Mightily CEO Lesa Seibert | Photo courtesy Mightily

Mightily CEO Lesa Seibert | Photo courtesy Mightily

Most people don’t think of Goodwill as a retail outlet. The nonprofit, whose Kentucky operation has been headquartered in Louisville since 1923, is so closely identified with donation collections — and the drive-thru lanes that make the act of donating so easy and free of commitment — that most people don’t consider the stores they’re attached to.

But collecting donations, while integral to its model, is not Goodwill’s primary interest. Rather, the nonprofit’s mission is to employ individuals with disabilities or other barriers to traditional employment. The donations are the means to an end.

So Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, under CEO Amy Luttrell, the organization’s first new leader in three decades, has embarked on a rebranding mission. Goodwill wants you to think of its stores more like Target than, well, Goodwill.

It’s ambitious, to be sure.

After a bidding process that included some of the city’s top creative firms, Goodwill settled last week on a relative new kid: Mightily, the 12-person branding and web design shop that’s already punching well above its weight. In the coming months, the firm will dissect, analyze and ultimately rebuild the experience at Goodwill stores, from the design of the signs to employees’ uniforms to the font on the receipts. A digital overhaul also will be incorporated.

It’s an evolutionary step for Mightily, which has mostly focused on web design and Internet-based branding. And for Goodwill of Kentucky, whose national brand took a hit two years ago after revelations that the parent organization paid workers exploitive wages, it’s a bold choice, one both sides believe can meet the challenge.

“It’s going to be an interesting position for them and for us,” says Mightily CEO Lesa Seibert.

The raw creative energy at Mightily, and the firm’s willingness to take chances, was a major draw for the kind of reboot Goodwill is seeking.

“What I think a lot of people think of when they think of rebranding is a refreshing of the paint on the walls,” says Goodwill marketing and PR manager Heather Hise. “While I can foresee that all of those things might come into play at some point, I think what we’re really trying to get to the core of is, Who are we, and who do we aspire to be for all the people we serve?

“We really feel like they understand we’re looking for something much bigger than just a new color palette and logo,” she says.

Goodwill's new retail stores, like this one in Mt. Washington, are part of the organization's efforts to upgrade its brand. | Photo courtesy Goodwill

Goodwill’s newer retail stores, like this one in Middletown, are part of the organization’s efforts to upgrade its brand. | Photo courtesy Goodwill

Goodwill is Mightily’s biggest client since transitioning from the former Xstreme Media in late 2013. Some of its higher-profile clients include Trilogy Health Services, Habitat for Humanity and Flavorman.

Mightily has earned swift praise for its less-than-orthodox approach to branding. Seibert and company president Pip Pullen make a sort of salt-and-pepper exec team, Seibert the MBA and Pullen the jolty live wire; both animated by good design and a righteous mission. It’s like Iggy Pop fronting The Beatles.

The firm leads with design and is selective about who it will work with. If a potential client doesn’t get why the approach to branding should be wildly different than whatever is producing the numbing stream of media drivel consuming so much bandwidth, then why waste everyone’s time?

The Goodwill deal, which both sides say will be an ongoing agreement that encompasses everything from branding and design to the nonprofit’s online presence and whatever may come next, will produce at least two new jobs at Mightily, maybe three, Seibert says.

It also sends a pretty clear message that the firm is in league with its bigger, more established competitors, such as Red7e and Scoppechio.

“I think it positions us very strongly for anybody looking for brand strategy, brand development, a brand retool,” Seibert says.

This might be changing soon.

For Goodwill, the rebrand is an opportunity to reiterate that the core of its business is employing people with disabilities or other disadvantages that might make having and holding a job challenging. It’s an undersold story, to be sure. In FY 2014, for instance, Goodwill of Kentucky placed 2,881 jobs and doled out a payroll of $17.7 million. That was a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

The organization also grew its revenue by more than $1 million in 2013, according to its most recent 990 form.

“I think it’s really important people know that our sole focus is on jobs and job training for people who have barriers to employment,” says Hise.

And there’s another thing: While Goodwill has 10 stores in Louisville, it has 54 more around the state. A brand and message that succeeds in an urban area isn’t necessarily a winner in a rural community, and vice versa. So there will be some needles in need of threading.

Story of Kentucky’s life, right? Mightily and Goodwill are betting they can tell it well.