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Brand Makeovers: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image” With May Habib CEO of Qordoba

You need to rebrand when the story that’s being told about you doesn’t fit who you are or the aspirations of who you want to be. Those aspirations have to become real very quickly or a rebrand is pretty pointless exercise. But you rebrand when you want to reframe the story you want to tell. […]

You need to rebrand when the story that’s being told about you doesn’t fit who you are or the aspirations of who you want to be. Those aspirations have to become real very quickly or a rebrand is pretty pointless exercise. But you rebrand when you want to reframe the story you want to tell. It shouldn’t be done too often.


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview May Habib. May is the co-founder and CEO of Qordoba, an AI writing assistant for businesses. The tool helps everyone at a company write using the approved style, terminology, and brand voice. May graduated from Harvard and is an expert in the fields of natural language processing, machine learning, and next-gen content management technology.


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?

Iwas in finance for a long time, but I always wanted to go back to entrepreneurial roots and start a company. I started a bookkeeping business when I was 11 or 12. I worked all through school, including college. It was really just a matter of finding the right idea. I feel like life has come full circle because I was a bookworm and a college journalist and now we build a product that helps everybody in an organization write better.

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 think many mistakes you make when you’re starting out aren’t necessarily mistakes at all, but they’re the process of gaining confidence. When you’re first starting out, many people want their brands to look like everybody else. There’s a feeling you are as worthy a brand as your competitors or companies that are ahead of you if you look like them.

As you gain maturity in being a business and gain success, then the desire really flips and you want to stand out. You want to look different. I don’t think these tendencies are things you can avoid. You just have to experience the cycle.

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?

I think the tipping point was actually internal not external. It was when I tried to become a more conscious person. As a leader, I now try to not always be thinking about the next milestone, the next hire, the next step. Instead, I’m really trying to breath deeply into the moment that I’m in right now. It helps me see the people that I’m working with and the challenges I’m facing with more gratitude.

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

We’re working on a really exciting project that brings AI to people’s fingertips. AI can be very scary, especially when you talk about AI with creative people. It can feel daunting or, at best, silly. We’re trying to help people — specifically people in roles that need to write — see that AI could really be a tool that helps them finish their sentences, working at their speed of thought. It can help them be more creative, more productive individuals.

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

The biggest thing that has made an impact for me with burnout and burnout culture is to really understand deeply that more hours doesn’t mean better work. Second to that is really learning how and when your energy is best suited for work — and then protecting that time at all costs. I try to complete two to three hours of focused activity as soon as I get to my desk in the morning. That’s before I’ve checked email, before I’ve looked at my calendar, before I think about what I need to do for other people. That’s my high-energy work time.

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 see brand marketing as the feeling that people have when they think about your company or think about your product. Product marketing is below the feeling. It’s the mind. It’s what people understand about what your product does or the benefit it can have for them. Brand and product marketing are extremely different in terms of where you’re trying to hit emotionally, but one without the other is not nearly as effective.

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?

Brand is a multiplier. Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room, when your advertising is not in front of their face, when they don’t have your words to lean back on. It is the story that can be retold, and retelling stories is absolutely the essence of who we are as humans. If you don’t build a brand, you’re not building anything.

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

You need to rebrand when the story that’s being told about you doesn’t fit who you are or the aspirations of who you want to be. Those aspirations have to become real very quickly or a rebrand is pretty pointless exercise. But you rebrand when you want to reframe the story you want to tell. It shouldn’t be done too often.

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

It’s important to understand what your brand conveys today. If it is very far from where you want it to be, a rebrand is pretty necessary. If there are aspects of your brand story that are off, then an absolute rebrand could actually take you further from your goal.

Companies who should not rebrand… I don’t know if I have a hard and fast answer to that rule. But I’d imagine rebranding anything health-related might cause more harm than good. Because these companies are often seen by consumers as utilities. Dramatic change could mean a loss of faith or trust.

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.

We went through a rebrand about a year ago and it was super successful. It started with words. Yes, we’re a product about words, but I do believe that a rebrand for anyone begins with words. For us, we started by thinking and asking around internally, “If our company was a person, what words would describe us?”

So, strategies on how I think companies can re-energize their brand and image:

1. Find your owners. And I mean the people in your company who think like owners. We’re lucky because we’re a startup and the vast majority of our colleagues think like owners, but that isn’t the case at many companies. So find your internal owners and ask them to participate in the rebrand in a very conscious way.

2. Begin with the words. Solidify the story that you want to be told and what you want people to learn from that. Know what you want your first employee and your more recent employee to learn. Know what you want visitors to your site and users of your product to learn. Know what you want investors and friends to learn. Just solidify your story.

3. Test your story internally, with people that weren’t part of the process, to make sure it resonates for them. Be explicit about what the words are supposed to mean and how they contribute to your story. Gather feedback. Ask people what’s best about the existing brand story and what they’d like to change.

4. Once you have your story, now you can turn those words into messaging, assets, colors, and your visual identity.Visuals are super necessary, but I think brands misguidedly tend to invert the process. They start with the visuals and then go with the words. If you start with the words, it will be so much more important and impactful, and the rebrand will be deeper and longer lasting.

5. In general when you think about brand, think about putting more than half of your energy into the language, the words. So many brands are unmindful with their messaging, but if you’re not thinking deeply about language you will end up rebranding. The words will not have meaning.

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 thought ProsperWorks CRM, which is now Copper, did an incredible job with their rebrand. It was a name change as well as a visual rebrand, which I think is incredibly difficult.

I think they did a really good job with the awareness that they’d done a rebrand and why. They were very explicit about why the name change, why the visual change, what it represented for the company. Lightweight CRM is an incredibly crowded space and they use the rebrand as an opportunity to actually cement and grow mindshare.

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. 🙂

We have a product that helps people write better. If you think about it, writing hasn’t changed for 5,000 years; it’s putting your thoughts onto a blank page. Now it’s a blank page on your screen, but it used to be paper, canvas before that, and stone tablet before that I guess. Regardless, you need to have an idea before you write it down. What Qordoba is starting with is a product that is helping people hone their voice, terminology, writing style, and grammar. But we are very excited to think about how we can help auto-complete the whole process of ideation.

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

I read a David White poem called “Closer” this morning, which is really incredible. We as humans are always pretty close to saying something, pretty close to success, pretty close to ending something, pretty close to starting something, pretty close to here, pretty close to there. Happiness is in understanding that it’s about how we travel to get that close. It’s not about where we get to because there will always be a gap. Happiness is in going from not knowing that the journey is everything to knowing it. That has helped me be happier because the journey of the entrepreneur is by definition building something that does not yet exist, and it’s easy to lose yourself, lose your moment in that process.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn (May Habib), where I’m more active, or follow me on Twitter (@may_habib).

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

Thank you! These were fun questions.

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