Brand Makeovers: Mark Miller of Historic Agency On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

We tend to recommend companies rebrand when there’s a misalignment between messaging and culture. When these things are misaligned, it causes confusion for a customer, and they don’t want to buy.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Mark Miller.

Mark Miller is co-founder of Historic Agency where he leads product strategy, marketing transformation, and brand. He’s rebranded nearly 100 organizations and also specializes in all things strategy including brand, product, and marketing. Mark is also co-author of “Culture Built My Brand”.

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?

I went to school for film, and after directing a couple of student shorts I realized it wasn’t for me.

After graduation, I got into film and video production. It’s great, but it doesn’t make as much money as marketing does. You end up spending countless hours for very little results when it comes to video. A 60-second commercial could take two days to shoot, hundreds of thousands of dollars, countless hours, and you have 60 seconds to show for it.

I started getting into marketing and branding because of client needs and really fell in love with branding.

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?

Early in my career, I was put in charge of internal marketing and communications for a large organization. I had to secure a web development company to build an internal app, and it cost $40,000 to build this little thing that we needed. I was able to sell people on the idea. However, I failed to actually do my due diligence on the company that did the development. So, we paid them $40,000 and got nothing out of it.

The lesson I learned is, one, it’s important to do your homework, and two, we’re always going to make mistakes. Generally, they’re not going to be as bad as we think — they’re not going to be the $40,000 mistake — and it’s truly what you learn from it and how you pick up and move on that matters.

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?

The tipping point was confidence. As with most creative people, I’m probably insecure in myriad ways.

Knowing that you have the ability to solve the problem, or even just find the solution is a major shift. You don’t have to know the answer to the question, but you have to have the confidence in yourself that you do know what you’re talking about. You can steward the relationship with the client, and you can help them find the answer.

You don’t need to know everything in the world. You don’t even have to be the best at what you’re selling, doing or trying to market. Just to know that you have the confidence in yourself to help your client find the right answers and succeed is enough for that client to say yes, or for the project to go well, or for you to get that opportunity.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of our most exciting new projects is the launch of our new book, “Culture Built My Brand”. The book talks about how company culture is really the driving force behind successful brands and is a culmination of our teams work with countless brands.

We also just finished a client project, which was merging two of the largest health information exchanges (HIEs) in the Southwest, helping them work on mission, vision, values and their culture. As we say in the book, we used that (culture) to create their new brand, naming and overall rollout.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Often when it comes to addressing burnout, the common thought is we just need rest. But what gets left out of the conversation is how you get refueled.

Rest is not the same thing as refueling. Rest is a place to let your guard down, to shut off all the burdens and responsibilities that we have and to actually rest. Refueling is the thing that keeps your creativity, strategy, and energy going. You’ve got to figure out what it is that energizes you. Sometimes that isn’t rest.

Sometimes it’s having a hobby, like cocktails or woodworking or gardening. For creative people in the marketing field, a lot of times finding other mediums that you normally would never work in are great for refueling so you don’t burn out.

People in marketing are constantly having to come up with new ideas. We are burning creative energy all the time — and that has to be refueled to avoid burnout.

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 getting your customers or your audience to buy into your “why” — who you are, why you exist, and all the things that make up your brand that are separate from your product.

To use Apple as an example, their approach to design, to simplicity, to privacy — those are the things that aren’t really tangible. They show up in products and in services, but they’re bigger reasons that people point to as why they’re Apple loyalists.

The same can be said of Patagonia. It isn’t necessarily that they make the best bags, because you could argue North Face’s Summit backpack, which has been to the summit of Mount Everest multiple times, is the best bag. But you buy into Patagonia because of the other things. That’s the brand side.

The product marketing side is what we would traditionally think of as marketing. What is the value? What are the features? How is this product going to change my life?

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?

Investing in the brand is important because it raises all ships in the harbor. Recently, some research came out that indicated companies that have stronger brands generally will spend less on marketing, compared to their competitors who don’t invest in brand.

With major brands like Apple and Google locking down retargeting and tracking — and likely email lead acquisition and tracking credit card purchase information — it will be imperative to invest in your brand so that your customers want a direct relationship with you as a company instead of just defaulting to all these gates where they know you’re never going to get their information, and they can live in this little privacy bubble.

You want them to seek you out, and then you want them to engage with your brand. You want them to sign up with a real email address and to follow you on social. That is a huge opportunity and a huge reason companies need to invest in brand today.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Often companies rebrand because they see symptoms of a larger problem: our logo is outdated, our website isn’t functioning, our social media is flat.

In our book, “Culture Built My Brand,” we point to those root causes. We identify six patterns we see within top-performing brands, whether they realize it or not, and how they’ve leveraged their company culture to make sure the brand stays successful and on message.

We tend to recommend companies rebrand when there’s a misalignment between messaging and culture. When these things are misaligned, it causes confusion for a customer, and they don’t want to buy.

For instance, we’re talking to a really great nonprofit that helps feed homeless people and food-insecure people. Though they’ve been around for years and provide this year-round, most people think they’re only open around Thanksgiving. They have a brand problem, which is rooted in misalignment within their culture, which is misaligned with their mission, which is misaligned with their visual assets.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

The downside to rebranding is when you don’t have a clear process for what that rebrand is, regardless of whether you’re doing it with a partner or handling it internally. When you think, “We just need to change the logo,” and that’s what you’re calling a rebrand, but you haven’t fixed culture issues that are why that logo doesn’t work, you’re going to have the same problems with new tactics. A sound process is key.

The other reason companies might not need a rebrand is that they have everything they need but don’t have the right people in the right places. The functional, relational trust is something that we talk a lot about.

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.

At Historic Agency, we actually refer to brand as the sum of five parts. These include:

  1. Culture (of course): who you are. The convictions driving your mission, the values holding your organization together, and the behaviors defining your brand.
  2. Story: what you say and how you communicate who you are to your audience. It’s the explicit articulation of your brand, its mission, and its values.
  3. Service and product: simply put, this is the product or service you sell.
  4. Experience: how you feel. This includes the physical or digital touchpoints you offer, as well as how your people (internal and external) feel about their experience, which determines whether they’ll keep engaging.
  5. Identity: how you look. The aesthetic qualities of your brand that your audience sees first — your logo, website, visual identity, and design.

These five pillars combine to create your brand promise and communicate to your audience what to expect from your brand no matter how they might connect with you. These are the pillars through which you build trust and deliver consistency. When trust is achieved, it retains customers, builds brand believers, and creates advocates who generate more buzz for your brand than any traditional marketing strategy ever could.

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?

Chobani is an example of a great rebrand. Their CEO calls himself the anti-CEO because he cares for his people. The modernized vintage aesthetic they’ve cultivated through visuals create this feeling, no matter what age you are, of some nostalgia. Nostalgia for a slower time where family and friends mattered. Where we weren’t inundated with messages on our phone, looking at everything all the time.

That value they place on people comes through in their design, even though it’s subliminal. It creates this emotion they value as an organization.

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. 🙂

Our mission is to build stronger communities by helping brands do more good. A movement for us is like what brands like Chobani or Gravity Payments are doing — they’re putting people first. And they’re truly living that.

Whether they’re doing this through DEI work or addressing homelessness, community health care, education or income inequality, we found that brands have more to do with the way we live than causes do. You can have your greatest nonprofit that does the greatest work, but at the end of the day, Apple and Amazon dictate how you live more than whatever movement you think you’re a part of.

So for us as an organization, the movement we want to see is being able to take our belief that an intentional culture, created through branding, can help reshape communities at scale. If we’re taking these ideas of equality or justice and incorporating that into our brand strategies for companies, I think we’ll see change happen at a scale that isn’t happening now.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You’ll think of something.” My wife gave me a banner during COVID with that quote printed on it.

It goes back to my earlier comment, having the confidence in yourself to believe that you can do what is necessary versus knowing it ahead of time. You’ll think of something. You’ll figure it out. Whether it’s something like signing a client and taking on a challenge that might be bigger than we anticipated or something unprecedented happens, like COVID. No matter what, you’ll think of something.

How can our readers follow you online?

Either on LinkedIn or at Historic Agency.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Brand Makeovers: Mark Miller of Historic Agency On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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