Managing a European multi-location agency is great – you have the international flair, you might have the chance to work from different offices, and you learn a lot about clients in different markets. However, being highly adapted to local conditions can lead to national offices becoming so independent from each other that for outsiders, they sometimes even don’t seem to belong to the same company. This may weaken the strategic positioning towards clients and reduce the feeling of belonging of employees towards the umbrella company. So how do you manage to ever bring the different offices back together to ONE company again, if you feel the strategic need to do so? Well, we did exactly that.
COBE was founded in Munich nine years ago. Two years later, we opened a second office, in Osijek, Croatia. Since then, one of our top priorities has been keeping a healthy company culture and relationship between the two international offices.
Fast forward to the last couple of years, when our team grew to a great extent and keeping contact with each other became a lot more challenging. COBE kept growing, which was great business wise but on the other hand, we started feeling a sense of division – it was COBE Munich and COBE Osijek. We mostly blamed it on the two international locations, because if we’re not seeing each other in person, how are we supposed to maintain a feeling of unity? But let’s be real, distance had nothing to do with it. We had a different service structure, managed our own customer base and weren’t collaborating on projects as much as we could have. We even had separate websites with a different branding.
In 2020, our perception changed – we have just conducted a large, highly successful international project, with both Munich and Osijek teams involved, and received tremendous feedback for it, from both the client and the team. It made us think; wouldn't it strengthen our operational setup, but also our identity and positioning towards potential clients, if we were perceived as one big agency instead of two, somehow smaller, joint agencies?
Realizing everything can be done virtually in 2020 helped with the change of mindset too. And so, the strategic alignment began.
1. Collaborating more
For us, the easiest way to grow closer organically is to collaborate on more projects. We have some crazily talented people on both teams, so whenever we work together, we also learn from each other. Do we even have to mention that some of our most successful projects were a product of joint work? Sharing projects and working with the same clients even helped us to further align our sales and project management processes.
2. Being a part of each other’s culture
Welcome to COBE Camp, our monthly remote event where we share knowledge, news and ideas via Google Meet. This is just one of the examples of how we stay involved in each other’s culture. Our Camp sessions often include guest speakers and an afterparty. So, if you want to speak at one of our sessions, let us know. :)
3. New visual identity
Now that we have aligned our processes, and the international teams are bonding, it was time for another big step – aligning our visual identity. Over the years, COBE Munich and COBE Osijek developed a slightly different visual presence online. If we wanted to be perceived as one agency, the next step was to develop one consistent visual identity for both offices – this resulted in a new, joint website. You are visiting it right now.
4. Joint Accounts
While we chose to keep our social media accounts separate (our target audience is nevertheless different), we did join accounts on other platforms, like Clutch. Reaching out to us has never been easier – find us under COBE Munich and COBE Osijek.
5. <insert next step here>
However, we’re not done here. We further plan to align our work and processes in every aspect that makes sense. And we want our colleagues and clients to grow professionally and personally every step of the way.
This has been a two year process so far and it has been an amazing two years. We have learned so much on the way, but one thing is certain – aligning your branding requires active listening throughout the whole process. You should always pay close attention to what each party wants and needs, but also be ready to express your own needs, preferences and boundaries along the way.
Another thing you should pay attention to is choosing where to align and where to stay separate. It’s reasonable to still choose individual solutions for some company touchpoints, like we did for our social media accounts.
The last tip is to stay unbiased and ready for change during the whole process. If both parties are being open, the process of aligning your branding can be inspiring and insightful, because chances are your teams have complementary skill sets. And you can benefit from both of them – for example, Munich has a great motion designer, while Osijek has a great illustrator.
Given our experience, it is exciting to join forces and tackle not only client projects, but also the company’s marketing and communication as one team. If you’re in a similar position and need more tips, feel free to contact us.
A big thanks to my colleague Katharina Grimm for co-writing this article. 🧡