This week, I interviewed our super cool strategy director – Rebecca Heft – to learn her secrets for turning a business into a brand. Rebecca has spent more than a decade creating successful marketing for Fortune 500 companies. She earned her MBA with a focus in marketing from the University of Arizona and has over 11 years of marketing experience in consumer products, B2B services, and non-profits.
Lad: What does every business owner need to know before advancing his business from idea to actual brand?
Rebecca: Creating a brand is not a one-time activity. Creating a true brand (and not just a logo) requires constant, thoughtful work. You will have to continuously invest time, effort, and probably money. But all of this effort really pays off because the consistency and relevancy will help keep your brand clear and top-of-mind in the marketplace.
Lad: With all of the business tools available these days, what is your “go to” tool?
Rebecca: There is no one tool. Anyone who tells you they have a simple branding tool or quick and easy branding solution is a shyster. Run the other way!
Lad: What are the three most common branding mistakes companies make?
1) For new companies, they’re often in such a hurry to get their name out there that they rush through the naming and logo creation process. Then, a couple years later when they’re making money and have time to reevaluate, they find their brand isn’t really working for them. This leaves them with two not-so-desirable choices:
- Rename and redesign – losing any existing brand equity.
- Repurpose what they originally created; knowing they should have done it right in the first place.
2) New companies often develop their brand using their CEO’s personality instead of what defines them in the marketplace.
- True branding is a blend of art and science. Companies should start with the science of marketplace analysis, whitespace charting, competitive analysis, and growth goal setting. That base of knowledge, along with their key market differentiators, is where the art begins. When companies approach branding this way, the naming, design, and personality come from a solid understanding of what the brand needs to convey.
3) Companies that have been around a while often decide to revitalize a “stale” brand by just redesigning their logo or website.
- There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep your brand fresh and relevant. Times change and your brand can evolve without losing its identity. But slapping a new coat of paint on a rust bucket ’78 Impala isn’t going to make it run any better. The same goes for brands. A new look or logo isn’t the single solution to revitalizing your company or giving it a competitive kick start.
Lad: How can marketing professionals avoid these mistakes?
Rebecca: Branding should always be approached first from the science perspective. If you fundamentally understand your company’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as your marketplace, you can create or refresh your brand in a way that’s relevant and beneficial. A marketing professional worth his or her salt will take the time to do true business research and develop a strategy as part of developing the brand. Time invested in strategy will pay back in spades.
Lad: What are some of the brands you admire and why?
- IKEA. Weirdly Swedish, but in a good way. From the stacked VW bugs to the herd of cats to the blogger living in a store set for a month, they always keep it memorable. And they do it without going into the awful Mentos territory.
- Lady Gaga. No one masters emerging media and calls it her bitch like this lady. For someone so young, she’s extremely savvy. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
- Lacoste. For an old preppy brand, they’ve managed to keep things fun and relevant for a long time. They’ve done a great job of keeping their product line lighthearted and simple, even as they expand and diversify into accessories.
Lad: What would a perfect client branding scenario look like?
Rebecca: A group of company leaders, from different areas, committed to doing the right thing for the company and finding the time to get it done. To make a great brand you need input from all corners of the company. If you have a variety of perspectives and honest commitment, the client will come away from the branding process feeling really good about their renewed focus and their plan for continuing to develop a growing brand.
Lad: What are some of the most frustrating things you have to deal with in the branding process?
Rebecca: It’s really frustrating when a client expects the agency to know their specific marketplace as well as they do. It’s just not possible. While we do lots of research and provide a solid outside perspective, we cannot possibly know the details as well as they do because they live it every day. We’re there to guide the process and coach them through a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses within the marketplace. They need to be ready to get in there and do the difficult work with us. It’s this process that helps unearth the great “ah-ha” moments.
Lad: Let’s say a CEO comes to you with a decent amount of capital and wants to rebrand, but you find that he/she is unwilling to budge on a majority of the issues that will enhance the brand. How do you handle this?
Rebecca: Sometimes it’s difficult to make the client happy and still do what you know is best. We have had clients in the past who, in the beginning, say they’re coming to us for our expertise. But during the process they insist that they know better than we do. I like to simply point out examples of similar approaches in the marketplace and explain how they succeeded or failed. I keep a library of statistics, examples, and stories at the ready to help convince our clients to try new approaches rather than arguing about who’s right. Digital work is great that way – if it comes down to it, you can do A/B testing and quickly select the one that performs better. You can’t argue with the market.
Lad: Finally, in 30 words or less describe what proper branding can do for a business.
Rebecca: A proper brand will help you make your company, product, or service memorable so when potential customers are faced with a choice between you or your competition, they’ll choose you.