Melissa Core-Caballo of Dead Horse Branding: Brand Makeovers
5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image
An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski
As human beings we get attached to THINGS and brands fall into that category of THINGS. When THINGS are changed we do not always like it, but at the same time you are about to gain a new audience — so everything has it’s balancing bar — you just need to know how to balance it.
Aspart of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Melissa Core-Caballo. Melissa Core-Caballo’s passion for entrepreneurship mixed with her branding expertise led her to launch Dead Horse Branding in 2013. She took a startup company from $0 and in under 5 years to managing over 100 million dollars of brand revenue a year. Through Dead Horse Branding, Melissa is responsible for managing all of the brand’s requirements from social media management, marketing, publicity, licensing opportunities, to overall management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Weoriginally started by building a fashion brand called Corello Rock Fashion. The co-founder of that fashion label, Rick Caballo, is an incredible designer, artist, and overall creative innovator, and the brand was based around his skill set, his design, and his vibe. I influenced a little bit of the bohemian aspect, and that’s where the boho and rock intersections met. We launched into wholesale and e-commerce and the brand took off quite quickly. We got in over 100 stores in under 18 months. Many people would comment on the brand itself, from photography, PR, product development, social media, and graphic design. People would ask us who was doing all these different facets and our response was always the same: we are. However, we had also hired a PR firm at the time to give us a little lift: PLA Media with Pam Lewis and Mark Logsdon. Mark thought it would be great to pair Jep and Jessica Robertson from Duck Dynasty with Corello for No-Shave November and have them turn a little rock ’n’ roll for that month. We agreed to the idea and caused a nice racket on the scene. From that, Jep and Jessica were interested in having us create them a label, as it was always a big dream for them. They are really awesome people and we accepted the partnership. So with a combination of all of that people started coming to us, wanting their brands designed, built, promoted, and strategized. Thus, Dead Horse Branding was built. One thing we realized during the fashion building process was there were many missing components to agencies that aimed at helping startup brands start up properly. As I started looking into it further and expanding this research through the music business, I noticed the same thing. We developed the concept that Dead Horse would be a design, consulting, strategic planning, image building, marketing, and publicity firm all in-house. You have one brand manager to one brand and a flawless and smooth strategy-building concept. Al A Carte services are still optional but we are in the business of advising you what steps and stages need to be attacked first rather than just implementing a stage because the customer feels they need it. We have been named one of the top marketing and publicity firms in Nashville, TN and we are super excited to be able to claim that. We are even more excited to know that our system and method works.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We had designed the logo for Corello in text and also a really cool symbol, we had no idea which one we loved more so we used both. It confused the heck out of people. I would get questions like are you the skeleton horse or the Corello font sign — which brand is yours and i would reply BOTH. I would hear myself say it out loud and think, good lord this is stupid. What I feel is funny is everything we are teaching and doing for other brands we have LIVED and we can backup all of our services with funny, failed, here’s what not to do stories and i feel that is very important for our clients. We ended up making the skeleton horse our T-shirt design and it became a staple design, we then took it from Corello and used it as the Dead Horse Branding logo today — mistakes can launch your next business venture so keep them near.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Yes, when we signed our incredible client Tony Brown — Country Music’s King!. Not only did having him on my roster complete my life but it gave us the CREDIBILITY needed to push on and upward. This of course increased the company’s revenue as he would so generously promote us, but also give us the opportunity to shine at what we do — management and brand promotion/design. But a “Tipping” point does not always have to be for financial reasons and this case it was a personal internal fulfillment — the kind you feel happens once in a lifetime. Tony has got to be one of the most incredible human beings on the planet and the best TEAM mate possible. When you find your Tony Brown — you have MADE IT!.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes — several actually. We have just signed on the Bo Diddley Estate and we are so excited to revamp and promote this brand in a way that it has not been done before. We are also working on a Podcast and Documentary called the Killer B’s and the Billion Dollar Sting with Scott Borchetta, Jimmy Bowen, Tony Brown and Bruce Hinton — this project is about the time they ran MCA Nashville record label in the 90’s — early 2000’s and how they generated over a Billion dollars in revenue knocking out all of the other American labels for a decade straight.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
This is a great question because in my industry you can burnout very very quickly. It’s important to have smart management software and it’s essential to have time off. That means if you’re not working on a weekend, don’t check your emails, don’t think about finishing a press release; that can wait till Monday. Put your phone in the drawer, hang out with friends and family and completely switch off. You need to rejuvenate and you need to relax. It’s completely normal. What is not normal is going 24/7.
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
You know they are both very similar. Both need an established brand presence and visual element before the sales component can begin, the only thing that is vastly different is the lane in which you are selling to, for example B2B, direct to consumer industry. Branding is the same formula for ANY person or product — what is different is the ingredients you use to brand and sell the product and the sales tools/lane you choose to disperse the product.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
When you build a brand you build a direct subconscious YES or NO to any product that is being funneled at you to purchase. You do not need to think too much past, do I like or want the product? It’s a quick YES or NO as the brand foundation has been set and what i mean by that is this; before we purchase something many questions and feelings come across our wavelength — who is behind this product?, will it work?, will i get it if i buy it online?, will it be hard to return if i do not like it?, who are the people behind this product?, what do they stand for? Etc etc and the list GOES on. When we know a brand and become invested these questions have been answered for us and it’s a simple yes i want it or no i do not. This then helps the brand better position themselves, their analytics track faster and closer to the needle so ROI can be increased faster. The brand building phase is your dating time. Put in the work so you can marry your customers.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
Sometimes the brand decides certain aspects of their company are not working and others are thriving, so they will rebrand to adjust to the market that is wanting them rather than the one that is not. Other times it could be because of bad press, a product failure and even emotional reasons.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Always, you will lose a portion of your audience and you must know that going in. The new brand may not be “What your customer expected” they may feel your values do not align with them anymore. As human beings we get attached to THINGS and brands fall into that category of THINGS. When THINGS are changed we do not always like it, but at the same time you are about to gain a new audience — so everything has it’s balancing bar — you just need to know how to balance it.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
This is your brand foundation, it is your face in the business world without it you may as well be faceless. When i met the Co-founder of Dead Horse Branding Rick, i thought logos were rubbish until i watched him design one for a client of his and I watched as he unfolded the brand and built this company image from it. He dug so deep into this company’s core, into their emotions of what they wanted to share with the world, I witnessed Rick take hold of this sequence of brand and image design like a perfect visual dance that had me excited about this Drum company — i wanted to buy a set right there and then. What amazed me is how the business owner and board of directors just came to life, their energy revitalized and the excitement of this company being born. It was quite an incredible experience and completely made me understand how branding really works from the ground up plus how the creative brand juices started to be squeezed, that’s what a logo can do .
Any photographer can take a great shot, but what does it mean? I work with so many artists in the music business all fighting for the limelight and the only thing that makes you stand out is the branded image — what story are you trying to sell, how do you want people to get to know you, come back for more and follow you within ONE SHOT? It’s easy — tell your brand story and your followers will follow you. I had a development country artist about to release her first single, she was really into muscle cars and knew SO much about them — we positioned her brand around the American muscle cars intertwined with country music, we had this killer car on the Nashville race track, she was barefooted like the girl next door Tomboy she was, her guitar and a gorgeous smile — this brand image flowed throughout her whole brand and most importantly her imagery. She got so much press, a great opportunity to cross over media platforms of music and cars, her brand exploded so well for a first time single — that ONE shot went such a long way.
You need a house to call your brand home in the digital world and having a third party company own all of your IP is not the way to go. I recently spoke with the Illawarra TAFE of Australia, NSW for Their music business class and everyone in that class did not have a website. When asked how we find them and see their brand and gain quick access to a portfolio they all said “On Instagram” so i replied, and if Instagram gets shut down tomorrow just like Myspace disappeared, then what? They all went home that night and made a website.
4. Social Media
If i cannot get to know you, i don’t want to know you. Yes, it is that blunt. Social Media is that — you should be socially interacting with me and I should be able to get to know you. If you are holding back, posting content that does not represent your brand or let ME IN i am OUT.
It is so common for brands to spend so much money on their company’s brand build which is great but when it comes to promotion they fall short. The rule is — whatever you spend on your brand build — triple it for promotion, the end.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Lady Ga Ga. Remember the days when you could only think of her as this outrageous Artist with Monsters by her side, a crazy outfit and you just never knew what she was going to look like or if you would ever see what was under that brand? Her documentary JOANNE was incredible — she showed you her insecurities and her brand positioning to come out NORMAL as herself to her fans. She did a full branding circle. She could not get any traction as herself, created a giant image to get her voice heard and once that succeeded and her brand image was established globally — she returned to her comfort brand and the original brand she wanted all to know JOANNE.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Honestly, lend a helping hand. I can’t tell you that every helping hand is going to benefit you but it’s not about that. It’s about benefiting the other person. Sure, I’ve lent many helping hands that have made me take a couple of steps backward sometimes, but then I take 10 steps forward when I hear how much I helped another person. If we all just lend a helping hand and didn’t require anything back we would find ourselves much more united and stronger together. Subconsciously, we are creating safety nets for ourselves that we all really want and need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do everything you can and even for free to get you to where you want to be.