powered, bank account. Similarly, this intelligent bank account would be the one hub for all of a small business’s financial tools.

3) The name as a whole sounds secure, yet progressive

🎨 Designing the logo

With a new name in place, I wanted to capitalize on the creative and collaborative energy that was still fresh in everybody’s mind. To this end, I created a framework that prioritized rapid iteration⚡️ in the beginning, leaving fine details for the later stages. Here’s how I organized the process for the first few rounds of design:

  • Submit 4-5 unique logos at a time. This promotes rich discussion around styles and themes, and helps to refine the direction of subsequent rounds.
  • Avoid fine detail and colour. This prevents sinking time into logos that will never be used, and allows all logos and marks to be evaluated using the same criteria.
  • List a few bullet points as to why each logo achieves your communication goals. You can then debate these points in discussion after the logos have been submitted.
  • Show each logo in use across various, relevant, media. I presented each logo on its own, as an app icon, and on a debit card mockup. This allowed each member on the team to properly visualize how a potential logo would be experienced in the wild.

For two weeks, I submitted a round of designs every second day. This gave the team time to properly evaluate each logo submission and come up with detailed feedback 🤓. At the end of the second day, we would have a ~15 min group discussion where we would discuss the overall sentiment, decide on a new direction to take, and kick off the next round.

Round one submissions

By the end of the first week, we had some very 💪strong concepts. After a team discussion, we were all gravitating towards the simplicity of an upwards arrow, but wanted to inject it with a little bit more meaning. Now that we had a basic theme and form for the logo, it was time to inject more color and detail into each successive submission to take them from 1 to 💯.

Since we had the concept of moving forward intelligently locked down, I decided to focus on tackling one more major theme: integrations. Over the course of the following week, I submitted three logos that utilized overlapping lines and shapes to demonstrate that many pieces can come together to form a larger picture.

Final three designs

At this stage, we decided we were ready for feedback from our peers. We made sure to prioritize a diversity of opinion, talking to small business owners, branding experts, and everybody in between. We asked all of them: “We want a logo that demonstrates progress, innovation, and trust. Which of these gets you there and why?”. After talking with ~50 people, the feedback was clear: the center mark was the winner. I made a few small tweaks – a blue gradient to denote security, softening up some of the uppermost lines to make it more welcoming, and filling in the top shape to make the first two triangles represent mountains. After that, the process came to a close – NorthOne had a new logo!

Tada! The final NorthOne logo.

Through our framework of rapid iteration and heavy collaboration, our team was able to develop a logo and name that we are proud to call our own. We can’t wait to build our team around our exciting new identity, and to revolutionize the way that Canadian small business owners manage their finances. If you want to test out our product, or to simply follow us on our journey, head on over to www.northone.io and get free early access.

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