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Rebrand Before You Sell: Laura Sauter’s Guide to Increasing Your Company’s Value


Rebrand Before You Sell: Laura Sauter’s Guide to Increasing Your Company’s Value

By , March 8, 2024
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Discover the unexpected key to increasing your company’s value and ensuring a successful exit. You won’t believe how rebranding can transform your business and leave a lasting legacy. Find out how to differentiate, stand out, and secure your company’s future with a simple, yet powerful strategy. It’s the game-changing move you never saw coming. Are you ready to unlock the full potential of your business?

Laura Sauter is a seasoned branding expert with over 23 years of experience in brand positioning and identity for companies, particularly those in transition. Specialising in rebranding strategies, Laura has helped numerous businesses navigate the intricate process of refreshing their branding in preparation for successful exits. With a focus on creating brand equity and aligning brand identity with evolving business missions, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a keen understanding of the emotional complexities that come with rebranding. Laura’s expertise extends to professional service businesses, offering valuable insights on how to boost equity valuation through strategic branding. Her approach emphasises involving employees in the process, ensuring a seamless transition and continuity for the brand.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Discover the Impact of Rebranding on Business Exits
  • Uncover the Emotional Journey of the Rebranding Process
  • Explore Branding Beyond Just a Logo for Business Success
  • Implement Forward-Thinking Brand Strategies for Future Growth
  • Learn the Importance of Brand Architecture and Trademarks for Business Valuation

Discover the Power of Rebranding

The process of rebranding can significantly impact a company’s valuation and overall attractive to potential buyers. It’s a strategic maneuver that enables businesses to align their brand image with their current status and future aspirations. A successful rebrand can effectively tell a company’s evolving story, enhance its marketplace reputation, and ultimately set the stage for a prosperous business exit.

Watch the episode here:

Welcome to the podcast that’s dedicated to helping business owners prepare for exit so you can maximise value and exit like a boss. This is the Exit Insights podcast presented by Succession Plus. I’m Darryl Bates- Brownsword and today I’m talking to Laura Sauter. Laura is a branding expert and what we’re going to explore is the pros and cons, why you might want to consider rebranding your business, refreshing your branding in part of your exit planning process leading up to an exit. Laura, welcome. Thanks for joining me today.

So good to be here. Thank you.

Cool. Hey, Laura, why don’t you just, I guess, position yourself, do some branding, personal branding, and just give the listeners a little bit of background about your experience and what you focus on. And then we’ll dig into the reasons and the whys and how’s and therefore of rebranding.

Thank you. So I do have a practice, it’s about 23 years old and I do specialize in brand positioning and brand identity for companies, mostly in transition. So transition, obviously you are a succession planning expert. That is a very obvious transition.

But launching, merging, diverging, anytime when there’s a change in a company’s lifecycle, that is a good trigger for someone like me to come in and help them to reposition and redesign. And today we’re going to be talking about naming mostly. So about 40% of my clients do need a new name for a variety of different reasons. And we’ll get into that.

And the first thing you say almost creates alarm bells that when we’re going through a transition period, that’s the time to start thinking of changing your branding, your naming and some of your naming. That must sound terrifying to a lot of business owners.

It is terrifying and somewhat emotional, unexpected for most people, especially the owner founders, who are, this is their baby, their business is their baby. They’re not just an employee. This is their life’s work in most cases. So to change the outward facing presence can be very emotional to a company owner on any side of the fence.

So in the succession planning piece, it’s already emotional to think about leaving your life’s work in the hands of someone else. But to change it in preparation for handoff can be like, what’s happening here? Almost like I think about it in terms of the home stagers, have you seen those tv shows, whether it’s like love it or leave it, and someone will come in and redesign the home to prepare for sale. And then the owners come in and they’re like, we love this house now, why do we want to leave this. So it can be very emotional.

Yeah. And especially so if their name is on the door.

Very true. So I have worked with companies who not only have their actual name on the door, but the company is so married with that owner that they are known part and parcel for that company. And their reputation is the company reputation.

So it can be tricky when you are Bob’s furniture and you want to sell it, to Mary, does Mary want Bob’s furniture on her new door? And that can be tricky because in some cases, like, let’s just say Ben and Jerry’s is an ice cream. Know, people love Ben and Jerry’s. Yes. There was once a Ben and Jerry the same. It’s not going to come off right if it’s like Bob and know Bob and Martha’s ice cream. So in some cases, the name has so much equity that it’s okay, that it has a new owner, and in some other cases, it’s just not right. And we have to look at that. We have to look at the business.

We have to look at what the permissions are in the marketplace, because in some cases, people are going to flock to XYZ company because they know that company name. And in other cases, it’s just not relevant anymore. That company owner has gone into the recesses and what is coming out into the light might be something completely different than what it was. And we have to look at that and be prepared for that.

Yeah, absolutely. And businesses evolve, and brands need to present and project what the business represents.

Right, true.

Why do we change a name at all? It needs to reflect something. So if we change a name, it might be because our mission has evolved over the lifecycle of the company. It might be because it’s not telling the right story. In one case, the owner’s company name was Renovation Planning and Interiors.

Well, that’s a very descriptive name, which isn’t horrible. Like, think about Juice Plus Juice. You know you’re going to get juice at a company called Juice plus. Maybe something a little extra, like a sandwich or a smoothie. But Renovation, Planning and Interiors really wasn’t evoking the luxury and the place where that company owner was taking it.

So he came to me again. He was 65, wanting to retire, and wanted to do the handoff, and he really wanted to have the name and the brand be of the stature that he had built it to just elevate what we did together. We called it Charles Street Design. What we did together really elevated the company exponentially, truthfully, to prepare him for a very successful exit.

Okay, so we’re now talking about all of, I guess, the strategic elements of marketing lining up. So we’ve got the brand, we’ve got that that needs to match the position and the reputation in the market.

Ideally, it’s not linked to a person. Ideally not, I think in the region of New England where his company was, his company was known as Jeff’s Company. And yes, he had employees, but it really wasn’t a true brand, if you will. And I think a successful brand is going to stand on its own legs. And in some cases you can have a good revenue stream and you can be a successful leader, but you may not still have a brand that can be its own entity, if you will, with or without the owner being present.

Totally. And that’s one of the things when we’re exit planning and we’re preparing the business to be ready for exit, the main objective is to demonstrate to the marketplace that the business is a valuable entity on its own without the daily input from the owners. Now, if all of the work is coming to the business because of that person, that individual has charisma and is attracting all the business, then that’s not helpful. And especially if it’s Jones and co or what have you.

And so what I’m hearing is it can happen before or after. And I guess the way small businesses prioritise these things is that the business will evolve and get to a point in the market where the business has evolved to the point where it’s ahead of the brand and we need to perhaps rename it and do some branding and rebranding so that it catches up so it matches the stature of the business as it is now and we’re matching things up.

I definitely see that within the first three years, a brand will be evolved once there is that handoff or that sale. When a company will take the preemptive, I guess, workload on before the sale is maybe a smaller percentage, let’s say. But I think again, in the example of this interior design firm, they had grown beyond where they had started to such a degree and they hadn’t done that evolution during their own life cycle. And so I think companies need to see where they’re at.

If they have created that success, where they are able to stand on their own without the company owner being the charismatic leader, if you will, and just the one that is known almost before the name brand, then they need to do that work to really prepare the company for sale in that marketing space because a company is so much more than just its bottom line. It’s a connection to the customer base. It’s also a connection to the employees, because we say the brand really is carried by the employees. They are the brand ambassadors.

If they can breathe it and live it, then they’ll promote it and share it just like a consumer will. So getting the employees involved also and getting them behind it is very important because once the leader leaves, and presumably the employees are going to go with the business to the new entity. So really involving them in the process is very important because they are going to be those spearheading entities for the brand and be the brand ambassador for that new life that is coming with the succession plan.

Yeah. So Laura does this thinking. So I think this brand extension or this rebranding thinking, does it extend to professional service type businesses and where we’re offering a service to the marketplace?

It does. And sometimes we can do what’s called a clarifying line to evoke the change. If you don’t change the actual name, let’s know. There might be a rollout that says, let’s just say Sullivan Landscaping or Sullivan Financial Services. You might evoke not a tagline, but a strap line or a clarifying line that starts to evoke the change that’s coming to either show expanded services or new geography or a new lineage, let’s say. And then you can, with that transition plan, not leave behind everyone that has known that company for so many years and also not get the employees out of whack, but then prepare for that new owner to maybe put their new name on it. But that tagline or that strap line will carry over and create a bridge from the old entity to the new entity that will come with the sale.

And what’s going through my head now with a number of the clients and businesses that I speak to is a lot of these professional service type businesses say, yeah, Darryl, it almost doesn’t matter that the business we’re working to clients come to me as an individual, and I go, yeah, you want to change that and you want them to come to the brand. Because if they’re coming to the brand rather than the individual, we’re creating equity in the business and equity value rather than dependence on the individual, the key people in the business. And if you’re a shareholder in the business, then you want to boost the valuation. So is that your experience? Have you got any, I guess, anecdotal stories where you can demonstrate an increase in valuation around those lines?

Valuation is tricky in the short term. Long term, there is exponential potential. I think that I get nervous when there’s a. I think law firms are prone to, obviously, putting the partner’s names on the doors. Of course, sometimes they’ll shorten it to an acronym. So when that law firm gets shifted over to probably other partners or other groups, it’s tricky because I think there’s value in the legacy. But oftentimes with that legacy comes a lot of clutter. Let’s talk about today’s world, which is a lot more diversity minded.

People who are not just white men are owning companies and it’s important to, I think, show modernity. And when you create a name that is beyond the initials of partners from 100 years ago, you’re able to show maybe more of the attributes and the spirit of a brand through other types of naming processes. So maybe it’s not South Shore Financial Services, but aspire financial services, something that’s a little bit more evocative of where the brand is going. And then that way it doesn’t matter if Paul, Mary and Joe are owning the company, but the Aspire concept is what’s carrying the brand beyond Joe, Mary and Bob.

So from your perspective, Laura, what’s best practice around, I guess, branding to boost equity valuation in a business or to create value in a business? If business owners listening to this are going, hey, look, I do need to start thinking about rebranding. What are some tips you can give them that would go, look, head down these lines, think about this, try this, avoid this. Have you got some tips on what would be best practice for rebrand or creating a new brand?

I think you really need to stop, drop and roll and figure out what is the brand. At the end of the day, it isn’t just the bottom line, it isn’t just the owner, what is the brand?

And you need to look at the position in the marketplace and see what the marketplace can accept and what they want. So I think that if you want to create a new brand name, it has to be aligned with that brand positioning. And the brand positioning is based on basically the business model. So you have to really be clear about what the business model is and what the business needs to get the business done. So the pros and cons of naming are very many.

So a con could be that you confuse your customers. Nobody knows if Joe is retiring, they don’t know that or Joe wants to sell. So that can be confusing. So you need to have a reason to do it that is going to offset any type of confusion. But the offset could be you’re creating a new demographic with your new name.

You’re not losing the customer base that you have, but you’re actually becoming a little bit more modern or a little bit more relevant to folks that you may not have been able to connect with earlier. So that’s really important to being able to leverage that experience from the past and take that into new territory with the future.

So with that emotional change, the owner is able to put their fingers out into other areas in the marketplace, which I think is really important, showing an expansion of services. It’s able to be a little bit more creative, maybe a little more clear, and create new marketing opportunities, which is really important.

So new marketing opportunities. So does that lead us to. It’s better to have a brand that is suggestive of the product that you’re going to be buying or suggestive of the type of experience you’re going to be getting, or is it just bland names, if they have a reputation in the marketplace, are equally as okay?

I think both you’re showing capability and what you do, what you provide, but also how you want to connect, because I think descriptive names are one way to go, but to really be more evocative or emotionally connected to the marketplace is even better. I mean, even if you’re a financial services company, I mentioned, you know, KPMG, okay, it’s the letters of the founders last names. But if you change it to Accenture or Aspire something that’s more evocative and more modern and a little more emotional, I think that can be an important pathway to success. A name, it needs to be easy to say, easy to spell. It needs to maybe add a little bit of curiosity. I don’t think it has to be so direct in today’s world as Juice Plus.

So if it’s part of a bigger strategy, that we need to be considerate around what we’re going to call our brand. But it doesn’t have to be juice suppliers.

Yes, exactly.

So what about colors, Laura? Do colors in brands suggest anything? I get mixed messages. I’m not a color expert, but what influence do they have?

That’s a great question. So there’s a whole psychology behind colors. Typically, financial services will stay away from red because of red is a negative in the market. On the other hand, when Santander came out, they were red, but they were a Spanish company and they have a flame in their logo. They’re fiery. I thought that was really bold and beautiful and very unique.

If you put down a bunch of financial brochures on the table and Santander’s is there, Santander’s is going to stand out because it’s different. And I am a fan of being a little different, but you have to be prepared for that. Blue is serene, it’s safe, it’s boring. And typically green has connotations with growth and money. So I think that’s a great way to start when you’re creating a visual identity for a company.

On the other hand, I really love to do a whole competitive board where I’m looking at all of the logos in the space and really clear, because if all the financial services are blue and all the landscape companies are green, you’re not going to stand out. So I like pairings. Like maybe green is kind of what you have to do, but then with like an orange and to create a little bit of vibrancy.

Because this is the first visual representation that someone’s going to experience your company. You want it to communicate something, don’t you?

I think of a logo as a diamond. Think of all the millennia of dust and debris that comes together to make that diamond. Same thing with a logo. You’re taking business strategy, you’re taking the legacy, you’re taking everything, the history and all the goals and objectives for the future and distilling it into a logo. So that logo is the crystalline expression of all of those things to the marketplace.

And it’s the thing that holds together the brand ambassadors, who are the workers. It holds together everyone. And then it is that starting point for all the marketing tone of voice, the look and feel of print and web. It is the starting point for all of that.

Okay, what do you think comes first? Because I’m sensing a chicken and the egg here. So does the business reputation build and come first? And then we build the brand and catch up to display and be a visual representation of what the reputation is of the business? Or do we create a brand and go, that’s what we want to be, and then we catch the business up to fulfill the promise, if you like, as made by that brand imagery?

Well, every business is going to be a unique situation and I think every business owner who’s in this situation needs to think about what they are bringing to market. And is what they’re bringing to market going to be confusing if owned and run by a new set of people? So you want to look at, presumably they have a brand already. Presumably they have something that they’re known for visually in the marketplace. Whether it’s obviously a sign on the door, brochures, business cards, website, they have a look and feel and you want to see.

Is that reflective of the company that they’re actually selling today is that work that they’ve done 20 years ago, 15 years ago, reflective of all of the skill building and development and expansion that they have done at this mark. And really a company owner is a new potential buyer is buying the promise of what that company will be in five years. So if you think about a logo and a brand and a visual toolkit that was built 15 years ago and then go five years past, that’s a 20 year gap. So it’s like you’re holding old goods from a visual brand identity standpoint. So I think it would be handy if they brought it to today and tomorrow.

So if you could bring the new potential buyer a platter that is ready for five years out, then it will truly be reflective of what they’ve built.

Okay, so it’s a forward thinking promise, is what I heard there. Is that right?

Yes. We are always creating and branding for five to ten years out. It’s an aspirational promise. And one would presume, obviously, that it’s a promise that can be fulfilled, but it is aspirational.

Yeah, got it. Perhaps I should have asked this earlier if I’d been on my a game. What do you say to a business owner that says, Laura, look, I’ve already got a logo. What’s the difference between a logo and what will rebranding help me to achieve?

Well, I think, again, you need to do a pulse check on is it the right identity for the business that they’re selling today. Having a logo is a great start, but what is the logo reflective of? Is it reflective of work and values that they had ten years ago, or is it reflective of work and values that they are promoting as a promise for what the new buyer is buying? That’s all.

Well, often it’s a piece of clip art that the owner used from their office suite when they first started their business and have kept running with it.

And if that is true, which I have seen as well, it is not reflective of the company that they’re selling today. Yeah.

So they’re underselling themselves. And what some people tell me is that a brand is just so much more than a logo. You already mentioned that. It’s a future promise. It’s an aspiration.

True. And one of my favorite sayings is it’s not what I or we say it is, it’s what the customers and the consumers say it is. So it’s the value out in the marketplace. And if the marketplace is saying, oh, it’s a ho hum CPA, firm. I like Bob. He was a good accountant. Okay, well, Bob’s retiring, so now what? Or, oh, I love this firm. They’ve done right by me and my mom. My company’s been going to them for years. It’s more than Bob. It’s more than that.

Yeah. So can a brand cause reputational damage if we don’t get it right? And what’s going through my head? The question is if we create a forward thinking brand that’s aspirational of where the business wants to be and what they want to promote, and the brand projects that, but then the experience the customer has is, well, still five or ten years behind that and it doesn’t reflect what was promised by the brand. Can that cause damage? I guess, either from a valuation perspective or just a business reputation perspective. From what you’ve seen.

I think so. Again, I’ll use the house analogy. If I am a home buyer and I come up to a house that’s tired, it hasn’t been painted in a number of years, the steps are broken, the kitchen hasn’t been updated, I am going to choose somebody else, some other house. I want to come in and feel at home. I want to use the house like it would be my house. So obviously, yes, I think a future buyer may want to put their own stamp on it, but why would they buy a company whose marketing value was broken and tired and not modern?

I think again, within the first three years a new buyer, a new owner is going to put their stamp on it. But again, why would they buy a tired company? I feel, I think it’s important to step it up prior to sale. And again, if you can give yourself a couple of years prior to selling and give the marketplace some time to get energised around it, you’re going to have a way more vibrant company to sell.

Yeah, and first impressions count. And I guess they count when buyers are looking at businesses as well, when they’re going through looking and considering various businesses that they may want to make an offer on the impact and that first experience of businesses are going to grab their attention. I guess it sets a promise that the whole business is going to reflect that experience of what the brand promises and we better deliver on that.

I would hope so. I think it’s good housekeeping to do that. I think it’s good housekeeping at the very, very minimum. And certainly there is a risk if you do so much work like that house example, that you won’t want to leave your house, you won’t want to leave your business because it’s so awesome and perfect. But I think, again, it’s good practice, it’s good housekeeping. It’s responsible business ownership to have your brand reflect the hard work that you’ve put into it.  And the clip art and the outdated colors are not going to do that for you.

Yeah. So, Laura, there’s one more thing that I promised myself I’d ask you, and that is around. Okay, so we’ve branded and named the company. What about our services? Is there value in naming our products or our methodologies? And you talked about this. I don’t know a company, but we’ve got the acme way, or here’s our proven methodology. We call it the five step process or the Hindenburg method. I don’t know, but we’ve got a name for our product or our methodology. Is that something that owners should be considering and exploring?

I think so. There’s a thing called brand architecture and that is exactly about how you’re describing know Sullivan Automotive, Sullivan Financial Services, Sullivan Wealth Management. That would be more of a master brand strategy where the name of the company has entities or business units under it. But then also you can basically trademark your slogans, you can trademark your methodologies, you can trademark processes and so forth. And that, I think, adds value to the company because you are really owning. You’re really owning the way that you work. And the company employees are going to do it in a certain way. And again, that starts to bring a little less focus on the business owner who someone might know and create certainty that that process and methodology is going to carry forth with that new company name or look and feel. And I think that adds some security around, hey, Bob’s retiring, but we know that the same type of service and style is going to be shared in the new wave of leadership.

Okay, so, Laura, how do we pull all this together? Is there one compelling issue or one compelling point that you want listeners to walk away from having listened to this episode, remembering what’s the one? Or there can be three points if you want, but what’s the key message here?

I think it’s important to leave a company’s ship in order and to do right by your company, to have the look and feel the brand essence match all of the great things that you’ve built over the years. I also think it’s important to have a point of differentiation if you are so close to your business that you haven’t become clear about how you are different from the others that may have crept up over the years and closed in on you, then there might be an opportunity to differentiate and that will make you more marketable to a potential buyer. I think it’s also important to know that there are certain logistics involved when you are rebranding, certainly communication with your employees, communication with your current customers and consumers.

So there’s other logistics in terms of rolling this out. Depending on how big you are to signage, to obviously your website, there’s logistics involved. So there’s time involved with that. Registering a new trademark, that takes a little time notifying the legal entities out there. So at the end of the day, I think it’s important for an owner to be able to leave a legacy around their story. And being clear about how important the work that the owner has done and having that story be reflected in the brand I think would be a really great gift to an exiting owner.

And the only way we can do that is if we plan ahead and take the time. Okay. I love it and the piece I took there know, by definition, difference is valuable. So if we can stand out, we can be different. We stand out from the crowd that makes us more valuable. 

Laura Sauter, thanks for sharing your exit insights with us today.

Thank you.

About Laura Sauter 

Laura Sauter is a seasoned brand expert, educator and speaker. With brand strategy and design, her company Agency Bel supports entrepreneurs, non-profits and long time company founders alike to feel confident during their time of growth, transition, or conflict with strategic brand position, naming and corporate identity and associated marketing. She has consulted for multi-national companies such as Fidelity, Biogen and TJX, as well as many small and mid-sixed companies around New England and nationwide.


If you would like to learn more about how to start preparing your business, then you can get more information here: It All Begins with Insights.

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

CEO | Succession Plus UK

Darryl is a dynamic, driven Business Mentor and Coach with over 20 years of experience and passion for creating successful outcomes for founder-led businesses. He is a great connector, team builder, problem solver, and inspirer – showing the way through complexity to simplicity.

He has built 2 international multi-million turnover businesses; one now operating in 16 countries. His quick and analytical approach cuts through to the core issues quickly and identifying the context. He challenges the status quo and gets consistent, repeatable and reliable business results.

Originating in Australia, Darryl’s first career was as an Engineer in the Power Industry. Building businesses bought him to the UK in 2003 where he quickly developed a reputation for combining systems thinking with great creativity to get results in challenging situations.

A keen competitive cyclist, he also has a B Eng (Mech) Engineering and an MBA.