Brand Makeovers: Gracie Thomas On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Build a PR Plan — We work with clients in 3 phases: Strategy, Image, and Experience. Part of the Image phase not only includes designing the actual visual identity, but building a marketing and PR plan that carries the brand strategy into the market. Public Relations is an often overlooked tactic for building brand equity, that can be very simple! Start with signing up for HARO alerts, reaching out to your favorite publications and podcasts, and collaborating with other brands with similar audiences.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Gracie Thomas. Gracie is the principal of Gracie Thomas Consulting, an Integrated Brand Experience Agency located in Houston, TX. She started her first company at age 17, sold the business at 19, and has been building brands for small businesses ever since. Gracie consults with female-owned businesses to help build cohesive brand experiences that not only make their brand the #1 choice, but keep their customers coming back. GT Consulting’s brands have been featured in Forbes, Vanity Fair, GQ, House Beautiful, Create & Cultivate, Paper City, and more. Outside of her Brand Consulting Agency, she also founded the Building Better Collective, an online business school for female wellness professionals.
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?
Sure! My career path is a unique one. I started my first company at age 14, a jewelry line, and my second company at age 17, a clothing line. I ended up selling my second company during my freshman year studying business and marketing at The University of Texas at age 19. For both businesses, I designed the brand, website, packaging, and products with the Adobe Suite skills given to me by my uncle who was a graphic designer at the time. So clearly, from an early age I loved building brands. After selling my clothing line, I began receiving inquiries from other local businesses in my hometown of Fort Worth, TX about brand and web design and marketing support. Before I knew it, I had another business on my hands: a brand agency. I ran the agency all throughout college and into my corporate career as the director of marketing for a wealth management group in Denver, CO. It wasn’t until 2020 that I took the agency full time and truly started to market myself as an Integrated Brand Experience Agency. From there, I never looked back! I love everything about my job and am newly inspired daily by all of the amazing companies I have the pleasure of working with.
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?
This is an embarrassing one… The clothing line that I started was called The Fort Clothing, named after my hometown of Fort Worth. Because the shirts were Texas-oriented, I wanted the state of Texas in the logo. I had the “brilliant” idea of changing the “O” in “Fort” to the state of Texas, which my brain never realized made our name look like “The Fart”. Thankfully I had not started the trademarking process and had only printed about 50 shirts with “The Fart” on the pocket. I’m still thankful for the man who commented on our Instagram saying “This looks like The Fart”. I immediately added a circle around the state to correctly read “The Fort”. Lesson #1: Always ask for outsider opinions on logos prior to moving forward with the branding.
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?
It depends on how you define success. For me, I’d say the biggest tipping point I’ve had in my business is when I stopped hyper-analyzing what everyone else was doing, and focused on how our agency could be the best version of itself. That meant cutting down the time I was scrolling through Instagram and adding in more time and space to be innovative and alone with my own thoughts. My team is fully remote, so that also meant scheduling more team meetings where we could collaborate and dream about where the business could go. I’m a strong believer that a strong company culture allows a business to take on the world. That’s something we now work with our clients on as an Integrative Brand Experience Agency — we work with our clients on the employee level, too.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m excited to say that our agency is growing faster than ever. We now offer every aspect of the brand experience- from naming and go-to-market strategy, to brand and web design, internal operations and employee training and experience. To us, building a brand can’t be done by just tackling one piece of the pie. To really make it in this digital world, you have to address every aspect of the business and customer experience.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Give yourself grace and allow yourself space to be creative. I think we live in a culture that glamorizes hustling, early wake up calls, and long nights. Through running a business with an autoimmune disease and Lyme disease, I’ve learned quickly that running a business doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t be that way. Part of my personal mission is proving that you can run a successful business in a balanced way. We are all going to go through seasons of burnout. As much as we try to avoid it, it happens in one shape or another. The key to thriving as a marketer is learning to avoid falling deeper into it and bouncing back. For me, that’s giving myself grace to spend some time away from my business to realign with my creativity and recharge. I also am a strong believer in listening to your body when it comes to your work schedule. I know my most creative and productive time is the morning, so I choose to work earlier in the morning and shut things down around 3:00 pm because my brain doesn’t get much done in the afternoon. That’s my time to recharge and do what I need to do to get up and do it all over again the next day.
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 lines between these two are often blurred, but I believe that brand marketing is claiming space for a company in the consumer’s mind. Branding involves establishing who the company is, what they do, why they do it, and how people should feel about it. The goal of brand marketing is to establish connection and loyalty between a brand and the consumer. Product marketing, or advertising, is more related to driving sales and continuing to push the message of the brand into the market through promoting the products and services that it offers.
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 my opinion, investing in marketing and advertising without heavily investing in the brand is like throwing darts at a target blindfolded. When working with clients, I describe the brand in two ways: it’s your compass and it’s your filter. The brand directs all marketing, advertising, product development and hiring efforts, and it should be used as a filter to eliminate marketing and advertising strategies that do not align with the brand. Because of this, if you do not properly invest enough resources and energy into your brand, your compass and filter could be unaligned and not direct your business in the way you want it to go. On the other hand, heavily investing in your brand on the front end, will save you energy, resources, and mistakes in marketing and advertising down the line.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
I feel like the word “rebranding” is scary to some businesses, and when they hear they need to do it, it’s like it’s the end of the world. Rebranding can be one of the best, proactive moves a business can make. Businesses change and shift over time, whether it’s the products and services that it offers or their target audience, or both. If your business starts to move in one direction, and your brand is positioned in another, all of your marketing and advertising efforts will fail. Here are the most common situations when I would advise a rebrand:
- The business offerings shift and the brand is no longer attracting the right audience.
- Management and internal culture changes cause the brand to feel unaligned.
- Consumer trends and new technology cause the brand to feel outdated
- The brand loses its “ownership” of a certain color or style and feels that it needs to refresh their identity in order to be competitive in the market
I tell my clients to revisit their brand and message at least semi-annually to ensure that their business and brand are still aligned. If they’re not, they call me and we either make a tweak or a full pivot. I actually just rebranded myself because I got married and my name changed. My business offerings and target audience was going through a big transition and pivot at the time and it made sense to change the name as part of the “new reveal”. Plus, as a branding expert- I think it’s fun!
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
When my team advises a rebrand, it is typically based on heavy research and strategy. However, with every business move, there can be downsides. I would not advise doing a “Brand Makeover” without the data and strategy to back it up and without a professional. Rebranding is a much harder task than creating a brand from scratch, and if not done correctly, there is a lot of brand equity that can be lost. It’s important to note that rebranding doesn’t always mean renaming. Renaming a business is a much bigger project to tackle and brings in many challenges with SEO, brand awareness, and name recognition.
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.
- Look Inward — Your brand starts with your employees. Try interviewing your employees on what the brand means to them. Is everyone on the same page? Is everyone passionate about the brand and brand message? If not, try holding a workshop internally to find alignment with the brand.
- Connect Emotionally — Does your brand have a unique voice? Do you understand your target market’s deepest desires? People these days are not interested in being sold to. The most successful brands connect emotionally with their audience and position themselves as the “helper” or the “solution” to those problems.
- Brand Every Corner — Every corner of your client experience should be aligned with your brand message, values, positioning, and visual identity. This starts with working with your team internally, and then moving outwards. A brand is much more than a logo, it’s an experience.
- Give Video a Shot — If you’re in the marketing world, you’ve heard this a million times: The future is video. This goes back to tip #2 — emotional connection is everything and one of the best ways to do this is through video! Whether it’s a full professional video on your website, or little iPhone clips on your social media pages, a little face-to-face action goes a long way.
- Build a PR Plan — We work with clients in 3 phases: Strategy, Image, and Experience. Part of the Image phase not only includes designing the actual visual identity, but building a marketing and PR plan that carries the brand strategy into the market. Public Relations is an often overlooked tactic for building brand equity, that can be very simple! Start with signing up for HARO alerts, reaching out to your favorite publications and podcasts, and collaborating with other brands with similar audiences.
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?
One of my favorite rebrands was Airbnb back in 2014. The new message, UX, and logo is elevated, inviting, and much more modern than the previous brand. DesignStudio did a fabulous job with designing the “Bélo”, which flawlessly pulls together their pillars of people, place, love, and the “a” of Airbnb. I think the biggest thing that made Airbnb’s rebrand a success was that they clearly realigned with the core of their brand: who they are and why they exist. If the proper research is done, which DesignStudio carried out similar research that my agency does with our clients through 1:1 interviews and other primary and secondary research, the design of the actual visual identity can come quite naturally.
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. 🙂
My personal brand motto is: Build a Business Around the Life that You Want to Live. I’m a strong believer that prioritizing self-care and avoiding burnout can lead to more business success, and that if we are all running our businesses in a way that aligns with our lifestyle, then we will be able to operate at our highest levels of innovation and creativity. Plus, we will be happier people along the way!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” Success looks different for all of us. As a wife and owner of two businesses living with a chronic disease, success for me involves maintaining my health, prioritizing my ability to give to my husband and future family, and helping as many people accomplish their business dreams as possible. As much as I would love to build a highly successful agency, that is not my definition of success. I’m also a big proponent of marching to the beat of your own drum. Just because someone tells you to live your life or run your business one way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. It’s your life and your business, so own it!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.
Brand Makeovers: Gracie Thomas On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.