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Cassie Clouser: “See your brand as a living being”

See your brand as a living being — Think about your brand as a living being. It’s this living, breathing essence, and it adapts to whatever is going on during the current times with your audience. It is responsive. Tap into your brand right now and take a look at what feels like it’s alive and what […]

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See your brand as a living being — Think about your brand as a living being. It’s this living, breathing essence, and it adapts to whatever is going on during the current times with your audience. It is responsive. Tap into your brand right now and take a look at what feels like it’s alive and what feels blocked? What’s missing from your brand?


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Cassie Clouser.

Cassie Clouser is The Brand Mythologist™. She helps companies create inspiring impressions through bold, story-driven branding and graphic design. As a former TEDx speaker and branding lead for TEDxYoungstown, Cassie shows her clients how to weave stories and visuals to create transformative experiences. She has helped numerous brands tap into the hero, the challenges, and the deepest desires through her unique Brand Mythology™ process. The process leverages a rich, multi-sensory perspective to inspire audiences, influence through visual storytelling, and turn on the BRAND HEAT!


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Have you ever seen a pianist play one-handed? That was me in the Spring of 2013.

After over-practicing the piano, I developed tendinitis in my right wrist. I couldn’t afford to stop playing. This was my identity and my livelihood as a wife and mother of two daughters.

I kept playing, gigging, and teaching, hoping it would heal. I kept running my little music studio and leading worship for a local church. I kept running myself low — until the other wrist finally followed. There I was with both hands unable to play, and I didn’t know how long it would last. I was injured and burnt out.

From overworking, I developed some other chronic illnesses. From the inability to work, I lost my home, and moved in with family for a few years to heal and rebuild.

Through a year of just focusing on healing my body, I spent a lot of time on mindfulness practices (What would Yoda do?). I realized that my creative spirit can’t be changed, that I can keep creating in so many different ways.

My fire eventually bloomed again. I had the desire to become independent in a way that was healthy for me — a way to still be creative, and to have a lifestyle designed for a healing introvert.

I remembered that I had done some amateur level design work during my music career for advertising my music studio. I remembered how much I loved designing and how much I admired the creative lifestyle of a designer.

It was then I decided to go ALL IN and train in design. Within 2 years, I created a career that not only supported myself, but my whole family. Within 3 years, we were in our own home again, and I had a flexible lifestyle to be able to manage career and family.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can’t think of any funny ones, but I can think of a not-so-funny one! (cue creepy music)

I once had a client that had frequent digital product launches. We cranked out product brands super-fast! (That’s the first hint…)

There was one occurrence where we had a brand that looked like a competitor’s brand, and the competitor contacted us about it. Though there was no intentional copying, the visual brand was designed in a common style of the time period. My clients were great about it though, and defended our process, proving we weren’t copying another brand.

It turned out ok, but in the moment, it’s enough to make you want to pee your pants a little. Lesson learned — research your competitors and differentiate intelligently.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

I’ve had a couple of tipping points.

The first was in my second year of business, when I reached 6-figures as a solopreneur.

One of the things I started doing differently was investing in who I was hanging around. I invested in community and then gave, gave, gave to that community. The takeaway lesson there is to know who your audience is, where they hang out, and then to go there. Build relationships. Show what you or your product does, as opposed to telling. I got a lot of business from reviewing and solving problems with sample design concepts.

The second tipping point was when I burnt out as an hourly design contractor. After that burn out, I stopped looking at myself as a contractor, and started looking at myself as a business with a unique brand and mission. I had spent so much time on other people’s brands as a contractor that I left mine on the back burner.

Once I switched to starting to build my own brand and stopped hiding behind the scenes, I had a tipping point in the other direction. Less time on client work, and more time on focusing on what I was becoming.

Once I focused on creating a potent brand for myself, I started attracting different types of clients. I started attracting brand projects that were my dream projects.

That tipping point of moving from doer to solver meant I took a dip in my business temporarily. But that shift wasn’t about the money — it was about needing to work from a different purpose — from a purpose and brand that I believed in.

Once I finally tapped into my own brand, it was like a good fire in my heart. “Yes, this is who I am, what I do, why I do it, and how I help people. It feels so right.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I’m working on branding for a couple of startups. One brand is about to revolutionize the personal development industry, and the other is building a social and live streaming platform for indie hip hop artists.

Creating standout brands that look professional and focused is so important for startups right now. We have a flood of new initiatives competing to take advantage of this new frontier for innovation as people are living in a new virtual world. It’s raising the bar on how companies are presenting their brands online.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

If you’re doing it just for the money, you’re going to burn out. If you’re working to distract yourself from something else, you’re going to burn out. If what you’re doing is not a good fit for your personality, you’re going to burn out. So many people aren’t present with their work. They’re not working for the sake of creating and growing. They’re working just so that they can get to the next thing or to avoid something from the past.

If you’re stuck in the past or always wishing you were in the future, you will drain yourself.

One of the biggest keys to longevity is doing something that you can’t help but do, something that keeps you in flow in the present moment, that is fueled by a greater purpose. Where is that sweet spot where you are fulfilling a vision for yourself and meeting a great desire of others?

If you’re not feeling flow, it’s time to take a look at your mission and adjust the sails if need be.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding goes beyond space and time. When you’re promoting your brand, you’re not necessarily selling something; you’re raising awareness of an imprint of your company that is a gestalt of transformation stories, values, mission, and experiences. You’re strengthening the audience’s memory of your company.

Product marketing is something that you can pinpoint in space and time. When you advertise a product, you are solving a specific problem with something tangible.

If you take a look at Nike’s recent social media marketing, you’ll see examples of both. You can see photos of tennis player Roger Federer wearing the Nike brand, a story of how he beat his record, and the long-standing Nike tagline #justdoit. It imprints a suggestion of “Nike = beating my best” along with other messages. It creates a memory that reinforces the brand.

Let’s take a look at the same company, now demonstrating product advertising in the same medium. Here is Nike implementing product advertising on their social media:

“Introducing the Nike FE/NOM Flyknit Bra. The first-ever sports bra with Nike Flyknit technology. It’s incredibly supportive and impossibly light.”

“The Bra That Changes Everything” is a product advertisement, solving the specific problem of sports bras being too heavy/constricting in order to keep the ladies in place.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Let’s think about business relationships as a metaphor of dating…

What type of relationship do you want to be in?

Do you want something more like casual dating? Are you in it for the experience and more transactional? Or are you wanting to create something that is long-lasting?

If you want to create long-lasting relationships within your team and customers, you must invest in your brand.

Why? Because when you’re investing in your brand, you’re investing in creating community based on shared values, pain, and desired transformation. When you have team members and customers that fully buy into those shared perspectives and desires, you’re creating longevity and stronger bonds.

What happens when you’re looking for any type of long-term relationship? You learn more about their stories, their values, how they treat you, and how you feel when you’re around them. If your life changes for the good after being around them for a while, and your values match, you’re more likely to form a long-term relationship.

When you’re building a brand, you’re creating fans that will not only buy your stuff but will enthusiastically recommend you and come back as repeat buyers.

Branding efforts may at first seem like a lot of funding, but with the right focus and purpose, it pays off in the long run.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Rebranding can mean many things. There’s the rebranding of the soul of the business — it’s mission, it’s values, the team. There’s the part of the branding that is the audience — to whom you’re speaking. Lastly (at least for now), there’s the part of the branding is the visual image and tone of voice.

So why would a company consider rebranding?

An outdated look — In terms of the visual identity of a brand, a company might rebrand if they look really outdated. For example, you look at the brand and say “Oh my goodness, that logo is so 90’s.” (Though, I did dig my wind pants and stellar bangs…)

You might do a visual rebrand when you look like everybody else or when you look like the rest of the competition. In order to differentiate, you might do a rebrand visually.

Your business or values have majorly changed — I would suggest a mission/value/manifesto rebrand if your mission has changed or if your brand doesn’t express your values anymore. With the recent Black Lives Matter movement, you see a lot of brands shifting their values on diversity and how they express those values.

Major audience or world changes — The last part to consider is your audience and what’s going on in the world at the moment. You might consider rebranding if your audience has changed or expanded. If you’re talking to different people, you’re telling different stories. If that change is big enough, you might want to consider rebranding.

You may need to rebrand if the world has evolved in some way that requires you to pivot your brand. For example, right now in 2020, we’re experiencing a pandemic. Many businesses have pivoted in some ways to adjust to selling in a predominantly virtual world, and startups are blooming all over the place!

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Most certainly, there can be downsides of rebranding.

If you rebrand and don’t prepare your audience, it can be really confusing. Think of a baby that has a dad who has always had a beard, and then all of the sudden, he shaves it off. The baby looks at the dad’s naked face and starts crying. If you’re going to rebrand in a big way, prepare your audience and pace the change slowly.

Another downside of rebranding is that you can lose some customers. If you’re starting to talk to a different audience and communicate different values, you might lose people. Focus on the audience that you want and understand that this may take some time to make the overall shift. Keep in mind that rebranding can also bring in new customers, so weigh that into the equation.

Rebranding is an funding of time, money, and heart. When you work with a brand professional, yes, they will be doing a lot of the work and guiding you along the process, but there will be a lot of work on your end as well. Branding geniuses learn how to model a business’s inner workings. They learn how to map a founder’s heart. Along with the funding can come with some great discoveries that can lead to business owners seeing their businesses in a totally new light.

Who should not rebrand?

Ooh… squirrel! If you’re someone who needs to change it up a lot, and you’re bored, that is not a reason to rebrand. Do not do that. Find a different outlet for change in your life. Buy some really bold, yellow pants. I know a lot of entrepreneurs that thrive on change. They’re multi-passionate and like to switch back and forth between different strengths. When it comes to branding, focus is central.

Long-standing tradition. If you already have a strong sense of your mission and values, and those haven’t changed much, keep those intact, even when doing a visual rebrand.

You’re trying too hard. Some people have put their arms up in the air on what to do in their business, and say, “Oh, I’ll just do a new brand, that will fix it!” They use it as a band aid solution. A new brand will not necessarily fix what’s not working in a business.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

1. See your brand as a living being.

Think about your brand as a living being. It’s this living, breathing essence, and it adapts to whatever is going on during the current times with your audience. It is responsive. Tap into your brand right now and take a look at what feels like it’s alive and what feels blocked? What’s missing from your brand?

One of my favorite examples of this concept is a brand I’ve been working on called the Black Women’s Roundtable, which is part of the NCBCP (The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation).

I helped create a partial rebrand for them and focused particularly on their Take It to The Top Entrepreneurship Challenge, which is like a Shark Tank for black women entrepreneurs, sponsored by Coca Cola 5by20 and Verizon. They were missing a strong online presence, as well as they felt their brand wasn’t speaking to all of their audience. They wanted to shift to create a soulful brand that would include bold visuals that would appeal to a younger generation, as well as to the older generations that have long carried the torch.

2. Define your revolution.

Ready to find that inner fight? To do that, you got to figure out what you’re fighting for. What do you want to revolutionize? It’s your big why — it’s the one thing that gets you up in the morning and how that translates into your business. It’s the thing that gets your team excited and how that translates into how they do their work and how they interact with customers. Defining your revolution will help you to resonate with people who have the same desires.

This past year I was appointed branding lead for TEDxYoungstown, which was an amazing honor. I was a speaker in 2018, and then volunteered some design work in 2019, and then got to sit in the core team for 2020.

Branding the 2020 event (which unfortunately has come to a halt because of COVID-19), all came down to story for us. It all came down to the story of the revolution that TED has set out. This revolution that we were looking for was a change in perspective; a revolution of the mind; a revolution of being able to open minds and share new ideas, by sharing ideas of different categories of thoughts and from all around the world. And so, the theme that we chose for 2020 was Eyes Wide Open, which represents the revolution of waking up to new ideas so that people can lead more fulfilling lives.

That’s the story we tapped into when we presented to our team and sponsors. It is the story of the dreams of the innovators of our town. That type of deep level branding gets some major buy-in from the community. That generates major energy and inspires what the visuals will look like. Ideally, even in a logo is the story of the brand.

3. Establish your rallying cry.

I’ve had the honor to work with a great mentor, Kevin Rogers, a great copywriter and founder of Copy Chief. Though I don’t position myself as a copywriter, I hang around a lot of copywriters. And in one of his techniques, he asks, “What’s your Rebel Yell”… What is your rallying cry? What are you fed up with? How is your company different? And what are you going to do about it?

For another client, I’m currently in the process of creating a brand from scratch. Story, name, visuals — everything. At first, you’re dealing with the infinite. You’re dealing with this huge mass of possibility. My client is creating a learning platform that is going to revolutionize the personal development industry. We’ve weaved the rallying cry of our audience as a core part of the brand.

Your rallying cry not only brings the brand to life, it also brings your team and audience to life. This can be so powerful in that we’re connecting on a subconscious and emotional level with our people, which means deeper bonds.

4. Position your customer as the hero.

When you position your customer as the hero, you are empowering another person. And you are giving yourself the power to empower another person. That’s what this is about. Your business is not just for your own success, it’s about giving other people success too. And when you can tap into that, you’re tapping into a whole new level of life for your brand.

What does the hero story of your customer look like? Your hero has their status quo, what their everyday looks like, and what you see as this hidden human potential. We’re looking to fulfill their greatest human potential through our business — our products, services, our brands.

In the hero’s journey there are two worlds. There’s the ordinary world that represents lack of awareness and the extraordinary world that represents the unknown and the path to a new awareness. The hero starts out in his ordinary world, and he hears a call to the new world. The call could be to face a fear; it could be something that they’ve never done before; it could be a metaphorical fantasy world.

Next they meet a guide. That’s you. You’re the guide, not the hero. You show them how to survive the unknown. You help guide them so that they face their fears, gain the elixir or life, become resurrected, and come back to the ordinary world changed, ready to help others with this new knowledge.

This past year, I worked on a brand and website for a speech pathologist and reading specialist. We tapped into the hero’s journey of both the parents of kids with reading difficulties, as well as the kids themselves. We framed how she guides parents through this world of the unknown. Worries of “Oh my goodness, does my child feel they look stupid in class? Will they ever be able to read like they want to? Will they be successful in life? Will I fail my child?”

What if the parents could enter this world and gain knowledge that yes, they COULD do these things that they didn’t think were possible before. My client was the guide who has been into the unknown, and she has the trusted process to bring them through that unknown world.

In the end it wasn’t about the achievement. It was about loving reading again, it was about confidence, loving the experience and how we can help provide that to parents.

5. Hire a branding professional that resonates with your core values.

When you invest money into your brand, it’s going to light a fire under your bump. There’s risk involved. It’s not just you thinking about your brand in a cave somewhere. You’re putting some skin in the game to make this happen. That is going to energize you in a way that puts the pressure on to align and perform.

Hiring a professional is also going to bring you an outside perspective. Sometimes we have a really hard time seeing from the inside. Even as a designer, working my own brand challenged me. You need an outside perspective with fresh eyes to bring clarity. This will also ensure that you’re going through a trusted process in bringing out the very best in your business.

When you’re hiring, don’t just choose the cheapest option. Find someone who resonates with your values, someone who is going to infuse their energy and your energy into the brand. Does your brand designer have good energy? How do you know if they do? For me, good energy is like feeling this light, this inner light that glows in your core. When you know what your “yes” feels like, it’s easier to know when you’re making great choices when it comes to the people that you hire.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

One of my favorite brand shifts that I’ve seen in the past year is NBC Universals’ “The More You See Her” campaign. For the first time in 30 years, “The More You Know” is narrowing down to the specific theme of women’s empowerment. It focuses features that encourage showing realistic imagery of women in the media, diversity, empowering women business owners, and supporting equal pay. You can see their year-long campaign featured here: https://www.themoreyouseeher.com/

It impresses me that a long-standing tradition chose to do something different. It takes guts. I also strongly resonate with their campaign. We can replicate this by taking a look at what we do the same over and over, and how we can do something different, fueled by our values.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement that encourages people to tap into their deepest resources of creativity, know themselves, and express themselves fully in life and business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I like stories where women save themselves.” — Neil Gaiman

The story of my adult life has been about finding my way of independence as a woman, and deeply appreciating my strengths and capabilities in all of my colors with an open heart. If you’d like to hear more about my personal story of navigating great uncertainty with while supporting a transgender partner transition male to female, watch my TEDx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtFRtFH7lZU

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Facebook here: facebook.com/thebrandmythologist

And check out my portfolio at thebrandmythologist.com

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