Kimberly Brizzolara of ‘Brands That Get You’: “Don’t Let Your Old Brand Hold You Back from Making Big Moves”

Don’t Let Your Old Brand Hold You Back from Making Big Moves. Doing something drastic is always going to feel scary. And some people are always going to caution you against it. But sometimes you need to be bold to do what’s right for your brand, even if it means changing a cherished core principle. […]

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Don’t Let Your Old Brand Hold You Back from Making Big Moves. Doing something drastic is always going to feel scary. And some people are always going to caution you against it. But sometimes you need to be bold to do what’s right for your brand, even if it means changing a cherished core principle.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kimberly Brizzolara.

Kimberly is the Founder and Creative Director of Brands That Get You — where she helps early stage founders build the kind of brands that audiences obsess over with a collaborative, flexible, and streamlined approach unlike any other agency that’s based on Kimberly’s experience founding her own consumer brand. Kimberly has developed Fortune 500 brands (Netflix, Gap, Wyndham), created indie darling brands (Biossance, Patchology), rebranded global brands (Crabree & Evelyn), run creative teams at in-house brand (Sephora), and started her own brand (Archer). Her work has won over 80 awards — including Clios, Addys & 30 Under 30 — and she earned her BA and MA at Stanford.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a kid, I loved watching old reruns of the television show Bewitched. Darren, the husband in the show, worked in advertising. He was pitching ad campaigns and coming up with taglines. I always thought that seemed like such a fun job.

In college at Stanford, I majored in Creative Writing. The department exuded excellence. Who couldn’t learn great writing from literary masters like ZZ Packer, Julie Orringer, Elizabeth Tallent, and Tobias Wolff — who was my advisor.

I stayed on to earn a MA in Media Studies, and I designed my own curriculum that included a focus on advertising. For my thesis, I studied the effects of gender stereotypes in advertising. I demonstrated how advertising is inherently the means of communication that’s the most reliant on stereotypes, because the extremely short storytelling format leaves little time for character development. I also showed how advertising is the most impactful means of communication, because of its pervasiveness and the amount of unconscious exposure people have to it. That’s why I believe that brands need to be responsible for the stereotypes they portray. If they use their impact for good, they have the power to create healthy models for a better world.

I also worked as a Research Assistant for the Revel Project — an organization that explored ways to create prosperity through venture creation in the developing world, particularly India. My work centered on determining the differences in the presentations of American and Indian narratives, then using my findings to restructure the corporate narratives of American companies to make them more appealing to an Indian audience.

By the time I graduated, I could write. I could write fast, and excellently. And I knew a great deal about advertising theory and how to structure compelling brand narratives. But I didn’t have a traditional portfolio of ads I had written, which you need to get a job at an agency.

So I took a job as an account manager at an agency called Digital Impact. My first client used our creative services. Our team was understaffed, so I got to try my hand at writing the creative briefs. And I did the thing that all creatives really love — I started writing my own copy into the briefs.

Luckily, the Executive Creative Director liked what he read. And instead of being annoyed that I was trying to do his team’s job, he set up a meeting with me to talk about my career aspirations. He made a spot for me in the creative department, and he became my mentor throughout my early career.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure this counts as a mistake — but my Art Director partner and I were creating a launch campaign for a new Gateway computer when I was first starting out. While we were concepting, we ended up switching roles. I came up with the visuals and found the perfect image, and he wrote the tagline. That campaign ended up winning a number of big industry awards from the Addys and the One Show.

I’ve been in environments where the writers work very separately from the designers, and I know the creative concepts are always more impactful when there’s a strong collaboration between both teams. This just drove home how important the connection between visuals and copy is in marketing.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

My biggest tipping point came this year, when I started my own agency. I began 2020 as the co-founder of a completely different kind of business: a men’s personal care company called Archer that was set to launch in 2020 with a dry shampoo designed to perform post-gym and post-commute. But when the pandemic started, gyms closed indefinitely and commutes gave way to quarantine, which meant that the two primary use cases for my hero product disappeared.

I completely pivoted and went back to my branding roots to start Brands That Get You on my own. Armed with the lessons learned from my experiences with Archer, I’m now able to understand and solve for the struggles of founders in a way that I never would have been able to before.

As a creative, it can be really easy to sit back and wonder why clients can’t just pick something or why they don’t understand how good your idea is. But as a founder, when it’s your company and your money and your investor presentations, the stakes are so much higher. I designed my Branding Sprint™ framework to give founders the confidence they need to make these high risk calls.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This January, I celebrated the liftoff of one of the most inspiring & meaningful companies I’ve ever had the honor to brand (and my favorite company I’ve ever named!). That company is Ace of Air — the world’s first zero-waste beauty & wellness brand. They’ve pioneered a 100% circular model, which means customers buy the products and borrow the package. They even ship in a “Boomerang Box,” a returnable shipper that gets reused up to 100 times. Ace of Air elevates every standard for beauty and wellness — taking no shortcuts, never compromising, and raising every bar to super human heights.

I worked on Ace of Air over the course of two years when I was Director of Strategy & Editorial at Bartlett Brands, a superstar agency based in SF. And we were honored to have a superstar client team — including supermodel humanitarian Petra Nemcova and badass Stephanie Stahl, the former CMO of Revlon & Coach.

Right now, I’m branding a new company that I’ve named Dear Planet. They’re also set to do an incredible amount of good for people and the world. They’re launching an innovative disinfectant that’s as powerful as bleach and literally safe enough to drink — so it’s safe for adults, kids, babies, and pets. And their product is packaged in an pioneering aerosol alternative that does zero harm to the environment.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

It’s good to specialize and understand a market extremely well — but don’t limit your thinking to a single vertical.

I ran an editorial team at Sephora for two years; I had beauty clients at Bartlett Brands; and I continue to have many beauty clients. So naturally, I know a lot about beauty. When I’m working with a beauty client, it can be tempting to put on beauty goggles. But you can’t only see the world through that lens.

One person I have to thank for inspiring this kind of thinking is my husband. He reads more books than anyone I’ve ever seen — and on such a wide variety of topics. Right now on his desk, there are books as varied as Neoclassicism in the North: Swedish Furniture and Interiors 1770–1850; Impro: Improvisation and the Theater, and Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.

As creative or a marketer, you never know what you’re going to read or listen to next that could inspire a new way of thinking or a fresh technique you can apply to your work. Take in experimental experiences to be on the edge of the zeitgeist. Do basic stuff to keep in touch with the universal. Be an expert — but expand your breadth.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

I explain the difference between brand marketing and product marketing using the classic 5 W’s (and One H).

Your brand marketing is based on the Who and the Why. It’s about creating an immersive experience that a certain type of consumer (The Who) identifies that ties into your company’s purpose and reason for being (The Why).

Your product marketing is how you answer the rest of the questions: The What you’re selling and The When/Where/How people will use it in their lives.

Brand is the strategy. Product marketing is the tactics.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Two reasons — loyalty and love. There’s always going to be a new competitive product on the market with shiny new features.

But the brand keeps customers loyal. They come back year after year because they identify with the brand. And the brand inspired love. It makes people excited to talk about it or tweet about it or wear it on a shirt.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

A lot of companies who come to me have launched quickly and proved their product hypothesis. Now, they want to level up and evolve from a product into a true brand.

I’ve also seen companies who decide that their current customer should not be their future customer. They recognize that a rebrand will help them appeal to a new target.

And lastly, I’ve worked with companies where something fundamental about the business has changed — for example, they’re decided to put a huge focus on sustainability or they’re going global or they’ve made a huge mistake.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Every rebrand comes with a risk. You might lose current customers — and you need to be ok with that, because you’re planning on acquiring new customers.

I’d advise against rebranding if there is not a specific business reason. Don’t rebrand “just because.” And don’t rebrand if you can’t fully commit to it. Before you start a rebrand, it’s good to think about what you’re going to feel comfortable changing as part of the process (your imagery? your tagline? your logo? your name?). The most disappointing thing is to do the work of rebranding, and then to not roll it out.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Reassess Your Competition — and Your Market
    By definition, if you’re rebranding, your current brand has been on the market for at least a short period of time. And during that time, a lot may have changed. You want to take a strategic look at both the current competitive space and the future market that you want to dominate. Then, decide what’s the right move to make your brand stand out in both. 
    When beauty brand Biossance launched as “nature meets science,” this idea was interesting. But the market quickly became crowded with same-same brands. Biossance needed to turn the conversation to a Biossance-specific strength, so we tapped into eco-luxury and the science of simplicity — highlighting squalane, their superstar biotech ingredient. Now, Biossance is one of the leading clean beauty brands in Sephora, and Reese Witherspoon is their ambassador. 
    Another example is Ao, a skincare brand coming out of New Zealand. They recognized that the clean and clinical approach that had worked from them abroad wasn’t going to be enough to entice a customer in the oversaturated US market. That’s why our strategy focused on a combination of very rich environmental storytelling and the credibility of the founder, the leading derm in New Zealand. Now Ao flies off the shelves in Credo and Nordstrom.
  2. Use Your Current Customers as a Resource
    One of the best things about a rebrand is knowing that you already have a built-in potential focus group of people who have engaged with your brand. And there are lots of ways to tap their experience — including sending them surveys, doing interviews, and asking what they think of some of your new brand ideas. And one of my favorite ways to get your customers involved actually requires the least amount of effort: you can mine your customer reviews for data and insights.
    -This past year, I rebranded a skincare company called Y’OUR Skincare. And during the course of their Branding Sprint, we combed through their reviews. We found that a lot of the positive reviews from their customers had similar phrasing — whether people had been struggling with acne or wrinkles or dryness, they were happy and amazed that the skincare “just worked.” The simplicity of this phrasing inspired their tagline: “It Just Works For You.”
  3. Look at Where You Are and Where You’ve Been
    Over the course of its lifetime, a brand creates a lot of assets. When you’re beginning a rebrand, you should go back and take stock of where you began, how you’ve evolved, and where you are now.
    For ipsy’s rebrand, we postered the walls of an entire conference room with marketing assets made through the years — the good, the bad, and the ugly. We divided them up by channel, then we spent a day running around with post-it notes, marking up and talking through the likes and dislikes. 
    And if the brand has grown quickly, there’s a good chance a lot of your assets have been created quickly. Such was the case with Rodan & Fields, which grew into the #1 skincare brand in the U.S. in a record number of years. With multiple teams creating marketing assets and independent consultants who sold the products with free reign to make their own materials, taking stock of all the messages was incredibly enlightening.
  4. Get Back to Your Basics — and Get Inspired
    Whether you’re a company that’s been around for one year or twenty years, there’s a reason that it was founded. That reason is a good one, and it can be (and should be) inspiring to your rebranding efforts.
    With Crabtree & Evelyn, we dug down deep to the roots of the brand, originally founded in 1971, and uncovered humanist principles and a pioneering spirit of exploration. This drove the rebrand’s conceptual direction, as expressed in the new tagline “Born Curious. Grown Wild.”
    -Similarly, for the rebrand of Paula’s Choice, we went back to the story of founder Paula Begoun, who came to fame on Oprah where she was known as the “Cosmetics Cop” for her radical honesty about beauty brands and the lies they tell. This kind of transparency was the heart of her brand — and a perfect fit for today’s consumer. The new tagline for Paula’s Choice that we built the rest of the brand around? “Truth in Beauty”
  5. Don’t Let Your Old Brand Hold You Back from Making Big Moves. Doing something drastic is always going to feel scary. And some people are always going to caution you against it. But sometimes you need to be bold to do what’s right for your brand, even if it means changing a cherished core principle.
    When I first started working with Patchology, they had built a business making serious (and seriously expensive) anti aging treatments powered by “patch” technology. They had also recently started making benefit-targeted sheet masks. This was right around the time that the market for sheet masks was exploding. When we approached their rebrand, they knew they wanted to focus more on the mask side of the business — and that this meant majorly changing who their customer was. 
    We said goodbye to the soothing spa-brand vibes for the 45+ set, and hello to a bright and fresh brand with a plucky personality that was custom made for early millennials. And instead of patch technology, we repositioned them (and their existing name) to highlight quick-fix solutions (aka patches) and called it “Beauty at the Speed of You.”

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I may be biased — but I have to shine a serious spotlight on Crabtree & Evelyn. Their rebranding effort was the biggest, the boldest, and the most well executed I’ve ever seen.

When David Stern took over as the CEO of Crabtree & Evelyn, the company and their customers were quite literally dying. Ask anyone below the age of 40 about Crabtree & Evelyn, and the responses would be the same: “My grandmother likes that brand.”

Most CEOs in David’s position would step in and see that change needed to happen to appeal to a younger demographic. But few would have the courage and audacity to so completely turn over the brand.

David and Ashley Souza, the brilliant head of brand and product development, had us focus entirely on a millennial consumer in twelve urban cities around the globe, shuttering 250+ stores to create an entirely digital model, and shelving 200+ outdated products to relaunch with three entirely new lines. And when it came to the creative, we changed everything but the name of the company.

At the same time that so much was changing — the brand was being fearlessly reinvented in a way that was both true to its history and appealing to its target.

To replicate this kind of rebrand, you need to act as both a historian with a rich cultural knowledge of your company and aa a futurist with a forward-thinking vision of your customer. That’s where the magic lies.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire a movement of dreaming big. For three years, I served as CMMMO (Chief Marketing, Merriment, and Motivation Officer) of Big Imagination, a nonprofit that fuels bold and inspiring projects for the betterment of humanity.

As our first initiative, we converted a Boeing 747–300 jumbo jet into the biggest moving art installation the world has ever seen. After four years of building by our community, The 747 Project premiered at Burning Man — and it will find its forever home later this year in downtown Las Vegas, where it will be installed permanently as an immersive gathering space. Our project was built by hundreds, funded by thousands, and shared by millions. And everyone will always be welcome aboard.

When we named ourselves Big Imagination, it was because we wanted to take magical, seemingly impossible ideas and make them a reality — motivating people to think differently about themselves and the world’s challenges. And I know that the world needs big imaginations now more than ever.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m a tremendous fan of Ryan Holiday and what he’s done to bring Stoic philosophy to modern day. One of my favorite quotes is this one from Epictetus, Discourses, 4.4.39: “Keep this thought at ready at daybreak and throughout the day — there is only one path to happiness, and that is giving up all outside of your sphere of choice.”

When I stepped back and began recognizing the distinction between what was up to me (in my control) and not up to me (not in my control), it made me feel much more calm and centered. I understood that expending valuable energy and emotion on the things that were not in my control was not a productive use of my time — and time is my most valuable resource. I know who I am and what I stand for. And I try to focus on things I can control through the decisions I actively make.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way to follow me is to subscribe to my weekly Brands That Get You newsletter where I give away my secrets that drive the world’s best brands.

You can also visit my website and follow me on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

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