Monthly thoughts on branding, marketing, and business strategy from the leadership of Arizona's premiere B2B brand agency: Resound. Join Mike Jones, Chris Stadler, and Sam Pagel as they work through key branding concepts like values, personality, and story as well as how to build a leading business-to-business brand using digital marketing and creative like video, websites, social media, and email.
How Brand Strategy Workshops Drive Clarity Deep
Without a structured approach, strategic planning fails to touch the ground. Here are the three ways a well-structured brand strategy workshop — and importantly, the deliverables — give you everything you need to turn your vision into an organized, almost-tangible set of tasks.
Strategic planning is great, but what happens when everyone leaves the planning meeting? The excitement is gone and the work needs to start.
Stakeholders change their minds. As time passes, stakeholders forget the focus they brought with them.
Stakeholders never bought in. People didn’t really understand the purpose when real life hits because they were never really involved.
No follow-through. Ideas were exchanged, but nobody had a plan and a clear process.
Nobody really gets it. Nobody has time, especially since they don’t know which part was theirs.
It’s a bummer when people show up not really understanding the meeting topic and then are expected to be involved. They soon lose interest, failing to contribute and take ownership. Especially when their comments are off-target. But a good workshop offers an explanation, creating consensus, accountability, and confidence.
Consensus Among Leaders
Without agreement among leaders, nothing downstream can be done with any confidence. And without the ability to examine ideas and communicate them — test them against goals, running them through the gauntlet of several points of view from your team and ours — it can be difficult to a) feel like you’re in agreement and b) actually be in agreement, even if you think you are.
Define the goal. A conversation that leads to a strong idea of where you are and where you need to be.
Verify unanimity. Diversity is great for some things; but you need everyone on the same page when it comes to goals. There’s just not much room for interpretation here. So ideas about the goal need to be brought quickly from the various versions that are in everyone’s head, in a step-by-step fashion, onto a whiteboard.
Refine. Once you’re sure you have clear agreement within the leadership, you need several opportunities to clarify, object and refine.
To reach this goal, you need a clear process that brings the thinking onto a whiteboard with clear decisions having been made for each thing. At Resound, the typical brand workshop brings together brand values, personality traits and brand story, so you know how to tell everyone about your brand.
How do we do it? Without getting into detail, let’s just say we use Sharpies, Post-its, a slideshow, whiteboards, worksheets and a lot of hard work and engagement on the part of the participants. And there’s no reason you can’t do the same for content strategy, brand strategy or even product development.
Accountability for Leaders
Without agreement and involvement, leaders can’t be held accountable. They can go their own way, letting someone else make the decision. And if it doesn’t work out, they can parachute in and accuse the other person of failing.
And this doesn’t just happen in big, evil corporations full of self-serving executives. It’s also practical. Remember, everyone’s trying to do a good job, and when you’re busy, you can’t do everything. So if some bright-eyed marketing director sends you an email with brand values, colors and a logo, you have to decide, “Is this really worth a bunch of my time and energy?”
But a brand workshop invites everyone to collaborate, in real-time. It’s a chance to make decisions for the company and to engage with colleagues. It brings all of the leaders on the same page. And if they don’t engage, everyone in the workshop knows it. But if they do decide to engage,
4 Causes of Accidental Branding (Part 1)
We talk a lot about how the world needs brands as they are at Resound. Meaning - a company should be itself - have its own unique and true identity - and not try to be something it is not.
This comes from our fundamental belief that - just as individual human beings are intrinsically remarkable - so are the organizations that human beings come together and create. And if you want to find out more about this belief and how we see it play out in branding and marketing, you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of our upcoming book, You Are Remarkable: How To Unlock Your Authentic Brand To Attract Loyal Customers.
This is all really important because if you’re not working to understand your organization’s unique identity - get to its real essence - you can quickly find yourself branding the wrong way. This can lead to many unintended issues that will hamper your marketing and communications and ultimately your organization’s growth.
We like to call this lack of depth in finding an organization’s identity “Accidental Branding.”
Accidental branding happens when you base your brand on something currently useful or interesting, instead of doing the hard work to deeply understand your company’s unique identity. It might reflect some aspects of the company here and now but it doesn’t really get to the heart - or essence - of the brand and will certainly not stand the test of time.
Accidental branding can happen for a variety of reasons - and some of them may even seem excusable. Maybe there’s a rush to get it done to meet some arbitrary deadline, or because those involved in the process have little stake in the outcome, or maybe because no one wants to think super deeply about the organization’s ultimate purpose. No matter the reason, accidental branding will leave your brand without depth or a lasting purpose.
What happens when a company goes for the “quick and easy” solution to branding?
There are four things they’ll mistake for their true identity:
Now don’t get me wrong: these things are important to your brand as you craft your brand story. But it is a big mistake to confuse any of these by themselves as the essence of your brand. Why? Because these things are all temporary: they will all change (and quickly!) This will create tension between the new state of the company and your branding. And that means you’re back to rebranding...again. Which leads to confusion with customers, staff, and vendors, and a weakening of your brand’s value.
Two Common Accidental Branding Pitfalls:
When someone is asked to introduce themselves in front of a group of people, they usually describe themselves based on their current stage of life. They might share where they went to school. They may also share where they currently work, their current role and where they live, whether they have kids (and how many, and what ages), and maybe a few things that they like to do for fun. Introducing themselves in this way allows other people to draw conclusions about their current motives, desires, and goals. We can take an educated guess about how somebody will respond when we know their current situation.
Your current stage of business isn't who you are.
You know your true motivations, what really drives you, how difficult it is to summarize yourself in a few words. And you also know how your current life circumstances don’t really capture the whole of who you are. Maybe you even resent it a little bit when marketers try to sell to you based on your demographics. Just because you make a lot of money doesn’t mean you like luxury watches.
How Newspapers Build Content for Skimmers
The abundance of interesting articles makes it tough to cut through the clutter and get your message into the hearts and minds of your audience. But newspapers have it figured out — and they have for a long time. They’re famous for delivering information quickly, speaking to the lowest common denominator of people: the skimmers. The good news is that you don’t have to write for every reading style. Because if you can get the skimmers, you can get everyone. Let’s talk about how to organize your info like a newspaper.
First off, let’s give newspapers the credit they deserve: they model a great information hierarchy. And we can use this, especially for our busy B2B customers. We create messaging that will get to the point quickly. Not because everyone absorbs information in that way, but because if you can get skimmers, you can get other readers.
Apply this to your email newsletters, website, and social, and you’ll watch your substance come to the front.
Clear headlines summarize the whole article. There’s no guessing and no click-bait. So how do you do it?
Say it straight (then, if you can, say it “great”). Tell the whole truth really quickly, without trying to be clever. If you just landed a contract with a big company, and you want to tell people about it, consider: “Blimey Construction Wins $50 Million Bid to Build Cardinals’ Stadium.”
Then, once you’ve said it straight a few times, add a superlative like “killer,” “best,” “top,” or give a number. Tell people exactly what you’re going to tell them to do. For instance, let’s say you want to talk about how to set up a manufacturing line for ice cream, but you want it to sound interesting, and not like a manual.
You could say: “How to Set Up a Killer Manufacturing Line for Ice Cream.”
Or you could say: “5 Mistakes that Will Lead to a Meltdown on Your Ice Cream Line.”
Mistakes to avoid: Whatever you do, create tension with the headline. The first example above might sound happy and optimistic, but the second one sounds more interesting. Everyone wants tension. Tension organizes a story and makes you want to know more until your questions are answered. Make sure you build a little tension in the headline by telling them what they can get — or even lose — from the info in the article.
Remember, you can’t make people interested if the topic isn’t relevant. But for those for whom it’s relevant, make the topic feel so clear and organized that they can’t help but click.
A clear opening paragraph/summary — the first or second paragraph in any news story — expands on the headline, giving slightly more detail on each aspect of the headline. Like an upside-down pyramid, a clear opening paragraph (working with a clear headline), puts the bulk of the information at the top, not the bottom. It lets people know if they’re wasting their time or not.
Example from the Wall Street Journal:
Headline: Grand Jury Subpoenas Sent to John Bolton’s Publisher and Agent
Nut Graph (first paragraph): Federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to former national security adviser John Bolton’s publisher and literary agent on Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, launching a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Bolton mishandled classified information.
Notice that the nut graph expands on information contained in the headline.
How it can work for you: In any article you write, you want people to absorb the information. Write the problem first, because that’s what most people relate to, then talk about how you’ll solve it with your article.
3 Things Decision Modes Teach Us About B2B Buyers
Decision modes affect communication. The method and mood people bring into decision making affect their reasons for buying and how they need information delivered. This brings huge implications to the area of business-to-business sales and marketing. If you can figure out how to connect better with your customers on the basis of their need, delivering the truth in the way they need to hear it — not just based on their personality, but also their capacity/role when they hear it — you win.
What are Decision Modes?
What are “decision modes?” Decision modes reflect personality styles represented in buying behavior. Think about going to the store and browsing. Now think about going to the store to buy something specific you need for a timeline-driven project you’re working on. Even though you’re the same person in both situations, you display two different kinds of buying behavior. In a business-to-business capacity, that’s just magnified.
The problem is that most B2B messages fail to make this distinction or make it without realizing what’s really going on. They either speak to themselves (whoever the owner is) or go too attribute-driven (no-nonsense, brass-tacks, impersonal, and sometimes braggy to seem confident).
Why Decision Modes Matter
Marketing has 2 main parts: media and message. And they both have to work.
If you create the right message (copy, look, feel) for your audience, but deliver it in the wrong media choice or to the wrong audience, you waste money.
If you hit the right audience, but fail to speak to them in a way that resonates, you waste your money.
B2B buyers are buying for two reasons: what you can do for their company and what you can do for them. Do you ever wonder why B2B websites sound so stuffy and boring, bragging about themselves and telling you what you’ll get? It’s because they need to be logical.
Not because all business people are logical, but because, in the end, business people need to look like they’re making responsible business decisions. They want to trust that you’re going to make them look good if they choose you or even just recommend you.
So how do you get there with your message? Sorting out how to speak to different people in their roles at work can seem difficult, but if you understand a few basic things about how people think in their roles at their company, things could become much simpler, much more quickly.
B2B Buying Is a Team Pursuit
Think about all the people you’ll need to satisfy.
Accounting/finance will want reliability and predictability with cash flow.
Operations will want to see that you have processes in place to move things forward quickly and that you’re well-supported.
Legal and PR will want to make sure you won’t get them in trouble, either directly or by association.
Think of it as a business version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Start by checking the above boxes. Make sure your website has testimonials, for example. Make sure you have work samples, showing that you’ve done this type of thing before. Let your site show that you’re focused and speak intelligently on all your outward-facing communication.
Obviously, your website doesn’t show details about how you operate, but a well-organized and well-functioning site that has the basic boxes checked will get you past the first hurdle.
This corresponds to Maslow’s “physiological” and “safety” requirements. They need to know they’re safe with you. So if you’re super-clever, great. But that might not be what comes out on your website. Don’t let your desire to be clever overshadow your dependability. Dependability and professionalism is safety in B2B.
Hey, we’re a branding agency, so of course we care about the rest of Maslow’s pyramid. In fact,
3-Step Process to Differentiate Your Brand from the Competition
Comparisons help contrast two things, bringing out differences and showing how each is special. Why does this matter for businesses? Without bringing out the differences between you and your competition, your understanding of the difference will be mushy. And it’s hard to explain to others an idea that is mushy in your own mind. The mushiness comes from two places: your inability to call things what they are, and your lack of information. In other words, you will struggle to differentiate your brand from your competition. This process helps you deal with both: we focus only on the information you can know, and we analyze it in a way that forces us to make decisions and distinctions.
Here's how we'll do it.
Step 1: Write a SWOT Analysis
First, organize what you know. Don’t let lack of information stop you: You don’t have inside info, so look at the outside:
* What does your competition say?
* How do they present themselves? Describe their messaging, creative, and positioning efforts.
* What actions are they taking?
* How do people feel about them? What do their customers say about them publicly?
After collecting this information, turn to your own business. Write down the following:
* Detail your operational strengths as an organization. How are you able to serve your customers well?
* What are your weaknesses? What about your company gets in the way of serving your customers?
* Describe your opportunities. Are there obvious opportunities out there in the market? What makes them such a good fit, given your strengths and weaknesses?
* What are the threats to your success?
* Market factors, like the economy.
* Indirect competition, like replacements for what you do.
* Direct competitors, who do the exact same thing you do. This is what we’ll focus on in the next step.
For a more complete treatment of the SWOT, check out this article.
Step 2: Review threats and your strengths
Compare Yourself to Them
Here’s where you really draw distinctions. Write down why you think this other company is a threat. What is it good at that makes it competitive to you? How do you compare favorably? How do they nullify your strengths by being better in that area? This last one is huge because it requires honesty. You have to admit that this other company is better than you at something you think you’re good at. Worry about how you’ll overcome them some other day. Today is a day for honesty.
A good example: Let’s say you listed customer service as a strength, but another company has a better reputation for customer service. Be honest and realize that you can’t compete on that alone.
Test Your List (Eliminate and Develop)
Now, come up with all the strengths you have remaining, after you’ve eliminated some. Is there something you listed, like the ability to deliver reliably, that your competition has trouble with? Maybe that’s your big difference.
Also, before we leave customer service off the table, let’s also think about what we mean by customer service. Your competition may have great scores in an area like that. But if you can deliver unique value, you might be able to cut them off.
For instance, let’s say they lean on great customer service scores in surveys and they plaster it all over in their advertising. But even with that, you know they have wait times. And you don’t. This could be an easy way to differentiate your brand. So if customer service is so valuable to your market, you could advertise zero hold times, offering a more-specific and believable promise.
Be careful though. If they own customer service,
B2B Brand Competitive Research: 4 Reasons to Do it Right
Competition. What comes to mind? An epic struggle between two teams on a sports field? Candidates vying for an open position at a fast-growing, exciting tech company? Perhaps something more biblical, say, David vs Goliath?
For most of us leading and building B2B brands, the first thing that comes to mind is the other companies vying for our customers and clients.
The competition is ‘the other guys’ and we often know something about them. We may even have seen them at an event, met them, we may be friends with them, and quite possibly used to work for them.
And in my experience running a creative branding agency in Phoenix, as we work with, advise, and help build remarkable B2B brands, the activities of the competition (especially of the marketing variety) are something my clients care very much about. They follow their press releases, size up their booth at the tradeshow, and maybe even set up a friendly meeting with their counterpart in the other firm, and both attempt a little competitive-but-friendly game of digging for dirt.
Researching what competition is up to always seems to sound like a good idea. Stay ahead of the curve. Keep up with the Joneses. Get a leg up. Don’t get left behind.
And I certainly don’t disagree. In fact, I think there’s an incredibly crucial place in your B2B brand strategy for competitive analysis. But that said, I think many brands misplace the energy spent on keeping tabs on their competition. So let’s talk about that for a minute.
How Remarkable Brands Think About Competitive Research
Think about the remarkable brands in your industry — or really in any industry. Maybe consider a Nike, Apple, Amazon, or Coca-cola. Think for a moment about Southwest Airlines or Chick-fil-A or Barry-Wehmiller.
Now answer the question, “Do these companies focus more on their own brands or their competitors’ brands?” I’m pretty sure the answer is the former: they are far, far more focused on their own brand than what their competition is doing. Chick-fil-A doesn’t primarily train its staff by showing them what McDonald’s does and then saying ‘do the opposite’. They teach them how to act the Chick-fil-A way first and foremost. They create their own culture, not just ‘someone else’s but different’.
The opposite of these brands’ strategy (when it comes to the competition) is ‘outside-in’ branding. That’s when you’re far more worried about what everyone else is doing than what your brand is doing. Your brand is less about what’s really true about your organization and more about how to position it amongst or against the competition.
I do think there’s value in making sure you’re looking around to see what everyone else is doing (just like a runner in the lead has to take quick stock of the pack every now and again). And we’ll get to some approaches for doing that right later in this article. But I think there’s a lot of temptation for brands to focus way too much on the competition, causing them to lose sight of their own authentic (and compelling) identity.
The real fundamental issue with ‘Outside-In’ branding: you are forever a follower. Your brand never leads. It can’t. It’s created from either the negative space between your competitors or from some herd-mentality (or some mutated amalgamation of the two). Here are some specific issues that arise for ‘outside-in’ brands:
Moved by the competition. Because in some way, shape, or form your brand is really built on what your competitors' brands are, what they do causes your brand to shift - whether actually because you choose to shift or just in terms of perception in the minds of your customers.
Reactionary. Very much related to the point above, you are put into a position of reaction. Everything you do is really just based on what your