Lessons Learned from a Branding Journey: Insights from Our Company’s Transformation

I am excited to share the story of our company’s recent branding journey, offering valuable insights and lessons learned along the way. As we unveil our new brand, we hope to inspire fellow professionals in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry while providing practical guidance for your own branding endeavors. 

Branding is more than a wordmark, icon, or a color palette. It is a representation of who you are as a company, what you stand for and what your customers can expect from you. In a way, it seems like an abstract concept, but it is anything but abstract. In fact, when you have a solid brand, you have a concrete foundation to build and grow your business. 

Lesson 1: Start with a Clear Vision

A clear vision serves as the foundation for any successful branding project. Back in 2018, we embarked on a journey to build a company that transcended traditional marketing services, envisioning a community-driven platform for industry collaboration and growth. This vision, crafted with a 10-year outlook, provided a roadmap for our aspirations and guided our strategic decisions. 

Your vision should be written as if you were talking to someone on a future date. Pick a date 5 or 10 years in the future and write about yourself as if you have transported there. When you create your vision using a present tense it is easier to believe and to see what is possible. We created our first vision imagining how we would describe ourselves in 2028. This is important because without a vision, you cannot attract what you need to achieve it. It would be like driving somewhere without a map, just wandering aimlessly ahead. 

Lesson 2: Vision Drives Decision-Making

Throughout our journey, our vision has been our guiding light, steering us through uncertainties and informing strategic decisions. Even during challenging times like the pandemic, our vision provided clarity and direction, guiding us toward our long-term goals. With a clear vision in place, we were able to weather storms and stay focused on our mission of serving the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry. 

It was because of our 10-year vision that we decided to acquire Travel Alliance Partners (TAP) at the end of 2021. We had been the marketing and operational partner for TAP since 2018 and we helped the organization that was owned by 26 tour operators survive the pandemic. At the end of that huge downturn, the tour operators who owned TAP needed to put their energy and focus into rebuilding their own businesses. Our team saw the value that TAP brought to the industry and how it aligned with our vision, so we decided to acquire the company and help to rebuild it into the collaborative innovative organization that it had been known for.  

Lesson 3: Define the Problem Before Branding

When you set out to create a new brand, recognize why you are embarking on this journey before starting it. In our case, we had three distinct brands: Break the Ice Media, Travel Alliance Partners, and our podcast, Destination on the Left. Recognizing the need for a branding overhaul, we sought expert guidance to define our challenges clearly. This step was crucial in laying the groundwork for our rebranding efforts and ensuring alignment with our overarching goals. Our initial conversation with branding expert Karley Cunningham from Big Bold Brand helped us pinpoint key challenges, such as communicating the value of our diverse offerings under three distinct brands. 

Lesson 4: Engage Employees in the Process

Our team’s involvement from the early stages proved instrumental in the success of our rebranding project. By keeping our employees informed and engaged, we fostered a sense of ownership and commitment to the new brand vision. We shared our progress transparently, solicited feedback, and empowered our team members to contribute their ideas and insights. 

Lesson 5: Build a Strong Foundation

A lasting brand requires a solid foundation built on purpose, values, and a clear brand promise. We invested time and effort in crafting these essential elements, ensuring they reflected our company’s ethos and aspirations. Working with Karley and her team, we developed a comprehensive toolkit encompassing our purpose statement, guiding principles, brand character, and more. 

Lesson 6: Recognize the Need for Additional Resources

As our branding project evolved, we recognized the need for additional resources to bring our vision to life. Hiring a dedicated team member proved invaluable in supporting the branding process and driving its success. We also leveraged external expertise to supplement our internal capabilities, ensuring a comprehensive approach to brand development. 

Lesson 7: Focus Internally and Externally

Balancing internal alignment with external brand development was key to our rebranding journey. By addressing operational aspects alongside brand strategy, we ensured a seamless transition and maximized organizational buy-in. Our quarterly leadership team meetings became forums for discussing operational changes, while our external communication efforts focused on generating excitement and anticipation for the new brand. 

We started using our new brand language externally before launching our new brand. This gave us the opportunity to start testing the language and practicing with it before launch. We included it in our job postings, client proposals and marketing materials. Our combined brands each used the language. We didn’t give away that we were becoming one brand, but we had strategic language that better aligned with the value we bring to our clients and members and we started using it as we were evolving in small steps. 

Internally, we focused on aligning everything with the new brand, including our organizational chart, job descriptions, accounting systems, internal communications, meeting cadence, project management and our standard operating procedures.  

Lesson 8: Brand Launch is Just the Beginning

A brand launch marks the beginning of an ongoing journey, not the endpoint. We adopted a phased approach to rollout, recognizing that continued engagement and refinement are essential for sustained brand success. Our launch plan included a timeline for quarterly activities extending through 2024, ensuring that our brand evolution remains dynamic and responsive to evolving market trends. 

Our brand launch plan identified four key goals: 

  1. Create intentional content
  1. Generate awareness & buzz
  1. Provide a positive & exciting experience
  1. Highlight our expanded offerings

The plan included our key messages, launch strategies, and paid, earned, shared and owned tactics. As you can imagine, a brand rollout plan has a lot of moving parts and a lot of details in it. It is important to have a written document that everyone on the team can follow with lists for all areas that need to be considered. Here is a checklist of things to consider when rolling out a new brand

Lesson 9: Embrace Cathedral Thinking

Embracing cathedral thinking, we approached our branding journey with a long-term perspective. We envisioned the impact of our brand for generations to come. By thinking beyond immediate results, we set the stage for enduring success. Just as medieval stonemasons, architects and artisans built cathedrals with future generations in mind, we laid the groundwork for a brand that will stand the test of time. 

Our branding journey has been a transformative experience, filled with valuable lessons and insights. From starting with a clear vision to embracing cathedral thinking, each lesson has shaped our brand’s evolution and will continue to guide our future endeavors. As we embark on this new chapter with our refreshed brand, we invite you to join us in embracing these lessons and charting your own path to branding success. 

We invite you to explore our new brand and learn more about our company’s journey. Explore our website to discover how a clear vision and strategic approach can transform your own branding efforts. Join us in embracing cathedral thinking and building brands that leave a lasting legacy in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry. 

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