By the time we introduced Lisa Ames as Norwest’s first CMO, she had already identified one of the highest priorities in her new role: “give Norwest the powerful brand it deserves.” She saw a firm of highly accomplished investors, operators, and team members who were more interested in serving portfolio companies than any accolades that might come from their efforts. Lisa was inspired to capture, reflect, and amplify the founder-focused values that were deeply embedded in the Norwest spirit.
Fast forward one year and Norwest is unveiling its new brand. Because Lisa is an operating executive as well as CMO, she sees the occasion as an opportunity to share her brand-building experience with other marketing leaders – in our portfolio and beyond – to help them navigate their own brand evolutions. We sat down with Lisa to delve into the details.
1) Why a new brand for Norwest? Why now?
As we spent time talking with founders and CEOs across our venture capital and growth equity portfolios – and even a few that considered partnering with us but took capital from competitors – we discovered something important.
We learned that they all view Norwest as different from other firms in our empathy, integrity, collaborative spirit, and the support we provide to our companies through thick and thin. These entrepreneurs see us as founder focused. They see us as HUMAN. This humanity comes through every day in how our investment and portfolio services team members partner with portfolio companies on their growth path. And it becomes more important during difficult times, when conviction and belief can get tested.
Amit Bendov, founder and CEO of Gong, said it well: “Norwest showed conviction and trust in our company at a time when others didn’t – which let us go farther than anyone imagined.” Yun Zhang, co-founder and CEO at Wyze, captured it this way: “Driven and smart, yet uncommonly kind and humble, the Norwest team is like family – they care. They have my back, and it shows in everything they do.”
This is really who we’ve always been and we knew it was time to let the rest of the world see it too in a more impactful way.
2) What are the key pillars that make up the new Norwest brand?
When people think of an updated brand, they sometimes call to mind things like new colors, fonts, and a redesigned website. These are ingredients, but a powerful brand is so much more. It’s an incarnation of who we are and what we value. It’s our DNA!
At Norwest, we believe that great leaders are empowered by the empathy and support they receive through the ups and downs of company building. Our long-term commitment and collaborative approach gives entrepreneurs at every stage the trust and space to pursue their vision, backed by the experience needed to succeed. In sum, we’re together with our companies for the journey.
These beliefs form the foundation of our new brand, reinforcing how we show up for founders and CEOs and for each other as Norwest team members. This is the bedrock of the mission, vision, and values of the firm and connects us to each other.
A powerful brand is an incarnation of who we are and what we value. It’s our DNA!
In bringing this foundation to life, we focused the visual expression of the brand on our founders and CEOs. The cornerstone of the concept is the authentic photography style that we’ve adopted across key touchpoints such as the new website, social campaigns, video content, and the wall of vinyl albums at our headquarters featuring portfolio leaders. The goal was to capture the essence of our people – including founders, CEOs, senior advisors, and employees – and put their faces at the forefront. We’re thrilled with the results and I want to thank our business partner and friend, George Lange, for his work in capturing the heart and soul of everyone we photographed.
Amit Bendov, co-founder and CEO of Gong, at Norwest HQ in Menlo Park
3) What was the inspiration for the vinyl albums featuring founders? How does music relate to the Norwest brand?
We are music lovers at Norwest. Several of our employees are talented musicians. In fact, four of our investors formed a band in 2021 called Higher Gains, featuring Matt Howard on guitar, vocals, and harmonica; Scott Beechuk on keyboards; Ryan McDonald on bass, drums, and vocals; and Rama Sekhar on trumpet. The band plays cover songs from the 1960s through the 2020s at Norwest happy hours and holiday parties to entertain and bring people together.
We saw an opportunity to honor our passion for music while showcasing our founders and CEOs by displaying their photos and company names on record albums. It’s a fun way to engage visitors to our headquarters in Menlo Park and pique their curiosity since each album cover has a story about the company on the inside panels. We even installed a record player and headphones in our lobby so that people can listen to any of the albums in our extensive vinyl collection during their visit to Norwest.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. The founders and CEOs got so excited about having their albums on display that several of them wanted to select a song that inspires them. How could we say no? So we developed a Spotify playlist of songs selected by each of the company leaders we photographed. There are 13 to start, with more coming soon!
Hear what Norwest Founders and CEOs are listening to! Check out the Norwest “Road Trip” playlist here.
4) What did you learn through the process of reimagining the Norwest brand that others can benefit from?
I learned that the start and finish are the most critical steps in the brand-building process. When I say ‘start’ I’m referring to the discovery phase that involves digging deep to understand how you are perceived both by customers and your own employees. It’s about teasing out the insights that reflect who you are as a company/firm and what makes your customers’ experience with your brand distinctive.
Being a multi-stage, multi-sector fund, we worried that our brand reputation among founders and CEOs (our “customers”) would be splintered given that we serve customers with such wide-ranging needs. We were surprised to find the opposite and heartened that our stakeholders share a unified view of Norwest’s strengths.
We worried that our brand reputation would be splintered given that we serve entrepreneurs with such wide-ranging needs. We were heartened that our stakeholders share a unified view of Norwest’s strengths.
But I’ll confess that we weren’t as unified with how we saw ourselves internally. Our team members – including investors, portfolio services, and support staff – told us that they perceived Norwest as the “nice people who do the right thing.” Although this largely matched external perception, our team members didn’t necessarily view this quality as desirable until we realized it aligns with what our stakeholders really want. We learned that hardworking board members who put their founders and CEOs first stand out in this increasingly crowded and undifferentiated market.
Now that we’re near the end of our brand-building process, we have an opportunity to finish strong by ensuring that the new Norwest gets adopted and executed consistently over time. In my past roles as a marketing leader at B2B SaaS companies, I learned the importance of internal alignment, education, and enablement to ensure that people get on board with the new brand and understand their role in making it who we are. Part of that is helping people see that a brand isn’t just a marketing initiative. It’s a company-wide transformational change that requires participation from all employees to activate and integrate.
5) It takes a village to pull off a brand initiative. Who helped you bring the new Norwest brand from concept to production?
The magic of brand building lies in the collaboration, which is why it’s absolutely critical to partner with the best talent and play to their strengths. We are incredibly grateful for the exceptional team that came together to bring our brand vision to life.
- Jill Melchionda, our all-knowing brand advisor, provided strategic oversight and wise counsel to keep everything running smoothly and calmly.
- Roxanne Ivory and Dodie Martz of WHM Creative led the discovery process, developed our brand platform, launch video and swag boxes. Meanwhile, Nate Walsh, also of WHM, developed our tone of voice and copy, infusing it with emotion and purpose.
- Bill Chiaravalle, DeAnna Pierce, and Adam Chiaravalle of Brand Navigation created the visual identity, bringing it to life across multiple touchpoints including the website.
- George Lange, our extraordinary photographer, captured the humanity of our founders, CEOs, employees, and advisors.
- Adrienne Johnston executed our new visual identity and created our new PowerPoint template.
- Timothy Simon produced multiple videos , adding motion and impact to our storytelling.
- Alex Goldberg of Halo Branded Solutions curated thoughtful swag to represent our brand concept.
- Calitho printed and fulfilled the packaging for our swag boxes, delivering on the vision.
Together, we’ve built something remarkable, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share it with the world.
6) Your announcement as CMO was almost exactly one year ago. If we speak about the brand again in one year, what do you hope to be saying about its impact and growth?
One of the most satisfying and eye-opening aspects of the brand evolution process for me personally has been the opportunity to interact with founders and CEOs in the Norwest portfolio, during both the discovery phase and at the photoshoots. Spending time with each of them, I was struck by their passion, will to win, and scrappy natures. Regardless of career tenure, each of them showed up consistently: values-driven, low-ego, and with a reverence for the leaders that came before them that have so much to teach. They told me stories about getting their companies off the ground and how being in such a vulnerable position made them want to try even harder.
As I look toward the future of the Norwest brand, and my role in shaping it as the CMO, I want to bring these and other stories to life and in doing so shine a light on the humanity of our founders and CEOs. Part of emphasizing humanity is developing custom programs to meet their specific needs by stage and creating more forums for leaders across our portfolio to come together and learn from each other. Community building is at the heart of what we do and we have an opportunity to pay off our brand promise by showing current and future entrepreneurs that, indeed, Norwest is together with you for the journey.