Do what you say you will do. Be who you say you are. This is foundational to being trusted and believable. Get all your employees on the same page and telling the same story. Eventually, your customers will also understand and share the same story. Everyone needs to live the brand, every day.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Kim Schlossberg.
It’s not every day you meet a “brand therapist.” For almost 20 years, Kim Schlossberg has been creating brands for businesses, non-profit organizations, and thought leaders with the simple idea that your brand speaks before you do. Kim has been writing and teaching and leading companies through a powerful process to create a brand that is both trusted and believable. She advocates for creating true, authentic brands and then carrying that message through every aspect of the company, from web messaging, to behind-the-scenes aspects including culture and leadership. Kim offers companies “strategic brand therapy” so they can attract and retain customers and grow authentically.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ever since I won an Easy-Bake Oven for winning our supermarket’s Valentine contest, I knew I wanted a creative career. My education and career began in interior design. Along with the basics of design, I learned how to look at the big picture and create something that’s both functional and beautiful for every user. This experience provided a solid foundation for any type of design career. After being in that field for a few years, I realized the industry was not what I anticipated, and made a pivot to graphic design.
Then I spent 10 years in-house at a global accounting and consulting firm, doing marketing, graphic design, and eventually managing the regional marketing team. I loved most of the work and almost all the people but wanted to be free from some aspects of corporate life, like the long hours and constant pressure regarding things that were out of my control. I was ready to take charge of my life and my career. When that company went out of business and I lost my job (along with all my co-workers), I knew the time had arrived to start my own business. Even now, 18 years later, I still get referrals from people I worked with there.
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?
Very early on, I was designing a logo for a new company started by one of my favorite former co-workers. I gave him a handful of options, like I always do, but this time I included one ridiculous option that I thought he’d find really funny. I don’t know if he was turning the joke back on me, or if he was being sincere, but he told me that was the one he wanted to use. I learned at that point to never present something to a client that you don’t want them to use. Not even as a joke. I like to give people a few options, especially about the direction of their branding, but now I make sure they’re all good!
One goal I’ve always had in my business is to learn any lesson the first time — and not keep making the same mistake over and over again. The lesson I learned with that logo project definitely made a lasting impression!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As much as I love the details and nuances of good design and branding, I always begin every project by looking at the big picture. I created my company’s Brand Therapy process to help our clients understand exactly how they want the public to see their organization. It enables them to clearly present themselves in that way, every time, in every place the public sees them. Brand Therapy uncovers where they’re being inconsistent with their brand, whether that’s in print, online, at their place of business, or even with their reputation.
Our first Brand Therapy assessment was with a counseling practice, and it actually proved to me how important this service is. Our initial workshop for this client seemed very successful. There were around a dozen employees there, along with the owner, and they all clearly told me what the company stood for: They love people. They care about people. They take care of people. They were all on board with the company’s most important value. Any owner would be thrilled.
But… the second step to the Brand Therapy process involves assessing how consistently the client expresses their brand, and suggested remedies if they get off track. Initially, I thought I’d be running into issues such as using the wrong version of the logo, or deviations on colors or fonts. That often happens. When I started digging, however, I discovered this client had customer reviews that said they didn’t answer their phones or keep their appointments. I also experienced their customer service shortfalls myself. I wasn’t even greeted when I first went into their office. Their facility was dingy and depressing — not at all welcoming.
At that point, I realized the Brand Therapy assessment needs to be much broader than just looking at marketing materials. It needs to thoroughly review the organization and every single way the brand and its team members, as brand ambassadors, touch the public. Everything really needs to work together and paint the same picture.
Unlike some more specialized firms, our team truly looks at the big picture, and helps each client create a powerful, consistent, authentic, and trustworthy brand, and live that brand every single day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Of course! All of our projects are exciting!
I’m working with a small, local non-profit that’s preserving and restoring a native prairie and historical church. We did their overall branding, and now we’re helping with a capital campaign to build an auxiliary building on the site. We’re designing print pieces, applying the brand elements, as well as promotional materials and the website — virtually all aspects of the project. The site is so gorgeous, it’s easy to make all the materials beautiful! It’s a joy to capture and convey the essence of this extremely rare slice of natural beauty in the middle of suburbia. It’s such a special place, one that people need even more while we can’t travel.
We’re also starting work on new branding for a bilingual behavioral health agency serving an unserved market here in Dallas. They’re making behavioral health available to people who would not be able to access those services otherwise. The brand will help their potential customers relate to the organization and feel comfortable walking in the door to get the help they need.
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?
I don’t encourage my clients to differentiate between how they present their organization and how they present a specific product or service. Yes, of course you need to do both. But all marketing and branding should convey the same message, the same values, and the same personality. They should also use the same language and visual representation. The most relevant difference between brand marketing and product marketing is the client’s goals for a given activity. Are they trying to increase donations or purchases of a specific item? Or do they simply want their organization to be better known, recognized and respected?
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?
We all have competition, and buyers can easily find other options with a simple Google search. A solid brand-building program will help magnify your organization, making it stand out above the noise.
We also all have a brand, as individuals and as organizations. You either have an intentional or an unintentional brand. If you don’t put resources and energy into defining your brand and keeping it healthy, you’ll end up with an unintentional brand. Other people (customers, competition, the media) will define it for you.
If your brand is unclear or inauthentic, you may find yourself fielding calls from potential customers who are not a good fit for your business. Disappointed prospects may be looking for something other than what you offer. Or, you may create a serious reputation problem for your business. Eventually, you’ll become invisible or even irrelevant in the marketplace.
A clear, consistent, authentic brand will speak directly to your ideal customers and attract them to your business. With a powerful brand, your customers and prospects will have a good idea of who you are and what you do before your first conversation. They will already believe that you’re a good match for their needs. You’ll be better able to serve them, and they’ll be happy customers who will refer you to others who will also be a good fit.
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.
My process creates a brand that is authentic to the organization’s heart and soul. If the client follows this process — not just during the design stage, but during the life of the brand — they will enjoy a brand that’s both believable and trustworthy. Here is my process:
- Start by uncovering who you are, as an organization. We begin our branding projects with a discovery workshop (or a survey for larger organizations, or a conversation for smaller ones) to help everyone in the organization articulate who they believe the organization is. We get everyone’s vision of the brand, including aspects such as its values, personality, target market, and how they serve customers.
- Based on this discovery, our integrated team creates a brand that clearly expresses who you already are. If you try to do this in the wrong order (start with the brand and then try to get people to believe in it) it will backfire. You’ll have a brand that your team can’t live up to. We avoid that trap by creating the words and using the language of visual representation to communicate the brand in compelling ways to your target audiences.
- Next, we roll out the visuals and words and apply them to everything the company does. I share a list of around 50 touchpoints that need to express the brand values and images clearly and consistently. Some of those include the website, social media presence, signage, print materials, place of business, and networking presence — the list goes on.
- Do what you say you will do. Be who you say you are. This is foundational to being trusted and believable. Get all your employees on the same page and telling the same story. Eventually, your customers will also understand and share the same story. Everyone needs to live the brand, every day.
- Watch for results. The easiest way to know how consistently you are living your brand is to keep a close eye on customer reviews and feedback. Your customers (and the general public) will let you know where you miss the mark — and when you hit a bullseye. They’ll let everyone else know, too.
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?
Patagonia is a fantastic example of a company that truly walks the talk. Yvon Chouinard founded the company based on his passionate commitment to the environment. Their values inform everything they do. That encompasses building high-quality products, using materials that are recycled or responsibly produced, taking trade-ins and selling used products, and speaking out on environmental and social issues. Their “Buy Less, Demand More” campaign encourages consumers to purchase far fewer products by selecting those that are higher quality and longer lasting.
I believe that every business (like every person) expresses their values through their actions. So, the way to replicate this is to know what you believe in and follow through, in every single thing you do. Very simple — but not easy!
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?
An authentic, believable, trustworthy brand is built by expressing your values every single day, everywhere people encounter you. I look at customer reviews, feedback, and referrals to see if the brand execution is successful. For example, referrals that are a great fit indicate the brand is compelling and its reputation is well established. Those that don’t quite align with the business signal the branding is unclear or inconsistent. The public will advocate for your brand and its products or services when you’ve delivered on the value promised. They’ll also be quick to complain if an organization is not living up to its values, which is another way to gauge a brand’s impact (like the therapists who claimed to care about people but didn’t ever answer their phones or return messages).
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media is one of many channels available for expressing your brand, and it should be used to amplify the brand’s values across a larger audience. Social media can also be a great tool to facilitate conversations with your audience. I tell my clients to first, find out where your ideal client is, and set up your social media presence on that platform or platforms. You don’t need to be everywhere. It’s better to focus on one or two platforms where you can really invest your energy. Also, don’t just broadcast content or sales messages on the platforms you use; ask questions, have conversations, and nurture relationships.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Do work that you love and that is meaningful to you. And take care of yourself in every way!
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’d love to find a way to create a donor or grant-funded agency that could offer high quality, pro bono marketing and design services to non-profits and at the same time fairly pay the professionals doing the work. We could also train disadvantaged people in design skills and prepare them for future jobs, creating a real win-win-win!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always been one to learn the hard way. I learn by doing. One of my business and personal goals is to “learn lessons the first time.” While that may seem impossible in some cases, it’s a worthy aspiration and something I strive for. Also, “it’s a small world; don’t gossip.”
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. 🙂
Good question! I would love to have a conversation with Maria Popova, creator and writer of Brain Pickings. She writes the most fascinating articles about the arts, culture and science. She’s a genius at following threads and tying seemingly unrelated things together. In this world where people are getting more and more specialized in their work and viewpoints, it’s refreshing to read the work of a big-picture creative thinker like her. I review her writings a couple of times a week; it’s like sitting down to visit with a wise friend.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimschlossberg/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.