“Country Roads… take me home… to a place I belong…”
I love classic country hits, but if I hear those lyrics one more time, I’m probably going to lose my mind!
My (slight) aversion to John Denver is a result of the name I gave my business. Country Road Graphics was formed in 2011 as a result of failed business partnership. When I decided to go a different route, I started by brainstorming a new name for the business, and I tried to keep it simple and relate it to my surroundings. While sitting in my home office (located on a dirt road, in the country), I had a stroke of genius, and Country Road Graphics was born – brilliant, I know!
When we first started out, we were able to maintain a list of clients and staff, as well as a brick-and-mortar location from the previous company. Initially, I had doubts that we would be able to keep the pace moving forward, and considered scaling back and running the business from my home.
However, I quickly realized that the move was not necessary. We put our heads down, worked incredibly hard, and before we knew it, managed to build a customer base spanning across North America, including a multi-national corporation. The team members and square footage of our location grew to numbers we never imagined possible. We were kicking ass and taking names, but started to notice a common trend.
“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River… “
While attending a corporate trade show in Las Vegas, a customer from West Virginia came to our booth and after seeing our name on the banner, told me that I owed him a dollar. When I asked why, he pointed at our name and said that the folks in West Virginia own the rights to that song, and every time that term is used, they get a buck. This wasn’t the first time someone made this reference (although it was the most creative), and it certainly wasn’t the last.
Over the years we experienced incredible growth. The company started as a graphic design agency, specializing in print, signage, and basic website development, and grew to include direct mail solutions, as well as a number of different marketing services, including traditional and digital, geared towards small to medium sized businesses. We developed close relationships with customers both large and small, but struggled to educate those customers on our diverse areas of expertise, as many of them simply thought of us as a local print and sign shop – and nothing more.
In 2017, after yet another Johnny D. sing along, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we weren’t being taken seriously, and it was time for a change. I needed a way to alter the public perception of the company, and decided that a corporate rebrand was the best option.
The process was one hell of a roller coaster, which taught us a lot (including things we thought we already knew). Our process can be best described as going through the following stages:
Determine What the Brand Stands For
We wanted to ensure that through the rebrand process, we would force both existing and potential customers to look at us in a different light. The current name, Country Road Graphics, portrayed an image of a small town ‘mom-and-pop-shop’ that may not be capable of producing a quality product, or cutting edge marketing idea. We needed something more dynamic and professional that would catch the eye of new prospective clients, while encouraging existing clients to trust us with providing professional guidance on how to help them grow their businesses.
Ask for Client Feedback
It’s tough not to spin crazy ideas while driving down the road, getting lost in a rabbit hole of “what ifs”. The best feedback you can get is from clients who know and trust you. We set up a client advisory dinner meeting with a handful of our long-term clients to get some honest feedback on how they actually saw our company. We asked questions like, “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Country Road Graphics?”, “How do we deliver on our products and services?”, and “What can we do better?” One response that stood out is when the question “What exactly do we do?” was asked, one of our original clients replied, “You do cool shit!” It was evident that many had no idea the types of premium products and services we offered – despite being told repeatedly though direct sales and marketing efforts.
Get the Team on Board
At this point our team had grown to more than 15 full-time employees. Although it’s important to get client buy-in, it’s even more important to have your team on board with a new direction. I spent countless hours reworking my concepts and strategy before I pitched the idea to my team for input. While talking through my methodology and plan of attack, the facial expressions in the room made it immediately clear. The new direction brought a complete sense of clarity and they “got it” right away. We were on to the next step, and one that proved to be the most difficult: developing a new name, logo and visual identity!
What’s in a Name?
You would think that in an office full of creative types coming up with a name, logo, and identity would be the easy part, right? Nope! We knew we wanted to carry forward a portion of our rural roots with the re-brand, but almost every “new idea” for a business name had been taken. Once we finally decided on a name, the logo was next. We produce a number of creative and professional logos for clients each year, developing one for ourselves should be a breeze, right? Nada. With everyone’s differing opinions playing a part in the decision making process, it was consistently one step forward, five steps back. Design by committee was too time consuming and frustrating, and it seemed as though there was no end in sight. I realized that a decision had to be made, and I was the one that had to make it.
Evaluate the Business as a Whole
Although this stage may not be typical in many rebrand strategies, we used this opportunity to analyze each and every process within the company. We thought we had our shit together in terms of people and processes. We didn’t realize that during the years of face-paced growth we overlooked some basic fundamentals that could have destroyed our progress without warning. After making this discovery, we had no choice but to tear every product and division down to nothing, and rebuild them on a much more robust, and strategic platform with documented processes and integrated analytics. We thought we were ready to grow, but without this pivotal step, we would have been in some serious trouble.
Trust Your Gut
During the re-brand process I experienced a number of instances where I was overtaken by self-doubt. Was this the right decision? Should I consider scaling back? The sheer exhaustion of trying to build something from scratch, while running a company and dealing with the day-to-day issues was borderline crippling. There was a day during a drive back from a meeting that I was ready to throw in the towel. I was ready to admit defeat and find a new life path. I was done. I reached out to a mentor to discuss how I might be able to start the scale-back process without creating too many waves with both employees and clients. During this call, a new spark ignited: I couldn’t quit now – I was just getting started. I had a mission to see exactly what I could do after I got out from under the “small town” umbrella. I realized that I wasn’t ready to give up. I was just tired of standing still. I needed to start running again!
Stand on the Mountaintop and Scream Your Name
The logo is complete. The messaging has been edited a hundred times. The website and sales material are ready to roll. It’s time to re-introduce ourselves to the world. When re-branding a company, you can’t creep timidly into the market – you need to shove it in everyone’s face as often as possible. They need to know you mean business and you’re ready to run.
I’m writing this article on the eve of our official launch date for the new brand. We’ve let a few clients in on the news and the initial feedback has been amazing. Tomorrow, we’re going to shatter the public’s perception of what we’re all about. I don’t know what the future will bring for our company, but I do know that we’re going to give it a hell of a shot. What’s the worst that can happen – we fall into a burning ring of fire?
This story was developed on the eve of the brand launch of CR Creative Co. (formerly Country Road Graphics Inc.) by the company president Matt Pasut.