Pulling off a video shoot is tricky at the best of times. It’s even trickier when you’re interviewing a number of high-profile people, including Seth Godin, at several different locations. And if those locations are in a city that’s just been struck by a hurricane? Well, that’s a feat. That’s exactly what happened when our production team landed in a blacked-out New York to film a series of videos just 48 hours after Hurricane Sandy blew through. There was only one thing to do. Challenge: accepted.
Acumen is a New York City-based non-profit whose mission is to change the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders, and ideas. Though they started out as trailblazers in the impact investing space, ten years in, they were one of many. They needed help standing out from the crowd, and reestablishing themselves as leaders. Acumen was also in a period of transition: what had started as a fund was evolving, expanding its impact by educating and empowering social impact leaders.
This shift required a new identity; Acumen hired agency Johnson Banks to help them rebrand from Acumen Fund to Acumen. Then they hired Briteweb to bring their new identity to life.
Strictly speaking, Acumen engaged us to create a new organizational website — but it never begins (or ends) there. The way we see it, it’s impossible to deliver an effective, functional website for a complex organization without strong brand foundations, including a deep understanding of what needs to be communicated, and to whom.
In Acumen’s case, this was not a simple thing to understand or articulate. As their mandate shifted, it became increasingly difficult for staff to clearly explain what they did. Further, their stakeholder groups had become increasingly complex; their audiences were geographically, programmatically, and demographically diverse. Acumen’s communication tools — particularly their website — needed to resonate with partners, advisors, donors, volunteers, staff, board members, and fellows in 22 international cities. They needed to speak as effectively to an investment banker in New York as they did to an entrepreneur in East Africa.
The project’s complexity was compounded by the fact that there were many deeply invested stakeholders at the table — meaning many (often conflicting) voices.
It was clear from the outset that our approach needed to be highly consultative and inclusive — that we could not be successful unless everyone at the table felt heard. We also needed to ensure that the integrity of the finished product wasn’t compromised by a multitude of voices.
Maintaining that balance became one of our litmus tests for success. Another measure: a website that resolved an acute pain point for Acumen’s staff, who didn’t direct anyone to their website because it didn’t communicate what and to whom it needed to.
To make sure the new site fixed that, we needed to understand the people who would use it. After conducting interviews, we created audience profiles for each stakeholder group: who they are, what they care about, and how they interact with Acumen. Understanding this was crucial to ensuring that everything about the new site, from brand messaging and site content to UX and UI, worked for everyone, from New York to Nairobi.
Once this foundational work was complete, it was time to start designing. As an organization, Acumen is innovative and bold; our team urged them to bring these qualities to life with bold design. To our delight, Acumen agreed to push the boundaries, investing time and money to make a splash with their aesthetic choices, from color and typography to imagery to the appearance and functionality of the angled main navigation.
To address Acumen’s diversity of audiences, we created a series of landing pages catered to the needs of each group, with specific content and a call to action appropriate to them.
Though this solution was an effective means of delivering targeted content, the main Acumen site still needed a single, central message that spoke to all, as well as layers of information specific to each audience. As a result, creating and executing a content strategy was a massive undertaking. Virtually no content was migrated from the old site to the new; our team oversaw creation of over 30 pages of original content.
And then there were the videos.
In spite of the significant hurricane-related hurdles facing us, our team managed to pull off the NYC shoot, interviewing over 15 subjects over the course of six days. The resulting brand videos were embedded in the new site when it went live in the spring of 2014.
The stats on the new site were immediately positive: there were 70% more page views within one month. The new site also saw 950% more referrals from Twitter shares and 430% more from Facebook.
Acumen’s investment in bold design paid off: the site was recognized as a turning point in non-profit-sector web design. We received praise both anecdotally and more tangibly through multiple awards, including Awwwards and WordPress Showcase. Despite how rapidly digital best practices evolve, the site still garners recognition — and profile for Acumen — years later.
But the measures of success that meant the most to us came directly from Acumen — like feedback from their staff that we had delivered what they needed: a functional website that works as a tool for marketing, recruitment, and fundraising. Beyond that, they now have the means to talk about Acumen and what it does clearly, consistently and in a way that resonates with each of their many stakeholder groups.
And all those other stakeholders? They were happy too:
“Throughout the project, Briteweb demonstrated an incredible capacity for balancing the goals of our various stakeholders, including staff, board members, advisors, donors, volunteers and fellows located in 22 international cities. Balancing all of their competing interests is challenging, to say the least, and Briteweb displayed an incredible degree of empathy in ensuring that all of our stakeholders were heard and their goals were honored.”
– James Wu, Brand Manager & Project Lead
Briteweb has a tried-and-true process today in large part because of projects like this one. Mistakes made on one project turn into lessons learned, and incorporated into our approach going forward. Here, a few things we learned while working with Acumen.
- A process is a guide, not a rulebook. What we discovered while doing foundational discovery work with Acumen required us to alter our course. Process is a good thing, but so is flexibility.
- Too many cooks in the kitchen is, well, too many. As a direct result of this project, Briteweb changed the way we incorporate people’s input in a way that doesn’t slow down our process. Helping our clients create effective, efficient project and advisory teams allows us to be consultative without creating a deadlock.
- Figure out when you think you’ll need to start creating content, then start a few weeks earlier than that. Content creation is a beast of a job, particularly on sites as complex as Acumen’s. Starting the process early means content creation and sign-off don’t delay site launch — in the case of Acumen, twice.
Since it’s launch, the site has been featured on various top nonprofit website lists, including Manoverboard’s “6 Large Nonprofit Websites You Need To See”.