btrax recently underwent a major relaunch of its brand. There were multiple factors behind this that went beyond just updating the image. In this rebranding, not only the brand elements, but also the company’s vision, cultural values, and services were all redesigned to create a truly new btrax.
Background to the Rebranding
As the CEO of btrax and the leader of this project, I would like to share with you the specific reasons and process that led to the rebranding.
Services Getting Commoditized
btrax was started in 2004 as a web design company based in San Francisco. Since then, we have been updating our services every three to five years. This is because in this fast-changing field, if you don’t update your services to meet the needs of the market, you will soon be eliminated.
Since 2015, we began providing workshop-style services, mostly to Japanese enterprises, based on design thinking. This process was not very familiar in Japan at the time, and many companies were beginning to demand content that incorporated concepts such as Lean Startup and UX design.
Since launching our design thinking workshops, the “Design Thinking Boom” started in Japan, which has grown beyond our imagination, and it seemed that everyone was asking about “Design Thinking”. As customer needs have increased, so has the number of competitors.
In the past few years, the number of companies offering Design Thinking workshops in Japan has increased, and the market has become saturated. As a result, the price of the service has dropped.
Originally, the workshops were a way to provide design services, but more and more companies were requesting a focus on “training”.
I felt it was necessary to make sure that the company’s vision was consistent with this situation.
The overuse of the word “innovation”
The concept of the word “innovation” has been changing along with the commoditization of design thinking workshops. I feel that the reason is that it is simply used too easily and too often.
For the past few years, we have been placing ourselves in the category of “innovation design companies,” but as the word “innovation” itself has become overused, I have felt that the significance of the existence and positioning of this profession has become questionable.
I feel that the word “innovation” has been conveniently used by companies to make their own initiatives look good. This is also a factor leading to the recent DX (digital transformation) boom in Japan.
With this in mind, we needed to take a hard look at the meaning of our own services.
Limitations of relying on the “Silicon Valley” brand
In addition to the above, we were beginning to feel the limitations of the “Silicon Valley” brand.
There is no doubt that Silicon Valley is a mecca for startups and is a region where innovative services are created but being based in Silicon Valley does not automatically make you a great company.
Of course, there is a sense of pride in having survived for more than 17 years in one of the most competitive and costly regions in the world, but that alone is not a condition for being able to provide valuable services.
There are many jobs that we have received because of this “Silicon Valley” brand, and we strive to pursue solid service models and results to meet their expectations.
In other words, it was just not sustainable to rely solely on the “Silicon Valley” brand to survive the market. We need to bridge the gaps between the image and reality.
Rapid changes in the world
Then, of course, there is the rapid change in the world in 2020, due to the pandemic. As a result, people’s lifestyles have changed drastically, and new needs for living, working, learning, and playing have been born.
In response to these changes, we reconsidered what kind of culture we should value and what kind of services we should provide.
As the required services began to change, the company’s skill set and team composition also changed rapidly. Staff members who have been working remotely through the pandemic now had more time to learn more about what is important to them and their work, with some making changes to their situations.
Specifically, some staff returned to Japan and others changed jobs. It was clear that btrax, the company and the brand, would have to take a deep look into what the future looks like.
Days of agony as a leader
As a leader, I have been struggling with multiple rapid changes. This is due to the fact that there is a large gap between the ideal of what I want to be as a leader and the current situation.
In addition, I was still not 100% satisfied with our recognition and achievements as a design company, all of which I considered to be due to abilities I lacked.
Commitment as a design company
The first step in this rebranding process was to redefine the meaning of the company’s existence. We needed to clarify our vision and thoroughly think about why we exist and what we do every day.
The answer was
btrax → We Design
Yes, it’s a simple thing, but we have to remember that we are a design company.
We are committed to bridging the various gaps in the world.
We have to understand the issues we need to or would like to solve. That is, to fill in the gaps that society, companies, and users have. Specifically, the following gaps exist:
Gaps between different cultures
- Gaps between the future we want to achieve and the present
- Sensory gaps between design and business
- Awareness gaps between large companies and startups
- Gaps between what users want and the services provided
We believe that we are able to help solve some of these issues through our design services.
Major Outputs of the Rebranding
Based on this background, let me introduce the main outputs of the rebranding process.
Incidentally, almost all of this process was done remotely, using online tools to connect the teams in Japan and the US.
Defining a new vision
The first thing we did was to redefine our vision. Recognizing that our primary role is to fill the gaps mentioned above and create a better future, we defined a new vision.
“We design the future by bridging the gaps.”
Updated Culture Values
Along with the new vision, we have also updated our culture values.
btrax Culture Values
“WE ARE ALL DESIGNERS”
1. Be a forward thinker
Learn from the past to determine what’s next
2. Driven by creativity
Always find creative ways to bridge the gaps
3. Empathize differences
We value diversity and celebrate uniqueness
4. Fearless in trying something new
For clients and for ourselves
Creating a mood board
In order to define the visuals of the brand, we created a mood board. This time, we created a mood board based on the image of music, focusing on the record, which is also the origin of the company name. Incidentally, “btrax” means “B-side” of a record.
New Logo Idea
In order to create a new logo, several ideas were developed internally. The design theme was to use a record motif and a style that could be imagined as a more modern image.
Selecting a new logo
After a long process, the final logo was decided. In addition to the record motif, the new logo incorporates the following brand concepts:
Adopts a more modern style for the logotype
- To fill in the gaps, the gaps in the previous logo symbol were connected.
- Adopt a style reminiscent of the Japanese family crest symbol.
- In a world of technology, we dared to use a symbol that looks like a Japanese stamp (hanko), aiming to achieve a balance between digital and analog.
The new color palette is based on cultural values
The color palette has also been updated. The previous gray color palette has been eliminated in favor of black and white. In addition to the main color, a monotone reminiscent of analog records, the four accent colors are named based on four cultural values.
Typefaces are now more digitally compatible
The fonts used for the website and business cards were also newly set. This time, in addition to Sans-Serif/Gothic, which is well suited for digital media, we also chose Serif/Mincho for headlines. The typeface selected is one that can be easily used offline or in web fonts.
Major renewal of services
In fact, prior to the rebranding, the company had also updated its services in order to respond to market changes in the second half of 2019.
Currently, btrax mainly offers the following four services for global companies interested in entering the Japanese market. I’ve also included an example of how we talk about our services when talking to Japanese companies who are interested in open innovation and global expansion:
Market Entry & Growth services provided by btrax
Research & Validation:
Understand the Japanese market and validate your product-solution fit
Localize the brand and its user experience beyond just translating
User-centered marketing and design solutions to help you thrive in the Japanese market
Growth Activities for customer relationship building and fostering loyalty
Design services provided by btrax
Business Idea Prototyping:
Visualize service ideas and verify them through prototyping
Future Concept Design:
Forecasting 5-10 years into the future and creating service concepts that will be needed.
Global UX Design:
Designing user experiences that can be adapted to global users
Global Brand Experience:
Connecting the digital and real world to create branding for the global market
The culmination of the rebranding was the renewal of the website. The blog (freshtrax) and the official website (btrax.com) were all redesigned to match the new brand. In addition to our internal staff, we also had the help of SALT, who has been working with us for a long time and is one of the best in Japan for interactive expression.
Thank you to the staff who helped with the rebranding
Many internal staff members cooperated with us in this rebranding process. The result was an output that far exceeded our expectations, and we are very grateful.
Key project members were:
- Aoi Omori: Content Development
- Chika Mori: Content Strategy
- Hiro Aihara: Content Design
- Jensen Barnes: Design Consulting
- John Hayato Branderhorst: Content Strategy
- Jonathan Chen: Identity / UI / UX Design
- Junshu Okamoto: Website Development
- Kuni Michishio: Brand Design
- Salina Phon: Project Management
- Shuhei Yoshida: Website Development
- Yu Tiffany Morimoto: UI Design / Project Management
We help brands go into Japan!
btrax is proud to serve as a cultural liaison between Japan and the US. We help companies bridge market opportunities by localizing the experience, content, and product.
btrax can help your brand expand to Japan providing comprehensive support including market research, UI/UX design, and growth marketing.