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Navigating Your Brand When Moving from Services to Software

By: Robert Wallace

We’ve been asked a lot lately - “When is the right time to think about a rebrand?”

It’s a tough question to answer - and varies a lot for each individual company. For Tallwave, updating our brand was just a natural part of our evolution as a design and innovation company.

For services companies who are thinking about launching a new technology product, the answer is a little more nuanced. The key question here is - what to do with my brand architecture?

Changing from Services to Software:

Service companies are unique in that they still have access to real time information and feedback directly from customers. This face-to-face communication provides a direct advantage when improving customer service, operations or developing products to meet new needs.

Service companies also have personal insight into operational inefficiencies and frustrations from partners, clients and the industry as a whole. These dynamics, along with the proliferation and expectation of self-serve technology, gives service companies an edge when developing new products.

The impetus for creating a software product typically arises from one of two scenarios.

  1. Your have an acute pain point in the day-to-day operations of running the business and want to solve it through technology.
  2. You've discovered a big problem or gap in the marketplace and want to go solve it with new technology.

Building and adding software to an existing services company is tricky. Some believe developing software isn’t in a service company’s DNA. We disagree. It can be done, but you need a plan for rolling out the product, integrating brands, managing existing customers and finally winning new customers.

Navigating Your Brand When Moving from Services to Software

The product and brand are inextricably linked, and how you pursue your rebrand will affect perceptions of your product and the experience of your existing and potential customers. Getting the branding component wrong can result in confusion, frustration, and worst of all, lost customers.

There are innumerable brand architecture paths one can take. The most common options are tucking the new product under the existing brand, or spinning out the new product into a standalone brand. If, as mentioned above, you created the software to solve a problem for your company, the most common route is spinning out a new brand. If, however, you built your technology to better serve your clients, keeping the services and product brands linked makes more sense.

While this may seem like an overwhelming decision, there is a formulaic way to reach the right answer for your company. When helping clients determine which rebrand route to pursue, I always ask the same three questions.

First, are the customers of your services and product the same?

You may have discovered the opportunity to create a new kind of software through your services customers, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you are developing the product for them.

For example, Tallwave client FullContour designs custom, beautiful dental implants for their customers. Through their ongoing interactions with customers and implant manufacturers, they felt the pain of a cumbersome and outdated communication flow that relied mostly on email and fax. So, they built entirely new software to streamline the process and made it available to anyone who wanted to use it. The software, DropDental, is tied to the FullContour brand, but is positioned as an entirely different product for an entirely different set of users, mostly manufacturers and labs.

It may be easy to determine if your customers are the same or entirely different, but if the distinction is a bit foggy, start by developing customer personas for each product. The persona should encapsulate a typical customer, including their wants, needs, motivations and feelings.

Start by asking yourself, how do they find you? What pain point are you solving for them? What do they value most about your services? What does their experience with your company look like? If you are unsure how to answer any of these, talk directly with your customers. Questions like these will allow you to determine if the services and product are meant for the same persona or not.

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Second, does your current company or brand have equity in the marketplace?

Ask yourself this question as impartially as possible. Better yet, gather feedback from stakeholders that are close to your brand.

An easy way to gather that feedback is to put together a simple survey, and share it with key internal stakeholders as well as clients, vendors or other people that you trust. Ask them to provide answers to prompts like this:

  • Describe what (company name) does in one sentence.
  • What are the some the benefits that the products/services (company name) provides?
  • What is the unique differentiator of (company name)?
  • What does (company name) do better than anyone else?

The way they respond will give you a quick snapshot of where there are gaps in your message, and the strength of your brand.

If customers can easily recall who you are and what you do, then maintaining all or part of your current brand architecture makes sense. Perhaps the new product will be tucked under the current name, or will borrow an existing part of the name.

An easy example of this brand architecture comes from none other than Google. Google has countless products in a wide range of categories, and since Google has a high level of brand equity, they roll out new products that use Google in the name, such as Google Maps or Google Drive. The existing brand equity of the Google name lends credibility, familiarity and interest to the new product, thereby increasing adoption.

On the other hand, maybe your current brand doesn’t hold much meaning for current or potential customers. While this may seem discouraging, it can be an advantage as you consider your rebrand options. Minimal brand equity means plenty of room for a new, powerful brand that will drive more awareness and sales.

Client Snapshot - LbGlobal Becomes Quovant

Tallwave client LbGlobal faced this, and launched a new brand and product to stake a fresh, new claim in the marketplace. LbGlobal provides clients with legal spend and matter management services, and as a way to better serve their clients, ended up building an internal software tool. They soon realized that the tool would also be useful for a current set of customers they couldn’t reach, smaller firms that couldn’t afford their white-glove service option but still needed help with legal spend and matter management.

Realizing this, and also realizing they would need to conduct some branding work, they started out by analyzing the equity of LbGlobal in the marketplace. While they were known by their target audience, they were only known for providing services and the LB Global name didn’t have the association with innovation that they wanted.

And so, Quovant was born. The Quovant name and brand allowed them to position themselves as a leader in the industry, and introduced them as both a customer-centric service firm and an innovative software company.

Now, what to do with their new technology product? Well, they named it Pivot. Pivot sits under the Quovant brand, but is entirely separate from the hands-on services Quovant provides. Instead, Pivot stands alone as a self-serve software product, available through a web-based SaaS program. Although Pivot is loosely tied to Quovant, it required an entirely different go-to-market and sales strategy, catered to a different kind of customer.

This approach allowed Quovant to re-position themselves in the marketplace, maintain their successful service arm and capture more of the market through their new product. They were able to present services and product together without worrying about one cannibalizing the other.

Third, what do you want to be known for?

This question focuses more on the overall long-term strategy of the company. The addition of a software offering to a services firm changes the goals and trajectory of the company as a whole.

You must make a choice between leading with services, leading with your product or presenting both to your customers in harmony. If you plan to lean more and more into developing software solutions, lead with your new product. If you want to present your new product as a compliment to your high-touch services, continue to lead with your services and present the product as an added benefit or upsell.

Finally, if you see both services and product targeting different personas of the same customer type, showcase them both equally and help customers determine the best solution to meet their needs.

Learn more about how brands drive revenue:

Written by Robert Wallace

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