DTC Boardroom: Outway

Welcome back to the DTC Boardroom series, where we ask podcast guests and friends of DTC to dive into their personal picks for the most exciting strategies and tactics to help brands WIN BIG! 🙌

This week's story is one of persistence and change. Here’s what Rob has to say: 👇

“Hey, my name is Rob and I’m the Founder and CEO of Outway. We make the best socks in the world and design them to inspire personal bests. 🧦

But we weren’t always called Outway. In fact, for the first five years of the brand, we had a different name. Earlier this year, we rebranded to Outway, and today I’m writing about it (we also made a short video series about it, watch here).

Why change our name? 🤔 Well… we didn’t want to. On November 5th, 2021, I received a cease and desist demanding we change our name. This was the first time I had received a cease and desist, and honestly, it scared the sh*t out of me.

I can’t say much more about the ‘why,’ but we decided that going through a rebrand and changing our name was the best path forward. So we took on the challenge.

At the time of the letter, we had been in business for five years and had seen our fair share of challenges. We had endured a cofounder breakup and buyout, a global pandemic, and much more. But those all felt small compared to the threat against our brand.

For some reason, an attack on our brand name felt like a death blow. But was it? It turns out no. And I’ll do my best to explain why. 💥

Before going down the rebrand path and brainstorming new names, I felt it was super important to go DEEP on our brand and branding in general.

I wanted to know:

  1. What is a brand?
  2. What does our brand mean?
  3. How can our brand champion our mission?

1️⃣ What is a brand?

When thinking about having to change our name, I was freaking out. I thought our former name was one of our most important assets. But was it? I started reading about branding, talked to others, and I came up with this analogy: a brand as a human being.

There are three core attributes of a human: name, appearance, and essence. 🙆‍♂️

A name is how we reference someone. 🗣 Think of a close friend. You know them by their name and reference them by that name to others.

However, if your friend came up to you one day and said they’d changed their name, although it would take you some time to get used to it, it would not change who they are. It wouldn’t make any difference at all. They’d still be your friend.

An appearance is how we recognize someone. 🪞 Again, think of a close friend. You can close your eyes and visualize their appearance: their haircut, height, weight, style, etc.

However, if it has been some time since you saw your friend and when reunited, they looked very different, although it would take some time to get used to, it would not change who they are. It wouldn’t make any difference at all. They’d still be your friend.

An essence is how we feel about someone. 💛 Again, think of a close friend and how they make you feel when you’re around them. How do you talk about them when they’re not in the room with others? It’s the intangibles and trust.

Now, if it had been some time since you saw your friend and when reunited, they were a completely different person, their mannerisms, their attitude, and more, you would question if that is the same person. Would they still be your friend? Maybe not.

🚨 Your brand is your business’s essence. Your brand is not your name, logo, font, colors, and not even your product.

It’s how you make your customers feel.

It’s how your customers talk about you to others.

It's the trust they put in you.

After going through this exercise, I felt much better. Why? Although we had to change our name, we were not changing our essence. We didn’t even have to change our appearance. The task ahead felt A LOT less daunting.

2️⃣ What does our brand mean to our customers?

The brand as a human thought exercise helped me set the foundation for the task at hand. The next step was getting a deep understanding of our essence. That meant talking to our team, partners, and customers. Thousands of them.

Why did our customers initially purchase from us? Why did they come back? How do they talk about us to others? What emotions do they feel when thinking about our brand? Do they feel anything at all? I was going to find out. 🧠

When asking why our customers purchase from us, it turned out there was a common answer. ‘I bought your socks for x’ – and ‘x’ was always some pursuit of a personal best. They bought our socks for a marathon they’ve been training for, a bike race, a promotion at work, an exciting speaking gig, and more.

We found that people were buying our socks to pursue a personal best. There was an emotional trigger to make a purchase, and we were inspiring people to do great things.

This exercise allowed us to evolve our mission: to inspire everyone’s personal best. This was an unexpected but very welcomed byproduct of the rebrand journey. ✍️

3️⃣ How can a brand name champion our mission?

Our mission was our north star for the rebrand. Our new name had to champion and embody our mission. And most importantly, we had to tell that story.

Choosing a new brand name 5 years into a business is not an easy task. Nothing will seem as good as the current name. The current name is all you know, and you love it. All else will feel inferior and foreign.

But that’s your emotion taking over. There are likely many better names, and it’s also likely that many people don’t like your current brand name. 🤯

Our goal was…

  • Find a name that was easy to pronounce, spell, and remember
  • We didn’t want it to have a dictionary definition
  • The social media handles and domain needed to be available
  • It needed to be trademarkable and protectable
  • It needed to be phonetically pleasing and ideally two syllables

If we found all that, it also needed to champion our mission. Sounds easy, right?

After months of pain and thousands of new names, we landed on a new name. And honestly, we didn’t love it at first. But as we gave it meaning and started to write the story, we fell in love. It made more sense.

Our new name was OUTWAY. But what does it mean? Well… it doesn’t mean anything. We wanted our customers to be able to ascribe their own meaning to it.

To come up with it, we asked ourselves: what does it take to pursue your personal best? 🧐

Our answer: you must be willing to put yourself OUT there and carve your own WAY.

Our new name was an amalgamation of OUT and WAY and championed our mission. 🏆

It’s been nearly 6 months since rebranding and our community has embraced our new name. It was a long, challenging process but one of the most rewarding journeys to date. We learned a lot.

If you find yourself starting a brand or going through a rebrand, I’d encourage you to use the brand as a human framework, talk to your team, partners, and customers, and be patient with the process.

Thanks for reading. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. Oh, and Outway is having a holiday sale – you should treat your feet to the world's best socks.”

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