Beth Cross said she knew it in her heart.
Cross, the CEO of Alt Studios, which was formerly known as Innova Ideas and Services, started to see the signs. The print design industry was changing. Clients were asking for different things.
It was time to rebrand the company.
So Innova changed its name to Alt Studios, changed its focus from print design to a three-pillar approach to client service of “digital, creative and strategy,” and transformed itself into an entirely new company.
“It just became clear that if we didn’t change, if we didn’t offer what our clients wanted, they would go elsewhere,” Cross said. “So we had to step up our game.”
Innova is one of two local companies that recently announce a major rebranding initiative. UnityPoint Health is the other.
Innova’s approach was as much about changing the company itself as it was about changing the perception of the company.
For many companies, said Mike Schreurs, CEO of Strategic America, rebranding is about changing the way a company expresses itself to its target customers. Strategic America is currently helping 10 to 12 companies with rebranding efforts, he said.
The Business Record took a closer look at companies that are going through rebranding process, and with the help of experts put together tips on when and how to go through the process.
When is the time right to rebrand?
“It usually is not a matter of choosing to do it,” said Schreurs. “It usually is that something has changed in the category or the environment.” Typically, clients choose to rebrand when something has changed either with a company’s competition, the market, or even its target demographic.
Before deciding to rebrand, companies should ask themselves a few due diligence questions, Schreurs said. Among them:
• “What’s happened in terms of sales?”
• “What’s happened in terms of market share?”
• “Is the market engaging properly or are you losing some engagement opportunities, and if you are, what’s it look like?”
• “Are there key performance indicators that you are watching that seem to be moving in the wrong direction?”
As Cross says, your clients will usually let you know. With Innova, she said, there were some things that customers asked for that the company couldn’t do, and other things that the company could do that clients just weren’t aware of. That led to missed opportunities simply because the company had the necessary expertise, but “we weren’t thought of that way.”
Best practices in rebranding
Take your time. Drew McLellan, owner of McLellan Marketing Group and a Business Record columnist, cautions that rebranding is not a month-long process. A company should take a year or longer to truly revamp the brand. Alt Studios’ efforts took about two years, as did UnityPoint’s efforts.
Involve your employees. Rebranding isn’t a senior-management-only project; it takes input and buy-in from people all throughout the organization, a belief pretty well shared by everyone interviewed. Employees “really have to be the advocates of the brand,” said Katy Lachky, vice president of communications at the shoe manufacturer Crocs, which kicked off a rebranding initiative in 2012.
Test your ideas. Schreurs points out the example of J.C. Penney Company Inc., which recently announced a first quarter loss of $348 million. The company has gone through a number of rebranding campaigns in recent years, one of which focused on getting rid of discounts and coupons and focusing on opening multiple in-store boutiques. It sounded like a good idea, Schreurs said, “but they forgot to test it. And the testing of it would have led them to understand, ‘Hey, our customers really do still like promotions.’”
Market the campaign, but remember that it isn’t just about a new logo. That’s window-dressing, not branding, said McLellan. “Real branding requires a look at every element of infrastructure in the company,” McLellan said. Adds Schreurs, “An advertising or promotional campaign is made to primarily sell product, or make an event more successful. But a branding campaign allows a way for all information to be generally aggregated and to build equity upon a truth that is carried in the heart and mind of a target consumer.” That said, a rebranding initiative typically does include some sort of advertising or promotional campaign, he said.
Three Rebranding Stories
Innova to Alt Studios
Why they did it:
About two years ago, Innova decided it was time to rebrand, CEO Beth Cross said. Innova, was founded in 1998 as a company owned by Sigler Co., and had been a print design agency. Ultimately, the company came to the conclusion that it had to focus on helping clients with a more holistic approach of creative solutions, brand strategy, digital focus and public relations. Innova was already doing some of those things, but not all clients and potential clients knew it. The company discovered it had to add some services.
Although Cross says she knew it was time for a change, she felt it was important to get the entire company involved to figure out exactly what that change needed to be. She started with a small group of 15 to 20 people who spent a few days discussing the initiative. Eventually, she got everyone in the company involved on one of five teams. Four of the five teams said Innova needed to become a new company.
In the meantime, Innova started adding employees with strategic talents that the company would need in the future, such as web designers, programmers, marketers and public relations experts.
The process was at times painful, Cross said. It required major restructuring, as the company trimmed itself from about 83 to 24 employees. A total of 28 landed at parent company Sigler Cos. Inc., but some lost their jobs while others left for new jobs.
Alt Studios, which is a metaphor for being a catalyst for change and an acronym for “art, logic, talent,” launched on May 1. Alt is now focused on sharing the reason for the change with its clients. Company officials say clients generally have an “aha” moment when they realize that the services Alt will offer that are different from those that had been provided by Innova. The next steps include further defining what size and type of clients the company wants to go after.
Iowa Health to UnityPoint
Why they did it:
For one thing, Iowa Health System was operating in Illinois as well as Iowa. The other reason for change was that care coordination is changing. Iowa Health has physician offices in hospitals, clinics and home health agencies. “We really needed to find a way to reform the payment models and those kinds of things, and better collaborate to keep people healthy,” said Laura Sinnard, director of communications and public relations. Iowa Health officials sought a branding strategy by thinking about what patients are looking for in health care, and what they wanted their experience to be. The goal became to show patients that “you are at the center of everything that we do.”
Iowa Health hired ZLR Ignition to help with the process. The two companies did research by holding focus groups with consumers, physicians and employees. In all, hundreds of people, maybe even a thousand, were involved, Sinnard said.
“We didn’t just say, let’s pick a name and throw an ad campaign together,” Sinnard said. “We took a lot of time.”
After coming up with potential names that weren’t already being used by other organizations, Iowa Health set out to decide which name best communicated that care revolves around patients. UnityPoint was a name that consumers in the focus groups said felt the best.
UnityPoint is planning to fully implement its brand over a three-year period, Sinnard said, in part because it takes time to do things such as change signs on buildings, and in part to help make sure employees really understand the reasons for the change.
“Many would say it’s a name change,” Sinnard said. “For us, it’s so much more than the name change.”
Why they did it:
When you think of Crocs, chances are the image of a colorful clog comes to mind. That’s been the company’s bread and butter throughout most of its existence, but today Crocs Inc. has more than 300 styles of shoes, said Katy Lachky, vice president of communications.
Lachky spoke on rebranding at an April American Advertising Federation event in Des Moines. The challenge, she said, is showing people what Crocs has to offer. The company has 90 percent brand recognition, she said, but most people don’t know that Crocs have any products besides its clog.
The company is in a three-year plan that kicked off in 2012. Last year, the goal was to let consumers know that “we’re more than a clog,” Lachky said. In 2013, it is to let people know that Crocs has footwear that they’d be interested in, even if they’ve never worn Crocs before.
What makes the process challenging is that the company is a global brand, with different management in different regions.
“Corporate devises a strategy and then regions do the local applications,” Lachky said. “So, for instance, none of our websites had kind of that same user predictability experience. ... So it’s allowing the brand to take ownership of the unique but predictable experience.”
Also important is marketing “through the clog,” which is still the most recognizable shoe the company has. That means using the most basic characteristic of the clog – comfort – and showing consumers that the company’s other shoes have that same characteristic.