B2B Branding Stripped Down to the Essentials
By Austin LaRoche, ATAK Interactive CEO
True story. Many moons ago, I was working at a startup. A new CMO had been hired and he wasn’t really sure what to do with me yet. I wasn’t the model employee, championing the “let’s all get out of the office and each lunch for an hour and a half” cause, and generally uninterested in the mission of the company and false bravado of the CEO. The CMO, we’ll call him Brad, thought that if I built the brand for the company a little bit deeper, maybe I would take ownership over what the company was doing.
He sent me on a mission to execute a series of “branding” exercises he must have found on TheCheesiestAndMostPointlessBrandingExercises.com that had me identifying things like “if this brand were a car, what kind of car would it be? If it were a dog…” You get the point. It’s the same branding BS agencies use to try and bring upon the illusion of deep thought, when really it’s just billable hours and wasted time.
So what is well worth your time when figuring out your brand? Good question. Depending on your industry, it can vary. If you’re in fashion or food, you need to spend the extra cash on the luxurious design, sexy messaging, and build an identity that your target audience will resonate with. But for most companies, you really need to make decisions in the following areas:
- The Why, How, and What of how we conduct business
- How we communicate our offering to our hero (the customer) in 7 words or less
- The most valuable aspects about us and how they bring value
- Visual Identity
- Does our collateral match our brand promise?
- Do we have a cohesive style?
- Creative Campaigns
- What is the leading message we are expressing to our hero on how we can guide them differently than the competition?
- How do we walk our hero through what his or her success journey would look like with us?
As you’ll see, we have a series of exercises that help companies make the decisions laid out above. They are all a part of what we call “Brand Day,” the day where companies focus on how to build brand messaging and get on the path towards visual cohesiveness. The day also develops two sets of creative campaigns at different parts of the Customer Lifecyle.
We pack a lot into Brand Day, because we believe most branding hurdles can be solved in a day. But making the decisions for how the brand is going to communicate both through visuals and messages is the easy part. Implementing the newfound focus and getting every employee to understand why you do what you do and the three factors that make you unique, this is a greater challenge. That’s why on Brand Day we not only help companies decide on the factors above, but we also create a path to make integrating the new discoveries into the company vernacular a seamless process.
What Goes on During Brand Day
When I work with a company on their brand, one of the first things I say to them is “this is the easy part.” Essentially, we are brainstorming and building our version of Camelot for 8 hours. It’s easy to get swept away in ideas, creative collaboration, and possibilities. That’s why it’s always important to keep our work as pragmatic as possible.
The goal of Brand Day is to walk away with solidified brand messaging, a unified visual direction, and the foundation for our creative campaigns. We have simplified the process into four components that we knock out in just one day:
- Why-How-What Positioning Statement – The paragraph that sells our business
- 7 Words-or-Less Tagline – How we communicate our business in 7 words or less
- Value Propositions – The most valuable aspects about us and how they bring value
- Visual Identity Audit – Review current collateral and identify needs
- Style Discovery Tool – An interactive survey to define your style
- Leadership Message – How will we build thought leadership to attract new prospects
- The Vision Pitch– How do we visualize the hero’s journey for our customers so they can see what success looks like
- Current Collateral – How will we incorporate this messaging into current collateral
- Obstacle List – How we begin removing the barriers we’ve identified
I typically find that Brand Day is met with a lot of enthusiasm because it’s solidifying a lot of the messaging a company has been using informally in an elevator pitch, a tagline, and sections for the home page of a website to showcase the company’s benefits.
When it comes to the visual part of Brand Day, things can be a little more contentious. Groups of 3 to 5 people typically have different opinions and aesthetics, so we dig deep to get leadership teams on the same page and find common ground. This is why we begin with the communication. With your Communication Strategy, you are creating a promise for what your brand will be. The visuals serve as your opportunity to fulfill that promise.
Typically, if there’s dissention within a group, we bring it back to the messages we built in the Communication Strategy. “We said that our value proposition was that we accrued 11 certifications that illustrate our quality. When we look at the current website, is this commitment to quality expressed in the design? If not, what changes do we need to make?” This is just a small example of how we get everything aligned. By starting with the messaging, we understand the company’s intent and we make them challenge their current designs to determine if they are backing up that intent.
We end with two creative campaigns that typically jumpstart companies to take action. Sure, it’s nice to hone in on your elevator pitch, have a new tagline to put on your website, and identify “what makes us different?!?!” But when companies create a leadership message to attract prospects and formalize a vision pitch to systemize how they close clients, they begin to gain traction on building out marketing materials they can actually utilize in their marketing-to-sales process.
Lastly, we go over our next Implementation Steps. Often times, we see a common obstacle in the design of marketing collateral. So we build a plan, create deadlines, make sure we understand budget + priorities, and begin tackling any and all design issues we see. Next, we begin building out plans for how we illustrate and disseminate our creative campaigns. At the end of the day, we don’t just have ideas, we have a clear path towards how we will adopt and apply those ideas.
My biggest goal leaving Brand Day is for companies to feel solidified and unified with “who we are.” If we can strip down all of the ideas and concentrate the best of them into these areas, we can build a clear and focused brand in just one day. Sure, other elements may be needed down the road, especially on the design side, but we’ve overcome our biggest hurdles: defining why people should care about us and understanding how we implement this new identity into a system that will help us market and grow the business.
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