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“Brand Makeovers” With Fotis Georgiadis & Mark Natale

Brand Personality: If your brand were a person, how would you describe them? Daring? Conservative? Friendly? Aloof? Take the time to identify and describe the personality traits that your brand has and compare them to your desired traits. Are they in line with where you want to be? Knowing these traits will help you make decisions […]

Brand Personality: If your brand were a person, how would you describe them? Daring? Conservative? Friendly? Aloof? Take the time to identify and describe the personality traits that your brand has and compare them to your desired traits. Are they in line with where you want to be? Knowing these traits will help you make decisions about everything from whom you hire, to how you craft your emails. We worked with a client to develop a coffee café that took great coffee seriously. So seriously that we would refuse to sell coffee to go, as the brand felt that coffee should be savored, enjoyed, and not rushed, the antithesis of the to-go concept. Don’t be afraid to have standards.


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Mark Natale, the chief executive officer of Smarthinking Inc. At the young age of six, Mark stumbled upon the band KISS and their album ‘Destroyer,’ then from that moment on, he’s been all about brands. Mark leads the creative side of the business, asking important brand questions like, “What does the brand stand for?”, “How is the brand different?” and “Why does the brand matter?” This love of brands gave birth to Smarthinking, a factory for brilliant brands. Formerly, Mark served as the executive vice president for American Leisure Corp. where he oversaw the operations of more than 60 residential, commercial, and corporate fitness centers located in New York. Mark’s keen eye for detail and a unique view on branding have shaped him into the innovative thinker that he is today. In addition to being an expert in the branding industry, Mark enjoys reading up on the latest trends in architecture, collecting concert posters, and spending time with his wife and kids.


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?

Igrew up in Binghamton, New York, about three hours north of New York City. My hometown was reasonably small, and at times, it felt too small for me. I went to work in New York City after college and had the opportunity to work for some of the city’s most prolific real estate developers. At that time, I was able to work with people who were focused on developing incredible experiences for their guests and being involved with what allowed me to speak my mind and make contributions that were meaningful and unique. The process of creating these brand experiences came very naturally to me, thinking about what would be captivating and how we could create connections through those experiences.

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?

We always like to make our clients stand out, and sometimes, the content that comes out of that can surely give you a laugh. For instance, we were developing a brochure for a modern, high-end day spa in New York City and led with, ‘There’s nothing like a gentle pounding to calm the nerves,’ to describe a massage. It was eye-catching, to say the least!

Apart from that, we leave the funny business to after hours.

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?

My “tipping point” came to me when I had an employer approach me about an article that they had been asked to be a part of for The New York Times. They stated that they wanted to use my ideas for the article, but I would not get the credit. “Your ideas, but my name” was how they phrased it. At that moment, I understood the significance of my contributions within the realm of branding. That’s what brought me to venture out to open my own agency.

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

We are currently working on some incredible projects in Spain, Mexico, the United States, and, most recently, Africa. Sitting from our office in Miami and working on projects around the world, with such a cosmopolitan clientele, is one of the most exciting parts of what we do. Being able to tell all these diverse and varied stories is a bit like a dream come true.

How will that help people? For me, the takeaway is not to limit yourself. If you had told me that we would be doing so much international work two years ago, I would not have believed it. But we have worked hard to put ourselves in the position to win these jobs, and we could not be happier.

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

Be very selective in your client choices, and be sure that their goals are aligned with your goals. The work that you end up producing will be challenging, and you want to be sure that your clients share a similar vision of your relationship. The business that we are in is similar to that of a personal trainer in that you are there to get a client to have a vision, push their boundaries, and ultimately get them in fighting shape. Be sure that your client roster is filled with people who understand and accept this dynamic. Otherwise, they’ll be sitting on the couch eating potato chips while you are waiting at the treadmill, ready to kick it into high gear.

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?

We see brands as the foundational story of your business. In short, the brand is why you matter in the marketplace. What will you be famous for, and why should people align themselves with you? These decisions about brands strike at the core of a person’s identity, so you need to appeal on that level. This elemental development lies at the heart of what you call “brand marketing.”

“Product Marketing” is then the strategies and tactics that you employ to promote that brand properly and its products that it offers.

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?

As previously stated, without a comprehensively developed brand and brand strategy, you are basically drifting in the wind. You must ask yourself: who are you, what do you do, and why does it matter? And also, what will your brand be famous for? These are all questions that you need to define as an organization, so you know how to proceed. Skipping this work basically puts you out there randomly, trying to make sense of why you matter in the marketplace.

We see this a lot when we begin certain projects. The business is taking shots to promote itself haphazardly, designing customer experiences and marketing materials without a true directive. They are creating things solely for the sake of creating something and doing more harm than good.

A properly developed brand acts as the guiding light for all of your business efforts. Not only advertising and marketing efforts, but really all of your business efforts. A brand is a story that your business tells the world every day through a variety of mediums. It should dictate the products that you make, the experiences that you create, and the way your staff interacts with the customers, as well as each other. The list of items that a properly defined brand can affect can go on ad infinitum, creating not only value for the company, but also efficiencies that would be otherwise misspent.

For example, we recently met with a prospective client in New York City about updating their brand, and to break the ice in the conversation, I asked, “so what don’t you like about your brand? Is it the logo or…?” Before I could list the other aspects to consider, the client interrupted me and stated, “let’s not discuss the logo. We spent $75,000 to create it, and we all unanimously hate it, but we spent the money, so we are sticking with it.” I thought to myself, what a terrible way for everyone to start such a promising project. Hating the product, spending the money, and having to grin and bear it all along. A properly developed brand will ensure not only creative excellence and market position, but it will also help you define the purpose, increase your efficiencies, and eliminate waste.

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

Rebranding is a monumental undertaking and needs to be carefully considered before assuming the endeavor. We think rebranding should be done if you feel:

  1. Your brand does not correctly reflect the product. In other words, why you exist and why your brand says you exist are not in alignment with one another.
  2. You are expanding your scope of the business, and your brand is limiting that department from growing.
  3. You need to stand out from your competitors.

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

We like to think, don’t fix what’s not broken, and truthfully there is no one rebranding strategy for all. A decision to rebrand should fall on the company’s business objectives and the direction they’d like to take. If you’re on the fence on whether or not you should rebrand, we advise that you conduct a marketing audit of your company and then identify the areas that need support. It is only after this self-analysis and reflection that you will understand whether you need to rebrand or not.

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.

At Smarthinking Inc., we don’t see brands purely as tactical executions, so I don’t think I can comment on 5 strategies that are surefire successes. That seems too short-sighted to me. We see brands as comprehensive systems that work in an interconnected fashion with so many aspects of your organization: sales and marketing, product development, human resources, the list go on.

If you want to focus on aspects that can better your brand, take a look at these components:

Brand Personality: If your brand were a person, how would you describe them? Daring? Conservative? Friendly? Aloof? Take the time to identify and describe the personality traits that your brand has and compare them to your desired traits. Are they in line with where you want to be? Knowing these traits will help you make decisions about everything from whom you hire, to how you craft your emails. We worked with a client to develop a coffee café that took great coffee seriously. So seriously that we would refuse to sell coffee to go, as the brand felt that coffee should be savored, enjoyed, and not rushed, the antithesis of the to-go concept. Don’t be afraid to have standards.

Brand Tone Of Voice: How does your brand sound in both the written and spoken format? Is it cheeky? Serious? Seductive?This is a huge opportunity to differentiate your brand, so take the time to define your tone of voice and then teach this to your team.We developed some advertising for a fitness center client in New York City, and our ads stated, “Did you know? 72% of today’s illnesses result from sitting on your ass?” It was the perfect ending to an actual fact that encapsulated the brand’s tone of voice: irreverent and fun.

Brand Promise: At its core, what does your brand promise the consumer?You should be able to succinctly encapsulate this in a couple of words. Smarthinking Inc. built a spa in the wilds of Western Idaho named The Cove. The brand promise for the Cove was “a collection of spa experiences based on adventure.” That concept then helped guide us for so many of our significant decisions needed to build the brand. For example, we built the pools out of 90,000 pounds or local granite boulders and lined the lobby with 60, 25-foot Douglas fir trees. It really helped us create a unique concept.

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?

In 2019, we saw Taco Bell bring to life its brand in an ultimate way — through a pop-up hotel where every element of the property was reminiscent of its brand pillars — from Taco Bell-themed throw pillows to pool floats in the shape of hot sauce packets. This wasn’t necessarily a “Brand Makeover,” but it was the most significant expression of the Taco Bell lifestyle to date in order to cater to millennials — a key audience for the brand.

Throughout 2020, we will most certainly see other brands try to capitalize on this experiential marketing strategy for their own businesses. To succeed and differentiate themselves in today’s robust market, it will be essential for brands to take on a symphonic effort. It is so much more impactful when the whole symphony plays together versus one instrument. That’s why brands now more than ever will need to focus on so much more than a slick tagline and exceptional materials — it will be about creating living, breathing experiences that immerse the customer in a story.

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 would want everyone to understand that no matter where we are individually from, we essentially all want the same things from life: friends, connections, security, inspiration, fun, peace, etc. Different people may express that in different ways, but mostly it is all the same desire. If we could all just realize that, there would be a lot more understanding and personal happiness in the world.

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

“All limitation is self-imposed.” — Icarus

You really have to take the time to understand what you want out of a situation and how you can make that happen. Once you do that, you have to ask yourself, “Is this the best I can do?” Chances are you can do better if you believe that you can.

How can our readers follow you online?

For further information on Smarthinking Inc., readers can visit us at www.SmarthinkingInc.com, or they can follow us @smarthinking.inc on Instagram or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/smarthinkinginc/.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued

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