Consider your brand through the lens of your customer. — One of my favorite stories was an estate attorney that I work with who gave me her business card. Her text on the card was so small and faint that I could not read it. Consider that the majority of her clients are seniors who would not be able to call because they could not even read her card, the face of her business.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Kim McKernan.
Kim McKernan was a brand manager at a 200 USD Million Company for almost two decades and was responsible for ensuring global consistency. She left the corporate world to start Inspired Outcomes to offer a new more collaborative, creative, and human approach to branding. Today, Kim helps businesses, startups and individuals to define the why, who, what and how to use their brand to create more authentic connections. Kim’s proprietary process combines authentic branding, appreciative inquiry, brand marketing know-how, and creative problem solving to build brands that connect with their buyer in powerful ways.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I spent my entire career in the corporate world and achieved an executive level of marketing in a large company. At one point, I tried for a promotion and the man who got the position felt insecure and intentionally started destroying my career. My approach to overcome this challenging period in my life was to go back to school for a second Master’s Degree in Creativity and Change Leadership. It was the most useful of all of the education that I received (including an MBA), and gave me tools to approach the world of work differently. I started my new life as an entrepreneur in July of 2019 with a purpose-driven business to offer a more collaborative, creative, and human approach to branding and marketing for organizations and individuals.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was a young marketing specialist tasked with creating a directory of companies involved in international trade. For one of our members, there was a typo in her title from Public Affairs Manager to Pubic Affairs Manager. I can laugh about it now, but I felt bad for a whole year. I learned the importance of attention to detail and that you need everyone on the team to look out for each other to ensure your end result is as good as it can be.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I created my own process for branding that combines Appreciative Inquiry + Creativity + Marketing, that works impeccably for creating a truly differentiated brand. For those that don’t know, Appreciative Inquiry is a positive approach to help organizations navigate complex change as an opportunity rather than a problem. Employees, customers and leaders co-create an ideal outcome and action plan based on the strengths of your organization. Started in 1987 by David Cooperider, it is a proven approach used extensively in organizational development, positive psychology and education.
Using this positive approach requires business owners to profoundly think about their business and achieve alignment within the organization on the total who, what and how of a business. We often include customers in the sessions and hearing from a customer what they appreciate most about your business is always life-changing for both managers and employees.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. I have been working with the Jacobs School of Medicine in Buffalo to help residents and medical students use Appreciative Inquiry to help improve wellness and even select specialties based on their strengths. I find scientists, doctors and engineers sometimes struggle with looking at strengths and successes and can enter a negative space where burnout can take over. Appreciative Inquiry can be a new tool in their toolbox to help in really complex situations involving complex change in the way we work.
I am also working with a lot of startups and new businesses to define their brand as the first step in a business. The results have been impressive with all other elements of the business falling easily into place because of a strong brand foundation. The end result is a business that stands apart from all others and authentically communicates the vision of the business owner to customers. I look forward to documenting some case studies on this over the next year.
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?
A lot has changed in the world of marketing and I am often in a position to explain it to my clients. Your brand is the face of your business and exists in the perception of your customer across all of the touch points he or she has with a business. Then there are marketing fundamentals that are necessary to communicate with your customers, which include website, business cards, social media properties and sales literature. Advertising is an investment you make for growing the business and finding new customers. Now it is often digital campaigns but can also be more traditional media. In all cases branding, marketing fundamentals, and promotional campaigns, must be consistent and true or they will not work together to make your business stronger.
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?
Some people look at branding very narrowly as a logo, color palette or font. That is really only one small part of the brand and may not be important to your customer. The brand is equally made up of who you are, what you offer and how you deliver all within the context of why you exist as a business. The success of any business is based on the loyalty of your customers who not only repeatedly buy from you but refer others. You can best achieve this with a strong brand that resonates with your ideal customers and is true to your business. Investing resources and energy in your brand is your foundation and an asset for your business. It also makes the general marketing and advertising easier and more cost effective because you have messaging that is clear, strong and true.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
1. Consider your brand through the lens of your customer.
One of my favorite stories was an estate attorney that I work with who gave me her business card. Her text on the card was so small and faint that I could not read it. Consider that the majority of her clients are seniors who would not be able to call because they could not even read her card, the face of her business.
2. Reflect the “Why” of Your Business.
I am a fan of Simon Sinek who is famous for encouraging organizations to know “their why.” This is also critical when developing your brand as your values and beliefs will truly differentiate you from others. I always tell a client we are successful if at the end of the process you can say: “This is me and true to my why.” At this time in history, people are looking to invest in brands that are purpose driven and want to know your commitment to values such as sustainability and inclusion and diversity.
3. Ensure you are consistent at each touch point.
I encourage people to walk through every single interaction you normally have with a client from before they ever speak to you (visit a website or social media) to experiencing a product or service to the post purchase experience. Many companies ignore a client after the purchase phase and wonder why they do not have brand loyalty. Make sure that you build your customer experience in ways that encourage loyalty as part of your brand.
4. Brand is the art of saying no to some customers.
This is one of the hardest things I have to tell my clients. When you identify your ideal customers and build your brand to resonate with this audience, you have to walk away from clients or opportunities that don’t fit. If you are a high-end luxury brand you can’t be a low-cost supplier for “the everyman.” This discipline pays off for every client I know and helps provide needed focus.
5. Build on the positive.
I always start a brand discover by looking at the strengths, successes and qualities that customers value. This is the starting point that we build on. Organizations typically focus on problems and weaknesses and I ask them instead to build a foundation based on what customers and employees’ value and appreciate the most.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
The classic example for me is Apple, who has a great amount of consistency and loyalty from customers, which has translated into tremendous profits as well. From going to website that is clean and clear to unboxing your new product in elegant packaging to getting help in a store, customers have a consistent experience. I work with clients to evaluate touch points and think about what they want the customer experience to be. This is a very valuable way to think about the brand from the customer’s point of view and requires that employees understand the brand and live it every da
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
For me customer loyalty and referrals are a great way to measure the brand, which reflects a larger amount of sales from repeat customers. It is important to set goals and track and measure if you are you attracting your ideal customer in actuality. I also recommend using customer surveys and satisfaction ratings as a way to measure if you are achieving loyalty for the long term.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media needs to be consistent with your brand and requires that you know where your best customers prefer to be. Sometimes I find that companies rely on it too much. We discovered that one of my clients was creating and posting videos on only one social channel and thus, not even reaching her best customers with the majority of her communications. Some businesses find that “likes” do not translate into sales and this is usually a branding and marketing issue. You also do not own the content on social media the same way you do your website and email communications so ensure the content on your website is the primary digital face of your brand. I also recommend guidelines for writing style, visuals, and personality, as an important tool to bringing your brand to life on social media in an effective way.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
As an appreciative inquiry facilitator, I recommend a gratitude practice as a way of life. It works for your work and personal life, which is vital for people today as the two are largely intertwined. I ask teams I work with to complete a worksheet answering these questions:
• What are three good things that happened to me today?
• Why did these good things happen?
• What does it mean to me?
• How can I bring more of these good things into my life?
Gratitude helps me to move in a direction to thrive and reduces the negatives thought patterns that can cause burnout.
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 am passionate about changing the world of work to be more collaborative, creative and human. I found the corporate world has created workplaces where people are alone in a cubicle with few opportunities to contribute ideas and creativity. We need all of the good ideas of all employees in order to succeed as businesses. We can benefit greatly by involving our employees in making our business the kind we all want to work in. We can influence the level of innovation by encouraging a diversity of ideas and inviting employees to have deeper interactions by asking more meaningful questions. Finally, we need to consider life balance (not work life balance), to keep people healthy in all aspects of their life. Do you want to join this movement?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me it is the concept of the Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz based on ancient Toltec wisdom.
• Agreement 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word.
• Agreement 2: Don’t Take Anything Personally.
• Agreement 3: Don’t Make Assumptions.
• Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best.
While these seem simple, for me, living them in practice is a challenge. If you analyze where you are going off track with a client or loved one, it is normally a failure to live by one of these. For example, someone makes edits to a marketing piece that I have labored over for days. If I take this personally, my ego is hurt. If I don’t, I can treat this feedback as a gift that will make my output better. If I get off course, reflection on these four agreements bring me back to what is really important in my business and personal life.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have lunch or breakfast with Brené Brown. Her wisdom and honesty inspire me. I admire the creativity with which she approaches the world. I know our discussion would be fun as well as meaningful.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational