Tag Archive for: marketing

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.


You’ve decided to do some marketing to highlight how your offering can help customers achieve their goals. And you’ve decided –  rather than using charts, facts or statistics – that you want to show people the impact you can bring with case studies. 

So how do you make your case studies a great read?


First, the case for case studies.

Case studies are far and away the most compelling and effective communication tool to convert prospects into buyers. Over 77% of B2B buyers cited testimonials and case studies as the most influential type of content in their decision making. B2C businesses show similar results as well. And they’re not just helpful for businesses; university students learn subjects faster and retain ideas longer when material is presented in a case study form.  

Why? Because case studies are essentially stories, and our brains are wired for story. 

Case studies tell a success story, walking the reader through a real-life scenario they can relate to. Readers get to meet their peer (the customer you’re highlighting), and see the challenges that customer is facing (challenges that should be strikingly similar to the challenges your readers are facing). They get to see how your offering helps solve the problem and the benefit your offering brings. They can grasp the impact your offering has had on the customer –  saved them money, improved their productivity, reduced downtime, accelerated production…whatever results you have to share. 

So how do I write spellbinding case studies?

Just like a story, good case studies have a beginning, a middle, and an end, as well as a protagonist – your customer – overcoming a problem and achieving their objective, just like the main character of a story. 

With a good case study, by the end of the story the reader should be able to visualize themselves as the hero of that story. They should be able to relate to the problems of your featured customer, and see themselves achieving their own goals by using your product or service.

The most compelling approach involves the hero narrative structure, constructed by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell. The hero narrative almost always follows the following formula:

  1. The hero is going along great, until s/he suffers a loss / experiences a serious problem.
  2. S/he attempts to resolve issues via the usual means, but fails time and again.
  3. The hero goes on a journey of sorts, and along the way, discovers an ally or new approach.
  4. With guidance from the ally, the hero overcomes tremendous odds to resolve the problem.
  5. The hero returns triumphant, having learned something powerful; life is better than before.

Why this model works: 

The hero narrative is a classic way to take your reader through a formula that lays out how your product is the solution, in a way that your brain likes. The order of events and the process by which the information is revealed not only makes sense to us, our brains anticipate and desire and expect stories to unfold in this order.

This formula can work for technology companies offering digital transformation solutions and it can work for Consumer Packaged Goods companies selling laundry detergent. And, this is the formula for every major action / thriller Hollywood movie. From Diehard to Mission Impossible to Aquaman, the whole Marvel Superheroes series and Jason Bourne, they all follow this formula for a reason: it works.

How to make your case studies more compelling:

  • Make sure the reader can see themselves as the protagonist;
  • Numbers / statistics to cite impact;
  • Customer testimonials or quotes;
  • Clear before and after transformation impact.

Watch outs:

  1. While it’s tempting to think of your case study as basically a company press release, it’s not. A case study is also not an advertisement. Good case studies are about your customer’s journey, not your company. Most case studies out there are instantly forgettable crap because marketers harp on about how great their company is and they forget to actually follow the formula.

  2. When it comes to effective case studies, show, don’t tell. Your goal is to place the reader as the protagonist (The Hero) and narrate what transpired, so don’t slide into claims. Show how your product impacted the customer problem. Doing this boosts the credibility of your case study: it’s not about you, you’re removed from the story and simply describing what happened and the impact your offering had.

  3. In your case studies, your customer is the protagonist. Which means your customer is The Hero. So you cannot be. You are the guide who helps them along on their journey to succeed. But don’t be bummed; being the guide is a really powerful role. You’re Dumbledore in Harry Potter. Morpheus in The Matrix. Jack Dawson in Titanic. Nigel in Devil Wears Prada. The Terminator in T2. You get my drift: you’re the enabler, the one who incites transformation and helps the protagonist succeed (which is what you want your business to be seen as, as well). 

Over to you: how compelling are your case studies? We hope this post gives you some ideas for how to make them work harder for you. We also write case studies for our clients, so if that’s of interest, let’s connect and set up a time to chat. 

I was speaking to a business leader recently about A/B testing for branding. (A/B testing is the process of coming up with two different communications assets to test with -mostly online – consumers, to see which performs better.)

“It would be so great,” he mused. “We could figure out what elements really resonate with our target audience and then build our brand according to what our customers want. What do you think?”

There’s a lot to love with A/B testing, particularly for marketing. It’s incredibly results-oriented, very accurate, promotes flexibility and rewards performance. In general, I like and advocate strongly for A/B testing when it comes to advertising, marketing content and the like. But.

You can’t A/B test brand. 

Brand is about who your organization is and what you stand for. The exercise of branding addresses fundamental business questions, such as:

What are your values? 
What’s your reason for being?
What do you promise every customer with every interaction?
What do you do extremely well that few can emulate?

Brand comes from within, not from your customer’s opinions.

Brand is your stake in the ground, what you promise your customers day-in and day-out, never vacillating or wavering in belief. It’s your North Star, around which product, development and marketing revolve. Brand is your company’s reputation, and you don’t A/B test your reputation and see what resonates better with your current customers… and then change it up in a few month’s time for someone new.

You don’t waiver on your principles, values, beliefs and business model. 

Your business’ reputation is made up by a series of first impressions, and you only get one shot to make a first impression -> use it wisely.  Develop it thoughtfully and strategically.

Brand is Your North Star

As an example, I was listening to a podcast recently with the CMO of Harley Davidson. Harley has been around for 116 years, and they have never wavered from their true brand purpose: to help people fulfill their dreams of personal freedom. They live into that brand purpose and promise in every brand touchpoint, in every piece of advertising, with every bike that comes off the assembly line. Everything they do goes through that filter: does this help fulfill dreams of personal freedom? And in staying true to that North Star, they have made (and continue to make) Harley into one of the most iconic brands in the world.

So when it comes to branding, it’s very much what your company stands for and what you deliver on. It can expand over time, but at its core it always has the same values and principles. Those can’t be agile; they can’t shift to accommodate certain customers and then shift to accommodate others. If you do this, you run the risk of standing for everything or anything – which means you stand for nothing. 

Now, A/B testing for marketing? Absolutely. A new website, or online ad campaign, content, posts: go, go, go. But something as foundational as your brand should never be in the hands of an external source to determine. If you’ve got questions about this topic or branding in general, let’s connect and set up a time to chat.

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.

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.

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?

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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.