Stuck in neutral? 4 ways to reboot your business and rekindle your fire

Ah, the first blushes of entrepreneurial love. The romance! The energy! But what happens when the passion fades and the reality of demanding customers/clients, overwhelming marketing options and painful tasks (QuickBooks, anyone?) creeps in? Suddenly, your business becomes a grind and you find yourself working harder for less reward, less return…and less joy. Your once appreciative and dreamy-eyed business starts angrily demanding more of your time and energy – but in return, rewards you with the wrong customers, a weak profit margin and just doesn’t take you salsa dancing or wine tasting anymore.

I’ve been where you are. I know what it feels like to have your business success lead you down the wrong path. How choices innocently pile up – each one seemingly rational – paving a perfect road to discontent.

So a few years ago, I took a step back. I sought the objective counsel of colleagues, a wise coach and a wondrous wordsmith and tweaked my business model and messaging – core brand elements. I started doing more of what I loved and ditched what wasn’t working. And you know what? My heart (and success) soared.

If your business (and heart) feel stuck in neutral, here are 4 ways to reboot  – and check out my big announcement at the end on how I can help…

  1. What do you hate doing? STOP IT! If your business offerings have kept piling on so you can simply cater to every single need under the sun, you need to take stock and simplify your business model. What activities bring you the most joy? Do you love teaching and strategic planning but hate detailed tactics? Then start doing more workshops or retainer projects  and don’t offer hourly project work. Do you love doing massage and energy work but hate giving facials? Then cut down your services list. This also translates into how you talk about yourself (i.e., maybe you’re no longer a “full-service spa” but a “body care studio”)
  2. Play with pricing or packaging to attract the right customers/clients: You may find that the people you are attracting pay little but demand a lot, offering little profit margin in the end. How about adding more value/quality to your offerings and increasing your prices to deter more budget-conscious folks and attract a more affluent market? Or offer a tiered set of products or services to give more cost-conscious folks a self-service option, while freeing up your time for deeper, higher-value work that you adore.
  3. Revisit your messaging: Take a good, hard look at your web copy, company descriptor or even job title. Are you saying you do everything for anybody? Are you too vague and not focused on clear, crisp benefits? Does it sound boring, even to you? This could either a) be attracting the wrong type of work or b) confusing the prospective people that you really want. Remember, when you try to create a brand that is all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one. Detail out your ideal customer or client and only focus on content, services or products – and the appropriate messaging – to attract those people. Don’t worry about pleasing (or offending) anyone else but that target. Trust me, they’ll be fine without you.
  4. Audit your visual brand: OK, this one may require an investment to make some changes. Based on the people you really, really want to attract and the kind of work you really, really want to be doing, is your visual branding way off base? Do you need to modernize your colors, select bolder fonts or change out your imagery to better appeal to those people? I once consulted with someone trying to attract high-powered Alpha-male executives – and yet her website was all pastel colors and flowery script fonts. She was beating her head against the wall and wondering why those powerful male executives were not hiring her. She needed to update her look and feel to match her new offerings and target clients. Side benefit? Updating your visual look and feel might also get your heart racing with pride again about your business and give you a new opportunity for some word of mouth buzz.

With these tips, you can shift out of neutral and into overdrive again. In a good way, of course. Don’t drive yourself crazy. OK, I’ll stop with the driving metaphors….

Photo credit: Vincent O’Keeffe, Flickr

Has business boredom ever happened to you? What actions do you recommend to reignite your business – or your own personal passion? We’d love to hear so please leave a Comment below. Your wise words could help someone else!


3 reasons why you should care about your brand strategy

I was so proud to see that a past Red Slice client, Talent Technology, recently officially rebranded the entire company as Talemetry, which was the brand we created initially for their successful flagship software product.

This project was a textbook case for why methodically working on the brand strategy first leads to super successful outcomes. Instead of simply coming in to slap a name and logo on a new product, the first step was a brand strategy session to articulate the company’s overall vision, target customers, and messaging before we brought this down to what that meant for the flagship product. This careful thinking made the product launch and company rebrand so successful that they finally pulled the trigger on adopting Talemetry as their overall corporate identity.

When we embarked on that project, the client knew that “re-branding” was not merely about the visual. It was about how they walked and talked as well: messaging, product development, customer experience. The whole kit and caboodle. And their savvy paid off in a big way.

So I thought this week, we’d all take a step back. Enjoy this video I did for MySourceTV – it’s a refresher course on what “brand” really means and the 3 big reasons (or the 3 C’s as I like to call them) why thinking through and articulating your brand strategy absolutely matters to your success.

What is Brand and Why Should You Care?

When you think about brand in this way, you realize there are many different ways to refresh and reboot your brand that have nothing to do with overhauling a website or spending thousands on new logos and materials. (Tweet!)

Netflix’s human touch and rebrand – the good, bad and ugly

Netflix recently sent their customer base into a tizzy by charging more (and separately) for DVD mailings and streaming movies. As a customer, my husband received this email below from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings that was both good (apologies, human voice) and bad (what’s up with the confusing brand spinoff?). Below, I share my thoughts on the good bad, and ugly of what will surely become a case study for the ages:

First, the email: (annotated: full letter appears on the Netflix blog)

I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

Then it gets to their decision to create a separate brand for the DVD service and the streaming service:

It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. 


Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

So what works?

  1. Human frailty: The CEO speaks plain English and acknowledges his customers’ anger and painand that they may not have handled the price increase announcement well at all
  2. We’re part of the team: By explaining why the company did what it did, he makes you as a customer feel like you are part of the team, the tribe. The tone makes you feel like it’s not something being “done” to you (even though it is) but something we’re in together.
  3. What’s in it for me: The email talks about these changes and how the offerings and services will improve for customers as a result.
  4. Human voice: This reads like a personal letter in a conversational tone, not a formal, stuffy automated business letter. He also talks about his own experiences and feelings. Yes, it may have been written and carefully edited by the marketing and corp comm teams, and yes, it was blasted out to thousands. But the tone is on-brand with Netflix’s very friendly and approachable image.
  5. Part of a larger effort: The email went out, but so did Netflix’s PR blitz, and stories appeared in several media outlets in conjunction with this news

What doesn’t work?

  1. Confusing branding: Really? A whole separate brand  called Qwikster for a company delivering the same product in two separate formats? That’s like a retail store creating a whole separate brand for eCommerce.  Seems to dilute the power of a single brand dedicated to getting you the content you want. And it’s not even remotely linked to Netflix by association. Seems “Qwikflix” is already in use bya  DVD firm already.
  2. Customer inconvenience: Again, really? I now have to have two line items on my credit card statement from two different companies depending on if I ordered a film DVD by mail or streamed it over the internet? That just seems silly. Not like it really inconveniences me per se, but anything clunky like that just makes me feel like it’s a hassle. And it’s how a customer feels that matters, not the reality.
  3. Baring your flaws to the world: As this MSNBC article states, this effort just showed to the world that Netflix has a less than stellar offering when it comes to streaming content. At least before, they were able to hide behind the total content umbrella of Netflix. When I advise clients on messaging, I often advise them to downplay or at least address and reframe their weaknesses  so there is more value for the customer.
  4. Customers are even more unhappy: Read some of the comments at the blog. I’m sure they did not imagine they could piss off customers any more than they have but for the three reasons cited above, they did.

What is your thought about how to handle a price increase and their decision to create a new brand? Do you agree with the decision to break things apart? Anything you learned from the “apology note?” Please share in the Comments.

Reboot and Reframe: Branding lesson for life #6: FACE THE FEAR

jump_fearBuilding a business is scary. And building a breakthrough brand is even scarier. An in other breaking news, spinach is green and red lights mean you should stop.

Everybody wishes they were Apple. They wish they could just be so hip and cool that no matter what new products they roll out, people will line up for miles just to own one. They wish their own brands would have that “hipness halo effect.” But I’ve noticed in my years of marketing and branding, that there is one common trait across many of these companies:

They don’t want to take the risks and they don’t want to do the work.

They think they can just revamp their website and update their colors and all of the sudden people will think they are “cool.” They forget the fundamentals of brand – and that they need to revamp their company, culture, innovation inside and out. And that takes balls, to be frank. You have to be willing to lead, to say “black” when all of your competitors are saying “white",” to take the road less traveled or try not to use the same old industry jargon in al of your marketing campaigns. To differentiate and stand out, you have to DIFFERENTIATE AND STAND OUT.

And that scares the bejeezus out of most risk-averse CEO’s and the people who work for them.

As I state in today’s video, sometimes you have to face the fear if you want to advance. I was scared of so much during my brain injury recovery, but I just kept at it. I “faked it until I made it.” I could choose to crawl up into a ball and hide from life – but I chose to take a deep breath and plunge myself back into my life again over and over until one day, it felt comfortable again.

It’s the same with brand.  Innovative leaders don’t get there by doing what everyone else is doing. They do it by taking chances, by standing out. They face the fear.  I’m not advocating doing this willy-nilly, but if you have a well thought out brand strategy, you can make smarter choices – and smarter risks. And part of that brand strategy should include doing things differently from the inside out.

View the juicy video for Lesson #6  here.

Which risks have you taken that have paid off in your business? Which risks are you less willing to take and why?

BACKSTORY TO THE SEVEN LESSONS: What do recovering from a  brain aneurysm and branding have in common? Quite a bit, it turns out. Recently, I got the wonderful opportunity to share my dramatic story at a Women Business Owners luncheon and I promised I’d post the lessons here for everyone. This is a seven-post series.

Lesson #1: Focus (and backstory to the series)

Lesson #2: Be Authentic

Lesson #3: Count on Your Tribe

Lesson #4: Practice Patience

Lesson #5: Learn to Say No

Battle of the college re-brands: ASU vs WSU and who did better

It’s not often you get to see two similar brand rollouts side by side and see clearly why one way is better.

As you know, sports fans tend to get closely attached to their team’s brand… and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to college sports.

Arizona State University (ASU) has been trying to differentiate itself over the past few years… in some ways successfully, and in others… well, not so successfully.  ASU Athletics, working with Nike,  created a unique launch campaign leading up to the April launch of its new and improved brand.  To help fans, alumni, and the media prepare for the upcoming changes… and to generate some buzz… they produced a series of dramatic and emotional videos teasing the new branding to come.  The first video of the “It’s Time” campaign was released on March 1, followed by this one on March 9, this one on March 16, this one on March 24, this one March 29 and this one on April 1.  Ya gotta check them out – they are really top-notch quality and focus on the emotion and pride behind college sports.

At no point in the early part of the campaign did they mention it was specific to changing the brand.  They just continued to leak bits and pieces about the fact that the new branding was coming.  They apparently handed out cards with an invitation to an event for ASU boosters before the launch (with no details beyond the “It’s Time” messaging) and then launched a video that generated lots of buzz (even on ESPN) about what they planned to announce on the full launch date of April 12.

Rumors and speculation abounded that there would be a new logo for ASU athletics (potentially something that plays up the trident/pitchfork), new uniforms (including some alternate designs/colors similar to, but not as extreme as Oregon’s multitude of uniform combinations) and that the image of Sparky the Devil would be removed from the ASU football helmets.  That last part had lots of Sun Devils choosing sides on whether this is good or bad for ASU.  ASU hew this would be controversial to make these changes and that is why they address it in one of the last videos, saying “don’t fear change” and showing other changes from the past.  Fans and alumni always have strong opinions on any changes, just as customers and employees have strong opinions when a company changes it branding (especially a logo).

ASU embraced many usual social media channels as well… YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Here is the final brand launch press release from April 12 and the online press room.

What did they do right:

  • They didn’t just create a new logo in vacuum, but based it on a clear brand strategy and message
  • They stayed authentic to who ASU is and what it stands for
  • They planned. Yes, planned. They created a multi-stage, timed campaign to speak to various audiences (the public, alums, the press) and built buzz and excitement, which can lead to better adoption and acceptance. This teaser campaign gave them a chance to tell the story behind the new brand before anyone got caught up in colors and typography. It also gave people a chance to get used to the idea of change.
  • They leveraged social media for maximum impact

Contrast that with Washington State University (WSU), who approached their brand change with a simple press release and unveiling event. They also collaborated with Nike on this rebrand for almost a year.

Why the changes? For both schools, it was lack of consistency in brand image and colors, a need to update and refresh a dated brand look and a general need to move forward into the future. “Throughout the project, equal attention was devoted to maintaining an appreciation for the traditions of the past, while positioning ASU for the future.”

Thanks to my good buddy and ASU alum Peter Olson for contributing most of this post.

Good and bad reasons to rebrand

Congrats! You have diligently crafted a strong brand strategy. You’ve parlayed that strategy into core messaging and an on-target visual identity. You’ve been cruising along, doing business and making customers happy.

So when is the right time to rebrand? And more importantly, when is the wrong time?


· Change in the audience you serve – your existing brand is no longer relevant to the buying customer you seek. Talbot’s is a great example of not keeping up with the changing tastes of their target customer and in essence, the brand “grew older” as their customers did. They finally took drastic steps – cutting lines, revamping merchandising – to get back in touch with their customer.

· Change in the core benefits or value that you offer – you may have launched thinking that you were doing a, b and c for people but after all these years, you have gotten feedback that they actually come to you for x, y and z. Remember Avon’s Skin So Soft lotion? Customers found many other benefits to using it, including as a very effective bug repellant, so they started marketing all the different uses of the product.

· Change in the products or service mix you offer – I’m not talking about adding new products or services under a consistent brand umbrella (same market, same benefits, same promise). I’m talking about you used to sell computer equipment and now you sell technical consulting. With a shift in what you sell, comes a shift in what you offer and potentially, to whom you offer it. You can either rebrand or build a completely new brand. Arthur Andersen, the formerly prestigious accounting firm, did this back in the day by spinning off their management consulting services away from their core accounting arm into Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). GAP did this, too. GAP has their core brand (GAP), a higher-end brand to a slightly older demo (Banana Republic) and a lower-end, trendy, better price-point brand (Old Navy)

· Change in competitive landscape – when you built your brand, it was as a white-space opportunity vis a vis your competition. When the competition changes, you need to adapt. And I don’t mean when they change their logo: I mean, are they fundamentally offering something different or telling a different story? Or has the industry become commoditized and now everyone looks and talks the same? Maybe you need to zig when they zag. Southwest Airlines saw an opportunity to break out of the monotonous airline industry landscape and changed the way we look at flying – soon followed by Jet Blue and Virgin America (who both upped the ante a bit more).

· Change in customer behavior – have the needs of your core ideal customer changed? If so, you need to either adapt your audience or adapt your brand. J Crew has added new lines such as bridal, evening wear and more accessories because that is what their customers demanded.

· Change in market dynamics – has the market changed? If so, you need to adapt or risk seeming behind the times. Walmart updated their logo and positioning to keep up with Target while still staying focused on low pricing during the recession. Microsoft is making great strides in Search with Bing and Cloud Computing (both in response to Google) and reacting to Apple’s market dominance with an alternate way to look at our cell phones with Windows Phone.

· Change in the times – do your logo and colors created in 2001 look like they were created in 2001? Are you using outdated terminology in your messaging? For example, sooner or later, people, using Web 2.0 is not gonna be cool anymore – if it’s not already. Hopefully your look and feel is more timeless than that, but perhaps your brand is “cutting edge, modern and fresh” in which case you went with what fit that definition at the time. Now, that might seem old and could be communicating something you don’t want customers to hear. Many brands do this – with varying degrees of success – and can be found on Brand New. Everything from sports teams to corporations are reviewed here. Sometimes you absolutely need to do this, but be careful how you go about it. You never know what emotional attachments people have to the brandmark – or if you’re just trying to fix a different brand problem you have with a new logo. How can we not mention the recent GAP debacle with their “new” logo that caused a furor, prompting them to return to their old one right away? Although methinks this was a desperate PR stunt and proof that some brand issues run deeper than just tweaking a logo. GAP has more fundamental issues – merchandise options, pricing all over the map, schizo competitive positioning (are they competing with H&M or J Crew?) – that a new logo won’t quite make go away, as much as they’d like.


· Because you’re bored of your brand after 6 months – you need to give it time to stick and mean something to people.

· Because your competitor did something really cool – maybe they did what was right for their brand. If you just follow others all the time, you will soon be relegated to a “me too” brand. Just because they turned their logo green, doesn’t mean you should. Too many tech companies do this, to the point that we’ve plotted this on charts for clients and grouped competitors by how they look alike. And then they wonder why they have no brand awareness amongst the competition. Hint: IBM blue is not the only option: there is a whole color palette out there, people.

· Because one customer told you they didn’t like what you were doing – you’ll drive yourself crazy if you react to every outlying opinion or complaint. However, when you get many of the same complaints, that’s a trend, my friend, and you need to do something. For example, when Tropicana rebranded in 2009 they caught heat from customers who universally hated the new look and also couldn’t tell the difference between flavors easily. This deluge made them go back to their old branding look.

· Because you’re blindly chasing a trend – unless something makes sense for your customer, your market and what your business can authentically deliver at its core, don’t go there. Be true to yourself, your promise and your target customers.

Download your free guide, 6 Reasons to Rebrand and decide if now is the right time for you to rebrand or not.