John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.
John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Lindsay Pedersen. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach, and also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Welcome; thanks for joining me.
Lindsay Pedersen: Thanks for having me, John; it’s good to be here with you today.
John Jantsch: As I know you know, a lot of people think brand, especially consumer goods people, which you have a background in, think brand and they think logo, colors, packaging. But I really think so much about the way people buy has changed today that I think you could make a case for saying, “A brand is everything including a whole lot of stuff that’s out of our control.” So how do we deal with that?
Lindsay Pedersen: Oh my gosh, it’s so true. The word “brand” takes people to such different places. Any conversation about brand requires a definition of terms. What I mean when I say “brand” is what is the meaning you stand for in the mind of your audience? What is the thing that you represent to your target customer?
You used the word “everything.” It is the sum total of everything that your company does. From the overt things that you do, to the implicit things that you do, from the big things to the small things, from messaging to product to pricing.
It’s all of the things that you mean; that the sum total of those things reinforces in your customer’s head what you mean, what you stand for. It’s true; there are a lot of people who would define brand as a logo or the look and feel and zeitgeist of a business. Or, sometimes even the name of the company, is the brand. And sometimes brand is advertising, like Mad Men.
All of those things are manifestations of brand, or at least they ought to be. But they can’t be equated with brand, either.
John Jantsch: Well, that’s interesting, because I’ve been saying this for 20 years to small business owners who really don’t think about brand, or at least don’t think about brand in this sense. And yet, every business has a brand. I think the only question is, whether or not you’re controlling it or trying to guide it.
Lindsay Pedersen: Exactly. It’s funny because the reason that brand matters is that it gives the leader clarity. It gives the leader a North Star against which to make decisions for growing the business.
When I think of companies that most gain from that, that’s the companies, the leaders of companies that are small businesses, that most need focus. Because their resources are so constrained.
It’s a funny thing, and it’s one of the reasons I wrote the book that I did. I wanted to demystify it because the people who are most likely to misunderstand brand as a small thing are the same people who stand to benefit the most from it.
John Jantsch: I want to bring us back to a point, though, because for a lot of people, when they have this big brand discussion, they say, “It’s not about the logo, it’s not about the packaging, it’s not about the colors.” Design is still super important, I think, for a brand.
In fact, I know a lot of companies that invest in great design. It allows them to communicate what their brand stands for in such a potent way.
Lindsay Pedersen: A hundred percent. The name of your business, the logo and the iconography and font and colors and shapes and imagery and photography that you use … it’s like a superhighway to the limbic system of the brain of your audience. It’s wildly important.
What makes it powerful is when the development, the design and the creative decisions that you make to convey whether it’s the name or the logo or the font that you choose, or the tone of your voice; what’s really powerful is when they’re congruent with the meaning that you want to stand for. They’re not random; they are a deep and direct reflection of that promise that you want your business to bring to your customer.
John Jantsch: Yeah. The accounting firm that has a really fun website, is suggesting “We’re a little bit more fun that the other people.” I think that’s such a great way to actually get not only your differentiation, but maybe your promise across.
Lindsay Pedersen: Absolutely. You also brought up this idea of intention and control. Maybe even in this media environment that we all live in today, where there’s so much information, and our attention is so scarce. How much control do we really have of our brand?
The way that I want to splice that question to first, you do have agency in declaring what you want your brand to be. It’s position or be positioned, right, as the old adage goes. If you want to have the positioning that’s going to create the most value for your business, then you’re deliberate about defining what you want that thing to be.
That’s the first thing. And that’s frankly what most people get wrong, is that they just don’t get deliberate and intentional about identifying their brand to begin with. That is leaving a lot of power on the table. It’s leaving a lot to chance, that your customer is going to perceive you the way that you want your customer to perceive you.
I kind of flip it to before you talk about the ways you can communicate and express your brand; which you’re right, there’s only so much control, quote-unquote control that you have about the way that it’s going to be perceived in the marketplace.
But you sure have a better chance of succeeding if you’ve done the work and the soul searching to define what you want that thing to be, so that it can be your business’s North Star.
John Jantsch: A lot of people kind of whine about that. “Oh, people are out there saying stuff.” I think that’s a great opportunity, because it used to be you could break your promises and if you had a slick ad, it didn’t matter maybe.
But now, if you break your promises, somebody will create a YouTube channel talking about it. So I think the companies that stay true to their brand, that keep their promises, I think they actually have an advantage today.
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. It’s true. There was a short period in human history … the second half of the 20th century, essentially … when the company that had the largest budget, had the loudest megaphone, and could spend the most to get word out, usually via TV media, and there wasn’t a lot that the customer could do. It wasn’t a two-way conversation.
That is no longer the case. Because the megaphone is democratized. Now we all can talk about it. The funny thing is, though, John, that I think about with this, is in some ways it’s new. That we have a two-way megaphone. But in some ways, what was a blip is the way that it was when TV advertising was having its heyday.
Because most of human history, we can tell our friends if we don’t like the butcher down the street or the baker where we got stale bread. We do have voices. It’s just that now, we can talk to more people with less time and money than it might have taken before.
John Jantsch: When I hear you talk about brand, all I hear is strategy. I think that that’s a part a lot of people miss, is that this really has to be done at the strategic level for an organization, doesn’t it?
Lindsay Pedersen: It does. In fact, in some ways, the way that I think about brand … and this is true for a lot of the people that I interviewed for my book, as well.
In some ways, when you define your brand strategy, it’s just a consumer-facing way of defining your business strategy. It’s a more closer-to-the-ground way of defining how your business is going to succeed.
A lot of times business strategy gets a little esoteric or a little bit devoid of empathy. Brand strategy can take whatever that business strategy idea is, and make it more meaningful to the people who are creating those bonds with the target audience; either person to person or with the products and messaging that they’re developing.
Yes, brand strategy. Just like with any strategy, it’s about taking a step back, looking at what you have, what your strengths are, what the competitive strengths and white space might look like, and learning about what your target customer wants and needs that others can’t provide.
That’s the essence of business, that’s the essence of commerce. If you’re making a trade, why should they come to you rather than to somebody else? Or rather than not buying anything at all?
So when you define that, you are defining your business strategy. But you’re also defining your brand strategy in a way that can be easier and more potent for bringing to life with your customer.
John Jantsch: I like the way you really positioned this, because I think a lot of people think of brand and they think, “How do we want to be perceived?” I think you come at it more from a “What problem are we solving, who can we bring the most value to,” and obviously, “Who could be a valuable customer to us as well?”
But I think starting with that customer point of view about the brand, it’s almost like, “How do we want to be experienced by them?” as opposed to, “What are we trying to make them think?” Does that make sense? [crosstalk 00:11:34]-
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes!
John Jantsch: … because I see that throughout your book.
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes, I love the way that you articulated that. A hundred percent. It comes back to, why are we in business? Why are we doing what we’re doing? It’s to serve a certain person who has a certain problem.
We have a way of solving that problem that others don’t have. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have differentiation; therefore, we wouldn’t have strong enough margins to stay in business.
When you get very precise and intentional about what those elements are; who is your customer, what is the problem that they’re trying to solve, how do you uniquely solve that problem. You can make decisions across your business and across the customer journey that reinforce that thing.
At its basis, and the reason that I think this is so powerful for leaders in particular, is it’s a focusing mechanism. You can make decisions with your brand as a filter. You don’t have to litigate; every little and big decision you make, can be so much easier if you’re putting it through the filter of, “Does doing X, Y, or Z bring me closer to delivering this unique promise to this target customer?”
If “no,” don’t proceed. If “yes,” then proceed.
John Jantsch: We’ve joked for years. Do you remember the bracelets? I think they’ve been used for a lot of things. But What Would Jesus Do? Do you remember [crosstalk 00:13:13]?
Lindsay Pedersen: Oh, sure. Yeah.
John Jantsch: For years, we have had, “What Would Duct Tape Do?” That was sort of our idea about our filter.
Lindsay Pedersen: Awesome! John, that is so great; I love that.
John Jantsch: I want to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo helps you build meaningful customer relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers. This allows you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages. There’s powerful segmentation, email auto responders that are ready to go, great reporting.
We’re going to learn a little bit about the secret to building customer relationships. They’ve got a really fun series called Klaviyo’s Beyond Black Friday. It’s docuseries, a lot of fun, quick lessons. Just head on over to Klaviyo.com/beyondbf. Beyond Black Friday.
John Jantsch: As I hear you talk about this, there are big companies that have departments and divisions, and they sell different products and they have different markets. In a lot of ways, it’s hard for them to keep all the moving parts in place. But I think for a small business, would you go as far as saying that brand could be their culture?
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes. In fact, it’s funny; when I was doing this research to write my book, and I interviewed about 50 leaders across big companies, small companies, lots of different industries, the thing that most surprised me when I was interviewing these leaders about the value of brand, was how much they expressed it as a tool for culture building, for galvanizing employees around a purpose or an idea.
It’s the internal beacon that I did know that that was valuable, but I was surprised at how often this came up. That brand is a way to make something really intangible, like culture, have a single point. To have a definition of what it is.
When employees feel purpose, and brand is one way of coalescing with a purpose, they give more to their business. They’re set up to be happier and they’re set up to create more meaning in their own lives, and to create more value for your business.
It’s all this happy virtuous cycle of employees have purpose, they know how to succeed in their job, they feel great about it. And it ties them to the target customer, the person that they’re serving, which makes for a more vibrant work environment.
I totally agree with that, and it’s something that I didn’t know, or I didn’t appreciate deeply when I first set out to write this book.
John Jantsch: Well, one of the good news/bad news things about that is you can’t really fake that. That’s a really positive thing for somebody that really does have purpose.
But how about these organizations that … a lot of them start that way. It’s like, “Here’s what we believe, here’s how people need to be served.” Then all of a sudden they’ve got a hundred employees, and it’s like, “How do we keep them?”
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes. I think one of the things that I have noticed … and the reason that I wrote this book for leaders as opposed to marketing people is that when brand/culture is delegated; brand can be delegated to marketing, and culture can be delegated to HR. When that happens, it loses its whole power.
Or it becomes something; it might be a neat marketing campaign if marketing is driving it. It might be a neat team-building idea, if HR is driving it. But the leader needs to be modeling it and feeling it and breathing it. If that’s not happening, they’re not giving air cover to the rest of the organization to make trade offs according to this brand or according to this culture.
As a company grows, it’s particularly useful and particularly incumbent upon the leader to keep reinforcing why we’re here and why we do this. What is it that makes us different from other companies who are either in the space or who are serving the same target audience. What makes us different?
It’s like Stephen Covey talks about things that are important, but not urgent. Both culture and brand, I believe, fall into that quadrant. It’s like taking care of your health by eating well and by exercising and taking good care of your relationships. That’s important but not urgent.
But if you don’t do those things, then you wind up in urgent situations. You wind up at the emergency room. It’s the same thing with leading a company.
By embracing the thing that’s important but not urgent, so that the tenets of the brand, the elements of the culture, you prevent getting into an emergency with customer relationships or with employees fleeing the organization as soon as the economy goes in their favor.
It really does take this leadership believing it, and having conviction in it, and energy for it, that will take them from startup phase to medium-size company phase. It’s really hard to do even with a brand. But it’s really hard to do if you haven’t sat down and distilled what it is that we want to mean? What is it that’s going to make us different in the long run?
John Jantsch: We’ve been having such a lovely time chatting that I haven’t asked you the money question. What is an ironclad brand, then?
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes, what I contend is that all of the brand positioning territories that you could claim as yours, there are some that are more attractive than others.
There are nine qualities, nine criteria for an ironclad brand that I define in this book. When you have those nine qualities, you’re setting yourself up to create the most value for your business.
Would you like me to go through what the criteria are real quick?
John Jantsch: You bet.
Lindsay Pedersen: Okay.
John Jantsch: Although we do want people to buy the book, so.
Lindsay Pedersen.: I appreciate that. Well, I’ll be really quick so that people might still want to buy the book.
The criteria are that your brand is big. The number one criteria is that your brand promise is big enough to matter to your customer. That it’s a big space in the customer’s head.
The second is that it’s narrow. Although it’s big enough to matter, it’s also narrow enough that you can own it. That you can dominate it.
The third is that it’s asymmetrical. It uses your company’s lopsided advantage, your unfair advantage as a company.
Number four is that it’s empathetic. It addresses a deeply relevant, meaningful need for your customer; that it has your customer’s interests at heart.
Number five is that it’s optimally distinct. It strikes a balance between familiar and novel. It’s not so familiar that it’s boring; but it’s not so novel that it’s unrecognizable, and hard for somebody to learn and remember.
Number six is that it’s both functional and emotional. It serves the customer at this critical intersection of the customer’s heart and mind. It’s not just emotional, but it’s also not just functional; it’s both.
Number seven is that it’s sharp edged. It entails a single specific simple promise. It’s ridiculously clear to customers what you do and do not promise as a business.
Number eight is that your brand promise has teeth. It’s demonstrably true. It’s not just true, but it’s clear that it’s true, because you provide concrete proof.
Lastly, number nine, is that your brand promise delivers. You deliver on it every time consistently with the big things to the small things, from the new customers to the loyal customers. You’re nailing not just the letter of the promise, but also the spirit of the promise.
An ironclad brand encompasses all of those qualities, and therefore creates the most value for the business.
John Jantsch: Let’s wrap up on the thing that people tend to gravitate towards quite often. If you pull this off, and you create an ironclad brand, what’s the ROI? What’s the benefit? Because in some cases, you’re going to have to invest. You’re going to have to evolve. You’re going to have to train. What’s the payoff?
Lindsay Pedersen: Let me separate strategy from tactics. Developing the statement of what you stand for as a business, it only takes the time and money that it took you to either read my book or sit at a whiteboard and figure this out.
You can hire a brand strategist to help you with that, or you can do it yourself. That’s the strategy. You haven’t put meaningful money, working media dollars against that yet. That’s the North Star.
There isn’t an ROI on your brand just like … It’s the whole business strategy. One way of thinking about the ROI for the brand strategy is that everything that you do internally, you save a lot of time and energy because you’re not chasing small ideas; you’re only worrying about ideas that are big ideas.
But I think what you’re asking more, John, is now that you have this idea that you want to reinforce inside the head of your customers, when you spend money against it, how do you know that you’re going to recoup your investment eventually? That is more a function of what your business goals are.
Because a lot of the businesses that most benefit from a North Star, from the focus of a brand strategy, are not going to spend any money on marketing. They’re the mom-and-pop coffee shop down the street, or the retailer that has three locations in your city. To them, marketing is a website and a logo and maybe some flyers and maybe some free samples, if it’s a coffee shop.
That’s a small marketing budget. Your brand is the thing that you want to reinforce, not just with your marketing activities, but with everything that the customer experiences.
It might help you decide where to have office space. It might help you decide how to price. It might help you decide who to partner with. And yes, it’ll also help you decide how to promote and message and advertise what you have to offer.
But a lot of those things are free. Or they’re not free, they’re things that you’re already doing. You’re already deciding where to have office space. You’re already developing a product.
This is about harnessing the power of focus so that all of those things by defining the one thing, all of those levers can work together to reinforce that.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I guess in some ways what I was getting at is, I think when people get this right … I’ll use your coffee shop example. I drive by three or maybe four coffee shops to go to the coffee shop that I like. I’m willing to do that because I like the experience. I like what they stand for. I think that that’s the point, I guess, I was really making.
I’ll give you another example. I was a professional speaker long before my first book came out. My first book came out and sold pretty well. All of a sudden, people were willing to pay me four, five times what I was charging, just because my brand meant something to them.
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes. Yes, and I think when we go back to the definition of what is brand, it’s the thing that you stand for in the mind of your audience.
Whether the audience is people who hire you to do speaking engagements, or people who sell you coffee, or you’re buying coffee from; those by distilling it to one thing, you’re more likely to be reinforcing a single idea.
When you reinforce a single idea, you’re making them do less work to understand who you are. And when they do less work to understand who you are, they’re more likely to like you and to remember you.
It’s like, don’t do any expensive product development or promotion or media when you haven’t done this, because it’s going to be such a poor ROI if you’re throwing a lot of things against the wall.
John Jantsch: Well, and I spend a lot of time reading Google reviews of our customers and prospects, all types of businesses. I can tell you, 90% of them don’t even mention … sometimes you can’t even tell what the business does. But what they talk about is the great experience, the great people, how easy it was, that kind of stuff.
Lindsay Pedersen: Yes.
John Jantsch: I think that’s what people need to realize is the brand today, isn’t it?
Lindsay Pedersen: It is. It’s the way that people feel having interacted with you. They might remember something functional, or they might just remember the result of how they felt because you were able to solve a problem they otherwise weren’t able to solve. That’s exactly right. This is all about connecting human to human with your audience.
John Jantsch: I am speaking with Lindsay Pedersen, and we’re talking about her book, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Lindsay, where can people find out more about you and your work and your book?
Lindsay P.: Thank you so much, John. Yes, my book is Forging an Ironclad Brand. It’s available on Amazon and all that. If listeners are interested, I have a free giveaway on my business’s website, which is ironcladbrandstrategy.com.
The giveaway is a workbook that I adapted from the book, Forging an Ironclad Brand. It serves as a supplement to the book. It’s this step-by-step workbook guide of the Ironclad method to building a brand strategy. You can find that at ironcladbrandstrategy.com.
And I’d love to be connected with your listeners; if anybody wants to link up with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, I would very much enjoy that.
John Jantsch: Awesome. We’ll have all those links in the Show Notes, as always. Lindsay, thanks for dropping by, and hopefully we’ll run in to you soon out there on the road.
Lindsay Pedersen: It was my pleasure, John. Thanks so much.