Tag Archive for: b2bmarketing

You’re busy running your business and not always thinking about branding. In this piece, we’re highlighting some brand fundamentals and how to use them, so you can become a better brand steward for your business. It can also help you communicate the value you bring customers more clearly so you can drive your business forward.

What is brand, anyway? The word “brand” gets thrown around a lot and seems to be a catchall for all manner of things. For instance, I’ve heard brand described as:

  • The logo for your company (“The Tesla brand is so sleek.”);
  • Colors & font (“I love your brand, it just pops off your business card.”);
  • Website and copy (“Your brand is so smart”);
  • Advertising (“Every time I see that brand it cracks me up,”);
  • SEO / AdWords (“We totally do branding! We do SEO and AdWords”);
  • Packaging (Wow, that skin care line has great branding”), and even 
  • Product or offering (“OMG I can’t live without that brand!”). 

Friends, I’m here to tell you: brand is all this and so much more. Logo is part of your brand, as are your colors and fonts. Website? Yep. Packaging, product? Check. What about your customer experience, SEO tactics, advertising, font, tagline, your business’s personality, and even the color of your employee’s uniforms? All part of brand. 

Brand: A Working Definition

Brand is the interconnected web of what your business means and how you deliver that meaning. It is the expectation of an experience that you create in the minds of your customers, and all these touchpoints work together to deliver that experience. Brand is everything you say about your business, but also your actions behind your words to back up your words. Jeff Bezos famously said brand is your business’ reputation, and what people think, say and feel about you / your business when you’re not in the room. 

There are many parts to brand, and all of them play an important role in what, when, how and why you communicate to your customers. We won’t cover all of them but let’s explore some key brand tenets. 

Brand Promise

A core brand fundamental is your brand promise. When you sell a product or service, your business makes a promise to your customers. You deliver on that promise with every single interaction and at every single customer touchpoint. It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do, how you do it and why. 

How to use Brand Promise: 

Your brand promise should always be in your / your team’s mind when interacting with customers. It’s your North Star, and you should always be focused on communicating your promise and making good on it. Domino’s brand promise is hot pizza within 30 minutes. Every employee – from the CEO down to the store managers, kitchen staff and drivers – knows the brand promise, and that every one of their jobs is synced to live up to that customer promise.

We’re all familiar with this brand’s promise.

Nordstrom’s brand promise is to deliver exceptional customer service. Volvo’s brand promise is to make cars that are reliable and safe. When you create a promise that’s meaningful to your customers – and then deliver on that promise consistently and robustly – you earn loyal customers who are willing to pay and return time and again for your services. 

Brand Mission

Another key brand fundamental? Your brand mission. The brand mission sees your brand promise through. It’s how what your brand stands for & promises comes to life. In the Domino’s example, their mission is delivering on their brand promise of “hot delicious food within 30 minutes…or it’s free.” If you look under the lid at Domino’s you’ll discover they’re as much about food as they are about logistics and ensuring they can deliver hot delicious food to your door within 30 minutes. Their extensive supply, manufacturing and distribution chain is built around delivering logistically on their brand promise.

How to use Brand Mission:

Once you know your brand promise, your brand mission is reverse-engineering how to bring your brand promise to life. It’s thinking through the steps you and your employees need to take to live into your brand promise and writing them down as a roadmap for how to achieve your promise every time.

Brand Values

Brand values are fundamental to bringing your brand to life; they are the principles and qualities you stand for that help you live into your brand promise and brand mission. What behavior and qualities do you stress to your employees to act on that helps live into your brand promise? And what characteristics are central to your brand promise coming to life? At Nordstroms, one of their brand values is exceptional customer service, no matter what. This value led a salesperson to once famously accept used car tires that a customer brought in to return (and Nordstroms does not sell car tires). It’s a legendary example that shows the extent to which Nordstrom empowers its staff to deliver exceptional customer service. 

How to use Brand Values:

Values are the qualities that define your brand and help you deliver on your promise. Spend some time thinking through your brand’s values and what your qualities are that enable you to deliver on your brand promise. Imagine you are hiring a new employee; what qualities must they have in order to carry out your brand promise? What guidelines do you want to instill in them? Remember your employees are your front line and represent your brand; they manifest your brand promise to life. So what must they embue?

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is another fundamental element of branding. Positioning is how you position your brand against your competition, in the process targeting your ideal, or target, customer. If you are Volvo, your brand positioning is that you make vehicles that are reliable and safe. Your ideal customer is someone who values reliable and safe cars. You’ll position your brand far away from sleek sports cars (BMW, Porsche), muscle cars (Ford Mustang), trucks (F150), luxury sedans (Mercedes, Lexus), economy cars (Kia, Hyundai), family minivans and SUVs, and other vehicles. 

A Volvo, with its seat-belt looking logo, reinforcing its brand promise of safety and reliability.

How to use Brand Positioning:

Brand positioning is the foundation of your brand because it not only distinguishes you from your competitors, it also appeals to a target market that deeply values the benefit you bring (that others do not). You can read at length about UVP and brand positioning here. 

Target Market

Your target market is a critical brand fundamental; it’s about determining that market segment that derives extreme value from your offering. In the case of Volvo, their target market is anyone concerned about safety and reliability; for instance, parents with small children; those who live in climates with poor driving conditions; and other demographic segments who value safety and reliability over other car qualities like mileage, handling, acceleration, and so on. 

How to use your Target Market:

You’ll want to consider your customers and zero in on those who deeply love your offering. You’ll want to probe: Why do they love our brand? What is it about our service or offering that makes them choose us? In Domino’s case, it’s the people who value convenience, not the artisanal pizza lovers who will travel great distances and wait for hours to get amazing pizza. For Nordstroms, the target customer is the person who loves getting what they want and is willing to pay extra for it. Think through your offering and who disproportionately values you, and why. For more on discovering your target, this article can help. 

Functional & Emotional Benefits

Both of these types of benefits are fundamental in branding but they serve different roles. A functional benefit articulates the problem your offering solves and the benefit your customer gets from using it. For Domino’s, it’s hot food within 30 minutes. Nordstrom? Their functional benefit is satisfying the customer’s needs and wants. For Tide with Bleach, it’s getting your laundry clean and your whites whiter.

The emotional benefit is an extension of your functional benefit: what customers get as a result of that benefit. For Domino’s, the emotional benefit is being able to spend your time doing what you love (not focused on food prep).  Nordstroms’ emotional benefit is feeling surprised & delighted. Tide’s emotional benefit of clean clothes and whiter whites means you look your best. Functional benefits reinforce emotional benefits, and emotional benefits are the real reason people choose your product. Yes, people want their laundry clean, but lots of detergents promise that. People choose Tide because Tide makes them look their best.  

Domino’s emotional benefit: never miss a moment of the game.

How to use these benefits:

Think about the immediate, tangible benefit your brand provides to your customers. What problem do you fix? Then think about the bigger emotional territory that you play in, as a result of fixing that problem. What emotion does through your customer feel when they’ve interacted with your brand? Knowing what functional and emotional benefits your brand provides gives you a smart platform to talk about why you are different and why offering matters to your target customer. 

What are Reasons to Believe? 

For your promise to really take root in your customer’s mind, it has to be credible. Give customers reasons to believe in your brand promise. These reasons should be specific attributes and features that allow your business to deliver on your promise. For example, LensCrafter’s brand promise is that it helps people see better. Their reasons to believe include: 

  • Optometrists on site to administer eye exams & update your prescription;
  • Lens labs so they can cut and fit your glasses within an hour;
  • Convenient store hours, including late evenings and weekends;
  • Knowledgeable staff to assist in finding the ideal lenses for your needs.

These reasons to believe instantly support LensCrafters’ brand promise and makes it resonate in customers’ minds. 

A LensCrafters advertisement

How to use Reasons to Believe:

Spend a moment to think through the attributes that helps support your business’s brand promise. What do you deliver that supports your brand promise? You’ll want to talk to these points frequently as support for your brand promise, and help your customers fully understand and integrate the value you bring.

Brand Archetypes 

Archetypes are another fundamental part of branding that brings your brand its distinctiveness. A brand archetype is a persona that embodies your brand, kind of like if it were a person come to life. Nike, for example, is the Hero archetype who asks you to give it your all, never give up, and just do it. Coca-Cola is the Innocent, encouraging you to leave your troubles behind, relax for a minute, take a break from your troubles and just… open happiness. And Harley Davidson is the Rebel, helping you fulfill your dreams of personal freedom while bucking the status quo and being utterly, unapologetically in-your-face independent. 

While nothing is typical with Harley, here we have a typical Harley ad.

How to use Archetypes:

Archetypes can come to define your brand (as in the case of Harley Davidson and Nike). Consider your brand: does it have a strong personality? Is it humorous and self-deprecating (Geico, the Joker), or is it more authoritative and in control (AmericanExpress, the Ruler)? How about: approachable, friendly and good-natured (Bud Light; the Guy-Next-Door)? Archetypes can enhance your brand’s relatability and likeability factors, particularly with regards to tone and how you communicate your value proposition to your customers. For more on archetypes, you can read this article.

Wow, that’s a lot! What do I do with all this? 

All these various parts build together to form your brand. They help your stakeholders better understand what your company is all about, the value you bring, and how you are different from the rest. If you really want to develop your brand more fully, consider how you can bring these elements to life for your business. And if you have any questions and/or want to turn this over to someone who knows this stuff inside & out: let’s connect. We’re here for you and happy to help.

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?