Charlie’s brand didn’t stand out: here’s how we fixed it
As small business leaders, we all see our product as unique.
We think we’re bringing something new to the market, something valuable, maybe even special.
The problem is when we assume that the world will recognise this uniqueness, and buy into it without any input from our side.
At Charlie, we’ve been guilty of just that.
So, after years of turning a blind eye, this week we’re launching a new visual brand for Charlie — one that makes our small business stand out from other ‘big brand’ software companies. And one that finally embodies our identity and the unique value we give our customers.
This article is the story of why we did it, and how we navigated through the tactical and emotional ups and downs of getting our new identity out into the world.
Uniqueness is what keeps your small business afloat
In a sea of dominant and bland corporate players, how in the world can we, small businesses, get anyone to notice us?
Uniqueness for a small business is like a lighthouse in a storm. Just as a lighthouse guides ships through turbulent waters, a distinctive brand identity guides customers to your product.
Without this guiding light, your business risks getting lost in the darkness of anonymity.
Earlier this year, we compared Charlie's branding with that of other HR software and we realised we were running that risk – it was an eye-opening exercise! We’d taken for granted that people would see how special we were — but how could they, when all HR software on the market, Charlie included, used the same brand colours, imagery and font?
A closer look at our sales conversations brought up a similar sentiment. In a sea of near-identical HR tools, small business leaders are finding it tough to decide which one to buy. "It's really hard to choose one of these, you know?" one of them told us.
This was a painful realisation — we knew we were different, and we’d spent years refining our product to specifically meet the needs of small businesses like ours.
But our brand was muted. The lights were off. We couldn’t expect small businesses to be able to distinguish us from the rest.
Who is Charlie? Re-defining our unique identity
The end goal was clear: lean into our uniqueness so that every aspect of our brand would speak to it… Yes, but where to start?
We went back to basics and asked ourselves a (not so) simple question: Who is Charlie?
We loved the name Charlie, but we’d never actually defined who that was.
The answer was: Charlie is whoever uses it.
And who uses Charlie? Small businesses.
If you’re the person who launches performance reviews in your small business, or approves time off, or welcomes new starters, then you’re Charlie.
We are Charlie as well — we’re a small business of around 40 people, and we’re very familiar with the headaches of growing a high-performing team on limited time, resources and experience.
We know that small businesses don't have the luxury of a huge HR team — but that shouldn't hold them back from delivering a great experience. In a small business, you're not dealing with a faceless mass, you're dealing with those who work across from you, i.e.:
- It’s not just onboarding, it’s Sarah’s first day.
- It’s not sending out hundreds of performance reviews, it’s Steven’s promotion
- It’s not a pile of anonymous time off requests, it’s approving Priah’s time off for her honeymoon
That use of i.e. kept coming up when we were defining who we were, and lucky for us they’re the last two characters of our name (Charlie). So we put who we are and what we do directly into our logo.
From there, we went on to review our whole visual brand (colours, images, layout, font, etc.) to make sure every little detail reflected our newly defined identity.
(Want to find out more about how our new visual elements came to be? Check them out here).
Rebranding as a small business: how we overcame the fear of messing up
If you look at companies embarking on re-branding projects, they’re rarely small businesses. Usually, it’s only when you’re stable and well-established that you allow yourself the luxury of revamping your brand.
After all, re-branding takes a lot of time and headspace (which you’re short on) — and they’re risky. What if you get it wrong?
I won’t lie, we were pretty nervous too. At times, it felt like we were playing with fire. But it would have been just as risky to ignore the problem and let our anonymous visual identity drag us down.
So what did we do? We tested all of our assumptions.
We used LinkedIn ads to test our existing brand vs two new visual concepts, including the Charli.e. one. Would the new brand manage to stand out in this crowded HR software space?
The results gave us a very clear winner. The Charli.e. branding beat our existing one across both awareness and conversion metrics!
This was a strong confirmation that the rebranding project was not a waste of time. If we could achieve those same results across our entire website and product, that’d make all our efforts more than well worth it!
However, a small test like that wasn’t enough to mitigate all the risks.
So, we went on to A/B test our whole website, comparing engagement metrics and conversion rates between the old and new branding. This was the ultimate test to see if we could apply this new visual identity in a way that didn’t hurt our business performance.
We didn’t know what to expect — those few months of waiting felt like a lifetime!
In October the results were in, and it was official: our new brand was there to stay.
So, what’s in store for Charlie’s customers?
The uniqueness of our customers matters to us (just like ours does), so we're taking concrete steps across our sales, customer and product teams to support the unique way you run your business:
- We’re experimenting with different demo formats (and different experts) for companies of different sizes. So, the next time you chat with our sales team, you’ll get an experience that optimises your time and needs.
- When you start a trial, you're in the driver's seat to create your very own Charlie dashboard. Pick and choose the features that matter the most to you to explore.
- Our new HR reports unlock tailored metrics for your business' maturity stage, and our filters zero in on the data that truly fuel your decision-making.
- Apply your company's individual time off rules in Charlie, with support for multiple holiday policies, ensuring each team member has the correct allowance (launching soon!).
- As part of our new Charlie Academy webinars, our customers get answers to nuanced questions about how to use our software to support unique workflows in their businesses.
We’re going all in to help small businesses that choose us become the most successful they can be. And we believe that recognising and nurturing their uniqueness is the best way to do that. 🚀
It’s a great time to hop on the Charlie ship!
All you need to do is start a free trial now. 👇