“Take that jump” With Fotis Georgiadis, Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be […]

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When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

I had a pleasure interviewing Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn.

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn are on a mission to bring more than just “pretty pictures” to the world of branding for women leaders and business owners.

In their collaborative project, The Solid Brand Sessions, Cristin and Julie set out to solve a big problem that they both encountered over the years: People want pretty ‘branding’ photos, but then, they don’t know what to do with them. They get caught in a trap that focuses on the “look” only.

The Solid Brand Sessions focuses on helping women business owners overcome this trap. They build and re-energize brands by creating visuals that hold true to a strategy led by the brand’s core values.

Julie’s strategies and brand implementation plans pull directly from her experience in the advertising agency world and the knowledge she gained working as Bethenny Frankel’s right hand as she built her Skinnygirl Empire. Cristin’s storytelling expertise comes from commercial visual and video work for Ustianochka Vodka, Habitat for Humanity, and Simple Sugars.

Cristin and Julie are serious about creating confidence in the brand building journey. Their packages include hair, makeup, personal styling, and production. To date they have helped over 30 small businesses build a solid brand.

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?

Cristin: My production experience dates back to junior year in high school when I helped create my first real video: a remake of the infamous song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I loved everything about the production process: the storyboarding, the over the top style (trying to look like real Barbies), the multiple takes to get it just right, the long days in the edit suite, and most importantly, the look on our classmates’ faces when we premiered it. From there I knew I would always work in a creative industry. Sixteen years later I work hard everyday to make sure I feel just as passionate about my work as 16-year-old Cristin and I try even harder to help the audience feel SOMETHING when watching videos or looking at photos.

Julie: In the summer of 2006 I was working for Hamptons Magazine. I was told that I would be “helping” cook brunch with a celebrity natural foods chef, and I should prepare to help her with whatever she needed. I showed up at my CEO’s Southampton house and met Bethenny Frankel. I did everything in my power that day to impress her, despite my lack of cooking experience. We both recognized each other’s work ethic and I told her to call me when she was famous. She did…a few years later and hired me as her assistant. I went on to help her build her Skinnygirl brand from the ground up. That is where my true passion in helping others build strong brands started, and where I got the desire to be an entrepreneur.

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?

Cristin: When I first started my company, I rented an Airbnb for a video shoot that looked so chic and updated on the listing. Come to find out it was rundown, and the furniture was falling apart. It took us some time, but we styled it and shot in a way that disguised the disarray. The lesson: do your research and due diligence when it comes to location scouting, but it was also good to know that if I was put in a less than ideal situation, I could really flex my creative muscles and that I was CAPABLE.

Julie: When Twitter first started, I was working for Bethenny Frankel. Her following grew FAST and someone told us that we needed to follow back everyone that followed her. After realizing that wasn’t the correct strategy for that platform, we spent five days, 24/7 unfollowing over 40,000 people one-by-one. The lesson: this taught me that you need to HAVE A STRATEGY before doing anything, especially when it is something new and uncharted!

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?

Cristin: It sounds cliché, but when I went through the branding process myself in 2017, I started to feel more confident as a business owner, but also as a woman. There was finally a professional look to my brand and I felt more confident pitching my services at a new higher rate. Branding is essential: at a time that feels good to you (and only you will know when that time is).

Julie: It was when I realized that taking on every task and assignment in your job without complaining or thinking it is beneath you is one of the steps to success. You make EVERYTHING your job and your business. Making copies, getting coffee, creating spreadsheets — you do all those tasks as if they are the most important things. People will notice that and you do all to the best of your ability — you will grow as an employee, person and set yourself up for success if you ever want to run your own business one day. And if you make a mistake, own up to it and move on.

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

Both: Our exciting project is taking our own advice and building our own brand together, called The Solid Brand Sessions. We are going through the how and why that we help clients go through. Bringing our two brands together isn’t always easy, but the goal is to create a one-stop-shop and brand in a box concept that will help small business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs find success. As part of this we also have our Unleash Your Potential online and in-person events! Take a look at www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

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

Both: When you want to pivot or re-invent yourself — look inside yourself and your brand. Don’t try to be like everybody else. It is so easy in the world of social media to compare yourself to others and try to go after what you “think” is the quickest way to success. Don’t do that. It’s a trap. Success is a feeling that you have when you are true to yourself, not necessarily something tangible. Being the same as everyone else stifles your true creativity.

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?

Julie: The real difference here is the behind the scenes work. Brand marketing MUST be developed before product marketing/advertising can be successfully implemented. The components that make up brand marketing behind the scenes lead a successful product marketing campaign. For instance, brand positioning creates belonging and matches the brand’s strengths to the target’s world view. Another example is to figure out how the brand will sustain. How will the brand show confidence and build trustworthy relationships that endure.

Learning these types of things firsthand at an advertising agency and the mentors I have met along the way, I always go into branding and advertising projects wearing my “strategy and communications” hat.

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?

Both: TO DEVELOP TRUST IN YOU AND YOUR BRAND. The amount of people and brands out there trying to “make” something of themselves is overwhelming. Just look at any of your social media feeds. When someone wants to do something new, buy something new or invest in someone new — — they do their research. They want to feel a connection to the person/thing/reason behind the product or brand. That is why brand building is important.

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

Both: We work with a lot of small business owners, many of them who had an idea, set up a social media account, and had their cousin’s friend make a logo for them. They move fast and furious, are driven and start to succeed in their specific industry. But then — — the lack of strategy catches up with them. Things might look ok to consumers/customers from the outside, but as the owner and the brand steward, they are struggling. It is at this point that our clients come to us to consider a brand refresh or rebrand. We take a look at all they have done up until this point, define their brand strategy (internal compass) and work on how to visually bring that strategy to life!

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

Both: Yes. The decision to re-brand has to make sense from a business perspective and all parts of the company must “buy-in” — — The most common reasons for a corporation to do a brand makeover would be a merger or acquisition, bad image or outgrowing an initial mission. In the small business world we tend to see brand makeovers, because there was not a brand strategy to begin with. THE BIGGEST no-no that we advise people on is changing your brand because you are comparing yourself to others, or simply see others doing pretty pictures and want to jump on the bandwagon. These are NOT strategic reasons.

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.

Both: You are in luck! We have an acronym for this! This is why we called ourselves The S.O.L.I.D. Brand Sessions! Here’s an overview of how we break this down for our clients.

(S) Set Yourself Up for Success: Strategy ONE

Before you upgrade your brand for its outward appearance, you are presented with the perfect opportunity to take a look at what we like to call the “business of the business.” Now this internal organization and reflection isn’t always fun, but we have learned that in order to have a successful brand on the outside, the brand chaos on the inside must be in order! Some brainstorming questions for this strategy are below.

  1. How have you set yourself up to be successful monetarily or from a profit perspective.
  2. Are you aligned internally with taxes, insurance?
  3. Are you paying yourself as a business owner?
  4. Do you have the funds and desire internally for this rebrand to work externally?

(O) The Importance of Objectives: Strategy TWO

Big business, small business or personal brand, nailing down your internal brand compass is critical. But what is an internal brand compass and how do you do that? We are all about making this process painless but not brainless. Your internal brand compass is the DNA of your brand. It is the why, the how and the true north behind you do what you do.

Grab a piece of paper and try this exercise to start!

  1. Top of page: Name of your Brand (if it’s you — put YOUR name!)
  2. What is your mission? Why do you do what you do? Some people might need an extra step here. When we work with individuals we often have them “write” letters to their customers or fans.
  3. Brand Values: Are you a fun, lighthearted brand or are you serious and tough? Use adjectives, pull out a dictionary. Be very clear.
  4. Brand Objectives: Objectives always need to be measurable. Some favorites that I always include here are Identity/Image, Awareness and Engagement.

The above is your brand compass….now it is up to you to figure out how to activate this brand in the real world!

(L) Living Your Brand: Strategy THREE

This is all about telling your personal brand story; really living your brand definition. It is your messaging and mission repeated over and over in all of your digital and non-digital touchpoints (social, website, copy, visuals, communication materials, logo).

We tend to think we’re “annoying” people with content, but the truth is not everyone sees our content all of the time. We also tend to think that “pretty” pictures and videos define branding. Truth is though, many times photos get skimmed over and people watch videos without sound. We encourage our clients to use their written story (executed through social media captions, graphics, blogs, website, bio/about me pages) along with their visuals.

So in a nutshell — — live your brand — — in all aspects of target communication and strategy.

(I) Implementing Your Plan of Action: Strategy FOUR

This strategy is all about the creation of an action plan for your brand — with clear and measurable objectives. How will you execute on the strategy and visual/written story you have created? Take the objectives you came up with in Strategy TWO and place at the top of your document. Now build back to there by writing 3 tactics (actions) you will take to implement. Some example actions/tactics:

  1. Consistency/cohesiveness of branded visuals (brand stylebook)
  2. Social media calendar
  3. Investing in a copywriter
  4. Creating an SEO plan
  5. New marketing materials

(D) Do It: Strategy FIVE

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

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?

Julie: A few years ago, Bravo (the TV network) did a complete brand makeover. It was brilliant. They knew their audience was getting bigger and needed to update the brand voice and visual identity. But they didn’t abandon everything. The logo was updated and the promotions for the shows were refined. They became more mature and serious…if you can say that about reality tv 🙂 The key to this type of replication — knowing and being AWARE of your audience. Bravo (aka Andy Cohen and team) is FULLY aware of the types of people that interact and consume their content. I was so impressed that I dipped into my old rolodex and emailed Andy Cohen to tell him how impressed I was!

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. 🙂

Cristin: In 2018 a photography client of mine created an event for women to “Shred Your Fears,” a beginner skateboarding workshop and yoga retreat. Most of the attendees were sitting way outside of their comfort zone getting on a skateboard for the first time in many years or even ever. At the close of the day it signified that they could do hard things and feel really phenomenal about themselves. I participated in the first event and ended up badly spraining my ankle, but I have no regrets because the way I felt gliding across that rink floor was so gratifying and encouraging.

If we could create something similar for female entrepreneurs that maybe was a bit more business minded (or not) to help them get over the fear of leveling up, becoming successful, or even failing then it would serve so many more of our current and potential clients. Life is too short to not take risks!

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

Both: “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.”by Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer. This encapsulates everything we have tried to do for our business and clients since it began. Most of us are timid, unsure, and scared shitless about what the future holds or how we may be perceived. It’s about being courageous and understanding that you have a greater mission and purpose to serve others. And because of that, you need to push yourself and practice courage. The results of which are invaluable.

How can our readers follow you online?

We share our brand journey and upcoming events on Instagram: @thesolidbrandsessions.

We invite everyone to take a look at our client work, join our community and download our free worksheet, “How to Feel the Most Confident On-Camera” on our website, www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

You can also follow our personal business journeys on Instagram: @julieplakemcminn and @gossboss_photovideo.

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