Re-branding with a little help from Thomas Aquinas

As many of you know, we are launching our new branding within the next week. As an attempt to bring you on the inside of some of our thinking about this whole process, I thought I'd share an adapted version of the power point presentation I made to a group of local stakeholders a few weeks ago.  You'll have to imagine some bright beautiful slides and the quotes from Aquinas inside a dignified frame.


I’d like to share a quote with you.  I’m actually not sure I have the right to quote Thomas Aquinas, since I’m not a Catholic, nor a medievalist, nor classicist.  I just listen to a lot self-help audible books to help me deal with the insecurities of running a business, and I heard this one and it jumped out at me because I thought—wow, that’s what I’m learning about branding.

"The body is the substantial expression of the soul in which the soul first achieves its concrete reality. The soul cannot fulfill itself without making use of matter."

(Sorry blog readers. I think you kind of need to see this projected on a screen, or hear it out loud, or maybe on Audible at just the right moment when doing situps at the gym. Or maybe it's just me.)

When we first decided to re-brand I’ll confess I thought of re-branding as clothes shopping. Since our clothes were getting old, we needed to do what people do especially in our culture: get out to Old Navy or Macy’s and get some new ones.  A new logo.  Some new labels.  A new web site. New colors. 

I’m also hard at work learning to be a practical businessperson and I try to do what I’m supposed to do, but I’m also by nature kind of cynical about it.  Dressing up can just be vanity.  Necessary but not necessarily real.  It’s necessary mainly because our shallow culture is obsessed with novelty—if we don’t put on new clothes every now and then we’re kind of a loser.

So with the generous funding of June Rockwell Levy Foundation and the RI Foundation and with the help of a talented Board member, Tino Chow and his company Giant Shoulders, who was willing to take on this project at fraction of the real cost, I started learning something really amazing:  

To borrow Aquinas’s phrasing, the soul of Providence Granola Project is most real in it’s physicality. It cannot fulfill itself without becoming this physical clump of organic grains and nuts and sesame seeds and coconut and fruit and honey.  It was made by real people’s hands in a real kitchen to be a substantial edible, expression of something that really matters. Maybe the more real this can be, then maybe the more real our idea will be that as our community welcomes refugees, and gives them a chance to make a home, become a part, contribute, the soul of our community will become real and enriched.  I’m joking a bit, but I’m also serious.  This is what I love about producing a physical substance.  There is a real tangible, sensory connection between our product and everything we are doing.

And if any of that is true, then re-branding isn’t about dressing up but about stripping down. We’re cutting through the outer layers.  It’s the physical reality that matters.  We’re sloughing off the fake and self protective and trying to delve deep into essential character.

In about a week we will formally bid So long to providence granola.  We will offer the same products and same mission, just bigger goals.  Our goal in re-branding is not to dress up, but to get closer to the essential nature of what matters to us.  What we’re aiming for is Providence Granola undressed, true, revealed. Real.  What we re-affirmed through the process of re-branding is that we are not really a granola company.  We're a mission to help refugees enter the job market.  Nor are we a charity (actually, officially we are, but you know what I mean).  Our project isn't about sympathy.  We're not investing in people feeling sorry for refugees.  Sympathy is a form of narcissism.  But we are committed to empathy, which begins with curiosity, and leads to engagement, involvement.

We’ve tried to take this stripping down pretty seriously through our process. We tried to avoid being cute or showing off.  We looked for the inner beauty in what we are trying to do, the people we are working with, ourselves, our relationships, and the joy coming out of our work together.  Either our granola is real and it’s a celebration of who we are and who we want to become and the work we’ve already done together--or it isn't.  We do have pretty high hopes. This year we hope to double in sales.  We want to increase the number of refugees we train.  We want to take our trainees and staff and community more seriously. Plus, we’re doing this in a new political climate that is putting pressure on all of us to be afraid or, for some, embarrassed about loving difference.

I am not embarrassed about wanting to live in a community that celebrates diversity.  Certainly there will be no peace in the world until we learn to approach differences with deep respect and curiosity.  And—maybe a person doesn't realize this until he or she experiences it—but life in a sea of sameness is boring.  It’s like eating only oats when you can eat granola.  And when things do change, if you're stuck looking back, it can make you sentimental and bitter and afraid. This is one place I believe that (if you can forgive me) Donald Trump is quite wrong.  Some of the things he and his administration wants us to be afraid of are exactly the things that can fill our lives with mystery and meaning and opportunity. I think that the fear of refugees is just fear of our own human fragility and vulnerability. When countries or communities shut their doors to refugees, they are shutting the door to hope.  I know I’m kind of off-track here—but underneath it all this is exactly why Providence Granola is re-branding as Beautiful Day.

To quote Aquinas again:  “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts."

So here is our new logo (sorry blog readers, you have to wait another week): It’s really more a of family of images and color than just a single logo. Here’s the stamp we’re going to use.  We’re calling this “Beautiful Yellow.”...

There are risks in a re-branding of course. Some people might see only the clothes and not the person underneath them. Some people may not recognize us right away.  But there are opportunities too that we want to take advantage of as we try to make the connections between the old and new.  We want to have fun with this.  We'd like to have a party.  We hope this re-branding pulls the frills out of the way to reveal more clearly what we're all about.   We hope most people will think—oh that totally makes sense—and feel encouraged to take a step beyond just enjoying our granola to partnering with us in our mission. 


I'll stop there, because that's when we broke up into groups to brainstorm ideas to make our launch a success.  But keep your eyes open for our new website and packaging coming by the end of the month.  If you live anywhere near us we'd love to have you at our "Be the Welcome" brand launch and happy hour on 3/30 at 10 Davol Square from 6-8.  Some of our trainees will be there to share their one-minute version of when they felt most welcome in RI.  Plus we'll have beer and free bumper stickers.