Brand Makeovers: Sue Reninger of RMD Advertising On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Stay connected to your consumers/market: In a world of social media, most brands have become more similar than different. Some have violated the essence of the brand to join the ever-growing category of “edgy brands” in the social space. But the best communities are those that attract brand lovers: consumers and category advocates that WANT to share their thoughts/opinions, and enjoy being a part of the creation or recreation of a brand.

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

Since founding RMD Advertising in 1992, Sue has been responsible for the complete strategy and direction of RMD’s Columbus-based flagship office. Sue knows what it takes to successfully market and grow an emerging food business. As Managing Partner of RMD, she works with clients such as Rudolph Foods, Barney Butter, Bil-Jac Dog Food, Little Caesars Fundraising, Graeter’s Ice Cream and ParmCrisps/THINSTERS to develop new strategies for their businesses and distinctive brands.

Her talent as a manager and leader has given rise to RMD’s employee and client-focused culture, which, at its core, has a creative and engaging environment. Sue is the past President of the American Marketing Association, where during her tenure as President, earned the prestigious honor of being named the International Chapter of the Year. She is also a past Advisory Board member of the International AMA’s Chapter Council, past member of the Board of Directors of Central Ohio’s Alzheimer’s Association, as well as past member of Communities In Schools and the Hunger Food Alliance.

She has also co-founded Wagons Ho Ho Ho, a 501c3 charity that serves children in dire need with HOPE. Each year in December, the charity buys, builds and stuffs red wagons with a Christmas dinner, and delivers them to the state’s neediest children and families. In all, 1,500 families and children are served by Wagons Ho Ho Ho, through the help of more than 700 volunteers who build the wagons in one day.

She has been honored with the prestigious NAWBO Visionary Award and Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association.

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 grew up on a strict diet of Bewitched and David Ogilvy. Bewitched cast a husband who was in the advertising agency business. In each episode, he struggled to come up with an appropriate campaign. I knew then, at the ripe age of 6, that I wanted to be in that industry. As I got older, I found myself greatly interested in David Ogilvy, the father of the advertising agency business.

After college, I joined an advertising agency, where I learned a lot. But I also had the distinct thought, “there must be a better way to strike a win/win between the agency’s profitability and the client’s needs”. That was the beginning of RMD Advertising. Still to this day, I can honestly say I was led to this career.

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?

Well, no mistake when you’re starting out feels funny at the time — they feel rather terrifying. However, one story revolves around a direct mail campaign we were creating for a client. It was to be a pre-show mailer for a major, national tradeshow. Everyone in the industry was attending, and our challenge was to design a pre-show mailer that would capture attendees’ attention — ensuring they came to our client’s booth.

We designed an amazingly creative piece. It showcased a duck, with a baby’s safety pin penetrating through the heavy card stock (this piece was for a neo-natal nurses show). The pins were glued, and we took the concept to a branch of the U.S. Post Office for approval. At the time, this was a VERY large spend for the client. Significantly large … as the database was large.

On the eve of the show, our client called, angrily, to inquire WHY her pre-show mailer was still at the post office. The post office general had called her directly to inform her the mailings violated their safety standards, and all 100,000 pieces needed retrieved immediately.

Looking back: of course they were disallowed. But at the time, creativity (not brand) was king to a young startup.

After a sleepless night of worrying, and quite a bit of brainstorming over how to get out of this dilemma, I woke up in the morning with the only solution possible: admit blame, take responsibility and provide a next best solution (which involved a custom post show mailer at our expense).

It was difficult, but I remember choking down the words as I asked the client after presenting the next best solution, “will you find a way to forgive us, and to continue working with us?” I’m forever grateful for her response, because it taught me grace, and the importance of extending it often. She remarked, “Yes, we will — mainly because we’re impressed with your willingness to solve the problem, not simply dump it at us, and to shoulder the financial responsibility accordingly. That shows character and integrity, something we don’t often find.”

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?

Most definitely.

After nearly a decade and a half in the agency business, we gained (and then loss after three years) the darling account of the agency, a food client. At the time, like most agencies, we focused on whatever work we could find — healthcare, technology and manufacturing, etc. EVERYONE wanted to play on this account, and when it was lost, we were heart-broken, all of us.

It was in that moment in our conference room, while I was breaking the news to the team, that one lone hand raised and inquired, “why don’t we just pitch ONLY food brands?” And that was the beginning of the new RMD — an agency that to this day focuses solely on food and beverage brands.

A brand strategy lesson: Brands ARE aided by sacrifice. This focus on the food/beverage category overall, and specifically on challenger brands, has allowed us to become EXPERT in serving these clients. And today, I can say humbly that we perform better in this category than any other agency.

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

I’m always working on something exciting — doing so helps me to live two of my core principles: continuous learning and contribution.

Currently at the agency, we’re growing faster than we ever have in the 29 years we’ve been around. We’re using that growth as fuel to attract new talent and new clients that push us to grow and expand ongoing. Aside from the agency, I’m currently writing three books, based on life experiences and core philosophies (one is a children’s book), and this year, our charity ( will be expanding from one state to three.

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

Honestly, I believe burnout comes from NOT having enough to stimulate yourself. I also wholeheartedly believe it comes from not contributing enough. Many people think it comes from working too hard or doing too much. I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve worked very hard (which is my typical state), and I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve taken it easy. For me, always working and always contributing makes the difference. It’s when we lose touch with, or neglect, the reasons behind what we do (and no, money is not a strong enough motivator), that we become burned out.

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?

In my own words, product marketing is the art of bringing a product that is already needed by a group of individuals to market, and helping them to learn about that product.

Brand marketing, on the other hand, is about creating something much greater. Brand marketing is less about education and more about helping consumers feel something about that product or company. By connecting consumers to a sense of nostalgia, a reason to believe in the brand, or emotional experiences, brand love is eventually created. It cannot be created quickly, as it’s much like a relationship that must be nourished over time. When consumers are willing to select and purchase that brand over time, despite other options or the price of the product, brand love has been achieved.

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?

A brand, once built, is long-lasting. It’s very difficult for a new product to come to market and take market share away from a product that’s already built a following of brand lovers. In fact, studies have shown that once a brand owns a place in consumers’ hearts, new competitors often must spend three times more to even penetrate a portion of market share.

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

Often, food brands especially, will embark on a “rebranding” venture. Many mistake a brand for a logo or a look/feel/label of a product. But if a brand is built in the heart of the consumer, and placed there through experiences, changing a logo or a look of a product technically isn’t a “rebrand”. Still, products will often change their look/feel to remain relevant to consumers and their expectations of what a product that is “current” should look like. In the food business, it’s really about shelf appeal — which is important.

Further, studies have demonstrated over and over the impact of a proper “brand” and how a refresh can dramatically increase sales and relevancy, if the new look/feel is directed by research and hits the mark with consumers.

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

If a “rebrand” is done based on “gut” or instinct, it can fail. If the purpose of enhancing the shelf presence or look and feel is to become more relevant to consumers, a founder can sometimes feel too close to the product and think they know what’s best for the consumer.

When this happens, there can be a “miss” and sales, brand and market share suffer. There are some brands who enjoy a nostalgic connection with consumers. It’s rare, but when the brand resides so deeply in the heart of those consumers, a brand refresh could actually be rejected by fans and brand lovers.

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.

Understand and define your core values: What does the brand stand for? What needs does it meet? What are you most known for?

When Graeter’s Ice Cream looks for innovation, it refuses to pivot from the core foundation that it was built on 150 years ago. Today, the brand is the ONLY craft ice cream brand still owned by a family and using the original French Pot process. This process is unsurpassed for making the best quality and the richest, creamiest ice cream. It always has and always will remain at the core of what it does.

Audit the brand: Are there any products in the line that do not “fit” or that violate the brand promise? What is the culture of the brand? Is the true essence of the brand being adequately communicated in a 360 fashion, such as with PR, social media, advertising, internal communications, etc.? Is the brand’s communication authentic?

Doing this important step is the fastest way to earn consumer trust. When Southern Recipe Small Batch reinvented the pork rind category, and turned the appeal to millennials, predominantly females, it did so in a way that everything that touched consumers made the brand more believable and relatable. Today, five years later, it remains the #1 pork rind in America, and single-handedly changed the way America thinks about this high protein, low carb, Keto-friendly snacks.

Continually grow and learn: Few curves are sharper than the marketing curve, especially now. Keeping up with competitive innovations, movements in dissimilar categories that can be adapted by your brand, how you communicate and more — all of this is important to the brand. An ever-growing brand must have an insatiable appetite to stay alert, learn and grow.

Stay connected to your consumers/market: In a world of social media, most brands have become more similar than different. Some have violated the essence of the brand to join the ever-growing category of “edgy brands” in the social space. But the best communities are those that attract brand lovers: consumers and category advocates that WANT to share their thoughts/opinions, and enjoy being a part of the creation or recreation of a brand.

Be true to the brand amidst fear: In a competitive, outspoken world, it’s often terrifying for a brand that receives negative reviews and polarizing posts as the public speaks. It’s important at this point to return to the core of the brand amidst troubling times and respond quickly in an appropriate, brand-centric way. Diplomacy is always important, but equally important is the brand.

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?

There have been a lot of really great case studies of strong rebrands over time. Two of my favorites are Taco Bell, of recent, and Betty White. I’m impressed with Taco Bell’s ability to adapt to the ultra-instant gratification needs of their current consumer — in look, feel, product and delivery method. The pivot was admirable as well.

In a non-food arena, no one can argue against Betty White’s ability to remain relevant as a brand. She has stayed true to who she is throughout many decades, while adjusting her brand and herself to a changing package, a changing audience and changing times. As one of our most iconic brands today, although a bit unconventional, she optimizes what it means to remain relevant and find ways into the hearts and the minds of a very diverse group of “consumers”.

The lessons in both of these case studies are important: remain relevant and stay true to your core brand while understanding what makes the brand beloved. Repackage when needed and stay close to the wants/needs/desires of your audience.

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. 🙂

I would start a movement that brings families, all families, back to the dinner table. I firmly believe that family time is essential to building healthy families, yes — but also healthy individuals.

During dinner time, when a family gathers around the table, discusses their days, their dreams and their heartaches, real conversations begin. It’s here that families learn to trust, to communicate and to solve problems. Every single problem in our world today could be solved if we all learned to trust and dialogue just a little more.

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

My dad once told me, “remember, no matter what they take from you, they can never take the experience. Even if it’s just 5 minutes of experience, that’s something you’ll always have.”

My dad was my hero and my mentor. I’ve tried to keep everything he taught me with me, but this nugget specifically has guided me always to seek to learn, and more importantly, to experience every new adventure, no matter how small, in a long-lasting way. I truly do believe that there’s something to be found that can be carried with us as we move forward in life.

How can our readers follow you online?

RMD Advertising on Social @RMDAdvertising
Sue Reninger on Social @SueReninger

Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

Brand Makeovers: Sue Reninger of RMD Advertising 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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