Take A Shot At Creative Redemption When Rebranding Your Small Business
When I started my consulting practice in 2015, the first question I was asked by my friends, family and business partners was, “What are you calling it?”
I’m not too proud to admit that I wasn’t too creative -- my primary focus was on signing initial clients and feeding my family. So, I landed quickly in the same place a lot of people in my type of business end up: The people I want to work with know me, so let’s keep it simple and put my name (or in this case, my initials) on the door.
Especially with a heavy clientele base and referral network in the tech industry, I self-consciously viewed my new “brand” as a referendum of my own creativity. In a business, where I’m expected to be creative, often on the spot, I failed my own test.
Ultimately though, I knew we could change the name once we got our feet under us and zeroed in on the direction of the company. We hit that point at the beginning of our third year. Friends, mentors and colleagues collectively offered some great advice. And a branding consultant, introduced to me by a friend, listened to my way-too-long answer to her question on what we can do for clients. She told me, “Look, you can be good at lots of things, but you’ll be lucky to be known for one. Tell me what that one thing is.”
Another seasoned executive, advising on the longer-term structure of the company, suggested that a brand focused on what we stand for would be more appealing to the high-level talent I wanted to recruit than one that is focused on a founder who may not be around forever.
The more I thought about this advice, the more it resonated. Nearly every one of our peers and competitors is named for its principals, thus creating a great opportunity for our firm to stand out.
So, I had direction and motivation. Next was the hard part. The branding consultant gave us a flavor by running through an abbreviated naming brainstorm session. It was brutal and deflating. After another three months of throwing around ideas with zero progress, we had the proverbial eureka moment. Our soon-to-be new brand was born in a meeting when I tabled a discussion on how to word a messaging point by saying, “Put an ellipsis there for now and we’ll revisit.”
Everyone in the room and on the phone heard it the same way -- immediately.
Did I say that was the hard part? It was, but not the only one. We found the ideal name, but now we had to create the brand and launch it. Execution is everything, as they say. For us, this was a roughly six-month process squeezed into busy work days. We got timely advice along the way, which I’ll share here. I must warn, doing this right isn’t free, but if you’re careful about where to put your resources, you can launch a new brand without breaking the bank.
• First, investigate whether your brand has been trademarked, and if it hasn’t, do it. The legal costs aren’t as bad as you might think, and it can save you a lot of trouble later. As distinctive as our audience may think Ellipsis is as a brand name, truth be told, there are dozens of businesses that use the name, making a trademark application focused on our intended use an important initiative.
• Articulate the brand story yourself, as you will be selling it to future clients and employees. Right after finding our name, we wrote a one-page manifesto that defined what it meant to us and what we wanted it to mean to clients. You know your business best, and later, when you hire someone to do your graphics work, you’ll need to provide very clear direction.
• Outsource graphics work, logo design and web design to a professional. There is a lot of independent talent in the design business, so you don’t have to go for a big firm. We used a team that had worked for larger agencies but had their own shingle, making the work professional but cost-effective.
• Plan out the brand launch. There is a lot to think about with a name change, from announcement timing to legal and logistical aspects to pulling collateral together to buying web URLs to notifying clients and friends of the firm to social strategy and more. Especially if you’re in a communications business like we are, you’re expected to be good at each aspect, even if you’ve never done some of these things.
• Involve your people. People want to feel good about the company they work for, and if they’ve taken the plunge to work for a small business, they want to contribute. A rebrand can be a great rallying project, and after all, your colleagues have good ideas. Harness their skills, whether they be project management, messaging or something else, and give people a meaty role.
Overall, our rebrand has been a big win. Our timing, at the end of a great year of growth, was seen as a sign of momentum. Clients applauded the move away from our clunky name, prospects immediately got what we were trying to say and we even got a referral from a key contact the moment he learned of the change. The lesson for us -- and for you: A brand is far more than just a person or a look and feel -- it’s perhaps the most important conversation you have with your stakeholders.
Originally Published in Forbes