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‘A lot of brands will avoid it’: Kic founders Laura Henshaw and Steph Claire Smith reflect on ‘real and honest’ rebrand one year on

One year on from completely rebranding, wellness platform Kic has gone from strength to strength. Co-founders Laura Henshaw and Steph Claire Smith sat down with Mumbrella's Lauren McNamara to reflect on the biggest challenges and learnings they've faced, and the opportunities moving forward.

The wellness space was very different in 2015 than it is now. When Keep It Cleaner launched originally as an ebook, the idea of ‘clean eating’ was taken positively in the dieting space – healthy, nutritious, well-balanced meals.

Nearly ten years later, and that has changed significantly. Too often, clean eating is used synonymously with restrictive dieting – and in 2023, Keep It Cleaner’s co-founders, Laura Henshaw and Steph Claire Smith, knew it was time for a change. As the pair were heavily against restrictive eating, and never intended to promote that message, the rebrand journey began.

“We’ve always been against restrictive eating,” Smith tells Mumbrella. “It’s been a very clear differentiator for us against others in the market. Something that we’re really proud that we’ve stuck to is that we are not about toxic diet culture, but that wasn’t really reflected in our brand name anymore.”

The brand name was due for an upgrade

With the word ‘Cleaner’ in its name, the co-founders felt as though the brand was being held back, because of the misalignment.

“For us, it’s really important that we can be bold with where we stand out in the market, and what we stand for,” Smith continues. “And the word was making us hold back just that little bit.”

While referring to the brand colloquially as Kic was not a new thing, changing the name officially was quite a step forward. Having affectionately been called Kic by its community for years, as well as in different partnerships, the name felt like an obvious choice.

“If we wanted to shy away from the journey, we could have chosen a completely new and different name,” Smith says.

“But we’re very real and honest, we always have been with our journey as founders, as a business, but also with our community. So recognising that, but moving forward, Kic just felt like the new and bolder approach to what we stand for.”

While the conversation began at least a year prior to the rebrand, it wasn’t official until May last year.

Henshaw recalls the arduous process, and the challenges they faced throughout.

The most important element of the rebrand was the communication strategy and plan – and finding a way to acknowledge and appreciate the brand’s evolution, growth and learning.

“That’s always been so important to us, with everything we do,” she says. “A part of our brand is being perfectly imperfect, and no one’s perfect, and we wanted to make sure that was reflected in our strategy.

“Communicating that we were staying as Kic, while acknowledging that our past name doesn’t align with us anymore, it’s a really hard thing to balance.”

Smith and Henshaw were apprehensive of the name change

She says there was a fear of how it would be received by Kic’s community, despite the aforementioned informal use of the name. She and Smith struggled with thinking that users wouldn’t align with the brand anymore, wouldn’t feel connected in the same way they once did, and would stop engaging with the brand.

“You never know how something’s going to be perceived until you actually launch it in market. And in reading a lot of the feedback, it was almost the opposite of what we feared. The misalignment, the lack of connection, that was all there before the rebrand – so in the same way that we didn’t feel like Keep It Cleaner was right for us anymore, our users thought the same,” Henshaw explains.

Owning up to such a thing is not easy feat. Telling the market that you no longer associate with your brand name is risky, having those uncomfortable conversations is not something many brands would undertake. But Henshaw stresses it was the best decision the pair have made for the business.

“A lot of brands will avoid it,” she says. “Owning up to stuff and acknowledging the past, these are things brands will pretend didn’t happen. But for us, we have always stayed true to our mission of authenticity and being genuine.

“I think the biggest learning was how powerful those fears can be, you know so many people expect brands to be perfect so it’s a given, but keeping true to our purpose made our community appreciate Kic so much more – and leaning into that was really important. We’re so grateful we did.”

One year on, one of the biggest challenges Henshaw and Smith face – rebrand specific – is still being referred to as Keep It Cleaner. While Smith concedes that will happen to any brand, “it’s still annoying”, she jokes.

Bigger picture, however, the largest challenge has been keeping authentic and staying true to who Kic is. With a community of over 2.5 million people across all its channels, and 50,000 in its close-knit Facebook community, the pair needed to ensure the authenticity remained.

“There’s been elements where we have lent into other expertise or advice, and we’ve tried something different that maybe a competitor was doing, or we tried to meet too many people’s expectations, and any time we have done something like that, we’ve quickly learnt not to,” Smith continues.

“We need to remind ourselves that we still have the same vision, the same mission, just a new name.”

Smith featuring in Kic’s most recent campaign

And the proof is in the pudding. The past 12 months have seen a 20% subscription growth on Kic’s app, and 14% revenue year-on-year. The brand is successfully launching new campaigns, signing new partnership deals – like with Stax, Frank Green, Dineamic and New Balance – and exploring new avenues to grow.

“It’s been so nice having this sustainable growth after the rebrand,” Henshaw reflects. “And it’s even nicer that its mostly organic – only 10% of our downloads have come from paid media. Building our community has been the number one priority and that’s going to continue.”

The brand has a few new partnerships in the works – to be announced in due course – with the strategy of purposeful collaborations.

“Everything we’re exploring now is multifaceted – it drives revenue for the business, it helps drive awareness for Kic, and it drives people to our product,” she continues. “And it’s exciting. The rebrand has really allowed for so many new opportunities and exciting plans, that we can’t wait to keep exploring.”

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