“5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image” With Alexander Porter of Search It Local
Look within. This is a branding mistake I’ve seen countless companies make. They think upgrading their mission statement, or tone of voice, or content schedule will change their brand. But an apple is rotten at its core. For companies who want to upgrade and re-energize their brand, the most powerful changes start within. Let’s say you’ve built a negative reputation among your customers. Rather than move locations, change CEOs or target new customers, start by looking at your own business. What can you do differently to change the opinions of your dissatisfied audience? When you’re truly honest about your own brand, you can make changes from within that can save time and money on a massive scale.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Alexander Porter. Alexander is Head of Copy for Sydney marketing agency, Search It Local. Helping over 3,000 Australian businesses to find their voice, Alexander is a Leukemia survivor and experienced creative with over a decade of experience as a freelance and agency copywriter. His greatest achievement can’t be noted here, because it hasn’t happened yet, and that’ll always be his mindset.
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?
Thank you for chatting with me!
When it comes to getting to know me, I’d like to think I’m layered, like an onion.
But the reality is I’m probably more one dimensional, like onion soup.
As for my career path, I’m an Agency Head of Copy at Search It Local, a Sydney-based marketing agency with over 3,000 clients across Australia.
While I love my role, and the impact it can have on small business owners, it wasn’t where I originally pictured my life.
In fact, when I was 19 I wanted to become a historian. To the point I was mid-way through a History degree at Sydney University when I started feeling run down and tired.
Blaming it on the active lifestyle of your average teenager, it ended up being Leukemia.
I spent the next 244 days in hospital fighting Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) across 7 rounds of chemotherapy, and my whole world was flipped upside-down.
I’m not sure any of us know why we were drawn to the career paths we find ourselves in, but when I was told “you’re cured, go home” I realized I didn’t want to be a historian anymore.
I felt like I’d endured a traumatic event that people knew was tough, because everyone knows cancer is, but that I wasn’t able to properly convey how it was affecting me.
It was like waking up and speaking a brand new language that no one else could.
So I felt isolated and alone.
And the only way I knew how to share my experience, was to write.
And so I did. I wrote about how it felt when chemo pumped through my heart. I wrote about how it felt to see my ward mates pass away. I wrote about the guilt of surviving when others, equally as deserving as me, would never wake up to another sunrise.
And I realized, that a career in writing was for me.
It was a way for me to express who I was. More than a ‘Cancer Survivor’ which was a label I never felt fully comfortable with.
Yes, I had cancer. But that wasn’t the defining feature of me. But at the same time it WAS a major part of who I was.
So I used the skills I was learning as a young writer to remove the label of ‘Cancer Survivor’ and replace it with ‘Storyteller’. I didn’t just survive cancer, I tell the stories about it.
No matter what my official label has been since — freelance copywriter, junior copywriter, copy manager, Head of Copy — I am, in my heart, a Storyteller.
I guess you’d say the rest is history.
Telling stories and marketing bisect in the middle, and I’ve forged a successful career in marketing as a result.
Now I get to tell stories of business owners across Australia, as well as my own, and there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
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 work closely with an SEO team here at Search It Local.
In fact, ‘SEO copywriting’ has become near and dear to my heart. But in my early days as a writer I failed to see the value of SEO and it bit me in a HUGE way.
To give some context, I’m a lover of travel.
Ever since my days in hospital with Leukemia I dreamed of going around the world. It was an escape from reality to leave my frail body and go on journeys around the world in my mind.
So, when I got my strength back, I brought those visions to life.
And travel was great to me! Every trip made me feel more and more ‘alive’, which was a feeling I’d missed for so long.
And as a young writer it was a natural fit to turn my travels into a personal branding exercise.
So I created a travel blog, and a brand around myself, called ‘Inked and Abroad’.
As someone with an affinity for tattoos, and for travel, this name was a natural fit.
In my words I was a ‘tattooed traveler and teller of tales’. I’d provide travel guides, reviews, lists, essays, pretty much anything I could think of to bring my love of writing and travel together.
Here’s where I made a HUGE mistake…
I didn’t know anything about SEO back then.
And being a creative I thought standing out was the ultimate metric of success — after all, the travel blog space is so heavily saturated.
So instead of creating a travel blog, I created a brand around a ‘Travel Glob’.
Yep. That’s right.
I thought the word ‘glob’ sounded much funnier than ‘blog’ so I used it across my entire personal brand.
In my URLs, in my Page Titles, in my copy. Everywhere.
Let me ask you a quick question, how many monthly searches are there for travel BLOG?
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands I’m guessing.
Now, how many people were searching for travel GLOB?
None. Zero. Zilch.
I’d built an entire personal brand around a keyword that was invisible outside of spelling errors.
Looking back it was a branding mistake that makes me laugh. Because it shows the divide between pure creative and technical writing.
They’re infinitely stronger when paired together. And as I proved in a branding disaster that took a long time to fully undo, they are considerably weaker when apart.
So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that time spent planning is never time wasted!!!
And if you misspelled your search for ‘travel blog’ and found my ‘travel glob’, well then you’re the real MVP.
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?
I remember my first freelance writing job like it was yesterday.
I was paid $5 for a 100 word article.
As a fresh-faced and idealistic young copywriter I couldn’t believe someone was paying ME to write an article (which I did for free for my own portfolio anyway).
I was so ecstatic about it that I wrote TWENTY of them for this client.
Looking back, being paid $100 for 2000 words isn’t a great financial decision on my part.
I don’t think I’ll be invited to speak at any money management courses.
BUT, it showed me the value of time.
And though it took many years before I fully owned that value, it was a lesson that’s stayed with me.
The moment I started to see success as a freelance writer came around 4 years later. I was a freelance journalist for a publication, ‘Goal! Weekly’, that covered Australia’s domestic soccer league.
In this role I also covered an international soccer tournament — The Asian Cup — which was hosted in my home city of Sydney, in 2015.
Surrounding myself with journalists and writers of an international quality showed me what was expected of great writers, and what great writers expected in return.
Following the completion of that tournament I returned to traditional freelance work and started charging for what my time was worth, not what others tried to price it as.
I think that’s a lesson all young writers can learn.
That’s not say you should set your hourly rate at $100 the moment you begin your career, but don’t let others undervalue your time just because your CV isn’t as full as theirs.
Learn to gauge what your time is worth, and stand firm when telling people.
I promise the majority of people will respect you for it, even if they don’t end up offering you work.
And worst case, you won’t write 20 x articles for $5 each, so that’s definitely a win!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Oh lord. I’ve always got a handful of creative ideas in the back of my mind.
At the moment I’m looking to create a resource for young, male cancer patients.
When I was going through treatment for Leukemia I noticed a distinct lack of support as a 20 year old male.
Through no fault of the system, I was in an adult ward (having missed the cut-off for the children’s hospital by a few years). But the next youngest person was routinely 55 years old or above. So that was very isolating.
I’d like to combine my experience in hospital with my professional skillset to create a guide to cancer for young men.
What to expect. What to look out for. What not to worry about.
I think this could really reduce the uncertainty and fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Because the truth is, not everything is as scary as it seems.
So to have some insight into the ‘this is actually no big deal’ moments would help settle some nerves, and God knows any chance to make things a little easier should always be grabbed with both hands.
At the moment I’m toying with the idea of a graphic novel to make it accessible and easy to consume. And potentially a more deep-dive version that can be used as a guidebook.
Whether this idea ever comes to life, I don’t know.
But I feel like I owe it to my experience, and to all the guys doing it tough today, tomorrow and in the future.
So that’s 100% my creative project right now.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
It may sound counterintuitive, but I encourage other marketers to deep dive into a passion project that utilizes their marketing skills.
For me this means spending my free time writing, creating content and working on short stories.
Although my agency role sees me work with words all day, it’s playing with words in my spare hours that keeps me motivated and fuelled.
I would encourage other marketers to find a creative way to apply their skills too, and in doing so become a more rounded marketer.
Think of it this way, a Personal Trainer could get tired of showing other people how to train their bodies, without the chance to let off some steam and work on their own body.
Your mind is your most valuable tool as a marketer.
So flex it in your own time in a way that inspires you — this can even be used towards a side-hustle that generates additional revenue.
Just don’t spend all your time watching over other people’s businesses or creative visions.
Allow yourself time to be creative on your own terms, and you’ll find burnout occurs far less.
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?
Brand marketing is the reputation of your entire business.
Product marketing is the reputation of your single product.
I’m sure you can find 10,000 word blog posts that debate the semantics endlessly, but why complicate matters?
Think of it this way.
You have a reputation for being a great Karaoke singer (brand marketing). Except you’re terrible when you sing Justin Bieber songs (product marketing).
Based on your brand marketing I’d love to go to Karaoke with you.
Based on your product marketing you couldn’t pay me to go with you.
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?
Brands are timeless.
That’s why the biggest companies in the world spend so much time and money in fine-tuning their brands.
It’s easy to think a certain product or service can fuel success. And in the short-term that may well be true.
But your brand is tied into your longevity, even your legacy.
So that when you introduce a new product, or move locations, or replace your CEO — whatever the change may be, the strength of your branding will bring people with you no matter what.
Apple is an example of a branding master class.
Each new Apple product is met with the same excitement as the last (if not more). And that’s directly related to the strength of their branding.
So while it’s important to invest in general marketing and advertising to drive traffic and sales, it’s important to invest in branding to go beyond ROI.
Loyalty. Authenticity. Even love.
These are the results of branding, and they’re timeless.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
The core reasons that any company rebrands is ‘movement’.
You can package the wording any way you like. But rebranding is really just the science of movement.
Whether you want to move from your current size to a bigger company, from your current location to a new area, or from your stained reputation to a fresh start — the common denomination is movement.
Because change represents a fresh start.
It’s the same reason people move countries after a break up. Or replace their wardrobe to start a new job.
Companies rebrand because they’re looking to move from where they are to where they want to go.
It’s the science of movement.
It’s that simple.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
There is absolutely a risk associated with rebranding.
I think too many brands fall in love with the ‘grass is always greener’ mindset.
They think it’s easy to step away from a place, person or problem.
But in reality, the grass is always greenest where you water it.
If brands fail to change the core reason as to WHY they want to rebrand, then the results will be the same — an inevitable slide back to where they came from.
It’s not all doom and gloom though of course. Plenty of brands — big and small — successfully rebrand and enjoy the benefits that come with it.
These brands are successful though because their efforts to rebrand are well thought out and planned. That should always be step number one.
To go with a local Australian example, you’ve probably heard of Vegemite.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an Aussie classic and you’ve at least HEARD of it.
But back in 2009 the owners of Vegemite, then Kraft, decided to unveil a product extension aligned with their iconic spread.
More than 48,000 possible names were suggested by the public, and Kraft, they went with…
Yeah, let that sink in. 10 years on and it still sucks.
This attempt at rebranding was not thought out. It felt rushed. And in doing so it alienated Vegemite’s core demographic, while inviting ridicule from around the world.
So to answer your question, firmly established brands should weigh up the value of major rebranding. Is it worth risking heritage for headlines?
Only time will tell.
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.
One — Look within
This is a branding mistake I’ve seen countless companies make.
They think upgrading their mission statement, or tone of voice, or content schedule will change their brand.
But an apple is rotten at its core.
For companies who want to upgrade and re-energize their brand, the most powerful changes start within.
Let’s say you’ve built a negative reputation among your customers.
Rather than move locations, change CEOs or target new customers, start by looking at your own business.
What can you do differently to change the opinions of your dissatisfied audience?
When you’re truly honest about your own brand, you can make changes from within that can save time and money on a massive scale.
Two — Image overhaul
Whatever a company does to improve their overall image, the fact remains that brands are made in the mind.
Customers are the final arbiters of what a brand ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’. But you can tap into this by upgrading the aesthetics of your brand.
First impressions are made on such an instant and subconscious level that the right look, from a visual standpoint, can give you an advantage over your competition from the start.
Is your brand tired, old or outdated?
Invest in a rebranding campaign that brings your branded colors and logo to life. Pay attention to your website colors, fonts, shapes and layout too.
This will go a long way in creating ‘perceived value’ in the minds of your audience.
When I was 9 years old, my soccer coach used to say “if you look sharp, you play sharp”.
I think he might have been talking about branding too. Because if your business looks sharp, it’s more likely your audience will see you as sharp.
Three — Video. Video. Video
If you’d asked me this question 3 years ago I wouldn’t have just been on the blogging bandwagon, I’d have been driving it.
In 2020, content marketing is still a valuable way to drive branded change, but the focus has to be on video content.
And forget about creating tacky, sales-focused videos. Those days are done. They’re in the past like the Dodo or iSnack2.0.
Brands looking to energize their image should focus on creating sharp, actionable video content.
Really dive into the minds of your audience. What problems do they have? What problems are they unaware of?
Start solving these problems with free video content that asks for nothing and gives everything in return.
Not only will this shape the perception of your brand, but you’ll tap into digital word of mouth and reach new audiences through your content which will, with any luck, be consumed and enjoyed widely.
And don’t think you’re on the bench just because you don’t have the biggest budget or gear.
Do you have a phone?
Good. You have a mobile filming studio.
Target a problem. Identify a solution. Record it. Share it. Repeat.
It takes time, but that will plant the seeds of change that will help your brand bloom over time.
Four — Put boots on the ground
Technology continues to evolve, and with it comes new ways to evolve a brand.
But what never goes out of style is good old fashioned face-to-face interactions.
Nothing adds authenticity and credibility to a brand like meeting your audience and engaging with them in person.
This is one branding tool that cannot be replicated online.
Host workshops. Sponsor events. Give away consultations.
Face-to-face interaction is a proven way to energize and optimize your brand, and that won’t change any time soon.
Five — Use social listening tools.
Social listening tools like BuzzSumo or Mention can help you maintain control of your own narrative. While a brand is a powerful thing, it’s also fickle.
Which means the things people say ABOUT you can influence the way people THINK about you.
Social listening tools will let you tap into conversations in real time.
Noticed your brand has been mentioned? Get involved in the conversation and keep the narrative in your control.
Whether it’s a positive mention or a complaint, being active and responding to branded conversations as they happen is one of the most powerful, yet undervalued, methods of energizing your brand image.
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?
As someone who spends a solid chunk of time enjoying streamed content (it’s probably best I don’t put a numerical figure on it or my cognitive dissonance will really struggle), I’d have to go with Netflix.
I enjoy this on a broad level, rather than having lived through the rebranding directly. But as we all live in the era of technology, Netflix’s ability to pivot to stay relevant is, to me, one of the best examples of moving with the current, not against it.
To have moved from a DVD-through-mail business model to a streaming giant was key to their survival.
And while this seems like a natural move in hindsight, Netflix was faced with a very real threat to their survival.
You can raise prices all you want, but when the technology underpinning your viability is pulled out from under you, that’s when hard decisions have to be made.
Netflix was able to respond to a new generation of technological change by using it to create an entirely new business model.
Doesn’t that just blow your mind?
Reinventing a company is challenging enough. Doing so after a period of success doubly so. Doing so when new technologies were created that existed in DIRECT opposition to an existing profit model?
I think it’s a remarkable story of rebranding that’s worth retelling.
Now I’d love to tell you more about Netflix, but I’ve got to go watch several hours of Netflix.
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. 🙂
When I was 13 years old, I went on a school field trip.
We were driving 4 hours into rural Australia to visit an old gold field site.
I’m still not 100% sure why. I rarely pan for gold in my regular life. Close to never.
In Australia, that’s the first year of high school though. So you’re the smallest fish in the big pond, with 6 years ahead of you. And the reputation you make in those formative days stick with you.
I didn’t know anyone at my new high school. So I was hoping to make a few friends on this long bus ride. I knew how important these moments were.
The only problem was, the roads were FULL of potholes.
Every time the bus hit a pothole my stomach would rise and fall, and leave me feeling sick and sorry for myself.
I knew I couldn’t vomit though. I’d never get over the embarrassment. Kids can be cruel. And I’d never recover from the humiliation. So I did everything I could to hold it in.
When the bus would hit a fresh patch of smooth highway it felt like I’d be OK, but then we’d ride more potholes and my stomach would lurch from side to side.
I don’t know how. But I managed to make it. And as the bus turned into the long, dusty driveway of this time-worn and weary gold field, I felt…victorious.
I’d made it.
Then, as we pulled up to the car park, the bus hit one final pothole. It was just too much for my stomach to handle, and I vomited right down the front of my shirt.
I could feel the burning sensation in my throat as tears welled up in my eyes.
I knew that the other kids, who I didn’t even know, would have no mercy.
I wished the ground would open up and just swallow me whole.
Then, I heard a voice from the seat behind me…
“Hey” it squeaked, “I felt really sick on the bus ride too. Here, you can have my spare sweater”.
I nodded sheepishly, thanked this stranger, and stepped off the bus.
No one made fun of me that day.
No one even mentioned it.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to treat life like that bus ride.
It’s full of potholes that feel never ending. But it’s also long stretches of smooth highway.
And when you feel like you’re alone, isolated or misunderstood, there’s actually people going through the same thing as you.
So I’d like to inspire everyone to take the time to lend a metaphorical sweater to someone else.
You might be surprised at just what a difference it makes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was diagnosed with Leukemia, my Dad gave me the most profound and transformative advice of my life. And he did it all in just one word…
When things feel darkest, just endure, because dawn will come.
I used that advice to get me through the challenges of my Leukemia diagnosis and treatment, and I’ve continued to use it in my life in the years since.
It’s so easy to fall into pity. Into self-loathing. Into defeat.
But it’s so much more valuable to endure, and push forward to a better outcome.
I remind myself of this mantra in my professional life when a creative project is returned with so many edits and changes that it could pass through an airport facial scanner without problems.
The client pays for their vision. And it’s my job to help find the balance between what they need and what’s commercially viable. So I endure and we work towards the optimal outcome.
That’s obviously a very minor example. But that’s the value of ‘endure’.
Whether it’s a small hiccup in your day, or a giant sinkhole in your life’s plans, when you acknowledge the shit storm, and commit to ‘enduring’, magic happens.
I promise you that.
How can our readers follow you online?
No creative would turn down the chance to share their work!
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.
“5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image” With Alexander Porter of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.