Five For Friday: Creating a New Brand, with Corey-Jan Albert of Relish Marketing

Corey-Jan Albert relishmarketing.com

Corey-Jan Albert
www.relishmarketing.com

Today’s “Five for Friday” features Corey-Jan Albert, an innovative marketer who always gets to the heart of an audience’s needs, making her insanely effective for her clients. We recently had a discussion on  the “how and whys” of brand change for businesses and she was kind enough to share her thoughts with us here at 52weekturnaround.com. Having known Corey-Jan for many years, and knowing the excitement and brilliance she brings to her work, I’m thrilled to be able to share her insights!

A Conversation with Corey-Jan Albert:

Before we even get into any of these excellent questions about change management and branding, we should be sure to be on the same page with what we mean by “Brand.” It’s much more than the company logo and tagline. When you think about a company’s brand, you’re talking about the visceral, emotional response we have as part of a total experience at every point of contact with the organization, its people, products and/or services. That experience is created in two parts: (1) The part created by the organization, its products and/or services and (2) The part that takes place in the mind of the person experiencing/interacting with the organization, its products and/or services. Obviously, the goal is to control the first part with logo, a well-defined messaging platform, an overall look/feel for materials, and appropriate communications – be they advertising, sales collateral, PR efforts, etc. If you do it right, you will influence the perceptions of key audiences.  

 Right, then – on to the five questions: 

1.  When should an organization consider making a brand change?

A rebranding effort can be successful under a lot of different circumstances. The most common time to rebrand is when an organization’s existing identity feels outdated, too generic or otherwise out of step with the reality of the business. For instance, the company’s brand feels like a small, “mom and pop” company – but they’ve actually transformed into a sizable business. The company may have started out as a brick-and-mortar business, but now, the bulk of its business takes place online – or vice versa. Maybe the company is entering a new market – and they want to look like they belong there. Or perhaps the original logo was developed a long time ago by the owner’s nephew and it feels outdated and/or amateurish.

Mergers and acquisitions also provide opportunities for rebranding. When a large company acquires a smaller one, the smaller company almost always adopts the larger organization’s brand. When two competitors merge, however, they may want to create a new company name and brand to reflect the new, united entity. Likewise, when a company acquires a business with a significant amount of brand recognition, it might not be wise to completely force an entirely new brand that would squander that equity.

An organization shouldn’t seriously consider rebranding if team members are not ready to embrace and reflect the new corporate identity, or if the company is experiencing dysfunctional, divisive behavior. Rebranding won’t fix any of that. On the contrary, serious issues like these are likely to undercut any new branding efforts.

Business leaders also should beware of the impulse to rebrand out of boredom. Yes, that sounds a bit crazy – who would do such a thing? – but here’s how I’ve seen it happen: A company develops a new brand identity, everyone embraces it. It’s a time of excitement and energy – and that’s great. Then, living and breathing the brand every day, it becomes ordinary. And shortly after that, it feels boring. Missing the thrill that came when the brand identity was new, executives may lament that the identity feels old and needs, “refreshing,” even if it’s only actually six months old.

I cannot emphasize this enough: It is critical for business leaders to make sure that they and their employees remember: Your audiences aren’t living and breathing the brand identity every day, 24 x 7, the way you are. About the time that internal team members become bored by the “new” brand, external audiences are probably just starting to get used to it. Indeed, it usually takes a year or more for a new brand identity to become firmly established in the minds of customers, investors, the media, etc. That’s the time when you can really start to build brand equity. It is not the time to change to something new.

2.  What are three key things to keep in mind while creating a brand identity?

  1. Be simple, clear and consistent. Don’t try to make your brand express too much. If you try to build too many different brand attributes and messaging components into your brand identity platform, it will be difficult for your audience to understand and it won’t sink in.
  2. Be realistic. There is value in establishing an aspirational brand, just as there is value in dressing for the job you want to have. But whether you’re dressing your business or yourself, the distance between where you are and where you want to be can’t be unattainably far. If your audiences feel like they’re being asked to believe something that simply isn’t part of their experience with the company, they won’t buy in. A successful brand reflects and reinforces your audience’s actual experience with the company and/or its products.
  3. Your people may be your most important brand element. If you create a brand identity that your team members can’t reflect in their demeanor, work and communications, they will accidentally – or, in some cases, deliberately – undercut your efforts.

3.  How do you prepare internally for a brand change? What do you need to have your team do?

One of the most important things to do internally is determine who has a stake in the new brand. Whose day to day business existence will the brand affect? Who are the “external-facing” members of the organization, who have their fingers on the pulse of each of your external audiences? Include these people in your process.

Equally significant, consider who else within the organization is positioned to influence internal adoption of the new identity – either positively or negatively. They may be executives. Often, however, they are admins, long-term employees and others who are looked up to and respected by other employees. You should incorporate these people at various levels of your process for two reasons. First, they are likely to be able to share perceptions, ideas and opinions that may not be part of your C-level leaders’ world view. Second, if these internal influencers feel like they are part of the building effort, they are more likely to become your champions, rather than your saboteurs.

Get perspective from someone who isn’t “drinking the Kool-Aid.” An outside consultant with relevant design and writing expertise, as well as brand strategy and development experience, can help you guide the process forward while rapidly and objectively identifying potential issues and opportunities. Full disclosure – Relish Marketing is an excellent brand strategy and creative consulting practice. That said, I advocated for this approach even when I was “in-house” talent for a large technology company. It’s simply smart business.

Finally, be open to unexpected input and ideas. You may think that everyone on your team is in agreement about how the company’s is perceived, both internally and externally. And your assumption is probably wrong. The question is: What do you do when you discover a disconnect between how you and your team see the company? I’ve seen some leaders take it as a cue to “correct” the perceptions of others on their team. And I’ve seen leaders use that same disconnect as an opportunity to broaden their own perceptions – of the company, of their team members, and of their customers. No question – leaders who respond in the latter way achieve better branding results.

4.  What works best in communicating a brand change to your external clients?

Clearly, there is no “magic wand” that will instantly grant identity adoption across all of your external audiences. Some members of your audience will “get it” right away – and say that this is what your company always should have been. Others may take longer. That said, I would say that there are three major keys to encouraging adoption:

  1. Demonstrate internal acceptance. Take the time to help team members learn how they are an essential element of the brand, and help them learn to incorporate the new brand at every point of contact – including not only the website, print materials and packaging, but also emails, social media, and day-to-day interactions.
  2. Test and listen – to others and to yourself. Before “going live” with a new brand, test it with trusted audience members – and listen carefully to their responses before finalizing the platform. At the same time, maintain the courage of your convictions to avoid letting an overly enthusiastic or ambitious customer or shareholder derail your process.
  3. Stay the course. Once you do go live, it may be tempting to try to “evolve” the brand – making changes to messaging, logo, look/feel, etc. as its newness wears off (see above under question 1 “…beware the impulse to rebrand out of boredom.”) But little shifts – either back toward an old comfort zone or forward toward untested positioning can undercut the results you want to achieve in the long term.

5.  What are some of the best brand change strategies you’ve seen (or you’ve worked on, if you’re comfortable sharing that). What made them particularly effective?

 My favorite brand change strategies? You may as well ask who my favorite children are!

I love how the Federal Express delivery company responded when they realized that most of the world shortened their name to Fedex. Many companies would have done a branding campaign to re-ingrain the full Federal Express name. This company embraced their customers’ abbreviation and changed to fit it. Their logo does a nice trick with the space between the E and the X forming a forward moving arrow, too. Essentially, rather than try to lead their audience, they caught up to their audience – to great effect.

When Kimberly-Clark wanted to encourage a corporate culture of innovation, collaboration, and personal responsibility for results among its employees, we helped them update a very corporate, internal employee- and recruit-facing brand to feel more open and creative. It uses sketchy, handwritten fonts and supportive imagery that feel collaborative and welcoming. And it’s coupled with messaging language that reinforces the organization’s People Philosophy and expected employee behaviors. The results have been tremendous, with high acceptance and soaring recruitment and retention numbers.

One of my other favorite rebranding efforts was on a much smaller – yet still highly complex scale. An interior designer was employed by a high-end furniture retailer with an uncertain future. He wanted to establish his own professional brand identity, which he could leverage in the event that his employer’s business did not remain viable. At the same time, he did not want to do anything to undercut his employer’s brand. In fact, was adamant about wanting to enhance it. We created a brand identity for the designer that both highlighted the designer and reinforced the retailer’s existing brand. We took care to design the logo and write the positioning language, however, in a way that would not require dramatic changes if the designer had to open his own business. The designer’s self-branded marketing efforts actually elevated the positioning of his employer, raising sales and visibility. Other issues ultimately forced company to close – but the designer was able to successfully take his interior design work forward independently.

Corey-Jan Albert can be reached at www.relishmarketing.com.  She is also an accomplished author and playwright.

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