If you’re reading this post, you’re likely asking yourself: “is now the right time to rebrand?” It can be a tough decision to make. It takes time and money, and requires getting the attention of the entire organization. And frankly, you’re probably not looking for a massive project to add to your already long to-do list.
But if your organization has recently experienced one of these change moments, you’ve probably outgrown your brand:
- Change of leadership (such as going from one generation to the next in family-owned businesses)
- Acquisition (or divestiture)
- Major product launch that broadens your category or market reach
- Business strategy shift
At Element Three, we just launched the third iteration of our brand in 16 years. We love to share what we learn in the process of growing our own brand—and so here is our candid story of how we knew it was time, our approach, and the consequence of the outcomes, in the hopes that it helps you decide whether a rebrand might be worth it for your own company.
How we knew it was the right time
A couple of years ago, we felt ourselves hitting something of a ceiling at Element Three. We’d spent much of the past decade growing—and growing fast—but that growth had brought with it the usual problems, and until we solved those problems further growth was going to be painful. Maybe more painful than it was worth. So rather than just putting on a blindfold and ignoring the issues, we decided to do something about it.
On the advice of trusted advisors, we tried EOS®—the Entrepreneurial Operating System®—with great success. We’ve spent the last two years working to clarify our vision for our future, determining where we believe we can be the best in the world, and focusing on developing processes to make our work better—and to make working with us easier.
As a part of that process, our business strategy started to evolve, and when your business strategy evolves, your brand strategy needs to as well. So, we took our own advice and developed the next generation of the Element Three brand.
Brand strategy must reflect your business strategy
One of the issues that leads to a brand becoming ineffective is a dissonance between the brand and the rest of the business. Brand and business should always be in sync—really, your brand should be synonymous with your business. A brand doesn’t just set the foundation for what the marketing team does, it should be fully enmeshed with everything that makes a business what it is. A brand strategy is, really, a marketplace interpretation of a business strategy.
So, when things change in a business, they have to change for a brand, and that’s exactly where we found ourselves. As we made changes to our business’ strategy, we knew our brand had to evolve to match. One of the things that we identified through the process of adjusting the direction the business was moving was that our preferred audience had shifted from the last time we’d examined it—which, of course, meant that we needed to determine how to talk about ourselves in a way that would resonate with the people we want to be talking to. How do we attract the audience we want? How do we articulate our value prop to them?
This is a major (perhaps final) step of the process of becoming not just a business that can grow, but one that creates intentional growth. Harmonizing our brand strategy and our business strategy in this way ensures that our own marketing efforts are in tune with where we want the business to go—we’re not just hunting leads, we’re specifically looking for a narrow group of people who want to work with us, and vice versa.
Know who you want to impress
We identified three personas that fall under two types of business that we really want to be working with and talking to. I’ll give you a little bit of insight into who they are before talking about what exactly we want to say to them.
First, one of our ideal businesses to work with is the sophisticated, established business. They’re often looking to start with enterprise brand definition and positioning, they want to shift from tactical to strategic brand storytelling, and frequently they’re coming out of a period of immense change—whether it’s internal or market-driven. From this business, we want to talk to the Savvy C-Suite executive. They’re senior leaders who are confident in their viewpoints and sure-footed in their decision-making—culture-conscious, shopping for impact and results rather than the lowest price.
We also want to work with growth-stage businesses—they’re moving fast and thinking about the bottom line, they want to get started quickly rather than spending a few months on planning first. The owner or president is usually heavily involved, they have a small marketing team or none at all, and they’re coming to us to lead strategy and execute production. There’s actually two people we serve here: the Obsessive Owner and the Maturing Marketer.
For the Obsessive Owner, business wins are personal wins. They’re high-dominance personality profiles who have the final say in big decisions, rather than passing the buck—and while they either haven’t done marketing in the past or have been burned before, they know it’s the key to getting to that next level. And for the Maturing Marketer, they might start out seeing us more as an influencer, but when the opportunity presents itself, they champion us with their bosses—as a partner, not a replacement.
Either way, we’re working with companies at a tipping point of growth, where their strategies no longer serve who they are. Which, ironically, is where we found ourselves before starting this process.
Pro note: creating these personas was a mixture of research and our experience. We had a third party interview a representative sample of our ideal customers, and we talked extensively to our sales and client services teams to hear about what they encounter on a day-to-day basis. We took a hard look at who we serve best, how they view us, and what problems we’re uniquely qualified to solve for them. Being brutally honest with yourself is key.
What do we tell them?
We’ve actually developed different messaging for the personas mentioned based not on where they work, but instead on where in the business they work. For execs and c-suite, our elevator pitch is:
I'm with Element Three, a firm of smart marketers. Our sweet spot is working with companies that are at a tipping point of growth—their customer experience and go-to-market strategy no longer serve who they're becoming. We help companies tell a clear story and build a predictable marketing and sales engine.
And for the marketer, we’ll say:
I work at Element Three. Our sweet spot is working with companies that are at a tipping point of growth. We help them figure out their story, what makes them stand out from the rest; their strategy, what to do with the time & money available for marketing; and set up scorecards so we both know what’s working and what isn’t.
The brand research we’ve done has given us deep insight into the businesses and types of people we work best with, what we can provide them, and what they want to hear from us. And all of that is now built into not just our new brand, but our sales and business strategy going forward.
What did we learn from our journey?
I’d say there are three major things that we learned about ourselves in going through our rebranding process. We learned a lot more than that, obviously, but these are the major takeaways that resonate throughout everything we’re doing now.
We’ve grown up.
If you’ve been a fan of our brand for a while, you’ve seen some of our more youthful looks of the past. You might remember our elephant, and you probably know the collegiate look we focused on more recently. But over that time, Element Three has grown from a scrappy underdog into a sophisticated partner that owns our seat at the table. Pretending like we’re still “the little guy” is a bit dishonest, and as you’ve seen from learning about our audience, the businesses and partners we want to work with aren’t looking for an underdog. They’re looking for an expert, a master. A consultant who can get the job done—any job—without question.
Our honesty sets us apart.
It’s not just the outcomes that set Element Three apart. Sure, we’re proud of the work we’re doing. We’d be crazy not to be. But our clients aren’t just coming to us hoping for a cool ad campaign or a flashy new website. They want us to drive results, however that has to happen. They want honesty about what is and isn’t working—the brutal facts, not beating around the bush. Our brand look and voice have to reflect a straightforward tone and even an edge. No BS. Just what you need to hear.
We had to give ourselves permission to be bold.
It’s not always easy, whether you’re the one who’s listening to the bare truth or the one who’s telling it. But we know that when you try to speak in a way that appeals to everyone, what you actually end up doing is appealing to nobody at all. It’s tempting to water down our message, but we believe that going in the complete other direction will allow us to weed out the prospects we don’t actually want to work with, while standing out in the eyes of the personas we want to attract. I’m hopeful you’ll help hold us accountable to this goal.
A closer look at the process, or: How we did it
The nice thing about being a marketing consultancy is that when it comes to something like rebranding, we know what we’re doing. We do this all the time for our own clients, and when it’s our turn, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just go through the brand process we use with our clients. Which, to be fair, feels a little weird when implementing for your own company. I made sure to review, but stay fairly out of the process to provide the space our SMEs needed to rethink the brand. From research to full marketplace launch, the process took the better part of a year. A high-level look at the steps we took included gathering a number of data points, then visualizing the brand.
Understand the external and internal perceptions of the brand
How do we describe ourselves? How do others describe us? Are they hearing what we’re trying to say, or is it getting lost in translation? Before we can determine what needs to change in our messaging and what needs to stay the same, we have to know what’s working and what isn’t. Our brand research includes things like interviews and surveys so we know what internal and external stakeholders think about where we are and where we’re going—as well as where we should be going.
Knowing what the competition’s doing is a must. We took a look at some of the agencies—locally, here in Indianapolis, as well as nationally—that we know we compete against for clients, and some of the ones that we aspire to go up against. It shows us what’s popular in our space and, perhaps more importantly, where there are gaps in the market that we can fill.
Audit and expansion of personas
We did in-depth research into the people we serve today—not those we used to serve, or might serve in the future—to see what they’re looking for from us. This is how we met our “Savvy C-Suite,” “Obsessive Owner,” and “Maturing Marketer” and determined how to adjust our brand to connect with each of them on their own level.
Once we had an idea of where we stood and where the market stood around us, and we understood where we needed to go, it was time to make our outsides match our insides. We built out a new voice, look, and feel for our creative content, from our website to our digital ads to our email newsletter and more. In fact, we ended up with three separate approaches, each of which applies to a different type of communication and fits the audience we’re looking to talk to with each.
Pro note: don’t try to do this without going through the entire process. Like so many things in life, those that think they live above the process will end with a big mess of nothing at the end. I’ve been doing brand work for companies from Fortune 500 to mid-sized privately held companies my entire career, and those that disrespect the process end up mad. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We’re really pleased with how our new brand turned out, and very excited to show it off. So take a look at our website, and keep an eye out for what comes next from Element Three. Stay tuned—our new brand is off and running.
Tiffany Sauder is the CEO of Element Three, a full-service marketing consultancy in Indianapolis. After taking over in 2006, she’s transformed E3 from a small creative shop into one of the fastest-growing marketing consultancies in the Midwest. Outside the office, she spends time with her husband and three daughters, runs half marathons, and is practicing for the day The Food Network calls to cast her on Chopped.
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