“What is the tipping point?” With Fotis Georgiadis & Kaitlin Zhang

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers. As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I […]

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A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kaitlin Zhang, the CEO of Oval Branding and an award-winning speaker. Kaitlin is a Chinese Canadian entrepreneur and creative based in London, UK. She has lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Shanghai, and San Francisco prior to settling in London. Her multi-cultural background helps inform her cross-border branding practice especially between China and the West.

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?

I’m Kaitlin Zhang, CEO of Oval Branding. My work in cross-border branding between China and West is deeply rooted in my very international upbringing. I have lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Melbourne, Shanghai and San Francisco. In 2013, at age 23, I arrived in London, UK with two suitcases that were too large to carry on the underground and the sheer determination to build my own creative agency one day. In 2016, that dream became a reality — the beginning of Oval Branding Ltd.

Branding for me is about storytelling and bringing awareness to exceptional people and ideas. I’m thankful that I can bring my multi-culture background and experiences to help clients bridge the cultural gap every day.

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?

When I first arrived in London, I worked for a brilliant cleantech startup, Loowatt, that made waterless toilets that can turn human waste into energy and biogas. It was a challenge to manage the company’s brand image to navigate the tricky areas of toilet humour. Certainly, there were a few jokes that didn’t land as well as hoped and had to be flushed. What I learned is that marketing is about continuous testing and it’s okay to make small mistakes as long as we are sincere in our efforts and are willing to learn from it.

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 “tipping point” for me when I started concentrating on working on my personal brand. I realized that it is important for me to build my own reputation at the same time as working on building the reputation of my clients. I started working on my own website more and social media presence. I wrote blocks and hosted live events regularly. After about half a year and 10 to 20 events later I started gaining a reputation as somebody who knows branding well. I started getting freelance branding work. The takeaway lesson is that it is never too early or late to start building one’s personal brand.

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

Currently, we are working on a rebranding of a New York based venture capital firm, Tuhaye Venture Partners, who focuses on the pre-seed round in the enterprise software space in the US. It has been a pleasure to work with the partners at the firm and to understand their unique investment thesis and fund potential.

What I love about new funds like Tuhaye is that they are increasingly committed to funding diverse founders that have traditionally been underserved by established VC firms. This means that great enterprise software businesses led by women or people of colour could receive funding and quality support from Tuhaye. So definitely get in touch with them to find out more.

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

May 18–24 2020 is Mental Health Awareness Week. My recommendation would be to learn more about mental health and be open to discuss this topic with the safe people in your life. It has been tremendously useful for me to be able to talk to my best friends about this and know that I’m not alone in experiencing stress or anxiety.

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?

Brands represent consumers perceptions and feelings about the product and its performance. The goal of brand marketing it is to build up its long-term brand equity, which is the measure of the value a brand has on a consumer decision-making process. Product marketing or advertising is a specific communication task to be accomplished with a specific target audience during a specific period of time. The main difference is that branding is often a long-term endeavor, whereas advertising often has a short time goal.

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?

Branding is a part of marketing. And advertising can be used as a great tool to build a brand. All these elements work together, but branding needs to be in the marketers mind always. Consumers are becoming more discerning, and one of the key differentiators is brand. A company that understands branding ultimately as a company that really understands its target audience. It knows where it fits in the market and how it contributes to the lifestyle of its customers. Without first understanding the brand, other marketing and advertising efforts will fall short.

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

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

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

In the case of a rebranding exercise that is used to repair reputation damage, the company needs to make sure it works with professional public relations experts to ensure a smooth transition. Simply by building a new brand is not enough to cover up past mistakes. The other important thing to consider when rebranding is to ensure that the new brand is well researched and well tested before launch.

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.

When a company is trying to upgrade its brand, here are the five key steps:

  • Pitch

This first step is arguably the most important. A memorable, impactful pitch comes with a clear understanding of brand positioning. Your brand position should include elements such as your brand’s mission statement, vision statement, and values.

Start by conducting market research into your target audience, marketing environment, and competitors. Then consider what makes your brand unique, capable, authentic, and relatable. A brand that does this well is Vimeo. Its main competitor is YouTube, but Vimeo has positioned itself as a more exclusive alternative for creators.

  • Profile

Profile is about the visual elements of your brand, consisting of your logo, visual identity, graphics and other imagery. It even includes the profile photos of your CEO and team. It takes a tenth of a second to form an opinion when looking at a visual. A first impression is the difference between someone clicking to find out more about you or turning their attention elsewhere. This is certainly an area that is worth getting professional help. For example, when you’re looking for a new restaurant, the Google review that has professionally taken photographs is much more likely to grab attention.

  • Platform

A professional, well-designed website, with your company name as the domain name, is an excellent platform for people to find all the information they are looking for you about you. Your website should at least have an About section, all your social media links and an easy option to contact you. Mobile-friendly personal websites rank really well on Google and is likely the first thing people will see after they search your name. The current design trends focuses on minimal user-friendly designs. Just think about the aesthetics of easy-to-use websites like Airbnb or Apple.

  • Produce

After completing the first 3 steps, you are ready to dive into the world of social media and content marketing. This step is all about producing valuable content to your target audience. You want to be as helpful as possible on all your channels, using tools such as social media, blogging, vlogging, books, events etc.

A brand that does this very well is Away, which is a high-end luggage brand popular with celebrities. Before the founders even built a prototype, they developed a coffee table photography book of luxury travel that encompasses all of their brand ideas. They sent this book to influencers and celebrities to sell them on the idea of their brand. After that gained momentum, only been did they start to build the product which is the luggage. This coffee table book became the foundation for all of the content of their future social media.

  • Partnership

There are two main types of partnerships: brand partners and media partners. Brand partners are mutually beneficial relationships that can help you expand your reach. Media partners help you increase publicity and help more people find out about you, With the right partnerships, you can skyrocket the reach of your brand and establish yourself as a leader in your industry.

For the clients that my company Oval Branding works with, in the venture capital — private equity space, it is absolutely essential for us to work with event brand partners as well as the media to build the reputation. We have helped founders get speaking roles, sponsorship opportunities as well as press interviews in tier one major publications. All brands need to continue to build up their reputation by developing effective partnerships and invest into branding long-term.

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?

One brand that did this very well is Lego. A simple children’s toy based on one concept has taken over the imagination of generations and created a multi-million-dollar brand. But how does a brand that’s so simple continue to be relevant in an age full of screens for children?

One way Lego continues to invest in its branding by adding new partners. Two of the most successful collaborations it has done are with the Harry Potter franchise and the DC universe, such as with Batman. There will always be new influencers and collaborators to work with.

The brand is also not afraid of embracing digitalization. It has created mobile games, PC games as well as invested in the Lego movie. At the same time it also expands in off-line experiences, such as in its flagship stores and theme parks. There is always something new on offer in the horizon, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

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. 🙂

Actually there is no need for me to inspire a movement. I think it takes more courage and leadership to be a follower and to let go of one’s ego. They are so many inspiring people out there leading amazing movements, why not consider supporting them instead? Some leaders that come to mind include Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Arianna Huffington and Emma Watson.

Furthermore, I believe our roles as marketers and brand managers are to help our client tell their unique stories and support their visions for a better world. So I’m perfectly happy doing that to make the world a better place.

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

My favorite artist Claude Monet said, “Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it is simply necessary to love.”

In the end, the work that I do is an art and it’s okay if not everyone understands it, but the most important thing is that I loved in all the ways I can through my work.

How can our readers follow you online?

Company Website: www.ovalbranding.com

Personal Website: www.kaitlinzhang.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlinzhang/

Twitter: @kaitlinzhang @OvalBrandingUK

Instagram: @kzhangbranding

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

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