A credibility gap is where reality mismatches with perception. It’s most commonly used to describe politicians’ lies. We’ve had the same problem, in reverse: for a long time, Ellipsis has been much more capable than we’ve looked.
Today, we’re closing the credibility gap: Ellipsis is four years old this month, and we’re launching shiny new branding that makes us look as good as we are.
Our story is a common one in WordPress: the original logo was done on Fiverr, and it was good enough for the first couple of years. We probably outgrew it ~18 months ago, but I put it off as doing work, building new services, and building the team seemed more important.
That call was fine for a while, but especially in the last 6 months I’ve felt we’ve become significantly more capable than our branding suggests, to the point it has been holding us back.
We’ve long said that branding isn’t especially important in WordPress. With the industry maturing, I see that changing in front of us. This post gets into that, and why you should take it more seriously too.
We’re seeing “brand is less important than functionality” change in front of us
Many of my team come from marketing at “normal” businesses where brand and branding are the things that the marketing department looks after. It has been a shock for many of the team when joining how little attention is paid to branding by WordPress businesses.
Both consumers and businesses are focused on what products can technically do rather than what the brand stands for. This is diametrically opposite to the scenario in other industries, where sometimes the brand itself is a company’s most valuable asset.
You see this in product names. A quick search for plugins that do subscriptions on WooCommerce gets me:
- WooCommerce Subscriptions
- YITH WooCommerce Subscription
- SUMO Subscriptions
- Subscriptions for WooCommerce
- Subscriptio – WooCommerce Subscriptions
And so on – this kind of “functionality” first naming and branding is incredibly common in WordPress. It does work, because it reflects what people most commonly look for when searching for the solutions they need.
We often tell Audit clients that you need to signal you’re a trusted source – which you do with a professional design, testimonials, and authoritatively talking about WordPress – but other than that, don’t worry about brand.
The consequence of this is businesses will do “minimum viable branding” for a couple of years, and then belatedly do a rebrand a couple of years in.
You’re probably familiar with the story: “Our old logo was on Fiverr, the site looked terrible, and it didn’t reflect who we are now”. Joe Howard wrote when WP Buffs redesigned:
Our old logo was done on Fiverr when I started WP Buffs ~6 years ago.
That doesn’t automatically make it bad, but WP Buffs has changed a lot since then.
Or as our client Katie Keith at Barn2 wrote, when they redesigned:
A rebrand was long overdue… I’d been putting it off for years due to the size of the project. I wanted to focus on building our plugin business, not on designing a new website!
In the latter instance, I was one of the people telling Katie to focus on building the plugin business, rather than designing a new website.
As the growth and professionalisation of the WordPress space continues, we’re seeing “brand doesn’t matter” start to shift. Groups like StellarWP are showing us what great branding looks like with businesses like Give.
I highlight Stellar because they have the brand and design resources to make everything look good. That’s what one needs to compete with now.
“Good branding” is obviously not just “good design”, although they often go hand-in-hand. Branding is about the essence of who you are and why you exist. From team members to customers, being clear on who you are any why you exist is so obviously beneficial. Great branding encapsulates all of this.
We’re starting to see great products with bad branding feel the pinch, which was never a problem before. Differentiate your WooCommerce subscriptions product! Why is yours different, and why are you better?
Ellipsis is the trusted marketing partner for WordPress and WooCommerce businesses. Our old website really didn’t show that. We had an authority and a confidence gap. That’s what drove needing a change for us, and if/when you get to the same point, that’s what should drive it for you too.
Brand is about who you are
The attraction of “MVP branding” is partly driven by branding projects being expensive. As a bootstrapped business, you can see the attraction of getting things good enough and leaving them there for as long as possible.
Where your brand is just a logo, one would argue you don’t have a brand. For us for the last 4 years, that’s basically been true. We did have values about who we were and why we were doing it, but we didn’t tell anybody about them. Keeping something like this to yourself is not a solution.
I purchased a bunch of branding books to prepare myself for the branding journey. I’ll be honest, I went into these pretty cynical about expensive branding projects, and they didn’t really help the cause. I could see that having vision and values extremely clear was helpful, but I really struggled to see the value in drawing out the process vastly beyond that.
It felt like there was a balance to be struck here, so that’s what I went for: do the basics, but don’t fret the details beyond that. We sketched out a timeline and budget, and off we went. March in the screenshot below refers to March last year. This was never quite top priority, so the project dragged. I budgeted £10k, and that is roughly what we’ve spent.
Our first stage was a branding workshop. We got the whole team together and sketched out what, how, and why for Ellipsis.
Doing this collaboratively was really important and valuable: as a team of experts, we have a lot of expertise to draw on! We clarified what we do, and how and why we do it, our personas, our “brand archetypes”, and wrote this up into a two page summary we could pass to a designer.
We did consider having an external facilitator, but as much of the team has brand expertise already we decided to utilise that. Natasha led the workshop and it was extremely helpful coming out of that with a two page summary of who we are, what we do and stand for, and why we exist.
Here are some examples of the notes from the workshop:
What does Ellipsis do?
- Solve marketing problems
- Empower business owners
- Support business growth
- Provide a great place to work: remote, collaborative
Why do we do it/what’s the purpose?
- To educate
- To transform businesses
- To lead in WordPress
Top 3 values at Ellipsis: What we stand for
Our brand personality:
- Niche, personalised service, more exclusive than available to the masses
- Slightly more playful in tone and style. Room to express our niche strengths
- We’re your long-term partners and friendly in our approach; we show our authority through expertise and leadership rather than severity in tone, or bossiness
- We’re a young, small team, and rely on innovation to propel the business forward
Heading straight into design without defining why you exist will get you something pretty, but it won’t reflect who you are. You’ll also probably outgrow it fast. Our process here was the MVP version, but it enriched all the future decisions we made.
Get a great designer, brief them well, and everything else becomes a lot easier
We have a designer on retainer to do graphics for Content Growth clients, but I wanted a branding specialist for this project. A good designer can make something pretty, but we specifically wanted to connect our workshop notes to the design and have a design that captures who we are.
I’ll say it again: having the workshop and the notes vastly enriched what the designer could do for us. A very solid brand brief is vital to getting it right.
We posted an ad on Dribbble’s job board, which got us ~50 designers to choose from. The job ad cost $350 and was money decently spent.
We engaged Obayagbona Paul, an extremely talented designer who had worked on similar projects and styles to what we were after. I love Transport for London’s design style and heritage, and I must admit I was sold by this project for a podcast:
Paul took all our notes and started with the logo. The scope for our work with Paul was logo → brand elements → new site design. We ended up engaging Paul for more work as we went, and doing this again I would have thought a bit more about the edge cases (slide decks, specific page designs) at the start of the process. Making the deliverables clearer from the outset would have made this project run more smoothly.
Paul gave us a couple of options for the logo. A point of contention was whether the logo should retain the three dots that make up an ellipsis. Paul gave us two options which did that, but neither seemed quite right…
The third option had two elements, taking a whole and pointing it upwards. The idea is this reflects us taking in a new client and moving them up-and-to-the-right. I really liked this one:
I love the new logo. It originally had the elements flipped, so a client came into us with a challenge and we solved the problem. That did make sense and we kept it for a couple of weeks.
Monica and James did flag this looked weird for a marketing agency internally, but for a couple of months I went ahead with it. Seeing the homepage design draft covered in down arrows just didn’t work, so we changed it.
You need to be certain before moving forwards on a logo choice, and seeing it in context is valuable. Changing my mind on the logo was expensive: Paul had to redo a lot of work, plus I’d already filed (and we now own) a trademark with the old variation.
Paul then put together other branding assets: business cards, t-shirts, water bottles, bus-stop advertisements – the lot. This helped us understand how far we can take the branding, and make sure it’s ready for the future too.
Working with Paul was great, but I tried to run this through Basecamp as a regular project, and sharing feedback asynchronously through comments was a challenge. We recognised we needed to get on the phone more, and that sped up collaboration.
Expanding the scope
This is where the project dragged, but it dragged because I expanded the scope: it became clear that the new branding looked so much better than the old one, and so I wanted it everywhere.
That included on FALCON AI, our cutting edge AI for SEO Content that was featured in the New York Times last month. Paul worked on a “sub brand” for FALCON AI, which was inspired by Ellipsis’ branding but clearly distinct:
Sub-branding hadn’t occurred to me when we started this process, but it was becoming rapidly clear that the new design was going to be a big deal in closing the authority gap.
We did consider sub-branding Content Growth separately too, but it didn’t quite work.
For the sake of cohesion, we scrapped the sub-brand. Content Growth has certainly benefitted from this project, though. Content Growth is extremely good, but this is probably where one of our biggest credibility gaps existed: it didn’t look as good as it is. This process made us sit down, take it apart and reassemble it with our newfound brand knowledge in mind.
Today we’re launching two updated Content Growth services:
- Content Growth Full Service: the VIP option, where we’ll take care of everything for you end-to-end
- Content Growth Foundations: get the immense SEO value of Content Growth, plugged into your existing team and process
Thus, if you’re:
- Already doing SEO Content for your WordPress business
- Needing SEO Content taken care of end-to-end
…then we’re now making our case for why you should get us to either do your content for you, or add our FALCON AI tech to your existing process, incredibly clear. You can read about our updated Content Growth plans here, or book a call with me to chat.
For WordPress businesses doing a high volume of content (10-20+ posts/month), our new FALCON Enterprise offering can dramatically improve the performance of your SEO Content at scale.
I keep coming back to the credibility gap: I am really delighted the new branding puts us on a pathway to closing it.
Branding is never done
Branding is never done. That’s certainly the case for us, where I’ve launched the rebrand but am now going to be refreshing individual site pages individually.
Marketing is never “done” either. After all, neither is a company’s bottom line! Brand needs to mature and grow as the company evolves and be able to adapt as needed.
What we’re seeing in WordPress as an industry is a slow realisation that we’re coming to a point where the successful plugins are outgrowing their boots and in great need of a new direction. This signals a potential turning point in the industry as it pivots more towards branding becoming more important too.
With the first WordPress businesses going public probably around the corner, this could be a tipping point.
For Ellipsis, it’s meant new products, and why, and what we see in the years ahead.
We know our FALCON AI is good from the results it gets, but seeing the technology featured in the New York Times was serious validation for me. I am really excited about FALCON AI, and how we can continue to leverage it on Content Growth clients.
Ellipsis is the leader on marketing + WordPress. As the WordPress economy continues to grow and mature, we’re here to drive up standards for everyone. We now look like it too.
Want to join us on our journey? Let’s chat!