When To Rebrand

During a recent company rebrand project, our client said he wanted the new look to be timeless. That is an admirable goal! Whenever we embark on a company rebrand, we aim to represent the company as it is today, incorporating their vision for the future, all while working to avoid anything that will quickly look trendy or dated.

However, completely timeless just isn’t possible. Your identity will and should evolve. Look at iconic brands like Apple, McDonald’s or Google, and you’ll see the identity and logo have changed over time. Companies have to change their products and services to meet market demands, and so naturally the brand must keep up.

So, how do companies make the huge decision to pull the trigger on a rebrand? Here are a few questions we always ask:

1) Has your business name changed? Sliding a new name onto an old logo is a bad idea. To customers it can feel insincere, like you thought no one would notice. Brand name changes must be handled with sensitivity.

2) Has your market changed? Does your brand need to appeal to a different audience than it used to? Or is your audience fresh, even though the market is the same? For instance, businesses that market to teens may want frequent redesigns to stay relevant to a fashion-conscious audience.

3) Has your vision or market position changed? If you’re growing, you’re changing relative to your industry. Are you now the market innovator? Or have you become the seasoned expert in a field of startups?

4) Are you offering drastically different services than before? It’s not unusual to look up one day and realize you’re in a completely different business than you started in. Changes in service offerings can result in a very different brand. Land’s End, for instance, began in the sailing industry making sails and sailing gear. Tiffany & Co. originally sold stationery.

5) Does your logo work in all the ways you need it to? Logos have to function in a wide range of environments — from large scale graphics on the side of a building to the tiny favicon next to a web address. Does your logo have enough flexibility to meet changing media conditions?

Stay tuned, and we’ll reveal why we decided it was time to go through our branding process for our own identity!


When To Rebrand2018-05-21T15:38:21+00:00

Is It The Price Or The Value?

When sales are difficult I always ask my client, is it the price or the value the customer is objecting to?

Of course, it’s never one or the other. The two are intimately linked. If the value is great enough, the price feels appropriate. The higher the price, the greater the perceived value needs to be.

Perceived value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the only way to learn that is to talk to your customer and prospects. What gives them joy and gets them excited? How can you make their lives better? How can you alleviate some of their pain? The answer is rarely as simple as offering a lower price. (Which is why the competition can sell at a higher price, and still kick your butt.)

Truly get to know your customers and prospects and look for ways to align what you offer with what they say they really need and want. The closer you come—and the better you are at communicating that—the higher the price they’ll be willing to pay.

Is It The Price Or The Value?2018-05-08T13:24:17+00:00

Our Go-To Design Sites

Want to study up on design? Subscribe to some great design sites. Here are our top picks:


–Invision provides a platform for prototyping, collaboration and workflow. You’ll find resources for UX, team-building, and marketing, like inclusive design, how to conduct user research, and ways to empower your design team.


–Marvel boasts “the best design articles every day”. Product design, color theory, the ultimate UX reading list have all been covered recently on the blog.

Product Design Weekly

–Check here for digital product design news, like immersive design, how QuickBooks rocks new user onboarding, 5 brainstorming exercises for introverts.

Creative Review

–Boasting “the best in creativity”, you’ll find timely conversations about women of color in design, gender stereotypes, and #MeToo in the creative industry.

UX Design Weekly

–Learn from the best in user experience design, including a practical guide to ethical design, and five tips for a successful career as a UX researcher.

Fast Co Design

–Dig into UI and UX articles, plus product insights and cool things happening with cities and spaces across the country.

Design Week

–With categories including branding, packaging, print, graphics, interactive, interiors, and retail, you’ll find a wide variety of topics and inspiration.


–Typewolf covers “What’s Trending in Type”, like font recommendations and lists, plus guides and resources.


–This is a great resource for anyone with an online retail presence, including user-friendly forms, user-centered transactional email design, and the importance of color for UX.

Designlab Weekly

–Here you’ll have an opportunity to learn 1-on-1 from an expert, plus gain hands-on experience, all built to fit your schedule.

Creative Bloq

–Design inspiration, product reviews, How Tos, and more!

It’s Nice That

–Known for “championing creativity”, Its Nice That features the best of animation, film, graphic design, illustration and photography.


–Want design inspiration expertly curated for you? Enter Muzli, the designers’ secret source for relevant design stories and inspiration.

Designer News

–Find stories, jobs and podcasts all catered to the design community.


–Short and sweet, Sidebar highlights the five best design links, every day.

Web Designer News

–Sort by “most voted” or “most clicked” to see content that resonates with designers around the world.


–Design, architecture, art, technology…you’ll find a little bit of everything here.

Our Go-To Design Sites2018-05-07T20:42:02+00:00

The Importance of Customer Feedback

I always say, “You never know what business you’re in until the customer tells you.”

I know so many companies for whom customer feedback has led to major changes in their strategic direction. Changes have included new or additional products and services, and markets or audiences served. In fact, I have seen customer insights completely turn a struggling company around.  Customer feedback can point out ways to provide deeper value and greater differentiation against the competition—both highly advantageous to revenue growth.

So if this feedback is so valuable, why don’t more companies seek it out? Many think they do. They think their post-sale surveys and customer service on Twitter are enough. But they aren’t.

Truly valuable feedback only comes from talking with your customer. Techniques such as one-on-one interviews, round table discussions, and in-home visits yield rich feedback.

At Cooper Smith & Company, we advocate the method taught in the University of Iowa’s Venture School where they require that all candidates in the program talk to 100 customers. No, that’s not accurate. What they have to do is LISTEN to the customers.

Using the techniques outlined in Talking to Humans by Giff Constable, they interview, observe and record the feedback. They can’t talk about their own business, or their product or their next big ideas. In time, patterns emerge as interviewees say things like, “what I’d really like is…,” and “if you could solve X for me, I’d buy it today.”

Insight results in products and services customers are practically leaping across the table to buy. The value proposition is clear, and the sales are easy.

If you’re not having deep conversations with your customers, get a copy of Mr. Constable’s book and set a goal to do interviews this year. I’m confident you’ll learn something interesting.

The Importance of Customer Feedback2018-03-30T15:19:54+00:00

Meet the Artist: Sally Cooper Smith

I love business and art equally.

I respect the nuts and bolts of business, but I love the creative side most of all. I thrill at the creative “Aha” moments — when I can look at a client’s problem with fresh eyes and see a new opportunity or solution they had overlooked before.

The same dichotomy is true on the art side. I love the creative aspects of my world. Design and copywriting are my life-blood and I’ll probably never stop doing them, but I am extremely pragmatic. I require all my concepts to work hard for my clients. Beautiful for beauty’s sake is just not in me. To be beautiful, something has to be effective as well.

How did I get this way?

I don’t know, but I was the kid who was always making a poster for the school play, or painting the backdrop for our neighborhood “circus” show, or creating a brochure with the cheer lyrics so the East High School football fans could chant along with us. (Yep, I really did that. I was crushed when I found the majority of them under the bleachers after the game.)

I enrolled in college to be a set designer. I didn’t know the field of Graphic Design existed. It was my advisor’s idea that I take general graphic design classes before I consider specializing. It was perfect. I fell in love.

I learned the “old school” methods of the field in college, and as a professional picked up the technologies the desktop computer introduced. Now, as the internet has grown to be an integral part of our lives, it has brought new communication opportunities. There are always new design media to embrace, new techniques to learn, and new ways to touch people.

In my business I’ve worked with hundreds of clients to help them use those technologies and develop deeper connections with customers and stakeholders. I’ve helped them define and express their brand and grow their businesses through creative marketing and intelligent communications.

In addition, I’m doing more and more business consulting, using my marketing and messaging insight to help direct clients through the process of vetting and implementing a business concept. I love working closely with my entrepreneur clients.

As I look forward to our 25th anniversary this summer, I feel truly blessed. I have a profession I love that is the synthesis of “smart” and “art”.

Meet the Artist: Sally Cooper Smith2018-03-30T15:27:34+00:00

Internal Communications Case Study

This case study was first published in the PR News Guidebook. 

Major Challenges Faced

José lives and works in Houston as a General Foreman for Wright Tree Service. His colleague David is based in Wichita, and works as a computer programmer for Terra Spectrum Technologies. Both employees work for the same parent company, Wright Service Corp., based in Des Moines. How can their employer make sure these two team members not only feel connected to each other, but also feel connected to the larger organization as a whole?

Wright Service Corp. faces this exact challenge. The parent company was founded in 1961, and has undergone decades of tremendous growth and expansion. Now a prominent national leader in the environmental services industry, they have more than 3,500 employees across six companies all over the United States. The family of companies provides integrated vegetation management, technology solutions, consulting and operations, commercial environmental products, residential and commercial landscaping, tree care, and other outdoor services. While they’re 3,500 employees strong today, their humble beginnings included one man, named John L. Wright, and his wife. The company started as a family business, and the family foundation that it was built on continues yet today.

Due to the nature of the work performed, the number one value of each company is safety. From the CEO to the entry-level tree trimmer, it is vital that each employee embrace the importance of safety training and procedures.

With so many employees all across the country, building a strong and cohesive company culture is a major hurdle. Add the fact that many of the employees require communications in Spanish, and internal communications become doubly challenging.

How can Wright Service Corp. make sure that employees who will never meet, like José in Texas and David in Kansas, still feel connected to the company and embrace its mission and roots of a family founded company?


In 2013, we helped this family of businesses develop a company-wide newsletter to address these internal communications hurdles. The publication is 40+ pages, and is distributed in the spring and fall each year. The newsletter is one of the key communication pieces for employees, and serves a variety of functions. First and foremost, they use the newsletter to gain buy-in for the mission and values of the family of companies. “Safety is our highest value, and family remains our foundation,” said Scott Packard, Chairman and CEO. “Our employee newsletter helps to reinforce these two key elements of our company culture”.

The newsletter includes results from initiatives like the Spring Safety Challenge, the Tailgate Safety Contest, and the Turkey Safety Challenge to encourage safe work practices. The company CEO awards an “ESOP Coin” to employees who exhibit company values in an exemplary manner. Coin recipients are also congratulated within the publication.

To help all employees feel valued and included, the Wright Tree Service section of the newsletter is produced in two languages. This helps foster the “family” culture that the CEO and leadership team strive for.

Finally, this internal communications piece tells the unique story of each of the six companies under the Wright Service Corp. umbrella. This is particularly important because Wright Service Corp. is an employee owned company. Giving each employee an overview of successes, company news, and updates helps build a sense of pride and ownership.


The 40-page Wright Service Corp. news-zine is a major undertaking, and has become part of the Wright marketing and communications team’s workflow throughout the year. There is a dedicated email address for employees to submit news, stories, employee kudos, and photos from events. They’ve developed an editorial calendar of important annual events to document & include, like the Annual Awards Banquet, departments that participate in summer sport leagues, employee training sessions, and employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) meetings. The marketing team acts as a historian for the company, taking photos at company events, and keeping a running list of important company news to include. The team also gathers positive customer reviews to share in the publication. Sara Harpenau is the head of the marketing team, and has oversight of all company communications. Her team is tasked with gathering content and company highlights from the executive leadership and management of each of the six companies.

“Our company newsletter is such an important part of the company culture,” said Harpenau. “We invest a lot of hours planning this newsletter and gathering and writing content. The positive feedback we get from employees across the family of companies, as well as retirees and clients when they receive it make it well worth the effort.”

The actual production of the piece usually takes about two months from start to finish. Copy, photos and graphics are submitted to our agency Cooper Smith & Company, and we lay out the publication in chunks, separated by company. This makes editing and proofing much easier, and allows each individual company to maintain its own brand look.


The low frequency of publication (twice a year), means employees look forward to this newsletter and read it carefully. Here is what the publication strives to accomplish:

  • Community Building – Photos from summer leagues and stories of employee success encourages employees to look for themselves and friends in the publication, and helps familiarize team members with one another. There is even a “Sprouts & Shouts” employee news section with photos of new babies and marriage shout outs to encourage personal connection and live out that family focused culture where the company began long ago.
  • Retain Employees – Celebrating professional growth opportunities like the General Foreman School and Leadership Academy is a reminder that the company is committed to its employees. Recognition of ESOP Coin recipients also help employees feel valued.
  • Moral Booster – Kudos from customers, recognition for national awards received, and call outs for new hires/internal promotions keep the “warm fuzzies” going.
  • Celebrate Safety – Results of safety contests and stories of safety efforts reinforce the number one value of all employees. The company also produces safety videos, which are regularly promoted.
  • Encourage Longevity – Photos from the Annual Awards Banquet are included, recognizing employees who have served the company for a milestone increment of years.

Lessons Learned

  • Let employees contribute. Photos, birth announcements, etc. are always very well received, plus contributions from employees help lighten the load of the person in charge of gathering content.
  • Don’t let a language barrier stand in the way of creating community. If a large percentage of your employees speak a language other than English, create alternate versions of the piece. Don’t want to spring for printing in multiple languages? You can have the alternate language version available digitally for download on your website or distribution via email.
  • Take advantage of this communication opportunity. Because this is one of Wright Service Corp.’s key communications throughout the year, they also include inserts about employee incentives, special programs, new benefits, etc.
  • Use a printer that you trust. This sort of publication has many moving pieces (mailing list, different stuffers for different employees, some mailed, some returned to corporate office for internal distribution), and you want to be sure it’s executed flawlessly.
  • Get the most out of your content. Repurpose past newsletter articles on your company blog or website. This will help touch your audience on multiple platforms, boosts SEO, and gives you more mileage from your investment.

Feeling inspired? 

This internal communications format works best for:

  • Large organizations with 100+ employees
  • Families of companies with multiple organizations under one umbrella
  • Organizations with multiple branches or employees working in several locations

Ready to craft your own internal communications piece? Here’s how to get started:

  • Determine the best medium: email, digital publication, print piece
  • Choose your frequency: monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, annually
  • Identify the goal & key messaging: What does your communication need to accomplish? What tone do you want to set?
  • Gather your content: Encourage all employees to submit content. Keep a running list and folder where you can throw ideas and photos throughout the year.
Internal Communications Case Study2018-05-07T21:05:19+00:00

Business Growing Pains

It’s good news and bad for every business founder: your business has grown. Dramatically.

Following this news may be the realization that you’re no longer the best person to run the business anymore. It’s bittersweet, but exciting. Like the student whose skill has excelled beyond their teacher’s, your business is ready for a new mentor.

You now have the chance to create something even better, bigger — if you can get out of your own way and put it in the right hands.

When transition time comes, don’t just look for another “you.” Take yourself — your roles, skills and attributes — apart and look for candidates with those strengths. You may not find them all in one person. In fact, it may take multiple people to replace you. That’s OK. Plan to develop a C-suite, not just a CEO, and you’ll build a team that can go farther, faster than you ever could alone.

Find leaders you trust, and when it’s time to pass the baton, consider passing to a whole relay team, not just the next person in line.

Business Growing Pains2018-05-07T20:51:50+00:00

Recurring Income – More Money, Less Work

Recurring income is a holy grail for business owners. Who doesn’t want to sell something people buy over and over, (with little to no additional work for you!)

But if your business model is built chasing one-time or big-ticket sales, adding a reoccurring income stream may seem out-of-reach. Get your team together (or enlist your creative agency’s help) to brainstorm supplemental products or services your company could offer after the sale. For instance, can you deliver valuable service or maintenance reminders (for services you sell or manage) via email, SMS or an app? Can you offer add-ons or upgrades that would improve or update your product after a time? Can you create personalization or customization opportunities?

Think outside the box! Study unrelated industries to see how they incorporate reoccurring income into their business models. With a little creative thinking, some of their concepts might translate to you.

Recurring Income – More Money, Less Work2018-05-07T20:54:05+00:00

Hiring A Virtual Assistant

In a world of Siri and Alexa it’s no surprise that the virtual assistant field is booming. Companies like Upwork and HireMyMom.com allow you to contract individuals to work remotely. These individuals are typically self-employed independent contractors who work from home, and have backgrounds in anything from professional administration to technical or creative fields. Assistants communicate with clients primarily via email, but Skype, phone calls, or Google Voice calls are also standard. Work is arranged on a contractual basis.

Deciding which tasks to delegate can be tough,  especially when you’re just building a relationship (and trust!) with your new virtual assistant. Here are some ideas for tasks you can easily outsource:

  • Scheduling – Digital tools make it easy for a virtual assistant to handle your schedule remotely.
  • Bookkeeping – Your assistant can follow up on outstanding invoices or unpaid bills.
  • Data Entry – Hire an assistant to enter sales lead contact information or project report data.
  • Proofing – Even if you’re a strong writer, get peace of mind by having your publication professionally proofed.
  • Research – A virtual assistant can conduct leads research, or report on industry or market trends.
  • Travel Coordination – Find the best deals and accommodations with the help of an expert.

Hire someone for a few hours or a few months. It’s up to you. The key is, you don’t have to — indeed, shouldn’t — try to do everything yourself. Chances are your time is better spent following up with prospects than it is typing in those email addresses after your last trade show.

So don’t do what you can hire someone else to do, especially when it’s so easy to hire someone remote.

Hiring A Virtual Assistant2018-05-07T21:01:49+00:00

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett

As a 2016 graduate of the Iowa State University College of Design, Will Bassett is the newest member of our design team. He has quickly become an integral member of our agency, working closely with clients to deliver hardworking print & digital communications.

What’s your favorite color palette to work with?

I’m not sure there is a specific color palette that I enjoy over others. I would say in general, my favorite palettes include black and white, plus some soft, natural colors with a powerful, vibrant spot color. I love design that pops, and it usually starts with a strong spot color. If I had to choose, I’d say reds and blues are my favorite to work with, though depending on the day it could be something completely different. It really depends on the project and which side of the bed I woke up on.

What is your favorite typeface and why?

My favorite typeface is probably Futura. I love how simple yet versatile it is. It works when it’s thin, and it works when it’s bold. Futura makes a great headline typeface, body copy, all caps, or upper and lower case. It’s absolutely one of my go-to’s.


For a serif typeface, I really enjoy Bodoni. It’s super clean, and the contrasting thin and thick lines make it a beautiful choice when I need a more formal option.

Where do you find design inspiration?

My favorite place to find inspiration is on Behance. It’s a great place to see what designers are doing all over the world. From small, personal projects to corporate branding and major promotions, I think Behance is a wonderful source of inspiration and trends.

Another great place for inspiration and design knowledge is Skillshare. Skillshare is a site where anyone can become a teacher and post tutorials, how-to’s, and technique videos for others to learn from. The site has videos on everything from cooking to technology to business, but the design videos are extremely informative and helpful. There are some really well-known designers who post tutorials on Skillshare like Paula Scher, Aaron Draplin, and more. I highly recommend checking it out!

Tell us about your most memorable project.

I think my most memorable project would have to be a semi trailer wrap that I did for the Iowa DNR’s mobile exhibit. It is certainly the largest project I’ve done in my career so far. Every day I am learning new things, and this was one of the largest learning curves I’ve had as far as scope and technicality.

The trailer exhibit debuted at the Iowa State Fair and travels around to schools and educational events around Iowa to inform the public of the impact of how we live on the environment. I believe that the best design is design for good, and getting the opportunity to create something with so much public impact was incredible. It’s always fun to see something you’ve done out in the world, especially with so many people interacting with it at a place as iconic as the State Fair.

Who are your favorite artists or designers?

One of my favorite design groups out there today is DKNG Studios. DKNG is an illustration-based design firm out of LA consisting of two designers, Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman. I was turned on to them in college, and have been borderline obsessed ever since. They do a lot of promotional work for movies, bands and festivals, and their designs are both intricate and beautiful. These guys are also very involved with Skillshare and are regularly posting tutorials on Adobe Illustrator shortcuts and techniques.

A local designer that I really admire is John Bosley. He is also an illustration-based designer who does mostly screen printing for events and locations around Iowa and the Midwest. His designs are super clean and the compositions are brilliant. A few of his posters may or may not be on my Christmas list this year.

What are your favorite well-executed brands?

In my opinion, Nike is one of the most well-executed brands out there today. They do a great job of appealing to about every demographic while keeping their look and brand consistent and recognizable. You can’t go anywhere without seeing that swoosh, and people (myself included) will certainly pay extra to have that logo on their outfit.

Apple is an easy answer, but I have to say I wasn’t an Apple convert until a few years ago. I used to try to fight the overwhelming Mac/iPhone trend until I visited my dad’s cousin’s house/design studio. He opened up a Power Mac G5 computer so that I could see the inner workings, and it was beautiful. The inside of this computer (that most people would never take the time to look at) was a work of art on its own. Everything had a place. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the clean design and order that Apple prides itself on. I didn’t even want to throw away my MacBook or iPhone boxes because the packaging is so well done. That attention to detail and presentation goes a long way in selling and building brands, and Apple is probably the best there is at it.

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett2018-05-07T21:44:23+00:00
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