Killing Ninjas: why and how we did a rebranding

• 6 min read

Hey there. Not Aleks here.

My name is Ksenia and I’m the brand and content person at Lemon. I’ll be taking over Aleksander’s Substack today to tell you a criminally short version of a story of our rebranding.

scalp illustration

How it started

The first thing that worked us with growth back when we were just starting out with marketing at Coding Ninjas was content. Our first experiments with Quora and organic traffic started to bring in some leads and traffic and we were trying to understand how we could convert it better.

One of the theories was that if we could improve our very basic design, that might help us amplify the content as well. So we asked the best designer we knew if he could work on that. The feedback we got from him felt like a kick in the guts.

“You can redesign the blog, but I doubt that would help”

That’s what he said.

He also said something we already knew: what we really needed was a complete rebranding and better naming.

There were several major problems with Coding Ninjas:

  1. The naming was chosen back when Aleks was still testing the waters and didn’t know how far he would eventually go. It made sense not to spend too much time on branding something that had a chance of not working out.
  2. Coding Ninjas turned out to be a popular choice for many. One of the most known businesses we shared that name with was an Indian school of programming.
  3. Ninjas, jedi, gurus and rock stars should stay where they belong — the 2015 LinkedIn. It was time to move on for us.
  4. Coding Ninjas wasn’t really a brand.
  5. The niche of vetted freelance marketplaces is so crowded the only way to stand out now is to have a strong and unique brand.

And since we didn’t have one, it was a great time to create one.

In case you’re wondering here’s how you know you should work on your brand:

  • You have a business. If you have a business idea — you don’t need a brand.
  • You’re not growing fast enough.
  • You’re in a highly competitive niche and don’t have a killer feature that makes your product 5 times better than anyone else’s.
  • Your marketing efforts feel Sysyphean.

Does branding matter that much?

Yes, it does. If you think about it, you’ll recall hundreds of great products that failed because of poor marketing and thousands of products you’d never buy if it wasn’t for all the irrational things their marketers made you feel.

Does that work for B2B companies, though? I’ll show you two GA graphs.

First one is Coding Ninjas traffic since the beginning of the company and up until rebranding:

Google Analytics chart

A slow burn and a lot of grinding. I’ll zoom in to show you our best month:

Google Analytics chart

And here’s where we got with Lemon in 9 months since the start :

Google Analytics chart
Google Analytics chart

Read 2020 report here.

Of course, the brand itself is not a magic wand, but if you go through the process of creating a strong brand platform, along the way you’ll learn about all the things that can bring your business to the next level.

Process

Creating a brand consists of several steps:

  1. Creating a brand persona
  2. Creating a brand mascot
  3. Understanding what role those two people play in each others lives
  4. BPBD mind map
  5. Brand essence matrix
  6. Brand story
  7. Naming

Personas

Think of them as the two main characters of your story. Humans are great at telling and understanding stories. The easiest way to create a compelling brand is to work on it as if you were writing a short story.

You have the main character — your brand persona. Your main character always has a goal. There’s almost always some kind of Evil your main character is fighting and some obstacles that keep them from reaching that goal. And the main character always has an ally — your brand mascot, who is helping them to overcome the obstacles, fight the evil and reach their goal.

No one likes stories with unbelievable or flat characters. That’s why your brand persona can’t have just a generic description based on their age, location and gender.

You have to think of them as if they were a real person and you were describing them, not making them up. Here’s a list of questions that will help you understand that person.

Do the same thing from scratch for both brand persona and brand mascot (the character representing your brand)

Story

Once you have your characters and understand what they’re fighting for (or against) together, write down the full story. It can be as simple as “Steve’s main goal in life is to spend as much time with his daughter as possible but he is getting older and now he is up against the scariest enemy — Death herself. But his high school friend Amy (your superfood delivery brand’s mascot) is going to help him eat cleaner and live longer”.

If you’ve never created stories before, don’t worry. Read a few articles about the hero’s journey or this book, and you’ll be good to go.

BPBD

Brand persona’s buying decision mind map is basically a list of all the reasons why your target audience would purchase something from you and why they wouldn’t. These should be 2 different mind maps.

Here’s how our “won’t buy” map looks like:

"Who won't buy" mindmap

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Every time you write a reason your brand persona would/wouldn’t buy your product, follow it up with a question “why?” until you can’t anymore. That will lead you from the shell to the core reasons.

Brand essence matrix

Think of it as your brand’s elevator pitch. Brand essence consists of the most important things about your brand. And here’s a simple formula you can use to express your brand’s values:

For [your brand persona] who wants to be [his goal/who he wants to be in life]

We are the [what your product is for him]

Allowing him to [how you help him reach his goal?]

Because we are the only ones who [your unique offer or advantage]

Here’s how our looks:

For Matt, who wants to be an alpha startupper,
We are the launch button that activates additional hands,
Allowing him to do more projects faster,
Because we are the only ones who have squeezer.

P.S.

Writing a how-to on branding in just one email update is a tricky task. Of course, this guide isn’t that explicit. If you want to know more about our branding journey, keep reading Aleksandr’s emails. We’re planning on publishing a book on branding early next year, and he’ll let you know when it happens.

Meanwhile, here are more of our brand assets you can study:

← Moving in the same direction is the hardest challenge.
Chicken-n-egg problem →

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