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How Reinventing Your Brand Can Take Your Company From Worst To First

Here's how to bring back the enthusiasm your company had in the early days without starting from scratch.

[Image: Flickr user Maurizio Zanetti]

"Think Different," Apple’s iconic ad campaign, launched in 1997 with great fanfare, but few remember that the company finished the year with a disappointing $7.1 billion in revenue, down 36% from two years prior. Even with the subsequent launch of the iMac and the iBook, sales plummeted another 14% by 1999.

But these are not the statistics people remember; instead, they tend to recall Apple’s 2013 revenue of $170 billion, an astounding 2,800% increase in 14 years. Apple proved that for a long-established company, "Think Different" needs to be more than an ad campaign; it has to be a philosophy that ensures a startup attitude regardless of the company’s age.

In hindsight, was Apple really the first Startup 2.0, reinventing a well-known but troubled brand with the vim and vigor of a startup? And what strategies can any existing company with Apple-esque aspirations derive from this remarkable turnaround?

We can all agree that established brands have numerous advantages over nascent companies. They can lean on their name recognition, embedded customer bases, and reliable revenues. However, longstanding companies often rely too heavily on the past and lose the innovate-or-die enthusiasm that spurs startup teams to create industry-changing solutions.

If customers know your name, but don’t remember what you do or for what you stand, it’s exactly the right time to embrace a Startup 2.0 approach that reconnects employees and customers to your company’s overarching mission.

Here are a few Startup 2.0 strategies to get you started:

1. Study your evolution

Having a past is only advantageous if you choose to learn from it. Ask yourself:

  • What innovation originally brought us success?
  • Did we create a new category or overtake the market leader?
  • How did we build demand?
  • Did we rely on channel partners or sell direct?

Going 2.0 doesn’t mean rejecting everything that came before. It means examining your history with fresh eyes, extracting from it what you can, and developing a new approach to what comes next. Study your evolution to discover what new products, distribution strategies, or pricing paradigms might make sense for your company to explore.

2. Remember you have great customers

Feisty startups would love to have your customer base and will do anything to get it. As you pursue new offerings, business models, and markets, don’t turn your back on your base.

Consider rewarding customers for their loyalty by making them an integral part of your 2.0 activities. Ask them what they value and what they think about your competitors. Make them a part of the solution. Existing users need to feel the same levels of attention they always have in order to ensure that your 2.0 pursuits don’t destabilize the relationships you’ve spent years building.

3. Bad ideas are the seeds of great ideas

Established companies put a premium on good ideas and tend to penalize bad ones. But often, it takes at least 10 bad ideas to discover a good idea and 10 good ideas to land on a great one. In fact, few startups ultimately deliver a product or service that closely resembles what they first imagined.

A 2.0 approach requires giving employees the freedom to generate bad ideas and challenge the status quo. Most established companies have the potential to be great again, but they lack the ability to look beyond themselves and embrace ideas that challenge current thinking. It’s important to encourage employees of all levels to plant the seeds of bad ideas. You never know what may bloom into something spectacular.

4. Embrace the fail-fast mantra

Startups are really good at failing fast. They have to be in order to protect limited financial capital. By contrast, established enterprises often pour money into something long past the point when the plug should have been pulled. Building on an older brand gives you a head start, but getting to the finish line requires companies to get from launch to success in a startup-like timeframe.

When something isn’t working, pivot quickly. Measure yourself constantly and manage to milestones. Create urgency, transparency, and accountability. Your executive team will be a key part of conveying the message that your company is willing to take risks for faster growth.

5. Hire differently

It’s not easy to tell the staff of an established company, "We’re a startup now!" In reality, you’re likely to have few employees who have worked in a startup or experienced the intensity that comes with building something new.

To expand your perspective, consider hiring startup veterans who also want the benefits of a proven brand or are frustrated by stagnation at another larger organization. This can quickly create excitement among the rest of the staff. If done correctly, employees across the company will gravitate toward the 2.0 team.

After multiple decades in business, an enterprise should embrace the characteristics of a startup and infuse creativity, flexibility, and innovation into the workday. A Startup 2.0 approach that focuses on rebranding and transformation can open up larger markets, attract top talent, and breathe new life into your business.

Recognize that evolution takes time, as was the case with Apple, but that the long-term advantages can be greatly invigorating and rewarding.

Andrew Goldberg is senior vice president of marketing and strategy for Dialogic.

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