Rebranding Orbis: Seeing the world through a new lens

Orbis ophthalmologist Dr. Javed Farooqui escorts patient Xueying, 81, from the recovery room after her cataract removal surgery on the Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) during the April 2014 FEH program in Jinan, China — the first FEH program to feature the new brand. Photo by: Orbis

Roughly 285 million people around the world struggle with blindness or poor vision. For the vast majority, visual impairment isn’t simply a loss of sight — it also involves a loss of dignity, social standing and, all too often, equal education and employment opportunities. On a global level, loss of sight represents not just a public health challenge, but a social and economic one as well. Ninety percent of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries.

Thankfully, there is much cause for hope. Four out of every five cases of visual impairment can be prevented or cured. Among the organizations working in the field, Orbis stands out. Established in the 1970s, the pioneering organization has provided training, tools and other capacity-building support to eye health partners all over the world.

In April 2014, the company launched a new brand identity, changing its website, logo and even its old tagline, “Saving sight worldwide,” to “It starts with vision.” The rebranding was a significant transformation nearly two years in the making. It was also highly successful, receiving a long list of awards, including the 2014 PR News Nonprofit PR Award for Rebranding.

On the anniversary of the launch of the new brand identity, Devex spoke with Orbis Chief Marketing and Strategic Communications Officer Jennifer Gregoire about what the rebranding has meant for the organization. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

With such a long history of success behind the Orbis brand, why was it important to go through a rebranding process?

Orbis originally started as an organization known for its Flying Eye Hospital, which we still run to this day. In our initial years, that was really our signature program. But in the 30 years since then, we evolved and now we do a great deal of work on the ground, through our country offices. We really wanted to look at how we could better tell the complete story of our work, and the impact and transformation that Orbis creates for individuals and communities.

To do that, we really needed to look at our whole brand platform. We did an evaluation of every aspect of our brand. We looked at our name, our tagline, our visual identity, the narrative we used to talk about our work, and even the emotions and feelings around how we were conveying our work. The brand encompasses a lot more than a logo for us. It’s really about all the pieces we use in bringing to life the story of what we do and the impact of our work.

You were quite open with both internal and external stakeholders throughout your rebranding process. Why did you choose to be so transparent?

We felt that in order for this to be successful, all parts of our organization needed to feel like they were a part of it. I think any type of change can be difficult if people don’t understand it, so our goal was to bring people along the journey so they understood why we were recommending changes, instead of us just announcing something.

We weren’t changing our mission, our values or anything about who we were as an organization, but we were changing how we presented ourselves. Being very transparent and having regular communications throughout the process really helped people to feel connected and take ownership of the process.

From a marketing perspective, what have been some of the biggest impacts of the rebranding process?

It’s really modernized us and reinvigorated our organization visually, and the language we use now is much more modern and approachable. We convey an energy and forward-looking attitude that we weren’t presenting in the past. This has really added energy to our global team.

In terms of hard analytical impacts, our website traffic shows greater time spent on our web pages and that people are visiting more pages within our site. So we know people coming to our website are engaging with us more. That was an important objective for us as a group: to get more people to spend more time learning about our work. We’re seeing those levels of engagement dramatically increasing, so that’s a very positive thing for us.

From a program perspective, how did the rebranding process help?

We launched a number of things within the organization to help our teams throughout the world talk about our work with new language, so they can present a consistent and concise message about the organization. By clarifying our story and making it cleaner and crisper, we’ve been able to communicate what we do more effectively, which enables us to work with more partners. Whether it’s medical institutions, donors, funders or people who are just concerned about the issue, everyone’s more easily able to synthesize what we do.

In addition, part of what we did through our branding exercise was a very intensive audit of who we are, what we do and what we need to do more of to accomplish our goals. One of the things we recognized is that we really weren’t connecting ourselves to the broader global health agenda — we were in a very niche area talking about very specific eye health interventions. We weren’t communicating how those interventions made an impact on communities or individuals, beyond having their sight corrected. With the new brand, we wanted to show how our work was connected to bigger issues, such as poverty alleviation and gender, which in turn connects us to new partners and supporters who are interested in those areas.

With the World Health Organization’s target of a 25 percent reduction globally in avoidable blindness and vision impairment just four years away, how will Orbis’s new brand positioning help you and your partners achieve that common goal?

One of the key points that we brought out in the new brand is really trying to elevate awareness around the fact that 80 percent of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured. That fact is pretty shocking and it was a piece of information that Orbis really hadn’t been using to raise awareness that this is a solvable problem until we did the new branding. Now we’re really trying to drive that point home.

Eye care is very accessible in North America and Europe. We all know friends or family members who’ve had a cataract — that isn’t something that impedes their vision for the rest of their life. But in many parts of the world where people have limited access to proper treatment, people do lose their vision — and they lose their ability to get an education, maintain a livelihood and be independent along with it. What we’re really trying to do with our new brand is help people become more aware of the problem and the solutions, so we can work on making those solutions more available.

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About the author

  • Anna Dirksen

    Anna is a strategic communications consultant working with a variety of health and environment organizations. Previously, she led the communications and outreach strategy at the U.N. University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, with a focus on education for sustainable development. She has also worked as deputy director of communications for the global health organization PSI in Washington, D.C., with the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the U.N. Secretariat in New York, and in Rwanda with a global health not-for-profit. She earned her M.S. degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and began her career as a television host, reporter and producer in Canada.