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.

Inbound Through the Eyes of a New Marketer

Ed. note: Today, ATAK’s very own Content Marketing Coordinator, Meredith Burns, is sharing a few thoughts on her goal to learn more about the importance of inbound marketing. Enjoy!

Up until a few months ago, I had about as much marketing experience as your local neighborhood kid selling lemonade at the end of the street. I knew that a good-looking sign, the need for refreshment, and an affordable price of 50¢ a cup were what I needed to make the sale. Seemed easy enough to get the hang of, right? My previous education and career background had prepared me for the classical music and digital media markets, so I had dabbled in self-promotion before. I was looking for a career change that would let me express myself but also give me the opportunity to help others in the process. My nature is to seek out a challenge, so I pursued a career in a totally different area. After months of taking volunteer jobs and applying, I landed a spot at ATAK Interactive. And so, my journey began!

I had quite a bit of ground to make up on the marketing front. I was quickly introduced to HubSpot as a guide. My new managers and colleagues encouraged me to take a look into the courses on HubSpot Academy. One of my goals for my first quarter of employment was to complete and pass the Inbound certification. I had never heard of Inbound but it sounded good and I knew that it was something that our company had implemented in their strategy. I was preparing myself for a whole new way of thinking. This felt like a great way to dive head-first into the marketing pool.

My first impression of Inbound: not blown away. Turns out the main concept behind Inbound was something I felt like I had been doing since my lemonade stand days. According to HubSpot, Inbound is the “philosophy based around helping people.” It was neither groundbreaking nor a new concept to me. Sure, seems like a great way to generate leads and get people to like you. People love being helped! The Inbound that HubSpot gives us comes off as an “if you blog it, tweet it, Instagram it, they will come” approach.

With that being said, Inbound does have its strengths. There are quite a few tools that have been helpful in my professional growth. Here are some of the things that worked for me from a fresh standpoint:

What Worked  

The main aspect of this method that I liked is that it was a systemized process. Some of it is overcomplicated, but for the most part, it gave me the guidelines I needed.

  • Attract, Engage, Delight: It has a nice ring to it. It’s a logical way to market. With this process, both the business and the customer benefit in the end. I can think of MANY companies that could really benefit from a reminder of the “delight” stage. Inbound does a good job of making it understood that the process must be continuous and that appreciating the customer for their opinions and perspective will encourage them to come back for more. In my few months here, I have seen how invaluable this is. With so many personalities and perspectives, a majority of clients/customers will respond best to an empathetic employee.
  • Building a SCOPE
    • SCOPE stands for Standardize for consistency, Contextualize for relevance, Optimize for clarity, Personalize for impact, Empathize for perspective. These steps fit within attract, engage, delight and are another broken down process that I think is easy to lose sight of. As a content creator and project manager, this process is especially relevant to my daily work. If I am not making timely and relevant content, then I am not really creating anything of much value. My job is to guide clients who have little to no experience in managing their digital image. The SCOPE model is helpful for both myself and my clients to monitor their social media presence

What Didn’t Work

  • Combining Funnels and Flywheels
    • HubSpot started to lose me on this one. It was way too complicated, and the metaphor just didn’t click for me. I understood the purpose of the flywheel (as representing company growth), but when they tried to fit “funnels” (a representation of the different steps in the Buyer’s Journey) INSIDE of a flywheel, it seemed messy. I had to re-watch the video so that I could pass the test, and I still didn’t quite grasp it.
  • Inbound is PASSIVE
    • This is a biggie. The Attract stage of the Inbound methodology is supposed to be the moment when the prospective client becomes hooked. The components of this stage include: posting ads, videos, blogs, and creating unique content for social media based on a content strategy. Yes, all of these are great ways to get your information out there, but as someone who comes from a non-marketing background, I was expecting to learn a more aggressive way to make a first impression. This version of Inbound seems to rely solely on digital avenues that don’t require much conversation. This is a more hands-off approach.
    • On the flip side, being too aggressive can definitely drive people away. I can’t count the number of times that the fitness club, Equinox, has contacted me within the first week of me expressing even the slightest amount of interest in membership. It honestly drove me away and made me feel like they needed me more than I needed them. Desperate much? So in that sense, airing on the passive side does sound safe. However, just putting out a blog or posting a cool graphic and hoping that it will make an impression is not going to be the only way to get a lead. Setting up a phone call, face-to-face meeting, and showing up a to support your client at events have gone a long way for me so far in my marketing career.

Why Did I Need to Learn This?

I sat down with ATAK Interactive’s CMO, Austin LaRoche (aka, my boss’s boss’s boss), to get the 411 on how this actually is going to help me out in the long run. Here were a few key points he made:

Inbound gets misconstrued and essentially has just become the nomenclature for how we define our online lead generation. It’s about getting good leads to come to us and that’s something that’s really important for companies to be able to do to be able to grow their business.

Okay… got it. Makes sense.

“With a lot of clients that we work with and have success with, I don’t want to call it unintentional Inbound, but it’s been a mixture of a lot of different things. Instead of just ‘if you blog it, they will come,’ we have also done a lot of hard work to connect with local media outlets and face-to-face interaction. That type of exposure helps us get more Inbound leads. When you break down the fundamentals of it, like you did, you can kind of see some of the flaws. It helps you to be able to put it into perspective. As long as you recognize that the methodology is not the end-all-be-all, you’ll see that it’s being able to take the things that work from it and then making them work for our clients.”

Well when you put it like that, I can see why understanding Inbound will be helpful. One step closer to being a real marketer. YEAH! All joking aside, Austin essentially needed me to understand Inbound because it is an important method in the digital world that we live in today. While a very passive approach on its own, we can tailor our strategy to be more proactive and in turn “delight” the customer based on their individual needs. Implementing Inbound into my work has been both intuitive and unintuitive. Overall, the Inbound methodology is a helpful guideline in developing strong business and personal connections.

style-discovery-tool

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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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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