Most companies waste enormous amounts of money on marketing, and most tend to be disappointed with the results. “Marketing doesn’t work for me,” they say. But rarely do they consider that there might be a problem with the messaging. The fact is, pretty websites and fancy logos don’t sell things. Your messaging sells things. If you haven’t got a clear and compelling message, your customers won’t listen and you won’t sell.

Mind you, getting to a clear and compelling message isn’t easy. The truth is, we’re in competition to not only sell products, but also to convey why customers need our products over the competition. Even if the competition has an inferior product offering: if they convey why customers need that product better than ours: they win. 

It really comes down to conveying your message clearly and easily, in a way that makes it compelling. So how do we do that?

The challenge with messaging

As a leader in charge of your business, you possess a wealth of knowledge about your business. Arguably no one on the planet knows more about your business than you. But therein is also the curse: the curse of knowledge. You know everything about your business. Every feature, every trivial detail. What’s important to focus on? What’s insignificant enough to leave out? And importantly: what should you convey to make your message magnetic to your customers?

When speaking to your customers, it’s a painstaking job to get to the crux of what your business does for your customers. Many leaders tend to overlook this, wanting to communicate any one / all of the following:

  • Their strength in the market (prestigious industry awards, recent glowing press);
  • The many industry sectors they serve; 
  • Geographic presence and expansion plans;
  • Technological advancements and innovations;
  • Their unique business model that gives them a competitive advantage;
  • A whole array of services they offer;

and I’m forgetting a half-dozen more. Leaders often want to explain everything to their customer because it’s so important to them. This has been their struggle, their challenge to grow this business into something formidable and here are the proof points. 

But none of this messaging is relevant to your customer. 

Shifting gears: your customer’s mindset

Your customer approaches your offering from their point of view. How will this help me survive or thrive? How will this make my life easier or more enjoyable? And how is this offering better than the competition – or the substitute product I’ve jimmy-rigged to get by? 

If your messaging does not answer these points in a clear and compelling way, your customer will move along. Your messaging isn’t magnetic. If your messaging hasn’t identified what your customer wants, what problem you are helping them solve, and what life will look like after they engage with your service, they will move on.

Your Benefit Upfront 

I counsel my clients regularly “features tell, benefits sell.” If you want to make your message magnetic, bring your benefit up front. As an example, one of my clients is a skin care brand. The brand is headed up by a scientist who wants to talk about enzymes and polyphenols and carotenoids that penetrate the lipid layer to go deep into the dermal tissue. My response is: what’s the *$&[email protected] benefit?! 

Nobody cares about polyphenols. 

Makes skin luminous. 
Fights the signs of aging. 
Leaves skin glowing. 

What’s In It For Me? That’s what people care about. Answering this question results in a clear and compelling message.

The “so what” is never more important than when you’re trying to convey why people should care about your brand. The myriad features of your offering do not get you there. Benefits do. Benefits talk to the emotional reason for buying a product, and that’s important, because we buy based on emotion (then we rationalize with features after the fact, but we buy based on how a product makes us feel). 

So how do you discover the benefit you bring? 
Ask yourself: What’s the core idea of your business? 
What problem do you fix for your customer? 
What’s the benefit of using your product? 

Note: this is NOT about dumbing things down. This is about getting to the essential core idea of your business and then articulating that. It’s an exercise in prioritization.

Example: The iPod Messaging

Imagine it’s 2002 and you work for Apple. And Steve Jobs comes to you and explains that they have this cool MP3 player that syncs with a computer so you can create your own music library on your computer. “We’re going to have this super music store where you buy can millions of different tracks and you can only buy what you want and then upload it to your portable MP3 player and take your music anywhere. 

Can you tell customers about this product?” 

What would you talk about? (You can only talk about 1 thing.)

Do you talk about having your own personal library of music that you can store on your computer and then download to a device? Or do you mention all the various MP3 features and its simple and sleek design? Do you highlight being able to buy a specific song but not the album and your choice of millions of tracks? 

This is what they went with:

Note: this is NOT dumbing down. This is prioritizing messaging, and constantly asking “so what?” after every feature, until you get to a benefit that succinctly captures what you ACTUALLY get when you have this MP3 player.

Make Your Messaging Magnetic

So, right now, I want you to think about your business for a second. 

What is the Big Benefit behind your business? 
How do you make your customer’s life better? 
What’s your 10,000 songs in your pocket?

And you want to say that – ideally – in 8 words or less. 

Incidentally, this is hard! As a brand strategist, it can take me days to land on a core customer benefit. But you have an advantage. Remember, you are the smartest person in the world about your business. You know your benefits better than anyone. 

To find your benefit, you need to prioritize. Get rid of the superficial and tangential ideas – those ideas that your business executes on that are nice-to-have but not essential. Then prioritize your benefits. Rank your really strong benefits and choose ONE. There can only be one. 

(Because if you say three things you say nothing.)

Finally, lead with your top benefit. Convey how you help your customers thrive or survive and I guarantee you, you will start to see a difference in your marketing efforts. If you still are struggling, please reach out to us, we’re always here to help make your business magnetic to success. 

Recently, a business leader asked how to make his presentations more engaging. As the owner of a networking monitoring company, he typically started his presentations by talking about solutions, network optimization and cloud architecture. I recommended he scratch all that, and instead tell a story his audience could imagine themselves dealing with. To his surprise, audience engagement and prospect interest skyrocketed. 

Why are stories so effective?

Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: we humans are biologically wired for stories. Really. Studies show, stories engage us on a systemic level

  • When you listen to a story that references color, the part of your brain that processes color lights up; in your mind, you can “see” the colors. 
  • If the story involves sensory issues – like the feel of something, or distinct sounds – the part of your brain that processes sensory lights up, and it’s as if you could feel or hear those parts.
  • When you listen to a story that involves motion, the part of your brain that processes motion fires up, and your heart rate accelerates. 

Not only this, but stories actually alter our body chemistry as we’re hearing the story:

  • As the protagonist encounters conflict, the listener’s body creates cortisol, the stress chemical, creating heightened duress and attention. 
  • As the story unfolds, the body also produces dopamine (the reward chemical) which keeps the listener engaged in the story for the outcome.
  • And last but not least, during the story the body produces oxytocin, bonding the listener to the protagonist and the outcome. The power of story is that it can transport the listener into the story; it’s as if they’re living it themselves. 

All this engagement from simply telling a story? It’s true. Storytelling is simply the most effective communications medium — ever. Which is why at Magnetic Current, we use storytelling strategy when branding businesses, to make client brands magnetic to the people they need to reach.

What is storytelling strategy?

Whether you’re giving a presentation about your products, writing a case study, or delivering your company’s brand story: there’s a strategy for telling stories. In our experience, the best story strategy for B2B brands borrows heavily from the hero narrative structure, constructed by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell

We recommend the following structural storytelling elements in your brand story: 

Source: Magnetic Current, 2020.
  1. Context: You want to describe enough about the situation so the listener is transported. The more details – visual, motion, auditory cues – the better.
  2. Present the Protagonist: create an opportunity for the listener to immediately identify with the protagonist. The listener should understand and relate to the protagonist, and be challenged when…
  3. The Protagonist faces Conflict. Conflict is everything in a story. There is no story without conflict! It’s essential to any story, and certainly to the hero narrative, because it’s the turning point where our hero realizes she has a problem, attempts to fix it, and cannot. Frustrated, she’s about to give up when…
  4. She Encounters A Guide who has The Key. A new character appears, someone who helps her see things differently, and offers her a solution.
  5. Resolution: With this help, she masters her conflict. She returns from her “journey”, triumphant, having overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge and…
  6. Denouement: is able to go on and do great things. 

We love this simple formula for B2B brands – it’s highly effective in showing (not telling) how your offering can truly help your customers overcome their problems and emerge better than before.

Other elements for storytelling strategy

The things to remember about storytelling in business: while it’s your story, it’s important to remember who undergoes the transformation, who benefits in your narrative, and who is rewarded by your offering. Your customers. They are always the hero in your story. Resist the temptation to turn your story into a company press release. Stay on script, stay in the background and let the flow of your story position you in the right light.

As well, you want your brand archetype to emerge as part of the story, and in tone and style. What is an archetype? It’s really the use of psychological motifs and metaphors in branding, and is a powerful way to further draw connection with your audience. For more about archetypes, we recommend this article.

Also, add the right touches to make your story compelling. Start with a great hook. A startling statistic, a vivid description, a compelling question or a gripping statement: you want to grab your listener’s attention. For more on hooks, this article is a great read. 

Finally, we love open loops to build intrigue and keep readers engaged. Open loops are when information is presented in the story, but not immediately explained. A shotgun is introduced in the first scene – why? We learn the protagonist can talk to animals – why? Our brains are wired for conclusions, and when the answers aren’t provided, the brain engages, waiting until the answer appears. Open loops are a clever way to keep your audience curious. You can read more about open loops here

How can I use these elements to tell my business’ story?

With this map in front of you, study your business. Begin designing your business’ brand story by answering the following questions: 

  • What is the context for your customers?
  • Who is the ideal protagonist?
  • What problem do they encounter that causes them to stumble? 
  • (You are the guide, and your business solution is the key)
  • What would resolution look like, in terms of solving the problem? 
  • And finally, what denouement would you end the story with?

Now, put together the pieces of your brand story. As an example: if you are the networking monitoring company mentioned above, the context could be a situation or event where network uptime is essential. Say, an event like CyberMonday. The protagonist would be a business that depends on being online for revenue purposes: an online retailer. The conflict: their website goes down. The guide and the key? That’s the networking monitoring company and their solution that never-ever goes down because of triple redundancy measures. The resolution is that the guide and the key help the online retailer fix their site so they never go down again. Denouement could be: next holiday season, they triple online sales. 

Once you know your brand story, you can use storytelling for many customer-facing interactions: presentations, case studies, even as a conversation starter to talk about your business solutions and how you help make your customers’ lives better. If you need help with your brand story, connect with us, we’re here to help make your business magnetic to success. 

“My goal is to get 80,000 followers on Instagram.”

A recent client comment prompted me to write a LinkedIn post that went viral. Likes, followers, pageviews, downloads: it’s tempting to focus on social metrics when doing social media marketing. The implication is so alluring: Increased brand awareness! New customers! More sales! The potential for my brand to go viral and blow up!

But these social metrics are pure vanity, and they’re disconnected from real numbers that drive growth: conversion, revenue, retention, customer lifetime value (CLV) and customer acquisition cost (CAC). ✨

LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms can be fantastic brand awareness drivers, and can be powerful marketing tools. But what actually converts customers and builds loyalty for your business? You can have great brand awareness, but if people aren’t buying, you’ve got the Emperor’s New Clothes situation going on.

In working with my clients, I counsel them to:

📌 Choose evangelists over numbers. You don’t need 80,000 followers. You need a handful of deeply loyal customers who love your brand so much, they’ll be your voluntary marketing department and evangelize your brand to their network.

📌 Be choosy. Remember that you don’t want brand awareness from anyone; you want it from that segment that deeply and disproportionately values what you offer. You can’t please all masters. Keep your brand broad to accommodate everyone, and you’ll dilute the strength of your offering. This article has more insights into why you want to target.

📌 Hyper-focus. Hone your communications strategy and message to focus solely on your ideal customers as if they’re the only ones that matter – because they are the only ones that matter. Address their acute and specific pain and how your solution helps to solve that. 

📌 Surprise & delight. If you can’t be all things to all people, you might as well be special to someone. Evaluate your best customers and what they deeply value that you offer. Focus your energies on making and delivering a promise so beyond what’s expected, they can’t help but be surprised & delighted.

📌 Build love. Once they’ve become a customer, continue to build your relationship with them. In what ways can you constantly offer value, so that you win them over and they shower you with repeat business?

You want to focus on what actually grows your business. Social media networks want you to focus on social metrics like increasing your followers or driving likes, because it makes their platforms “sticky” and keeps you engaged on their site. But it’s important to ask if those social metrics grow your business and are worth your investment. Many times, you’re chasing empty numbers that don’t materialize into sales.

Net: you want to build a community of customers who appreciate and value your offerings. If that turns out to be a small, loyal base, that’s perfectly fine. Forget the social metrics and focus on the numbers that matter – those that grow your business’ success. 

How well is your business positioned for resiliency and growth? The silver lining is that one day (soon, hopefully) this all will pass, and we will make it through. When we emerge, there will be companies standing strong and ready for growth. How can you ensure your business is one of those?

Earlier this month I was a guest lecturer for Washington Building Congress and gave a lecture on how brand can drive resiliency and growth in these times. Here are my notes.

Reality, Today

With unemployment skyrocketing and a record number of businesses and schools shuttered, our economy is awash in great uncertainty, stress and anxiety. People are switching from proactive to reactive mode, and progress and momentum is stalled.

This uncertainty is causing many of us to retreat and avoid customer relations. Maybe we don’t have a clear message to convey, or we feel like we don’t have anything optimistic to say, so we don’t communicate. 

But this causes important relationships – like the ones with our best customers – to become distanced, when what we need is actually to come together. Our collective power can help us more quickly achieve a common goal, insulate our business from future crises, and position our brand for resiliency & growth.

You can build for resiliency & growth in your business by doing three things:
1. Go within and align on your brand;
2. Engage your best customers; and
3. Innovate to fix your business’ and your customers’ new pain points. 


Go Within

Brand strategy is your business strategy seen through the lens of your customers. It is not how you look; it’s how you act. So you’ll want to plan for resiliency and growth by first underscoring what you unwaveringly stand for, to your customers. Ask:

  • What is the value you bring them?
  • How do you distinguish your business from other competitors?
  • What do you promise every customer with every interaction?

These question will reorient you on your core offering and values, keeping you aligned while you innovate.

You will also want to study what your customers deeply value that you offer that no one else can deliver. This is your unique differentiator and the backbone of your brand (for more on how to craft your unique differentiator, see this post). Articulate this clearly in order to build on it. We’ll get to innovating in a bit, and you’ll want to innovate with new business ideas that enhance and deepen the value you already bring your best customers, instead of offering them something that’s shiny and new, but irrelevant to their needs. 


Engage Your Best Customers 

Next, you’ll want to reach out to discover how your customers are coping and how their needs have shifted. Most likely their problems have changed, so you’ll seek to understand what matters to them today in this changed landscape.   

Begin by connecting with empathy. Truly connect for the sake of connecting; this is not the time for a sale. This is the time to be honest. It’s a scary time for all, and none of us know how or when this will end. So be genuine in your concern for them, their welfare and wellbeing.

Listen and resist the urge to solve their problem right away. Often, in our haste to provide value, we jump right to problem solving. But if we don’t have the right problem, we’re retrofitting an existing solution instead of listening for a new potential opportunity. So listen to find the problem first; listen to hear their pain points. Approach this exercise with humility and openness and seek to understand instead of being understood.  


Innovate & Pressure-Test

Channel these learnings into innovation sessions. From your brand vantage point, begin by interrogating your reality and discussing the new challenges facing you and your customers today. Be honest. Global supply chains are broken. Many of your customers may be shut down; millions of consumers are out of work. Some core aspects of your current business model may be upended. Discuss what you’re struggling with, and discuss what your customers are struggling with. What needs to change within your model for you to succeed? What needs to change in order to address your customer’s new problems?

Then start exploring new ideas for innovation. Challenge orthodoxies like “we’ve always done it this way.” Consider wild constraints like ‘how could we operate with only half our staff?” Today, more than ever, people are open to new approaches and new ways of doing things. 

As you and your team come up with ideas, begin to pressure-test them. Evaluate how these ideas solve customer pain points and shape the value equation for your customers. Run ideas by a core close group of partners and trusted customers for feedback and refinement. Give yourself the freedom to fine-tune your ideas as you go.


Outcome

This strategy exercise is time-consuming and demanding, but the outcome is that your brand is resilient and poised for growth. Your relationships with your best customers are strengthened, and they see you as an empathetic partner in a difficult time. You’ve identified opportunities for innovation that will add to the value you already bring, positioning you and your business for resiliency and growth, even in the face of a crisis.

If this all sound helpful but also daunting… we can help. We guide brand positioning and innovation sessions as part of our brand building efforts with clients. Please connect with us; we’d love to help make your business magnetic to success.

Ever notice that certain brands make you feel a certain way? That’s not accidental. Companies use psychology in branding – better known as Archetypes – to create an emotional bond that drives connection, likeability and loyalty. Here’s how it works, and how it can work for your brand.

Ever notice how Harley Davidson can automatically make you feel a bit bad? Devious, mischievous, even rebellious?
Or how that American Express card in your wallet makes you feel a bit…taller? More confident?
Coca-Cola might make you feel suddenly lighthearted, more carefree; like it’s time for a break.
Or put on those new Nikes, and suddenly you’re more energized, almost invincible in the face of a tough workout.

Isn’t it interesting? These brands connected to emotions.
Why is that so? Aren’t we just talking about products?

Psychology to Create Connection

The science of why people buy what they buy is complex, and “need” is just one factor of many in the equation. Nuanced research shows that people buy based on emotion and how we feel about the product or brand. Then we rationalize our purchase decisions with facts or functional benefits (Tesla: “well, it gets 45 miles per gallon.” or Starbucks: “their coffee beans and almond milk are organic.”). 

For these reasons, many brands seek to build an emotional connection with their customer base. Emotional connection builds a stronger bond, shortens the purchase cycle and makes their product the more likely and obvious choice. And one of the most powerful ways to do this is to use psychology in branding: archetypes. 

Archetypal Analysis

The study of archetypes came about from Carl Jung (a student of Freud’s), who in 1917 codified 12 main archetypes – motifs that appear throughout art, history, literature and culture – as universal symbols that powerfully reflect our humanity back to us. 

Source: Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen.

When we encounter a story that has a familiar archetype – say, the coming-of-age adolescent who must grow up quickly on his/her own – we are subconsciously reminded of our own childhood experiences when we were in a similar situation, and as a result, we become vested in the outcome of the story, and bond unconsciously with the protagonist. As an example: David and Goliath; Jacob and the Coat of Many Colors, Huckleberry Finn; Romeo & Juliet; Hansel & Gretel; Beauty & The Beast; Dumbo; Elsa in Frozen; Dory in Finding Nemo, and countless more: in each of these stories, the character suddenly becomes intimately familiar to us. We are reminded of our own experiences and how we acted and reacted in the face of similar challenges. This recall bonds us to the protagonist and story, and we become emotionally vested in the outcome; we’re hooked.

Archetypes in Branding

Archetypes have been around for thousands of years but only started to become popular in branding in the 50s and 60s, as brands sought to draw closer emotional connections with consumers. Advertisers realized that brands that express these archetypes can – and do – create deeper positive feelings with their customers. 

Here are some brands and their archetypes:

The Innocent – CocaCola, Snuggle
The Sage – TED, Harvard, The Economist
The Explorer – North Face, JEEP
The Rebel – Harley Davidson
The Magician – Intel, Disney
The Hero – Nike, The Marines
The Lover – Victoria’s Secret, Godiva
The Jester – Cheetos, BudLight, Geico
The Citizen – Levi’s, Ikea
The Caregiver – J&J, Nivea, Tom’s Shoes
The Sovereign – American Express, Rolex
The Creator – Apple, LEGO

Example Archetype in Action: The Innocent

You might be thinking “okay, but how does psychology in branding play out, exactly?” So I’ll ask you to think back to your childhood, to your best childhood memories: maybe it’s playing outside, or riding a roller coaster; the weather is probably warm, the sun is shining; there are friends and laughter and balloons; there’s happiness, a lightness, and life seems simple and uncomplicated; for a minute you can take a break and just float your worries away.

This is the memory Coca-Cola strives for in their communications, with their use of The Innocent archetype as a means to create a more carefree, fun and happy brand. Consider that their most recent advertising campaign is entitled “Unbottle happiness.” And here are the words from their popular jingle coined in 1971:

I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves. 

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company.

Source: Coca-Cola Corporation, 1971.


Archetypes Strengthen Your Connection with Customers

Archetypes can be powerful emotional connectors for your brand and can deepen the bond you have with your customers; they can shorten the customer journey and build trust and likeability faster. How to use psychology in branding to your advantage?

First, determine your brand’s archetype. A brand strategist can help you with this exercise, or you can try and ascertain your archetype by yourself (there are a few books on archetypal analysis that I can recommend: The Outlaw and The Hero by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, and Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen. There are also some online quizzes to help you crack your company’s archetype). You’ll want to explore your brand story origin, your values and purpose for clues about your archetype.

You’ll also want to determine how and to what extent the archetype shows up in your brand. Some brands allude to the archetype in their logo and color selection; others use it as their voice to come through in communications. Some brands rely heavily on their archetype in messaging (Harley Davidson, Victoria’s Secret, Nike); others are more subtle (Microsoft is the Ruler; Salesforce is the Explorer). What’s right for you is entirely subjective and depends on your preference for your archetype and how you choose to bring it to life in your branding. If you’re interested in learning more about archetypes and how to leverage them for your brand, let’s connect and schedule a time to discuss your brand. 

ICYMI: In February 2020 Burger King Corporation  launched an ad campaign announcing no more preservatives in its food… with this daring image. A rotting burger.

Yes, it’s a bit tough to swallow (ha!), but as far as a jaw dropping ad campaign goes, it is also freaking spectacular. 

The Goal of Advertising

Recall what an ad campaign is supposed to do: it’s supposed to get your attention. It’s supposed to be provocative and edgy, so you can absorb a relatively banal topic (no preservatives? Yawn) with interest. It’s meant to educate you and make you think about the product / service / offering differently. If done well, it’s meant to do all this and elicit an emotional response and leave you feeling differently about the brand. 

So let’s go back to the Burger King ad now. Consider it. Then ask yourself:

-Does it get your attention? 

-Did you try to understand the message?

-Do you have an emotional reaction to it? Maybe more than one?

-Is it provocative? 

-Do you now know something about Burger King that you didn’t before?

-Did your perception of Burger King change?

Ad Campaign Analysis: A Whopper Win

For me, this ad campaign hits it out of the park on every one of these points. Not to mention the emotional spectrum this brand delivers: my first initial feeling (disgust) to digesting (ha!) the ad and its message (neutrality) to seeing the brand differently (likeability) as a result of this campaign. All in one ad! 💥

This is a fantastic example of effective advertising at work, and let’s take a minute to appreciate the guts to run this. If you were head of marketing for a food company, would you’ve run this ad? Fantastic work from agencies Ingo, Ogilvy and Grey. And hats off to Fernando Machado, the Chief Marketing Officer at Burger King, for the courage to run this. 

What do you think?
Does this change your perception of Burger King?
Do you find the ad compelling?

Your company’s small and resources are tight. Should you try DIY branding?

In talking with a prospect the other day, she brought up the topic of DIY branding. “You know, I’ve downloaded one of those DIY brand kits off the internet. What do you think about those? Can’t I just save a lot of money and do my brand that way?”

Great question. 

I regularly encourage my clients to do their own branding and marketing (what do you think this blog is all about?!). There are many good DIY branding guides online and if you have the time, aptitude and desire to do it, doing it yourself will make you a better marketer and steward of your brand AND you’ll grow an appreciation for great branding. 

To reinforce this point, I offer a few DIY toolkits and workbooks that inform parts of your brand (this one is great: “How to Craft Your Own Unique Value Differentiator” and so is this one: “How to Create A Customer Profile.” Check my blog for the accompanying articles). But these are just a few of the many aspects that go into building a brand (competitive research, customer insights, target profiling, brand DNA & benefit statements, archetypal analysis… to name a few). Most guides on the Internet cover just a few of these areas. Until I write my own book, I can recommend Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen, a how-to-brand guide that’s very comprehensive and multi-dimensional.

In short: I am ALL for empowering you to craft your own branding communications and marketing. This said, having done branding for over 2 decades, I’m also realistic. It comes down to your time & aptitude, being able to get out of your own way, and seeing behind your blind spots.

DIY Branding Requires Patience.

Brand building is the painstaking exercise of crafting the right message for your business and then ensuring everything you put out is “on brand.” There’s a process to it, and from my experience, it’s not something that’s inherent in most business leaders. If it was, it’d likely be your “zone of genius” and you’d likely be running a branding and marketing business instead of the business you’re in.

But if you still want to DIY, my recommendation is to budget time and patience. It’s a challenging exercise to come up with something catchy and compelling (but also creative) that encompasses customer needs, your competitive white space, your intention, heritage and vision, your brand promise, beliefs and the value you bring. I recommend doing the analysis and writing it all down, and then editing and synthesizing your message down to its essentials.

It Also Requires Objectivity.

Building a brand also requires objectivity. A lot of brand work is inward looking, which means it triggers all those fun psychological reactions to feedback and criticism. And we all come to the table with deep bias around:

  • customers and their attitudes around the category / service / price;
  • the category and the key players that we compete against;
  • patterns and trends that can influence customer behavior;
  • perhaps most importantly: our capabilities and the value we bring our customers.  

Sometimes we’re aware of our bias but more often we’re not. I’ll work with clients who insist their business runs a certain way or that their customers have a particular fixed mindset. Only when I present them with research findings do they digest how much bias has shaped their interactions with partners, stakeholders and customers.

In order to build a great brand that defines the value you bring and what’s important to your customers, you need to get out of your own way, and that can be hard when you’re doing the branding yourself. My recommendation: find an external partner to point out category and behavioral assumptions that you take for granted. Look for someone who is industry-adjacent but not in your space; use them as an editor to weed out your biases.

And Check for Blind Spots.

Like bias, but different: we all have blind spots about our business, industry and customers, and sometimes we can’t see a brand play at all. I once had a client who discounted her expertise as part of her offering. She insisted that her competitors brought the same level of industry knowledge and refused to charge more for her vast subject-matter expertise. Finally – after pestering her for more than a year – I got her to experiment with communicating about her expertise. She was flabbergasted when she was able to TRIPLE her rates. 

Yeah. 

Blind spots work like bias to skew our perception of our brand value, but they’re more insidious because they’re usually our strengths that we discount (“Oh, my put-you-at-ease bedside manner? But that’s a given,” or “My ability to neutralize workplace conflict? But everybody does that,”) and we discard what could be an astonishing point of differentiation. 

If you’re intent on DIY branding, I recommend doing some research to discover why your best customers return, and also partner research to discover why partners choose you over other options. You must throw out easy answers like “convenience,” “great work at a good cost,” and “because I’ve always used them.” The good stuff lies beneath. 

I also recommend running your DIY work by someone who knows you and your business. Not an employee, former customer or partner (too involved), but again: an industry-adjacent peer, or a listener with good intentions at heart who can absorb your point of view and point out potential strengths you’re keen to overlook. 

I’m Innit to DYI-it!

“Juliana, I still want to do it.”

All right then! Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen is a great brand building guide to use. Here are the areas you’ll want to analyze to get at your brand and what you stand for, what your customers value, and what makes you unique:

  • Market research. What’s going on in your industry? Where is the market headed, and where are the opportunities?
  • Competitive analysis. Who is your competition? What do they offer? How do they communicate their offering?
  • White space. Where’s the opportunity for you to zig where your competition zags?
  • Cultural trends. What trends are culturally happening that relate to your work?
  • Stakeholder feedback. Why do your customers & partners come – and return – to you? What (pain) brings them to you? What do they deeply value about how you solve that pain?
  • Target market. Who is the customer that deeply values all that you offer? Use this guide to build out their personas.
  • Mindset & behaviors. How do your customers approach your category? What’s their mindset & behavior?
  • Brand DNA. What do you do and why? Think through your offerings, what pain or problem do you solve for your customers? Consider the benefits you bring your customers – both emotional and functional.
  • Unique Value Proposition. What do you do that your customers deeply value that few others can do? This guide can help you.
  • Brand Promise & Values. Think about the promise you make to your customers, at every interaction. What values do you insist on, so you / your team can make this promise true?
  • Brand Archetype. If your brand were a person, what would be its personality and image? Is your brand the sage or the creator? Maverick or jester? And how does this show up in your brand communications?! Strategist Kaye Putnam has an archetype quiz to uncover your brand archetype & good examples of how brands use their archetype to create differentiation.
  • Logo, font, colors. Work with a graphic designer to bring all these insights into your brand’s look and feel.
  • Storytelling. What’s the story you can tell about your impact on your customers? How do you help them? How do you transform their woes into successes?

These areas will inform and form your brand identity and positioning. Don’t be daunted if that seems lengthy! Especially if you’re just starting out, there’s plenty of online guidance to tap into, and to be honest, most startups do the branding themselves until they’re big enough to outsource it to a professional.

And the work is absolutely worth it.

When you’ve landed on it, brand amplifies your marketing efforts. It brings results you couldn’t imagine. It makes everything so clear and easy to digest. You’re so much more confident about your business and what you stand for and what sets you apart.

So do the hard work. 
Build your brand. 
But if you want all this, but are reconsidering the DIY part, that’s cool too. Let’s connect and zoom or chat. My team and I are passionate about branding small businesses; we’re here to bring that incredible brand your business already is… to life.


Dropping your price to close the deal can hurt your brand. Here’s how to avoid that.

I was speaking to a business leader about his ability to land deals. “Oh, it’s easy. We can close any deal. We just drop our pricing a little bit and we get the business.” 

Dropping price to land a deal might seem smart at first. Your customer gets great value at a great price, and you land the business with a small margin hit. No big deal. What’s not to love?

But lowering your price cheapens your brand. ⚠️


When you drop your price, you alter the perception of the benefit you bring.
You lessen the value of your offering.

If you need to lower your price to win the deal:

1) The value to your customer isn’t clear. Consider this math:

Customer Value = Benefits – Price 

Price is just one factor in the decision process. Just as important as price is the benefits of your offering. Your customer is thinking, “what do I get in exchange for my money? Why is this a good value for my dollars?” When the benefit you provide is clear and big, your customer’s willingness to pay is also big. Revisit what your customer gets in exchange for their money. Do they fully grasp the value you can deliver?

2) It’s possible you’re selling to the wrong customer. If your customer is motivated by price over the value you provide, they don’t appreciate what you bring. It’s important that you target your ideal customer and prioritize them – because for them, what you offer is of high value, and the benefit is greater than the price you’re asking.


Case Study: Rolex.

As an example, let’s look at Rolex. The luxury watch retailer spends a significant amount of money advertising their watches and talking about the benefits they deliver: 

-The steel they use (904L steel) is corrosion-resistant and more beautiful than other steels, but more expensive and difficult to work with; 
-They have their own science lab to perfect oils and lubricants for their products;
-Their movements are all hand-assembled and tested;
-An in-house foundry makes all their gold on site, ensuring its quality;
-Dive watches are individually tested in pressurized water tanks;
-They have on-site gemologists, to aid and select in quality control;
-Despite technological advancements, they take no shortcuts: It takes approximately 1 year to make a Rolex.


Rolex invests in communicating about the benefits of their products.

They also never drop their pricing.

They never go on sale, and their value withstands time and trends. 

There are throngs of customers who would love a Rolex at a cheaper price. But they are the wrong customer, and Rolex knows that dropping their price for these customers would come at the expense of the customer who sees the value of a Rolex and is willing to pay the asking price – the right customer. 


Business class seats.

Another example is business class in the airline industry. Airlines offer only a handful of business class seats because they cater to the few travelers willing / able to pay a premium for luxury accommodations while flying (Value = Benefits – Price). They never drop their pricing for these seats. Depending on the airline, they’ll either leave the unbooked seats empty, or upgrade only their very best customers to experience this benefit, maintaining the value of their offering. 

By the way, it’s not just the odd brand that deploys this strategy. Consider: Tesla, Leica, Patagonia, Whole Foods, American Express, Singapore Airlines, Manolo Blahnik, Soul Cycle and even Starbucks: these brands are all examples of companies that lean into the value they bring rather than dropping their price to close the deal. 


Key takeaways:

When you focus on the benefits, your price is justified. 
And if the customer is your ideal customer, it’s almost never about the price. ⚠️


But how do I know my price is right?

One of the successes to business is pricing your products properly. Price your products correctly and it can enhance how much you sell, creating the foundation for a business that will prosper. Get your pricing strategy wrong and you may create problems that your business may never be able to overcome. 

If you google ‘pricing strategy’ you’ll find there are millions of articles and recommendations for how to price. That’s the good news – and also the bad news. There’s no clear way of doing it, though most strategies involve key factors such as understanding your costs, your target customer and what they’re willing to pay, getting clear about what your competitors are charging, and so on. I really liked this article on pricing as a good start for you. 

Once you’ve priced your offering and it feels fair to you: don’t drop your price. If you need a refresher, re-read the top portion of this blog again.

Now I want to hear from you: Are you like Rolex? Do you focus on the benefits you bring? Or do you drop your price to close the deal? If you need help leaning into the value you bring and communicating the benefits of your solution to your customers, we’re here to help. Give us a shout.