What You’ll Learn
A lot of utilities are weighing rebrands and new brands as they add broadband service, merge with other utilities or expand to new communities. Meridian Cooperative Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services Lindsay Tyson led her co-op’s rebranding efforts. She talks about using a rebranding timeline, engaging staff as brand ambassadors and how to ensure a brand is used consistently across the cooperative.
Guest SpeakerLindsay Tyson
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: A production of WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect: The Podcast, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.
Megan McKoy-Noe: After a rebrand, how can you make sure all of your staff are telling the same story? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. Hello, my name is Megan McKoy-Noe, I’m one of the storytellers at WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources, and your host for this episode filling in for Andy Johns. We’re recording live at NRECA’s Connect Conference in Seattle, Washington, with 500 of our closest co-op communicator friends. As Andy always says, any noise you might hear in the background is ambiance or in this case, the sound of a very large and much needed group hug. I’m joined on this episode by Lindsay Tyson, vice president of marketing and creative services for Meridian Cooperative and self-proclaimed brand czar at the Technology Co-op. Lindsey, thank you so much for joining me.
Lindsay Tyson: Thanks for having me, Megan.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Now a lot of utilities are weighing rebrands and new brands as they add broadband service. They merge with other utilities, or they’re expanding to new communities and need to update their story, right? But, Lindsey you led Meridian’s rebranding efforts in mid 2021, changing the name of your co-op from SEDC to Meridian. It was a big shift. I mean, I still catch myself saying SEDC. Then I say, “Oh no, I’m sorry. Meridian.” SEDC was founded 40, more than 40 years ago, and was well known in our industry, taking care of data for almost 250 utilities. Now changing not only a logo, but the name of your brand. That’s a huge step. Now we like to focus at StoryConnect on the why of our stories. So can you tell me a little bit about why your co-op decided to rebrand?
Lindsay Tyson: Sure. I think the biggest reason behind the rebrand was that we felt like we are providing a product or a solution to our members and our customers that was cutting edge technology, and the brand wasn’t reflective of that technology. When you walked into the offices of SEDC in Atlanta, which is a technology hub now in the Southeast, you felt like you were walking into a 1970s law firm, and that just wasn’t the culture that we reflect as an organization, our people, our software. And it was just really time for an update.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, I know this must have been a complicated process for y’all. You don’t change a brand overnight. So can you share what kind of a timeline your team used internally to develop and then unveil your brand?
Lindsay Tyson: Sure. I mean, we started with a bunch of research on what the best method would be and how we were going to execute this brand. And of course, a huge curve ball was thrown at us in the form of a pandemic. So really what we did is we took the opportunity of, you know, kind of taking a hiatus from being out on the road and meeting with customers and kind of selling the solutions to focus on the brand and what that could look like. And so as a team, we sat down, we did some internal planning and research. We had a little bit of help from an external firm to start out with, and then just kind of laying out the timeline from what we knew, what we knew we wanted to accomplish, and reasonably how long it would take us to get there. And then having to get, of course, buy-in from leadership and the executive team as well as our board of directors and kind of align those expectations with what we knew we were able to accomplish as an internal marketing team.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, I know that you unveiled the brand, and I think it was August of 2021. When did you start talking about the need for a new brand. Do you remember?
Lindsay Tyson: Yes. So we started talking about the need for a new brand, really the day I was hired. So I was actually hired by formerly SEDC in March of 2018. And I came on actually as a graphic designer with the intent to brand Meridian, the software platform. And that’s kind of where it all started. And at that point, I immediately knew I’ve been a part of many rebrands prior to this in other organizations, and I knew immediately that something had to change because we had this amazing software platform and all of this cutting edge cyber and analytic software. And then you had this very dated, times new Roman acronym logo and it just, they just didn’t align. So I would say day one, I knew it was time. But the overall process was a long process, probably a three year process.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, you know, I started asking you about the timeline, but I want to back up a minute and just ask you, from your experience both at Meridian and your background in higher education and working with agencies, what is the importance of a brand? I mean, why does it matter for you to take this time and really think about your brand and invest time in making sure that it matches your story?
Lindsay Tyson: I mean, I would say your brand is everything. Your brand is probably the most important thing that you put out to your customers ahead of your software, ahead of your solutions. If you think about brands in your life that you’re passionate about or you’re loyal to and, you know, we want our customers to have that same feeling about Meridian. You don’t want to just think of it, “Oh it’s my billing or accounting software.” We want them to love the billing and accounting software. We want them to love the people that they’re interacting with that go along with this billing and accounting software. And we want it to, we want the culture to trickle down to our members and customers and so that they have that same feeling.
Megan McKoy-Noe: So you mentioned culture and how culture plays into your brand. Was that part of your rebranding effort to try to energize the culture at then SEDC and now Meridian? And if so, what did you do to create that energized that new culture to match the brand that you wanted to bring on board?
Lindsay Tyson: So after we kind of had the visual brand in place, what I would consider, you know, the design elements, the logo, the type, the color palette, all of those things that you think of when you think of a brand. We put together, we started putting together what we call our lifestyle brand. So who are we as a company? What do we want to look like? How do we want to portray ourselves? How do we want people to feel about us? So we came up with a culture guide and that was done by a committee of employees. So all across the organization, not just marketing and creative, so everyone was involved at all different levels. And what do we want our culture to look like? Who are we as an organization, and how do we convey that externally to our member customers?
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love that you involved all of your employees on that, and I haven’t heard of a lifestyle branding guide for your staff. Now for y’all, Meridian has 500 employees supporting utility members. That’s a large group. So I love getting their buy-in. But I’m sure even utilities that have maybe 20 or 50 employees, they could put some of those same ideas into practice because if your employees aren’t involved in the rebrand, then I would imagine it doesn’t go well. Have you ever seen some disconnects with your experience in the past?
Lindsay Tyson: Yeah, I mean, sure, buy-in is huge and if you don’t have buy in on every level, it could go very wrong very quickly. And of course, you want people to be excited about your brand. You don’t want any negative or naysayers inside the brand then communicating that message out externally, which then causes other people to feel that way about your brand, even if they know nothing about it. So it’s really important that the brand message is consistent across all platforms. And I think, you know, that was part of our process was getting people involved at every level. We’ve been very conscious about involving employees and telling the story of the brand and how their lifestyle flows over into what they do and their passion for their work. Getting them involved in videos, in photoshoots, doing blogs. We invite anyone in the company to be involved in the creative process at Meridian. It’s very important to us, and I feel like that gives the employees a sense of passion and involvement in the brand so they feel like they have a stake in what we’ve created from going from SEDC to Meridian.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love that. It’s almost giving them ownership of the rebranding process as well, so that’s really nice. What other creative ways have you found to really keep your employees engaged in the rebrand effort?
Lindsay Tyson: So I think one of the coolest things that one of my team members came up with was the idea of coming up with this look book that we use, employees across the organization to model our new swag in different environments. So it was, the photo shoots were so amazing. We went out to state parks. We did some in the offices, some were shot in the city, some were shot out in more remote areas. And it’s all of the employees, not all of them, but several of them wearing our new jackets, our new backpacks, holding our new coffee mugs, using our new notebooks. And so all of the really cool branded swag that we got from our employees as part of this rebrand. And we were very intentional about the products that we ordered. We wanted the products that we ordered and their brands to be reflective of the type of brand we wanted to use. So we used very, very nice things, and we describe those things in the lookbook and kind of give out little quotes and little inspirational and aspirational quotes for people to be inspired about the brand and get them excited. And it had a really great reception, so we were excited about it.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Now what steps did you make, did you follow, to make sure that this rebranding effort, once you had the lifestyle guide and you had your official look and colors and all of this, how did you make sure that that same brand was used across not just official channels where you have more control, but the internal channels? Everyone has the old logos and the name saved on all sorts of documents. How did you make sure that you were able to clean house and use the new brand?
Lindsay Tyson: So that’s an evolving process. I would say upfront, we’re very fortunate that we also have an internal communications team at Meridian. And so that was also part of the kind of the cultural overhaul or reorganization of the culture of SEDC, now Meridian. And so having that resource internally has been paramount in terms of making sure internally we’re communicating the same brand message consistently across the board and getting people, you know, excited about the new brand and wanting them to use the new brand. And we also did a lot of work as a team to put together all the resources that anyone could ever need. So they can’t come to us and say, “Oh, I didn’t know there was a PowerPoint template. Or I didn’t know there was a word document for that.” So we use Confluence is kind of our in-house, I’m going to say intranet, but everyone in the organization has access to it. And marketing and creative services has their own kind of – I forget what they call it – but it’s a section within Confluence where they can go, and they can access all of the logos, all of the brand guides, the culture guide, the templates, whether it’s a PowerPoint or a Word document, everything from a fax, cover letter to complex proposals and things that business development use. And so everything is accessible by anyone in the organization.
Lindsay Tyson: And that’s not just for Future, that’s also for our sub brands, Future and Arista as well. So we’re very consistent throughout the enterprise and making sure that everything is accessible, available. We have Slack channels for people to ask questions and engage with us. And the employees love it. They are very much, they’re always asking questions. And if they don’t know where to go, we recently started a brand ambassador program internally, which is comprised of people outside of marketing who are passionate about the brand and active on social media and active with our member customer. So that’s been a phenomenal process. So they’re really good about encouraging in their areas people to make sure they’re following the brand. We do some other fun things too. We have something called The Brand Enforcers, which is some little spoof YouTube videos that we do about how you properly use your email signature, make sure you’re wearing the right apparel. I don’t want to see that SEDC notebook out on your desk. And so just some fun things. And that’s you know, we’ve engaged executives in that, as well as just every other employee in the organization. So that’s been fun. We’ve had requests. When are the brand ambassadors coming back? So they’re kind of like the hall monitors of the brand.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love having that, not just be you as the brands czar trying to say, “Oh, I spotted that,” but you really do need to make it a team effort to get everybody with you championing your new story. Now, it happened ten months ago, which I know deep breath. But rebranding isn’t as simple as flipping a switch, and then leaving the room. You know, my job is done. Can you share places where you’re still finding the retired name or the logo popping up?
Lindsay Tyson: Sure. Yeah. Probably one of the biggest things is now that we’re mostly remote most of the time, every time I do drive to the building, I see that SEDC sign out in front on that big copper plate. And so that’s just a reminder that, you know, not everyone moves as fast as you do. So waiting on building management to get the sign down and get the new sign up, you know, so that’s one place I can think of. But really a lot of places like in the software and on the back end, things like finance and billing and maybe not visual things that marketing has control of, but some of the other areas behind the scenes that you might not think about. And you know, but I will say internally, our staff has been wonderful about, “Oh, I just found this logo on this document. I need to update it. Remind me where I go to get that.” And then we go. But it’s a constant level of upping education on where to do and where to go to find this. And what do I need to do to fix this? And but it’s an evolving process for sure.
Megan McKoy-Noe: Well, it sounds like a really fun process because you’re not doing it by yourself or just your team, the ambassadors. That makes me happy. Before I let you go, do you have any other advice to share with utility pioneers who are considering a rebrand? Or maybe they’re getting a completely new brand? They’re not just refreshing things. What do you want to remind them to do to help make the process a little bit easier?
Lindsay Tyson: Do your research up front is number one. Always do your research, but don’t be afraid. Don’t shy away from it. You know, engage your leaders early on. Make them understand the value proposition behind the brand refresh or the rebrand, and why it’s important both for you and your membership. Because I think the more you educate them and the more they understand, the easier it is for them to support you in this initiative, because it’s a big change. And we all know that change is hard. And not everybody loves change. But don’t be afraid. It would be my biggest piece of advice. It’s a massive undertaking, but in the end, it’s totally worth it.
Megan McKoy-Noe: I love that. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with our family of utility pioneers. She is Lindsay Tyson, vice president of marketing and creative services for Meridian Cooperative. And I’m your host, Megan McKoy-Noe at WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.
Intro: StoryConnect is produced by WordSouth and Pioneer Utility Resources. Both companies are built to share your story. Our associate producer is Sarah Wootten. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.