When it comes to rebranding, there should be a lot of thought and true introspection going into the process before it even gets started beginning with “Why do you want to rebrand?” It seems simple but getting to the roof of this is key in deciding whether you should go down the very intensive path of a rebrand. If you’ve gone through an acquisition or merger, a brand evaluation is going to need to happen for both companies in order to determine which stays, which is phased out or if you can incorporate both. Here you are looking to make sure the existing customers on both sides of the deal know where things stand and what this merger/acquisition means to them and the future of your business. If there’s any negative press or impressions about one brand over another, this may be the perfect time to scrap the Debbie Downer and start fresh with a new path and PR plan to showcase what the future holds.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview. Channing Muller. Channing is the Principal of DCM Communications, a marketing consulting agency based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting. She has more than 15 years of experience in the communications industry serving in top roles within marketing, magazine & web editorial, advertising, and business development.
Prior to launching DCM in 2014 she served in a top international marketing position for Cision where she led marketing projects and initiatives for North America, including the successful redesign of 10 websites in 10 months across seven countries. She has also led and advertising campaign design and execution for more than 300 campaigns simultaneously while at Bisnow Media, and held the position of Miami Bureau Chief for BizBash, the leading media company for the live events industry.
She continued on with BizBash as a Contributing Editor for seven years after moving from Miami to Washington D.C. These roles have honed her expertise in advertising, reporting, editing, marketing, social media and public relations.
Channing has been a regular instructor of marketing and sales classes for The Chattery, a continuing education nonprofit, and a contributor for Connect Meetings, BizBash, Special Events and Experience, the educational hub for the International Live Events Association.
A Southerner through and through, this New Orleans native lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her two rescues: Gracie Cat and Sully the Chocolate Lab. She’s an avid runner, lover of spin classes, good food, delicious drinks, and an advocate for the American Heart Association.
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?
The creation of my company came about pretty organically. I achieved my dream job, editor of a magazine, a lot sooner than I ever anticipated at age 22. I had worked hard through college and the payoff, along with good timing, came a lot sooner than I ever expected.
After three years in that role, I was ready for my next challenge and decided to leave Miami for Washington, DC. At that time I knew what I could do but wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do as the next step in my career. I ended up with a job in advertising (operations & sales coaching) when the parent company for my Miami position asked me if I wanted to freelance for their DC outlet. I loved writing and reporting, and the event industry, so I took the opportunity and ran with it.
Another two years later I had moved on from the advertising world to work in marketing for a major software company. Similarly to when I left journalism, my former clients asked me to continue designing ads for them. Adding this to my freelance writing projects, I saw a future business but wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be.
It all fell under communications so I combined formed DCM Communications the umbrella for all projects thinking that one day I would be able to make it a full time job, work from home and be able to raise children while still being intellectually challenged on a daily basis — as I know I NEED to be to be happy.
Fast forward another 2.5 years and I started contemplating whether I should take the leap to make DCM my full time job. I wanted more flexibility in my schedule and the long hours I was clocking (along with uncertainty that a life in mergers & acquisition brought) continued to weigh on me.
As I contemplated whether to “take the leap” with DCM, the universe decided to shove me in that direction: I got laid off. I saw this as the sign I needed to make DCM all I wanted it to be for me long-term: the ability to set my schedule, choose who I wanted to work with, and only do jobs that truly inspired and challenged me rather than ones I HAD to do as part of my expectations set by others. Since then I have grown a six-figure business with clients throughout the US. Best decision I ever made was working for myself!
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?
Oh 100%! As I mentioned, I had been doing this part time as a side hustle while I continued my corporate experience, and marketing education, so it was bound to really take off when I put all of my focus and energy into DCM. However, I can trace the true turning point to a single email campaign.
After making so many connections in person, and staying in touch on LinkedIn, throughout the course of my career, I decided to use those to my advantage. I downloaded everyone’s information, segmented it by prospects v. referral sources, and sent out a campaign letting everyone know what I was up to now.
That single email resulted in my first three clients, one of whom wanted to hire me to rebrand his company and completely redesign his website. I put everything I learned into that project, brought on my best design partner, and in the end the client shouted from the rooftop what DCM Communications had done for him.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last year I created an online marketing & sales course with a weekly coaching/accountability call component. I originally only launched this for event planners and learned a lot through the execution of those calls about what works well, what falls flat, and where they truly need help.
At the end of 2019 I reworked the content plan for this year with themed topics each month and weekly lessons on the calls as well as homework (aka the big takeaways) for each participant. This way they have a precise to-do list as far as next steps each week so they are continually working to improve their marketing and sales process, which inevitably leads to growth.
In addition to serving event planners, I also launched groups two new groups this year: one for event vendors & venues, and a second for small business owners. The benefit of groups here allows me to keep the price point low for those who don’t have a huge budget for marketing, but know they need some outside assistance and/or direction about what they actually need to do to grow their businesses.
For me, the fun comes in being able to teach business owners how to do marketing more effectively. There is so much clutter in the “you should do this to grow..” or “this is THE way to market..” that it can be paralyzing for people. I want to cut through that and focus on what they truly need to do NOW based on their current business goals. Yes that can change, but not everyone has a 10-person marketing team to help them make it a reality. They just need some specific guidance on what to do for their business, and that’s what I want to provide. After all, I’m not saving babies here. This can be taught without a need for a Masters in marketing.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Find a way to clear your head. Whether it’s a walk (or 10!) around the block, a run at lunch, taking boxing classes, reading, drawing, journaling, or mindlessly watching TV, it is imperative you find a way to turn your brain off.
There will ALWAYS be more “to do” items for the list and “oh but I should really do ______ before I take a break.” You don’t have to do everything today in order to move the needle forward in business, and if you try to, you will only hit the wall. And trust me: that wall hits harder than any boxer you could meet up with in class.
When I was 26 I had some pretty serious health scares that took me out of work for a while. When I came back, the stack of to dos was piled so high i started to get stressed and anxious about how I was going to catch up. These feelings did not help my health.
Then a colleague at the time gave me one of the best reality checks I ever received when she said, “Channing, we’re not saving babies. Just do what you can.” That has stayed with me for the past eight years. As a born overachiever with a drive like a race car, “do what you can,” did not come easy but remembering that became a lifesaver when I took DCM Communications full time. Yes what I do is important and matters, as is any other marketers job, but a baby’s life is not in my hands so remembering that helps put things in perspective and keeps the stress level down.
Having that “off” switch for your brain is so important if you are going to truly be your best when it’s “on.”
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?
This is a little bit like the chicken and the egg. You can’t have one without the other. Every brand is marketing something. It could be a lifestyle, a dream, an idea or a service or product. THink of it this way:
There are Instagram accounts that have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. They have gorgeous pictures, engaging captions and yet none of them include a sales-related call to action (CTA) like “Shop the link in bio” or “Swipe up for link” or “message to sign up now.”
These accounts have successfully created a brand, but are only marketing a lifestyle. You can’t purchase it outright from them, but you can be inspired by them. That lifestyle is their product marketing.
On the flip side, if you have this amazing lifestyle or product idea, but your brand image is clutter or unclear you wont sell jack crap. So how do you tackle this:
First you need to clarify what your “product” is that you want marketing. Again, think of the service, tangible good, lifestyle, image, idea, etc.
Then you decide who is your target market and build a persona about them. What is the basic demographic? Where do they go to dinner? What is their lifestyle like currently? How do they approach spending money? What is their daily schedule like? All of these things give you insight into when, where, and how you can best reach them.
Then you create a brand that both represents what you want to sell AND will be attractive and resonate with that target market. This brand goes beyond a logo as well. Yes, a brand includes the graphic elements like a logo, color palette, typography and photography. These are just the starting point though. Brand marketing also includes the tone of voice, company values, approach to business, and offline presence of its employees or ambassadors.
The short of it is this: Brand marketing is sharing the values, look, and overall lifestyle of a company with no goal for specific conversion or analytical ROI beyond expanded brand awareness and recognition, both of which will be part of the long-term sales strategy. Product marketing is strategic marketing that can be tied to direct analytical results for ROI. This the short term sales strategy.
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?
You can’t have a successful row boat without the boat or the paddles. If you only have one of them, you won’t go anywhere. The same is true for building a company. You could have the best product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, it won’t matter.
That means investments (time, sanity and yes, money) in branding are key to success. Like I mentioned earlier, your brand is how customers will recognize you. If they can’t tell what you do immediately from your company name, logo and tagline, they will walk away, which could mean they miss out on the game-changing product/service that will solve all their problems. Yes that would be a loss for them, but it will also be as a result of your poor branding.
Every business should start the same way:
- Idea for product or service
- Identifying the target market
- Branding the business
- Marketing the product or service
I do believe you can go about many organic means of marketing your business that can work great. You do not need to financially invest in advertising right away, but you will be investing your time in creating emails campaigns, networking, and having meetings with prospective customers. Investments are investments after all.
However, I can guarantee you there will come a time when you need to put advertising dollars into the marketing plan. It may be because you want to scale to the next income bracket, you have a new product/service and want to make a splash, or simply because you aren’t seeing the gains you want for a promotion organically.
Investing time and money into a brand, marketing strategy and advertising (eventually) is what separates a business from a hobby.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
When it comes to rebranding, there should be a lot of thought and true introspection going into the process before it even gets started beginning with “Why do you want to rebrand?” It seems simple but getting to the roof of this is key in deciding whether you should go down the very intensive path of a rebrand.
If you’ve gone through an acquisition or merger, a brand evaluation is going to need to happen for both companies in order to determine which stays, which is phased out or if you can incorporate both. Here you are looking to make sure the existing customers on both sides of the deal know where things stand and what this merger/acquisition means to them and the future of your business. If there’s any negative press or impressions about one brand over another, this may be the perfect time to scrap the Debbie Downer and start fresh with a new path and PR plan to showcase what the future holds.
If neither of these instances has taken place, then a rebrand should only really be considered in two instance:
- When your current image (logo, colors, typefaces, tone of voice etc) no longer represents your company, its services or its values accurately
- You are attracting the wrong leads that either never close OR aren’t your ideal clientele.
If none of these instances fit where you stand, then maybe it’s not a rebrand that’s needed but simply an evaluation. Just like with people, brands can grow and change with time so subtle tweaks could be the answer.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Absolutely! If you rebrand for the wrong reasons, you could be cutting off your nose to spite your face. With any rebrand, losing existing customers or prospects is your biggest risk. Some could walk because they don’t like the new direction you are taking, others because they simply don’t like change. Either way, it’s possible.
That being said, if you’ve decided that reason 2 above is why you are rebranding, then losing those less-than-ideal prospects is precisely what you want to do.
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.
- Shift your color palette. Color can convey so much about a brand and inctie very specific emotions. For instance, red is known as a power color, but can also be very intimidating if it’s more blood red than say a burgundy or cherry red, the latter of which seems more cheery. Even a slight change in tone within your existing color scheme can shift the overall emotions it taps into with your viewers and customers. You can even stick with the exact same color scheme you have but shift the degrees of opacity or shades of that that color used. This is one of the easiest ways to help your brand evolve without losing an existing equity or recognition it has.
- Reevaluate the filters or overlays you use on photography. Similarly to how colors in your typography and graphics tap into emotions, the colors in your photos do too. If you currently use filters on all of your photography, consider removing them and doing individual editing on all pictures to make the colors more vibrant. On the flip side, adding the same filter or colored overlay to all of your photos can create an entirely different set of emotions. For instance, making all pictures black and white will tap into a very nostalgic feeling of the 1920s retro. Adding a light yellow or amber finish to all photos can make them more weathered and retro as well, but in a rougher and less refined way. It can also seem more organic for nature-style photography.
- Evaluate your overall tone of voice in copy. This is something I did with my own company last year. Originally all of my website & social media posts focused on the “we” of me and the contractors I work with as part of the “DCM team.” However, I noticed increased engagement and an easier sales process from inquiry to contract when I spoke as Channing in the copy, rather than “the DCM team.” (THis was true even when someone else managed my social media for me.) So, I drank my own kool aid and rewrote my website with a more personal feel. I indicated where the team would be involved and made it super clear where customers would get me 100%. I also changed all social posts to be me speaking directly to the audience — emojis, obsession with beverages, occasional adult language and all! Yes this may have turned off a few people, but if so, they are not my people. By truly being myself through the tone of voice in my marketing materials (digital and print) prospects know precisely what and who they are getting up front. It serves as an immediate lead qualifier and I only attract my ideal clients now rather than having to spend insane amounts of time qualifying leads and/or writing proposals that will never close.
- Make your company values more prominent. You know that phrase “She/he could sell ice to an eskimo?” What that’s really saying is that the eskimo liked this person so much that he found a way to work with him, i.e. buy the ice, even though he didn’t need it. Apply this same thing to your brand. Make your values and what you stand for so prominent and attractive, yet still honest and authentic, that people want to find a way to work with you. We often bury our company values on the About page of our website or in random Instagram Stories posts. Move those suckers to the forefront on the homepage, your social media bios and then send out an email campaign inviting your list to get reacquainted with you.
- Stage a brand photoshoot. We all know that images can convey so much more than words in a faster time frame. So after you’ve decided what you are truly about and how you want to be represented going forward, bring that off the paper you wrote it on and into life via a styled brand shoot. This should include photos of you and your team, as applicable, in “on the job” staged shots, talking with customers, working with each other and posed in such a way as to exemplify your brand values, whether they be professionalism, fun, accountability, giving back or whatever!
As my college counselor and aunt taught me when I was writing college admission essays “Show, don’t tell.”
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?
Hands down I have to give this credit to Old Spice and their recruitment of Isaiah Mustafa as the spokesperson. In a series of humorous, tongue-in-cheek videos with clever scripts, they accomplished multiple impressive marketing feats:
- Turning a product traditionally associated with old men (my granddaddy has been a loyal customer for decades) into a “man’s man” product for gentlemen of all ages
- Creating a new revenue stream with a stream of new products (shampoo, shower, gel etc) that went beyond the after shave.
- Resonating with female consumers. Previously a marketable product only to men, and again only those older generations who would actually use after shave, the brands new image attracted women who wanted simply the fantasy of their man smelling like Isaiah Mustafa looks.
- VIRAL brand awareness. When a commercial is turned into a YouTube post or meme, the reach goes far beyond the initial audience who view during its set programming time. Talk about ROI!
Even without a huge budget, the lessons here can be taken and applied to a brand of any size. Start by brainstorming ways you could reach brand advocates instead of just potential customers. In this case, they appealed to women. Women won’t use the products, but they will encourage the menin their lives to do so. Who can you market to that will be an advocate on your behalf to your target customer?
Then, once you make a piece of content to capture their attention, squeeze every last drop of marketing goodness out of that orange. If you create new messaging for your press release, use that same language across your social media announcements, email campaigns, press interviews, etc. No need to reinvent the wheel for every avenue, just tweak what you already wrote for the platform it will appear on.
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. :-)
I’m going to call it the “Come With Me Now” movement. As humans we are not meant to be alone. We are inherently social beings and this would focus on fostering that sense of community and human-to-human interaction we all need. (Yes I acknowledge that everyone, myself included, needs their own time to introvert and be solo, but that’s for limited times, not a way to live everyday of your life.)
In the business world, entrepreneurs often feel like they are doing it all alone. Solopreneurs know this all too well, but I also think those in executive positions do too. It can be very lonely at the top. There are already a lot of online communities that help foster this sense of connection but I’d want my movement to take that offline and make it face-to-tangible-face.
This would extend outside of business too. Example: I have always been a solo runner. I use that time to think, or help myself to stop thinking, as I pound the pavement for miles. Then I got a dog and he became my running buddy. I loved it. However, last summer a friend reached out to me whose office I run past on my midday route asking if he could join and it added a whole new element to my runs. As more friends learned about my running routines and goals (six half marathons in 2020) they got inspired to start running too. Now I have various friends who run totally different paces and distances, but we still find days each week to run together simply for the sake of the shared experience.
The activity can be running, playing games, basketball, whatever. The point is to get people to interact more offline in a world that’s so easily obsessed and attached to phones. Yes it makes us more vulternatbe to come out from behind a screen, but the benefits that come from experience with other shumans far outweigh the potential risks.
So all that said, who wants to #comewithmenow?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote has been a magnet on my refrigerator for decades across multiple cities and many different residences. It also really ties into my approach to any day in business. There will always be days I didn’t get my to do list finished, or I could have handled a conversation better, or something went wrong I didn’t anticipate. Agonizing over it for days is only going to cripple your mindset and hurt future productivity.
Instead, I approach thing this way and have taught the teams I’ve led to do the same thing:
- Identify what went wrong
- Evalue if you could have seen it coming and/or a how it should have been handled
- Accept it and move on
We all have off days or mistakes that will happen. It’s called being human. The key is to learn from these experiences, good or bad, and grow as a person and professional.
How can our readers follow you online?
For work-related progress, marketing tips and branding inspiration definitely follow DCM Communications on Instagram (@DCMCommunications) and Facebook (@DCMCommunications.)
For some insights into my life, love of beverages, and all things #activities then check out my personal Instagram profile @ChanningMuller.
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.