Episode 2 – Aligning your Brand with Martin Sully

a man on a navy background with the words level up podcast written on it

Step into another Branding Masterclass

Creating thoughtful brands that get to the heart of what customers want is called intentional alignment, where you align your reputation, values, mission + vision statements and your brand's promise to make an emotional connection to your customers.

We dive right into:

  • Building a positive reputation by understanding negative reputations
  • Connecting to your audience with emotions – find out more on about using emotions to sell
  • Creating brand values
  • Mission and vision statements - outlining your goals and objectives are for your business
  • Brand Promises - how to outline what the customers' experience is

This episodes transcription

This is the hot metal brand podcast. I'm your host, Martin Sully, founder of Snapper Studio, a brand strategy and visual design studio in the heart of Newcastle, Australia. And I'm on a mission to help you gain clarity in your brand and confidence in what you're selling. From thoughtful, empowering brand strategies to defining powerful visual stories. I'll arm you with by size branding tools to help you grow your brand and leave your own unique mark.

Welcome back to the podcast! We are here, it's week three, and we still haven't dropped the beat yet. I am here today to talk about intentional alignment. Intentional alignment of brands. To do this, the first thing I want to do is just go back over my career, and give you a little bit of a background on that. So that you can see, okay, this is where that part of the knowledge came from, and we'll kind of build on that. So everything that I've done, little steps here in there, some steps have been the wrong decision. But it's all been intentional to give me the knowledge that then leads my current business Snapper Studio to help people and solve problems.

First up, I spent four years working in a creative design studio for a publishing company. We designed books that were unusually big, we're talking limited-edition 40-kilo books for companies and brands like Manchester United, Ferrari Arsenal football club, Major League Baseball, we were going to do one for Maradona, I don't know if that ended up getting published. We did one that was for the Queen. I spent two years working on that, learn so much about the process of putting together a book, the branding of it and every little step in between. So that was really critical to learning that side of things.

I then moved into a role with a marketing department for a university back in the UK. And I spent two years before we left the country working across major advertising campaigns. Controlling all the little aspects of the brand and developing it into what it was back then before I left. We'd successfully shifted the positioning and the view of the university from being a mediocre sort of university to approaching being one of the top universities in the country. That is no small feat to do, with a team of 20 marketing people, seven or eight designers, a photographer and a videography team. So our capabilities were pretty substantial.

Which takes us to, early 2015. When I left that role, we moved to New Zealand.  I spent a year freelancing around Auckland, and working across a huge range of branding projects. There were a couple of little freelance roles that directly related to the experience that I ended up trying to create for customers. Whilst they were, they were negative experiences, the learning experience I got from it was completely positive because it it taught me actually how I wanted to prepare things and communicate with my clients.

So that is a little alignment for me to how I wanted to then build my brand values and make an emotional connection to my customers. So it was really important to go through those experiences. I'm going to talk a little bit more about how you can align your brand over time. If I was to start talking about Pepsi or Coke, or McDonald's and KFC, instantly, you're making a judgment about the brand. And me looking at aligning this in the podcast, whether it's correct or not, either way, you're forming an opinion.

Now, this is a really important point, because that emotional connection is what's going to drive people's views. Now, those views are turned into reputation. Reputation is what we're all as brand designers and building brand awareness. Everyone is trying to build a better reputation. Going back to Coke, they have kind of ruled the roost of the advertising space, even to the point where Pepsi don't try to compete with them in the same way. An interesting thing here was they did a blind tasting of Pepsi, and coke.

People seem to prefer Pepsi. When they were told about which drink they preferred, people seemed to love Coke more. They think it was aligning with the fact that people prefer the brand experience of Coke. When they have that experience of getting it in the bottle, and you're gonna open it all up and pour it out. It's a hot day. People love it. That psychological association and the emotional bond to the drink, along with long-term loyal customers, has affected the brand in a huge, huge way.

Now, how do you do that, when they're spending like 6 billion, every year, on marketing. So how do people with a small budget do that? Well, you need to get into the heart and soul of the brand. And build a brand that tells the truth and stands for authenticity and originality without diminishing your values. And this is what we're going to talk about today. It's the values mission, vision, for your long-term plan. And how you can create a similar effect without spending $6 billion.

First, we need to look at brands that are getting it all wrong in your opinion. We're gonna get all negative and make a list of all the bad brands, think of brands that you perceive in a negative way as a result of bad press. You can list as many as you want. But on a piece of paper, you need to write down brands with poor values. Brands that whose values you don't think align with yours. Obviously, if you are a gym owner, you're gonna be putting some of those fast food chains. You are going to be putting brands that don't align.

Next up, you're gonna look at brands with a bad rap. So brands that friends, family or whoever have told you as being a really bad experience and it's something you've gone. Ooh, I'm not gonna go there.

Next up, you want to write down brands with bad press – that have kind of negatively affected your views – a brand that you may or may not know the backstory of, but, you're aware that there's a general consensus of that people don't like it.

Finally, it's a bad or poor experience. So this is someone that's given you shocking service or completely under delivered on a promise or someone that you feel like you've been ripped off by.

Okay enough with the negativity, I've got a plant over in the corner this just flopping around, it's all sad and weepy. Let's move on to something really positive. I want you to think about some really positive testimonials and they don't have to be word for word, you can just literally they can just be a couple of words here and there and think about positive things that people have said about you. Which ones do you want me people to say more of?

What do you hope people are saying about your brand? You can kind of Yeah, focus on that. And then, once you've done that, it's really good to verbalise reasons why people speak highly about you and your brand. They don't have to be completely formulated, they are just kind of picking out bits and pieces that you would like to be thought about.

So that's a really important one. Why is this all interlinked? Well, that emotional connection and finding out of the the values that you don't align with, actually the help you write the values that you do align with. Now, we are ready to dive in to brand values. Brand values are your core values, your non-negotiables, and your boundaries.

They're not there to tie your hands behind your back. They're aspirational, and give you space to grow. They provide structure to your brand, so that you don't wander off track, but they're also super useful for helping you create content. I'm going to try and give you a couple of examples along the way of how you can do that. First, you're gonna need to gather, all the people around you, your leadership, team, staff, partners, business coaches, dogs, if they can talk back and have input. And I want you to brand-storm (see what I did there) words and phrases that you happily associate with your business.

Get your Sharpie out, put on some music, and scribble down, anything that you feel is relevant. Just a quick dive into brand values that I have, this will kind of help you understand the depth that you need to go into as well. I'm always hands on, I want to be an integral part of your team and understand your business so that I can give you exactly what you need. If you're a restaurant, I will come in at chop up your onions. When I fully understand your customers experience and the way that your business works, I can offer the best solutions to fit your needs.

Ingenuity over normality. So individualised designs and original conceptual thinking, shapes my world and my thinking. That's just two. I'm not going to run through them all, because you don't need to know the rest of them. But you can see that they go into good depth. From there, we can see how we can start to create content. So I'm always hands on that. When you're then looking at it, there's a million ways to show that you're hands on with somebody's business, because every business that you work with, works in completely different ways. And there's different ways that you can show that to your customers.

Obviously, there's loads of ways to say, to show ingenuity over normality. That's another way of just being able to say, look, come and see this concept and check out these mood boards. This is this is the way my brains thinking. They're two really simple things that I can use as content creators that can still keep things on brand. And we've just got to find those bits for you. Unfortunately, Google can't tell you absolutely everything. But there is a little exercise you can work through that will help you find them. Something along the lines of asking your team, what do you value most as a company and what does your company stand for?

Next, I would then suggest doing things like speaking to customers. Customers are probably the most useful resource that you can have. Asking them things like why do you choose our products and services instead of competitors? And what do you think we do well? Will give you some really great insight into what you do well. And you can start building from there. Then, as we mentioned earlier, you've got all those negative experiences, like bad experiences people have with a competitor. How did that experience make you feel? How does it make customers feel? What can you do, to ensure that you don't deliver that experience to your customers?

Reflect on things you're already doing. Like we had in the previous episode, we talked about the feels finder, and reflecting on how you're already communicating with customers, and whether you can do anything better, you know, is it is it something you can go out of your way to make sure that things are delivered earlier? Did people value timeliness? Are they looking for more natural ingredients? If they're manufacturing skincare products? What do they value? What do they want to see reflected in your brand?

Then finally, take a look at brands you love as well. And now this is a really useful one. I love the way that certain brands like Apple, they just tick all the right boxes. And I think most designers would say this. And do you know what, it's not even that designer thing. I think most of the population bar, stoic Windows and Samsung users would love the way that Apple and their products make you feel. It's that status you get from using their products. Everything from that experience from unboxing to reviewing the final product. Their core values are super strong.

How do you actually write brand values? You need to make them actionable. Your core values and not just words that sit on a piece of paper or your website. If you want your employees to live by these values, you need to document them so they prompt action. Words like diversity or innovation aren't enough, you need to use words like respect, strive and recognise, instead, make them memorable as well. Employees are more likely to act on brand values when they're easy to remember. This is why you only plan three to five. And they're just short statements. They're not they're not long.

Make them unique to your brand as well. Every single company is unique. And they should reflect what makes you special. Draw them directly from your why. And use language that falls inline with your voice and tone. To help differentiate you. Make them specific. Don't leave room out for vagueness or interpretation. Your values should be short and straight to the point. Make them meaningful. Words have power when they're authentic. Don't just choose adjectives that sound good. Make sure that deep in meaning for you and your business.

Make them accessible. Your values must be easy for employees, partners and customers to find – I'd stick them on your about us page. And definitely involve them in your brand guidelines. This is branding. 101. Put them in a central place that everyone can access and live. Print them on a big sign and stick them up on your office window. Whoo, you're still here. Now we just need to define a mission and vision. They're like little mini statements of what your goals and objectives are for your business. Some people see these as a little bit antiquated. Concepts that are just a little bit old school, but I still see so much value in them.

So, it's really important to have clear statements that provide direction and clarity, for where you're heading, especially if you're unifying, a growing or uninspired team. If you're, if your business's culture is a little bit out of whack, and you are struggling to inspire people to do amazing work every day. I would get them involved in writing these statements. What do they want to see and where do they think the brand direction should go. A mission statement is more about what your company actually does. So it's short and concise, it's specific to what you offer, and how you're different or better than the rest.

Vision Statements are outlining what a company wants to be in the future. It's like a source of inspiration and motivation. And that obviously, motivation, you're going to start motivating your uninspired team, describing not just the future the brand, but the future of the industry, or the society that your brand wants to change. One thing for me, that's always had a sort of stuck with me has been the impact that designers can have on environmental effects and how we can choose printing materials and inks.

If you are going for like a carbon negative thing you can, you can use things like Algae ink these days, that is carbon negative. So it's I'm not sure the absolute scientific background of it. But yeah, that is obviously something you can do. If you're looking at making those changes, they are the big things that are shifting, and what society wants to see change. If you're a brand that can help adjust that - like who gives a crap, 50% of their profits go towards making toilets and improving conditions in third world countries. That is an incredible, incredible thing. And that is what the essence of a vision statement is.

Next up, this is the last thing I'm gonna talk about today. A brand promise tells everyone what the customer experience should feel like. There's a few examples that will reinforce your existing perceptions of that company. You have to be really careful with the brand promise, because if customers know, a brand promise is completely empty and full of rubbish, they'll they're going to see a disconnect between the message and the customer experience. So again, we'll go back to that reputation at the start. For Success, it needs to be two things actionable and measurable. The secret is to limit yourself to something simple to achieve, which is dynamic.

Apple, theres is more like a cross between a tagline and brand promise, but, Think Different, this is contentious. Like I said, people see this as a tagline but for me, Apple can absolutely pull this one off. So to think differently, it's they're guarantee create products based on seeing products differently. And their promise to inspire their customers to create differently. It's actionable. It's what they promised to do. And measurable, it's what the customers get from it. McDonald's, Simple, Easy Enjoyment, McDonald's kept it simple, without over committing to what they can do to ensure that they can actually deliver what they promise. So they are delivering simple, easy enjoyment.

Nikes, a really good one dimension to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete Asterix in the world. So they Asterixed athlete, as they then put a little strapline at the bottom to say, if you have a body, you're an athlete. This is great. It's actionable and measurable and inclusive as well. So they're not they're not trying to you know, it's thinking about their diverse customer base.

Today's was a chunky one, we covered the emotional connection between your brand and your audience. Then reflected on the your brand reputation and how to build it in a positive light by looking at brands that have got it all wrong. Third, we looked at your brand's values and how you can discover them. Fourth, looked at your mission and vision statements and how we can kind of work on generating those. And finally we looked at brand promises.

And that is everything for today. I will see you next week when we are going to be back talking all about target markets.