By Luke Kelly
It was the first thing I could think to say. I was on a Zoom call with the team at ContentCal. As a key partner to the team, they’d confidentially just let me in on some news that was about to blow up. I felt thrilled for them.
ContentCal was going to be acquired by Adobe.
As a result, one of our most exciting creative projects to date would reach its conclusion, much sooner than expected. It felt bittersweet that it was ending. But I also saw it as a huge win — validating the branding work that we’d done. And of course, an amazing achievement for ContentCal. So how did we get there?
It’s the holy grail for so many of our clients. ContentCal had gone from a $6.2m seed round, to a serious acquisition, in just over 18 months. How had they done it? And what role (if any) did our rebranding and design work have to play? After the exit was complete — and the dust had settled — I still had some questions. So I met with Chris Boddice (former ContentCal Marketing Director) to get his take on how it all happened.
Before we jump back to the start of this story, here’s some context.
I run a brand and digital design agency called Airborne Studio. We work with ambitious clients on a range of design projects. At the heart of our work is strategy, brand and storytelling (a buzzword, but the right one). We help clients transform the way that they’re seen and perceived; that usually starts with their perception of themselves.
Our own story begins with one designer and his laptop (me) experimenting with digital nomadism. Hence: ‘Airborne’. A few chapters along and we’re now an agency formed through an international, collaborative and somewhat rebellious spirit. It’s a personality that gives us a real affinity with people doing exciting, innovative things with tech. We particularly love the energy of startups in their earlier phases of growth.
That, for us, was ContentCal.
ContentCal emerged as ‘Content Calendr’ in 2016 via a previous business — a social media marketing agency called ASTP. A media marketing platform that makes creating, scheduling and managing content across all channels simple, ContentCal was created as a response to their own challenges. And it was successful from the start.
During their first year, the coveted ‘product market-fit’ was found. Seed funds were raised. Development was ramped up. And a talented team had formed around the project. By mid-2020, Content Calendr was well and truly established, with thousands of active users. They had raised another $6.2m of seed funding. And things were getting serious.
With funding secured, the team found themselves under some new pressures from investors.
Growing targets had been escalated, and the P in their KPIs was now under greater scrutiny. As is the way in startup life, almost immediately after securing their biggest funding round ContentCal urgently needed to focus on… funding. They planned to use their large seed round to propel them to a Series A within a year. There was recognition from their team and the board that a serious transformation was needed — to take a couple of giant steps forward. Their current brand just wasn’t cutting it. Their first big step? Enticing experienced Marketing Director Chris Boddice to join them. With a wealth of experience managing (and executing) successful rebrands, he was tasked with doing the same for ContentCal. We knew the business but we didn’t know Chris. He was in charge of appointing a creative agency for ContentCal’s rebrand. While I knew he was speaking to other people, I felt a buzz and warmth during our conversations and that we shared a vision. In the end, they chose us for the project. We were on the same page with it; more importantly, we trusted one another.
We were up against some ambitious deadlines. With three months to rebrand the business and redesign its website (which acted as the team’s main sales tool), we knew it was going to be a tough climb.
So we immersed ourselves in all things ContentCal. The product, the people, the market. We explored their previous strategy work and audited all their existing materials. Through this, we created a strong story and brand position built on the idea of ‘Get Clear’. A core message that encapsulated all that ContentCal is about — a single source of truth that makes creating, planning, scheduling and posting content simple, easy, inclusive and intuitive.
With a desire from within their team to retain some of the brand equity they had established, we thought carefully about the story their logo was telling. It spoke of planning, precision and calendar placement – but felt static and uninspired. ContentCal is much more than that and planned to go further still with moves into AI and automation. We experimented with ideas around artificial intelligence and a more dynamic, organic approach to moving data and messaging. Content that takes on a life of its own. This led us to the morphing shapes which became the foundation of the updated logo — and the catalyst for the identity system as a whole.
And of course, ContentCal brings content to life. The morphing shapes that sit at the heart of the updated identity gave ContentCal a fluidity and sense of movement — one that connects and evolves. Layering around illustrations and photography, they showcased the depth of connectivity that ContentCal offers its users.
Alongside this work, and informed by it, we redesigned ContentCal’s website. Post-launch, ContentCal reported an immediate bump in all key metrics — from visits, pages viewed, bounce rates and most importantly conversions.
We hit the ambitious three-month target and produced some of our very best work. Within six months of the rebrand, ContentCal had secured their Series A funding. 9 months later, they were acquired by Adobe.
This project is one of my favourite success stories. It was brilliant to be involved with, creatively — but also, to see the impact that creative work had on ContentCal’s journey towards an exit. In reality, it took much more than a well-executed design. So what else contributed to its success.
ContentCal decided to invest seriously in branding when others may have held off. With a decent runway — and big ambitions — they knew that it would pay off to articulate their unique value and personality. Looking back on it, Chris remembered:
ContentCal were very clear with us about what they wanted to achieve — and fully committed to the process. It allowed us to hone our approach and work efficiently. And it made our journey together fun and rewarding for everyone.
The first big win for this project was probably bringing Chris on board. He was experienced and entrusted by ContentCal to lead the project, which enabled new ideas to come to life. The second big win? It was choosing Airborne for the project. But only because we were the right fit. We shared a similar energy, had great conversations and inspired one another. Taking the time to appoint the right people is the key to success. In Chris’ words:
“You need the right kind of creative partner to do a rebrand properly. It isn't transactional — your brand is the heart and soul of your business. You need a creative team that can tap into that and express it in a way that you can't.”
The third magic ingredient: trust. Trust the decision makers in your team, the agency or designer you’ve hired and the big one — the process. Letting go of control is a big step for a business, but can lead to some next-level results. The team really trusted us to do what we do best; the outcome was spectacular.
But just how spectacular?
And how much of an impact did our work make on ContentCal’s journey? Did branding shift things significantly — or would it have happened anyway?
It’s hard to quantify, but Chris was certain it played a big role.
He said: “We stood out to everybody that we needed to. Customers, influencers, industry experts.. The people that mattered. Without having a strong brand, it's arguable that we wouldn't have stood out enough, no matter how much we invested in other areas of the business.”
When the timing is right — and you trust the process — branding can be a galvanising, transformational step.
Chris broke it down:
“For us the rebrand was a catalyst for our growth, the whole business fed off it. I think many companies get this very wrong, at all stages of a businesses lifespan. But I would confidently say that we got it right and kudos to everybody involved.”
In this instance, the stars aligned. The rebrand worked as a motivating project for the whole business and gave the team an injection of confidence — which reflected back into the brand. They bought into the process and it paid off. Of course, there’s no secret formula for a successful exit. Branding alone won’t create that kind of value in a startup. But stories like that of ContentCal show how, when done well, branding can act as a catalyst; one that takes businesses to a whole new level of success.