Got The “Rebranding Itch”?

Here’s why branding is worthless without positioning: It usually happens before a significant company milestone or event – an important conference, a new product launch, a merger. It’s called “the rebranding itch”. Someone, usually an executive, scratches his or her head and decides it’s time for rebranding. We know it because it is at this point that we at Forabilis usually get the call. When we dig a bit deeper to try and understand the need for rebranding, we usually find that something isn’t working out – something bigger than the logo or the tagline – it usually has to do with challenges related to business objectives which tie directly to the company’s go-to-market strategy.

Rebranding as a painkiller

So, why do highly intelligent, talented, often experienced executives ask for new branding at this stage? It’s a bit like insisting on getting your teeth cleaned while what you should really get is root canal.

And there lies the answer. Going deeper, searching for misalignment, finding true answers to what should be done to fix it, what we call “repositioning” – that’s just as painful as root canal, maybe even more. It is much easier to go for the painkiller – the rebranding. If you go for the painkiller, you’ll soon find yourself fighting over colors, fonts, tagline, and the right words to package your product or service. Question is, would that save you from yet another visit to the doctor just a few months down the line?

Wait, so is branding not important?

Hey, we’re in marketing. Of course, we love branding and believe it’s important! We love it because it’s the fun part that comes after the root canal, assuming you survived. But here’s the thing about branding: It’s about telling your story. At the beginning of the branding process, you’ll be asked to tell your story in your own words, so that the branding agency or consultant you hired for the job can package it creatively, tightly, in a precise manner. And, if you were lucky to hire someone good, you’ll be asked all the right questions: Who are your competitors? What are your differentiators? Etc.

But what if you get your story wrong? That’s when it gets tricky. Because your branding consultant would rarely know to tell you so – the underlying foundation of the branding process assumes you have the right answers – they just need to be packaged by a branding pro.

For brand positioning, doubt is a necessity

When the challenge runs deeper – examples may be low product sales, marketing and sales misalignment, low customer retention, or even market trends which make your product irrelevant – that’s when we at Forabilis come in for the root canal. It’s not always a popular role, it’s hard to be the people that doubt your answers. Because you may think that all you need is branding. We may think differently. We may not accept your answers as is. We may search for answers in different places. This is a long, highly demanding process. It’s not for everyone. The outcome is a brand positioning document, which is the foundation for a plan and other activities such as branding. Branding works best when it comes after positioning. Otherwise, it holds little value, and the same problem will continue to haunt you.

How do you know if you should do branding or start with positioning?
Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I sure of what I need? If you’re not sure, usually this means you probably need positioning.
  • Why do I need rebranding? Does the current brand speak my product or service language?
  • Am I expecting any major changes to my product or service offering?
  • Am I planning to go to new markets?
  • Is my company under merger, acquisition or reconstruction?

If the answer for one of the above is “Yes” – you probably need positioning

Do you really know how to answer the following questions, and is there a consensus among team members and company stakeholders on the answers?

  • What is it that you offer?
  • What is your promise to your customers? (no, it is not the same question)
  • What is your market or markets?
  • Who are your customers, users and buyers? What are their pains and needs?
  • What are your clear differentiators? (being better is not a good answer)
  • Why would your customers buy from you?

If you are not sure about the answer to one of the above, or there are disagreements among team members and company stakeholders – you probably need positioning.

Read more about it on our blog or contact us to get the ball rolling

When To Pivot

In the search for product-market fit, for a repeatable and scalable business model, for traction, start-ups need to be open to the option of a complete detour. Call it Plan B turning to be Plan A; Pivot; or a significant shift. Sometimes it is the only way.

Take Instagram, for example. Before Instagram launched in October 2010, the founders had built a location-based social network called Burbn. It was a very early example of a browser-based mobile app, developed using the then experimental new markup language HTML5. Instagram, based on Burbn, was mostly about mobile phone photos. That feature, uploading photos, turned out to be the most-used feature in Burbn. The location part proved to be a secondary appeal led the founders to the pivot: the creation of an iPhone app exclusively focused on photo-sharing.
And so, a $1 billion acquisition was actually based on Plan B. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom explained at Disrupt 2010:
“I’ve heard that Plan A is never the product entrepreneurs actually end up with. I didn’t believe it…in many ways Burbn was getting a bunch of press, but it wasn’t taking off the way we thought it would. We found people loved posting pictures, and that photos the the thing that stuck. Mike, my co-founder, and I, sat down and thought about the one thing that made the product unique and interesting, and photos kept coming up”.

According to Eric Reis in “The Lean Startup”, a pivot is  defined as a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.” Other great examples of successful pivotsare flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Paypal. Each of these successful companies started as something else, and successfully shifted.

We were fortunate enough to be part of three start-ups and their pivots. The first one had to switch from a vision of a complex, expensive, and on-premise deployed product, to a lighter, consumer-facing, affordable online product. Six months into the process, the new product is getting real traction with investors and customers, in a way the old product never did. Another founder had to admit that there is no real problem to solve behind its platform, and together we are now defining a direction that is a better fit both for the market and for the entrepreneur’s core strengths. And another start-up brought us to consult on sales infrastructure, only to discover that in order to get there, there needs to be a complete shift in the offering to be able to reach product-market fit. After a product change was made, this start-up is now having for the first time successful discussions with venture capital firms on raising Round A.

These three CEOs showed courage and strength to be able to go through the humbling experience of admitting they were wrong, and seek a new direction, which proved to be successful.

But how do you know if it’s time to pivot? entrepreneur Bernard Moon, recommends you watch for these four signs:
1. You are constantly in a need to educate the market: You may have a great idea, but if you constantly in a need to educate your target audience and trying to create a market, you may be too early, and you should consider a pivot.
2. Your Beta users don’t like your product: Only Steve Jobs can say that focus groups and user feedback are not important. And you are not Steve Jobs. So listen carefully to what your users are saying, or what they are not saying.
3. Investors you meet aren’t buying it: If it’s repeated feedback that your product is not compelling, you should consider a pivot.
4. You’re being everything to everyone: Some startups develop products that are bigger than they should, instead of focusing on one core competency that is a problem solver to a specific market. Going after everyone might confuse your users, and will burn expensive  R&D resources.

Do you balance your vision and execution with flexibility and the ability to listen? check with yourself and with people that know you well.

Have thoughts on how to successful pivot a start-up? we’d love to hear them.