Branding and marketing are essential to helping drive growth, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a startup or if you’ve been around for decades. But what’s the difference between the two, and what do you need right now: branding or marketing? Let’s do some quick definitions and help determine what you need.

What is Branding?

A brand is what you stand for and it’s what you say about your business. As Simon Sinek likes to say: It’s your WHY. Brand creates an expectation in the mind of your customer – and brand lives up to that expectation. It defines your customer’s pain points and addresses how you’re their solution, and it highlights how you’re different from the competition. It underscores your unique value proposition for winning. Brand captures your company’s heritage and your reason for being; it embodies your business vision and where you want to go. It is a North Star for you and your team.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is the tools you use to deliver your brand message. It’s how you convey your WHY. Swag, newsletters, website, social media strategy: these are the means to deliver your brand message. Marketing covers a vast area of business, including website + SEO; social; content; newsletters; collateral; design (logo, font, colors, etc); Go-to-market; influencer; retention strategies…and more.

Branding precedes marketing. It’s essential to define what your business stands for before you begin your marketing efforts. What should your new logo convey? Who is your ideal target customer? What should your newsletter be all about? If you’re doing marketing first, answering these questions can be frustrating and confusing. Brand avoids all the confusion. Brand is your roadmap, your North Star that tells you everything you need to know.

What is your Priority?

Branding or Marketing: what should you focus on? Here are a few statements to assess your business needs:

  • I know my company’s core principles and values, and can articulate what we stand for. We know our WHY.
  • We know our brand’s purpose for being, and what gap we fill in the marketplace.
  • I am clear about my Unique Value Proposition and what differentiates me from my competition.
  • We know who our target customers are and understand their psychological drivers and mindset.
  • I know what messages will best resonate with my target customers.
  • I know where to find my target customers and how to engage them in a genuine, compelling way.
  • Our communication materials – my website, collateral, business cards and logo – convey my brand and what it stands for in a way that captures my target customers’ attention.
  • My brand tells a story; it talks about customer pain points, how we solve those pain points, and how my customers are better for working with us.  Our brand story is compelling to those I’m trying to reach.

If you can answer these statements easily, you need marketing and we’re happy to recommend some great leaders in this space. If, however, you’re not quite sure what you stand for and how to attract your ideal customers, then you might need some branding. That’s where we come in.

At Magnetic Current we firmly believe you are your brand’s best storyteller and help a lot of companies DIY branding themselves (read this post for more on this). That said: we’re also skilled brand builders and storytellers. If you need help with your brand, connect with us and let’s make you magnetic to growth.

Compelling content drives connection. If a brand connects with us, then we’re more likely to prefer that brand, we’re more likely to buy from that brand. So how can we create compelling content that connects and captivates? Let’s look at my top tips for content that foster connection and captivate the people we care about reaching.

  1. Be relevant  

    You need to get clear about your target and why they would be interested in your service or product or you fall into obscurity.  Why is your chosen audience the best audience for your product or service?  Why do they need or want your product? When you’re targeting your content to people who are actually interested in what you have to say, your content becomes compelling. 

  2. Tell a Story

    Want compelling content? Write a story. We humans are wired for stories; our minds digest stories infinitely better than facts.  But while we all live by stories and we love stories in our personal lives, especially for B2B and tech brands, we leave all that gorgeous storytelling in our personal lives and it never crosses over into work. We wind up talking about features and services, but facts and facts are boring.  To compel you need to tell a story. Read here for what goes into making a great brand story. 

  3. If you confuse you lose

    . As business owners, we know everything about our business; it’s our area of expertise! We want to share everything! But so much of that content is irrelevant to your prospects. As Donald Miller, author of Building a Story Brand says, “the human brain is drawn toward clarity and away from confusion.”  You need to get super clear about your message. Can you say it easily? Does your team know your message and how to say it to customers?  Is it clear why every prospect should buy your service?
  4. Features tell, Benefits sell

     The “so what” is the most important message for your prospects. Distill down the benefit you offer your customers. If you run a car wash, your end result is giving people with a sense of pride. If you have a tutoring business, you’re building self-esteem. When thinking about your business, what do you offer? Peace of mind? A greater sense of confidence? Lead with that point as your headline; then explain how your services deliver on that benefit in subsequent sentences.

  5. Get personal

      Many professionals believe they won’t be taken seriously if they use personal language, but it’s actually a key differentiator in fostering connection. When you write in the first person, you create a conversation between you and your reader.  That helps establish a more authentic relationship. Unfortunately, most websites today use verbiage that reads like a bot wrote the wording.  Skip that.  Use approachable language written in the first person, so it feels like the start of a conversation. Because a conversation can lead to connection and a connection can lead to a sale.

  6.  Lose the Industry Jargon

    Remember that the whole point of marketing and branding is to connect with your audience. And today people are short on time and patience. Make your communications easy to understand and to the point. Write for a 5th – 8th grade level. No one wants to over-analyze your offering. They’ll just move on to someone with more clarity. 
If you need help with your content, we’d be happy to have a conversation about how we can help make you magnetic to success. We help growing businesses become magnetic to success with brand strategy and storytelling.

If you’re trying to grow your business – and who isn’t? – the single most effective way is actually sitting right in your customer database. It’s not rocket science. It’s also not back-breaking or mind-bending work. But it is critical to your business success and can drive increased revenue, customer satisfaction and even new business opportunities. In this post, we’ll look at some strategies that can change up your revenue stream by giving your clients something they love: good old fashioned attention.

Fellow entrepreneurs, I hear you. I know how hard it is to run and grow your business. There’s revenues to generate, billing and overhead to manage, personnel issues to wrangle, insurance and taxes to pay, bookkeeping and accounting to keep an eye on, and the many other aspects of running a business…And then there’s the actual work that you do in your business. It. can. be. exhausting.

And it goes without saying: sales probably accounts for a majority of your focus… and anxiety.

No kidding: it’s hard work getting new clients. First you’ve got to create awareness for your brand and explain why folks are better off with your service in their lives. Then you’ve got to build a connection with them; people have to find you relatable and beneficial on some level. Once you have a connection, you need to work on building preference for your services over the competition. Once they prefer you, you’ve got to close the deal and get them to purchase. And after you’ve done all that hard work, it’s rinse and repeat. As I said: hard work. Is there a shortcut to getting more business?

Beloved by business schools and marketing professors everywhere: the famous inverted Sales Funnel pyramid. Regardless the industry, all brands go through these stages of customer engagement before closing the sale.

Short answer: YES.  From all my years in advertising and marketing, I can tell you the single best way to generate more business is from your existing client base. Building customer loyalty or having a retention strategy is critical to your business success. Here’s why:

  1. Your existing customers already know your brand and your product / service;
  2. They know how terrific your offering is; and
  3. You’ve already closed them.

Boom. You’ve already done all the hard work of building brand awareness and consideration with them. They know what you can offer and chances are you worked really hard to deliver exceptional service. So it’s simply smart and easy business to circle back with them and re-engage with them.

And here are some other reasons as well:

  1. Customer service. If you care about your product – and I know you do – you should want to hear firsthand from your customers if they’re liking your service or offering. If they loved your work: awesome for you! Then you have a testimonial on your hands, which you can use on your website or in marketing materials to get new customers.  But maybe they weren’t 100% thrilled. Then you have an even more important reason to reach out:
  2. Feedback and Room for Improvement. What a great way to make your business better and to find out where you can improve on your offering. Getting feedback is something big global brands do to drive their product innovation and customer retention programs, only they spend thousands of dollars on market research and expensive consultants to get their answers. You can find ways to not only improve your offering, but maybe even expand your offering and develop new revenue streams – for free – just by checking in with your customers.
  3. Pitch new business opportunities. Re-engaging with your existing customer base means you’re opening the door for a conversation into the many other ways you might be able to help them further. They might have hired you to train their dog to stop chewing shoes, and as result: Rex doesn’t chew shoes anymore. But maybe he’s started barking at the mailman. You’ll never know unless you re-engage your customer and find out.

Alright, you say. So how should I go about doing this?  Here are some basic but highly effective ideas you can start doing right away:

  1. Set up a regular feedback schedule. Once a project ends, make a note to circle back with clients in a given time frame. Send a personalized email note or phone call to check in. Remember, this isn’t a sales pitch; it’s a discovery call. Your goal is to discover how they’re liking your services and if they have any feedback for you on your offering.  
  2. Send them something of value.  Whether it’s an article or video they’d be interested in, a newsletter about their field, or some other item that conveys useful information for them: sending your customers a quick note with something relevant to them shows them you’re you’re thinking about your customers and putting yourself in their shoes. And it keeps you and your brand top of mind to them. The key: send them something of value. We all get way too much junk mail and spam, so make sure you’re sending material that’s targeted to them and will appeal.
  3. Create a customer appreciation event. This is a great way to bring together clients in a fun environment that’s pressure-free. The dog trainer could plan a group dog-play session and picnic for families; the aesthetician could plan an after-hours champagne and mini-facial event at the salon. Not only does this have goodwill benefits for you and your brand, but you have the opportunity to interact with your clients, and maybe find out how you could be of additional service to them. Added side bonus: your clients also have the opportunity to network amongst each other, bond and make new connections. That halo effect resonates with your brand.
  4. Take them to lunch. This consistently underutilized strategy is a great way to strengthen relationships and make you top of mind for your clients. Use a quick meal as an opportunity to find out what’s new in your client’s world and build loyalty.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens of other tactics you can use to re-engage your existing customers and get more business from them. The first step starts with recognizing that you need a retention strategy and building that as part of your business.

I’m hoping these tactics are giving you ideas of how to grow your business and drive deep customer loyalty. If you have more questions about building your retention strategy and are looking for some help, I would be happy to have a deeper conversation on how I can help your business grow. I run a small agency called Magnetic Current, and we’re dedicated to helping small businesses and solopreneurs become magnetic to the people who matter to them.

As a business owner, you’re always stretched in a million different directions. You don’t often think about your logo and if it’s conveying the right message about your business. But is it helping you leave your mark?

Details matter. Your logo can help attract new customers and  distinguish you from your competition. Since it’s my business to help growing businesses grow magnetic brands, I spend a lot of time working with clients to ensure their logo, fonts and color schemes are telling their full brand story in a simple but compelling way. If you’ve ever wondered what makes for a great logo, if you’re considering designing one for your business, or if your current one makes you cringe: below are some helpful logo design tips to keep in mind.

First: do you even need a logo?

Many small businesses decide to skip the logo in the very beginning, or they get something simple off Either route is great, especially when starting out. But as your business evolves, remember that we live in a world of symbols, so whatever’s next to your company name is functioning as your de facto logo. So let’s ask this a different way: what’s the point of a logo? And does your current one work to your advantage? Here are some benefits that a logo provides:

  1. A logo tells people the name of your company.
  2. It creates differentiation and a good one makes your brand stand out.
  3. A logo represents your business. A great logo has a symbolic association, making your company instantly more memorable and more endearing.
  4. It invites people to explore your brand. Symbols and colors are more interesting to the human eye and mind than plain text. Logos draw interest and pique the curiosity of your potential customers, prompting them to discover more about your product or service.
  5. It can go everywhere. Website, business cards, office door, letterhead: a logo is a visual representation of your business and can extend your brand  everywhere. With a logo, you have more opportunity to be top of mind for your customers and prospects. And familiarity breeds preference.

Now let’s go back to your current logo. If it’s delivering on all these points, then that’s a win for you.
But if you feel that your current logo isn’t working for you, and you want to make your brand clearer and more inviting, then let’s talk about what you should look for in logo design.

The Role of Color, Shape & Font

  • Color. Color psychology goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians; they figured out color can impact mood and human behavior. Today, color is important in our media-frenzied society because it can help draw attention to your brand and make it stand out. And research has shown that 60% of customers’ product choices are impacted by color alone.

    So what’s the right color for your brand? Well, that depends on what you want to convey.  For instance, blue conjures up feelings of calmness, confidence and honesty, while red is the opposite: it conveys passion, intensity and excitement. Yellow symbolizes positivity and optimism, while green conveys freshness, prosperity and nature. There are thousands of color options, so it’s important to first figure out what qualities and values you want to express and then apply that to your brand. For some color psychology basics, the folks over at Green Apple Lane did a nice graphic that conveys many core brand attributes for brands.
Graphic courtesy of
  • Shape. Our subconscious mind responds to shapes and associates attributes with them, so designers factor in shape when designing logos. For example: are you wanting to convey community, unity, a sense of belonging? Then your logo would most likely be circular or oval shaped. If you’re wanting to express stability, strength and professionalism: squares. A sense of power, science, logic? Triangles. Below are a few examples of global brands that have been using shapes to subliminally suggest brand values; it can work for your company as well.

Pepsi communicates community and unity; Microsoft expresses stability and strength; Google Drive projects technology prowess and logic.

  • Font. It’s not just words on a page. Typefaces have distinct personalities – did you know? The latest research suggests that typefaces convey their own meanings and elicit specific emotional responses independent based on the forms of the letters and words on the page or screen. Serif types are focused and calming; rounder types elicit happiness; sharper types, anger. If you want to convey tradition and respect, a classic serif font like Times New Roman is right for you. Are you innovative? Then consider a cleaner and modern font, a non-serif like Futura or Helvetica.  Is your brand creative or elegant? A cursive font could help deliver that message. Or perhaps your brand is playful and creative – then you might want to lean in to a display style, like Valencia or Cooper.

The brand on the left is conveying modernity, confidence, unfussiness.
The brand on the right is all about heritage and tradition.


A Word on Simplicity

Given all the things we want our logo to say and represent – not to mention that some logos can cost a lot of money – the tendency is to make sure they serve up a whole slew of brand message. But that makes them complicated, which is exactly the inverse of what you want. The most revered logos in the world are actually breathtakingly simple.

This doesn’t mean they’re simple to create. Reducing an idea down to an elemental symbol that captures one overarching big idea – that encapsulates other elements – is often the toughest part of the logo design process. Many logos, even those of big and successful companies, fail to stand out or be memorable because they can’t easily be associated with a single idea. Sometimes that’s because they’re too complex, and sometimes because they’re too abstract. 

The original logo on the left, and the updated TGI Fridays logo on the right, with a less complicated shape and cleaner font. Both say festive and fun; which does your eye prefer?

Apple’s original logo: Isaac Newton under an apple tree.  And the Apple logo today.

Does Your Logo Tell Your Brand Story?

Now for the most important part: it’s got to hang together.  Does it all come together to deliver the right message about your brand?  Firstly, if your logo’s not exuding what your business and brand are all about, then your logo is off and needs some fixing.

Secondly, you should love your logo, but your customers are the best judge, since it’s largely for them. Try to see your logo from their perspective. Thirdly, it’s cool to have hidden messages in your logo’s design, but if it’s not conveying the point of your brand to your customers, you’ve overshot the mark. If you have a few customers you trust and are close to, ask them for their thoughts on your logo. Does it convey the points you were hoping to get across?

A famous logo with a hidden subliminal message. Do you see the arrow?

If you’re considering hiring a graphic designer to update your brand look and feel, it’s helpful to speak with someone who can help you hit these points design-wise. Additionally, you want a designer who can convey the bigger picture of what your business  stands for, while remaining dedicated to simplicity. If you’ve worked with designer in the past and like their work and feel your logo could use an update, talk with them about how to make your logo more impactful.

Need a designer to give your brand a new look? We’d would be happy to have a conversation about logos and more. At Magnetic Brand Strategy, we have a team of dedicated creative designers who can expertly shape simple and powerful logos. We’re dedicated to helping small and growing businesses become magnetic to the people who matter to them.

In my last article, I talked about the similarities between diplomacy and branding, and I feel it’s a  relevant intersection for marketers today. Purpose or cause marketing is trending strongly with Millennials and Gen Z, and it seems nearly every brand today is clamoring to present a cause they are passionate about. I feel there are lessons to learn from diplomacy, because respectfully, the State Department has been doing purpose marketing for quite literally hundreds of years. If your brand is truly committed to purpose marketing beyond producing a moving commercial, then the tactics used by diplomats are worth exploring, because diplomacy actually does work, and these programs are highly effective in informing, influencing and persuading.

Diplomacy is about persuading your target market to align with your agenda through various tactics, including dialogue, negotiation, and other measures. And branding is “a means to shape opinion, influence and persuade behavior.” Bring on the overlap: both require mastering persuasion and influence for success.

As a starting point, let’s acknowledge a different set of tools. Whereas advertisers typically use film, print, a website, social media, and increasingly a barrage of apps to convey their brand message, diplomats work with quainter tools: a podium and talking points; social media and old fashioned PR; by organizing exchange programs and events; and by hosting talented envoys to deliver brand experiences that educate and persuade a foreign audience’s opinion. (Note: The State Department calls them envoys; given what they actually do, I prefer the more au currant title: influencers). In this piece, this last point is where I’d like to focus; I’ll touch on other methods in another piece.

Influencers? In Diplomacy? In fact.

Yep. Long before Instagram’s acclaim and ‘influencer’ became a coveted job title, diplomacy was using influencers not just to demonstrate, but to deliver experiences in a way that expresses American values persuasively. Be it a dance troupe / jazz ensemble / elite sports figure / chef / musician / celebrity, the brief was – and still is – to have these talented American influencers engage with a foreign public, and in doing so, showcase our values in real life. It’s a pretty effective approach for purpose marketing.

Say, for example, an Embassy wants to convey the importance of women’s rights + equality. If soccer is a dominant sport in the country, a diplomat might use a sports diplomacy program to bring over several elite US female soccer stars for a few weeks. During their stay, these athletes might hold leadership training camps with boys and girls of impressionable ages, play in a televised goodwill game with the country’s leading soccer players, speak at universities on leadership + teamwork, and do a slew of press events and engage on social media to amplify the effort.

Tracy Noonan, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team player, working with girls in Costa Rica, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team player Tracy Noonan coaching girls in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. State Department.

Rather than a well-crafted speech to Parliament on the importance of female equality (though those would happen as well), here’s why this program works:

  • It’s relevant. These influencers are interesting to the target market (soccer fans). Wouldn’t you pay attention to a cause that involved some of your heroes?
  • It’s demonstrative. These influencers don’t just talk about women in power; they are women in power. Depending on the influencer, they can be the best messenger for your message.
  • It’s experiential. They bring engagement. Through camps, media, events and other interactions, they invite a foreign public to experience female equality first hand, and this is bar none the best way to educate and shift mindsets.
  • It’s credible and cool. Because of their accomplishments, these envoys bring credibility and a cool factor to an important topic that might otherwise get polite nods and short shrift.
  • It’s residual. There’s a halo effect for the Embassy brand: this goodwill sticks around in people’s memories, and rubs off onto other projects the Embassy does.

So while I don’t want to take anything away from a powerful speech to Parliament, experiences are often the best educators and shifters of public opinion.

Takeaway for brands and marketers

It’s no secret that Millennials and Gen Z want experiential brand interactions; they crave the tangible and tactile. If we want to make purpose marketing more effective, let’s get experiential. Let’s make the emotive video, but also make our campaign more attractive by partnering with influencers who appeal to our target and are passionate about our cause. Let’s build experiences for our influencers to meet our audience and interact, educate and persuade (and by the way: they can bring their audiences along and introduce them to our brand as well). Let’s find new ways for audiences to learn and experience first hand what our purpose is all about. Gen Z is hungry for the experiential, so let’s meet them there with compelling talent and an invitation to get involved in a purpose, beyond a rousing :60 film.


Juliana Spaven is a serial brand strategist and marketer with over 20 years of advertising and marketing experience. In 2011 she joined the State Department as a Public Affairs diplomat and served in Sri Lanka (2012 – 2014). She was awarded the Embassy’s prestigious Meritorious Honor Award for her work in promoting Freedom of the Press to the Sri Lankan public. She also served in Frankfurt, Germany (2015-2016) where she received awards for her teamwork and professionalism as Vice Consul. She left the State Department in 2017 and currently lives in DC with her family, where she works to make brands magnetic.

What Diplomacy can teach Brand Stewards about Persuasion and Influence

After years of being in the advertising industry, in 2011 I shifted gears and joined the State Department as a Public Affairs diplomat. For many reasons, diplomacy holds its strategies and tactics close to the chest, so while I had some general knowledge of what diplomacy entailed and the type of work I would be doing, I didn’t know the specifics. The actual day-to-day was cloaked in mystery, and it felt like I would be undergoing a significant career change.

The truth about diplomacy is that it is multi-faceted and extremely complex, with a great many players working various overlapping methods, angles and tactics to achieve common end goals.  And here’s my caveat up front: I am not a career diplomat. I left the State Department for family reasons after serving two overseas tours. But during my nearly six years at State in a Public Affairs capacity, as I got into doing the actual work of diplomacy, I was surprised time and again to discover how much diplomacy is like branding.

At its core, diplomacy is about persuading your target market to align with your agenda through various tactics, including dialogue, negotiation, and other measures. And while there are many definitions of branding, my working definition is “a means to shape opinion, influence and persuade behavior.” Bring on the overlap: both require mastering persuasion and influence for success.

Diplomacy is like branding in many other ways, too:

  • You need an unwavering brand and vision. This is your North Star, and you’re constantly guided by it as you navigate the diplomatic matrix that involves the 180 countries the US maintains relationships with. Not to mention the bureaucracy itself, with its bureaus, special divisions and all manner of special-interest political projects – all having complex, vying-for-attention agendas and missions.
  • You need to earn trust and steadfast relationships with your target market – your foreign interlocutors, or counterparts; and also your foreign public.
  • You’ve got to deeply understand your interlocutor’s perspective, agenda and likely behavior – this goes for your foreign public as well.
  • Who are the tertiary players? What are their agendas?  How could they interfere with you achieving your goals? You need to know your competitive landscape.
  • When advocating for your agenda, you must articulate your key selling points in a clear and concise manner that informs, influences and persuades your interlocutors and also your foreign public. Note: You’re focused on the benefits.
  • You need creativity to influence and persuade. Many times you’re persuading not just your interlocutors but the foreign public, and dry diplo-speak doesn’t cut it.

Wait. Foreign public?  Most people think diplomacy is about negotiating with interlocutors and that it happens on a 1:1 basis, and yes, that is true; but in my experience, diplomacy is often made more effective when you’ve galvanized a public behind your agenda. As an example: while serving in Sri Lanka in 2012-14, one of our goals was to push the government of Sri Lanka towards transparent elections. Privately we met with members of Parliament and government to ensure our objective was heard. But we also built momentum for fair and free elections at the grassroots level. We hosted country-wide events about fair and free elections; invited experts on U.S. elections to speak about how our election system works, inviting criticism and candor; we moderated panel discussions with prominent social and political figures; wrote op-eds in popular newspapers; held debates at universities around the country; engaged actively on social media; hosted US Presidential debate and election parties; and did numerous other tactics to keep our message top of mind. When the results of the January 2015 Sri Lankan Presidential elections came in, over 81% of the population had voted, and importantly, according to election monitoring organizations, the election itself was clean and fair.

The work that diplomats do to inform, influence and persuade a number of external audiences: that’s the work of Public Affairs, and I feel many of the tactics used in Public Affairs are worth exploring because they are effective, budget-conscious and creative (gasp!). I’ll cover a few of these in a subsequent article.  But for this piece, I’ll shift to focus on something else I noticed diplomacy does really well: the Long Term Play.

I won’t speak for all aspects of diplomacy, but in Public Affairs, you’re in the business of building mutually-beneficial relationships for decades. You don’t think in the short-term; there is no transactional give-get. You’re interested in building deep and multi-faceted relationships that embed you in their business and them in yours. Every initiative is seen as an investment; every effort goes through a how does this strengthen / grow / build our relationship? line of questioning.  Here’s why:

  1. Leverage. When you invest in a country you’re inextricably weaving your economic, political, social and civic agendas together and there are now strategic incentives to align and cooperate.
  2. Mutual Success. You support your partner and have an interest in seeing them thrive and prosper – wonderful. But you aren’t the Fairy Godmother, either; you also need to win. When you’re invested in a client you make decisions that mutually benefit both of you, which means you bring your smarts to the table. Your money’s on the line.
  3. Credibility + Connection. Committing to a long-term partnership lends credibility and integrity to your mission. It says you’re committed to your partner for the long haul, and that you’re not going to suddenly bail or have a change of heart. It forges a stronger and deeper connection and extends your credibility.

The takeaway: shifting to a long-term strategy for your clients is not only smart, it’s a key differentiator for success. If you’re already approaching your clients this way: brilliant. It’s such a huge advantage, particularly in the B2B space. For those still caught up in the transactional and focused only on answering the client brief: get beyond the brief. Imagine its 2030, and you still have your same clients; what type of work will have sustained your relationship? What type of work will you have done to guarantee your client’s success?

As brand stewards, we need to think bigger and deeper, not only for our sakes but to better help our clients. How can and should we invest in our client’s business to better help them succeed? How can we help them live into their values more fully?  How do we help our clients become better brand stewards themselves, in the process making our work bigger as well?


Juliana Spaven is a serial brand strategist and marketer with over 20 years of advertising and marketing experience.  In 2011 she joined the State Department as a Public Affairs diplomat and served in Sri Lanka (2012 – 2014). She was awarded the Embassy’s prestigious Meritorious Honor Award for her work in promoting Freedom of the Press to the Sri Lankan public. She also served in Frankfurt, Germany (2015-2016) where she received awards for her teamwork and professionalism as Vice Consul. She left the State Department in 2017 and currently lives in DC with her family, where she works to make brands magnetic.

What price would you pay for clarity, differentiation, connection?

I recently had a conversation with a prospective client on the cost of branding. She has a small, thriving cybersecurity business and was looking to hire a branding agency because she felt her business lacked a strong brand presence. Word of mouth had landed her in front of me, chatting about branding and marketing and her business. But when our discussion turned to pricing, she backed off.  “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I never would’ve thought branding could be so expensive. I just don’t see how it could cost that much.”

I thought of that adage, “if you think good branding is expensive, you should see what bad branding costs.”

But she’s an engineer and there’s likely a knowledge gap regarding what branding is and what it does for a company – and how much work goes into it. Just say something about our brand, get some new fonts and hire that art school intern to create a logo in InDesign. What’s the big deal?  

I think it’s helpful to define ‘branding’ so we’re in agreement about what it actually is and does for a company, and then we can get to pricing. Many people think branding is basically a new logo, a snappy tagline and an updated website. These are cosmetic changes and often get updated during rebranding. But branding is more.

  • Clarity. Branding is a declaration of what your brand says and does in the world. It summarizes the value you bring to customers and partners. It captures your company’s heritage and reason for being, and drives your business vision and strategy. Branding creates a North Star that focuses you and your team on what you’re all about.
  • Differentiation. Branding also gives you a competitive edge. It involves a thorough competitive analysis and landscape assessment that leads to finding your “white space” – e.g., your brand’s unique selling proposition. Branding helps to identify what differentiates you from the others, and what’s your true advantage over the competition.
  • Connection. Most importantly, branding is about synthesizing these facets to ensure your brand message connects with the people who matter: your employees, customers, owners and community. Your brand can say anything. What should it say? What will resonate and convince them to act?  

And I don’t have to tell you that your customers are highly intelligent and have incredibly short attention spans. And they are capricious. They tell you they want only facts – but quietly admit they’re bored by facts. They ask that you only address what’s in the RFP, nothing more; but later complain that most companies are uninspiring, that they want to do business with a brand that gives them confidence and assurance. Customers are people. Like you. And me. They want to be engaged. They want to feel something when they encounter your brand; they want to know they’ve unequivocally made the best decision.  

In a (lengthy) nutshell, that’s what branding is.

Now, if you’ve got your branding figured out: brilliant. You can stop reading and go straight to a brand design shop for that logo, website and collateral materials. More importantly, you’ve dodged an incredible amount of hard work, so consider yourself lucky and in the lead on the branding front.

But if you’re thinking you don’t quite have a strong brand presence – if you’re not quite sure what your brand should say to the world and to customers – then it’s likely you’ll need to invest in brand strategy.

Which brings us back to price. What‘s a fair price to pay someone who can clearly articulate what your company stands for, silence your competitors and connect with your stakeholders and customers in a way that shows you’re the best solution?  What price would you be willing to pay for that informed business strategy?

Or let’s ask it another way: What’s the true cost of running your business with no clarity or vision, using price as your only differentiator, and watching your employees hesitate to give out their business cards at a trade show?