The work of brand-building is never done, but don't let that discourage you! Building a brand that stands out in the increasingly noisy world we live in is the only way your organization can achieve long-term growth.
That's why I invited brand strategist, professor, and author Nick Westergaard, founder of Brand Driven Digital and the MarketingProfs Branding Consulting Practice lead, to join me on the Marketing Smarts podcast. Nick's an expert in building standout brands, and he is the author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small.
Nick is also the instructor for the MarketingProfs Master Class, How to Build a Standout Brand, available now on-demand.
Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
If you prefer reading to listening, the full transcript of this episode is below (and available as a PDF, here).
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Kerry O'Shea Gorgone: Welcome to Marketing Smarts, an interview series brought to you by MarketingProfs.
This episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast was recorded live in our MarketingProfs PRO Facebook group. If you're a MarketingProfs PRO member and you haven't joined us on Facebook yet, come on over to Mprofs.com/progroup for the PRO Show with Ann Handley, livestreams where we record future MarketingProfs podcast episodes like this one, and a thriving community of the smartest marketers around.
On this episode of Marketing Smarts, we'll talk with Nick Westergaard. He's a strategist, speaker, author, and educator, chief strategist at Brand Driven Digital. He has spent his entire career building standout brands at organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. He's the author of the books Brand Now and Get Scrappy, and the instructor for our forthcoming master class How to Build a Standout Brand, which kicks off live July 13th. You can get all the info at MarketingProfs.com, so join us there.
One thing I wanted to ask you about, at the very beginning of the master class you said something about how at conferences people will say, "We've just totally rebranded. We have a whole new logo," and you're very polite about it and sort of skitter off to find the brownies and stuff. What would you say if somebody said, "Hey, we're set on branding, we have a brand new shiny logo now?"
Nick Westergaard: That interaction is one that frequently happens. I feel bad.
Kerry: If you couldn't skitter away, though.
Nick: Right. Usually, it's very much driven by the circumstance when you're standing there awkwardly in public with someone and this comes up, versus what the real answer is, which is that your brand is so much more than that. But like so many things, the logo is often easy to see, so a lot of people have just kind of fused the definitions of those things together. Because the logo is so easy to see and accessible, that becomes your brand, when in fact it is not.
Take that a step further, which is a very teachery thing for me to do, you could also have something that is a really nice-looking logo and be a totally ineffective brand. I suppose the converse of that would be less likely, because your brand's logo should be a touchpoint that brings to life everything else that makes up your brand. That's what I write about, speak about, teach about in the upcoming MarketingProfs master class in the form of the seven brand-building dynamics.
Kerry: Having your logo reflect all of those things is a pretty tall order. I've literally seen small and medium-sized businesses say, "I just went to Fiverr and asked me somebody to make me a logo, and I kind of liked this one." What should they be doing? The logo seems like almost one of the last things you need to think about.
Nick: Yes. I like framing it as a Fiverr question, because it's certainly a service that is useful that you can do all kinds of things with, especially to momentarily switch books, it wouldn't be very "scrappy" of me to totally poo-poo Fiverr. That said, what are you handing the masses eager to help you at Fiverr? What kind of baton are they getting in the relay?
If you say, "I just want a logo that looks like Ford's," then that's not really saying anything unique about you and your brand. Again, this might be too much for Fiverr, but if you put together a cohesive brand brief that talks about who you are as a brand, what you stand for, then maybe that might work out.
Kerry: Some people I think are intimidated at the idea that they need a brand strategy, because to them that sounds like a big, hefty tome that they have to write and they don't think they have the time or the people and all this other stuff. But the way you describe it, it's actually meant to be something more scrappy.
Nick: Right. The kind of peanut butter and jelly, when we talk about branding, we often talk about brand building. I especially like that clarification because I think sometimes branding, especially to those of us in the Midwest, has a cattle branding connotation to it. Cow jokes aside…
Kerry: That was an awful picture, by the way.
Nick: I know. The disservice that does is that (and then I'll stop with this imagery) it's a little passive in nature. You heat up the branding iron and then I brand you and it's done. You were passive in that, it happened, over and done with.
The branding that we're talking about for organizations is not that easy. That's why instead of branding, I like to think of brand building. Whenever you build anything, you need a blueprint that tells you what's important, what holds this wall up. That's what we try to do with the seven dynamics.
Kerry: Why seven? Is it because there just are seven, or is it because you thought seven sounds good, it will fit on a piece of paper?
Nick: I was going to say I feel like the other thing that I teach is communication and public speaking, and there are certain numbers that are just easier to hold in your head, and seven is one of them. I think seven is kind of a unique number; it's not all the way to 10, it's a little more than three. Three is a great number, that's why there's all sorts of science backing up the theories of three.
These seven really kind of run the gamut to things that define who you are, what your brand's meaning is, what your brand's story is, all the way out to the community that helps you to build this brand and all of the touchpoints in your brand experience that make this up.
Kerry: Once somebody has filled out their scrappy brand blueprint with all seven things, are they done?
Nick: No. That's the other challenge in all of this. There's really no such thing as checklist branding. Brand building is a verb, it's something that is actively happening. That's where a lot of us think, "We did that," and sometimes call it a branding exercise. That seems especially casual and almost a little dismissive, "We've done this little branding exercise. Now it's back to making the doughnuts."
No. To really not mince words at all, you're really never done brand building. Spoiler alert: I kind of wrap up the master class by noting that your brands are aspirational, that it's like a flag that you plant in the ground and you try to get as close to that ideal day in and day out. Some days you don't make it, some days you do. It is really a lens that you can look through beyond what you're saying about your business to how you're comporting yourself as a business as well.
Kerry: What does this look like for B-to-B brands that sometimes people that work there will tell you, "This is not a sexy brand. We're not touchy-feely," they don't feel as though they have the same opportunities to make cool touchpoints as B-to-C businesses and more traditional types like that?
Nick: Right. This is what I sometimes put under the heading of woe-is-me-B-to-B. Whether it's the widget we make isn't fun, we're in a boring industry, we have a really long sales cycle, there are all of these things that are very real concerns, so I don't want to dismiss them. I was teachery earlier, I'm going to be consultanty now. What if we reframe those as opportunities, and looked at the glass not as half empty but as half full?
All of those things that we could look at as a burden can actually be useful in B-to-B brand building. For example, we've talked a lot about what your brand means. What we're talking about there is what your brand means in the hearts and minds of those that you serve. When it comes to knowing your people, think about these "sexy" B-to-C companies selling toothpaste or calculators or Lord of the Rings letter openers. Maybe that's not a great example.
Who buys a calculator? All sorts of different people. Kids need calculators. There are all sorts of people that could be a calculator customer. If I'm a purchasing agent at a small to medium-sized widget manufacturer, all of a sudden there's a lot of detail that you know about both me, the business, the industry that I'm in. There are a lot more knowns that you have that you can work with, that you can get really specific with as well.
A lot of times we look at those "sexy" businesses and I think sometimes we say that because we could maybe theoretically in the letter opener business just do anything that we want. While that might certainly be fun or "sexy," it's not based on your people. I think all of that information that we know, I would not say woe-is-me as a B-to-B marketer and brand builder.
Kerry: When we're thinking about brand experience, you mentioned the different touchpoints and stuff like that, I've seen a lot of really interesting things done with content. Not necessarily on the B-to-B side, but it's not because they can't. It's just because more often than not brands feel uncomfortable taking chances or taking risks with their content.
How can they make their content more reflective of them as a brand, distinct from everybody else in the same space? A whitepaper can look like a whitepaper can look like a whitepaper.
Nick: Right. Again, this is consultanty. I would say that it can't afford to look like all of the other whitepapers. I think, to flip something the other way, that we think of as so positive, "Yay, it's so easy to look up all of the whitepapers from all of the other widget manufacturers out there, I can find what everyone else that's in garage door spring manufacturing is doing." Granted, that's useful intel, but if we stop short at just making sure our whitepapers look like their whitepapers, we're not really accomplishing all that we can and all that we should.
There's scores of data by MarketingProfs, The Content Marketing Institute, and others that show how much content we're all producing. You, your competitors, everyone has turned the content marketing engines up to 11. There's tons of content. Neat. Great. However, we're not growing that many new consumers to look at all of this. If everyone has a podcast, has a video series, has a whitepaper, and they're all identical, and they all say the same things, sound the same way, it's all noise.
One thing that we also know is that there is way too much noise out there. It might be comforting to create a whitepaper that looks like everyone else's whitepaper, but I think that is false comfort that we can't cling to.
Kerry: That's deep. We just got deep. Stop clinging to your false comfort.
Another thing you talk about in the course is looking at your community and treating your (I don't know what you would call them) most devoted customers differently than you treat all the rest. First of all, I think a lot of brands fall down at the purchase point, period. It's like sale is done, on to conquering the next prospect, and they just forget all about experience from there on.
That's problem number one, and you can tell me what you think people need to do with that. The other is I don't see a lot of brands making that distinction, especially in the B-to-B space, between their most devoted super users and everybody else. What should they be doing differently?
Nick: I think both pieces that you mentioned there are important, and that's why we spend time on each one of them as a dynamic. When you talk about your people, we're talking about community, and experience is everything. You do need to think about all of the different levels. I realize in this virtual setting with circles on the wall behind me, that's a little bit on-brand because I use concentric circles to detail both of these.
In looking at your community, you have to start with the people closest to your brand. A lot of times we skip outside, I used to say the four walls, but I guess now that so many of us are virtual and all over the place, but we usually miss our own people. Our people can be great brand ambassadors, but a lot of times we skip right past them right out to customers, and sometimes even right past some of our best customers into ideal customers that aren't even customers yet. You have to know all of those different people and create content and create experiences for them along that journey, and along all of the stages of that journey as well.
The same comes with experience. A lot of times, like you said, we have some very specific stops that are easy to think of, like the products, the packaging, what it looks like, what we're sending out. Then, of course, the sales and marketing, what we are handing people, what they're looking at. We're not thinking about all of the forms, all of the different stops along the way.
One of my favorite stories that I tell here that's another B-to-B marketer is a mutual friend of ours, Justine Jordan, when she was at Litmus, an email marketing company. She was VP of brand experience. She talked about how every few months, so she wouldn't lose track of all of those different points along the journey, she would go in because, as I just said a few moments ago, something that we hand to people, and that was a very old school way of marketing.
If you think about our online experience and how she kept track of that, she would go in every month or so, clear out all of her history, all of the cookies in the browser, and start anew on the website and go through there, fill out a lead form, see what kind of emails are coming back. The magic in the experience happens in all of these weird rote form touchpoints that we think are meaningless and really can be so much.
This is a B-to-C example, but remember we're not doing the woe-is-me thing. I can say I'm wearing a pair of Allbirds right now.
Kerry: So fashionable.
Nick: They're comfy. To that point, because comfy is what their brand is all about, and they have recycled materials, wool that is part of that, all wrapped up in their meaning. I'm talking about specifically a stop in their brand experience that most of us have in our brand experiences that most of us get daily through some brand that we're interacting with, and that's some sort of a confirmation that says, "Thank you for ordering this. Your confirmation number is XYZ1011. Look for it here," the address, opt-out, standard stuff.
Someone wrote that, or, if they didn't write it, they plugged information in that made it, and then they didn't think of it again. But that's one of those points that someone like Justine wouldn't miss.
What Allbirds does with that instead is they send out a tastefully designed email that has a GIF of a sheep—again, wool—that is packing up a box of shoes, putting them under their arm, and blasting off in a jetpack. It's a quick little GIF that displays a fun message and it says, "Comfort is on the way," and I'm seeing a cute animated sheep wrap something up and take off.
You could say that's a "sexy" business, that's shoes, that's sustainable materials. I don't think what shoes are made of is a particular "sexy" thing, but they've wrapped it in comfort. Finding those touchpoints like that will make your experience even more cohesive.
Kerry: How much of your brand experience are you looking at then top to bottom? Say you're in B-to-B, like a lot of the folks are, and you have software as a service solution or something like that, so you sell to one sort of buying committee. But then below that are all of the people actually using the stuff day in and day out, and they either love it or they hate it, and those sentiments are going to affect the renewal rate. How do you make sure that the brand experience from top to bottom to the users is a good one?
Oh, a puppy.
Nick: My office dog is letting us know that you've made a very valid point. George, do you want to answer? No?
Kerry: Let's see the puppy.
Nick: George? This is sad. Normally, he would just come over here.
Kerry: No, because now you want him to.
Nick: My bad segue was going to be that George was saying that you asked a really good question. Software as a service is a great example. That's where I'd point to one of my favorites, and that is Salesforce, who does such a good job of communicating with all of the people. Yes, purchasing happens somewhere, and I'm sure they're very good at purchasing, but they never lose sight of those end users that are spending all day with Salesforce that sometimes it's in their job title that they are a Salesforce admin.
Down to the fact that they have a podcast that is called The Salesforce Admins Podcast. I can't say it any more directly or bluntly than that, they've named their content after the end user's job. That's where those concentric circles come into play. Especially with a product like that, you of course have to appeal to those individuals, but ultimately you have to make sure that the end users are the people that you're building that long-lasting bond with.
The other great example on the Salesforce front, and the other layer to think about, easier to think about in non-pandemic times, is that Salesforce does such a great job with their digital content, like their podcast, like everything you see online, but also with Dreamforce. It seems like a music festival level event.
Kerry: Like a rock concert for nerds.
Nick: Yes. I know that any of my Salesforce friends would cringe if I say this, but that's why I always think it actually strengthens how powerful this event is. I'm sure to just do a quick gut check and remind, this is a user conference for software. It's an event—and it is—connecting those dots for all of those different parties, both digitally and in person.
This kind of comes full circle back to what you were talking about earlier, "When do you get to be done?" When you look at a brand of the size and scope of Salesforce with the various levels of customers and the various levels of brand experience, you can see that it's not trite to say that you're really never done.
Kerry: Daunting, but very exciting.
Nick: I know. I wish I had a cute dog to offset this.
Kerry: The master class, How to Build a Standout Brand is excellent, three-plus hours of lessons with Nick Westergaard. Nick, you're going to be joining us for the kickoff on July 13th and also for several watch parties, right, to answer everyone's questions?
Nick: I will be there. Yes, except if your question is, "We just rebranded, we have a new logo." I'm kidding. I will give you the good explanation that I gave right here. I am used to it, I get it a lot.
Kerry: Thanks for joining us. This was so much fun. Where can people learn more about you in the meantime?
Nick: You can find all things Nick Westergaard related at NickWestergaard.com.
Kerry: Thank you for listening here to the very end. We wouldn't have a show without you. Thanks for being part of it. Talk with you again soon.
Published on June 17, 2021
Nick Westergaard, strategist, speaker, author, and educator. As Chief Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, he's spent his career building standout brands at organizations of all sizes—from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies to President Obama’s Jobs Council. Nick is the author of the books Brand Now and Get Scrappy, host of the popular On Brand podcast, a TEDx speaker coach, and a lecturer at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business. Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickwestergaard.
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