September 24, 2010

Plans, brands change with times

Nearly 10 years ago, Doug Larson launched Sage Marketing Group with a business plan that reflected a lean organization: He would provide marketing strategy consulting, and contract out for design, writing and other creative services.

The “open-source” arrangement allowed Larson to match the creative team to his clients’ particular needs on individual projects – and save lots of money on overhead. He didn’t hire a full-time employee until 2005.

The plan worked. Sage was honored by the Northern Colorado Business Report with a 2006 Mercury 100 award for posting revenue growth of 174 percent between 2003 and 2005. The Sage brand became widely known throughout the region as the place for businesses to turn to when they needed to create an image for a product or for themselves.

Something interesting happened between then and now – and we’re not talking just The Great Recession. As Larson’s marketing company grew to create plans for other organizations, it grew away from its original brand. Earlier this year he decided that it no longer reflected the wide range of services Sage Marketing provided – it was created well before the advent of social media marketing, after all – or that the company had mostly moved away from the revolutionary-for-its-time virtual model.

“It’s the old story of the cobbler’s children have no shoes,” he said. “We had worked with so many clients on their rebranding but never took the time to look at our own.”

Somewhere in the process, Larson realized that clients, potential clients and general fans of Sage might be interested to see such a brand evolution take place. So he did what any forward-thinking communicator would do: He began blogging about it.

In a lengthy post at sagemg.com about two weeks before the new website went live, Larson explained the what and why of rebranding, and the decision-making process the four-person in-house team went through to settle on the new Sage brand.

“We felt developing the new brand was the best way to break through the current perceptions of Sage Marketing Group and communicate a new value delivery system,” he wrote. It would also allow the company to showcase some of the services that really were new, especially in the electronic communication arena.

Intense process

The entire process from beginning to end took about 10 weeks, Larson said. “For a client it would take about four to six weeks, but we had to work on it around other projects for clients – that cobbler’s children thing again.” Such a thoroughgoing rebranding would cost a client anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000, depending on the complexity of the website, the extent of the collateral materials and other factors.

After doing preliminary research with clients, the heavy lifting began with developing the Brand Cornerstones – those few words that communicate what Sage wanted customers and prospects to think about at every touch point. The result: Experts. Performance. Clever. Engaged. Do-ers. Then the logo had to be redesigned to reflect those cornerstones.

This is where the team was in for a surprise, according to Larson.

“We also learned people loved our tagline: Wisdom Guides Success,” he wrote. “We spent the past eight years focusing on the ‘wisdom’ part of the tagline. Our clients really resonated with the ‘success’ aspect and they liked Sage because we performed and created success.”

They also liked the standalone S, but the creative team tweaked it until it came to resemble a yin/yang symbol as much as a letter, subtly supporting the beloved “wisdom” aspect.

Then it was time to tackle the monumental task of applying the new brand to the website. Here’s where Larson candidly admits he had to get out of the way, again. He picked the design that emphasized creative over performance – only to have his staff and every client and influencer pick the performance-oriented design.

And so the performance design launched on Aug. 31. Larson said that the initial plan was to let the new brand unfold over a three- to six-month period, but one more unexpected thing happened.

“In the last three weeks, we have rocketed to the top of the search engines,” he said. “I did not expect it to happen that fast.”

With top-of-the-page Google placement has come increased web traffic. “Before the new website, we were getting 10 to 15 unique visitors a day; now we’re getting 50 to 60,” Larson reported.

Some of them are actually picking up the phone and asking Sage to quote on projects, maybe one or two a day, he said. That has turned into some real business as well.

But that wasn’t necessarily the original intent of the rebranding exercise, Larson said.

“What we can do now is use our own site as a case study and a tool for clients,” he explained. “We can use before-and-after screen shots to show exactly what we changed and how it worked and what we learned going through the process.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Doug Larson launched Sage Marketing Group with a business plan that reflected a lean organization: He would provide marketing strategy consulting, and contract out for design, writing and other creative services.

The “open-source” arrangement allowed Larson to match the creative team to his clients’ particular needs on individual projects – and save lots of money on overhead. He didn’t hire a full-time employee until 2005.

The plan worked. Sage was honored by the Northern Colorado Business Report with a 2006 Mercury 100 award for posting revenue growth of 174 percent between 2003 and 2005.…

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