[Podcast] Rebranding Strategy: How to Rebrand Like a Pro with ShannaRea Dennis

[Podcast] Rebranding Strategy: How to Rebrand Like a Pro with ShannaRea Dennis

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ShannaRea Dennis is an expert in “rebranding”.

In this episode, we tuck into the subject of what a rebrand is, why a business might need a rebrand, what that entails, and what the benefits are.

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We also review what business leaders should expect from a strategy-led rebrand and what pitfalls they should avoid.

This episode is a must for anyone involved in or seeking to undertake a rebrand soon.

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, folks, and welcome to another episode of JUST Branding. Today, we are going to talk into the amazing subject of rebranding, and Jacob and I couldn’t quite believe it that even though we’re in our fifth season, this is a subject that we haven’t really gone into in much depth. And to help us dive into that subject, we’ve brought you Toronto’s very own best expert in this whole field.

We’ve got Shanna Rea with us, who is a brand strategist and the owner of the rebrand agency Anticity based in Toronto. So lovely to have you on, Shanna. Thanks so much for carving out some time for us and it’s lovely to see you.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be invited and talking to you guys and yeah, let’s do it. Let’s talk rebranding.

Let’s do this. All right. Well, I think it’s kind of one of these subjects where I kind of feel like it’s banded around a lot, like, you know, in business circles, people say, oh, I think I need a rebrand or whatever.

But it’s one of these subjects where it probably needs some definitions, some boundaries. And really what I’d love us to do is be able to tuck into the process and what it really means for a business to go through this. And I know you’ve done and led projects in this space for hundreds and hundreds of projects.

But perhaps before we do that, let’s start with your story. Who are you? Where did you come from?

And how did you become an expert in this field of rebranding specifically?

So I come from a background of graphic design, like a lot of strategists today do. My husband and I, we started a graphic design agency back in 2007. And we promised that we could be your agency for all your branding needs.

And we listed everything we could do. So we did logos and business cards and websites and billboards. And we just listed everything we did and we were successful.

We were good at graphic design and we had quite a few clients. And then I guess flash forward five year mark, our sales had stopped doubling. I felt like our sales were doubled, doubled, doubled.

And then we kind of hit a ceiling. And so we kind of looked around for help and we thought we must be doing something wrong. We’re super busy.

We have no cash flow. What is going on? What are we doing wrong?

And so we hired a consultant and we needed some help. And even though the consulting wasn’t that helpful, to be honest, they spit out a word, commodity, just in conversation. And I kicked James’s butt and he kicked mine.

We kind of looked at each other and we remember this moment because something happened. And so that night we were looking up commodity. We realized that we were a commodity.

And it dove us into a deep dive into what does that mean exactly. And then during that, we discovered conversations around running your business as a brand versus a commodity. And the more I just fell in love with that conversation and I dug into it and I deep dived.

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And I think the more we learned, more I learned about it, I realized that our issue was that we were being perceived as a commodity and not a brand. And then realizing that we were promising our clients all of their branding needs, and we didn’t even really truly know what a brand was at that time. We were guilty of thinking that it was the visuals and how the company looked was the brand and the branding.

And so it was a huge reality check. And we thought, well, we’re going to have to reinvent ourselves. We’re going to have to change everything about us.

And so we’re going to have to rebrand. And so we dove into what does a rebrand look like and how could we do it properly? And that led into a million different opinions, a million different frameworks and processes, and a year’s worth of overthinking it and over reading it.

And from that, I created a process and we put ourselves through that process. And I fell in love with it. And I said, this is what Anticity is.

We have to help small and medium sized businesses first understand what a brand is, understand what branding is, and understand what a rebrand is, and then help them through it. And so we’ve been doing that since 2015 now.

Amazing. What a story.

We’re going to derail you, Matt, here. Go on, do it. Definitions, it is actually the next question, but it is important.

So you mentioned a few things there that you teach your clients, brand, branding and rebranding. I’d love to know your perception on what those three things are, and especially rebranding and the difference between rebranding and a refresh, or, you know, there’s other words for that, but just to get that settled.

So I have the most simplified definition of a brand, and I think they’re all great. Mine is your brand is one’s perception of you, period. And I know I can go further, and I know it can go into feelings and emotions and experiences, and I think that’s all true.

But if you look at what perceptions are and how emotions are triggered and how feelings are created, it all stems from perception, which is processed in our brains from our five senses. So as humans, we have this ability to encounter something, and we absorb it with our five senses to figure out if we’re going to run away from it or move towards it, right? And these perceptions quickly form an emotional state, and these experiences will form an emotional state, which will then give you a conscious feeling towards it.

So if you really boil it right back down to the guts of what a brand is, it’s the perception someone has of you. It is that gut feeling, but that is what a perception is, because before you can consciously put it into words, this is how I feel, you’ve already gone through all those experiences and you’ve already perceived it. If your brand lives in the minds and hearts of your customers or your stakeholders, we understand that, but it’s so different from person to person because how one perceives the world is so different from person to person.

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I think when you define it around perception, I think you really realize that you have no control over your brand. If that’s the definition of brand, then branding is the act of influencing one’s perception of you through positive emotional experiences.

I always tell my clients when they say, oh, we have all our branding done, we have to talk, we have to define brand and branding because you never have all your branding done. Branding is an act, and it’s something you’re going to be doing all the time in business. Every moment, you’re branding, you’re constantly influencing how someone’s going to perceive you through creating emotional experiences.

And so I think the problem is that our sight is such a huge part of our five senses. And we use the system of sight, so much of our brain is dedicated to that. So when you’re dreaming, you’re seeing things.

When you’re thinking, you’re seeing things. When you’re having a memory, when you’re explaining something, you have your mind’s eye and you can see. And so our brain is really wired for sight.

And I think, you know, are we gonna run for our life or run towards it? It’s like we trust our sight more than the other five senses or four senses. So I think that we’re wired for sight.

So when we see a brand identity that’s appealing, we do have trust and we do have repulse and we have all these instant emotional reactions to the visuals. So I think that’s why everyone thinks that branding is visual. But if we know that the brand is that perception and we know branding is influencing the perception, then rebranding is rethinking or reimagining or revisiting all of those experiences that you’re offering your people, whether it’s internal culture or even customers, like everything, what are the emotional experiences that you’re offering?

And so you have to go back and rethink that and relook at how do we want to be perceived? How do we want people to feel? What do we want people to say about us?

And if we can make them fall in love with us, how can we create these experiences through the entire consumer pathway or the brand pathway? And how can we influence how we’re perceived by the world? And so that’s rebranding.

The longest definition in the world there.

No, no, it’s great. It’s good to get into a bit of depth. I think that’s a really helpful way of putting it because you’ve explained it very eloquently, I would say.

And it’s a problem, right? It is a problem. I thought it was interesting, your theory, that we trust our site more than any other sense.

That’s why a lot of people, if you say, what’s a brand, they always say, oh, it’s the logo. But from what you’re saying, look, if you’re gonna rebrand properly, the logo might come into it, right? But it’s not just that.

You’ve got to go a little bit deeper and wider and think more strategically about what you’re doing to do a rebrand effectively. So let’s move into that a little bit in terms of rebranding, rethinking how we’re perceived in the marketplace, for example. What would the business drivers be?

What would be the benefit to a business? Why would they consider doing that in your opinion? And from your experience, I don’t know if you’ve got any stories or anything around typical situations that you come across where this is something a business might think is a great thing to do.

Well, I’m in Canada. I don’t know about you guys, UK and Australia, but 98% of our business here is small business. So the majority of our clients are small.

And then I think the stats for Canada, it’s 54% of our small business is micro business, which is four employees or less. So we really are built of a lot of self-employed small micro business. And so the pain points are quite common.

Usually, truthfully, people come to us for a rebrand because they want to change the way they look because they don’t know the definition. And they think that by changing the way they look, they will achieve all their other goals. Another pain point they have is that their name is no longer serving them.

So I think naming is a whole other conversation, but if they focused on the product or the service that they were selling, or sometimes they’ll focus on the geographic location, and then they’ll move. We had one client that was called Accurate Aluminum, but then they switched all their aluminum to vinyl. So their name literally was not relevant at all.

So when you name your company on the product or service you sell, then you run into that issue. So you have to be more emotion-based with naming, because then you have room to grow and expand. So quite often the pain point is their name.

And then I would say another big pain point would just be their sales are slipping, and that’s what happened to us. We felt our sales were kind of sticking straight, and we just felt like we can’t grow anymore. So I think the assumption is a rebrand will make our sales go up.

And then you have other ones, bigger companies, they do mergers or they’re offering new product lines and stuff. But for the majority of our clients, the smaller business is those three. And so, yeah, they don’t like the way they look, they don’t like their name, or they just want to make more money.

Nice, nice. And so I guess it’s a question of that they’re looking to improve the bottom line somehow. Either they want to grow, they want to scale, they want to attract better customers, I guess, is a key thing.

So not a bad reason to rebrand. One of the other ones that I’ve come across is I tend to work with sort of more medium to larger size businesses. And one of the ones that comes up there is that they’ve had mergers and acquisitions, right?

So then maybe they’ve merged with another business, or maybe there’s three or four businesses being purchased by one, but the one that’s bought them doesn’t want to kind of be over-domineering and to kind of level the playing field. They decide, look, let’s rebrand everybody so that we can all feel that we’re in one big family now. So that’s another kind of angle, I guess, and a driver that I can think of.

But whatever the reason, I guess, it’s, you know, ultimately, it’s going to be about growth. It’s going to be about perception and marketplace. It’s going to be about outmaneuvering the competition, you know, and it’s going to be about trying to position yourself powerfully to go forwards.

And for whatever reason, you would feel at the moment your position is weaker than it should be, shall we say, and so, you know, you can strengthen it. So that makes sense. What about in terms of if a business is thinking about that, just so that they kind of get a bit of a sense of what they’re getting themselves into, you’ve sort of indicated that at the start of this, you know, that it’s wider than just the logo and the fonts, but sort of describe what this could entail for a business if they really lent into it and embraced some of the principles that you’ve talked to.

Actually, before that, could we just discuss like when is a good time to rebrand? Before we go into that, like what are the signs of, it’s time to rebrand just so a business knows, like is this right for them at this time?

Well, if they’re coming to us looking for a new look and we spend the time figuring out what their pain points are and what they’re trying to achieve by doing it, we want to make sure they’ve got the funds available to do it accurately. If they think that they’re going to get away with the new look and the new website and not change the content or their position and not change anything else about them, and then I don’t think it’s the right time, they’re probably better off waiting until they can focus on the accurate brand. So that’s definitely about the timing and then making sure that they have something to say, making sure that they do have change internally or they do have something to celebrate.

I think a rebrand is a great opportunity to stay relevant, but if you don’t have anything attached to why you did it and you don’t take the time to tell that story, then I think it’s wasted.

That is so good. I just want to tuck into that for a second, because you’ve just said two really smart things based on my experience. So the first is that if you are going to rebrand, you need resource.

Now, I’d be interested in what you think, how you’d quantify that. But from my perspective, it’s important to think, if you’re talking to a leadership team or part of a leadership team, that it’s not just the monetary resource. It is also resource of brain space and thinking, particularly from a leadership perspective.

If you do branding properly and you realize that in fact, you haven’t got something to say, like you’ve said, you maybe haven’t got something that’s of value to shout about in the space, then you’ve got to get back to the drawing board. You’ve got to innovate with your team. You’ve got to make some bold decisions as to how you’re going to improve your positioning.

And that is strategy work that has to be done first. And then you can go to market and signal that with a rebrand. Would you agree with that?

How would you quantify that resourcing? Are they ready from that perspective?

100% agree. It’s more time. When I was saying the resources, I was thinking more time and more team.

Sometimes it’s really hard to have the entire leadership team show up at the same time and take time away from work and get them off of whatever it is they’re doing. So also, sometimes the marketing department gets tasked with this. And it doesn’t make sense that the marketing department siloed in a rebrand.

So I always ask if the owner or CEOs or the decision makers at the top are going to be part of it. And in the voting process, when I’m getting to know them, if they’re saying, well, they might show up for a couple, then I know for sure they’re not ready for a rebrand because the one at the top making the decisions doesn’t value it and doesn’t understand. But if I can get an appointment with that person and we can talk and then say, listen, I want to know if you want to value this or if this is unfortunately, they don’t have the four to six months that it could take to take a train that’s going full speed.

You got to slow it down and then you have to get it going full speed the other way before they’re going to get the results they’re wanting. And I have this like Harry Potter train in my head going, they literally, they literally don’t understand that we got to stop and go this way. And actually, truthfully, Matt, that’s a big part of why I don’t love working with the larger companies because I think the smaller companies trains can stop and go a lot quicker.

And with when you’re working with the owner, I love the heart and the passion.

We’ve talked about the definition, we’ve talked about why you may need it and the benefits of doing it. Now we’re gonna tuck into what it actually entails. Like what are your clients going through in a rebranding process?

You said four to six months, so it’s no quick endeavor.

No, it’s not. I believe a lot of time has to happen with discussion at first. So first of all, what is branding?

What is a brand? All of that brand 101, and we do it with Zoom calls. I say, just grab a coffee and we’ll talk.

A lot of it’s discussion. We need to make sure that we’re talking the same language and that I need to make sure what are their goals? What is their dream?

What is their vision? What is, in a perfect world, what does business look like for them? And some of the questions that they love answering, like what’s holding you back and what’s, what are all the obstacles you have?

And then we get into more deeper questions, like why do you exist? Like what problem are you solving? And what, why are you different?

Why do people choose you over others? And what makes you different? And quite often everybody knows what makes them different.

And then they tell you their heart and their passion and what makes them different, why they’re so great. And then at that point, I love to go to their website and read what they’re saying about themselves. I try to stay off of their website before these conversations because I don’t want to be altered.

I don’t want my perception to be altered. So as they’re talking, and because I’m a graphic designer, I start getting visuals of their brand and the colors and the logo and what they should look like. And I start, I just can’t turn that off.

And then I go see their website and I’m like, oh, it’s so wrong. It’s just not them at all. So I love that beginning stage.

And then once they realize that their brand is deeper and it is more about all of the heart and emotions and feelings on it, then we can move into defining like the actual hard attributes of a brand. So your vision, your mission, your values, your mantra, your positioning statement and all of those listed brand attributes. I mean, you can Google brand attributes and you’ll find a list of things that you need, but they’re just sort of guiding nuggets that will help shape and articulate your brand and what you stand for and what matters to you.

So we have to do all of that. And then from there, we have to look at the consumer pathway. We have to look at the, when someone approaches your brand, what do they see?

What do they touch? What do they feel? What is their perception of you?

What, how do you want them to feel? And I think approaching the whole process with it being more about them than you, like I think a lot of it in the small businesses, they’re like, well, we really love the color green. And I’m constantly saying, well, it doesn’t really matter that you like the color green.

Or I really think we’re the best because we take the time to listen to our customers. And I’m like, yes, but everybody’s gonna say that they take the time to listen to their customers. That doesn’t resonate with the customer.

So I’m just constantly digging deeper and deeper. Why do you listen? Why do you think that about yourself?

Why do you think that matters to them? And making it more and more and more about the customer and what they want and need and getting the brand out of their ownership and into the customer’s ownership. And they start realizing that they’re shaping something separate from themselves.

They’re shaping a brand over here and it doesn’t have to reflect who they are. It’s reflecting who their customers are and getting them more thinking about the customer experience and the customer journey and how all of this is gonna better their life and make them feel better about themselves. So really like if your brand can make your customer feel better about themselves, then that’s where they’re gonna love you.

So once we start planning the experience that your brand’s gonna offer, then we decide what’s the name and then we decide what to look like. So you really need to define so much. So there’s hours of conversation with a week in between because you need them to like digest it and you need them to think on it and come back the next week and say, okay, that conversation changed the way I think about our business.

And if you rush through it, it’s not marinating, it’s not resonating with them enough to make a change on how they’re gonna offer the experience. Because if you make it look good and you don’t change the way you experience it and they don’t value that, then it’s the lipstick on the pig issue. So, you need that time for everybody’s head to…

And realize this is why we do what we do and this is why it matters. And this is why we’re rebranding. And when we launch, we’re gonna offer such an improved experience that our visuals are gonna set an expectation and then we’re gonna deliver upon it.

Where before, we’ve been setting an expectation and we’ve been failing, or in most cases, their visuals are here setting kind of a low expectation and their service is up here, but they don’t know why they can’t charge more. They don’t know why they’re perceived as expensive, but you saw the design, you saw the low, you saw the website and you thought, I’m gonna call them, they look cheap. And then you call them and you get a price and you find out they’re really expensive and it’s not aligning.

And so when you rebrand, you can start to charge more and you can start to position yourself as premium or you can start getting that respect before they get on the phone with you. They call you up, they already like what they see and now your service can match the expectations that your visuals created. So I think rebranding is realigning what one’s going to expect of you versus what you’re going to actually deliver.

I think that’s brilliant. There’s a few things there. I mean, you started off with the definition that the brand is the perception of the customer.

So it makes sense, doesn’t it? That as you go through that sort of the early discussions that you’re putting, you’re becoming the voice of the customer for them. As an outsider looking in, challenging their sort of their view of themselves and trying to put the customer’s voice up front and center, I think is absolutely crucial.

And the other thing that I thought was interesting about what you’re saying, and I 100% agree that if you do a brand strategy properly, it should change a company, like actually change them. Like it’s not just a rebrand as we’ve talked about, it’s not just a veneer, is it? It’s something that has to be meaningful.

Something I do with some of my clients is we actually set like, well, two things. I find it quite helpful that when they’re launching it internally to their team, the leaders sort of paint the old world and the new world. So it’s like, kind of like, at the moment we’re doing this, this is the old world.

We’re repositioning and we’re gonna change these things. And what you’re gonna see more of is X, Y and Z, because our strategy is to move into that space or to lean into that or to really own that or to amplify that in our customer experience. And if you have a slide with old game, new game, or old scenario, new scenario, that can be really helpful to help communicate that and getting leaders to do that, I think is quite useful.

But in order to do that well, you have to have already considered the strategy and realize that change has to take place and what’s gonna change and why that will be useful, which as you say, is not something that you discuss over an hour Zoom call. It’s something that takes time and you need alignment and different stakeholders, you might have to do research. So there’s a lot there to unpack and it’s quite risky in a way, right?

I think because sometimes these businesses won’t have done this before. So they might need to test things and try and de-risk it as well, which is something that I see a lot of. But ultimately at the end of the day, the leaders, if they’re gonna do it, have to step into the unknown and go for it.

And that’s where that real value is created because they’re gonna start offering something that’s unusual in the marketplace and help them stand out. And I think that’s where the real value is. But oh, fantastic.

What do you think about that then? Like in terms of helping leaders with stakeholders and internally, how do you find, how do you tackle those sort of, how do you help them bring their teams along for the ride as well?

Yeah, so I do believe that it would be pointless if you had a larger team and they didn’t have anything to do with it. So we do a thing and personally, we call it brand calls, where we’ll spend the time scheduling a call with everybody on the team and we have real heartfelt conversations. What is it that you do every day?

And not the nitty gritty, but in terms of customers, what kind of change are you bringing to their lives and what passions you have and what do you not like about your work? And we do all these culture calls and try to find out from the team’s perspective what customers want and what they really love. And so, I mean, it could be even a simple thing like a convenience store and you’ve got a key employee and they just say, I love seeing the same people every day or I love seeing the people every week and they just come in and they become kind of friendly and it’s the owner of the store never works there.

So they’re selling cheap milk and cheap bread, but the person that works there is saying, no, I love little Sally that comes in and I always fire a little candy and it’s the relationships. And I think that the tiny convenience store, but it’s also when you work with a billion dollar company and you’re talking to the marketing department, their passion is when that customer calls and they get them on the phone or they do a review on Google and they find out that this product that they bought changed their life and they were so thankful. And it’s always the human interactions that matter most on all levels.

And so if you can get this team opportunity to talk, then, and actually I gotta say, that’s so important is to let people talk because of the part of the brain associated with talking is so emotional. It’s connected to all of our emotions. And so I think some companies will send forms, please fill out this form and tell us what you like and what you don’t like and what are, but when people fill out forms, they’re thinking with the left side of the brain and they’re thinking rational and they’re not thinking from their heart.

But when you get them on the phone and you can hear their tone of voice and you can just let their words come out naturally, it’s more intuitive and more heartfelt. And so I find that’s why there’s so much talking involved with the rebrand is because we want their emotions coming up out of them. Usually the staff is so happy that they were heard and they were listened and that they have a role.

And then of course, when you do changes, we do PowerPoint presentations, we’ll have a luncheon, we’ll show everybody, we’ll get excited. But it’s always because this is our promise to the people and this is really what we’re selling. So we’re taking the focus off the product and we’re taking the focus off the service we’re doing and we’re putting all of our focus on that emotional benefit that our customers are gonna get when they buy our product or service.

But we’re making our customers feel this way and we’re making this change in their life. And we’re making the, and everyone gets excited about helping other humans. I just think it becomes way more human.

Right, stop selling the product and start selling the change. Start selling the emotion, that the improvement that you’re gonna bring to live, to the lives of your customers. Absolutely love that.

So let me ask another question. What are the common pitfalls that you see ShannaRea for businesses that perhaps start down this process? Like, is there any kind of common traits that you see where people perhaps should watch out before they go, before they press go on something like this?

So we see big brands do major pitfalls, I think, in the public eye, and those are always fun stories when you do hear of, you know, a international global company make a mistake, like Jeep opening up the minivan. Like that was a brand fail because, you know, it’s usually when they didn’t realize their audience or you could tell that they were trying to be everything to everyone. There should be no minivan in the Jeep collection of Jeep lovers, you know, it always, that’s a huge pitfall.

And then you look at Elon Musk and Twitter with the X rebrand, right? Like, is it a fail? It had nothing to do with the customer.

It had no change. It had no added value. And I think if you’re an Elon Musk fan, then you support it.

But if you’re a Twitter fan, it just made no sense. And it was very confusing. And so a pitfall that’s common is just when you rebrand, but you don’t connect it to the existing love that exists for your brand already.

And so if it’s not celebrating your existing advocates and encouraging more love with them, like it doesn’t make sense. So a pitfall would be just completely missing the mark on who your audience is. Another pitfall would be focusing on the visuals and not connecting it to that message.

There’s so many things that could go wrong if you’re not going deep, humanizing and looking at trends, you know. Trends are real. Like a lot of people think they’re fads, but trends are major shifts in society that will change the way people expect things.

So if you don’t take that opportunity to rebrand, to shift into all of those more modern expectations that weren’t there the last time you branded or visually branded or rebranded, I don’t know how you want to say it, but if you haven’t addressed your brand like that for say five or 10 years, well, where’s the trends? Where’s people thinking today? What’s the climate?

Like, what can we do so that it’s relevant, but also it’s gonna keep us relevant for the next five to 10 years before we rebrand again? Well, and then, or refresh, like Jacob had said.

Maybe we flip it and share some, you know, successful rebrands, for example. Do any examples come to mind?

My favorite successful rebrand right now is Barbie, Mattel Barbie, like that was toy, that was failing. Societies shifted our trends, our body positivity conversation, our gender conversation. And they were looking at a toy that was from the 60s that, I mean, captured a lot of hearts, but wasn’t going to keep, you know, capturing hearts.

And so how could they become relevant and become meaningful in today’s climate? But also if their target audience is, say, six-year-old girls and their goal is to, you know, celebrate all women and their unlimited possibilities, I think is their promise, which they used that rebrand and they put out a movie that like was amazing. I don’t know if you guys would share that thought, but I mean, they did make a billion dollars the first week that they hit the movie theater.

And it was just such a good move. It was so risky. And they took the chance and they rebranded Barbie.

And I mean, ask Jacob, that pink is rocking.

Jacob did it first. Jacob is literally Ken, right? So like, you know, I think you are a real-life-

With an Australian accent.

Yeah, man. And I’m your Barbie. So there we are.

I don’t know where that leaves us, but I’m absolutely right. I think it’s amazing. It is a, that’s a great example of an amazing rebrand in terms of, you know, also the touch points, like you say, bringing out a movie was amazingly smart, you know, and the campaign that that movie kind of, you know, washed across the world.

Like you could, I don’t think you’d have to have lived under a rock in the Western world to have not come across something that connected, you know, connected you to that movie in some ways. So yeah, that’s a great, a great example. Good stuff.

All right, well, let me ask another kind of question to kind of keep things moving. I think you’ve touched on it a little bit, but it’d be great to just get a bit of a high level understanding of your process. And I know you’ve got a particular phrase that you like to say.

I know because we had some food together in Toronto when I was over last and you were talking to me about it then. So just tell folks what that phrase is and then just break it down at a high level. You know, no need to go into huge detail because of time.

But yeah, let us know. How do you run through the process?

Yeah, so we call it Define Before Design. There it is.

There it is folks. Define Before Design. You had it here first.

Go on, go on ShannaRea.

Define Before Design. I have a knack for naming things that are hard. A lot of people say design before define and yeah.

But anyway, define before design and it comes from being a designer and spending the first half of my career jumping into the design too fast. So our process is backing it up, going through all of the questions at the beginning. You know, like, who are you?

Why do you matter? All of the just conversations we meet on Zoom. And then after about three to five, depending Zoom calls where we’re talking about all of the just feel good questions, we go into articulating the brand attributes.

We wanna jump around them. I find that we do have a process. It’s actually on our website.

If you really did care, we’ve listed it out on the website, but sometimes I find if you write your core values, then it helps you write your essence word, but then you write your mission and your vision, and then you actually realize you forgot a core value over here. And so you’re gonna switch that core value and then that kind of changes what your essence word is. Doesn’t make sense.

And so it’s like a jigsaw puzzle for a while. So we spend a few weeks picking apart all of the brand attributes. And then when that sounds good, and we quite often if our clients are amazing and they want to bring on JL, JL is my partner in crime and she’s a writer.

So she sees brand strategy from a content perspective. And so as I’m seeing it visually, she’s seeing it through language and through words, especially if the client needs a new name, absolute genius. And so she just has such a play on words.

And so what we can do is write all of the brand attributes in the personality that we’ve realized they are. So we do try to make sure we know their brand personality and we wanna know their brand avatar, their customer avatar and find out what their voice is. And how are we gonna say those values?

Are we gonna say it calmly and almost poetically, or are we gonna say it with edge? And if it was up to JL, everything would be edgy because she writes so good bluntly that way. But most brands are too scared to write that way.

And so we spent a lot of time writing and then we dive into that consumer pathway and work on the experience over here. But in the meantime, we create that brand book. And I think having that tangible brand book at the end that has the visuals, that has the new logo, it has the name, and it has all of the words coming together.

Because really design is image and text together, right? So you can get, you know, Jacob and Matt too, you’re both from design, like, you know, when you have a concept and then they supply the content and then it just breaks the design. So we have it our way, we’re controlling the content because I think that truly is a huge perception trigger, right?

Like too much content and we just walk away, we don’t even want to read it, it’s just too much. So she has a good knack of writing precisely and then we put it all in a book and we can say, here you go, this is your new brand in a nutshell. And then lucky for us, most of our clients want us to stick around and we can start implementing and executing and that means a new website or new socials and we can plan how we roll it out.

But the define before design process ends with a 30 page brand guide that talks about feelings and then has the design at the end. So it really is defining before design. Nice.


And just out of interest, this is just a hot topic at the moment. Do you use AI in the process at all? And Jacob, I’d love to hear your thoughts on AI, because I know you’ve been doing a lot in this space.

But do you use it at all in any of that process, Shanna?

With JL Vaughan, I know that she is the writer. I leave the writing to her, but I know in my own personal life, I have to rely on AI a little bit for content. Putting in the right prompts, and putting it in your own words, and putting in your style, I get all that, and I love that.

But I haven’t adapted AI yet for the visuals. And I do think, talking about shifts and trends, I do think AI is going to completely shift logo design, because logo design for the last five, eight years have been flat, simple, minimal. And I’m really dying to know if AI is gonna make a shift in our brand identity.

And I think Jacob would talk on that way more than, way better than I would at this point. But yeah, like, what do you think?

I use AI every day, and I’ve used it in client process, my own work, everything from logos to mood boards, to strategy, to summarizing our podcast summaries. I use it all the time. It’s a huge productivity booster, I should say.

How I use it with strategy, I’ve been experimenting even in workshops, even just yesterday, I used it very successfully with the clients. We were trying to work out their core values, and they had a lot of documents, and we literally just uploaded it and asked to summarize it and extract some core values and attributes from it, and we were blown away by the answers. It gave us like five, 10 pretty good thought starters, and we had a really great conversation, and we were blown away by that, and we could extract some keywords from it, for example.

When it comes to strategy, I’ve created customer personas using it and then helped inform some of the mood boards. So you could get by persona, you could input some like strategic direction and input things like your font choices, your color choices, and it would give you some ideas based on that. I’ve also created custom GBTs of different types of bots for these scenarios.

So like a mood board bot, a logo bot, a strategy bot, to help with that process is one for each particular task. So you can just click it and it’ll go in there and help you. But I do want to say that this is like an ideation process when not using the final work.

I wouldn’t recommend doing that by any means, but it is really great to streamline the process and get some really cool ideas that you may not have thought about beforehand. So that’s just some examples how I’ve used it, but yeah, it saves so much time.

Yeah, nice. I’ve used it, well, I only get involved in the sort of strategic side of things at the moment. So I use it a lot to help formulate some of the, as you say, like thought starters in areas.

So for example, I might write a vision statement and I might put it into ChatGTP and ask it to give me its thoughts and ask to improve it, give me variations, give me new thoughts around maybe a big idea or whatever it is I’m writing. So I tend to use it like that. I use it massively if I’m doing surveys or research because it’s great at, like you were saying, Jacob, like summarizing information.

So it’s really helpful for that. If you’ve done a survey with a company and there’s quite a few respondents, you can kind of upload it and literally be like, give me the insights for this question, top six insights, and it will give you those immediately. So it saves me loads of time.

But going back to just sort of recircling back onto the rebrand and the impact of it on the way that we interact with brands, I think you’re right, ShannaRea. I think it is gonna revolutionize the way that brand identity is created. I think it’s gonna open up a lot more of the more advanced, perhaps areas like 3D, virtual reality, eventually all of that stuff, audio even, to smaller brands who perhaps before weren’t able to afford that because they couldn’t invest the time or the effort or the money to get that level of impact.

I’m seeing adverts and stuff now, full movies being created through AI. So I think if we think about brands in that new space, the noise level is gonna go up, which actually I think calls more on the work that you’re talking about, which is the defined stage before you get into that design, because it’s that’s where the thinking, the human, the heart, the emotion needs to be in order to create something that is unusual in the space. And I don’t think you’ll be able to create a prompt that will do that and align the team and get everybody excited about it.

I just kind of feel there’s always gonna be a need for that in order to change businesses for better. What do you think, ShannaRea? What’s your thoughts on that?

Man, I had so many thoughts listening to you guys talk. I think that’s my problem. Honestly, I’m excited for AI in terms of the companies that wanna invest in branding, brand strategy, rebranding, because I think it’s gonna be even easier to step out.

I think everybody’s gonna sound and look the same for a while because I think they’re gonna think they’re doing a good job, but I do think AI is only as good as the prompter and what the ideas are putting in and getting generated and directing. So it still comes down to if you don’t understand branding and what you’re doing and how you’re connecting on an emotional level, then they’re gonna be using AI, but they’re still gonna be selling the shoe or they’re gonna be selling the package or they’re gonna be selling the product and they’re not gonna be using all of these resources to generate emotional content. So I do think from a consumer’s perspective, we’re gonna really be able to identify AI generated stuff easily and I think it might even start making people fall out of love.

Like if it’s not personal, if it’s not human, if it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna require us to really feel human, I think that radar is gonna get even stronger for people. So if you do understand brand strategy and you are humanizing and you’re even becoming more and more personal, then I think AI is almost exciting for you if you’re using it for your resources or for your productivity, but then you’re putting out human-focused, emotional-driven content, then I think you’re gonna be good. I don’t know if I went off on the wrong answer.

No, I absolutely agree. You have to have the theory and the knowledge to put the principle, well, everything to place. Sure, you can put in some prompts and get the output, but if you don’t have the knowledge of business marketing, perhaps design and strategy, how are you gonna use that information?

It’s not gonna be as good as if an expert was doing it. So yes, that background knowledge is vital to ensure a great result.

Right, and back to the points that we’ve talked about already, how are you gonna get all of that team aligned to it and connected to it and make sure that they feel heard in the process? All of those things are very human. And one of the biggest challenges I find is stakeholder engagement, getting everybody along for the journey, making sure everybody understands it, not just the leaders, but if you’re working in bigger companies like the people managers underneath them, and how do you really kind of connect with everybody?

That is not something that a robot can easily do. So hopefully there’s still hope for us humans in this space. Yeah, I just kind of wanna start wrapping things up, but before we sort of close, be great to think about and ask you about whether, in terms of successful rebrands, like how do you know if you’ve gone through a rebrand and you’re a business or in your leadership team, you’ve put all this effort in, you’ve done this stuff, we’ve got a new strategy, you’ve gone through all the pain of that.

How do we know if it’s been successful? Like, is there a way that you can track that, ShannaRea? Like, do you have any ROI, any metrics, or how do you assess your own work even?

Like, has this been a good rebrand? Like, what are your thoughts on that?

That was a big part of becoming a rebrand strategist and being able to prove what we do is worth the money you spend. And we do lose projects because they want to go with digital marketers because they can be delivered hard data. This isn’t how many leads, this is how many impressions, this is how many clicks.

And so when they find out that putting all that time and effort and money into brand doesn’t deliver any of those hard facts and numbers, and then we do lose clients, but that’s great because they weren’t our ideal customer anyway. So for me, I encountered something a long time ago and it’s what we did when we rebranded. And so what you do is you take a small amount of your favorite customers and you call them up and you ask, can you do me a favor?

Can you pretend that you’re giving someone a referral and can you record it on a text memo or type it out? However, but instead of sending it to your friend, send it to us. We would love to hear what that referral sounds like.

And you do not want to be heard. You don’t want them to refer you on your price, on your convenience and on your customer service. So those three things get across the X out.

So I don’t think you can succeed in business if your price badly, too cheap or too expensive. You can’t succeed in business if no one can find you. And you can’t succeed in business if you’re a jerk.

So you have to have those three pillars. But that’s not branding. So you want to be connected.

You want them to say in their testimonial that you improved their life, that you want to extract the emotions and the feelings out of that testimonial, and you want to be connected to something more. So we did that and we sent it to our 10 favorite clients. And I promise you, it was so embarrassing.

Everything that came back was Shanna and her team are greatly priced, economical, fair price, like all the cringey words that you don’t want to, you know, you wonder why.

And lovely people.

Yeah, we were feeling broke, but they’re so quick. They’re so responsive and they’re so nice and everything is so friendly. And I thought, I’m the triangle.

We’re cheap, we’re fast, we’re convenient. And so we crossed everything out. We got 10 really nice testimonials that all said the same thing.

I realized that there’s no brand, there’s no emotional connection and they don’t know what they’re buying. So the goal is after you do that, a year later, you ask the public again for this referral. And if they start incorporating the perception that you want them to, it’s the best way to know.

And so here we are years later, when people call us through email or they book a Zoom Meet off of our website, they say, hi, I’m looking to rebrand. We don’t, for the first couple of years, they were, hi, we were looking for a website, or hi, can you help us with our logo design? Now they’re literally saying, we need to rebrand.

So that’s how you know that your perception is accurate and your efforts to change your perception is working when people start coming to you for the same things that you’re selling. And then you’ve got your profits going up or that conversation that we have with our clients at first when we’re trying to capture what their pain points are. Like we had the one client that said, we have three vans on the road, but in a year, I’d really like to have five.

And so we have that yearly call and we say, hey, it’s been a year. How was the last year? How was the rebranding?

Are you five vans on the road? And he’s like, we have 17 vans on the road. We are across Ontario.

We are doing so well. We are so much more than what we, like that’s a joke, our goals a year ago. And then I’m like, okay, so branding worked.

But it’s hard because they also increase their Google spend and they also are putting out, had simultaneously, because now they’re proud and they’ve confidence. So it’s hard to tell what came first, the chicken or the egg, but at least all their marketing efforts are gonna be spent well because they have a brand that’s delivering the experience.

I always say to my clients, it’s like to use a Marty Neumeyer phrase, like the brand is not what we say it is, it’s what they say it is. And so I say to my clients, look, we know we’ve been successful when we hear our customers say back to us some of the things that we’ve strategized about, right? That’s what we know when we’re at a trade show or an exhibition or we overhear somebody, like you saying, when they are approached by their customers for the things that we’ve talked about strategically, then we know.

And so that takes us full circle, doesn’t it? We know it’s a successful rebrand when the perception that we’re seeking to obtain from the audience that we’re seeking to attract is correct. How about that for a little closing definition?

But that’s not kind of the final question because we always like to ask ShannaRea Dennis, where can people find out more about this stuff, more about you, more about rebranding?

Well, you can find me on LinkedIn. You can just find ShannaRea Dennis. ShannaRea Dennis, I’m not sure actually, but I do like to hang out on LinkedIn.

But yeah, anticity.com is where you find my business. You can book a Zoom meet there. I love that 30 minute chat just to see if the rebrand is for you.

And I always say Anticity is the second half of the word authenticity. We stole it from that word, but authenticity is truly what your brand is. That’s the whole goal of rebranding is diving into what’s the most authentic you.

So anticity.com is where you’d find us. And I hope you do book a Zoom meet and we’ll start with a 30 minute chat and see if we’re a good fit. That’s where you find me.


Thank you. Thank you so much.

Yeah, thanks for coming on ShannaRea and let’s have dinner next time I’m in Toronto again. It was great having you on the show and take care. And all the best to you, your husband and the rest of your team that work with you.

And please thank them for allowing you to carve out this time to be with us. We appreciate you.

Thank you 100%. Thank you guys for doing what you do. Your content’s amazing.

Your podcast is amazing. And on behalf of all small business and entrepreneurs and strategists, thank you guys.

All right, then we’ll take care. Thanks very much. See you then.


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