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“Make something new.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Ben Lee

Make something new. Create a new product or service that is cutting edge and helps redefine who you are in the market. IBM launched a campaign to announce its shift to online services with e-business in the 90s, well before Amazon, eBay and other online commerce giants were in the public’s mind. It keeps the overall […]

Make something new. Create a new product or service that is cutting edge and helps redefine who you are in the market. IBM launched a campaign to announce its shift to online services with e-business in the 90s, well before Amazon, eBay and other online commerce giants were in the public’s mind. It keeps the overall brand virtually the same, but also demonstrates that you’re willing to branch out and try something new.


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Ben Lee

Ben Lee is the Principal and Co-Founder of Schifino Lee Advertising + Branding.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a Masters in Management at Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Prior to Schifino Lee, Ben worked as USA Advertising Manager for Philips NV, the Dutch consumer electronics giant, and as an Account Manager at Interpublic Group on the BP (British Petroleum) advertising account. Ben also served as the very first Marketing Director at The Florida Aquarium prior to its opening.

For the past 26 years at Schifino Lee, Ben’s passion and focus has been brand strategy and integrated campaign management. He is a hands-on leader, dedicated to running the best agency in the industry. For the past four years, Ben has been the agency’s lead strategist for GRENLEC (Grenada’s national utility), the Cross-Bay Ferry in Tampa Bay, the Tampa Museum of Art and WRB Energy, a developer renewable energy projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Ben has also served as an Adjunct Professor of Marketing Communications at both the University of South Florida and University of Tampa.

Ben is a native of Tampa, and he spends a lot of his free time playing baseball with his two teenage boys.


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?

Iwent to New York City for the first time and visited a friend whose dad owned an ad agency. I had never thought much about a career in advertising, but when the elevator doors opened, and I saw all these signs, billboards and a giant gorilla in a cowboy hat — and after meeting the people there and learning more — I knew advertising and branding was for me.

Later, I had professors at Northwestern (Sidney Levy and Philip Kotler) who inspired me when it came to branding. I started a brand management company soon after getting out of school.

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?

Schifino Lee’s first big client was the New York Yankees, which was too good to believe- literally. I had played baseball in college, so when I got a call from the team’s general manager saying he was looking for an advertising and branding agency, I thought it was a prank call from my friends. I hung up on him! I almost hung up on the second call, but after that, they became a 10-year client.

The lesson? Always answer your phone! You never know who might be on the other line.

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?

The first big tipping point for Schifino Lee was the Yankees. But the big step after that was getting our first global client, AT&T. Having those major clients allowed us to hire more great talent.

Getting better talent helped us produce better creative, which gave us bigger clients and let us hire more talent. That’s when I really learned how cyclical this process is. Those huge opportunities snowball into something even more.

My big takeaways from this are to always be prepared for those big moments. You might be a small company now, but you never know when you’ll get something big, and you want to be prepared. Also never underestimate how important the right people are. They’re the ones who will help you grow as a company and as a person.

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

I’m always working on new projects! I like to go beyond traditional advertising and reach into product development. Right now, I’m working on Tapp360, a referral marketing software for customer acquisition and employee recruitment. This helps our clients the way the Yankees and AT&T accounts helped us so many years ago — getting better talent, creating more work and earning more customers.

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

I’ve been in business for over 25 years, and we’ve learned you have to keep things fresh. My agency has an “Innovate or Die” mentality, so we’re always doing or trying something new. That’s helped us all to thrive and avoid burnout. When you’re doing something different every day, you don’t get to that point.

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?

Brand marketing is the foundation for a company’s image and messaging that can be applied to all communications and campaigns.

Product marketing is specific, individual campaigns ads based off the overall brand strategy.

They can both use a lot of the same tactics — social media, TV and streaming commercials, PR, etc. — but it’s the message in those mediums that changes. One on the brand versus one for a product.

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?

Without a solid, overarching brand, all your other marketing efforts are just one-off campaigns. Nothing is cumulative.

It’s like when you’re taking an exam. If you’re only being tested on one chapter- or campaign- that’s all you study for or think of. Everything else gets forgotten because you aren’t building toward that broad goal.

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

You should think about rebranding in a few different situations. If your target audience evolves, you’ll want to make sure you do the same. If you’re introducing a new product or service that doesn’t fit the current brand, you need to pivot to make sure it’s incorporated in a way that makes sense.

Nothing stays the same, so you should reevaluate to see if your messaging matches the new times at least once a decade.

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

If a rebrand isn’t necessary, don’t do it! You run the risk of alienating or confusing customers. You can put a lot of time, money and effort into something that isn’t going to improve your position in the market.

It’s worth noting that a rebrand is different from a refresh. If you’re afraid your branding is stale, this may be just what you need. It can occur incrementally and be done every year to stay relevant.

Sometimes customers may never notice, but they’ll be able to tell that you aren’t out of date. A good example is the Quaker Oats mascot. He’s changed visually over the years to stay contemporary, but he’s not radically different from when he first graced an oatmeal box.

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.

Make something new

Create a new product or service that is cutting edge and helps redefine who you are in the market. IBM launched a campaign to announce its shift to online services with e-business in the 90s, well before Amazon, eBay and other online commerce giants were in the public’s mind. It keeps the overall brand virtually the same, but also demonstrates that you’re willing to branch out and try something new.

Update your online presence

Launch a new website or update your current one with a different look and feel. Your brand hasn’t changed, but you can provide customers with a better online experience. One of our clients had been known for having an older clientele, but the services they provided could help people of many generations. We launched a website refresh with beautiful photography that gave the business a contemporary feel and connected them to a younger audience without alienating their current one.

What’s in a name?

This is a more radical, full rebrand, but if you’re looking to really change directions, this is the way to go. The company itself isn’t always changing, but the perception might. Philip Morris Companies, a tobacco manufacturing company, changed its name in the US to The Altria Group in an attempt to dissociate itself from the negative sentiment associated with smoking.

Change from the inside out

Redefine your company culture to articulate your core values in a contemporary language. Communicate those core values to your employees and customers in all forms of media. Just look at Google or Starbucks. A lot of their reputations are built on how they treat their employees. We also have a client that’s a private equity company and whenever they gain a new business, they have a culture-based campaign for new employees to make sure they know that the new owners care about them and the business.

Move on- literally!

This was my choice! Schifino Lee recently moved out of a dedicated office space into a coworking office. It’s made us more agile with mobile working and meeting in untraditional spaces. It forces you to focus on what’s most important. And, when you select a space that’s been specially curated and designed for your industry, you surround yourself with new people and trends that you’ll incorporate into your next assignment.

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 think Old Spice has done such a great job making themselves relevant to new customers in the younger generation. Growing up, that was my father’s brand. Now, it’s the brand my sons use. They did amazing work by positioning themselves using their market insights with irreverent comedy — that’s something every brand can do.

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 wish I could say I had some lofty, world-changing idea, but I think that kind of thing starts at the individual level. For me, it’s pollution and litter. I hate seeing people leave their trash places or throw it in the wrong spot. I think it comes back to respecting other people, especially in public places. I’m not a man of giant social change, I just want everyone to leave the world a bit better than how they found it.

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

“Make it happen!”

At our agency, we create things out of nothing, especially when my partner and I were starting over 25 years ago. Everything we create is based on individual initiative, passion and energy. If people don’t make things happen, then nothing happens

How can our readers follow you online?

You can check out our agency blog here and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn. You can also visit us at www.schifinolee.com.

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

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