Shannel Wheeler of Awesome Design Academy: Your Brand Is Not Your Logo



shannel wheeler brand is not your logo

Branding and marketing are topics that will always be of interest to businesses of all sizes.  And the importance of getting branding right is only growing, as it gets more difficult to get and keep people’s attention long enough to make a compelling case to them to give us a shot.  But as positive that branding can be to help us capture the attention from those we want it from, if it’s done wrong it could end your chances of building that relationship before it even starts – especially if you believe your brand is all about a logo.

Recently I spoke with Shannel Wheeler, founder of Awesome Design Academy, about what it takes to pull off a successful branding/rebranding project, like the one she led for leading ABM (Account Based Marketing) platform Terminus.  Below is a transcript from a portion of our conversation.  Click the SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.  And let me give a special shoutout to martech expert Anand Thaker joining us for this discussion.

More to Your Brand than a Logo

Shannel Wheeler: I think people associate brand with just like, something visual, the colors, the fonts, the logo. But really it’s a lot more than that and I think that’s where a lot of people get tripped up at and aren’t really taking brand seriously for their company, because they don’t realize that brand is a collective of things. It’s not just the visual identity, but it’s also the culture. It’s your core values, it’s your experiences with your customers internally, it’s your personality, it’s your messaging and its visual identity, which is represented by the logo and those other factors. But it’s a collective of all those things that actually create a perception. So brand is not the logo, but brand is actually a perception that others feel about your companies, whether that’s your customers or the market or whoever, the perception is what your brand is shaping. And so that is shaped by many different things, not just the visual aspect.

Rebrand vs Refresh

Small Business Trends: So why don’t you take us through what rebranding is and when is the right time for somebody to rebrand in particular, like a corporate identity where a company is a young company, they hit the mark, they start getting more attention and they think well, are we ready for the big time? Maybe we need to do a rebranding at this point.

Shannel Wheeler: Yeah, sure. So I think there’s two ways you can look at it, you can do a rebrand or you can do a brand refresh, and it’s a slight difference. But a rebrand is basically like a comprehensive change. So something in your business changed to where you need to change the perception of how people are now viewing you. So, maybe you actually change the name of your company, that’s a pretty big deal, so you need to rebrand. Maybe your products and services changed dramatically and so now how you represented yourself before isn’t working now. Maybe your brand is just totally outdated and it’s just not up with the times or technology or something like that, or maybe something happened like an acquisition or something in that nature. So that requires a kind of a full overhaul or a more comprehensive change in order to now pivot and have the market be able to perceive you in a different way that will help you to grow or to hit that revenue goal or whatever the case may be.



A brand refresh is similar, but it’s not a complete overhaul. Maybe you don’t need to change everything, but you need to update your visuals or your messaging to get to that next level, like Terminus did, we didn’t have to change everything at the time that I was there, but it was at a point where, like you said, there were a lot of eyeballs on the company and there were a lot of products and services being offered and growing in the company that just weren’t reflected by the way the company was representing itself.

And at the time, usually startups are really, small and scrappy when they start so it was like probably four years in and we had this fun superhero theme and some things were consistent with them, some things weren’t, but to kind of mature to that next level and really be able to open yourself up to another level of customers or market, you need to show yourself as a more mature company to do those things, to raise more money, whatever the case may be. And so, that was why we did the rebrand to be able to get to that next level.

The right time to rebrand

Small Business Trends: When is the right moment and what are the first steps to it? Because it sounds like it’s more than just a new logo, it also is like cultural and what do you have to do from that aspect in order for a rebranding to actually be successful?

Shannel Wheeler: I think you’d have to really be introspective, especially leadership, and really ask yourself like, if we stay at exactly the same way, will we be able to grow like, will we be able to reach those goals if we just continue to operate in this manner? Because even if you’re not necessarily going in the right direction, but you haven’t defined who you are as a company, you don’t have certain values that the company can rally behind, the employees, you don’t have a certain type of differentiation that really helped you to stand out from your competition, especially in a saturated market. If you don’t put your stake in the ground in some way, you’re kind of allowing your brand perception to be k shaped by just randomness, you’re not really being intentional about it. And the thing about brand that I think people have a misconception about is that, it’s something visual, it’s just messaging or whatever, we’ll do it later on when we get to it, we don’t have to worry about that right now, that’s just defined by the brand department, the marketing department.



But really, your perception is being shaped all the time, whether you’re intentional or not. So whether you’re trying to shape it or not, people still have a certain perception of you and I think it’s a good time to change where you know that that perception may not be up to par or up to standard or going in a direction that will help optimize your growth and just the direction you’re going as a company.

Small Business Trends: When does the discussion start? When you start thinking, wow, do we need to do this, should we do this? How does that whole thing start? Because, I can see if you’re not doing a new product or a new whatever, but there are issues and challenges to your current corporate identity or the way that your company is perceived. That could be jarring in a sense that, geez, what are we doing wrong? What do we need to do? Or what’s the challenge ahead of us? How does this even take place? But, when does that discussion start to really get serious when you’re not doing something like a new product or a new service, but something is not going the way it should be?

Shannel Wheeler: I think it could be a kind of organic thing where you notice things here and there, and maybe it’s leadership or whoever and you know that, there’s not as much consistency as I like it to be or, we’re not really as strong in this areas as we could be, it could be kind of gradual, or it could be, Hey, we’re trying to raise this next series of investments. We need to really step up our game or something that you’re working towards, some type of North star that you feel like if we just present ourselves in this way, we might be gambling, we need to actually get it together and put a stake in the ground and say, this is who we are and really level up.

And so I think, you know that just like in my situation at Terminus, the CEO at the time approached us and said, we need to make this change. And I kind of knew it in my heart too, because we had been doing well, but there were some areas where consistency in the visual identity and messaging wasn’t always necessarily there. And then, with the superhero content, I think it was very fun for the time because the customers were the heroes, but maybe that concept started making the companies seem a little bit more juveniles than they would like to have felt, just because of the fine visuals in that case.



So, I think there’s lots of indicators that tell you that, in order for us to keep up with the big boys over there or reach this next goal or whatever it is, or you just can see that there’s some inconsistencies. Someone’s going to, at some point take the veil and be like, look, we got to do this. And it’s hard because you know you’re about to put yourself into a whole bunch of work, but it will be worth it if you do it correctly, which is really important.

Branding is a collaborative effort from the start

Small Business Trends: How did you get the sales team on board with the new branding? 

Shannel Wheeler: That’s a great question. So, part of the process of the rebranding is definitely starting with the right mindset for the company and getting key stakeholders on board to know that this is what we’re about to do. And so, in the beginning before we even started executing the actual tactical things, we had to go through a planning and discovery process where we included all the different kind of leaders in different areas of the business. So from sales and marketing products, and they were all actually excited about it because I think they knew that it needed to happen too. So I think when you keep that kind of holistic mindset of the brand, isn’t just the visual part, but it’s the core values.

It’s the experiences that you create with your customers, It’s experience that you create within the employees, it’s the personality, it’s the messaging, it’s all that stuff together. And probably that messaging, those go into sales collateral, like the sales deck and the company overview and things like that. So if you know that it’s going to touch everyone in the company, everyone can get invested in. And if it’s for the betterment of that area because of the company like sales, they should be on board with it because we’re trying to make things better, we’re not trying to make it more difficult, trying to help you to sell easier by having a clear message.



Small Business Trends: How collaborative and experience is a rebranding effort and how early do you get the people involved that are a part of it?

Shannel Wheeler: It’s extremely collaborative. You definitely cannot do a rebrand in the silo, unless you want a lot of people to be mad at you. It definitely needs to be something that you’re continuously getting by in throughout every stage. Basically through this process, I’ve realized that there’s really six main stages that you need to go through in your brand reprocess. And this isn’t something that I just made up off the top of my head, I’m experienced. I’m a certified project management professional, so I’ve been doing that. I’ve had that certification for six years now. And so, a lot of the things that I did in the rebrand came from frameworks and processes from Project Management Institute. And so, they’re tried in true processes. And so the first thing you got to do is just identify why you need to rebrand.

So those things I mentioned earlier, like the name change or products and services or something like that, then you’ve got to actually plan out the project. Then you’ve got to discover the insights that are going to guide you in figuring out what things need to change, like messaging and design. Then you’re going to actually execute the work. Then you’re going to launch the new brand and then you’re going to roll out all the things that you weren’t able to launch on launch day, just keep on rolling out those priority items. To continue to change what it did look like from now, the new present brand. And so you got to be collaborative from day one, just getting buy-in from CEO leadership saying, this is what we’re doing, we need you guys to be involved in discovering, the insights and giving us your opinion, your thoughts on things. It’s from the beginning, you have to be collaborative from the very beginning.

Small Business Trends: Let’s say you have the same product, but you want to go to a different market. For example, in the software industry. One of the traditional paths is a company starts out with a product aimed at a small and midsize market. And then they get to a point where they want to go upstream and they want to go to the enterprise. Is that a rebrand or a refresh?



Shannel Wheeler: I think that might be a refresh because it’s just, trying to touch that one stream or that one product line. Because you may not need to necessarily, change everything about the company but maybe it’s just in that area that you need to kind of level up. But I think it just kind of evolves, like how are we going to position ourselves? What is our unique proposition in the market? How are we differing from our competition? Let’s audit and see what we’ve already done and what was successful with our last product line, what wasn’t successful. It’s like, you have to really be introspective and really be honest about what you want to do, what worked, what didn’t work and what do you want to do moving forward.

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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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