Branding, and/or re-branding, is key to remaining relevant–particularly, in a ever-changing, competitive market. Many organizations will evolve its brand while maintaining its core essence, while others will primarily focus on its core name–without changing or evolving.
An example of the former is the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (GLWBC). It was started 31 years ago by a small group of community activists in Ann Arbor with a primary goal of creating an organization focused on supporting small businesses owned by women, minority and other under-represented groups.
For the first 30 years, the organization was know as the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development (CEED) and in 2015, it was re-branded as the GLWBC.
Michelle Richards, founder & Executive Director, has served in this role since she completed graduate social work school back in 1986. Since its inception, the organization has evolved over time first serving Ann Arbor, later Washtenaw County and until now, most of its services are offered statewide along with its women’s business certification program, which is also offered in Indiana.
I sat down with Richards recently and asked why the GLWBC was re-branded, overall success to date and whether its vision and mission are being redefined.
Lee: The organization was re-branded in 2015 after thirty years. What were some of the key factors driving this decision and why now?
Richards: The economic crisis of 2008 – 2010 has created an environment of reflection and change for many organizations and companies. We were no different. Although we grew every each year throughout the economic crisis, we knew that it was time for us to take a look at key indicators for the organization. We took a look at who we are serving today, where they are located and what they are wanting from us. We looked which of the services that we offer had grown the most over the past few years. Based on this baseline information, we projected that women represented more than 90% of our customer base and 38% of them were in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Our commitment and success came from working with established businesses, not budding entrepreneurs. Considering that our service area is Michigan and Indiana, we knew it was time for us to move into the tri-county area and changing the name of the organization as part of the rebranding. Center for Empowerment & Economic Development was dated did not speak to who we are serving. So we changed the name to Great Lakes Women’s Business Council.
Lee: Was there initial resistance (market, clients, etc.) and, if so, how did you overcome this challenge? And is the brand still being rolled out or is it now complete?
Richards: The re-branding was long overdue. The 90% of our customer base that are women owned businesses found the name change to be helpful and clarifying. For the other 10% that represent our microloan program and Detroit Business Initiative, it has been more difficult. We have decided to retain CEED Detroit and CEED Lending as sub-brands for the organization. We have invested tremendous time and expense cultivating an eco-system around these programs and do not want to through them off track. These programs are open to both men and women.
The new brand is still being rolled out. To be honest, it is still emerging in many ways. Our new website will be launched this month and will be a complete reflection of our new brand. We are training our brand ambassadors (key stakeholders) so that they can share our story and message. We are working to create a renewed energy in the organization with this strategy.
Lee: Have there been benefits stemming from the re-branding efforts? What are they?
Richards: The re-branding effort was announced in April and by September we saw a dramatic increase in attendance at our annual conference. We had projected attendance to be 700, but we ended up having almost 1,000 attendees. Our customer base has risen more in the last year, then in the past decade.
Lee: What has been the overall market acceptance for the new brand by key stakeholders?
Richards: Most of our key stakeholders are very excited about the new brand. We have had some push back in acceptance by some stakeholders engaged in CEED Detroit and CEED Lending initiatives. This has required additional education efforts.
Lee: How are you defining success? In other words, what key metrics are being used to track results?
Richards: Success is obtained if potential customers are attracted to the organization and existing customers and stakeholders understand and relate to the organization. We are using different metrics to evaluate re-branding implementation and market penetration. We are a little behind on rebranding implementation since the new website has not been launched yet and all brand ambassadors have not been trained. We are ahead in brand alignment.
Lee: Additionally, did the organization redefine its vision and mission. If so, what is the longer-term vision and mission for the organization and how does this differ relative to the previous name?
Richards: We are redefining our vision and mission. We have decided that this should be a collaborative process that includes a wide array of stakeholders. Since have a chance to paint a new face and future for the organization, we want our stakeholders to be involved. We are expecting to be completed by April, 2016.
Lee: Any advice for businesses (non-profit, for-profit or small businesses) considering re-branding?
Richards: Re-branding is a process as well as an outcome. If you bring along the right passengers in the process then the outcomes can exceed your original goals. Pay attention to the process. It is not a race but a destination. Make sure that re-branding is the solution needed. It is a great “refresh” for the company, but does not cure other problems. Make sure that the right analysis has been done.