Brand Refresh with J. Nichole Smith

Posted on Aug 14, 2023
Brand Refresh with J. Nichole Smith

If you’ve been following along (you totally should be, because we do and share some cool and creative stuff all the time!), then you’ve seen first-hand the evolution of The Labs & Co. This latest chapter, however, feels extra special and we wanted to share it, in detail, with you.

We just thought we had gotten serious about our 2015 brand refresh until 2020 hit and we did some deep dive brand discovery work with teacher, mentor, and best friend, J. Nichole Smith.

I don’t know if it was just 2020, or the isolation of the pandemic, but this need for change was feeling painful. I, for one, was so full of self doubt and impostor syndrome. Were we meant to keep doing this? Or was this the beginning of the end for The Labs & Co.? It sounds dire, but this is what misalignment and disconnection to your brand feels like.

With Nic’s guidance and her soul-opening exercise techniques, we figured out where the disconnect was, who our people were (the deeply rooted and wildly free spirits, like us), and how to best reach them.

#BrandingDoneRight is what the marketing folks call it.

There’s a backstory to our work with Nic, and because I could not write it better than she, I asked her to tell it to you, thus introducing you to our latest brand evolution, and the process of getting The Labs & Co. from here..

To here…

And here…

And here…

Okay, take it away, Nic!

I have been a part of The Labs’ journey since the very, very beginning. 

Since I sat in front of a room of 25 pet photographers on the 12th floor of a building in the flat-iron district in NY – listening to them introduce themselves on day 1 of a 3 day workshop I was co-hosting – and last but most certainly not least – Nat introduced herself and I instantly fell in love.

Her ticket there was a gift from Bill – the world’s GREATEST partner who knew she absolutely needed to leave her corporate job, and thought this workshop might be just the boost she needed. It was.

I spent the rest of the workshop trying really hard not to let anyone see that she was my favorite human in the room. I was just drawn to her.

But our friendship really blossomed when I found myself in San Francisco for a commercial shoot, and I invited myself over to her home as a shoot location – asking her if she and Bill could assist. I moved to California from Seattle not long after that and we were able to sneak-in more regular excuses to meet up on their turf in Petaluma, or mine down in SoCal. Every time I was with these two, my heart felt like it would explode. The love and care, the groundedness, the laughter, the Mexican food and excellent tequila – and of course their combined talent – were an absolutely irresistible cocktail of best-friend material, but also I could see so clearly that they were already among the best in the industry… and that was over 12 years ago.

Now, they’re absolutely incomparable.

Over the years, whenever I had a client that was a good fit for film-quality, slightly moody, deeply grounded, wholly thoughtful art of Nat and Bill, I always submitted them as my first choice – for illustration, for photography, for video. Always. Because working with them is a dream, and the results are consistently eye-watering and jaw-dropping.

Over the years I’ve also had the great joy and honor to advise them on their strategy and brand. Recently, they approached me saying it was time for a little refresh, and for the first time I got to apply the Colour Brand® methodology to their brand. In their case, as in most cases, it came in very handy to answer some core tensions they were facing in the opposites they felt defined them…


They were 50% of two personality types: Seaside and Fireside – and it was difficult to prioritize one in order to provide a crystal-clear positioning and brand personality (not to mention choose a revised color palette) – Ultimately, I helped Nat put together a color palette in both personality types and it became INSTANTLY clear that they needed to go Seaside. While they are DEEPLY Fireside – the color harmony of Fireside simply did not fit with their aesthetic, their work, or their dominant personality (personally or for the brand).

Nat note: This part was truly mind-blowing. The work we did to build a color palette that felt true to us and worked with our work rather than fight against it, was truly remarkable. I remember one of the things I mentioned to Nic was my fear (read, insecurity) that SO many of our colleagues and pet brands tend towards a Fireside personality naturally, and while we are very much aligned with Fireside, I really didn’t want to look or feel like anyone else out there.

Embracing our Seaside personality and leaning into it allowed us the comfort to really embrace the cinematic, moody tone that inhabits a lot of our work. I realized then that this “Seaside” part of our brand was trying to fit into the warm and toasty “Fireside” spectrum and it just didn’t feel right. Brilliant.

Job 1, done.

The next bit of tension was in their messaging and positioning. They had outgrown some of their original messaging – and one of the archetypes they’d been quite fond of – had turned a little into its shadow-side. It was time to look with fresh eyes at the psychology they were embodying, and why.

As we looked deeper, we found another core tension. The desire to speak to freedom (being outdoors in particular) but they also were finding themselves feeling tremendously rooted and feeling drawn to speaking also to the grounded elements of their brand and work… not to mention the indoor, less ‘adventurey’ locations they’d begun to shoot in more and more, and really enjoyed… and I suggested a new ‘I believe statement that could speak to both:

We believe a life-well-lived can be both wildly free and deeply rooted.

We’re here to connect with and elevate individuals and brands who agree.

The key here is for them to not lose any of their wildness, while also being able to feel at home, at home. This tension wasn’t really allowed-for in their current outdoorsy-focused brand… and it wasn’t at all forced to bring it in, because let me tell you, being sat around a table with these two, anywhere in the world, with drinks or instruments or games, or food or whatever, is truly the best place in the world to be. (Nat note: awwwwww!)

So we adjusted their archetypes (Creator, Lover, Explorer), messaging, positioning, and color palette to fully embody and create harmony within their Seaside personality type… and to tweak the core psychology drivers in their messaging into a more holistic place that felt more expansive and true for them and their evolving body of (very impressive) work.

Nic’s Mood Board

I provided a mood board speaking to my suggestions, and Nat (in all her design genius) digested it. Sat with it. And despite some initial discomfort (which by the way is the case with 99.9% of my clients – when you pick colors based on psychology instead of just personal preference there can be some initial discomfort) – but upon contemplation – she found that the colors (the yellow in particular) that we’d selected, had been present in her work all along (see mood board). She carried the project on to find her exact right pantones and worked her magic on a logo refresh and font selection – and the rebrand was complete.

Nat note: One of the most powerful things about color psychology is the correlation between the color itself and memory/emotion. In her moodboard, Nic paired each of her suggested colors with feelings or heartstrings that immediately forged a connection for us. This “guide” has become our canon in terms of how we use color, not just in our brand, but in our photographic styling as well. On a very personal note, part of the disconnect we were suffering through was due, in no small part, to losing our beloved muse Corbin, back in 2020. We felt a little lost without him. Nic, unprompted, saw an opportunity to pass the torch to Corbin’s most beautiful legacy, his adopted sister Willow, tying the cool black color to her, and with that, she breathed life back into the reason why we do what we do: because of a dog that changed everything.

In all of my design work, branding in particular, I find I always need to name my colors. And so I did, once they were finalized and Nic-approved. Each one had already been present in our work, and now tied to something meaningful and much loved.

For our logo, I kept the same Corbin-inspired Labrador head silhouette, but I refined and cleaned it up. I added two stars near the forehead, a nod to our Canis Major and also a great symbol for our archetypes. I kept our fonts the same, but reworked our logos in different variations with them. The logo will only ever be one color, making it elegant, simple and a breeze to print or stitch on anything. 

I found it helpful to create a moodboard (see it below) with a combination of images we created as well as images we love and admire to help us strive for a consistent, cohesive “feel”, one that Nic expertly described as “Edinburgh” and I later accompanied with “Highland Wild”. Later on, I hired one of my favorite designers to create some unique icon badges for us. The first thing I did when we started our work together, was send him everything we had worked on with Nic. I can’t wait to dream up some swag!

Our Mood Board

I love projects like this one because sometimes we feel like a rebrand has to be big or wildly different to ‘count’. But I’m a huge believer in not breaking what’s working (not changing just for the sake of change), and focusing on the small changes with the most desirable impact.

For The Labs, it was as simple as a slight shifting of positioning and color driven by psychology – and the result was a totally upleveled, beautifully elegant (but not unrecognizable) brand evolution.

Nat here. So, there you have it. 

Our new chapter, dressed in tones of ‘Seaside’. Our website got a full revamp, too, thanks to Jill Lynn Design, who we couldn’t be more impressed with! I hope this little peek into the work that goes into a brand refresh has been helpful, and interesting to you. If you’d like to experience some of Nic’s magic for your own brand or business, I beg you to go follow her everywhere, and especially check out these links below, where you can:

Figure out your Brand Personality:

Enjoy this brand new freebie Nic put together:

And listen to her brand new podcast, aptly titled Joy, Colour, Impact (& dogs), maybe you’ll hear us on that one someday:
On Spotify:
On Apple: