Rebranding During Generational Transitions

How to Avoid the Common Missteps

The leadership team of Fishbine Construction had always been a tightknit family who were friendly to each other, supportive, and passionate about the company they mutually led. Until the day they stormed out of the conference room resolving to never speak to each other again.


Arnold, the aging patriarch, had taken over the helm from his father in the seventies, and through the ups and downs had grown it to a sizable, respectable firm. He was proud his three kids had agreed to join the family business, and was now ready to hand them the baton. Evan and Matt had come up through the ranks and were competent managers. Lisa was the first family member to go to college and then return to become a plucky CMO.


Almost immediately after Arnold announced his plan, his legacy team suggested they take the opportunity to rebrand the company. Arnold was reluctant, but wanted to be supportive, and wholeheartedly agreed to a company wide rebranding. That’s when everything went downhill.


The first red flag was the logo. Lisa lobbied for a junior designer on her marketing team to tackle the project, which made the rest of the team cringe. Matt had heard about a website that offered crowdsourced logos for a low price. And Arnold meekly suggested his buddy from Rotary, but was shut down without hesitation. After back and forth lobbying, they agreed on the in-house designer. But the brothers ended up shooting down one idea after the other, seeding doubt in everyone’s head and forcing Lisa to return to her team to attempt another round.


The second pain point was the website. After hiring a local website company, the process flowed relatively smoothly until they found themselves stalled at the content phase. Lisa accepted the assignment of gathering all the information, case studies, project photos, and staff headshots. But as the days wore on, other priorities kept pushing the task down her to-do list. 


Like the logo, development of the website came to a screeching halt, resentment among the siblings continued to fester, and the only option was to shelve both projects for the foreseeable future. So here they sat, fuming at each other in the following weekly marketing meeting they had all come to dread.


In this time of uncertainty, aging building company leaders may be deciding now is a good time to pass the baton to their legacy team, which likely includes family members, key employees, or a new ownership group. But if you were Arnold, what would you have done differently to set them up for longterm success?


In the case of Fishbine Construction, the first issue was underestimating how much time it takes to create a uniquely powerful brand. In this instant world, we expect a new logo to magically appear without much effort. But you have to go deeper into the psyche of the company and uncover its story. No image can be built, no messaging can be formed without first determining your core purpose and vision for the future. 


The initial session should focus on clarity. Who are the stakeholders, what are their roles, and what do they have to gain? What do you envision of the company’s future and what are your goals? What does success then look like for the entire team? Your next meeting should focus on your audiences, both traditional and aspirational. Who are ideal clients? What do they need? What are their challenges? What keeps them up at night?


The second issue is underestimating the time and cost it takes to build a website that truly showcases what your company has to offer. It’s likely that most construction companies don’t have a dedicated in-house web designer, and you’ll be hiring out this project. However, this isn’t the place to cut costs. 


While word of mouth continues to be the bread and butter of the building industry, it only gets you so far these days. If a prospective client or new hire wants to learn more about your company, the first thing they’re going to do is Google your name. If your brand story and online resources look dated and incomplete, prospective clients might assume that’s how you run your business, and decide to go elsewhere. Ouch.


Research shows us that only 30 percent of all family owned businesses survive into the second generation and only 12 percent will be survive into the third generation. You don’t want to find yourself in the same situation as the Fishbine Construction team, so caught up in getting something done quickly and at a low rate that you miss the opportunity to take your company to the next level. That might just be the key to becoming a successful third generation company.

Photo credit: Benjamin Jenkins

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