How to Successfully Rebrand Your Business
My first year living in NYC, I gained 20 pounds. It happened slowly. Imperceptibly.
Until one morning, as I struggled to button my favorite pair of Zara pants, it hit me: my body had changed. And I needed to make some shifts.
I felt as if it happened overnight, but of course, that’s not true. I’d simply been too absorbed in the daily details of my life — a demanding new job in a demanding new city — to notice.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a similar process with the brands and websites of online entrepreneurs.
Your business grows from an idea into a freelance gig into a “real-deal” business. Your days fill up with clients. You refine your processes. You become known as an expert.
All the while, your brand starts to lag behind. Slowly. Imperceptibly.
One morning it hits you: your business has changed. The branding that used to fit perfectly now feels as uncomfortable as a pair of too-tight Zara pants.
When Entrepreneurial Zara Pants Syndrome strikes, it can be panic-inducing. It feels like you outgrew your brand and website overnight and you need to fix it right now. Scratch that — you need to fix it YESTERDAY.
So you go on a digital crash-diet, chasing shiny objects and quick fixes by…
Asking for help in Facebook groups (where you get 75 conflicting opinions), buying another $2,000 course, or hiring a service provider who promises the moon and doesn’t deliver.
When you’re in the grip of Entrepreneurial Zara Pants Syndrome, these options are very appealing. Of course, none of them work. At least not in the long term.
To fix it, you need a thoughtful rebrand, not another digital crash diet. Which is exactly what we’ll be talking about in this super-detailed 3,500 word post!
Ready? Let’s jump in.
Table of contents
What is a brand?
We’ve talked about what happens when you seemingly outgrow your brand overnight and spiral into panic-mode. Before we talk about a saner way to do things, I want to go back to basics and ask: what is a brand?
This might seem like a simple question, but it's surprisingly tricky to answer.
Here's how Google defines a brand:
A type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name, or an identifying mark burned on livestock
For me, this definition completely misses the mark.
Your products and your logo are parts of your brand, not the whole story.
This is worth repeating because it's one of the biggest mistakes I see online business owners making when it comes to their branding:
Your brand is not your logo.
In The Dictionary of Brand, Marty Neumeier explains a brand as:
“A person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization.”
By this definition, your brand isn’t your logo, your products, or your big “why.” Your brand is all about the experiences and feelings your business creates for other people.
Now that we’re on the same page about what a brand is, let’s look at the different facets of a brand that add up to create those feelings and experiences. These facets are what you’ll need to consider during a rebranding project.
The 10 pillars of your brand
Imagine a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble. Each stroke makes a mark. Over time all these marks add up to create a 3D-sculpture that evokes feelings and experiences. The same goes for your brand, which is made up of 10 pillars.
The 10 pillars of your brand are…
Who you are — your personality, skills, quirks, and unique way of being in the world
What you do — your products, services, and offering
How you do it — your process
Why you do it — your mission and purpose
Who you do it for — your customers and audience
Your message — the words you say, write, and share
Your visuals — photos, colors, fonts, graphics, and logo
Your website — your online home, marketing Swiss Army Knife, and best sales tool
Your marketing — blog posts, social media, emails, podcasts… all the ways you build relationships and serve your audience on a regular basis.
What others say about you — your reputation
Why it matters
Your 10 pillars are working together to create your brand 24/7. The best brands in the world know this, and deliberately craft their pillars to work together as a seamless whole.
Other brands only pay attention to 1 or 2 pillars, and as a result the whole structure feels wobbly and disjointed.
By paying attention to your 10 pillars, you’ll be able to craft a magnetic brand that your clients and customers love. You’ll also be able to craft a brand that’s made to last.
Three examples of stand-out brands
There are so many brands I love who are doing a great job with their 10 pillars, but below you'll find three that I use on a regular basis.
Each of these companies connects with its audience on a deep level, evokes emotions, and goes above and beyond to create memorable experiences.
Note: I haven’t included any personal brands on this list, because I love looking outside of my industry for inspiration!
01. The Wing
The Wing is an all-women’s coworking space that’s redefining what community looks like in New York, DC, San Fran, and beyond. Their brand experience is communicated seamlessly through the design of their physical locations, website, and social media accounts. Their tone is a mix of politics and pop culture delivered with a sharp, witty twist — in other words, just how their ideal customers talk.
Glossier is a direct-to-consumer beauty company that changed their industry with a mix of luxurious-yet-accessible products, an inclusive vibe, and dynamite social media marketing. Unlike other high-end beauty brands that are based on making women feel “less-than,” Glossier is all about making their customers feel great, and engaging them on the platforms they’re already using.
No matter what your industry, you can create an outstanding brand. Have you ever been in a room full of 350 entrepreneurs cheering for email marketing software? I have, at ConvertKit’s annual Craft + Commerce Conference. Who gets that excited about software?! ConvertKit’s customers do, because the company has crafted a compelling mission and message that goes far beyond software that helps you send emails.
The common thread is that these brands don’t just have clients and customers…
They have raving, loyal fans.
Why? Because wherever they show up, these brands are leveraging their 10 pillars to create outstanding experiences and evoke emotion.
What happens when your 10 brand pillars change?
Just like people, brands grow and evolve over time, and your 10 brand pillars won’t stay static for long. When one of your pillars changes or isn’t pulling it’s weight, it’s time to take a look at what’s going on so that you can bring your brand back into balance.
Sometimes a small tweak will do the trick. For example, maybe your brand is great, but you could use some updated photography. Other times, bigger changes are needed.
That’s where rebranding comes in…
What does "rebranding" actually mean?
Have you ever been to London? If so, you've heard the "Mind the Gap" announcement that plays on loop in every tube station to prevent people from tripping between the platform and the edge of the train.
Well, did you know that this is essentially the battle-cry of an effective rebrand? Instead of "Mind the Gap" you need to Find the Gap.
Rebranding can seem complicated, but at its core it's simple. It's all about finding — and fixing — the gaps.
Where are you now?
Where do you want to be?
What are the feeling and experiences your brand is creating?
Are these things all moving in the same direction?
A real-life example
I know “finding the gap” can seem abstract, so let’s walk through an example.
Meet Alice, a consultant with a 1:1 client business…
Where Alice is now:
Most of Alice’s clients come through referrals, but she recently raised her rates. Now she’s struggling to close consult calls with new leads. Everyone seems to be balking at her new prices. She’s also struggling with leads who book consult calls but don’t show up.
Where she wants to be:
Alice wants to scale her business to $250,000+ in revenue and have more time to spend with her kids. To make it happen, she wants to take on fewer clients at higher prices and fire a long-time client who doesn’t respect her boundaries or her weekends.
Alice’s DIY logo, photos, copy, and website are creating a feeling of “cheap-and-cheerful.” Her brand isn’t showing her value, educating her customers, or positioning her as a trustworthy expert.
There's a disconnect between the quality of work she does and what she looks like online. As a result, her sales process feels like an uphill battle and her clients aren’t always as respectful as they should be.
To fix it, Alice needs to…
Review her 10 brand pillars and get crystal-clear about what’s working and what isn’t
Take a close look at her products, services, and audience to make sure she’s solving the right problems efficiently and with good profit margins
Write copy that woos her ideal clients and positions her as the best solution
Translate her message into a logo, colors, and fonts
Schedule a professional photoshoot and kiss those generic stock photos goodbye!
Redesign her website with her ideal customers in mind
Create a plan for ongoing marketing so that she can serve her audience and communicate her value on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis
With the right branding in place, Alice’s sales start to feel easy and natural. Premium clients are eager to work with her and she has no problem closing on consult calls. She’s naturally attracting people who are a good fit and repelling the ones who aren’t. She’s hustling less, earning more, and finally getting the traction she wants.
Once you’ve found the gaps, what’s next?
Hopefully the framework above helps you “find the gaps” in your business. Of course, it’s not enough to just find the gaps. Once you’ve got that information, you’ll need to figure out what’s next. Here are three options:
Plan a full rebrand
A full rebrand usually includes brand strategy, new photos, new copy, new visual branding (logo, fonts, colors), and a new website. Think of this as a head-to-toe makeover.
Plan a brand refresh
A brand refresh might include tweaking your existing logo and colors, or getting new photographs taken. Think of this as a mini-makeover, like getting a haircut.
While rebranding can be a great solution, it’s not right for every business. If you’re not ready for a rebrand, it can actually hurt your business by taking time and resources away from where they’re needed the most.
5 signs it's time to rebrand your business
Every business is unique and there's no magic formula for rebranding. Instead, think of these 5 signs as symptoms. Your symptoms may not show up in the same way as mine, but some combination of these is nearly always present when a rebrand is on the horizon:
You keep hearing “it’s too expensive” on sales calls
Your business model has changed
Your audience has changed
You avoid giving out your business card or URL
It’s been more than five years since you updated your brand and website
Let’s take a look at each of these symptoms in detail:
01. You keep hearing "it's too expensive" on sales calls
In my early 20s, I worked at a café where we sold lattes for $3.50. A customer would come in, order a coffee, and walk out. The sale took 3 minutes, maximum.
Later in my career, I worked for a high-end New York art gallery where we often sold pieces for several million.
In contrast to the lattes, a 7-figure art sale could take months of groundwork. It involved a lot of relationship building, premium positioning, communication, and white-glove service.
Is a 7-figure painting "too expensive?"
Not to the buyer, it isn't. That’s because there are customers at every price point.
If you keep hearing “it's too expensive,” you’ve got a marketing and branding problem not a pricing problem.
As you raise your rates and move up the “value chain” (to borrow a phrase from Ramit Sethi), your business changes.
You need to start talking to your prospects about the benefits of your work earlier and earlier. You can't expect all the magic to happen on one 30 minute consult call, no matter how great you are at sales.
That’s where your website and branding comes in.
If you’re charging premium rates, your brand should be doing the groundwork.
Your brand and website need to build relationships, support your premium positioning, and create an outstanding experience from day 1.
In other words: don’t sell million dollar paintings in a latte environment.
02. Your business model has changed
Your business model is all about what you sell, how you sell it, and who you sell it to. It's normal for this to evolve over time, but it's important to keep an eye on any shifts.
To stand out (and sell out), you want to make sure the business you're actually running is the same business the world sees.
I have a client who built a successful blog. At first, he brought in income through ad sales. Over time, he removed ads from his blog and added online courses and digital products.
He’s now a digital education company with a blog attached, rather than a blogger. His old website looked and functioned like a free blog and it was leaving money on the table because it didn't suit his new business model.
To get clear on your business model, ask yourself these five questions:
What do you sell? This might include services, digital products, physical products, courses, events, or a combination.
How do you sell it? Do you have a personal brand (yourname.com) or does your business have it’s own identity (businessname.com)?
Who do you sell it to? Do you sell business-to-business? (Like a photographer who runs workshops for other photographers.) Or do you sell business-to-consumer? (Like a photographer who offers newborn sessions to families.)
Have any of these things changed since you last updated your brand and website?
If you have a combination of business models, what's your most lucrative revenue stream? What's your favorite revenue stream? Are they the same? Has anything changed lately?
If the answer to the last two questions is "yes, things have changed," then you'll need to look at your 10 brand pillars to find — and fix — any disconnects.
03. Your audience has changed
When I was a kid, I loved an online game called HorseLand. If you wanted to give 9-year old me a memorable birthday present, you would have bought me a membership to HorseLand.
If you bought me the same gift for my birthday now?
Eh, not so much.
The same process is at play with your audience, whose problems, needs, dreams, and attitudes are constantly evolving.
If your brand hasn't kept up, your products and services are likely missing the mark.
This is a shame because you deserve to have a booming business and full bank account. And your audience deserves the help that only you can give them.
If you want to stay relevant, you need to talk to your audience on a regular basis. Here are five easy ways to make it happen:
Host in-person exit interviews with your clients after a project wraps up
Schedule informal get-to-know-you chats with people you’d love to work with.
Ask for specific feedback from your existing audience
Survey and segment your email list
Write personal thank-you notes to new subscribers. Bonus: invite them to join you for a get-to-know-you call.
I learned tip number 5 from Pat Flynn, who gave the keynote at a conference I attended.
Pat has a huge audience and it would be easy for him to coast. Instead, every month he emails a few new subscribers to personally thank them and invite them to chat. This helps him stay on top of the problems they're facing and craft new products and services to help.
Simple, yet brilliant.
04. You avoid giving out your business cards or URL
We online business owners have two brains: rational brain and reptile brain.
Rational brain knows that your website is your #1 best sales tool. It's where you want your prospective customers to end up so that they can connect, subscribe, and buy.
Reptile brain is the saboteur. When your branding and website feels “off,” reptile brain smells blood. It will do whatever it takes to keep your future customers away.
Rational brain says things like…
“You have valuable things to offer and people want to hear from you. Let’s make it easy for them to find you by sharing your URL.”
“Don’t forget to bring business cards. You never know who you’ll meet!”
“Why don’t we email that influencer to see if she wants to do a joint venture webinar?"
Reptile brain says things like…
“You’re not good enough, so why bother? Your audience won’t read your copy or buy your stuff, so there’s no point investing in your brand.”
“You get tons of word of mouth business. You don’t need a decent website.”
“If people visit your URL they’ll realize you’re a fraud. The best thing you can do is lay low. Self-promotion is sales-y and obnoxious anyway.”
None of what reptile brain says is true, but if you’re experiencing a lot of resistance around your brand and website, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.
Take a breath, tell reptile brain to go sit down, and revisit your 10 brand pillars to figure out what the issue is.
05. It’s been more than five years since you updated your brand and website
If you’ve been going for more than five years, congratulations! According to The Washington Post that puts you in the top 50% of small businesses, which is something to be proud of.
I want you to keep succeeding, so here's the blunt truth:
Internet years are like dog years, and if you haven't updated your site since 2013 you're getting left behind.
The way we market, build an audience and sell changes at light-speed online. Not to mention the ever-shifting landscape of tech and design.
To put it into perspective, 5 human years is between 36 and 42 dog years, depending on the size of the dog.
That’s old for a dog and damn near ancient for the Internet.
Your clients and customers deserve the benefit of your experience. Don’t let an outdated brand and website stop that from happening.
3 signs you're not ready for a rebrand...yet
Rebranding can be a great investment, but your business needs to be ready. If your business isn’t ready, rebranding won’t have the results you’re hoping for.
Here are three signs your business isn’t ready for a rebrand… yet:
You’ve been in business for less than a year
You’re not crystal-clear on some basics
You don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to a rebranding project
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.
01. You’ve been in business less than a year
You know how babies outgrow their clothes almost immediately? The same applies to your first year of business. You’re learning a ton, getting your first clients, and growing every day. The second you think you've got your brand figured out, it changes.
Investing in a brand designer, copywriter, web designer, developer, and full-on photoshoot at this stage isn't a smart use of your time or money.
It's a bit like buying a $15,000 romper for your 11-month old. No matter how adorable it looks, that romper is gonna be straight-up useless in a couple of months.
Instead, the best thing you can do as a new business owner is to keep your brand simple and flexible. You’ll want a…
A simple website that you can update and edit yourself (Squarespace is great for this)
An email marketing service provider (l use ConvertKit*)
1-2 professional headshots
A way to take online payments (I use Stripe)
If you create a simple online presence and then focus all your effort on getting clients and growing your revenue, you’ll be on your way to needing professional branding in no time.
02. You’re not crystal-clear on some basics
No matter how long you've been in business, none of this branding stuff works if you aren’t crystal-clear on some important basics. You don’t need to know all the tech or design details, but it’s important that you’re able to answer these questions:
What you sell
Who you sell it to
How you’d like them to buy it from you
Working with a brand strategist at the beginning of a rebranding project will help give you clarity, but if you’re starting from scratch (or going through an especially major transition), I recommend that you hold off on the other aspects of rebranding, like copywriting, logo design, and web design until you’re 100% clear about the three things above.
Pro tip: if you’re looking to work with the best people, clarity is one of the most valuable things you can bring to the table. The top copywriters, logo designers, web designers, and developers all screen for it when interviewing clients.
03. You don't have the time or resources to dedicate to a rebranding project
Rebranding is a big investment of time and money.
If you’ve got major life events coming up, like a birth, wedding, or home renovation, you’re not going to have the time or mental energy to dedicate to your rebranding project and you’ll end up feeling frustrated. Ditto if you’re in the middle of a big launch!
If you’re short on time, I recommend focusing on ONE big thing only. You can always start your rebrand once the dust has settled.
If you’ve got limited resources, here are a few tips to help…
Save up until you can afford the quality of services you want
Talk to your rebranding team about doing your project in phases
Arrange a payment plan
Payment plans aren't always listed online, but that shouldn't stop you from asking. In my own business, I’ve broken large projects down into as many as 12 payments. This makes life easier for my clients and provides recurring revenue for me. It's a win-win.
Next steps and resources
When I shared this blog post with my email list, one of my subscribers replied and said:
“I’m LOVING this rebranding post. It has me asking myself all sorts of uncomfortable questions.”
Can you relate?
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