When Steve Beshara founded the Atlanta-based brand consultancy Vista in 1997, his vision was to focus on a few client relationships and "dive deep" with them, truly understanding their businesses and branding needs. Immersing themselves in every aspect of their clients’ products, markets and cultures allowed the Vista team to help build successful brands for companies like UPS, Cinnabon, AFC Enterprises and BellSouth.
So Beshara says it wasn’t a huge stretch when Vista merged its operations with a new company founded by a former client. Beshara and two other Vista staff members are now the in-house brand and marketing department for Atlanta-based TurboChef Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of proprietary rapid-cook ovens.
"It’s really a natural evolution for us," Beshara says. "At Vista, our methodology involved focusing on every aspect of a brand to ensure it creates value for all its stakeholders and consumers. The opportunity to work so closely with TurboChef is the ultimate manifestation of our approach to brand-building."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
In late 2002, Vista became the brand firm of record for PracticeWorks, a company that provided software-based information-technology systems to dentists, orthodontists, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Working closely with president and CEO Jim Price and chairman Richard Perlman, the Vista team developed a new brand image for the company, from strategy to identity, personality and logo development. Using the new brand as a springboard, they redesigned all the company’s print collateral, trade publication advertising and tradeshow materials.
"Before Vista came along, I felt we weren’t presenting the appropriate brand or image to the marketplace," Price explains. "Steve and his team totally rebranded the company, and put the focus on our customers and their testimonials. They really put a human face on the brand."
Results in the marketplace were dramatic. Following the redesign, PracticeWorks saw its sales leads triple, and business boomed in the ensuing months. "The rebranding, combined with overall investment and marketing efforts, was a big part of our success," Price says. The company did so well, in fact, that in July 2003, Eastman Kodak Co. purchased it for $500 million.
After the sale, Beshara joked with Price and Perlman that "When you buy your island, I’ll visit and bring the champagne." Instead of an island, they purchased a new company, TurboChef, and invited Beshara and his team to be the brand and marketing department.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
Despite the huge success Vista and PracticeWorks had working together, the decision to fold his company into TurboChef wasn’t an easy one for Beshara. Vista was doing well on its own, with record annual revenues and profits, and strong client relationships. "It was difficult to consider the merger given the fact that Vista’s momentum was at an all-time high," he says.
But ultimately, Beshara found the offer too attractive to resist, for both professional and financial reasons. First, he says, much of his work for the past 10 years (with Vista, and before that with Executive Arts in Atlanta and Beshara Associates in Annapolis, MD) had been focused on corporate branding, including annual-report work for Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and UPS. The merger with Turbo-Chef offered him the opportunity to enter the world of consumer branding, something he’d always wanted to do.
Second, says Beshara, the ability to focus on one client in an intensive way was an inevitable evolution of Vista’s "deep dive" philosophy. Becoming the client, he thought, was the ultimate way of truly understanding their business and branding needs. "You can’t really understand someone else unless you walk a mile in their shoes," he notes. "So the merger with TurboChef is an experiment for us, an ongoing labora-tory, if you will."
And third, Price and Perlman made a financial offer too attractive to resist. TurboChef didn’t purchase Vista outright, but bought limited capital assets (including computers and other equipment) and offered Beshara and two Vista staff members new compensation packages and stock options. Beshara is the company’s chief brand officer, reporting directly to Price.
To the former Vista staff members, the benefits were threefold, says Beshara: "We have new and refreshing strategic and creative challenges, the opportunity to deeply understand client-side issues and solutions, and the ability to create more value for ourselves more directly by being a part of the company’s stock-option plan." In other words, they’ll directly benefit from the results that the successful rebranding will bring TurboChef.
TurboChef also wins with the new arrangement, Price says. "With PracticeWorks, we saw the dramatic difference that effective branding can make. Our goal is to grow TurboChef from a small company with great technology to a large company, and I believe we’ll win that battle through marketing and branding. Then the question was: Do I want to have the top branding team be part of my company or just have them on contract?"
While Price and Perlman knew that bringing a team in-house might not be the least expensive way to go, they did it anyway. "I knew that what TurboChef needed in the way of a total makeover would keep the team busy," Price explains. "But more than that, we needed Steve and his team to be part of not just the new brand, but our continual communication to the marketplace.
LIFE ON THE INSIDE
The Vista team’s transition to their new role took eight months, from Nov. 2003 to June 2004, while the new TurboChef corporate offices were completed. While water-cooler talk is a bit different these days—less about design and more about rapid-cook technology—the culture at TurboChef isn’t so different from Vista’s. "We’re still as loose and informal as we were at the old fire station [Vista’s offices for the past seven years]," Beshara says. "When you have good people working together toward a common goal, it’s healthy and interesting."
The new brand and marketing team hit the ground running, immediately launching a branding process that will change TurboChef’s face in the marketplace. The team is focusing on five key areas to reintroduce the brand: a brand design standards manual (which it calls the "cookbook") that focuses on logo, essence, personality, colors and fonts; print collateral including spec sheets and binders, brochures, annual reports, service manuals, instruction guides and other materials; the company’s Web site; trade-publication advertising; and public relations.
"When Steve and his team came on, it was pretty desolate here in terms of any actual marketing tools," Price says. "There was no true brand messaging, so they’ve created a new brand virtually from the ground up." They revamped the company Web site to focus on customers; photos and testimonials from professional chefs speak to high-quality products and TurboChef’s technology. "We couldn’t be more pleased with the way it’s going so far," Price adds.
Focusing on one brand instead of several is a change for the team, but the benefits are their ability to create and closely manage a "one-voice" strategy in TurboChef’s marketplace, Beshara says. "We’re in the trenches, so it’s a huge learning experience to be in the client’s shoes every single day." His one concern about the arrangementis his fear of losing objectivity and thus his ability to see the brand with a clear and balanced perspective. "That’s something I’ll have to watch closely," he says.
While Beshara’s staffers are now full-time TurboChef employees, Vista continues doing business, as Beshara maintains a consulting schedule for a few select clients. Other industry veterans have come on board to the new Vista as consultants. In the future, Beshara says, "Vista will take on the form of a brand think tank run by senior people who’ll offer strategic consulting services using joint ventures to provide creative services."
The Vista team plans to reenter the design/branding/creative industry when its obligations at TurboChef have been fulfilled. Beshara and the Turbo-Chef management team negotiated a three-year contract. "That’s the expectation today," Beshara notes. "Three years was the amount of time we felt would be sufficient to build a strong brand and a long-term, sustainable business model for the company." After that, returning to Vista is a "strong option," he says.
In the meantime, Beshara and his team are happy doing what they’re doing. Beshara says he would recommend going in-house to other creative firms if—and it’s a big if—the fit is good. "It requires analysis on multiple levels to make certain the synergies will actually live up to expectations," he notes.
Business is ultimately about relationships. "Because we had run some fence line with Jim Price and Richard Perlman at PracticeWorks, and had a very successful outcome, we had a trust bridge with them," Beshara says. "I doubt I would have considered this move, or been able to convince my team to follow me, if I didn’t trust and respect them and if they didn’t trust and respect my team."