Now I’ve had access to the branding materials I wanted to share my thoughts about the Toastmasters branding and what it means to clubs like Ambassadors Speakers Club.
First of all, the branding overhaul was very much needed in my opinion. I think that consistency is a key factor is showing Toastmasters as a unified organisation and this is the start of addressing those issues.
The new logo and tagline, ‘Where Leaders Are Made’, is fresher and gives the organisation a less ‘stuffy’ feel to it. I always felt that the cross-gavels logo gave the wrong impression about Toastmasters and I was loathe to use it in our club’s website design.
The Good Bits
The colours give a classic, yet contemporary feel. I’ve always felt that the maroon / ochre colour instills a sense of integrity authority for instance. It’s the style that wouldn’t be out of place in Westminister. I’m sure that the overall scheme was investigated with great detail.
The sample marketing material is great – it gets across the keys points of Toastmasters to non-members.
I won’t wax lyrical about why these things are good improvements, as I think that the guidelines book and presentations make that clear and for the most part I agree.
However, it’s not all undulating praise – I want to share some reservations that I have about the rebrand and in true Toastmasters style, offer some points for improvement.
The Brand Launch
First of all, I feel that some of the brand launch was slightly mismanaged, or maybe shortsighted. This has been coming for some time and it’s only recently that this material has become available. I had been working our club website for some time – and I based the design on the look and feel of the existing Toastmasters website. Without any design guides at the time, I used elements of Toastmasters colours and lines to create a look that was unique but didn’t feel detached from the main Toastmasters website. I feel that effort has been somewhat wasted, whereas if there had been an early draft made available of the colours and themes being discussed – I could have made use of this. Now I will have to go back to me original design and rework a number of elements, unnecessarily duplicating work that I have done.
The Slogan / Tagline
As much as I do like ‘Where leaders are made’, I can’t help but feel that Toastmasters is pandering to what it has identified as its key demographic for future expansion into the corporate sector. It is shrewd and credible reasoning – but it also alienates people who would simply want to learn how to speak better. Last time I checked I was in a speakers club, not a leadership club. In fact, if the focus is on leadership nowadays – then it might be time for TI to reconsider what merits a competent leadership award. Let’s be honest – more than half of it is stuff that you just happen to do at a club meeting.
The new logo allows use only with the brand colours. I appreciate the need for consistency but this potentially locks down website designs into only a few combinations of colours and designs. I strongly believe in print media this is perfectly reasonable, but online media is not the same delivery mechanism as print and the expectations and experience are different. It would be nice to have some additional ‘flexibility’ with the logo in this regard. By the way, Toastmasters International have not set a good example by having the demo website (http://demo.toastmastersclubs.org/) and the provided web mastheads breaking one of their logo design rules!
The rigid nature of the brand also imposes itself with the design. My concern is that the current documentation implies that, for instance, you should only use one of two themes in WordPress. Such brandishing of templates as design guides, I fear, will start to make club websites look like generic websites. I would like to see better guidelines for website creators and editors – ideally with examples of good use of the Toastmasters brand while also being a unique club. As a website designer and developer, I resent the prospect of the club website becoming ‘Yet Another Toastmasters Website’. I’m sure this is not the intention, but I feel it is the box that the guidelines place design.
Now let me talk fonts. I feel strongly about this, the typefaces used in the guidelines are somewhat elitist and shortsighted in the deployment again. Though they are great typefaces – in fact I regularly use the Myriad derivatives in some of my designs – besides Arial, all of the fonts used are commercial fonts that have to be paid for or are included in art packages. In this day and age of open-source software and creative commons licensing – the branding team could have landed on two excellent fonts that could be used openly and freely among clubs. Instead, we will have websites that cannot legally use any typeface except for Arial as the body font. It is an unnecessary expense to multiple members in each club.
The only reason that I can think of for these typeface selections is that some designer just chose some fonts that were already installed on his or her computer.
An alternative example – I’ve just spent 5 minutes looking through Google’s free-to-use web-fonts and found this one (http://www.google.com/webfonts/specimen/Puritan) which is very close to the Gotham typeface, but not the same.
Even if there were no suitable open typefaces available (which I struggle to believe), and it is such an important point then Toastmasters as an organisation could have recruited a typeface team or house to create licensed fonts that could have the same traits as the ones chosen. These could have been freely licensed to clubs and members and maintained the identity that Toastmasters is striving to put across.
In fact, an opportunity has been missed here where Toastmasters could have sold the typeface license commercially while licensing it free to clubs for use in Toastmasters-related activities. It would have gained revenue for TI while also enabling clubs to use these exuberant fonts without having to stump up cash unnecessarily.
The free licensing enable clubs to legally use the @webfont tag so that modern web browsers would display these fonts on club websites and follow the title and header guidelines. There are many clubs now using the new Toastmasters banner, or masthead, but the club title is in Arial because unless you have those fonts AND create an image – there is no other option to display your club name. Likewise, the demo toastmasters club does exactly the same thing.
After everything that is put forward regarding unity, brand identity and the purpose of the rebrand, this is the part that really stumps me. In an effort to create a single identity, there are now clauses for fragmentation to occur.
Finally, and I honestly have no idea how this can be worked around, there is no acknowledgement in the different meanings of the word ‘toastmaster’ in the US and the UK. This is one of the stumbling blocks for putting the club name forward. A toastmaster in this country is an announcer of ceremonies who usually wears a red coat. A toastmaster in North America would be a person in charge of proceedings at a public speaking evzzsxdent. I don’t know what the branding process is, but I question whether regional differences have been considered while an ‘international brand’ is created. The new logo helps us to move away from that image as I covered at the beginning start of this article, but it really makes me think that Toastmasters International remains a stronger American brand, rather than an international brand.
Anyway, these are all my first impressions. I’ve gone to the trouble of reading through the material and guidelines before blindly slapping logos all over the website in different forms, and making a mess of it so I hope this is taken as constructive feedback from a club level rather than a resistance to change. I do believe that this rebrand is overall a positive step, and can see the benefits. One of Toastmasters International’s difficulties now is to get clubs to enforce that. If this were a commercial company, it’s a difficult task. However, this is an organisation in which members are not only volunteers, but pay to be a part of it. It becomes an extremely difficult task, and I do hope that Toastmasters International do appreciate the differences in approaches that are required.