5 Things I Learned While Leading a Major Rebrand

Exos CMO TJ Abrams reflects on recruiting with purpose and embracing failure


One year into my role as CMO after joining Exos in the middle of the pandemic, we’ve refreshed the brand to help more people than ever before accomplish their most audacious fitness goals. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Greatness is a team sport

To build the dream team for this challenge, I spoke with many agency executives and potential partners along the journey. When you recruit with purpose, the right partners will show up for your belief. Mainstream agencies that work with brands that spend 10 times what we could spend picked up the phone because they were inspired by the mission of Exos to ignite the hero in all of us.

Our purpose resonated. And, more importantly, we were doing the type of coaching and wellness work with elite athletes and corporate clients (where we serve nearly 30% of the Fortune 100) that their teams love to do.

And, looking internally, in the midst of the ongoing Great Resignation, I was able to retain the marketing rock stars on my team and recruit some of the best across the industry to join us. In fact, the interim CMO who preceded me in this role stayed on the team with me for over a year through the brand launch.

From the beginning, I set the tone that this would be an inside-out transformation, a refreshed vision for our over 4,000-strong team that matched our business ambition. People rarely leave jobs for other companies—they leave missions that don’t inspire them anymore, cultures that don’t align with their values and/or managers that can’t meet their professional needs. Lead humbly, with the opportunity and responsibility to support your team as they pour their talent and heart into the business.

It’s about growth

From the beginning, our rebrand strategy has been connected to Exos’ priority growth imperatives. We can now reach more customers than ever before with our newest product Exos Fit, a virtual coaching and fitness application, and are building products for performers of all abilities that will change the industry.

Exos CEO Sarah Robb O’Hagan and I aligned early on that this work was not about beautiful design. It has always been about connecting this great brand with its business ambition in the marketplace. Our management team and board were committed to the comprehensive nature of the challenge, and that made the journey an exciting companywide effort.

Find the untold stories

And tell them like never before. We’re fortunate at Exos to impact more than 300,000 lives per month through our services. With our global reach and approach to coaching, authentic human stories of impact are happening daily, but they didn’t always land in my inbox.

The best stories I discovered were from last-minute business trips took over the summer to connect with team members, and from weekly Donut sessions on Slack to meet new teammates across the world in a virtual water-cooler moment. I’ve been so inspired in this process, finding stories ranging from aspiring elite athletes who came to Exos to help them make their dreams of competing in the Olympics a reality, to military vets in rehab for injuries sustained during a tour of duty, to members at corporate clients who’ve committed to new holistic lifestyle changes to improve the relationship with their kids.

image

Embrace failure as an accelerator

This brand refresh touches every experience across our omnichannel suite of products and services. And along the way, we’ve run into hurdles from supply chain issues to misaligned strategic visions with key partners.

Our biggest challenge was often time, and there was a moment when the lack of time pushed us to deliver less than our best to meet one of many cascading deadlines. These moments are tough because I had team members emotionally invested and agency partners committed to get to great, but we weren’t there. I knew it, and I needed to take accountability for where we were as a team. I picked up the phone for 1:1 conversations. I listened. And most importantly, we crafted a timely plan to get us back on track.

As I look back on where we stumbled, I realize it was actually the accelerator moment my team needed. We stepped back to accelerate forward toward our mission. And I personally faced this moment with our company values of One Team, Humility and Responsibility as a guiding light.

Invest in relationships

This was truly a full company effort, but one in which I also had external partners from my past brand leadership roles over the last 10+ years join my team. Staying present in the moment is key, because the connections being formed now may pay dividends unseen many years down the road.

From new partnerships with award-winning agencies like Sid Lee and Huge to long-standing relationships with trusted partners, I am still humbled by the people that joined our mission and contributed to this rebrand. And speaking of trust, having the Exos leadership be willing to step out of their functional leadership roles to put on their marketing hats set us up for success. We’ve laid the foundation for an exciting chapter of growth ahead.