Catherine Blakemore of Treadaway Co.: “Stop using stock photography and get unique brand photos”

Stop using stock photography and get unique brand photos. Having your own unique photographic style and recognizably authentic situations depicted (especially for you service-based businesses) is an easy first step to maximizing your existing brand equity and building more. Hot tip: See if your customers want to be part of it! As part of our series […]

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Stop using stock photography and get unique brand photos. Having your own unique photographic style and recognizably authentic situations depicted (especially for you service-based businesses) is an easy first step to maximizing your existing brand equity and building more. Hot tip: See if your customers want to be part of it!

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

Catherine Blakemore is a fiercely pragmatic and solutions-oriented strategist resolving business problems using design thinking, a keen understanding of brand experiences, and a little bit of humor. She is the Founder of Treadaway Co., a brand strategy and design consultancy serving a global client base in non-profit, healthcare, law, real estate, interior design, and consumer goods. Holding a B.A. in Communication and a master’s degree in Strategic Communication, she is a big believer in learning as much as you teach, giving back more than you’ve been given, and seeking understanding before trying to be understood.

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?

I’ve built a brand strategy and design firm in some odd amalgamation of my eye for design, background in strategy, and unparalleled obsession with following consumer and service brands. No one thing led me to practice in this space. Still, countless little things keep me going from the satisfaction of seeing a good before and after LinkedIn profile in our personal branding work to the pure joy on a founder’s face when they see their business vision come to life online and in print.

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?

Oooph! The mistakes are plentiful and equally cringeworthy. One instance was while I was still a student and we were tasked with the strategy development for a downtown arts project where it was being branded as the “storybook” capital of America, and we created a full presentation and conducted research on the “storytelling” capital of America. The client let us move through the entire presentation before letting us know at the end just how far off we were from that slight word shift of “book” to “telling.” I’m grateful every day that situation was a student project for a client and not a paying client of my studio in the early days! Though the stakes weren’t high, it taught me that having multiple checkpoints and sign-offs throughout a project is critical for accuracy and for better ideation, execution, and buy-in. The devil is in the details…

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?

The tipping point in my career was a mindset shift that many solopreneurs have to make. I had to stop thinking of my business and “me” as the same. That simple shift freed my business from ego, freed myself from the fear of being wrong, and ultimately led to better profit-building practices as the financial elements separated along those lines as well. The lesson for me was to remember that my self-worth doesn’t come from the success or failure of my business and my business’ brand can have different tactics than my personal brand.

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

Maybe it’s naïve, maybe it’s silly, but I think every project we’re working on is exciting! One initiative we’re hoping to bring to market soon is a comprehensive personal branding package that we’ve trialed with a few folks to great success. This package would be fundamentally different than the work we do in business brand strategy and design but one that reaps tangible benefit for our clients, especially in the climate of individuals creating and building platforms of influence. It’s a more accessible package that doesn’t necessarily require the individual have a business but helps develop them as a thought-leader in their respective space. We’re big believers in the power of the individual so this feels like an awesome next evolution of the branding work we’re already doing.

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

Find a passion project! Exercising your creativity in spaces outside of what you do day-in and day-out for clients is hypercritical. Create something just for the sake of creation without any imposed budgetary and visual restrictions. See what comes out from pure flow-state creativity and then when you’re hitting a stuck point in a work project, pop over to your passion project and let your freak flag fly. Not only is it a great way to learn new skills or practice a rusty one, but it might also turn into your favorite portfolio piece or a pitch piece to a client on their brand’s potentiality.

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?

This is a big question. If you ask five different brand strategists, CMOs, advertisers, designers, and marketers, you’ll get 100 different answers. I’ll answer for how we approach this as a brand strategy and design studio. Branding is a process-based activity that, truthfully, never ends. It’s a constant combination of activities — including listening — to create an intrinsic understanding in your audience’s mind. Advertising, on the other hand, is a finite campaign-based approach to inform your audience of your product or service’s value to them specifically. Branding is showing; advertising is telling.

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?

Absolutely! I can sum it perfectly by adapting a principle from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. He says in the book, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” The same goes for branding. If you don’t build your brand, something else will. It’s the difference between influencing the narrative or letting the narrative run wild. Don’t let your brand be a bad Mad Lib. Just don’t.

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

Well, first, let’s get a common misconception straightened out. A lot of companies who want a logo update or messaging shift think they want a rebrand. That’s not a rebrand — that’s a brand update or brand evolution. A rebrand is a complete pivot in your brand. You’re changing the way people think of your business in a major way. We’ve written about this in our blog, so I’ll sum up the four top reasons to rebrand: 1) You’re changing the services or products you provide, 2) You are changing your core customer base, 3) You have a reputation to recover, and 4) You are redefining your business’s focus. True rebrands are not something to undertake lightly or flippantly.

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

There are definite drawbacks to conducting a comprehensive rebrand. One of the most significant parts of branding includes building brand equity. Brand equity is that intangible feeling your company creates in the mind of your audience outside of what you offer. To sacrifice the brand equity you’ve built over the years for the sake of a rebrand is a serious conversation you should have with your branding firm and your customers. Generally, I’d advise against a rebrand if your company doesn’t fall into the four scenarios we discussed. Outside of that, most companies just need a refresh (usually a refinement) or a better deployment and application of their existing visual identity elements and brand messaging.

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.

Yes! This is a great question and can also apply to people building personal brands as well.

  • Strategy 1: Stop using stock photography and get unique brand photos. Having your own unique photographic style and recognizably authentic situations depicted (especially for you service-based businesses) is an easy first step to maximizing your existing brand equity and building more. Hot tip: See if your customers want to be part of it!
  • Strategy 2: Ask and listen. So many companies make the mistake of only discussing a rebrand in a boardroom. You have a customer base and, if you’ve done a good job this far, they want to be in conversation with you. Engage with them! Give them a peek under the hood of what brand-building tactics you’re considering. Invite them into the conversation and glean as many insights as you can from their feedback. I promise you will identify a pattern or two that contradicts what you thought you knew about your brand.
  • Strategy 3: Don’t be 50% in five places when you can be 100% in two. This is especially true for my small businesses who don’t have robust in-house marketing teams. You don’t need to be giving 50% to five different platforms. Focus your creativity, attention, and budgets on two and drive your customer base there. Stagnation is a brand killer, so if you don’t use that Twitter account, signal it as dormant and pin a tweet inviting your customers to Instagram — or wherever it is you keep your brand fresh.
  • Strategy 4: Utilize more user- and employee-generated content. People connect with people. Give them someone to connect with! Share content from your customers ,whether it’s photos, testimonials, funny comments, or something else. Share updates from your team, whether it’s a desk or WFH setups, go-to coffee orders, or day-in-the-life of your CFO! Doing that will help humanize your brand and create buy-in from all sides.
  • Strategy 5: Consider an identity or logo refresh. If you thought you need a rebrand, dial it back slightly and consider an identity or logo refresh. Updated typography and color choices are a great way to make something “old” feel new. But keep in mind what brand equity you might be losing and also the costs associated with reprinting and repurchasing anything with your old identity elements! Don’t sacrifice consistency for newness.

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?

How about a recent example I’m betting 80% of users didn’t even notice? Hulu’s brand refresh by UK-based DixonBaxi. Rather than a comprehensive identity redesign, Hulu created a unified brand experience using an evolution of their existing identity elements. They created something fresh and clean that didn’t sacrifice brand equity or require major overhauls of the existing brand experience. This is something you can do right now for your personal brand or your business’ brand. Evaluate your consistency. Update your colors. Give your copywriting a shift and an edit. Boom! Makeover complete.

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’m reasonably sure this movement is already happening but… humanizing your brand! I believe that people — the individuals that make up these larger systems and collectives — are the most important. When we value people first, amazing things can begin to happen. This can start with listening to their stories and perspectives. It can expand by sharing and giving voice to underrepresented experiences. Then it can elevate by honoring that businesses are built by people and not the other way around.

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

One that is constantly pinging around in my head is that one from Essentialism by Greg McKeown. He writes, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” For me, there is no time, relationship, and financial advice better than that. I first read Essentialism years ago and have since re-read it multiple times, each time soaking up more and more of what it means to live as an essentialist does. Plus, it’s a great brand-building strategy, too!

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn! I want to know you and your story, what led you to this article, and what business idea you’ve been thinking of pursuing.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

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