Company billboards shown in New York’s Times Square at dusk

B2B Branding Stripped Down to the Essentials

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:

  1. Communication
    1. The Why, How, and What of how we conduct business
    2. How we communicate our offering to our hero (the customer) in 7 words or less
    3. The most valuable aspects about us and how they bring value
  2. Visual Identity
    1. Does our collateral match our brand promise?
    2. Do we have a cohesive style?
  3. Creative Campaigns
    1. What is the leading message we are expressing to our hero on how we can guide them differently than the competition?
    2. 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:

Communication Strategy

  • 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

  • Visual Identity Audit – Review current collateral and identify needs
  • Style Discovery Tool – An interactive survey to define your style

Creative Campaigns

  • 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

Implementation

  • 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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The Style Discovery Tool

“Are you cool, man?” 

“Like how?”

“Ooookay…”

  • Dazed & Confused, 1993

Everybody has their idea of what “cool” looks like. And because cool is subjective, defining your company’s visual identity can be tough. That’s why ATAK Interactive created the Style Discovery Tool in the fall of 2018.

The simple-to-follow application helps businesses understand their aesthetic by showcasing multiple examples of creative direction. Teams go through and pick their favorites (sometimes it’s just one example, other times multiple selections) and when they’re complete, the creative agency walks the customer through the results and helps them comprehend what their overall sense of style is.

(Full Disclosure: your author is one of the owners in ATAK and helped create the tool).

The tool is free and it gets the visual identity session of the Purposeful Marketing Method off to a fun and creative start. Coming off the Communication Strategy, teams can be a little fried after exerting so much mental energy into the first part of the day. The Style Discovery Tool is a little less challenging and certainly more entertaining.

The whole thing would take one person under 15 minutes to complete, but with teams, that time frame tends to become lengthier. Anticipating this, we recommend choosing a person on the team who can be the “tiebreaker.” Undoubtedly, productive disagreements among the team will ensue throughout the exercise, but if you set a time limit on how much each question can be debated (our recommendation is less than 3 minutes per question) and identify the “tiebreaker” who makes the final decision, you can get through the exercise a little quicker.

Before you get started, review the decisions you made during the Communication Strategy part of the method. The style you’re about to discover should align with your answers in the Style Discovery Tool.

One of the purposes of the tool is to help identify any conflicts between your written and visual identity. If you have built something completely unique but don’t wish to pursue explanatory design, then you’re not using your style to amplify your message. And that’s the real goal here – using style to support and elevate your new brand direction.

The Style Discovery Tool Question Breakdown

Here’s a quick overview of the questionnaire and how it breaks down to give you a better idea of what to expect.

Questions will revolve around:

Colors

Colors are presented both by themselves and as palettes.

Typography

Fonts for branding items such as logos and taglines are explored as well as subsidiary fonts for a website and other copy.

Logos

A selection of logos is showcased first, followed by the different intentions the logo is looking to fulfill. 

Word Association

Different imagery is reviewed. What type of photos and imagery appeal to the team?

Imagery

For the website section, a question kicks off the process asking “Do you sell online?” Depending on the answer, users will see different options to the questions. E-commerce stores have different goals than companies who do not sell directly online so the tool covers these.

 Websites

Then the tool asks the user to add some examples of sites they wish to emulate and sites whose look and feel they wish to avoid, while trying to get a little context into the “why”.

What are three websites whose style you wish to emulate?

    • What You Like About Site 1:
    • What You Like About Site 2:
    • What You Like About Site 3:

What are three websites whose style you wish to avoid?

    • What You Dislike About Site 1:
    • What You Dislike About Site 2:
    • What You Dislike About Site 3:

Moving along, the tool goes through examples of collateral to help businesses flush out what they like when it comes to the brand reinforcers.

Collateral

  • Business Cards
  • Brochures/Handouts
  • Powerpoint/Keynote Presentations

The tool finishes with some miscellaneous examples that should only be answered if they’re applicable to the company.

Miscellaneous

  • Trade Show Booths
  • Labels/Packaging
  • Apparel
  • Promotional Items

Once you’re complete, the application will email you your results to keep on file. If you’re working with a PMM implementor, they will be able to go through and explain what your results mean. If you’re doing it on your own, you may need to wait up to 24 business hours for an ATAK representative to reach out and walk you through everything.

With the results in hand, go back one last time and review the three elements you built in your Communication Strategy:

  • Why-How-What Positioning Statement
  • 7-Words-Or-Less Tagline
  • “Dual” Value Propositions

Does your sense of style match the words you’ve used to describe yourself? If you feel everything is aligned, it’s time to move forward to the Visual Identity Audit.

If something is off, identify the dissonance. What is conflicting? If you need to make a change, it will probably be more seamless to adjust your company’s style profile than your Communication Strategy. See where you can find compromise and unify your style and communication.

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The Importance of a Visual Identity Audit

In the first part of the Purposeful Marketing Method’s Brand Day, teams work on their messaging when developing a Communication Strategy. Naturally, the next step is to answer the question “does your current visual identity align with the new brand positioning in your Communication Strategy?”

Let’s take a look at the assessment below and find out!

VisualIdentity

We segment the visuals by General, Digital, Print, and leave space for. Additionally, we leave two spaces in each segment for you to place collateral that’s specific to your business. If you have more than this, by all means, do what you need to do to customize the assessment to your needs. Cross things out, add rows, whatever you need to do. Here’s a digital version that’s easy to adjust.

Once you customize your “A” column to fit your needs, the next thing to consider is the why behind each element. Remember, we need to examine the WHY of everything we’re doing. If we know why we’re doing it, it will direct what and how we do it accordingly. So once the variables on the left are decided upon, you need to explain their purpose, goal, or function. If you can’t really identify it, then that’s going to be a problem.

Before you begin grading each piece, one thing to emphasize is pragmaticism. If you want to grade your current creative on a strict scale and give your collateral a lot of 1s and 2s, you’re saying these items need to be reconfigured to fit your new identity. On the flip side, if you throw a bunch of 4s and 5s around because you like your current style, make sure the style is matching the purpose.

With that in mind, go through and grade your current look and feel as a team. If everyone submits an individual assessment, chances are, consensus will take hours for the entire team to find if they ever get there. Understand that there will probably be differences and choose one of two options to get through the disagreements:

1) put someone in charge of being the deciding voice when those differences come to fruition.

2) Go around the room and have everyone say their number and take the average, rounding up and down as needed.

We Just Finished the Assessment – Now What?

Chances are, your results can be summarized in one of three ways:

  1. We love our visual branding, it looks great! Fantastic news! If you’re on solid footing with your visual identity and it reflects the communication strategy we built before, you’re ahead of the game!
  2. There’s elements we really like, but some things need work. Fear not, you are just like 80% of businesses that take this assessment. Knowing that you have an aspect of your visual communications you think is effective and represents the image you are trying to convey gives you a great starting point.

Your next step is to identify your 1s and 2s. What are the next steps with each? What needs to be updated? What needs to simply be eliminated from your collateral altogether? For everything that needs to be reconfigured, put the tasks on your Obstacles list.

Now go through your 3s. What stays? What needs to go? Just like before, if you need to have one person make the call or take a vote to come to a decision, go for it. Put the 3s you want to re-work on the Obstacles list.

  1. Um, our creative is awful and everything needs to be overhauled. Take a deep breath, it’s going to be alright. You took the assessment to get everything aligned and defined and you’re going to leave this exercise knowing what to do and in what order it needs to be done.

If we’re starting from scratch, we need to move on to the Style Discovery Guide. Go back start with the basics: Colors, Fonts, Logos. We will build the brand identity with those elements first. From there, digital and print collateral will be added based on need, which we will figure out once we have identified all of the upcoming Obstacles list.

The Visual Identity Assessment is where the culmination of the mental breakthroughs you’ve experienced to this point turn to action. The VIA is where the decisions are made. The team should feel confident that these are the right decisions since their Communication Strategy is freshly defined. If you can say what you are, you can start showing it too.

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How to Create Real Value Propositions

“Value proposition” is typically one of the first marketing vocabulary words that the “fake it til you make it” professionals intertwine in their vocabulary. And look, I get it. It sounds cool and it’s easy to grasp the concept from the name alone. It was my first marketing vocabulary phrase and it felt damn good to say out loud. Consider me a huge fan of the value prop (and if you say it just like that, kids, you’ll look as cool as Joe Namath in 1965).

One of the rather annoying aspects of value props, however, is that every marketer interprets their structure and role differently.

Like the Positioning Statement, many take an internal approach with a formula like this one from Winer and Moore in their 1999 book, Marketing Management:

For (target customer) who (need statement), the (product/brand name) is a (product category) that (key benefit statement/compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitor alternatives)(product/brand name) (primary differentiation statement).

To everyone who made it through that, congratulations. For the rest of the crowd, I agree, it’s way too boring and you would never use this in external communication. So let’s rule out this model.

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The 7 Words Or Less Exercise: How to Create a Perfect Tagline

One of the all-time worst Google searches a company can type in is:

“Best business taglines of all time”

You’ll see all the self-congratulatory ad campaigns from years past: Just Do It, Think Different, A Diamond Lasts Forever, and my personal favorite – Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.

We celebrate these taglines because they are engrained in our minds as commercials from the past. They are forever a part of our nostalgia, reminding us of a time when communication was different when a slower pace allowed advertising to fester in our minds, eventually capturing us after enough touch points.

Things are different today. You don’t have that many attempts to grab someone’s attention and your customers are a lot more educated, so they need the facts, not the fluff.

Perhaps if you have the brand recognition of a company like Apple, you can Think Different. But for the majority of businesses, you have to Explain Concisely.

Now I don’t want to be a Negative Nate here, but I do have some bad news: your tagline is going to be a difficult puzzle to solve. You’ve got very little space to work with. You will become frustrated that what you’re putting out there is not as clever as the Madison Avenue pitches. Someone in your group will undoubtedly say the clearest choice is “not sexy enough”. You will bounce it off your friends and they will tell you that it’s a little sterile.

You are not marketing to your friends. You are not marketing to who you were 20 years ago. You are marketing to target prospects and if you want to explain to them what you do and why you do it, you’ve only got a few words to attract the buyer. So make them count.

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Office conference room meeting

How to Create the Perfect Why-How-What Positioning Statement

Editor’s note: This is the first of many posts introducing the Purposeful Marketing Method. For more on the PMM, click here.

Even if you’ve done so multiple times, give yourself 6 minutes and watch Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Golden Circle.”

All finished?

Good, let’s get started.

The Golden Circle concept comes from Sinek’s book, Start with Why. In it, Sinek repeats over and over “people don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.” He illustrates the communication pattern that businesses need to inspire their prospects and customers: start with why, then how, then what.

But how do you apply this concept to your business? Is it in your tagline? Where does this message get disseminated? We’ll get there.

But before we do, we need to have a quick chat about positioning statements.

Traditionally, positioning statements are stale, internal documents to help organizations understand what they do and where they sit in the marketplace. Branding agencies can eat up a lot of billable hours helping you with the perfect positioning statement (that will never see the light of day and only exists for internal use).

Here’s a simple rundown from Cult Branding on How to Create a Brand Positioning Statement.

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brand identity

Brand Identity Kit: What it is and How to Attain it

“People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.” – Simon Sinek

To have a compelling brand identity, you must first understand and articulate why you do what you do. What drives you to get out of bed every morning and tackle what’s ahead? When you wake up in the middle of the night with the next great idea to push your vision forward, why do you become so excited you can’t go back to sleep? Your “why” is the core around which all the elements of your brand identity should revolve and relate back to.


Defining Elements of a Brand Identity Kit


Let’s start with defining Brand Identity. And like the title of Sinek’s book, let’s “start with Why.”

Mission. Your mission statement is an exposition of why your company exists, why you do what you do. What drives you to do what you do? Is it a need to push boundaries in the industry? Is it to inspire change in the world? Is it to continuously rise above the expectations of your target market through constant innovation?

Your mission statement is your “why.” Without it, your brand identity will never be one that appeals to customers time and time again. Continue reading