To be able to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a rock solid Brand Strategy as a part of your Marketing Plan.
Your Brand Strategy needs to focus on what makes you, your Brand and your company different from others. What make you special? What do you offer that others don’t?
In this episode, our host Kym Heffernan was joined by Mitch Duckler. His areas of expertise include brand strategy, customer and consumer insights, and innovation. His groundbreaking book, The Indispensable Brand, guides readers on how to build a brand strategy that rises above the noise and monotony in their industry—transforming them from indistinguishable into indispensable brands.
This episode contains a discussion on:
- The Importance of a Brand Strategy
- Standing out from the Crowd
- The meaning of an Indispensable Brand
- What Internal and External Lenses are
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If you want more information from the podcast check out the transcript below.
Welcome to Marketing Show. The 20 to 30 minutes of marketing magic that will help you connect the dots with all the digital, social, and old school marketing and sales options available today. Our aim is to give you practical, effective tips and ideas so your business or professional practice can get more prospects and nurture those prospects to be coming long term customers.
This show is sponsored by the Marketing Strategy Company who help B2B organisations develop winning marketing strategies and sales and marketing automation systems to turn their sales and marketing efforts into new customers and dollars through their marketing.
Check out the Marketing Strategy Company’s planning and marketing services at themarketingstrategy.co.
Hi and welcome to today’s Marketing Strategy Show. My name is Kym Heffernan and I’m your host. On the Marketing Strategy Show we try and pull back the curtain on a particular marketing topic, really delve deep into it. Get behind the scenes if you like, to help you understand and implement that in your business.
In today’s world we’re faced with a lot of information. Analytics has become increasingly important in how we do marketing. I often say to people these days marketing is very much almost 50% analytics and 50% creative, but getting creative and analytics right is only part of the picture. You have to start with the right strategy and you have to be able to make yourselves different from the competition, to make yourselves stand out, if you like.
Now the way you stand out is by having a great brand. So today what we’ve done, we’ve got a special guest for you Mitch Duckler all the way from USA who is going to talk about branding and brand strategy and more importantly how to make your business stand out and your brand stand out.
Kym: Hey Mitch, are you there?
Mitch: I am here, thanks very much Kym.
Kym: Good and welcome to the show.
Mitch: Thank you, it’s nice to be here.
Kym: Look what we might start off with Mitch is just a bit of background on the Mitch story, Once Upon a Time.
Mitch: Sure, so I have 25, almost 30 years now of experience in brand and marketing strategy and I started my career out on the client side in a very classic brand management role. So I was with Unilever and Coca-Cola managing some of those great brands early in my career which was a wonderful introduction to the world of marketing and brand, and throughout the last 15 to 17 years or so I’ve been consulting in the last 8 or so with my own firm, but still the same content area, brand and marketing strategy consulting, so what that means is that how clients, perhaps some such are your listeners, to help position their brands for success, to develop portfolios and brand portfolio strategies that are effective in the marketplace, brand experience, brand measurement as you referenced earlier and brand extendibility and growth.
Kym: Yeah, I guess we touched very briefly in the introduction but it’s really hard these days isn’t it because you can’t really tell one brand in a particular segment from the next can you?
Mitch: Yeah, that’s actually true and I recently wrote a book on this, The Indispensable Brand and that really was the premise of that book, that the proverbial sea of sameness if you will is getting worse as we go on. I think a lot of that has to do with digital activation and brand marketers are in such a hurry and operating in such a frantic pace and trying to keep up with the latest and greatest and digital technology and activation on top of everything else and I think sometimes the strategy and in particular the positioning behind the strategy gets left in the dust.
And the result is what I call brand monotony, right? The inability to distinguish between leading brands within a category.
Kym: I think there’s also a temptation, particularly with digital marketing these days, it’s like a content machine it becomes so hungry as marketers we just push out lots of content, lots of messages, just to feed the machine without really thinking about how that’s linking back with some overarching brand and message.
Mitch: That’s exactly right. My competitors have a Facebook page and a Twitter account therefore I must too.
Mitch: They Tweet at this time of the day so that’s probably a best practise and I should as well, and emails you know, here’s the best practise in what an email title looks like so I’m gonna do the same thing. So, I do think that that’s a lot of what is going on and you know, as we talked about earlier that’s not to say digital is bad for branding and marketing because it’s not, I think it is perhaps one of the biggest opportunities we as brand marketers have but if it’s not managed properly and strategically it does have this undesired or unintended consequence, right, and that is we become followers – me too, copycats, where everybody is essentially just saying the same things and doing the same tactics in the same manner.
Kym: Yeah, look I loved the title of your book Mitch, Indispensable Brand, Move from Invisible to Invaluable.
Maybe we should just pull that apart for a minute. Indispensable brand. What do you mean by indispensable brand?
Mitch: Yeah, indispensable is the brand that you cannot live without, right? And I use an example in my personal life and its a brand we all know, some of us love, it’s Starbucks. And if Starbucks were to go away tomorrow I’d be devastated, okay, I’m guilty right, I’ve got my latte in the morning or refreshers, the Starbucks refreshers in the afternoon of a summer, then something that’s become part of my day, part of my routine, part of my life, and if you were to all of a sudden pull Starbucks off the market tomorrow I would miss them and miss them in a big way.
They have become indispensable to me right and how many of our brands are like that? How many brands can you honestly say if they went away tomorrow you would really really miss them, and it would upset you, or would you just easily find a replacement?
Kym: Yeah. And does that apply in a business to business sense as well Mitch?
Mitch: Absolutely. I think it can actually apply to business even more so especially, with business to business is very people driven, it has a huge personal component to it, a huge experiential component to it that a lot of product brands don’t have, and it’s those face to face interpersonal connections I think that really heighten the ability to make your brand indispensable. It’s so interpersonal that we need to establish that kind of relationship face to face and otherwise that you want with customers you have an incredible opportunity to make your brand indispensable in that manner.
Kym: Yeah, and I guess the second part of that I guess is the invisible to invaluable I guess and the invisible is the part where most businesses are today.
Mitch: Exactly, that’s exactly right, and that’s what I refer to, I use different terms when I referenced earlier the notion earlier of brand monotony, that’s invisibility right. It’s just muted, you’re looking right at something and you don’t even see it because it just doesn’t jump out at you and that’s the invisible.
Kym: And I love what you said before if you take most marketing communication and take the logo off it you still wouldn’t know who it was basically, it could be company A, it could be company B.
Kym: The same things, the same way at the same time.
Mitch: That’s exactly right, and one example I use of that Kym is the airlines. So I am, in the United States I am a frequent flyer and fairly loyal to United Airlines. And I fly them religiously but I have to say it’s not because I love the brand, it’s because I’ve become loyal to them and there are perks as we all know to.
Kym: Frequent flyer points right!
Mitch: Frequent flyer miles, and status and so forth
Kym: Yeah (laughs)
Mitch: But I was, just the other day I was on a flight and it dawned on me, I was looking straight forward in the plane, down the aisle, and if I didn’t know I was on a United flight for sure, right, I wouldn’t have been able to tell, every airline looks the same, the flight attendants, the seats, the aisles, the service feels very similar whether it’s good bad or indifferent. There is nothing that distinguishes that product, that service, or that experience. It really is monotonous.
Kym: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the challenges of course that I think most businesses face is how can I differentiate myself? Right I mean, I provide the same service, I think you used an example when we spoke earlier about a car just gets me from A to B right?
Mitch: Exactly. So I think conventional wisdom says that the way you differentiate is through a benefit right, an end benefit to a customer or a consumer which I think is one very viable way to differentiate and that is what I would call the what. It’s differentiation based on a very tangible end benefit that your target receives, as a result of doing business with you.
Kym: So whether it’s I deliver legal services, or I whatever else – it’s whatever you do for them basically.
Mitch: Yeah, so it’s the what. And I would say a lot of brands do fairly well on that. One of the problems with it though is very often the benefit in a category as you were alluding to earlier is fairly universal or generic. At least the what is, right, so at the end of the day you get in a car in most cases whether it’s for business or leisure or an errand to get from point a to point b, right, the what is kind of universal and maybe even a bit drab. I did quite a bit of work in the haircare category, shampoo, conditioner, styling products, and so forth and at the end of the day, there’s one universal benefit, everybody wants beautiful hair. But the way brands deliver that, the how, is what can make them different and unique. I think we would all agree a Tesla and a Porsche is very different from a Toyota, or a Ford. The way they get you from a to b whether it’s very economically, very environmentally friendly, or in high style or luxury or in sporty, those brands can differentiate based on their how, even though the what is very universal. So those are two of the ways, if I may I can also address the other two and we can talk about those.
Kym: Yeah, let’s please, because it’s what people struggle with, it’s a lot of businesses – I just used a legal firm as an example because it’s the easiest thing people can relate to whether both consumer listeners and also the people in professional services. You deliver legal services for example, it’s very hard to say my legal service is different so what people will do is say my people are better or my experience is better we’ve got quality service but someone said, and I think we spoke about this earlier, if you can say something that everyone else says it’s not a differentiating factor right?
Mitch: Absolutely, and professional services are actually a great example I’m glad you bought that one up. I’ve done quite a bit of work with the big four consulting with accounting firms here in the U.S, Deloitte.
Kym: PWC etc.
Mitch: PWC exactly, and I’ve talked to them a lot about you can’t just talk about your people as your basis for differentiation right, you have to be a little bit more specific. What is it about your people? What is it about your processes? What is it about your engagement style? Because your people or the way you interact with them can be your point of difference, but you need to be precise about it. Is it that you are more proactive? Is it that you are more anticipatory? Is it that you are more collaborative and engaging? Is it that you have a deeper understanding of their company and their business? What is it about your people what is it about the way you do your business that makes it different? You can’t just say well it’s our people that are better. So that’s an example I think of going from invisible to invaluable, when you start to articulate what it is about your people and your processes and being very specific about it then you have the opportunity to differentiate.
Kym: Yeah. It might be, you know, instead of we build quality products and services, which is an expectation right? There’s nothing different about that. But it’s exceptional quality or some other way of making quality better than your competition.
Mitch: Yeah. Exactly. What is it about your quality? Is it more dependable? Is it a higher level of high quality components? Is it the construction around it? Is it that they’re more durable? There needs to be some sort of texture or context around it as opposed to just saying something very generic like quality.
Kym: You’ve said how is another way to differentiate yourself. What’s the next one Mitch?
Mitch: next one I’ll talk about is why and you might be familiar with this from your work.
Mitch: The why?
Mitch: W, h, y. So there’s what, how, why and who.
Mitch: We’ve talked about what and how. The why as you might gather is about purpose and there’s been a lot of talk in the last 5-10 years especially around purpose branding, you may be familiar with Simon Sinek’s TED talk about Start with Why!
Mitch: And I think that’s with good reason. I think people today are far more concerned and interested in the companies behind the product as they are in the products and services themselves. And there are entire companies and brands that we work with that are defined by their why. By their purpose. They’re very mission driven or purpose driven. Patagonia is one example right. Patagonia likes to say we inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. That’s a why, and a very powerful why and it doesn’t really say anything about the products or services they are almost secondary. Their brand is about their purpose.
Kym: Interesting that the purpose conversation, like, I’ve been a little bit in two minds about that I guess. But a lot of people have jumped on this bandwagon and I need to tell my why. But it needs to be a why that connects and resonates with people right?
Mitch: Yeah, absolutely, and it’s not for every brand and you will not necessarily appeal to all consumers or customers with that so there are a lot of purchasers of Patagonia’s category that may not care about that purpose. And for those people they may buy Patagonia, they may shop at Patagonia, buy their brand, their products because they like it but they may not be driven by their purpose and they may go somewhere else. But Patagonia is okay with that. They’ve identified a target audience who deeply cares about their social reason for being, their purpose, their why, and they are true to it and it represents who they are. So, you can’t be all things to all people and I think they’re okay with that.
Kym: Yeah, so lets keep on following our legal services theme just as an example that they can follow through. Because I want to supply the best legal or accounting services to the world, most people don’t really care about that really do they?
Mitch: Well I think in the case of a professional service the outcome, the what, has become a bit generic or universal and in some cases almost a price of entry, right? So if you don’t provide high quality service with a satisfactory or desirable outcome you’re not in business right. That’s like an airline saying we get you there safely. Well, I hope, yes, okay that’s kind of important but we expect that, it’s not the thing that differentiates you. So it’s not that it’s not important but it’s not differentiating and that’s why we encourage a lot of folks in the professional services space to think about other aspects of their experience, the people, the process, the how, you know we all want a positive outcome so what is it about your delivery, your product and service that will guarantee that outcome.
Kym: Yeah, and it’s really hard for some people to do because they’ve never delved into that right, they just do it, basically.
Kym: So you need to pull that apart from the beginning don’t you, so how do you go about doing that with your clients, pull that apart?
Mitch: We typically encourage clients to think about it through two lenses. An internal lens and an external lens. So your internal lens as the name suggests really focuses inside your organisation, so that can include things like your purpose that we talked about earlier, can include things like your competencies. What is it that you do better than anybody else? What is it about your product, your service, your offering, your experience that makes you different and special. What is your basis for advantage? Again, it’s something more myopic but but you have to start there. How can you possibly succeed, are you more of a value play? Is that more your competency, or are you a high end, luxury, premium play? All of these are much more internal.
Mitch: But then you get to marry that very quickly with the external perspective, the view of the market, and understand who are you trying to attract with this proposition and who are you competing with for their loyalty. And it’s really the two of them need to come together, right, you need to kind of find that combination of a very attractive positioning, that you can deliver on credibly and confidently. And that is also desired by a target segment, and a segment that believes that you can do it better than everyone else. So it’s never easy but that’s the philosophy.
Kym: Yeah, I love that, putting those two lenses on Mitch I think that’s really important. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall over sometimes with the whole start with the why. The passion about it right? So it becomes really important but yeah it’s gotta be something that people are also passionate about as well. I guess that’s an interesting point. As brand marketers, and as marketers generally, we sometimes become a little too internally focused so going out and finding what our customers really want, what’s important, why they buy, is critical isn’t it?
Mitch: Absolutely. And then sometimes we have clients who do go too far the other way and they are doing market research, left and right. More research than you and I could ever imagine to understand customer needs and drivers of loyalty and perceptions, and competitive perceptions and comparisons and yes, that’s all important, but at the end of the day you need to bring it inside and eventually say well given this, who are we ideally suited to target and to cater to? There may be a very attractive segment out there, a white space opportunity that nobody is targeting but you know what we’re not really equipped internally right, that’s not our company or that’s not our offer. We’re not gonna win with them as attractive as that may be, and that’s why it takes those two lenses.
Kym: That’s fantastic, I love that, that’s excellent.
Kym: So what’s the fourth one that you’re saying we can differentiate on?
Mitch: Yeah, the fourth one is who. There are brands and sometimes you may hear the phrase a ‘lifestyle brand’. There are brands that are almost defined entirely by their target audience. In a world of rock and roll in the book I refer to Jimmy Buffet, the singer songwriter has a following called the Parrotheads. And he has defined his brand by his following, the Parrotheads. In packaged goods, Mountain Dew is the example of a who brand, that brand is all about extreme sports fans, and video game lovers, they’re the X games, they kind of live on the fringe. They’re young, mostly male, slightly blue collar. Everything about that brand is really about the people who adore it and it has a very very loyal following for that reason. So they kind of design their brand around who it is they want to serve. You don’t see it very often. I think of the four that’s probably the least used point of difference but it is very effective for certain brands.
Kym: I think in a smaller business particularly, again, using that professional services example, taking that further it’s a particular niche they play in example, they become the lawyers for IT companies, or the accountants for manufacturers, or whatever it might be, becoming the expert in a market niche, is that one of the ways in approaching that?
Mitch: Yes, I think it absolutely is. I think the caution there is the more specific you can be I think the better your ability to own it. So if you just say well we’re lawyers for IT, it might be tough right, and that’s a pretty big group and it makes you a little bit undifferentiated, but it’s certainly one step. I think it’s even more powerful to add some psychographic aspects right. We’re for cutting edge IT right, or even startups, a little bit more specific to convince people that you’re very specialised, very long-tail, very niche and they get me, and only they get me.
Kym: The caution though is it’s a niche that has enough people in it and it’s profitable (laughs).
Mitch: Exactly, exactly! It’s a balancing act.
Kym: Well that comes back to what you talked about with strategy right, so this stuff can’t be independent of what your business objectives are or what your sales objectives are, and who your target audience is and I love the way you described it at the beginning, it’s really just a part of that.
Kym: So they’re four ways to do it I guess but what else can you add to that. So we’ve worked out what we think is a differentiating statement, how do we then take that forward? What’s the next step?
Mitch: So the next step is to really think about every aspect of your business and how your positioning should inform that. So if your really crystal clear about what makes you different and you craft a strong brand positioning start with the very most basic. What does your product or service offer? What types of products and services should you offer? How should they be crafted in a way that is very consistent with that positioning? Your positioning will have implications for what you offer and don’t offer. It inherently should, if it’s a strong position.
Mitch: Similarly, your experience. Think about matching the products and services but how they’re experienced, every touch point through that experience from pre purchase to purchase and post purchase, should be crafted in a manner that is consistent with the positioning, the customer journey in other words. Think about every aspect of your offering, your product and service offering, your experience, how you extend your brand, to what areas. It’s all driven by that positioning, so that’s a very critical starting point but it’s to no means the end.
Kym: Without giving any names of clients can you take us through an example of a project you’ve worked on and how they looked at all those aspects?
Mitch: Sure. So I did work here in the US with actually a global retailer. And we worked with them to identify exactly what we are talking about here. Exactly what is their positioning, what is it that makes them different. And we did the exact types of things that you and I just talked about. It’s the internal audit if you will. Who are we and what is our mission, what is our goal, what are our long term business objectives, what are our strengths and our competitive advantages, what are our competencies, where do we have vulnerabilities, how are we going to be successful as a business before we’re getting into the brand. And we also did extensive market research with them to understand the market, their buyers, retail consumers, and what they’re looking for. How they view this brand and how they view that of their competitors to get there.
Mitch: And then we did exactly what I talked about before, we did a point by point audit of every touch point, so this is a brick and mortar and online retailer. Everything from their advertising to their promotion strategy to their collateral, their website, their in store offering, we made recommendations about entire departments that do and don’t make sense with their positioning and the in store experience. Everything from the way consumers are greeted at the door to the way they facilitate and navigate aisles to deliver an experience that’s very consistent with that positioning.
Kym: Yeah and I think that’s an important point. I think with a lot of people you then say I’ve got a positioning statement and now I’ll put some design around that, develop some content stick it on a website and other communication and that’s what the brands about but it’s much more than that. What you deliver and what you don’t see, how is your LinkedIn profile, just going back to basics. Even reinforcing when the customer buys, or becomes a customer, what is your invoicing process, your collection process look like, the delivery process. It’s everything about it, they’re all points that either reinforce or devalue what you say you do.
Mitch: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Exactly. As a famous marketer once said, everything communicates, everything you do, as little as the message on an invoice to the way the phone is answered at headquarters, every interaction a salesperson has with a B2B customer, everything communicates and in most cases it’s doing either something positive or detrimental to your brand. And your position needs to address those. And inform how those interactions should take place and how to make as many of those touch points positive and consistent with the positioning as opposed to the opposite.
Kym: It sounds like a daunting task when you talk about all that, doesn’t it. It doesn’t all have to be done on day one, does it?
Mitch: Oh no, of course not.
Kym: And so where’s the place that people should start with that? So I develop my position, I develop the message around that. Where do you usually advise people to start?
Mitch: In most cases, especially B2B or service based companies, we typically say you’ve gotta start internally. Because the people inside your organisation, especially in B2B and more service based businesses, they’re the ones that are delivering that experience and through which consumers or customers are experiencing the brand. So before you go on air and spend a gazillion dollars with their advertising agency doing advertising or other large scale mass communication, you need to make sure that the people responsible for delivering that promise, that grand positioning understand it and embrace it, and know what they need to do to deliver it. The worst thing I think you can do is begin trying to execute it externally before it’s fully understood and embraced internally.
Kym: You say to people here’s our new brand, here’s our new website, now go and live it.
Kym: And why aren’t they?
Mitch: So in the book there’s a chapter on employee engagement which is exactly that. Its likely focusing your marketing, your brand department that led the brand positioning effort but the success of it is going to be cross functional. So how do you bring everyone along the way. People in finance and accounting and operations and manufacturing and sales and customer service, they all need to understand it, different aspects of it and to different extents but everybody internally needs to understand what that brand is, or brands, and how it’s delivered and what their role is in ensuring a positive brand experience.
Kym: I think what I’ve seen happening quite often with manufacturers that have a great brand position, that to be used, but not through the distribution channel, so you need to look at all of those touch points and sometimes you’ve got two customers right, your distributor and your end user.
Mitch: It is. That’s a great point. There are very often channel dynamics at play when you talk about your positioning and especially experience. Franchise systems are another example, you know, restaurants and hotels that are very largely franchised. It’s a whole other dynamic. Franchisees need to understand their role in the importance of brand every bit as much as those in corporate headquarters or that are managing corporate properties.
Kym: Yeah, and understand the value it can bring but also too that’s an interesting point there. If you’re part of a franchise group or part of a group like that you wanna be behind the brand of the group but you also have to differentiate yourself locally don’t you.
Mitch: Yes. Fair point.
Kym: It’s a bit of a challenge there.
Mitch: No shortage of challenges are there.
Kym: Absolutely, and that’s part of the fun of being in business and the fun of marketing, but treat it a bit more strategically rather than how do I do a better website and how do I look different from the competition by the website. It’s everything related to that brand, and I love the framework, the four steps of who what why and how, and looking at your brand differentiation with each of those four hats on to start off with. Because I think the temptation as you said is just to look at in a legal sense or whatever it might be but I love the idea of looking at those differently.
Kym: And I think the second point that you made was really important about having those two lenses, the internal versus the external lens as well. To make sure when you look at that, your looking at both and the third I think was a real eye opener for me, and something we tend to overlook, is making sure we’ve got the employee and the internal engagement before we go external.
Mitch: That’s right, yeah. I would agree I think you summed it up very well, that some of the key talking points of this conversation and that really runs the course of the book.
Kym: Yeah, it’s a much broader conversation so tell me where can people go to get your book Mitch?
Mitch: Yes, so there’s a couple of different avenues. The book is on most online retailers, so it’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble in both paperback and in e-book form, so feel free to go to any of your favourite online retailers. And there’s also more information than in the book on my firms website, fullsurge.com. On there, there’s an entire page about the book, and there’s also the opportunity for readers or potential readers to download two free chapters to kind of get a sample of the book before they go and purchase it on Amazon so there’s our two possibilities.
Kym: That’s very generous Mitch and I’ll put all those links in the show notes for people as well.
Kym: If you’re stuck as a business not quite sure to go about it, and brand is a very- if you’re not a marketer, it’s a really tough subject to understand, if you are a marketer it’s still a tough subject to understand if you’re a product marketer, and I come from that background. It’s well worth looking at that. I’ve seen so much stuff Mitch on branding, but you give a practical way to go about it. Everyone says you should differentiate but no one knows how to differentiate. I think those four steps you talked about, and those two lenses are really great ways to do that. If people want to connect with you is the best way to go to your website, Full Surge?
Mitch: Yes, there’s a few ways. Full Surge is the website and I’m featured on that website. Personally, I’m also on LinkedIn, Mitch Duckler, and the same at Twitter, @mitchduckler.
Kym: Fantastic. Mitch, thank you so much for your time and your insights and for sharing your experience, I’ve just love a framework and I think that’s what people need more these days rather than more theory, and the practical stuff on how to go about it and I think your book no doubt does that and even in this short interview you’ve outlined a great way to start the process so really appreciate your time today.
Mitch: Great, thanks so much Kym, really enjoyed the conversation, and meeting you as well.
Kym: Thank you, talk to you later.
Mitch: Thank you.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Marketing Show. We hope you got some practical, effective tips and ideas so your organisation gets more prospects, and nurtures those prospects to becoming long term customers. Just a reminder, the show is sponsored by The Marketing Strategy Company, who help B2B organisations develop winning marketing strategies and sales and marketing automation systems, to turn their sales and marketing efforts into new customers and dollars through their marketing. Check out the show notes for this episode, and The Marketing Strategy Company’s planning and marketing services, at themarketingstrategy.co.
Until next time, happy marketing.