How do you know when it’s time to rebrand? Last week we launched a new brand and want to tell you all about it. But we also want to share some broader lessons about when and why rebranding is necessary. We share what we’ve learned over the years about growing a company and evolving a brand to better suit what the company can do, not what it’s already done. We hope you like our new look!
Paul Ford If my logo was a clown’s head with balloons, and I told you about how we are a good partner for digital growth, you’d say, “That’s weird.” Like, that’s a bad storytelling tool.
Rich Ziade Right.
PF “Why are you playing funny circus music?” [Music plays for 18 seconds, ramps down] Hey, Rich?
RZ Mm hmm? Yes, Paul?
PF So you and I, you know, as co-founders, we split up responsibilities. We don’t always do the same things. It wouldn’t make sense.
RZ No, it wouldn’t.
PF So, I’ve been over in my skyscraper o’ sales, workin’ on proposals [music fades out], talkin’ to inbound leads, taking—doing pitching over Zoom and Google Meet and you have been working—We gotta give a little context here—on a new brand and identity for our firm.
RZ So, yeah, I mean, if you—if you visit postlight.com and if you haven’t visited it—vis-it-ed it recently, you’ll notice it’s got a whole new look and feel and a couple of new case studies that we’re incredibly excited about. You know, I took the rebranding as an opportunity to kinda pause and actually think about what Postlight is and what it’s matured into. We’re four years old, you know, almost five years old now, and, you know, for a long time we were, you know, extremely execution driven. We were about getting you the thing. And shipping was kind of everywhere in our language and it was—it was about output.
PF Well, if we had a specialty, it was design and software development risk reduction. Right? Like, “Boy, it’s hard to get software out into the world, you know who can help us here is Postlight.” And that was our messaging: we’ll build your thing. Your big digital thing.
RZ Yes, and the title tag is digital products studio. We’ve probably said digital products studio a few hundred times on this podcast, on the Postlight Podcast, formerly Track Changes.
PF Thank you for continuing to listen. That’s right.
RZ Yes, thank you for continuing to listen. And, you know, as I was thinking about the new brand and, you know, we paused and thought about how we wanted to convey who we are now and I realized that a huge part of what Postlight does is listen. That is input. Not just output. In fact, a lot of our best relationships, our biggest relationships, are driven by listening a lot, and pausing and not hurrying to go to the workshop right out of the gate. I mean, it’s worth noting: the workshop is filled with incredibly talented craftspeople. Amazing engineers, amazing designers, architects, product thinkers. Really, it’s an awesome group but at the same time, you know, I’m pausing and looking back on the kinds of engagements that have been really the ones that tell the story of Postlight. It hasn’t been about purely, “Hey, here’s the rec, can you please build the thing and give us a bid?” And then we’d go build the thing. Instead it’s been as much about listening to clients, being more in a partnership role, listening to them, and understanding what they’re trying to do, and frankly, having a dialogue, which if you told me a fifty person, you know, design and engineering shop in New York City was doing that I would say, “That’s unusual.” It’s not typical. You know, you usually would have to go to bigger firms to get that kind of strategic stewardship, strategic partnership.
PF This puts us in the spot. Like, when you are a firm, like look: we’re asking people to listen to us talk about our internal branding, which is a lot to ask. So, let’s put it in the framing of this podcast which is we were selling services but we actually didn’t have a good framework for communicating a lot of the value and a lot of the scope of what we were selling . . . with our existing brand and our existing website. And this is kinda like you could roll your eyes at that but that’s a real risk for us because if you go and you meet someone and you say, “Hey, yeah, no, actually, we could help you if you have a six month strategic plan and you need some help in that first month or really get this together. And we’ll come in and we’ll think those thoughts with you and we’ll get you a deck and we’ll help you get internal buy-in in your big non for profit or giant organization.” Our website wasn’t saying that, it was saying: “Hey, Postlight will help you build a really great app. Or it will help you build a really powerful platform.” And the brand we had and the way we were communicating wasn’t gonna bend enough to let us tell that story. And actually we should articulate that cuz I think people think a lot of this stuff is kinda nonsense but like it was a little too playful and a little too, like, circuit board-y. And it just—everything we tried to make ourselves look more strategic—
RZ It reflected kind of your and my defiance around classic business. And I believe in that, I think it’s part of our identity and personality. We like to call bullshit. We don’t like bullshit. It just turns out that if you are thoughtful about what to go do and—or having a dialogue, whether you like it or not, you’re a strategic advisor. And if somebody said, “Hey, do you think Postlight’s gonna do a lot of strategic advising?” When we started the company, I would’ve said, “Why don’t you go to hell?”
PF Well, you know what else happens? When you’re 25, your peers are people who are kinda like you: they went to college around the same time you did, and they have jobs. They go to their jobs. And then you get in your thirties and like that first person gets the title Director that you know. Who’s like a friend, who’s somebody you used to work with. And then they become a VP, and suddenly instead of you kinda just doing your job, you’re in this cohort of people making decisions about money and other people’s time. And you don’t even know what happened. It just shows up one day. And then it’s sorta, “What am I gonna do with that? How am I gonna deal with that?”
PF And I think part of that is just the firm goes through that kinda growth too. Like, the people that we worked with in our early days are now leading larger and larger, more strategic engagements and they’re coming back to us and they’re saying, “Hey, look: I know you don’t—I don’t know if you really even see yourself this way but I want this.”
RZ Yes. Yes. I think if we can turn down the advertisement aspects of this podcast, so what have we learned as a firm? As we’ve grown? And what’ve we sort of—we’re more confidently signaling out to the world is that good software comes out of a partnership. It doesn’t come out of a prescriptive request for a thing you want. That it actually comes out of—
PF A language. A platform. A cloud platform. That’s just a part.
RZ That’s just a part. What it comes out of is flexibility, empathy, in both directions between stakeholders and people that are building things and a willingness to question things and think more openly and have a dialogue around what the right thing is. And what you have here then with us—and I think it’s something that everyone can take a page out of—is that if you don’t have that mindset, you’re gonna find yourself boxed in. And whatever you’re making isn’t gonna be as good as it can be. That is just reality because nobody has it figured out when you’re going into things like this. Design doesn’t—
PF Well which is why instead of us saying that we build your big thing, we’re telling you that we’re a partner. That we’re here for a while.
RZ Yes. You’re—Yeah, I mean, we’re playing around with what the tagline is, it’ll be up by the time this podcast goes live but it’s hard. It’s hard to come up with that. Design, develop, ship has been our tagline for a long time which is just—it sounds like a sledgehammer coming at your head and you’re—we’re gonna push that damn thing out one way or the other. By the way! There is enormous value in orienting around shipping. Don’t get me wrong because—
PF Well we’re not—we’re not giving that up. We’re not giving up the idea that we’re gonna continue to ship software.
RZ And we are a great products studio. I mean, that’s real. So we will take that work that is just good and it’s clear and we know exactly how to do it. That’s still attractive and very satisfying.
PF Let me take it out one level so that we can get back into our advice giving mode instead of just talking about how great we are. How do you know when it is time to do a rebrand?
RZ You know, I think for—when you pause . . . you are the sum of what you’ve gone through, right? And when you pause and step back and look at where you are, right? Oftentimes there is—your current state is a lagging indicator relative to your brand. Right. When the brand was made—Like, our brand that we’re gonna put out, that will be out by the time you’re listening to this, will be outdated because we will continue to grow and continue to evolve. Those weird changes when you go from like seven years old to ten to 13, like, the clothes change dramatically, the way your posture is changes. And the truth is—
PF You need to shower every day.
RZ You need to [chuckling] shower every day. So the truth is your brand—is lags, immediately. It’s outdated the moment it is out in the world and that is—for a shop our size, you have to pause, and, you know, I looked at our brand and I said, “You know what? We’re bigger than this. We’re actually bigger than how we’re signalling out to the world.” So let’s think bigger. Let’s say less, not more, let’s be more confident. Those are the signals. Those are the—that was the guidance we gave our—you know, the branding partner that worked with us on this. And so I think when it starts to feel off. Or when your pants are too short. Like, why are my socks showing all of a sudden?
PF Let’s go up one level, right? What is a brand? A brand is, I mean, it’s a lot of things. It’s a little picture that you say, “This represents our company,” and it’s your name and it’s a lot of intangible things. It’s a tool. It’s a framework for telling a story. That’s it.
PF Like, just really that’s it.
RZ That’s right.
PF So when I sit down and I tell you about Postlight, it’s a framework and a forum for us to sit down and have a starting point, and for people who are perceiving us to have a starting point, to figure out if there’s any kind of shared intention and understanding, right? So what happens—I mean, the reason you gotta do this and it’s expensive and it takes and we put it on pause because of world events and now we’re gettin’ back to it because the world keeps moving and you invest a lot of money and time. It’s not just the cost of getting a new logo. You’ve gotta redo the site and you gotta redo the—do all the materials and you gotta kinda reorient everyone around the brand. The breaking point is when you’re sitting down to tell a story—And I’ve seen this, like, with our proposal decks which are very reliant on our brand, which is—I look at them and I go, “These are getting in the way of me talking about the actual work that we’re going to do here. That we are pitching to do. These don’t look like that. And it’s real subtle. Like it’s—you’re talking a percentage here, a percentage there, but it’s very important. It’s very, very key.
RZ You’re making a great point. When you’re finding yourself explaining away aspects of the signal the brand is setting, you’re already outdated. Like, it’s already expired.
PF That’s the trigger. Well, at that point, it’s no longer just like, “Yeah, we’re growing and changing and we’re gonna figure that out later.” It’s costing you money and opportunity.
RZ Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah.
PF Because other people feel it too. It’s not just you. You’re not the only—You, if you’re a pretty good leader, like you get anxious early. It’s one of the reasons that you’re strong in a leadership role. And you get anxious—you’ll be anxious about our new brand within about four months.
RZ Yeah, yeah, 100%. 100%. I mean it is a breathing thing.
PF But it’s real.
RZ Yeah, no, that’s real. And I think as a brand for the type of service we do, like we don’t sell chips, you know, we’re not a potato chip or a soda where there are a different set of ground rules around how you think about the brand cuz you’re thinking about your target and you’re thinking about also just the logistics of even changing something like that. For us, we just wanna signal a personality. It’s—cuz what we want you to do is come talk to us. You’re not gonna make a sort of nonsensical two dollar purchase to get involved with Postlight. We want you to come and talk to us.
PF No, in the bodega, nobody’s like, “Oh! I’ve never had Funyuns before.”
RZ That’s right.
PF That’s not—nobody buys Postlight services that way.
RZ Correct. Correct. So, I think that’s—that’s something that is always changing. Should we be looking at the brand? And looking—and when we say brand, I mean we’re talking about the stories we tell, the articles we write, the headlines we had, and things like that, every few months. Of course!
PF The tone.
RZ Absolutely. All the time. It should be a key part of—because it actually turns out that we’re not transaction driven, you can’t just license our software, you have to talk to us. And we have to constantly introduce ourselves that way to the world, right? It’s hard. It’s actually real work.
PF So actually to that end there is a real component to this that has been very critical and is really interesting because a firm like ours—Now look: people—people will look at our website and they’ll say, “Nice logo.” They might look at our Github and say, “They know how to code.” But the number one indicator for an agency is a) the set of logos that you put on your homepage indicating that you can work with other organizations. Plays well with others! And then two words: case studies.
RZ Oof! Yeah.
PF Nothing is more powerful. So that case studies have to express the brand and tell the story of how you solved the problem so that a person reading goes, “Oh, alright. I think they get it. I should talk to them.”
RZ 100% and frankly, you’re piggyba—Sometimes if it’s a big logo, if it’s a big brand that you did work for, you’re kinda riding in their wake, right? I mean you’re just—all you’re doing at that point is just saying, “You know what? Look at this. I mean, we went in with the big boys and we solved a big problem for them, don’t you wanna talk to us?”
PF Let’s tell the also—the honest to God truth about case studies . . . which is that only the agency cares about getting them done. No one is motivated to give you work so that you can have a great case study. They’re motivated to give you work so you can do amazing stuff. So, you gotta stretch, you gotta bend, and you gotta say, “What will it take for us to be able to tell this story in public?”
RZ That’s right, that’s right. And—and, you know, sometimes I view Postlight as just one big giant Voltron-like product manager, if that makes any sense.
RZ And, you know, the best kind of product manager cares deeply about the decisions that are being made, they’re not just taking marching orders, right? And I think that’s what Postlight’s evolved into. Postlight has matured from—I mean, look: we scrambled. Early days for Postlight, you could come in and say, “I need an app to find the nearest kitty litter shop nearby.” It could be anything. And I think we’ve matured to a point where now when you come visit Postlight, we’re not just saying, “That is an amazing idea! God, that is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen! Can I offer you some espresso?” We’re just—that’s not our vibe at all. We are a product manager that cares deeply about what you’re about to go do and we’ll call you out! We’ve told people, “That’s really interesting and I’m glad you wanna spend money with me but gosh, that’s the wrong thing to do.” We’ve said that to people!
PF Yeah. Well, and there’s a lot of work that just isn’t for us and that’s ok too.
RZ That’s ok too.
PF It’s ok.
RZ That is ok too. That is ok too. So, I think that’s—I think, look: I do think—what is the next phase for Postlight? What is the next rebrand? Because this one got outdated? I have no idea.
PF Which is great. That is really good. You shouldn’t.
RZ You shouldn’t. I do know that this feels . . . right. This is the right length of pants for us.
PF Let’s describe the two case studies because they represent the two absolute extreme poles of what this firm can do. And look: there are great case studies for Bloomburg and for Vice and for Autobahn on the site. Like, we’ve had great partnerships with those orgs but there’s two new ones that we’re gonna promote and market and talk about. So the first one: a little tiny, teensy, weensy company that you might know called Goldman Sachs.
RZ Yeah, it’s a little corner bank. Yeah, I mean, Goldman Sachs, we’ve done maybe eight different projects for them. They’ve been an ongoing relationship for us. But one of the biggest, most sprawling projects we did was on a trading platform and I mean, it was something’! It was an experience, it was anthropological, it was technical, it was design driven, and it was like, “We wanna modernize trading platforms and we’re a web shop,” and we’re like, “Yeah, exactly, because it needs to be on the web.” And it was a helluva challenge and it—you know it was—if you can navigate that kind of partner that is just has—it’s just the most—it’s just a collective alpha personality—
PF The thing that we built . . . cuz we really haven’t been able to talk about the thing that we did.
PF What is the thing that we built?
RZ It is an algorithmic—a web-based but works on your desktop—algorithmic trading platform . . . for different futures but I think initially it’s just commodities. So it’s just a commodities trading platform. And it’s badass!
PF Oil, aluminum.
RZ Yeah, it’s just—
PF It’s badass.
RZ It’s badass. I mean it’s been—it was done in partnership with the Marquee Group at Goldman Sachs and it’s just—it’s just really, really cool. I mean, technically it was incredibly challenging, the requirements were just over the top, and the amount—Let me tell you something: user research—it would be great if you could talk to users. Talking to 14 professional traders, it’s [stammers] it’s an amazing thing.
PF Let me put it this way: it’s not their job to be happy.
RZ I think they’re happy in their own kind of way!
PF They’re happy but like you coming in saying, “Hey! What would you like in a commodities trading platform,” is just like, “I’m—I’m gonna kill you. I don’t want anything to do with this.”
RZ Well, you know, actually, it started that way but then what you had was some of the most specialized power users you’d ever meet. You’ve got people who are writing real time scripts to make decisions on trades and, you know, their desktop environment’s spanning six screens, right? So these were people, I mean if you thought you were gonna just interview a handful of people and find patterns in their usage, you’re gonna be very, very sorely disappointed because these were people who have essentially fine tuned how their work environment is. It’s really—it’s instrumentation, right? They’ve gotten [right] to such an extreme place, their phones are set up that the lines are just open, just people are muted, so the people they trade with are just there. And it’s—
PF This is what’s real: it’s not just one system. It’s like you’re doing—there’s a certain kind of transaction but you’re supporting this open conference call that spans the world. So, look, I mean that’s one—We could talk about that for 6,000 podcasts but before we do that. That’s one remarkable project that it’s so good to have that out in the open because no one would ever expected us to have built a commodities trading platform in partnership with Goldman Sachs. It’s a hard story to tell. [Mm hmm] When people look at you and go, “Oh cool! You did a CMS.” Like, it’s—so that’s Story A. Story B is another organization, geographically their headquarters are very close to Goldman’s but a very different—
RZ Slightly different.
PF —kind of org which is the MTA.
RZ Yeah, why don’t you—
PF So, the Mass Transit Authority.
RZ Tell us! Your turn, Paul. Give a breakdown of what we did for the MTA.
PF We partnered with the MTA and we built for them a new platform. And what the platform allows you to do—lemme give you an example. You are taking the one train uptown, ok? And there’s a little delay, something happened, uptown. Not downtown. Downtown’s runnin’ fine. There are screens that are getting installed all through the MTA and the screens are there to carry information about trains and advertising. That is why they exist. These contracts are there and it is happening. So, can those—those screens could say, “The MTA wants you to have a happy holiday.” Or those screens could say, “There’s a ten minute delay headed uptown.” “There’s a little issue on the one, advise—you know, you can expect your next train here.” Or, “Here are some things that you need to know in this part of Manhattan, but not in this part of Brooklyn.” Extending out to, “We need to let the people know on Twitter. We need to hit that button and have that same signal go out to the people on Twitter or other messaging platforms.” What kind of—for lack of a better word—it’s content. What kind of Content Management System can deal with that level of complexity?
RZ Mm hmm. And it’s worth mentioning, I mean, 50,000 of these screens are going up. Like it’s a massive, massive—It’s not like we’re not powering a handful of screens. So—
PF And each one is individually addressable.
RZ Correct. And sits on a particular side of the platform and et cetera, et cetera. So, so there’s all sorts of intricacies around this. Yeah.
PF And you wanna be able to say, “Like these—if I say F Line and northbound, these stations are going to be affected.” You don’t wanna have somebody manually enter [mm hmm] 20 stations. When they are telling the story of what’s going on with the MTA. And so we build that. We built the platform that talks to all the screens and lets the people in central command, very easily, very efficiently go out and update everybody in New York City, everybody in the stations, everybody on Twitter, everybody who’s using different platforms what the hell is happening with the MTA at that exact moment.
RZ Exactly. You just stumbled on, I think, a key point here which is, you know, when we started conversations with them about this they were thinking about those screens. And then [right] it became clear that—I’m like, “Ok, wait a minute but you’ve got all these other systems that are sending the same messages out, just the end points were different.” So you had one platform that was being used for social media, another was being used for the website, another was being used for the screens. And I said, “You know,” as we were in these discussions—“Like, you wanna attack the real problem here? That’s the real challenge in front of you cuz you could—I mean—” Legacy software is just a collection of bandaids. Over time. That’s all they are, right? There’s that thing [sure] was in front of you and then you addressed it and then you just kept going, right?
PF Well, more specifically, people think of messaging, they don’t think of one unified sort of system, they think of all the different platforms they have to talk to.
PF If you actually take a breath and say, “What if we only worked things once? And then automatically laid out the images for the screens. Automatically put the right references and handles in on the tweets, threaded the tweets when there’s updates. Like, what if we did that? Instead of everything being ad hoc?”
RZ Yes. And yeah, it made it a bigger project and a bigger challenge. But, you know, that’s the tug of war, right? Of ‘do you do it right finally?’ And ‘can you do it right quickly?’ And that’s strategic, right? Like, coming up with that battle plan took time and it’s what was produced—I’m—This is—I mean, just pounds and pounds of advertising mayonnaise being put on one piece of white bread right now but I’m just gonna go ahead and say it that I’m just immensely proud of the work we did—we’ve done for the MTA. It’s really cool, it’s slick, it’s solid, it’s live, it’s actually, you know, pushing messaging all over the city. So, it’s just so, so cool. So, you should check out the case study along with the others on the site. So, Paul, I mean! To just somehow give some more universal advice here, beyond just advertising Postlight, you know, I mean, pause and just look at these big, sprawling projects that frankly were way bigger than who we are! If you’re outside looking in and we said, “You know what? We should tell a different kind of story.”
PF We flat out, flat out weren’t able to tell the story until we got the new brand. I couldn’t—Like I sell—I’ll do four sales calls in a day and I can’t easily communicate when somebody calls with a problem for us, it’s very hard because, you know, and God bless both of those orgs for just being like, “Sure! Absolutely! Glad to do it! Glad—you know, go ahead!” Because for years, I haven’t wanted to say that we work for Goldman cuz they’re very sensitive. And it’s serious. Like, we don’t mess around with our nondisclosure and for them to say, “Yeah! Go out! Tell the world,” has been—it is fantastic. And the same—MTA’s a public org but they’ve been very open and transparent with us and said, “Yeah, tell the people what you did.” So what we did with both is use really good modern tools, working with really big IT organizations to help people do their work much, much more quickly.
PF And the funny thing with both of these—and I think this is a really interesting thing when you’re dealing with the enterprise: smaller engagements—Let’s say you’re building—standing up a WordPress site for someone. It’s not a lot of money and it might reach millions of people. Easy. Right? Post on the cloud. And to do that might cost you like 150 bucks a month.
PF These are solutions where the number of people using them might be in the hundreds.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF But every act that they take, every time they do these things, it affects hundreds of thousands, or in some cases millions and millions of people.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF So what we’re doing is empowering people—We’re giving people systems that they can use . . . to kinda make more sense of the world.
PF And that is a sweet spot. That is the good stuff.
RZ Yeah, absolutely.
PF Rich, this one has been—like it’s our marketing podcast. This might’ve been a little too much marketing for the average civilian.
RZ Yeah. I mean, we just injected Kool Aid into your arm, essentially.
PF Nah but I—Look: I mean, we talk about this firm, this is a big inflection point for us is going, “You know what? [Music fades in] Brand’s not doing the job it needs to do. We need a better way to tell stories.” And now we have some new stories to tell. It’s pretty cool. Look, I mean, the thing to take away is, “Yeah, alright, you may not be—” If you listen to this, you know our story. But there are those moments where you have to have better tools for telling your story and that’s—that’s the rebrand. And we did it. And, boy! Does it feel better!
RZ Yeah, we’re very excited about it. We’re allowed to be proud, Paul, every once in a while. I think we’ve been remarkably generous over the years now with this podcast. So every once in a while we get to—
PF Ah! We’re just angels.
RZ We’re just angels and once in a while we get to put on the t-shirt with the logo on it.
PF Well, look: congratulations. You drove this effort. This was a Ziade baby. You said, “Time to do it!” You found the firm. And onward we went.
RZ I’m excited about it. I’m very proud of it and proud of the work we’ve done but always looking to talk to anyone else out there in the world as we navigate and grow as a company. firstname.lastname@example.org
PF We’re here to help! Check out the site!
RZ Yes! Have a great week. Thanks for listening.
PF Bye, everybody! [Music ramps up, plays alone for two seconds, fades out to end.]