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AmEx helps rebrand SMBs

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Like many small-business owners, Elliot Schreier, CEO of Artyarns, had a tough time budgeting for branding—never mind rebranding. The natural yarns manufacturer and wholesale distributor, with 10 employees, considered the company's website and logo to be the extent of its branding efforts. “It certainly wasn't on the radar as something important for a small business like ours to be focused on, given the day-to-day challenges,” said Schreier, who founded Artyarns with his wife, Iris, lead designer and fiber artist for the company, in 2004. However, Schreier's attitude about branding as a marketing tool has changed dramatically after participating in Project RE:Brand, a marketing program by American Express OPEN, the small-business division of the financial services company. The program matched five design/ branding agencies with five small-business owners to assess and revitalize their brand identities within a two-month period. The various agencies worked closely with small-business owners to improve their branding efforts in one of five areas of marketing communications each: impactful marketing campaigns; designing a winning Web experience; effective advertising; redesigning packaging; and luxury branding. The other small businesses participating in the program included Citra Solv, which markets cleaning supplies; Finish Line Physical Therapy; the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art; and Ventura Air Services, which charters luxury aircraft. Artyarns, picked for the effective advertising category, collaborated with branding agency Officelab, New York, to completely make over Artyarns' advertising strategy and sharpen its overall marketing message. Officelab developed creative for print and Web advertising campaigns for Artyarns to tout the company's hand-painted couture yarn and the rich fibers used to produce them. The agency also launched a microsite, Irisknits.com, so Mrs. Schreier—an expert in yarns—could engage with her audience. “It was creating a vehicle for Iris to be able to convey the aspirational aspects of our yarn to the end-user in terms of her presenting her patterns, her ideas, in a way that is separate from the website but is more interactive,” Elliot Schreier said. Artyans augmented the microsite with Facebook and Twitter. “From the very beginning of the program, it became pretty apparent how important branding was for a company—even of our size,” Schreier said. “The knowledge you gain from someone asking questions about your company, and how you perceive yourself versus how your customers perceive you, is an important component” of marketing. Lesley Maia Horowitz, co-founder of Officelab, said the agency approached the project as though Artyarns were a fashion brand. “We needed to start talking about [the company] in terms of luxury positioning of a fashion brand, instead of a yarn bracket,” she said. All Artyarns' branding efforts were tied together with a new logo and a new tagline: “Before the art of knitting comes the art of yarn.” Dominic Sinesio, co-founder of Officelab, said the distinguishing characteristics of a small business are often hiding in plain sight. “It's to think abstractly and think about metaphors associated with your product and your brand beyond your bottom line,” he said. “We had to help them articulate what value they were bringing to the table beyond a good quality yarn. That was a thought process they hadn't engaged in before because, as a small business, you're often chasing the minutiae.” He added: “A big part of it is drawing out what's really already there, and that's what keeps [the brand] authentic.” Since completing the rebranding last July, Artyarns' Facebook page has attracted 3,700 “likes” while its Twitter account now has 500-plus followers, Schreier said. He said there has been double-digit percentage growth in sales since the branding makeover and a significant boost in traffic to the company's online properties, although he would not be more specific. “Their profile is so much larger now,” Maia Horowitz said. “They're now part of the dialogue around industry changers, which is not something they were before.” Video content from each of the rebranding campaigns is archived on AmEx's OPEN Forum website, said Julie Fajgenbaum, VP at American Express OPEN, who added that there are currently no plans to renew Project RE:Brand. She said the program provided an opportunity for small businesses to tap into brand attributes. “It's really changing the business owners' mindsets to understand that every touch point and every interaction is a reflection of their brand, and that is what really helps get them future sales and lead-gen.” The videos on OPEN Forum are accompanied by “before and after” PDFs of the projects and a brand assessment to help small businesses interested in rebranding. Schreier said he intends to sustain the branding budget. “That little bit [of budget] you put into it can gain you a lot more than some of the monies you're putting elsewhere,” he said. “If it's something you might not have budgeted for, it may be worthwhile to think about cutting somewhere else.”
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