How to Rebuild an Established Brand Like an Entrepreneur
Jenn Patterson, CMO at NEXT Canada shares her experience rebuilding NEXT’s decade young brand during her first few months
Spoiler: Be resourceful, agile, scrappy and don’t second guess yourself
Three months ago I joined NEXT Canada as CMO. As I explored career options coming out of maternity leave NEXT wasn’t really in my consideration set. I knew them and admired them but I was looking to join a customer-centric organization or do something more entrepreneurial. However, after only one conversation with Joe Canavan, CEO at NEXT, he showed me that I could accomplish both goals here and do so with complete empowerment. His promise has borne more fruit than I could imagine. In the last three months I’ve resourced my team, built a new brand identity and launched a new website. For all my marketing pals out there, you will know how wild that is!
I wanted to take a moment and reflect on how we were able to launch the new face of NEXT in only three months and, more importantly, why now. Because this isn’t just about me (or my amazing team), it’s about an opportunity to shine light on the epic accomplishments of our 500+ alumni. They are working tirelessly to build solutions to challenges like fertility, climate change, accessibility and making a HUGE impact on our economy. It’s time Canada and the world knew about their accomplishments.
When I joined, I knew we were about to embark on ambitious initiatives, with a lofty goal of elevating the entrepreneurship ecosystem on the whole (#goals). So, we knew it was imperative that we put our best foot forward. Our brand identity and positioning hadn’t really been looked at since we launched ten years ago. So, I dug in by talking to our alumni, partners, faculty and NEXT team members. Here is what I observed:
- We had an awareness challenge. While many Canadians within the tech ecosystem were familiar with our brand, we couldn’t say the same for those beyond this niche group. If we wanted to attract a more diverse applicant pool and produce more diverse entrepreneurs, we had our work cut out for us.
- We had a comprehension challenge. Even for those who had heard of us, they didn’t really know us — how we differentiate from other accelerators and the massive value we provide to our entrepreneurs. I bet you didn’t know that thanks to our programs, network and funding we’ve scaled over 250 ventures, helped create 15,000+ jobs and created over 319M in economic impact.
- We had an image challenge. The brand was largely perceived as corporate or elite. Not at all mirroring our alumni who are diverse, energetic, passionate, bold and entrepreneurial. Honestly, they are the best part of my job. I have never met a more wonderful and inspiring group of people. And they care SO much about the organization, spending so much of their scarce time giving back as ambassadors, guest speakers and overall advocates. How could we refresh the brand to reflect that energy?
So, we had a few problems and a shoestring budget (we are a not-for-profit after all). Despite these obstacles, I could see the forest through the trees. I had the unwavering support of the entire organization, a phenomenal marketing manager with a wicked design eye and very nimble partners.
It was clear we needed to refresh the brand and then bring it to life. Our website felt like the best, most visible place to start. Once we had the right resources in place, it was a matter of setting strategy at lightning speed, iterating and getting our hands dirty. Here is an abbreviated version of how we got there:
- Your comms framework is your cornerstone, but don’t be precious about it. Write the comms framework, write some more and be ok with less than perfect. This was scary for me coming from organizations where it took months (sometimes a year) to get this piece right. To move quickly, we prioritized clarity of message over wordsmithing. We may not have a sexy tagline, but I bet you can now read our website and get us.
- When it comes to refreshing a 10 year old brand, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We recognized we had years worth of equity around our masterbrand and program branding so we wanted to maintain certain core elements to respect those who have known us a long time. We also decided to work with the original branding agency (Bob’s Your Uncle), which helped keep us honest. So, while we were very clear about the new image we wanted to convey we ended up keeping nods to our origin.
- Get your hands dirty, very dirty: If you want to hit a tight deadline then roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Write content. Heck, build wireframes if you have to (which we did). It helped that we had a very nimble and collaborative developer. Plus, a culture to enable this approach — this was truly a team effort with all hands (literally) on deck.
Above all, our NEXT entrepreneurs were the secret sauce throughout this entire process. They were with us every step of the way. Providing feedback, insights, lending resources and generally holding our hands. The are a mighty, impactful group and I count my blessings every day that I get to “sell” their accomplishments and stories. I can now appreciate that I have in fact joined a customer and human-centric organization. Humans who inspire and motivate me to someday follow my own entrepreneurial aspirations. Stay tuned.