The Story of Honchō
In 2008, our founder, Chris Ailey, left his position of Search Marketing Manager at PC World, with an impressive portfolio of SEO and PPC results, to strike out on his own. He founded iThinkMedia, a specialist search marketing company, and got to work.
Within two years, iThinkMedia had grown to a team of eight. We moved to our current offices – a converted barn in Hertford – in 2010, and grew from strength to strength. We are now a team of 20+ search marketing specialists.
However, while we were busy honing our skills and working with giant brands like eBay, Gumtree, WWE and Mothercare, the world of digital marketing was evolving around us at a staggering rate.
We knew that we had to adapt; to push ourselves forward and prevent becoming lost in the crowd of search marketing agencies around us that all looked and sounded the same.
Knowing when to let go
When iThinkMedia turned 10 years old in September 2018 it was time for a change, so we took a leap of faith. We tore down our established brand of over a decade to build ourselves back up again. Literally. To make sure there was no going back, Chris took a sledgehammer to the boardroom sign, symbolising the end of iThinkMedia and the start of something new.
“We all fear the unknown. You can either stay in the shadows or embrace fear and use it to drive you forward. I was determined to create something special, I wanted to create a brand that had meaning; something I could be proud of and excited about.”
Chris Ailey, Founder and CEO
Out with the old, in with the new
A new logo and a website redesign was never going to be enough – we had to think big. We had to create a whole new identity for ourselves as an agency, starting with a new name. iThinkMedia had served us well, but it was dated. We wanted something strong, striking and just a little bit quirky.
For the best part of a year, our Founder worked with Creative Director Kevin Russell to create a new brand and the outcome was Honchō. It derives from the Japanese term ‘hancho’ meaning ‘group leader’; a term brought back to the US by servicemen stationed in Japan during the occupation following the Second World War.
We want our team to show leadership at all times – we never micro-manage. To succeed in business you need a team of drivers, not passengers.
After countless meetings, good ideas, bad ideas, concepts and designs, we had it. Firstly, we had to get the whole company behind our new brand. Changing our name was seen as a huge risk but once everyone saw the new concept and branding it was clear we were doing the right thing.
A narrower focus
We didn’t want to be an agency that offers everything to everyone for fear of missing out. We’re specialists; we know where our strengths are and how to use them. We’re niche. We only offer SEO, Paid Media and Content to our clients.
We looked to our existing experience and clients and found two natural industries that became pillars of Honchō – Automotive and Retail. With a narrower focus, we have more clarity on what’s important for us to do, follow and learn.
However, if a client from outside these two sectors comes to us to collaborate, we don’t necessarily turn them away. If we are a good fit for each other then they are welcome to join the Honchō ranks. Because of this, we also serve clients in healthcare and travel.
The birth of a new brand
On May 22nd, 2019, we officially re-launched as Honchō, celebrating with a garden party for all our clients and friends. There was great food, live music and a fantastic response from everyone who attended as we unveiled our new brand to the world.
It was also a chance for us to show off our newly-refurbished offices. Our location has always been unique, but we wanted to make the home of Honchō even more special, so we joined the adjacent Stables to The Old Barn and styled our reception as a boutique shop, complete with a range of Honchō clothing.
This was a huge milestone for us and the Honchō boutique is a reminder of how far we’ve come in just over a decade. If you’re ever in the area, swing by and pick up a piece of Honchō apparel for yourself!
A learning curve
Becoming Honchō has taught us a lot of lessons, but it’s also brought a positive change that’s left us feeling fresh and energised. With a narrower focus, it’s easy for us to identify where we need to grow, to set goals and exceed our expectations. We took a risk, and it more than paid off.
Find out more about how our specialist services can help your business to outrank the competition.
“Rebranding our agency was a personal journey and I learnt many lessons along the way. It allowed us to really break down what was important to our business and what we stood for, but more than anything it was about making us as good as we can be.”
Chris Ailey, Founder and CEO