Repositioning a brand is fairly commonplace for marketers. As a newly minted CMO, you land on a business and realize that the brand you are managing isn’t positioned well. So the logical next step is to reposition the brand to improve results. While it sounds easy, it isn’t. There is a possibility that the rebrand results in no impact or worse, it shifts the brand into a less desirable territory. The changes in positioning also confuse consumers. When that happens, all of the resources deployed to design and implement the rebrand have been wasted. They haven’t moved the business and brand forward.
Samsung Next just underwent a rebranding effort and is experiencing positive, early results. To better understand what they did and why, I turned to Angie Lee, the Global Head of Brand and Marketing at Samsung Next.
Kimberly A. Whitler: What is Samsung Next? How does it relate to the parent brand?
Angie Lee: Samsung Next is responsible for helping Samsung shape the future by identifying the technologies, trends, and ideas that matter. We do this by investing in, acquiring, and partnering with the boldest and most ambitious founders globally. Our team focuses broadly on AI, blockchain, fintech, healthtech, infrastructure, and mediatech, but invests opportunistically in founders pursuing the imagined and impossible.
Whitler: This is a bit like an internal incubator—correct? How are you / your business measured since it isn’t a traditional brand model?
Lee: It’s a little different. Incubators typically bring companies in and take an active role in shaping them, often with a strong perspective on how companies should be built. At Next, we identify founders who exhibit outstanding vision, leadership, and potential. We then provide them the resources they might need—not only financial but also, sales & marketing, people operations, partnerships, and communications—to realize their ideas. We believe that the founders we invest in have the maturity, sophistication, and ability to decide how to do their very best work. We are there to act as coach and supporter. And if at any point they want to scale with Samsung, we’re their best point of entry for making that happen.
Whitler: What prompted you to undergo a rebrand? Were there specific metrics that suggested you could improve the brand’s positioning?
Lee: It really was tied to a shift in strategy. David Lee, who is best known for his work with SV Angel (a pioneering angel investment firm whose early investments included Airbnb, Doordash, Twitter, Snap, Stripe, Instacart and Square) joined at the beginning of the year to reimagine Next. He recognized an opportunity to build deeper relationships globally and reorganized the team with a singular focus: Get into the hearts and minds of founders. Focusing on individuals—not ideas or companies—shifts the way we talk about Next and prioritize our activities. For example, we aren’t just looking for ways to do more in blockchain; instead we are looking for the founders who are pioneering the space, the assumption being that the most visionary in the space will continue to evolve and iterate. While their first idea might be good, their third idea could be revolutionary. This is why we invested in Roham Gharegozlou at Dapper Labs, John Crain at SuperRare and Jeff Marsilio at Nifty’s. We didn’t set out to define NFTs, but our investments are in the founders who are defining what the space means today. Dapper Laps is creating a protocol-agnostic platform that other developers can use to share their own NFTs, SuperRare is building a new art market designed for the digital age, and Nifty’s is curating digital collectibles scattered across the NFT universe. Investing in the founders who are living, sleeping, and breathing the space means that we can play a part in where NFTs are headed.
Whitler: Can you walk through the rebrand? What did you do?
Lee: I spearheaded Samsung Next’s rebrand from an “innovation group” to an “investment group.” Central to this rebranding effort is a shift in our audience: our primary audience is now founders. One of the key obstacles we had to overcome was a preconceived idea that many early stage founders and startups have of working with corporate investors and subsequent resistance to that idea. We repositioned our messaging, and overhauled our website and our social media in an effort to communicate more concisely—and precisely—our goals of supporting the best founders. We also created an entirely new Platform offering, with the goal of assisting the early stage companies we invest in as they navigate their own branding, marketing, sales, business development, and HR practices. Our team created the positioning and messaging for this effort, as well.
Whitler: How would you articulate the difference in “innovation” to “investment” group? For some, this may seem like the same concept. What is the difference between the two? Essentially, what is the “brand essence” that needed changing and what did you change it to?
Lee: Innovation can take many forms. It can be product development, business model design, frontier tech. The word is so broad that it is prone for misinterpretation. Our decision to move towards specificity is intended to communicate to the broader tech community our increased focus and a more narrowly defined mission.
At the same time, we are trying to redefine what “investment” looks like through the founder lens. Yes, we will write you a check, but that is just the beginning. Our entire team is here to support every founder and to give them access to the resources they may need to build and scale their businesses. For example, our Platform team is a group of world-class subject matter experts charged with providing our portfolio companies support across sales & marketing, communications, people operations, and business development. Their collective career accomplishments include launching nearly 100 companies and products, generating more than $2.3B in sales and partnerships revenue, and building hundreds of revenue-generating partnerships. All of our portfolio companies, including some early stage companies with just 5 employees, now have access to practitioners who built their careers at McKinsey, Google, IDEO, Hulu, and other top companies.
Reorienting about this shift—from a general innovation group to a modern investment group—really requires that we communicate our founder focused value proposition and build credibility. The challenge of any redesign is bridging what we are going to do with what we’ve done.
Whitler: What did you hope to accomplish? What were the results?
Lee: The main motivation was the refocusing and refining of Samsung Next’s mission and work as an investment group. Our ultimate goal is to reach the best and most ambitious founders—and to create a flywheel thereof. Since February, we’ve made nearly 30 new investments in early stage startups and plan to make another 50 through the end of the year. Through our Platform offering, we provided 89 services to 29 portfolio companies. It’s really incredible to see the progress.
Whitler: Anything else you want to discuss about the rebrand?
Lee: We’re in the early stages of this rebranding process and are learning a lot as we go. We are in a unique position of being a part of Samsung, but appealing to an audience beyond its traditional reach of consumers. It’s exciting!
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