So, You've Taken the Reins as Owner . . . Now, What?
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From startups to Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen it happen time and time again: new business owners struggling to establish their brand. Whether these owners have been with the business from the get-go or are stepping in to the company with fresh eyes, they often overlook the opportunity new ownership gives to refresh and revitalize the business’s brand.
When I made the exciting jump from employee to owner of GroupBaronet in 2006, I experienced this transition firsthand. I wanted to make GroupBaronet my own, so it was important to do more than just uphold the values that had motivated me to purchase the advertising firm in the first place.
I had to put my personal stamp on the company’s brand. By merging my name (Mason) with the original owner’s (Baronet), I found just the right balance between past and future.
The experience taught me what it takes to successfully implement a new vision into an existing company and, at MasonBaronet, we use those lessons learned to guide our clients through similar situations. Here are my five keys to a successful transition:
Assess the brand.
As the new owner of an existing company, you're not only going to make changes to business operations, but also to the brand itself. Before making modifications, it's important to assess the brand you’ve just acquired. A successful assessment not only ensures your marketing investment will pay off, but also helps in long-term strategy development and prevents any doubt down the road. Think about how your company is viewed by both employees and customers. Ask yourself:
- What are the current perceptions of your brand?
- What do people value most about your company?
- Where are the disconnects and opportunities?
- Where is there room for improvement?
If you aren’t sure of the answers, do some research with customers and employees to get clarity. As you take a deeper dive, you should gain a better understanding of where the brand has been and where it needs to go. For my company, I found that maintaining its reputation was of utmost importance. However, I also wanted to update the brand look to reflect my personality as the new leader.
Communicate with the team.
Your brand starts with your employees -- they are the ones on the front lines with your customers, after all. For your brand ambassadors to fully live and breathe your new brand, you must educate them more than you think. In a study by Gallup, only 41 percent of employees surveyed said that they knew what their companies stood for and what made their brand different from the rest.
As brand developers, my employees were, and are, key contributors to developing our brand; however, not all companies have this advantage. To help your ambassadors better understand your brand, develop an internal campaign communicating to employees (and other stakeholders) how your vision might impact the brand and the culture.
Tell employees what changes to expect under the new leadership. This could be in the form of a presentation or brand book. To this day, I share the same brand presentation to every new employee we onboard.
This notion of an internal campaign, then, is a culture-builder and rallying cry for employees -- not something that instills fear or worry. When Southwest Airlines announced its new logo and airport experience in 2014, it included its employees as part of the crusade.
Because they were such an important component, those employees became the Southwest's rebrand’s biggest ambassadors and have been major contributors to its success ever since. If your own internal campaign succeeds in educating employees, you will begin to see movement toward the brand you have envisioned almost immediately.
Continue communicating with customers.
It’s important to understand that a brand assessment does not always lead to a rebrand. Perhaps you'll determine that the client-facing components of your brand are right where they need to be. However, if a significant rebrand is needed, be thoughtful about the way you unveil changes to customers. In addition to an integrated marketing campaign, a personal discussion with key customers may be warranted.
Since I was already an employee when I purchased the company, I was able to include Willie Baronet, founder of GroupBaronet, in one-on-one conversations with clients.
While this move may not be appropriate in every circumstance, I found that it made our company's particular transition more seamless than I'd anticipated.
No matter what, your efforts must reinforce that although the brand is moving in a new direction, your customers can continue to rely on you to deliver the services and products they’ve grown to know and love.
The key takeaway from our brand assessment was that clients valued our strategic thinking, distinct creative and smart, professional people. This is still true today. With an estimated $41 billion lost by U.S. companies each year following a bad customer experience, none of us can run the risk of breaking brand loyalty.
Reinforce on all fronts.
Every interaction you have with your target audiences is an opportunity to either advance or deteriorate the impression people have of your brand. Consider every touchpoint: your logo, office environment, the way you dress, attitudes toward employees and clients and every other detail in between; all are opportunities to reinforce your brand.
Also keep in mind that your brand is both visual and experiential. This is important for younger customers:In fact, 60 percent of millennials in one survey said they expected the same experience across all customer touchpoints when dealing with a company, whether they are in-store or online.
- What does our brand say about us?
- Does my brand make the right impression to my ideal customers?
- What adjectives would people use to describe us?
Communicating any visual branding changes consistently across all media is also critical. Every change, from the simplest to the most complex, needs to be reinforced at every touchpoint. In addition to updating our company'slogo on marketing materials, we also branded our entire office space. From the new logo on the wall to the color-coordinated furniture and accent walls with large words reinforcing our brand personality, we took the time to make every touchpoint count.
Even long after changes are made, it's essential that you stay relentless in your brand journey. Almost daily, I find myself reminding even the most tenured employees of the impact they have on the brand.
A successful brand requires time and attention, constant assessment and, most of all, consistency. Even as we onboard new employees and clients, I ask myself if they are the right match for the brand. I can assure you, even the companies that seem to have messaging down pat regularly discuss how to reinforce, and continually support their brand in everything they do.
Think about Target -- a brand that teens and adults alike flock to for all their needs. Even though that brand has been a long-standing icon in the retail world, it continues to evolve to stay relevant in the marketplace. Just this year the brand announced plans to re-imagine stores nationwide. Through consistency and repetition, you too can keep brand momentum going under your steady leadership.
The truth is, taking ownership of a company is a scary venture, especially when you look at the facts: Only two-thirds of businesses survive two years, half survive five years and one-third survive 10. Amid all the uncertainty, however, there are plenty of rewards to be found. By updating your new company’s brand to reflect your values, vision and purpose, you will establish the foundation for success in the long run.