Rethinking Your Brand: When Your Audience Doesn’t Like Your Brand

Last week, Canadians were glued to televisions across the country as they watched The Toronto Blue Jays take on the Cleveland Indians in what became their final playoff game of the season. As exciting as that was for us Canadians, a separate story was emerging, focused on something other than the sport itself, specifically the name “Cleveland Indians”.

This team’s name has been involved in controversy for many years, but this year in particular it all came to a head. The term “Indian” is a derogatory term that just isn’t used anymore, as it is very insulting to our First Nations people. The Canadian public was so offended by the team’s brand that even an activist filed a request to ban the team from using their name and logo in the remaining games on the grounds of racial discrimination.

I draw your attention to this issue because as a marketer, it highlights the importance of a brand. The Cleveland Indians’ brand is obviously alienating people, and as public opinion influences buying decisions, this in turn affects the baseball team’s bottom line.

While this is an extreme case, the concept of rebranding to adjust to social values isn’t unheard of. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded to KFC in 1991 as health concerns around fried foods as well as rumours of genetically modified chicken were growing. By taking the words chicken and fried out of the brand name, it allowed them to distance themselves from these unpopular public opinions, diversify their product offerings and thereby strengthen their relationship with existing customers ad appeal to a new ones.

If your audience is weighing in on your brand, and it’s creating a negative buzz about your brand as it is with the Cleveland Indians, then it’s time to revaluate your brand strategy. The first step in doing this is conducting market research.

While your brand might not be offensive or politically incorrect, make sure it reflects the values your customers expect to see from your product or service. For example, if you’ve always been known as the leader of a certain product, check to see if your competitors have met your match, or if your loyal customers value the fact that you are a leader.

Hire a marketing agency familiar with your brand, or work with a research firm to conduct market research on your customers and find out more about what they value, why they choose you, and what your brand means to them. Getting feedback directly from your audience will allow you to not only identify who your audience is, but also the types of messaging and values that have meaning to them.

Your brand must be aligned with your organization’s mission, vision and values, so conducting research with your customers to help with your audiences will allow you to create a brand identity that will benefit both parties.

Your brand is your promise to your customer. It represents your organization’s values and sets you apart from your competition. It is who you are. Rebranding your company to align better to the values of your customers is a big first step to improving the connection and relationship you have with your audience. And ultimately, don’t we all want loyal customers who value what we do?


The Shoemaker’s Children Get Some Shoes


You know how the saying goes: the shoemaker is so busy making shoes for other people that he never has time to make shoes for his own children. As a marketing company, we focused our business on building brands for our SMB clients, and have never allotted the time and resources to look at our own brand – until now, that is!

I am thrilled to announce that we have rebranded Creativeworks as CreativeWorks Marketing. We followed our own advice and our 5-Step Marketing Process to evaluate our competition, create a marketing strategy, develop a tactical marketing plan, develop new marketing and sales collateral and established metrics to measure our success.  At a strategic level we determined what is unique about us, how we are different from our competitors, what our client’s value is and how we can target their needs with our services.  We refreshed our brand to align with the direction of our company, and created a tag “Trusted Process. Proven Results” that highlights our USP, and determined what marketing tactics we need to create to specifically target our audience.

This blog is not shameless self-promotion; it is to say that all of us, even owners of marketing agencies, can become complacent and rest on the laurels of our successes. All of us need to take the time to evaluate our businesses to make sure we are on track to meet our goals; that we have the resources in place to implement our strategy and that we track our successes. As consumers become more and more sophisticated, not only do they expect more from us, but for future business success you need to let them know they deserve more!

As an owner of a SMB, do you ever feel you don’t have enough time to evaluate your own business?  What challenges do you have in making your own business a priority? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

Small and Mid-Sized Businesses – Who Needs Integrity?

When small and mid-sized business owners come to me asking to redesign their website, my first reaction is always to start a discussion with them about their business, their goals and objectives, and then to drill down to what is working and what is not working on their site.  Seems like basic and straightforward questioning for most marketing professionals, right?  Well, unfortunately, not right.

I have dedicated my business and this blog specifically to helping small and medium-sized business owners because they often fall prey to unscrupulous companies looking to make a quick buck. I feel that these growing organizations, the backbone of our Canadian economy, are being taken advantage of by an unregulated industry that is just as likely to sell websites as it is to sell iPods or mugs.  They approach the small to mid-sized business owner with flashy razzle-dazzle and some even “talk the talk”, hitting them up for thousands of dollars in website design and site management with no intent to actually help the client.

Like most of us, unless you know what you are looking for, you don’t know what you don’t know. As such, I have outlined a few questions that will hopefully protect you, the small to mid-sized business owner, against web designers or web programmers calling themselves marketers.  If you need help in deciphering the legitimate companies from the charlatans, consult a real marketing consultant to help guide you.

When a business owner wonders why their brochures or flyers, e-newsletters or e-blasts are not working for them, or says that they really want to create a new website or add QR codes to their business cards – as a marketing professional – I have to put on the brakes and ask them why they want to do so.

The Anti-Charlatan Questions to ask:

  1. How did they hear you needed a new site – e.g. solicitation via email or online?
  2. How well-written was the email or letter of solicitation? Did it provide you with links to projects they have done?
  3. Ask to have a meeting with them at their office. This will give you some indication if they have a legitimate business.  If they work from home, then they should be comfortable telling you that.
  4. When you meet with them, do they spend most of the meeting talking about what they can do for you, or on finding out more about your company and your challenges and needs?  If it’s all about them, you might expect your site project to be as well.
  5. Did they claim to be a web designer or marketer? Can they substantiate their claims of experience and practice?
  6. Do they have examples of their work? You need to know exactly what their involvement was in the development of the site. Did they design the site?  Did they design it using a website template (e.g. WordPress), or are they custom sites?  Note:  A template is a sort of prototype that they would simply modify by adding your content and pictures. The amount of design is very limited, and these sites all look very similar, but this is the least expensive option. A WordPress site also offers templates, but can be customized (although the WordPress icon in the URL will be visible to your audience).  A custom site is developed from scratch by a true designer, and this is usually the most expensive option.
  7. Ask them about the project process – do they create a critical path, a site map, with timelines clearly stated, etc.?
  8. Do they have writers who can write the content for the site? Is the content written from an SEO perspective or is it straight copy?
  9. What kind of SEO provision is outlined in the project?
  10. Do they write the programming for the sites? You are looking for them to tell you PHP, Java scripting, etc.
  11. Do they provide you with a Content Management System (CMS) so you can manage the site in-house?
  12. Ask them if they create wireframe designs.  If yes, ask them to show you an example.  If no, ask them why. The answer should speak to their expertise.
  13. What types of quality control measures are in place?
  14. Do they have references you can call?  Look through their work samples, and choose ones you’d like to talk to. Make sure it is a senior person at the company, not a reference for a junior employee.
  15. How will you be able to measure the ROI of the site?  You are looking for them to tell you that they use Google Analytics or other site measurement metrics. You’ll need to discuss if they will be providing on-going site measurement and recommendations.  If they are not marketers, I strongly recommend you work with a marketing agency or consultant for increased site value.

As a marketer and as a small business owner, integrity is more than simply a word – it is something live by, to follow and believe in. Integrity is one of the most vital assets I bring to the table for my clients.

Was this blog helpful?  Do you have any questions I can help you with?  Please share your questions or stories in the comments, so that others may learn from your experiences.

Rebranding Case Study: IT Business Advisors


Ahh, rebranding.  So much is talked about on this topic, but sometimes the proof is in the pudding or in this case, the proof is in the case study.

The Stage


IT (FIT) had been in the IT business for over a decade.  Their original focus had been providing IT solutions as well as a variety of other IT-related services like website design and hosting.  Based on customer needs, they changed their focus to technology management for a specific target audience – small businesses.  FIT needed a brand name and branding to reflect this new direction.

The Work

FIT had to differentiate itself from its competitors. But the FIT name and brand attributes – including the company name and brand slogan “Make IT work” – no longer seemed appropriate. The brand did not ‘speak’ to their audience or communicate what they specifically do.

We worked with them to investigate how the brand might address the company’s new direction of becoming a technology management resource for small businesses.

In addition to research on industry best practices, a comparative analysis was conducted on their competition. Potential new company names were tested with their customers, and discussions with customers, management, and employees were analyzed in depth by the Creativeworks team.

The Outcome

Based on the competitive research, as well as best practices and Creativeworks’ marketing experience, we recommended that the “new FIT brand” feature an advisor in its core message.  An advisor sentiment communicates to customers that this company is more than an expert; they can solve customer concerns on a specific topic, which in this case was coupled with technology management.

The “advisor” message was then integrated into the branding with core attributes being trust, experience, knowledge, and superior quality staff and products.  Quite simply, the new brand was now positioned as “the brand to trust for all your technology management needs.”

At the time, there was no other IT service provider that focused on trust as a unique angle, or was known as being an advisor to small businesses.  In this industry, these were identified as ideal and strong differentiators.

Facilitate IT changed its name to IT Business Advisors and a strong tagline was added: “Your trusted technology management team”.  This further defined and positioned their brand.

Key Lessons Learned

Firstly, rebranding is also about change: change of mindset for owners, management, employees and customers so including them in the process, even minimally, is key to its adoption and success.

Secondly, when rebranding, continually check your process by asking:  Does it deliver an accurate perception of their identity?  Does it improve customer confidence in their business?  Does it increase their profile?  Will it help enhance their competitive advantage?

Lastly, rebranding is not about new colours, websites or even a new logo (although that is part of implementing the rebrand), it’s about creating a company message that employees and customers understand and can rally around.

Read what our client has to say about this experience in a press release we issued as a result of winning an international creative award for this rebranding initiative:


Have any branding stories you’d like to share?  I’d be interested in hearing from you.