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FTD: A heritage company rebranded with a focus on giving

FTD is a brand with a rich past and a timely purpose, allowing small businesses to sell and distribute flowers globally. Annelies De Rouck, chief creative officer at FTD, and Min Lew, head of Base Design NY, worked closely together to bring the company’s 111-year history and story to life and up-to-date through a creative rebrand that positions it as an expert and leader in today’s market. Here they discuss the process of transforming FTD’s “very commercial, corporate look and feel, to being a much more elevated heritage brand.”

Min Lew: Hi Annelies! Why don’t you start by explaining what FTD is and does, and the decisions behind the rebrand?

Annelies De Rouck: FTD, short for Florists' Transworld Delivery, is a florist collective. We have 1,000s of florists all over the US, and it’s a one-stop-shop for all your flower purchases. The brand is not like larger retailers, where the primary driver behind purchases is speed and convenience. With FTD, you're actually supporting the local florists and small businesses at the core of our business model. With FTD, you also know your gift will be handcrafted and delivered by a small, local business, which I think is really beautiful and very relevant, now more than ever before.

Nowadays, everyone is looking for alternatives to the current giants in e-commerce, and everybody wants to understand the story behind their purchases. FTD has a magnificent origin story – the brand has been around for 111 years and was started as a nonprofit collective of florists. However, the look and feel of the brand didn’t feel reflective of this rich heritage.

With the rebrand, our goal is to transition from a standardized, commoditized look, feel, and experience, to inhabit this positioning of being a heritage brand that offers handcrafted products and supports small businesses. We saw incredibly fertile territory to explore creatively, and we are so excited to bring this to life.

ML: Why did you decide the Base was the right partner to be able to bring these stories to life?

ADR: Base has an amazing track record of refreshing and revamping heritage brands. You've done a beautiful job with clients such as Delvaux and Maison Dandoy, which are brands that I'm very familiar with as a Belgian. I knew Base would be a great partner when it came to the FTD rebrand due to the company’s reputation for bringing traditional brands into the current age in a way that still feels authentic.

How about you? What were you excited about when approaching the work with FTD?

ML: It's a company of many firsts, and has been pioneering for a long, long time. With these rich and very relevant ideas, actions and stories, we really felt excited that we didn't have to invent a narrative. All we had to do was go back to the starting point, really understand where the company came from, and then bring it up to date.

We asked: How do we make it relevant so that we can engage with newer, younger audiences? And what’s great is that we just had to tell the story with commitment. We’re taking the idea of giving flowers and discovering what that means in today’s world, then applying it across all parts of the business: from behavior and how people consume, to how we package and present it, and how we connect people to one another. And I think that was a real opportunity and an exciting aspect.

ADR: It’s quite rare to hear that, as a brand strategist, you don't have to invent a completely new story around a company. FTD has many incredible stories to tell given our unique background and century-long position at the forefront of the floral space. For us, the challenge was understanding how to fit all of that into a concise brand story.

As a company, we haven’t always fully leaned into the identity of being a heritage brand. When we took a holistic view of the brand, we also saw an opportunity to bring FTD back to its roots and rebuild the brand with a renewed focus on our florist partners and ownership over our expertise. It’s been incredibly satisfying to embrace that and speak from a point of view that shares that knowledge widely.

I’m curious about your approach to bringing the story into today through design, art direction and communications.

ML: There were two main components. The first was a consideration that we know this is fertile ground, but how do we position it? We tapped into the universal aspect of human emotion, and what it means to give, and there we found a really interesting insight. In the survey that FTD did in 2016 (if I remember), 80% of people answered that it makes them happy to receive flowers. But then 88% of the people answered that it makes them happy to give flowers. And whether it was 111 years ago, or today, I think that is still true.

The universal truth about humans is that we love to give and to connect, in this case with flowers. And when we find something that is universally true, we know we’ve really tapped into something amazing. So that was really at the heart of the positioning. We wanted FTD to be experts in helping people to give better, to express their emotions and their gratitude – whether for special moments, everyday moments, sad moments or happy moments.

The second part involved understanding how to communicate all of this visually. At the heart of that was asking: How do we not only speak the language of a commodity like flowers, but bring in different elements to elevate that language? We have our Mercury Man, who was introduced at the very beginning of the company as the flower deliverer.

We changed quite a bit during the rebrand, but I’m so happy that we kept details like the Mercury Man. Because especially in the international market, I think it would have lost something without him.

ADR: I'm really glad we kept the Mercury Man too. It's funny that the minor interventions like adding the founding date of the company and the sleek FTD logo after has such a huge impact, and immediately gives the brand a cachet.

ML: It went from having a very commercial, corporate look and feel to being a much more elevated heritage brand.

ADR: Absolutely. And I'm super happy with our olive color. I think it looks so beautiful. And it’s a great backdrop to all of the colorful flowers we’re offering.

ML: Yes, and the art direction is really about the beauty of the flowers themselves. We also added more images of the florists, helping to build a narrative about the local businesses and farm suppliers. Overall, we tried to elevate the look and feel, and behave like an expert at the top of our game in a very generous way.

ADR: Well said, Min. For context, this rebrand will make a huge difference for us during larger cultural and seasonal moments like Valentine’s Day, where the meaningful giving consumers desire is overshadowed by mass discounting by larger e-commerce corporations. I feel like through this elevated experience we are able to say – and provide our customers with – so much more.

Of course, we will have the promotional red roses for Valentine's Day, but we can now provide more meaning to the concept of floral gifting and be an authority on gifting. We’re entering a whole new playing field.

ML: In recent years, it's become a very crowded market with the introduction of several direct-to-consumer brands, which has resulted in local florists losing in the convenience stakes. This market has now been disrupted, but let the disrupters be the disruptors. For FTD, I am proud that we carved out our own territory, centered around its heritage and the story, and how they determine what the company is able to offer customers. I don't think a lot of competitors can claim that.

ADR: I believe that there are many differentiating factors that help FTD stand out in the industry. For example, the fact that we started out as a florist network and nonprofit working with a collective of artisans around the country, crafting unique bouquets that you can conveniently purchase online, and so much of that remains at the heart of the company over 100 years later... I personally wish I could shop for everything like that! It's somewhat comparable to the Farfetch model for florists, but with a deeper history. It's a wonderful brand to be able to play with.

It's also really great to see how the rebrand resonates with our florists, since they’re such a significant part of our brand. We shared an early sneak peek with our internal florist sales team and their feedback was that they feel like they now have a brand that is an accurate representation of the company. Now that they have the proper assets, they’re able to appropriately communicate the brand to new florists when attempting to recruit them to join our network.

ML: I’m curious to know how the rebrand has aligned the company. Has it changed how you talk about FTD amongst yourselves, or with external partners, or as a business?

ADR: A rebrand is always a galvanizing process. Especially going through the strategy part, it brings up all of the big questions. I was pleased how quickly we aligned on things, for example, the positioning of small businesses, and the meaning of giving. All of that was pretty easy to get everyone on board with and triggered a lot of productive conversations between our leadership team. We had a pretty tight feedback loop, and I felt like we were able to get to a consensus and move forward without too much compromise.

More than anything, the rebrand work has been energizing for everyone – especially when showing it during our town hall meetings, and working on the rollout with my creative team. It's such a massive undertaking, so it's very important that everyone is on board and feeling excited about it. For a while, every time I would show a little teaser of the work, it would be a really magical moment. It speaks to FTD’s unique history while looking ahead to its bright future, and it made people really believe in the company again.

It’s definitely a motivating factor that reignites a belief in the power of our brand.

Text by Base editorial director Dan Howarth.