Take the time to work through a brand discovery process. Don’t simply assume everyone knows what you’re targeting: If you’re doing a rebrand, it’s because there’s a consensus that what you currently have can be improved upon. So, put the time in and consider what you want your new branding to get across, how it will be differentiated from others in your field, and so forth. I always ask my clients to pull examples of what they love and hate from top competitors in the field to add to the conversation.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview with Sara McCord.
Sara is the founder and CEO of Sara McCord Communications. She creates communications strategies and supporting content to help clients grow their businesses. She’s worked with companies and brands of all sizes, as well as individual thought leaders. Sara has spearheaded projects ranging from rebranding and multi-faceted marketing strategies; to writing and editing website, email, social, thought leadership, and ad copy. She has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, The Muse, Fast Company, Good Housekeeping, and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely. My journey evolved from content to content strategy to communications strategy. I started as a writer and editor at The Muse and contributing writer for Mashable. It was inspiring to see those companies evolve and catalyzed my interest in strategy and growth.
Fast forward, and as I worked with my first clients on content deliverables, I realized they were often missing a comprehensive strategy that would make these projects successful. They knew they “needed” an updated website or a social media presence, but they didn’t quite no why or how it could benefit them. It inspired me to learn more about the elements my clients had specific questions about: rebranding, SEO, social strategy — and my skillset and business grew in response to their needs.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I created a Google Ad campaign around a dental implant procedure for a dental office. Naturally, we had to be very selective with our keywords regarding before and after pictures of implants, so that we were targeting a customer looking to makeover their smile!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Absolutely. Along the lines of what I was saying before, I became more successful as I grew my skillset. Creating excellent content was a great starting point, but taking courses on SEO, email strategy, Adwords, Analytics, and so on meant I could create and execute comprehensive communications strategies with all of these elements in mind.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am. I’m about to launch my second business. My co-founder has decades of experience as a Biotech recruiter, and we’re going to work with Biotech startups to provide integrative branding, marketing, and talent acquisition services. She’s opened my eyes to how helping biotech companies find the right talent ultimately leads to improved patient outcomes. I’m also excited because I’ve never worked in a partnership before.
Some other exciting projects include helping a client with a growing thought leadership platform, seeing my small business clients grow year over year, and getting back into writing and contributing articles for my own brand.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I would advise them to find marketing podcasts they really enjoy listening to. I think, in any field, if you stay in the same lane forever things can start to feel stale. Podcasts will expand your knowledge base and ignite new ideas — and there’s a new topic each week! My current #1 favorite is The Goal Digger Podcast with Jenna Kutcher.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
One way to conceptualize it is as the difference between generalizing and specializing. Your brand marketing needs to work across all aspects of your business, whereas your product marketing will be specific to the given product.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Brand loyalty is a key component to repeat business. Even if someone loves a certain product or service, that’s not a guarantee they’ll buy from you again. They may comparison shop based on any number of factors (price, recommendations, etc.). Conversely, if they support your brand, there’s a trust and a relationship there and they’re more likely not only to buy the same product from you, but potentially be open to future products as well.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
I’ve worked with multiple companies on rebranding. Most often, they need to rebrand because they’ve outgrown the earlier representation of their company. The best-case scenario at this point is that it’s simply outdated and not doing them any favors, and the worst-case scenario is that it’s counting against them.
More specifically, if you consider your work to be edgy and modern, you want your branding to reflect that. If you have great attention to detail, if you’re creative, if you’re conservative — whatever your brand identity is — if the materials you pulled together when you were launching no longer give your customer an accurate sense of who you are, rebranding may be the way to go.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Obviously, a rebranding breaks brand continuity; so, if you don’t bring your current customers along with you, you can disappoint longtime fans. If they feel deserted and that the brand no longer resonates with them, it can translate directly to losing their business.
I would advise a company that was growing and already had a strong brand loyalty and customer base to think carefully before undertaking the decision to rebrand.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- Take the time to work through a brand discovery process. Don’t simply assume everyone knows what you’re targeting: If you’re doing a rebrand, it’s because there’s a consensus that what you currently have can be improved upon. So, put the time in and consider what you want your new branding to get across, how it will be differentiated from others in your field, and so forth. I always ask my clients to pull examples of what they love and hate from top competitors in the field to add to the conversation.
- Improve your content and visuals: I know this one may seem obvious, but it’s so important. Rebranding indicates that you’re evolving and sharing something new. Take the time to revamp photos and reread messaging so you can be sure your audience sees a change.
- Get fresh eyes. A friend of mine who specializes in branding put it best: “We don’t cut our own hair.” One of the best decisions I made was reaching out to Hillman Ball of Mainland Creative for a fresh logo and brand kit as my company started to grow. It gave me an instant boost of confidence. Plus, when you work with someone else in the field, you grow your team and/or base of referrals for future collaborations. (We’ve worked together on numerous projects since then.)
- Ask for feedback. Do you know what is (or isn’t) resonating? Poll your audience and ask them questions around how they view your brand and what they’d like to see from you.
- Think about the big picture. Don’t simply change a logo or your colors or font and call it a day. If you’re rebranding, there’s a reason why. Make sure all of your efforts will advance your growth.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
The first example to come to mind for me is Airbnb. When they launched their new logo (several years ago now), it was accompanied with a brand story explaining what it represented. Also, it was forward-thinking, they went out of their way to select a message and logo that could grow with the company.
To replicate this success, you should be able to answer more than the “what” when you go through a rebranding process. What’s your “why?”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My husband and I started the Moses Warren McCord Memorial Fund at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. It’s a fund to support the most vulnerable NICU babies and their families, as our son passed away at 19 days old. I can think of nothing more impactful then helping families bring their babies home and showing up to support those who cannot.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Rachel Hollis says: “Hope is not a strategy.” In other words, you have to put the work in. I’m a working mom and a business owner, and I have to plan and execute to see things happen.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.