How to realign buyer perception without a full rebrand
This is a true story: Roughly a year ago my co-founder and I went for lunch with a CMO of a $100+ billion customer experience software giant. We were interviewing this CMO (and she, us) for a board seat, so she had done a fair amount of due diligence on our company—probably more than most CMOs would, in fairness. She turned to me and said, “I think you have a positioning problem.”
She went on to explain that she saw us as a true platform play that could power ABM, demand, and sales engagement campaigns. But when she asked a member of her team for their perspective, that marketer had a very different and more limited association of both the product and brand.
We uncovered that the challenge was this person had last used our solution five years earlier at another company. Although our solution and the market had evolved, this buyer had not been reeducated. It was clear we had work to do.
The following is a recount of our brand journey and the lessons I’ve learned as the CMO over the years since we launched. From the ability to look back at the early decisions to our more recent efforts to realign our brand identity, I hope this story challenges you to uncover what your audience associates with you and what steps might get you on track to better growth.
Back to the beginning...
Today Uberflip is a well-known brand in the marketing technology space. But back in 2012, about a month before we launched and landed on Uberflip as our company name, we were dead set on being called Flipbound.
You can see below we even had the domain on hold among a few other random runners-up. Often brand names, and more importantly the brand identity that becomes associated with that company, can be very rooted in time. My long-shot favorite in the list is still Tabuki, which reflected the importance of the tablet screen at the time. (Tablets were the future!)
The reason we made the last-minute name pivot was a fear that we’d run into confusion. Flipbound sounded a heck of a lot like Flipboard, a news aggregation app (a different type of content but still content) that had just raised a load of cash and was thought to be headed to bigger success than it has. So we went back to the drawing board.
We surveyed our friends and family and ultimately chose Uberflip. And no, not because the transportation company Uber was so popular. It existed back then, but it had only raised about $60 million of its $24.5 billion to date and was only valued around $350 million in total. It was big but in our minds the similarity was not as confusing as Flipboard and Flipbound would be. Go figure! I’ve never felt the likeness in name between Uber and Uberflip has held us back in our space, where there’s also an Uberconference.
Choosing a brand name was the first step towards defining what we’d become in the market. The tricky part was that we were so early in our journey towards a much grander vision that the business was still loosely defined on the product side. We knew we wanted to be the best (hence uber) at helping people “flip” through pages of content to find what they wanted through a great experience. But we didn’t yet know where the product would begin and end. We decided we’d focus on marketing use cases but hadn’t nailed down the eventual focus on the complex buyer journey vs. other paths like the catalog space, which was also an option for us at the time. In fact, we had landed an opportunity to power Walmart’s weekly digital flyer—a path we later abandoned.
If you look at the path many companies take to choosing a name, it’s sometimes thoughtful and sometimes, well, less thought out. Take Apple for example. Steve Wozniak admits he and Steve Jobs, “both tried to come up with technical-sounding names that were better, but we couldn't think of any good ones.” Contrast that with DocuSign—we pretty much know where they were headed in their specific category.
You can argue that the key is choosing a name that will not grow old. Our nearly adopted name of Flipbound was intended to combine the digital page flip concept with the hype of inbound marketing at the time. I am so happy we didn’t go that route. It would have challenged us when we expanded the application of our platform to address the rise of other marketing strategies like ABM, sales enablement, and, more recently the advent of customer marketing. Being Uberflip let us simply focus on being outstanding at letting users flip through content and defining the market need for that over time.
Learning #1: Effects of brand familiarity
My advice is to choose a name that is not limiting, yet is familiar sounding, even if it’s new. When we surveyed our friends and family about which name we should choose, a number of people said that they thought Uberflip was already a name in the market. We loved that! We knew we had the domain and other properties locked up, so familiar only sounded easier to market. Some of my favorite brands like Zendesk, Lululemon, and Peloton feel suited to what the company does. Their names are familiar yet still broad enough for each company to expand its offering over time. Fortunately for us, Uberflip has given us that same flexibility although we’ve just dropped our old brand icon which tied in more to our beginnings of heavy document focus.
This takes me to another strategy I’m noticing from the sidelines: the complete name change or the drastic shift to dark and sad enterprise branding as a company scales. As much as I love Zendesk as a brand, I mourned the drop of their Zenlike mascot and the heart in their logo for the more subdued dark logo. Hootsuite similarly got dark and eerie when they abandoned the fun owl their brand was built on.
My co-founder and I always said we’d reach a stage where someone would try to rip the pink (technically rubine red) from us. We vowed never to let it happen and in fact opted to embrace the smile that is made from our umlaut and “u” and never flip it to a frown or something sad! After all, even enterprises want to smile! :)
Learning #2: Positive brand association
You will sometimes be pitched by an agency, a board member, or a confident entrepreneur that if you change your name to reflect a change in business and/or market, you will be much more relevant. Of course, there are times when this is necessary—disasters sometimes need a clean slate. But please leave this as a last resort. To me, the times to consider dropping your brand are: (1) PR disaster, (2) complete shift in buyer or product, or (3) you originally chose a terrible name.
Otherwise, you need to know that, although a new brand may create a better connection with prospects, you risk losing associations in the market and return buyers—and you add a hefty need to re-educate.
Now those of you who know our story may be saying, “But you’ve already changed your name once. Weren’t you Mygazines before Uberflip?” Good catch. We fell into bucket two above. In 2011 we decided to stop selling to publishers and instead focused our efforts on building new products for marketers while sunsetting old features over time. When we launched Uberflip, we treated it as a new business and we now refer to its launch as the founding day of our current company. Essentially, the only thing we opted to bring over was some of the IP, customers willing to work with a marketing platform, and, of course, the team we already trusted.
The reality is that, whatever name you choose, it is likely to be tested. But even if you nail your name, you’ll definitely be challenged to ensure that the association of your brand is aligned with the way your company evolves in the market.
This brings me back to the first story I shared over lunch with our board of directors candidate roughly a year ago. It was clear that past customers and future buyers had very different perspectives on what we can help with. Through research she knew our potential, but on the surface, between our messaging and team commentary, we were limiting ourselves.
Learning #3: Brand evolution, not revolution
Obviously, we had evolved beyond the positioning that served the business well in the early days. This is an area that many companies, especially those who embrace innovation, will struggle with. Technology changes so quickly and the product you have today may look very different than it did just a short time before. As your solution becomes more capable, you need to re-educate the buyer by showing them how your capabilities play into their roles and responsibilities. This has a major impact on the perception of your brand and its identity.
This is the case with so many brands including one I mentioned above as a favorite: Peloton. During the COVID lockdown, I started using the Peloton app to run. Many people assumed my reference to “loving Peloton” was solely about jumping on a bike, not realizing the company also offers running, strength training, yoga, and even meditation classes. I personally feel the brand name is flexible despite ties to cycling but, as I said, a brand needs to adjust its associations and show its expansion and reach.
It’s very important to align your brand with a bigger vision than just the products you offer today. I’m often reminded of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model and his highlighting of Apple’s ability to cross-sell to us computers, smartphones, music, watches and whatever may come next. As Sinek puts it, Apple’s brand exists not to build the best computers, but simply to challenge us to “think differently.”
Now not everyone needs to sell multiple product lines to achieve success, but it’s important to take a look at what your buyers associate your brand with. At Uberflip we realized after our board member lunch that we had various associations with our brand that were still highly tied to inbound marketing use cases. So, we began a process to reinvent ourselves.
Learning #4: The voice of the customer
To reinvent yourself or, as I put it to our team, to “realign our brand,” it is important to start by listening to the voice of your customer and understand what associations exist. There are many ways to do this. Here are just some we’ve engaged in over the last year:
(a) Getting perspective from our customers especially through our customer advisory board
(b) Listening to the way our own sales and customer success members pitch our product (it’s amazing to see the difference between those who have been with us for years and those who just joined)
(c) Getting feedback from prospects who didn’t buy from us (oh, this hurts)
(d) Reading reviews of how customers describe us on platforms like G2
(e) Engaging a third party to conduct a blind market validation survey
All of this may lead you, as it led us, to a need to change. You’ll need to decide what you want to alter... from your company name or logo to messaging to brand or product associations. As much as we consider ourselves very strong on the branding side, we engaged help from an agency to reimagine our brand for 2020 and beyond. I found having an outsider’s lens was important to being able to evolve. The key for me was ensuring our brand equity continued but felt fresh and relevant to our current and new customers—and would for years to come.
So now we’re live! (I encourage you to check out our new branding in the wild) And that doesn’t mean just a tweaked logo, an updated brand mark, or the launch of a new site. It’s a full realignment of our brand through updated: Brand Guidelines, Content Guidelines, Design Guidelines, and Messaging Guidelines (this one is for our internal stakeholders only). And I’ve got to give mad props to our marketing team for not just making this come to life but for documenting it so well.
Learning #5: Team and market buy-in
To truly have your brand evolve you need team and market buy-in. This type of approval provides the right guard rails for our new brand identity.
I think many companies have a champion trying to evolve the brand as the company evolves. But one person alone can’t succeed in this. From using the right logo to ensuring details like updates to your content experience, internal resistance is your biggest threat.
I feel we’ve wrapped a nice bow around our realigned brand to make it easy for anyone to work with—from new deck templates to how to speak in our updated tone. It’s early but I’ve never been more excited than looking at our happy face brand mark especially as I recount not having landed on Tabuki!