Kristin Hess of KJ Creative: Brand Makeovers: “State WHY you want to rebrand”

State WHY you want to rebrand. Have a meeting with your partners (or yourself if you’re a solo business owner) and write down the reasons why you want to rebrand. Is it for any of the reasons above? Great! You should rebrand. Is it simply to get more followers on Instagram and Pinterest, for example? […]

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State WHY you want to rebrand. Have a meeting with your partners (or yourself if you’re a solo business owner) and write down the reasons why you want to rebrand. Is it for any of the reasons above? Great! You should rebrand. Is it simply to get more followers on Instagram and Pinterest, for example? OK, that’s fine, but, rebranding isn’t what you need. Maybe a marketing campaign or a change of social strategy is what you need. First, define WHY you are wanting to rebrand. As I stated, rebranding takes time and money so you need to feel 100% confident in this project before starting.

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

Kristin Hess is a New York City-based Graphic and Branding Designer focused in the arts, entertainment, fitness and wellness industries. Kristin has helped brand over 45 different companies along with creating and designing digital campaigns, subway ad campaigns, out of home promotional materials, marketing campaigns, social media aspects, web design, and more. Kristin has a wide background, studying business in Arts & Entertainment Management at Pace University with a minor in Commercial Dance. Kristin studied graphic and branding design under senior designers and self-study. Kristin has worked for companies including Broadway Dance Center, LYT Yoga, Joffrey Ballet School, The Julliard School, BDC Fit Yoga & Pilates, Promix Nutrition, Steps on Broadway, Brooklyn Ballet, Platinum Sound Recording Studio, Wonda Music Label, Contemporary Ballet Dallas, Universal Ballet Company, New York Choral Society, and many more (see more at Apart from freelancing, Kristin creates her own designs and illustrations as prints that can be seen on Instagram @kj_creative_ Kristin has been nominated for the WeWork Creator Awards and Etsy Design Awards. Kristin is currently a fulltime freelance/contract designer while educating and inspiring others to move more and live with kindness.

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?

Absolutely, thank you for having me! I’ve always been drawn to the creative process of building a company involving what makes the company unique, what story will they share, what emotions will they portray and what emotions will the consumers have while using their service/product, and so on. I am from a small town called Waxahachie, Texas, and moved to New York to attend Pace University in 2011. I received a BBA in Arts & Entertainment Management with a minor in Commercial Dance. I was always very drawn to the business aspect of the arts but at the same time loved performing. I interned across many different industries: a record label, recording studio, Off-Broadway production, dance PR agency, marketing agency, touring band, and luxury gym. I loved how I could use what I was learning in school and apply it to various fields within the arts. I learned the basics of Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator during my internship at the luxury gym on the Upper West Side and really enjoyed it. I decided to self-teach myself design post-grad through textbooks, Skillshare, YouTube, and shadowing other designers. During my first two years in the real world, I was unhappy in my first fulltime role so I quit and focused on combining my passions into one career: arts & entertainment, business, and design. I began freelancing in 2016 and have been a fulltime freelance/contract graphic & branding designer focused in the arts, entertainment, fitness, and wellness industries ever since.

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?

Oh my… where to start! I definitely made some mistakes starting out in marketing, but my biggest mistake was one I constantly made. Whenever you’re starting your career you feel like you have to be experienced in every platform, product, industry term, etc. I thought answering “I don’t know” was not an option. Months into my freelance career and early twenties I was offered an amazing opportunity to be a curator and design contractor at a multi-million dollar, global company. On my first day, the creative services department gave me the branding guidelines and my tasks that involved programs, tools, and language I’ve never heard of. They kept referring to things as acronyms, where I thought, “oh all of these people came from agencies, these are probably agency terms I can google, no problem.” I said I understood everything given to me, along with a project of designing a whole presentation about the company that would go to potential investors… and got to Googling. I got nowhere fast and figured I could do the project without knowing what any of those acronyms stood for. Well after 2am I realized that I needed help. I couldn’t complete the designs because the assets I’d been given were abbreviated and I couldn’t decipher one from the other. I went in the next day and asked for a meeting preparing myself for failure. Once I explained I did not know these industry terms they laughed then quickly assured me that these were NOT industry terms and just the company terms which they forgot to give me the handout for… It was about then when I realized that after 6 internships, 1 fulltime job, and multiple freelance projects that it’s okay to ask for help when you don’t understand something. You may be working FOR a company or a client, but you are still on the same team. In most cases, people are more than happy to help you if you’re struggling with a layout, not familiar with their work structure, and so on. Each company is different so it’s okay to take some time to get used to how they operate. Every time I ask a question I learn more about the company and how I can help my own freelance streamline!

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’ve had a few “tipping points” but two stuck out in my mind when thinking about this question. One was really simple — I was at a close friend’s birthday party and she was introducing me to another guest. They asked me what I did for a living and I responded, “I do graphic design.” Once the conversation ended, my friend asked me why I always introduce myself by “doing graphic design” instead of saying “I’m a graphic designer.” I never noticed that I was saying this and thought about how I didn’t deserve to be called a “graphic designer” when I haven’t had any life-changing roles at the time, like having a design on a marquee in Times Square. In reality, I am a graphic designer and should be called that, no matter what major successes I’ve had. It doesn’t matter where you are at the time, what matters is working on becoming the best designer (or whatever you are!) that you can be. Once I felt more comfortable telling others what I am and what I’m working on, my confidence grew and I was speaking about my career in a fun and enticing way.

My second “tipping point” was when I was able to start saying no. I have a very hard time saying no and always think if an opportunity comes my way I have to accept it because it’s an opportunity. I’ve been fortunate in my career where I don’t have to seek clients often and am referred by past clients, word of mouth, friends, etc. so often that it books up my schedule pretty quickly. When I receive a call or email asking to work on a project I always think I have to say yes or else I’ll be letting those people down. However, if I am too busy, if I am not interested in the scope of the project, or if my values do not align with the company, I now say no and try to refer them to someone that is better suited. For example: say an auto repair company seeks my services. I am not knowledgeable in the industry nor have any past experience designing for that industry, therefore, I wouldn’t be giving them the best product, and, someone else who does work in that industry is not getting this opportunity. When I became too busy and wanted to only focus on the industries I enjoy: arts, entertainment, health, wellness, environmental orgs, that is when I started to see more success and happiness in my career. Also, when I started only taking clients in my industries, I only received future clients in those industries due to word of mouth through people with similar interests and careers.

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

I just launched a passion project that is a 2021 Calendar. The calendar sold out in 2.5 weeks! It includes fun, colorful illustrations and quotes. This was a fun project I wanted to do to give people some joy and get them excited for the new year. We all know this year was a whirlwind, so anything that we can do to lift people up it worth it. I’ve also started giving more advice, tips, and insight on graphic design and branding on my Instagram, @kj_creative_ , that I plan to create into short, 5–10 minute videos that will be posted on YouTube, IGTV, Reels, and TikTok.

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

I get burned out easily but it can be avoided. My biggest advice to avoid burnout for freelancers is to set realistic expectations to clients and make time management a priority. I still have to work hard at this as I often think if I’m home I should be working (especially during Covid-19 times), but that’s not how to live! Set realistic expectations either in your introductory call or in your contract. State the hours that you work and can be contacted during (business hours Monday-Friday), the estimated number of hours you will be working for that client weekly/monthly, and anything other boundaries you may have. Once you have your client workload for the week try to prioritize and schedule each day. I like practicing yoga as soon as I wake up because it helps calm my mind and set myself up for the day, so I don’t schedule calls before 9 am. I always take time in my day to step away from my computer and try to end at a decent hour to enjoy a workout, activity, family/friend time, or just some Netflix bingeing. Burning out is never worth it. Taking care of yourself is the most important!

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?

My favorite thing to talk about! Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap said it best. “Branding is not what YOU say, it’s what THEY say.” Marketing is the why and branding is the how. Branding is who you are, your values, your language, your emotion, your relationships. Marketing is how you do that. Is it creating a product? Is it a service? When I think of a company’s branding, I think about the emotions I have when I think about that brand, rather than their product/service. Let’s take Nike for example. Nike’s branding gives me emotions of determination, hard work, getting to a new fitness level, teamwork, winning, sweat, grit. Nike’s marketing gives me shoes, leggings, shorts, etc. By building a strong brand identity you create lasting relationships with your customers, this way, if I am ever in the need of new running shoes, I automatically go to Nike because I have a positive relationship with the company.

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?

Definitely. Now more than ever having a positive brand identity is what’s going to get your company success. If you do not have a positive brand identity, you might as well close up shop. It is imperative that a company goes through a thorough branding process and implements its brand through relationships, copywriting, design, voice, imagery, videos, values… everything. Think of 10 startups off the top of your head. It’s not that hard, right? That is because building a startup takes minimal to zero capital and infrastructure. Walk into any Brooklyn coffee shop and I guarantee the patrons occupying the tables are all working on a startup and the coffee shop is probably an artistical coffee roaster startup as well. There are around 305 million startups annually. Yes, MILLION! These startups are going to compete with your company and whoever has the best branding, marketing, and advertising will win. Within the next decade, branding will be the only thing that matters. A consumer may not even need or want a product, but they love the brand and advertisements so much the buy it. I mean, I bought a Billie razor because I feel like a summer goddess when I think of their bright colors, cool packaging, and sense of paradise. Do I need a razor shipped to me? Absolutely NOT, I live in Brooklyn near 7 grocery stores! You don’t need a storefront anymore, you just need to build a brand identity, get consumers to recognize and interact with your brand (digitally), and some solid Facebook Ads.

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

First and foremost, let’s talk about what rebranding is, and what is isn’t. Rebranding is NOT making a new logo, getting a new color palette, and choosing some font options. Rebranding IS creating a new set of values, a new mission statement, possibly a new name. After you have the core principles of rebranding in place that is when you move onto creating a new logo, color palette, fonts, voice, images, etc. that reflect your new values, mission, and name.

A company can re-brand for a few reasons and the main ones are: a merger, finding yourself attracting the wrong target market, a product/service change, and/or if you find your company becoming irrelevant.

A merger will automatically put your company up for a rebrand as you will have to rename the company, discuss values & mission, and then create a new logo and brand guidelines. For example, Price Waterhouse and Cooper Lybrand merged in 1998, causing a rebrand with a company name of Price Waterhouse Cooper. After a little over a decade, they rebranded again to PwC in efforts to differentiate themselves from the other “big four” networks and modernize their brand.

If a company is finding itself attracting the wrong audience, this can call for a re-brand. If your target market is fifth-avenue, high-end luxury but your target market is the opposite of well-off individuals, that can be cause for rebrand (however, I personally think you can wear whatever brand you want no matter who you are, but I digress). At one point in time, patrons were banned from city pubs in London if they were wearing Burberry. Burberry did a brand overhaul including endorsements from celebrities and their ideal target market was retained.

A product or service change is also cause for re-brand. I don’t mean if you add one new product or take away one service. I mean if your company’s product or service changes drastically. Take CVS for example. 4% of their sales were from tobacco products and they were known as a one-stop-shop for your prescriptions and cigarettes. The company stopped selling tobacco products, took a stance on how it is hazardous to your health, and portrayed a brand that condones health and wellbeing. CVS changed their name to CVS Health during their rebranding efforts that led them to success.

Lastly, becoming irrelevant. Maybe a company never really had a brand identity. Maybe they have never thought about the importance of it. Maybe they haven’t touched on their branding since the early 60’s. If this occurs and a company is losing traction, relationships, sales, or basically, feeling ignored, a rebrand can put the company back on the map.

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

Yes. I have two major reasons.

1. Rebranding costs time and money. An average rebrand takes about 7 rounds to get it just right and requires either an agency (that can be super-pricey) or freelancers (copywriters, graphic designers, publicists, web designers, print, digital marketers… the list goes on). If your company is just having a dip in sales for a few months, this is not cause for a rebrand. Try getting creative and coming up with an enticing campaign that can get you back on track.

2. Just because your company may need a rebrand that doesn’t mean that you, yourself, are ready, and that’s totally fine. If you rush into a rebrand without having a solid reason or a vision, it can get confusing, messy, and frustrating. You may end up spending 6 months and a lot of cash and be left with something you’re not 100% satisfied or comfortable with. If you’re curious about rebranding sit on it, think it over, research your competitors, engage in activities that spark your creativity and interest, and/or hold a research study.

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. State WHY you want to rebrand. Have a meeting with your partners (or yourself if you’re a solo business owner) and write down the reasons why you want to rebrand. Is it for any of the reasons above? Great! You should rebrand. Is it simply to get more followers on Instagram and Pinterest, for example? OK, that’s fine, but, rebranding isn’t what you need. Maybe a marketing campaign or a change of social strategy is what you need. First, define WHY you are wanting to rebrand. As I stated, rebranding takes time and money so you need to feel 100% confident in this project before starting.

2. State HOW you are going to rebrand. If you’re ready to rebrand, congrats, you’re going to have a fun journey ahead! Now, let’s state HOW you’re going to do that. Are you going to use your in-house team, are you going to hire contractors/freelancers, are you going to hire an agency? Write down your budget, your estimated timeline, your rebranding team, any very important aspects of rebranding you are looking for, how you envision keeping up with your rebrand after the launch, and anything else you feel like you need to write down to plan accordingly. When I was helping rebrand a yoga apparel company, we started with WHY she’s rebranding then moved onto HOW we are going to do it. We listed her budget that allotted one publicist, one graphic designer, one web designer, and one copywriter. The timeline was a quick turnaround of 3 months, but it was feasible due to the size of her company. We had a 3-hour meeting with the owner to go over the most important aspects. Her most important aspect was keeping her current audience happy, which was VERY beneficial to know. We needed to make sure her current trusted audience did not feel like the whole brand has changed, and instead just became elevated.

3. Now the fun thought exercise! I hold this thought exercise for all companies that I brand and rebrand. Let’s use the company Disney Plus for example. Our first question is to brainstorm how Disney makes you feel BEFORE using their product (streaming a Disney movie).

Your answers may be something like…

o Giddy, excited, child-like, light, bright, ready, imaginative, ready to explore a story, interested

4. Now brainstorm and write down all of the feelings and words that come to mind WHILE USING Disney Plus.

Your answers may be something like…

o Euphoric, adventure, feeling like you’re in another world, happy, content, iconic, humorous, joy, ambition, blissful, colorful, like a child, innocent, creative, inspired, visionary

5. Now brainstorm and write down all of the feelings and words that come to mind AFTER USING Disney Plus.

Your answers may be something like…

o Shining, Impressed, dazzling, fortunate, magical, remarkable, rejuvenated, energized, surreal, dreamlike, extravagant

These are now your keywords. This is how you want your audience to feel. You want to attract people who are either children or searching for an adolescent, magical film to explore a new land. Use these keywords to create your slogan, mission statement, goals, quotes, and more. Now, take all of these words and circle the ones that can apply to imagery (light, bright, euphoric, colorful, creative, shining, dazzling, magical, dreamlike, extravagant). This is the true visual branding that will show all of your keywords through design: logo, website, icons, colors, fonts. By doing this exercise, you aren’t just telling your designer “I like bright colors that look like a candy store.” You are giving them the truest sense of your brand through emotions. This can also be a really fun thought exercise to reimagine and get reacquainted with your product/service, along with finding a look that you may not have even thought of!

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?

As I said, start-ups are going to run an old company out of business if they don’t rebrand appropriately. Bud Light saw this occur when the craft beer market went sky high. As they saw an increase in craft beer, they saw a decrease in sales. Bud Light is known for beer to sip on football Sundays, predominately marketed to an American male. They saw that they were missing many potential demographics so they rebranded to be drinkable for anyone, regardless of your interests and gender. In 2016, Bud Light repackaged and redesigned their logo to look more like a craft brewery and released advertisements that targeted a sports enthusiast to a New York City hipster. They made Bud Light beer look attractive on game day, in a bar, at a wedding, during a Brooklyn park hangout, and even in the United Kingdom. What impressed me was how they recognized their issue and addressed It appropriately. The problem: we are becoming irrelevant to beer enthusiasts. The solution: let’s redesign and rebrand to market to those beer enthusiasts with different interests, not just sports fans. They already have a good product, they just need to brand and market it accordingly to keep up with current trends. To replicate this smart decision, always be aware of trends in your industry. Become aware of current trends and identify what type of trend they are. For example, is the trend seasonal, brief, or long-lasting (craft beer has proved to be long-lasting)? Is it making a direct impact on your company sales? How detrimental is the impact? How can you compete with the company? Answer these questions to see what the next steps are for your company. Engage in trend forecasting so you can be on top of it rather than chase your customers.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people it would be the importance of sustainable development. Granted, I am not zero waste and I have long way to go, but I make myself aware of how I am contributing, good and bad. I believe this movement is spreading more awareness as you see many zero waste companies and sustainable brands on the market, but we don’t need to purchase a 300 dollars box of reusable, zero-waste products to live sustainably. In order to make ourselves feel better, we all say, “oh we don’t want more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050,” or “yeah I don’t want our co2 emissions to clog the atmosphere either.” Instead of acknowledging what is going to happen in our future, why don’t we talk about what is happening in our present? We ARE contributing to more plastic in the ocean than fish right now, in this present moment. If we all address what we are doing NOW we can change it and combat what we don’t want to happen in the future.

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

My all-time favorite quote is “don’t let dreams be dreams.” I am very action-oriented. I wanted to attend college in New York City after high school, so I moved to New York City after high school. At 23 I was sick of working for a company I didn’t care about or believe in, so I left and freelanced (while also doing 100 other side hustles to make ends meet). Every time I get an idea for a product, website, design, or app, I research, collaborate with others, and start it. Granted, I rarely finish it (haha) but I never let an idea just be an idea. I probably annoy my friends and family because I get so many ideas, but I think that is a big reason why I love being a freelance and contract designer. I can use these ideas for clients and my own work. Often times this can be a fault of mine because I try to start too many things at once and then get overwhelmed (re: the burnout question), but I always try to at least start my (good) ideas to see what happens and see if I enjoy it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I tried. I’m a big advocate of doing what you dream of, no matter how big or small. You can always wonder ‘what if,’ but what’s the fun in that?

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram @kj_creative_ and @krishess, TikTok @kj_creative, Pinterest @kj_creative_, Etsy @KjCreativeCompany and my website Follow @kj_creative_ fon insta or upcoming news & announcements!

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

Thank you for having me. This has been a blast!

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