Interview key stakeholders in your company to ensure your brand is in alignment — There is incredible intelligence and understanding of a brand’s business or product from its key contributors. But often that information is not shared or hasn’t been uncovered due to competing priorities or the lack of time to pause and do this high value work for the betterment of the team and growth.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Shannon Gabor, Founder of Clever Creative.
Shannon is the entrepreneurial spirit behind female-owned and operated Clever Creative. Driven by curiosity and a desire to make work that supports brands, their big vision and bold ideas, she oversees the new business strategy as well as the direction and growth of her team, capitalizing on her knowledge of what industry experts and audiences are drawn to. With over two decades of experience building brands, Shannon got her start working in entertainment promotions for Burger King and 7-Eleven before joining Mattel on global packaging design and worldwide licensing. Advocating for the human connection in branding, Shannon has taken Clever from a backyard office to an award-winning and full-service branding agency that’s proudly supporting iconic brands like Warner Bros., Tastemade, Starbucks and Netflix by finding new and exciting ways to champion unexpected results that delight
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?
Throughout my career, I have been discovering how to connect the dots between creativity and business. As a Fine Art major / Communications minor at USC, I recognized the push and pull of my left and right brain. While developing myself as a creative for the first ten years of my career: agency side and brand side; it was during my 5-year mark at Mattel post a 6-month assignment in their Hong Kong offices that I needed more. It simply was not enough to ‘just be’ creative as I found myself drawn to the conference rooms where strategic marketing and sales conversations were taking place.
It was then, 2005, that I realized I needed to move on, leave stability, and a paycheck for the unknown. Clever Creative was born. Building my own agency and pulling up new chairs to the table, defining a set of values and a mission that meant something deeper, employing young, diverse talents and hiring the person not the resume. Becoming an entrepreneur fulfilled many roles for me and continues to as I grow and develop inside my own company.
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?
The funniest brand mistake I made was in a creative campaign pitch for Monster High to our client Mattel. It was not a property I was as familiar with in their portfolio and I kept using the wrong main character name when presenting our tentpole campaign activation creative. I could feel the room energy was off but no one corrected me. It was not until we finished, that the head of brand marketing pulled me aside and told me. I was so embarrassed and at the same time knew that the work was strong regardless, but the lesson learned: know your clients’ brands inside and out. Take the time to practice and ensure that you are getting the details of every project right.
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?
For Clever, it was 2008, during the recession. What became evident to us as an agency was that our size worked to our advantage. As brands and businesses were impacted by the economy and scaling down, Clever was growing. It became a testament to our size and choice to remain small. We began connecting the dots to why our size was not just a value for client budgets but also was supportive of the way we worked, all minds on deck, one-agency team mindset and high-value for brands.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on a new hemp-based CBD recovery line of products and have had the opportunity to build the brand with our client from scratch. It is exciting to be a brand agency working in the cannabis, hemp, CBD categories. As a creative agency, we have seen our clients from these spaces be more open to sustainable packaging, investing in the mission, vision and values of their company and in producing content that is emotive and educational.
I believe that the branding we are doing in this pioneering industry is powerful. Working in collaboration with our clients who are innovating solutions for alternative wellness is incredible. And seeing their commitment to not only branding their products but also making the investment to ensure their company, brand and culture is aligned.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Set intentions to do the things that bring you joy outside of your marketing mind. As creative marketers in the brand space, we typically cannot turn off as branding is all around us. But it is so important to really reset and reframe, focusing on a hobby or learning a new skill. I often turn to those hobbies to allow me to turn off and find joy in doing things with my hands and no technology. Drawing, crafting and cooking have been good ways for me to avoid burnout.
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?
In a nutshell, product marketing is the goal of emphasizing features and benefits while brand marketing is the goal of taking on consumers for a sensory, storytelling journey. Historically, global brands have operated from a product-marketing perspective because they had the budgets for traditional media (TV, radio placement). However today, brands have the ability to create customer experiences online and through social media. Branding is useful in shaping the company’s name and identity. Marketing is useful in promoting products and services.
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?
Think of the investment of building a brand to create the face that consumers will recognize and the handshake when you are not in the aisle to introduce yourself. Branding was once defined as the logo and slogan, today branding is far more complex. It serves as the means to building customer loyalty, motivating buyers, delivering clarity of offering, building credibility and emotionally connecting with the human side of a buyer.
It is important to the future efforts of the company in order to be able to create brand recognition in the market, boost value, acquire new customers, attract talent and employee pride/satisfaction, build trust and support marketing initiatives.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
When a company seeks to target a new consumer, expand their offering and differentiate from the growing competition. Other reasons include when a brand is outdated or when they need to overcome a bad reputation. Taking on a rebranding journey requires a commitment to process and is a declaration to the company’s commitment for new growth.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
The downsides of rebranding can vary from creating confusion, losing loyal customers, cost investment to the company and requiring a large effort of time and research to ensure it is done properly.
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.
Conduct a brand wellness checkup
- We created this easy to use quiz at Clever for brands to get an immediate grade to gauge their brand wellness and identify areas of brand weakness that could use some strengthening.
Interview key stakeholders in your company to ensure your brand is in alignment
- There is incredible intelligence and understanding of a brand’s business or product from its key contributors. But often that information is not shared or hasn’t been uncovered due to competing priorities or the lack of time to pause and do this high-value work for the betterment of the team and growth.
Evaluate your mission, vision and values
- Working with startups like TIDL, Careste and Hello Again we know the value that doing this work fosters. It is equally important how you communicate and enroll in your company as it is to build consumer connections.
Be open to looking at your brand’s visual system amongst your competitors to see if it is as strong as it was when you created it
Dust off the brand book and ask your teams which pages are most valuable
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?
Dunkin Donuts in 2019 did a phenomenal job in their brand makeover. It was both strategic and creative, leveraging years of customers referring to the brand as Dunkin’, dropping the word donuts as it was obvious what loyal customers meant. The timing was in sync with the brand’s desire to be known for more than just donuts and the rebrand offered the position for the brand to expand their menu offering in a smart and innovative manner. The packaging design was crafted with the boldness of the new simplified brand name and it just worked. It brought a playfulness to the brand, made it feel more valuable and more competitive to the other global coffee companies.
I was impressed by the playfulness of the rebranding design, specifically the packaging system and the honoring of the core colors that have been part of the brand since it launched. Growing up in NY and NJ I have always had a soft spot for the brand and when I moved out to CA, it was something I missed. Luckily now there are some opening in my area so I can get a cup of nostalgia when I miss my family.
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. 🙂
Encourage brands to redesign their packaging to lessen waste, be more sustainable and solve for mobility and ease of opening for all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“As knowledge increases, wonder deepens” — Charles Morgan
I have always been grateful for a career that allows me to be a lifelong learner. Someone who can never stop being curious and approaches every project as a gift to fully immerse myself in the understanding of the product or company. As I gain insight, information and intelligence on the journey, my wonder grows and that is where my creative mind plugs in.
How can our readers follow you online?
@clevercreative on Instagram
@shannongabor on Instagram
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.