5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image, with Patrick Ward of Rootstrap
Deliberate, Delightful Design. Don’t neglect the power of sleek, beautiful design. Design is one of those unconscious elements that if you apply best practices you can elevate your brand to appeal to a contemporary audience. Failing to do so puts you at risk of looking obsolete or old school (Comic sans or Papyrus fonts, anyone), unless that is your intention. The point being, how your brand elements are designed creates an impression in the mind of your customer of who you are and your company ethos. This was particularly pertinent for Dogtown Media, a mobile app development studio. We had no updated physical marketing collateral that could be handed to clients, particular important as our deal sizes were increasing, necessitating in-person meetings, as well as being used for our events for attendees.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Patrick Ward.
Patrick is the Director of Marketing for Rootstrap, a full-service custom design and development agency that digitally transforms enterprises like MasterClass, Google, & Quartz. A writer by trade, Patrick has worked extensively across the insurance, real estate, finance, travel, and tech industries, with notable clients including Allianz, Cathay Pacific, and Fiji Airways. Currently he lives in LA, having been born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and is a diehard Steelers fan.
He is currently a member of the Forbes Communications Council, an invitation-only organization for senior-level communications executives, and the Ad Age Executive Collective, an invite-only community of noteworthy marketing and media agency leaders, marketing and communications executives, martech and adtech founders, and technology executives in the media space. He earned his Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies), majoring in Marketing and Political Science, from the University of Sydney.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Patrick! 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?
Starting college, I was very conscious that my major choice would be a reflection of my desired career direction. I experimented with a few areas: I tried economics, wasn’t for me. I tried finance, still wasn’t for me. I stumbled onto marketing and found my calling. Marketing fit me for two distinct reasons: 1) it’s an incredibly collaborative field, which fit my inherent extroverted tendencies and 2) it has an underpinning of psychology. I’ve always been fascinated with how and why people think the way they do. Marketing for me is using this knowledge to then effectively communicate to people from all walks of life. With that as my foundation, I’ve been able to transcend many different industries, leading me to the realm of tech which is where I apply my skills today.
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?
My first marketing job was as a copywriter for an ad agency based in Sydney, Australia. I’d learned the ropes of writing for SEO and our team was writing thoroughly researched blogposts for an insurance client. And when I say thoroughly, I mean thoroughly. We’re talking articles that would sometimes go through 30, 40 revisions — it was becoming farcical.
When I took on a travel client, I began traveling to different destinations and writing about the places I visited. The irony in all this — those pieces performed better both in terms of traffic volume and revenue than any of the articles I’d “written for Google”. Retrospectively, all I could do is laugh. How is it that the articles I stressed over for days at a time were worse than the quickly written travel pieces done in half an hour? It taught me an important lesson that I hold with me to this day: don’t get consumed by the tactics. Today’s marketing world is obsessed with tactics, but in this instance I learned to never lose sight of why and for whom you are performing a particular task. The travel pieces were written from my own experience, with a greater depth of storytelling: it’s really not surprising that they performed better.
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?
As occurs to many entry-level employees, there is a lot of feeling like you are spinning your wheels. Referred to as ‘paying your dues’ or ‘putting in the grunt work’, you can end up tasked with a multitude of recurring projects that are deemed suitable for someone for your level. This provides you with a breadth of experience but puts you at risk when applying for future jobs. The tipping point for me was when I began to own the business activities that I excel at and concretely focus on them. Can I write? Yes, I love to write; if this job requires heavy amounts of copy, I’m your guy. Can I design? Moderately, but I’m not going to focus on that, better left to a designer. The lesson here is simple: Be clear on what you do.
By standing firm on my exceptional skills, I attracted the roles that would allow me to excel. In an era of increasing specialization, it isn’t enough to simply be ‘ok’ at a task, you need to excel so identify early on what tasks you excel at. From applying this lesson, I also was provided with resources for the components where I wasn’t as strong, allowing me to have a far greater overall impact as my team members’ skills complemented mine, rather than doubling up.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My current company, Rootstrap, has provided me with enormous opportunities to pursue additional initiatives that further both my professional development and the company brand as a whole. Two major projects excite me at the moment: I’m building my portfolio of speaking engagements, developing myself as an authority in the marketing, social media, emerging technology, and career advice arenas. This is already starting to bear fruit as I’ve been invited to speak at the Influencer Marketing Conference & Expo in Los Angeles about the rise of LinkedIn as a content creation platform.
My other additional project is focused on a key passion of mine: mentorship to students. As a student myself not too long ago, I recognize the challenge college students face when determining a career, particularly in this job market where it isn’t enough to simply have a degree anymore. I’m continually finding new ways to partner with universities, whether with on-campus student organizations or guest lecture appearances, to educate and mentor students, especially seniors as they begin the unpredictable journey of transitioning to the job market.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Marketers are, by their very nature, ‘can-do’ people. They are creative, curious people that are easily excited by new ideas and initiatives. As a result, one aspect suffers: time. It might be tempting to try and do it all, but we all know that is physically impossible. The key is to set clear expectations with your manager about what can get done in a realistic timeframe. Your job is to then be accountable to that timeframe, especially since some marketing tasks are not always time-sensitive. Yes, you could take an extra week to do that case study, but you said you would deliver it in two so deliver it in two.
Beyond that, don’t be afraid to ask for resources. Companies are more than willing to spend money when it drives business outcomes forward. Talk their language and demonstrate, with numbers, how an additional resource will make you more efficient and get more work done.
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?
The difference between branding and advertising is synonymous with the difference between strategy and execution. Brand marketing is long-term in nature and focuses on the elements of your company that you wish to be known for in the marketplace. Design systems, voice, iconography, messaging all fit into this category and can not be chosen lightly. Product marketing is far more tactical by comparison — focused on the initiatives and campaigns that will drive immediate results for your business such as lead generation, customer acquisition, email list building, increased social media engagement. The key to determining which is which lies in the desired outcome. If you want to increase revenue or some other tangible metric by a percentage, chances are it’s advertising. If your measure of success is tied more towards your company’s vision and perception in the marketplace, that is branding.
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?
In today’s era, organizations are obsessed with short-term execution-based efforts for marketing. Indeed, this has coincided with the rise of a particular form of marketing: growth-hacking. While it is important to spend in these areas to generate sales in the short-term, advertising can not exist and be effective without the long-term foundation that branding provides. When you build a successful brand, short-term objections start to dissipate. No longer are the conversations about pricing or contract terms and how you stack up against side-by-side to the competition; suddenly the talk is transformed to be about value.
We all know the adage it is cheaper to retain an existing client than acquire a new one, and that comes from successful branding. When you have a brand that showcases your company as truly unique, trust and loyalty is imbued in your customers. As an added bonus, investing in brand building helps your short-term initiatives be more successful too, because you provide a framework in which your prospective customer can understand your product or service offering and how you can help them.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
The most imperative reason for a company to rebrand itself is rooted in philosophy. Namely, that the current company brand no longer reflects the day-to-day reality of the company’s position in its industry, its clientele, its current purpose, and the offering that it provides to its customers and society at large. If left to continue, a company will create cognitive dissonance in the minds of its stakeholders, leading to potentially disastrous results from a revenue perspective.
Another reason to consider rebranding is the converse: that their brand reflects TOO much of their reality and that customer base is shrinking or no longer values the product/service the way they did when they first started using it. In this situation, a rebrand is a necessity as the company will continue to decline without modifying its perception in the market.
Finally, if a company has very ambitious growth goals, sometimes the only way to achieve them is a rebrand. Perhaps the company’s brand started as an accurate reflection of their offering, but this brand is no longer sufficient to explain the new range of products and services that the company sees as key to its future success. Without a rebrand, these product line expansions or diversification of service offerings will fail to capture the attention of the market and thus produce the desired ROI for the company itself.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Marketers are incredibly creative; but don’t let them get too creative. With so much energy, sometimes marketing departments can be too preemptive and seek investment for a rebrand before it is due. The risk here is every time a rebrand is performed, two negative phenomena could occur: 1) you cannibalize your existing brand clout, potentially alienating your existing customer base and 2) your rebrand efforts are ignored by your new target audience, leading to a cataclysmic drop in company health metrics such as revenue and profit.
Every particular company has an opportunity to rebrand, especially given the inherent disruptive forces that exist within capitalism, but a rebrand should only be entered into to course-correct. If the company is declining already, then that might be a sign that a rebrand is necessary. If the company wants to enter an entirely new market, the same situation applies. But don’t undergo a rebrand just for the sake of appearing trendy — there is always a risk to action as well as a risk of inaction, and companies would do well to be mindful of that when evaluating if a rebrand is right for them.
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.
Start with the Story:
When we identify why a brand is no longer working for a company, the first area to investigate is the brand story. This tends to be an underlying assumption about a company and often overlooked, but a brand story dictates your entire brand’s position and therefore how it is perceived by the marketplace. A brand story is repeated across ad copy, email campaigns, websites, social media posts, press articles, the list goes on. Modify this successfully and you will be well on your way to crafting an authentic rebrand.
With this philosophy in mind, when I first entered Rootstrap, a custom web & app development agency, I sought out the story first. With a simple two page document, myself and the senior leadership team clarified the issue and rewrote the brand story. Why? Because our messaging made us appear to only appeal to motivated entrepreneurs with concepts of “bringing a product to life” and “helping your vision succeed”. That language was nice, but wouldn’t work on our desired audience: mid-market to enterprise level companies. By tweaking our story to focus on the business value we provide, combined with the verbiage of statistics, suddenly our brand started to sound less start-up and more in the vernacular of our desired clients: corporate.
Deliberate, Delightful Design:
Copy is important, even essential, but don’t neglect the power of sleek, beautiful design. Design is one of those unconscious elements that if you apply best practices you can elevate your brand to appeal to a contemporary audience. Failing to do so puts you at risk of looking obsolete or old school (Comic sans or Papyrus fonts, anyone), unless that is your intention. The point being, how your brand elements are designed creates an impression in the mind of your customer of who you are and your company ethos. This was particularly pertinent for Dogtown Media, a mobile app development studio. We had no updated physical marketing collateral that could be handed to clients, particular important as our deal sizes were increasing, necessitating in-person meetings, as well as being used for our events for attendees.
By partnering with our talented design team, we were able to create a sleek, minimalist design for pamphlets, brochures and event banners that presented ourselves as a polished, professional team to our prospective corporate clients. The impact of our investment in design was evident, not only did we get praise and delight from our clients, partners and attendees, we were also recognized by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals with a Gold Hermes and a Gold Marcom Award, as well as the American Advertising Federation, earning a Bronze Addy.
Don’t be Afraid of Humor:
When you started your company, perhaps you adopted a business persona with your brand. It makes sense because money is exchanging hands and there is a responsibility and duty between client and vendor. But what does that produce? A stale, boring brand. If you’re looking to re-energize, why not try a little humor. I inherited a brand while at a financial conglomerate that was, to put it nicely, neglected called efutures. It had been acquired years earlier and no one knew what to do with it. This presented an enormous opportunity — there was no existing voice and so it was effectively a blank slate. Rather than continue with the stodgy, stale tone of other financial companies, we decided to brand it via Twitter, since the target clients were DIY traders. Since the main product was futures and options trading on agricultural commodities, we creatively used farm-related puns and animal GIFs to rebrand our offering as approachable. Needless to say, the results spoke for themselves as in the 3 months following the rebrand, the efutures brand gained an additional $2.2million in assets, with Twitter as the originating source.
Humans Grow, Companies Don’t — Invest in Thought Leadership:
One of the biggest challenges with rebrands is that it is predicated upon the idea that companies can change. This concept is surprisingly difficult to convey to consumers as they tend to have a fairly rigid view of companies and how to categorize them in their mind. However, there’s no denying that there is one entity that people accept can change and grow: humans. Rather than pin all your rebranding efforts on convincing people your company has changed, used a surrogate in the form of a company spokesperson or thought leader.
At Dogtown Media, we were struggling to show how we were different, in a sea of very similar development shops. By investing in thought leadership via our CEO as a representative, we were able to demonstrate that our brand was not just suitable for motivated entrepreneurs, but in fact had the capacity and vision to achieve results for mature company clients. The corresponding social proof in the form of Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Next Web, and VentureBeat spearheaded our rebranding efforts as we moved from startup clients to niching down into the healthcare space. The elements that make this strategy successful are evident: powerful storytelling about personal growth from your human representative elicits praise, recognition, and clout that is easily transferable to your company.
Current Client Case Studies:
When a company decides to do a rebrand, the temptation is to start everything from scratch. Not only is this not efficient, but more often than not, you have the tools at your disposal for a rebrand, you merely need to modify those tools. When starting at Rootstrap and being tasked with repositioning them from entrepreneur to enterprise clients, my next step after modifying the story was case studies. Even if the broader market is unaware of your new offering, it is likely you have a few clients who fit that description, otherwise you wouldn’t be investing in that particularly area.
For Rootstrap, it was as simple as determining the client work that best demonstrated the type of company we wanted to be, and therefore drove the creation of the new brand. Instead of talking about bringing projects ‘to life’, we reframed stories to be about direct results: growing MasterClass to $100M, helping Ownable do $2.5M on Black Friday. A comprehensive case study does two things: it lays out the new foundation for how customers and prospects should understand your brand and it draws them in with a compelling story that can produce advocates and further advance your rebranding efforts as you look to penetrate the collective consumer consciousness.
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?
Brand makeovers are tricky business. They often can be flat-out ignored by the market at large, or create a visceral reaction from your customers. The ones we learned about in advertising lectures can seem like folklore — almost imaginary by their very nature. But when you see one performed successfully in front of your very eyes, and you can feel your perception changing, that is the sign of a quality brand makeover. Enter Bud Light — a stalwart of the American beer market, synonymous with blue collar, grilling steaks, and football. The problem? Declining sales in the face of increasing competition from craft beers and millennials who no longer identify with values of the past generation.
The solution? An innovative rebrand that made Bud Light reminiscent of craft beer competitors at the same time as implementing humor that drew in a new audience of millennials. I watched as I saw friends who would’ve formerly sneered at a ‘mass market’ beer, become transfixed with Bud Light. Beyond that, the unique messaging formula can be encapsulated by their partnership with Instagram meme accounts such as ‘Middle Class Fancy’ and ‘Classic Dad Moves’. The memes focused on fathers who were traditionally big fans of Bud Light, invoking feelings of nostalgia in the millennial generation of familial memories. The rebrand formula here is simple: remind people of your brand’s history, but show how you have transformed and grown to attract a new market.
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. 🙂
The movement I would like to inspire is very simple: a foundation of self awareness. It is a scary thing to truly know oneself, and consequently so few people are willing to ask themselves the tough questions. As fear-inducing an exercise as that is, it is not a reason to not pursue it. Self awareness and being brutally honest with who you are, and what you stand for is the key to success. The lack of it is a recipe for failure. For too long have I been dismayed at friend’s who take degrees, jobs, and even careers because of family, friend or societal pressure, without putting their own desires first. I like to say that, “only you can be your number one fan”. When we understand exactly who we are and show up in the world that way, we operate at an ideal level that makes the maximum positive impact on our communities. That’s the key to elevating human consciousness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me, a life lesson quote needs to encompass a philosophy of how to conduct oneself over the course of our lives. With that in mind, my favorite quote is the Persian adage, “this too shall pass”. The modern world has created a substantial consciousness of anxiety and stress, as people search for meaning and purpose in their lives. This existential indecision manifests itself in unhealthy ways, which I’ve particularly observed residing here in the United States, where people are desperately seeking to have everything be ‘awesome’ in the lives and end up dissatisfied. I draw great inner strength from this equivocal quote that reminds me to keep life in perspective, to not get arrogant in victory or despair in defeat, and ultimately to keep a balanced and clear mind on all of life’s trials and tribulations.
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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 Patrick Ward of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.