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Randy is a recognized brand strategist, conceptor, and creative director with over twenty-five years of marketing and innovation experience in the client, agency and media worlds, from entrepreneurial to corporate environments.
We discuss the power and importance of storytelling, the choice of medium (and platform), plus core lessons and fundamentals that every entrepreneur or business needs to embrace to successfully amplify their message and value.
Check out The Visual Brand here: https://www.thevisualbrand.com/
Transcript powered by Happy Scribe
Welcome to the show. My name is Eric Wright. I am host for your DiscoPosse Podcast and this is going to be a really, really great story bound episode with the voice, the creator and the minds behind The Visual Brand is Randy Herbertson. He’s a really, really incredible individual. But let’s just wait for a second.
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This is Randy Herbertson. Randy is really cool. I love this chat. He’s just such a he gets it. He gets how to tell stories. So we go through the history of big brands. Oh, you’re gonna love it. Seriously, I’m actually just excited as your about to enjoy this episode as much as I did. So this is it. This is Randy Herbertson from The Visual Brand on the DiscoPosse Podcast.
This is Randy Herbertson. I am the founder and principal of The Visual Brand, and you’re listening to the DiscoPosse Podcast.
My favorite thing I love, especially when people that your job and your passion is brand. And you nailed it on the first try for, first of all, saying DiscoPosse podcast is a challenge unto itself. But as somebody who, when I look at the work you’ve done and your approach to things and I’m really, really excited by the chance to chat today. For folks that are brand new to you, you can definitely give your better version of your backgrounds than I can. So let’s do that. Randy, tell folks about you, The Visual Brand, and this is going to be fun because I know this is an area that I’m passionate about, and a lot of people come to me regularly.
Like, how do I stand out? What are the things I can do, especially in kind of a strange world that we’re in right now and how things are changing in media?
Yes. All right. So very quickly. So my background, I traveled all the sort of major arenas of marketing after graduating with business and graphic design degree, which is a little odd I realized. I’ve been sort of in a new product and service for my whole career. But I’ve done that on that’s called the client-side or the brand-side. I’ve done it on the media side and the agency, the large agency-side. And now for the last 15 years, I’ve been in the small agency world where I’ve owned my own businesses.
I’m in my second one. Now based on Westport, Connecticut. I did the flight from urban, commuting early long before COVID. About eight years ago, I decided to move my business to a converted post office that I’m in right now, five minutes from home and found no problem finding clients who troll over the world and employees, fortunately, plenty in the area. And the theme again. So for my business, I have always been sort of a right-brain, left-brain approach to new products and services.
And this is where I think people, they struggle with understanding what it means when you go to a consultancy and agency into an outside group to look for help around how to most effectively portray and emote your brand. And I use that word very strongly. Like it’s not just telling, it is emoting. You have to infuse the vision, what your passion in the organization and have it come out in different medium. Right.
Whether it’s the written word, the just the pure print visuals, web visuals.
It’s very difficult for people to look outside of themselves and accept that inbound. But when they do, they’re like, oh, wow. There’s this neat thing that happens when they realize, like, you are really good at what you do. Why wouldn’t you hire somebody who’s really good at helping you to portray this brand outside? Right?
So you’re describing classically. We worked with big companies and small companies and the small company. You’re describing it perfectly where a founder has come up with an idea and sometimes the idea is something they don’t even know how to do. But they’ve come up with a great idea, and that’s even more problematic because then they have to get someone to do it for them. But typically, again, any small business person knows you have to be the Jack of all trades. But the reality is that you should be focused on what you make or what you provide and not trying to do things you don’t do .
That again in one part of it, where we come in. But to take further what you were saying before, we have a strong belief that your, as we call it, your brand foundation goes beyond your communication. It also goes to everything. It goes to your product form or the way you articulate your service, the way you execute what you do every part of the whole process, from the customer service first gateway to the end, the whole thing and the brands that we look at that are so successful have a lot about that, that every touch point of the experience carries a consistence theme or personality.
And again, a lot of times that happens intuitively, and sometimes you go, everything is great about it. I love this product, but something’s just not working. Oh, they’re really rude when they communicate with me. Oh, I get it in a weird box that doesn’t seem to match the luxury element of the product or all sorts of things. Or they have a website that is really aggressive, and this is supposed to be for something soft and gentle. So there’s all sorts of ways that that has to come together.
And so that again, like I said, we call it a brand foundation, is something that is a starting point for almost every innovation project that we do, even where a client doesn’t even understand that it’s needed until we kind of communicate what it is. And the nice thing about that once you have it and it’s a living, breathing document to use literally every day, we would utilize it as we’re going through the full process of whatever we’re assigned to do with them. But then they really becomes a little bit primer forward, going forward, right down to what’s your brand vocabulary, which is really your communication code.
What is your tone of matter? Like you said, what your emotional and functional drivers? I thought about this for so long, literally, when we create this, it’s like literally twelve pages. It’s not 89, 90 page, a lot of complicated metaphors, and we find it works. And again, it makes our job easier. And it makes the clients job easier as well to frankly communicate to us what they’re after.
The thing that we’ve learned. Luckily, I think over especially the last 20 years, the marriage of behavioral psychology into business in how we saw what, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, ultimately gave us with. Thinking fast and slow and understand behavioral economics, when to. Behavioral psychologists, one Nobel Prize for economics. We realized that the industries aren’t actually separated. The genres aren’t distinct and diverse away from each other. And now the same thing with brand. It’s not just, you know, you can’t just say, does it look good? Or does it have the right font?
It’s what what are you trying to achieve? When somebody opens this box, they receive your phone call. Like you said, user experience, especially now that we know it’s critical in the flow of how people get to your website, how they sign up to get a demo, what’s that called, like all this crazy stuff that we do. It seems like throw away things sometimes. But as I say, user experience, no one knows good user experience, but you very quickly know bad user experience. Good user experience is like painted room.
When it’s done right, when you paint a whole room and then someone walks in after you paint it, they say, okay, looks good. But if they walked in halfway through, they’d be like, oh, you got a long way to go. It’s immediately obvious that you’re doing this thing, but when it’s done, it just feels right.
That’s right. Or and again, a word often happens when you say something isn’t right.
Where you say yes. There’s so many things I like about this experience, whether it’s a product experience or service experience, but something isn’t working. That’s the part where you need to think about it. And truth, like I said, when constructed correctly, when you know kind of what your personality should be, what your most important drivers are, then you utilize it. And that’s also, frankly, we do it like to keep it very simple.
So it’s easy for you to communicate to others, to do it that way as well. Like you said, one of your. Interestingly, we had a cosmetic client that a very important driver was fun, which is kind of a weird word in the cosmetic world. Honestly, that became a very, really critical part of literally even creating products for them. But fun in the way that they interpreted. Not like boisterous fun necessarily. But so those kind of things are important because, again, that also, frankly, makes your life simpler.
But, you know, when you read reviews of companies, a lot of times, people. When negative reviews comes down. Oh, I expected this because you communicate some way with this. But I got this. And that disconnect is the place where you go, okay. So how do we not stay true to who we are in that way? Where and where did it fall down? And then you try to fix it.
Yeah. And I’ll say the example I always love to give is, you watch a commercial and it shows people dancing in a field and they go through this whole thing and they show somebody laying on a beach and holding a drink and smiling and laughing and hugging. And then it says, you know, Alandra, and you’re, like, contact your physician. I have no idea what this thing is supposed to do, but there’s no connection to and they don’t mention it because it’s probably a host of disclaimers. But like, I’m completely lost.
You hit one of my pet peeves. And this is that my dislike of focus on what kind of word you want is that there’s lots of great cinematography down out there that has nothing to do with selling a product or service that is gorgeous. It’s a motive. It’s beautiful. At the end of the day, does it make you feel better about the brand you don’t remember what it is? I’m not so sure. So the really genius communication work brings those two things together that you hit a core element of who you are as a brand.
And it doesn’t mean you can’t use associative things, you can. But if they’re so far afield, how does that help you? Same thing I remember an agency that I work with and this beautiful, beautiful work for a bank. And maybe this whole thing about a mother reading a story to a child. And it was a beautiful, gorgeous thing at the end that said, XX Bank. And, of course, recall is really low. In won all sorts of awards, but what does it have to do with the bank?
And of course, the agent said, oh, it’s a soft, warm touch you have with your client. The truth is, you’re asking that consumer to go a big stretch to go from mom reading a book to bank experience because you told me nothing about the bank experience.
Yeah. This is always the I think another thing that people get concerned about when they look to go outside is they sometimes worry that the person creating the asset, like the outcome is looking for, like, they’re looking to win an Emmy for a commercial, not to really, truly connect the brands to customers. There’s an unfortunate thing where we’ve seen things, and sometimes it works like, of course, I’ll call it out. I mentioned I’m not going to mention competitors when I call it sort of the famous Chiat/Day, the 1984 throwing a hammer at the screen.
It had nothing to do with what was there. However, Steve Jobs was, like, perfect. He was like, Ed Wood, just like, this is completely wrong. He says, exactly. And it worked in a weird way. But today we people think that that’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to end up with a cologne ad type of completely discounting be visually appealing. And they fear that you can’t understand my brand as well as I can because I literally created it. And it’s this unfortunate control feeling that a lot of founders have where they’re afraid to have somebody else tell them what they actually feel about the brand when you tell limits.
Sorry, I know this all too well. As I approach people at a time when I do advisory, and there’s a real sense that, like, no one can know me as well as me. Actually, that’s not the case.
The truth is, what we find is it’s unlocking what that me is. So it definitely mean we’re inventing it for the product or service, necessarily, unless they really have no idea. And you have to come up with something. But usually it’s there in some way, you just have to lock it. So the problem, usually for the founder, is just being unable to articulate it. Yeah. And finding that way to articulate is critical. And again, sometimes it’s a little bit of a trial and error kind of situation, but we’re successful.
Ultimately, they go, oh, yeah, that’s sick. So it’s like, literally it’s like I said, it’s not a black boxing thing. Here’s the grand reveal. Here’s who you are. Here’s who you want to be, and they go, okay, great. I never thought of that. It should go, oh, that feels right. That feels like what I met or gosh. I’ve never been able to articulate that in the same way.
It also what I want to ask you, Randy, is like, over the course of time, what you found to be the testing process, right? This is not like four people will interview you for 2 hours, then they go away, and two weeks later, they hand you your press kit, your brand kit, whatever. That’s not how it works. There’s a real interactive, continuous process. So maybe walk folks through what you found to be a successful method in going from I need help with my brand to people saying, okay, it’s working now.
So to your point, I would say the less successful or less effective ones. This woman says, okay, go do this for me. Come back when it’s done presented to me great data that in those situations nine times out of ten, they don’t actually use that. They don’t actually follow it. When we try to do any continued work, creatively against it, they go, okay. Because they haven’t really taken ownership of it. So in the best situation is finding that perfect balance where they’re a part of the process and look for everybody, that level of time commitment is different.
And obviously, thank you. With virtual platforms that’s become a little easier than it used to be, because it doesn’t mean we have to go to you or you have to come to us every time we do that. We always do, of course, a lot of internal work, even behind the scenes. But that ownership piece is really, really critical. So the way we typically try to do it is do it in stages and where we can literally do a little bit of work, do a little check in, and because the work is iterative, it’s a building block.
Okay, so we go to the next stage. We can say, okay, look, we all agreed you were part of this, and they go, yes, that’s familiar. And then how do we get to the next stage? Because you know, frankly, the biggest challenge a consultant or an agency has is getting the right kind of direction from the client. Not that at one end. I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.
Saying, you know, I just want it to be red. Please just make it red. And our answers to both is why?
Why is our most important word? So if you want it to be red, why is red important? Well, because it’s always been red. So what is that trying to tell people? Why is it? Not saying it’s wrong. So as creative people, we want to understand, not just the direction we understand why we’re doing it that way. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do something different. We just need to understand it, because I always say we can either give you exactly what you asked for or what we recommend.
You probably are paying us for what we recommend, but we want what we recommend to be in line with what you want and the other part where they say it just doesn’t feel right. I always say, give me some adjectives. Okay. Is it too much of this? Is it too little of that? Because again, when you speak to us in adjectives, we can start painting a picture to get to the right place. So that is our biggest challenge. And one thing, our brand foundation, where it tries to get at.
But even without it, that is the thing that you always work at trying to get. Because I said, clients end up on one end of the other where they give you no direction at all. And either are happier decided or give you too much direction.
Yeah. And you end up with this thing of like, I don’t know. It feels like it needs more pop. You describe exactly what it is that your after. And the color thing is, as you said, it’s not even that you’re saying it’s right or wrong. It’s tell me what the background is. What made you decide that that’s important, what makes this valuable to you and how you portray your brand or your company, and it can be. I like yellow. My daughter, it’s her favorite color.
Okay. It’s great. I take, are you trying to be the ideal psychological color to draw people in to make them feel calm? Like, no, my daughter likes yellow. Perfect. That’s a boundary, will work within that.
Even there you say, how does that make her feel? And how does that feeling transit you makes her feel safe. Great. So it’s feeling safe as in safety of security. Is that part of what you want to communicate? Then you’re getting somewhere, then you’re getting a place that you can work with versus just simply saying it’s the color that I like. Because, frankly, even with anything, particularly with color or things, it’s not a non emotional response. We always have an emotional response to color in some way, whether we recognize it or not.
And obviously color is just one element. But that is like you said early on, the emotional response. It’s important. Look at that. Also, we also have functional drivers. There are functional things that brands and services need to do that are not necessarily emotional, but both have to sort of work together.
And when it comes to train the customer as part of their brand, like you said, we could show the things and they may look visually fantastic. But if it doesn’t actually connect you to what the customers either currently experiencing or will experience as a result of engaging with this company or product, that’s why it’s so important. And even we say, like, a thing can be fantastic. Right? This is an amazing bottle. I love this bottle. It fits beautifully into my cupboard, whatever the reason is. But if it wasn’t water that I like to drink, it wouldn’t matter that the bottle fits perfectly in my cupboard.
It is truly matching all of these requirements. And the most important one being I really like the water.
Right. Which is okay. And sometimes, well, I really like the water, but it’s so hard, it doesn’t fit anywhere. I can’t open the top. So you know what? I’ll find another water. So that functionally you are kind of love the idea of that. I love being seen holding that. It’s very cool, but it’s such so difficult, so many obstacles to get there that I don’t want to continue. It’s funny. We do a fair amount of work in industrial design and packaging as well. And we’ve recently worked with two clients said to add spectrum, one that very much about meticulous detail and ceremony and all that kind of stuff.
And so when we were doing the packaging, so I always think packages to sort of open like a present in some way should have some kind of ritual. For that one end, it had let’s just say, lots of layers. You’ve had some elements to get to and storytelling that unfolded, and it completely fit the product for the other product. It was really all about efficiency and time savings. So it had to be as simple as possible. So I said, okay, this is the opposite. So no layers, don’t make it an origami opening.
I got to make it so kind of ingeniously simple. It was funny what we ended up with. I did exactly that. So basically, when you open the package, the product base popped out at you in a way without falling in your lap. But that would fit what that user expected, which was I want to get there 2 seconds because this is a fast, efficient product. So that’s again, about just really paying attention to your full product experience.
And another one. I’ll use an example, and I’m going to pick a specific branch because it’s interesting where the brand is actually completely opposite to the product. However, it’s part of their choice. And there’s a company called Liquid Death, and they make water. Flat water and sparkling water. It comes in cans that have, like, a devil face on it. They look like it’s like an energy drink or 17% beer, and their whole thing is murder, your thirst and all the stuff. And in the end, it’s literally water.
But they specifically said, we’re going to create this crazy brands like the red bowl of water. And so it’s almost like at the antithesis of the actual product. But in this case, it’s actually working out well for them. So I’m curious, Randy, when you see also, where does that work? Where you can have these almost like a dichotomy in the presentation. But yet it gets you to a place where you’re like, oh, cool. I dig this product because I dig their branding.
So it’s actually great in my country. Love what I would call paradoxes or juxtapositions. That is okay, because sometimes you need just that we have a brand, new brand we’re working right now where our overarching theme is what we’re calling modern nostalgia. So to us, it has these particular brand. There is the nostalgia element that’s really important, but for the audience for reaching, we don’t want to look old, that we have to be sort of nostalgic cast in a new way. And so those juxtapositions can work.
The only thing I would tell you, sometimes, like the example you said, it can get gimmicky. It can be clever. Yes, it’s great to draw somebody, but at the end of the day, you go say, right, I’m selling water. I keep wanting to say that if I don’t like the water and it’s not something that’s affordable, accessible, I probably will say, yeah, it was clever and cool, but I’m not going to keep doing it. Or if it still passes all those other elements you brought them in through the cleverness and he kept them, which is great.
Bringing them in is, of course, if you can’t do that, you can’t get them to stay. So that’s the key with kids, though, it isn’t. You don’t live only on that. Because again, there are plenty of brands out there that have great wrappings, all sorts that are funny, they’re cool, they love it. But then when you get inside, you go, okay. The wrapping was great, the inside was, okay. So if the inside doesn’t also pay off, then you’re not going to keep them.
Yeah. And sometimes as another famous, I actually don’t even know who did their branding on, of course, is Buckley’s Mixture. If you know that one, then it’s awful stuff. And eventually they just changed and said, let’s embrace it. And their slogan became it taste awful, but it works, right?
I thought it works is all right. So what they’re doing, which is clever there is they’re saying, you know what? You’re going to have an obstacle here. It’s going to have an obstacle but the other day is going to be worth it. Okay. And that’s okay. You know, it’s funny. A famous German liquor brand did this where again, they taste absolutely atrocious, it’s really an apparent thing, actually. But they embraced it completely and made it part of their thing. But the other day, it was high alcohol. That’s why people were drinking it.
Okay. So the truth is. But they embrace the fact that you’re gonna hate drinking it. It’s not a drinking experience that’s going to be enjoyable. And so that’s okay. But again, they’re still at the end, something that says it was worth doing for whatever reason, I’ve chosen to do it. If that part doesn’t work, that’s where it falls off the cliff. I worked early in my career, actually, for a brand that was really what’s called a popular price sort of discount brands, but very popular. But they’re chosen communication was very upscale and aspirational and beautiful.
And again, it won awards and all that kind of stuff. But people just really disconnect. They said, you know, I’ve seen these beautiful, gorgeous scenes and all these things. And then I basically find it at Walmart for 299. Where do those two connect? I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do so, not sure but the company said, stop getting a million dollars for this production, this commercial. Not that we have to be downscale, but let’s meet our customer where they’re buying our product. And that’s be more communicative above that level.
Yeah. If you don’t want to pay Kendall Jenner to stand outside of a Dollarama and put it on Instagram, like, it’s not going to connect the customer to the actual emotive experience that they’re going to have. And the reason why they’ve chosen the brand again, each completely right target audience. Fantastic. Target influencer obviously delivers has proven to deliver in some cases, but you just can’t just mush them together and have it automatically work. Right?
That’s right. Absolutely.
Now in the discovery process. And that’s why I love to have you walk a bit further into Randy. When you’re tapping somebody to like, let’s whittle it down to the simplest word. What’s that process look like? As you first sort of sit down in the room and said, you know what we want to come out of this room with and how far are we going to get here today? And what does that process look like?
So we start with what is classy called drivers, motivational drivers. And there’s not a magic number, but it’s often three, emotional and three, functional. It’s one of the hardest things that we do, because again, they have to be distinct. They have to be relevant, and they have to be easy to understand. So even when we come up with words going, I always say, if you have to explain it in more than a sentence, then it doesn’t work. It has to be very, very simple. So that’s the real starting point.
And then we usually take that then take those drivers and model them against consumer profiles that we either know we’re going to be there or maybe there. Now again, qualitative testing can absolutely depending on the brand be in there. And in fact, it’s funny. We’ve been qualitative testing on Zoom and other platforms for many years because you get way better people and they’re not sitting in a focus group facility, and it’s cheaper and faster everything else. So sometimes that process happens. But regardless of that part happens, those drivers, then putting them into consumer segments tells us a lot.
Sometimes we have to back out of the consumer segments and go, you know what we thought this was the driver, but it’s not fitting anywhere. It just sort of, it’s not unique. It’s not distinct so we have to go backwards. But there’s still a direct connection. So that’s another critical step. And then we take from there we then have a really good idea after doing that, understanding how it fits in contact with whoever our segments, that could be consumer could be business segments. And then we build a personality and the personality.
We do a personality ladder, which again starts with attributes of who you are just elements to describe what you are and then go through emotional, functional articulation. And then the personality works. And what I like about that is that, you know, agency that are saying, here’s your brand personality, and you go, so why am I confident? Where did that come from? So the personality letters let you show, so this is where it came from. I understand, started from here. And so that’s the purpose of that. And so again, that’s just sort of the starting gate, the funny last pace.
And again, a lot of we build this off classical models field what is for become statements, which is always hard to write, is usually what comes next. How do we, basically, one, a little bit long sentence describe everything about who we are. So we had to say the old elevator speech. Describe who your are, we are this for this because of this. And that statement happens next. So again, these are all sort of iterative. And where we go from there is into literally building what we call brand vocabulary, which are one of the words that you use consistently or should use consistently.
And these aren’t necessarily invented words. They are words that are in common lexicon. But the words that you may use frequently because they connect to your drivers because they speak to your audience and from a digital world. Yet it’s great to have contextual consistent words. It’s great for SEO, blah, blah, blah. But more importantly, when your customer or consumer starts seeing these words from you, it’s the short hand of saying this is what I mean. So when I say this word, it has a very specific meaning.
Just like, when you talk to anybody, everybody has their own turns of phrases. You start to know what they mean when they say that it’s the same thing for a brand. So that’s sort of the nutshell. There’s a few other elements. But that’s a nutshell process. And the great part of all of that is that once you’ve gotten to that point, building that out as a creative articulation or credit platform is easier, because now you have words and actives and context and understanding that then can lead you to how your visual expression will come to life.
And frankly, which, of course, always has the subjectivity to it is you’re in dialogue with your client on that you come to a meaning and an understanding of what certain things mean. So if let’s say one of the things that there is romantic. So for the context of a brand or a client point of view, that might mean one thing, and we may say something else, and we have to come to a joining point where we both say, yeah, that’s what that word means for us. For this brand.
The thing that I want to hone in on to is the specific words that we get hung on. But it’s important that we have to, like you said, get that foundation there, because it often leads to people say, what is your product do? Like, let’s just say, makes the applications faster. You’re like, okay, cool. So everything you do make something faster? Well, sometimes it stops it from failing. Okay. So it’s not just about faster. It’s faster while reducing risk. Like, okay, we’re getting warm. And then the words that you can do, does it make it cheaper, more expensive?
Once you effectively build the fences around what it does and what it doesn’t do, then it gives you the freedom. Like you said, you are free to take that base, that foundation. And then words will always have to come back to that core. But it’s very easy, without the consistency of those words, that one sales person will describe it as we make yourself go fast, one person will say, we make yourself go faster. And some people say, we make sure we stop your stuff from being slow.
They may all mean exactly the same thing and talk about the same product, but the inconsistency of the message, it’s framing as well. Like, the reason we chose faster versus fast. There’s a framing element to it. There’s a lot of stuff buried in the choice of word. And if you don’t have that at the start, then you can’t walk around and said, I don’t understand why my sales folks don’t get more meetings or don’t close more deals. And you realize because I’ve been on seven sales calls and it sounds like seven different products, that’s exactly right.
And that’s yet another voice of the brand that has to be consistent. And by the way, it also has to be understandable for that salesperson and meaningful to sell well. And it really all comes down to point of difference. Is like any brand will have parity with other brands in some ways, but it’s the old 1+1=3. The way we put our pieces together provide unique opportunity, which could be any element of the marketing mix that helps them do that or that we do the same way. But somehow we do just incrementally a little bit better.
As you’re talking earlier. One of the things that comes to mind to sometimes choosing certain words very carefully. And not promising, over promising on your brand. So, for instance, we’ve worked recently on some food products that are I wouldn’t call them health food products, but they’re way better for you than the alternative.
A healthier option.
The healthier, healthier. This is a healthy product. That’s kind of overselling. Truth is, it’s not as bad for you as the alternative, which is completely unhealthy. But you don’t want to say it’s a health product because it’s not, it’s healthier or better for you. So all that is a true statement. So again, back to the out end user, they’ll get an idea that you’re not saying, oh, this is a health food product, and I’m gonna like, oh, but it does say, you know what? I’m making this choice because it’s better than the alternative.
But by the way, it doesn’t make me sacrifice taste or whatever else. But being really honest, not over promising is also really, really important. So like, to your earlier point, you can’t say we are the fastest product on the market if that’s actually true. Yay. Screaming it off the rooftops. But the truth is, is that we are going to make things faster is probably an easier and more believable sell.
Another one, this word is really one that people use very often, and I find it gets lost because it’s a dangerous thing. And I got taught this lesson by the founder of the company I’m at actually, we used to say, like, we’re doing this. We saw that we’re unique in the way we do with it. Or it’s a unique product. And because it was it was patented, it was differentiated from other things. But there’s a difference between saying differentiated and unique. And he would listen to people tell this thing, and then he would say, I want to stop you for a second.
When you were, did you have a lot of friends when you were young? And it was this funny story he would walk you with through and you could watch it. After a while, I would see he uses the same sort of shtick all the time. Do you have a lot of friends when you were a kid? They’re ike, well, yeah. Do you have a lot of friends now? Was it because you were unique?
I, no. Was it unique the thing that made it important that you have friends? Like, no. Okay, so when we look at what we do. And what our product does, does unique matter to the customer or does what we do matter to the customer?
It suddenly hits them like, but you throw this word and it’s very easy to put these words in. And he’s like, it doesn’t actually move the value by using this word.
Yeah. Different for different sakes they say, isn’t a selling point. Look at difference in a sea of where there’s the same obstacle, every other thing in your category, and you’ve solved that obstacle. Great. That is your difference. But like I said earlier, it’s the combination that makes a difference that you provide this in parity as good as everybody else. You do this in a little bit different way, but you’re less expensive. Okay. So you say you reduce a barrier so you’re not getting anything less. You’re paying a little less.
You’re paying a little more. But you’re getting these other things that you wouldn’t otherwise that are meaningful to you. Now sometimes too, frankly, it’s the old classic gilding the lily. You’ll say, okay, this is more expensive. We’re going to add all this gild to them that you don’t really care about. Yeah, it’s going to make it look more expensive, right. Okay. So you put it in a fancier box, but it’s the same product. Why will I pay more just for a fancier box? I don’t eat the box. I eat what’s inside.
So it’s just realizing what things are going to be meaningful to the end user.
It’s interesting when you bring this up. Where does pricing come in in the discussions around creating a brand element and a visual brand?
So that’s really interesting because, again, price in any category is something that always comes into play, because ultimately, when you’re creating a product or service, you say, oh, I want to do this and this and this and this and this. Then you go, oh, my God, sticker shock. That’s going to cost us so much. We’re either going to make no money or have to be really expensive. So you then start curating what you can do. The reality is that price can be an obstacle in different ways, you can actually be too cheap.
And people will say, I I don’t trust this because it’s not expensive enough. I mean, I know I do this myself. I’ll look for something that I want to buy on Amazon, or wherever. I go, I’m not going to buy the cheapest one because they sound good, but it’s way cheaper. I’ll go somewhere in the middle, right. But the reality is that price is important and look at it’s. Okay. Sometimes to have a higher price if it is justifiable. But again, that will also weigh on increments.
If this stuff get used all the time, a relatively higher price is going to have to be a huge benefit for me to do this. If it’s for somebody who use less frequently, yeah. Maybe I’ll justify it. Right. But it’s just one of those, you know, consideration of barriers. But the reality is that it’s also understanding what that classic price sensitivity area is. Being $0.10 more may not make a difference. Okay. Being $10 more might. Okay. And it all depends on your expectation. So a lot of times, particularly with newer companies, they end up just wanting so much in there that they say, oh, we’re going to make no money for the first two years because we just want to always in there.
And then they realize after two years, okay, they love what we have. We can’t make it any higher price, and we don’t make any money. Eventually, our investors are going to stop investing us because we’re in a no win situation here. And then they learn either we have to cut a few things away and we realize we love, but they’re that important that allows us to make a little margin. Or maybe we need experience, we go up a little bit of price and still maintain what we’ve got.
So price is a really critical thing, I would say rarely is it the only driver. Measuring something that is purely commodity. And then it doesn’t matter. But it’s just where it fits into the overall mix.
The thing that often in the way that you can tell that story can be simple and effective, you know, a little more, a lot better. Whatever, like some sort of tag line type of thing that often immediately pushes like, we understand we’re a little bit more than the alternative.
Let’s talk about what you really want to get out of, why people use us. And then that’s the other thing is introducing peer validation and the proof points when you’re looking, especially when a customer, sorry, a company is very early in their brand and they don’t have proof points. I’m curious, Randy. How do you see that story when it’s not there yet?
To your point, one of the things you just said, some kinds of testimonials are important. If you can get someone saying whether it could be an expert, it could be an even advisor, ultimately should be an end user that gives some kind of validation. That what you’re saying is not just you saying it, but that it’s real. That’s really important. It’s funny. On the flip side, I was thinking earlier from one of the things that a lot of times pays huge value when you’re in a different situation, we call the brand mantle. Right? So certain brands just have that at eye view.
Right. So I know it’s from this brand. It’s interesting. I bought an outdoor grill this summer for a new patio, and I ended up buying a brand that was actually funny. It was pretty inexpensive, but it was brand I totally loved and was aspirational to me. So I took a leap saying, you know, it’s only inexpensive size, and that makes me concerned. But it’s from this brand. So I feel okay now unfortunately, it turned out okay. But that brand mantle did have an added value for me.
Now I can go both ways. You can have a brand mantle that says they only do inexpensive things. They do them really well. And so buying electric product may not work, but it might. So it’s understanding where that trust mantle is. And so look at that’s why companies put millions of dollars on their balance sheets for what they call goodwill. Brand goodwill has a huge amount of value for the customer. And again, like you said, in a place where you don’t have it yet, you just know that it’s important to build, because if you don’t build that, then it’s all just on your product.
And then it also becomes commodity and easy to knock off.
You know, another thing that’s interesting is that when people become so I’m going to buy this thing no matter what. I really dig this brand. And often I don’t want the packaging. I don’t want the frills. I’m like, Look, I get it. I’m going to buy this anyway. My thing that was funny is when I lived in Vancouver and there was this amazing coffee shop there, and they did fantastic artisanal coffee. And gentlemen with handlebar mustaches. And they’re doing the little latte art. And they’re drawing the face of Jesus in your latte.
And at one point, I’m like, “Dude, I got to get to a meeting. You don’t need to do the heart like, you don’t need to just like, literally, pour it in the cup”, but they’re like, no, this is part of our experience. They will not let it go at the door unless it’s right. And then the funny thing is, you’re gonna take a plastic lid and you’re gonna mush it on top. And what started off as this beautiful heart will come out the other side looking like it was shot out of a cannon.
Right. That’s right. But again, honestly, that’s where you make the choice. If I need a fast cup of coffee, I’m going to go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. If I want to reward myself. I’m going to go here. So they’re making a brand decision there, too. And a good or better and different. That’s a choice. It’s the same thing when choosing something that is based on the time you have to do it. And other ones just say, I’m going to spend a little more time. So example for me is that we buy some meal services where you get the box and you have to make it at home.
So we started with one that nothing was pre prepared at all and also was pretty indulgent. So that was a concern. So we landed on another one, which was like, the perfect mix. Things are semi prepared, meaning they give you half of a vegetable that’s already cored. And they do this thing. It’s packaged in paper, so it’s not sustainable. But so it takes us instead of 40 minutes to make dinner takes 20. But it’s kind of fun that it takes 20. I do a little bit of chopping and a little bit of this, and I’m not just getting everything already ready to put it into, like, a microwave.
So it’s finding the balance and what the customer will pay for.
Another thing that’s interesting to think about. Vancouver was a classic case where the brand itself and the product itself, almost to be tied to that juxtaposition, can be sort of disconnected. There’s a company that people may know is called Boston Pizza. What they may not know is that Boston Pizza is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. And if anything, you know that Boston is not famous at all for pizza, yet somehow a very strong and well adored brands. But all of it, none of it actually maps out in the end.
And at one point, they could just get bought by Nestle or some other company. Even the original brands may not survive the life of the company because of the way the financials work. But when you get that kind of a situation, Randy, like, how often do you see that? And how do you position it when they’re again these sort of like juxtapositions of things, but in the end, you just have to create the experience for the customer?
So you’re sort of articulating is ultimate would be the brand story. Right? So the reality is that having a brand story is important. But even how you get there is okay. The reason that they’re Boston Pizza and they’re from Vancouver. There’s a story behind that. And as long as that story articulate, it’s not like, oh, we’re presenting to be in Boston, and we’re just not going to let you know that it’s not really true then that’s artificial but the truth is there’s going to be a brand story behind there.
And that’s what’s important. You know, this is similar example, we worked with a very large beer company and the craft beer is exploding and everything like that. And they actually did a lot of beer production in Mexico. And they said, but craft beer all seems to be in the US. It’s all Seattle and Boulder and blah, blah, blah. And we discovered in a process that, you know what, as long as it has a story and authenticity, it can be from anywhere. It can be from Mexico. So not every Mexican beer is cheap and just about the beach.
It can have a story and really hardcore craft beer lovers got it. And they understood it. And frankly, we wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t done some consumer work to really unveil that, wouldn’t believe that if we said it. So that brand story is really important. Just again, whatever it is, frankly, people find it really interesting when people who it doesn’t mean you had to grow up always doing this or aspiring to do this, you could have a turning point in your life where you said I had a pass over this or had a problem I had to solve.
And so I did it. I solved it. Okay. That’s gonna be interesting to people. They don’t care that. Oh, you grew up your whole life wanting to make shoe lace.
It doesn’t matter, you know. The fact that you figured out at some point either based on a problem you had or inspiration you have is kind of cool. And frankly, people relate to that.
There is another thing that you talked before about healthy, healthier. This gets into an interesting area that people don’t always get. And I know, of course, the phrase we use is called puffery, right? When we use specific phrases to describe a product, it’s like we say, you know, 20% better than the competitor. Like, there are legal ramifications to the statements that we make. And when we say stuff like organic, organically sourced, made in or manufactured in the United States or like, what Apple does this right. They say designed in Cupertino.
Well, that’s great. But it was manufactured in a factory in China, but it doesn’t say that in the product, it says designed in Cupertino, because there’s a specific phrase and that’s the limit. It is legitimately designed in Cupertino. They can legally say that. But when we get to those things, like, better, faster, fastest. What are the kind of rules around that stuff, Randy?
So as you pointed out, some of them are absolute regulatory. So if you work in the pharmaceutical or the liquor or spirits, or they are very specific, you can and can’t say. Even the food business, the word ‘organic’ isn’t just allowed to say for anything if you’re not truly organic. And there are also all bunch of other certifications you can or can’t have. And so you have to be very, in those it’s specific. And it’s funny, particularly in the first two categories we’ve mentioned, you end up hearing a lot of nuances where they can directly say this, but they’re meaning this.
And the customer finally kind of figures out that’s what it means. But they can’t say it the other time is when things are all the same. Organic is a perfect example. Everybody, they don’t believe that anymore because everybody is organic. And frankly, even not everybody is a good job explaining why is organic important? And so really smart companies have figured out a way to if that’s important claim explain why it’s important. What part of that is really meaningful to you as an end customer by saying that it’s organic, but as always, it’s recognizing what are those things that are really going to matter to the end customer that are saying. Just because it’s important to us is going to be important to them.
At the end, we have another client that has an EU certification for traceability back to the roots of every bit of their product. And their product actually is not a food product. So it’s kind of interesting, really important to them. And one of the things that it’s relative in your client, we’re going to sort of learn is, is that important to the end user? And the reality is, it could very well be. It could be, wow, that’s a huge point of difference. And everybody else. And they’re, will mistrust other products because they’re not traceable, but it’s understanding and ultimately seeing where the end consumer falls on that.
And I guess that really would come through sort of the testing. There’s a restaurant that I’ve been to in a couple of locations, and their big thing is effectively kind of like 100-mile diet. They use 100-mile sourcing, and they actually draw a map on a chalkboard, and it has a little chalk market that says tomatoes from this place. So you see the regional map. Again, most people that walk in, it may not even matter, but to a lot of folks, they can say that’s a factor that they bring in.
I like supporting a local economy, and that’s a feel good that maybe their burger probably doesn’t taste better than any other burger. But this is a factor to me that makes me move towards this brand.
So a given angle there, which is sort of interesting that a lot of companies don’t speak to then that, but it’s really the root of that, which is reducing carbon footprint. So the reality is buying in a local sourcing. Yes, it’s great to support the local economy, but the real root of that was I’m not driving my tomatoes a thousand miles to get here or I’m not buying that drive. So I’ve reduced my carbon footprint. Now there are some buzz word or area that people understand better, see is more meaningful.
And so that would be the thing to say. Rather, just, hey, we bought local. Yay. We bought local. The other thing, of course, sometimes is freshness, and they can articulate that. And the other instances saying that less pesticides and all those other things, too. But it’s really understanding what parts of those are meaningful. It’s really interesting. I worked with a client in the stack food area who decided instead of using corn, to use sorghum. What the hell is a sorghum? It’s a very low water produce. Right. And so they really took the time to say so this is why it’s important.
And literally, over the course of year, we could save 500,000 gallons of water, which means that three towns would have regular water supply. So that all then became in contact. You go, oh, now I get it. And by the way, the product taste the same as corn.
And again, the consumer didn’t say, oh, I’m saving 500 dozen gallons, but it tastes like crap. You know, it still tastes okay. But it was a meaningful choice to make that choice to reduce the carbon footprint to produce water usage.
That’s what I love is in the process of actually talking to customers and going to the world. It’s such a merger of many things. Which is why, again, I really respect what you and the team are doing because you bring this approach. This is what you know you have to go to many areas versus like a founder, a creator or whatever it is. They have to be laser focused on just building a great product, bringing it to market needs that push of an outside voice and understanding of the behavioral psychology that makes this work, the economics of how to plant it and position it.
It all stems from that foundation. Like you said, when if it is from the roots of this foundation, then everything will always be born of the right tree. If it doesn’t work, then you don’t chop off the branch. You go back to the root and say, was it, did it lose something along the way? Are we missing the mark at this point? It’s super easy for people to you sort of get hung on a thing. And especially once brand lives a little while and you bring in more outside voices because at first, if you develop your first sales team, they’re going to basically be for lack of that word, indoctrinated with, this is what we do. This is why we’re different. This is why we’re better. This is why customers need us.
You’re going to tell the story this way and they do this and they’re like, okay, cool. Well, now you have 100 sales people. You’re hiring them at five a week and then to leave because of attrition like, you’ve got this continuous flow. If you don’t have that root documents that sort of brand vision somewhere, the next thing you know, they’d be like, hey, we’ve got really great pistachios. And I find that when I tell people that it’s cheaper than the other ones, I’ve closed a bunch of deals and so that becomes like a playoff beard for them.
They’re like, I’m just going to keep saying it’s cheaper and you’re like, no, no, no, you don’t get it. None of those customers you just got are repeat customers.
Because although you achieve your metric, the brands did not. And this again becomes like we talked before, bringing them in is one thing. Retaining them and getting recurring revenue is the really the goal of any company.
And look, it’s not to diminish the important to bringing them in the first time is critical, because if you don’t, you’ve a number off now, right? But again, often too much effort is spent only on that. And is that, wow, we have 10,000 new customers, but our repeat business is 2%. That’s a big warning signal, right. Because you have either over promised, under delivered, blah, blah, blah, something didn’t work. First as I get, I’d rather start from here and said we have 2000 new customers, but 1500 of them return that’s something to build off of.
Okay, well, we’d hope to get 10,000, but we have an 80% return rate. Wow. Then we just need to figure out what’s working there and keep doing the same thing versus the other way around. We would have to say, wow. So clearly, we’ve got an attractive message or something or product or the way we’re pushing in the market, but something’s not working. Let’s go back and ask some of those people didn’t come back and say, why didn’t you come back? And that’ll help us get to the right zone.
And I’ll ask a question. Let’s just say there’s a change. Like, let’s say the company is ten years old. They want, they’re pivoting something. How do you re-infuse that now? Like, how do you revisit brand? Because sometimes there’s even just a business change that’s occurred. Geico was famous. Of course, they’re, like, 15 minutes will save you 15%, whatever. And at some point, they realized we need to stop anchoring on that. And they’ve adjusted it. They actually played it up because they chose a very consumer, strong consumer, lots of advertising, lots of whatever.
And that was they had to shift their brand. I worked for a company called Raymond James, so that’s white in color. And one of the things we often said was 222 consecutive quarters of growth.
It was super valuable because it shows we’re conservative, we’re consistent, and they’ve maintained that. They continue to add to the number. But what if all of a sudden you miss one? You’re like, 222 consecutive quarter growth, then we missed two, then we’re back on track.
So now at some point, they need to say, okay, we need some new messaging.
That’s right. Or you say we have grown instead of consecutive quarters of growth. We have grown X amount in the last ten years. So you find a new way to cast that message. But I think to your point. And this is also sometimes a thing that is a mistake. People end up going having a style gathered brand platform, whatever it is and say, oh, my God. That is what we have to do always everywhere even if we don’t understand it or we don’t believe it anymore.
You have to recognize that sometimes things have to evolve. Doesn’t mean you break rules there consistently. But if something has changed or isn’t work anymore, then address it, you know. You learn things that you’ve been in the market. Or, like you said, there’s a need to evolve. Big brands think that are very successful that start to fade, are terrified about making changes because they say, oh, my God. We have a huge business that’s so high risk. And yet the see their business steadily decline.
And the reality is, you got to change something now. By the way, it doesn’t mean you change everything.
You need to understand what can’t you change? But there are things you can change that will again reintroduce the end user to your product or service that will bring them back. But you have to know how far to go. And by the way, sometimes it is drastic. But if it’s drastic, then you’re really saying I may lose everything, but I don’t have any other choice. Okay. And that at Christmas it’s dropping 30% a year, and God, who cares?
It’s going to be gone in three years anyways. Or you say, you know what? I’m going to have to do this a little incrementally, because I see how much is enough.
And also brand brand saving or brand recovering expeditions. Right. I’ll use a bit of a harsh example, but like BP, they were able to, not obviously, they have such a presence it’s hard to unseat them. But nothing is, nothing is protected from going away. And they were able to despite some really, really, obviously difficult and environmentally horrifying experiences that were introduced, they kind of just said, okay, let’s go mea culpa on this and say, like, we’ve made mistakes, and we understand that you need to learn to trust us again.
And they really walked to the market and went visually with it. They went to commercials audit. They said, we’re going to blanket the world with this. What was the other one? Tylenol great example, right. When Tylenol had the problem with pills that were tainted and somebody had died as a result before we had the sealed tops, right? The FDA said, whatever you do, don’t like, just get the old ones off the shelf and just keep going, like and they said, we’re going to get all of them.
We are going to start from scratch, and they are actually advised to not do it. But in making that choice of saying full mea culpa of massive things just changed in our industry. And we are starting again, and it resulted in them really surviving as a brand versus if they sort of just tried to incrementally, just tuck it away, they probably would not have had the success they have. So I’m curious again, Randy, and when people come to you and say, like, Randy, we’ve had a big change and we need to make sure the story comes through.
So for starters is being honest, you can’t, when you have a big issue that really is damaging to you for one way or the other, you can’t just ignore it. Did you ignore it? People keep saying, what about that? What about that? You have to and frankly, always say honesty is the best policy to be very transparent on it and explain what you did to rectify it. It’s interesting. I actually think it’s great when I see companies doing customer service on social media. Think, oh, my God, you’re exposing people who are not happy.
Reality is, the real great way is how you solve their problems or listen to them, right? Or address their interest. There’s another person who say, oh, yeah, they had that problem, but wow, that company was responsive, and they did the right thing. And they were able to explain, rather, just getting a negative review, right? And so I think it’s just the way you address it is really, really important. And then in some of these, it’s so dramatic that you have to really say we’re walking away from this.
But we’re doing this instead. Years ago, I work at, you remember the Enron, flame out in Texas. So we were involved in rebranding one of their legal firms.
Oh, my God. We had no illegal issue ultimately at that. But then they were directly associated with Enron. They went, oh, my God. Nobody wants to work with us anymore. And so what they had to do is really recast the brand. They didn’t change their name, unfortunately, because that had a legacy. But they did definitely recast what they did. In fact, one of the things they did is walked away from that sector for a while. They said, okay, that’s a hot potato. So let’s focus on other sectors.
But what they decided not to do is hide from us. Obviously, Enron no longer period of their client list. They did rebrand to give a new fresh look to introduce themselves new places. But they didn’t say, pretend that never happened. Yeah.
This is also like you said, social media. And I hate to do this. We only have a few minutes left. But this is an important piece where the brands then continues in an active voice. And there sometimes people chose the sort of like the can’t be fun, edgy type of thing. Right. You’ve got Wendy’s social media having a run at Burger King, like, the edit becomes cute. It’s viral, but it also impacts the if they suddenly switch, it’s obvious noticeable, and it takes away trust. Every once in a while, somebody will put out a promoted tweet because of something.
And they say a BP or an Enron or whatever. Somebody that’s. All you see is the reply count, just like ticking up and you’re like, oh, good golly. They’re trying but you’re like, this is not the medium in which you want to bring this message out here. And social media really affect the continuation of that visual brand.
So again, the social media is obviously a really critical channel for any brand today. And what we talk about a lot is just using the right platform for the right kind of message, just using Twitter as a perfect example. That’s the newest platform. If you don’t have something that’s topical to newsworthy items, don’t be tweeting. Nobody cares that you’re introducing a new flavor of granola bar. Just doesn’t matter. It’s not the place that they’re looking for that information. They might be looking for that on Instagram because Instagram is interest based, right?
Pinterest borrowed interest and interest base. Okay. Facebook community stories connection with people, right. And actually has a little broader mantle then as well. If you’re looking for something that’s very business to business. Yes, LinkedIn is absolutely the right place to do that. In fact, in LinkedIn probably may not be the right place to put a big emotional story about something that no one when the business mindset is going to care about. So it’s really understanding where and how to do it. The other reality is too, and I think people have known this for a while is that you can’t just like, put things out in social media, expect you’re going to build an audience because it’s going to get viral.
Yeah, that happens. That’s not science completely. That’s a lot of chance and winning the lottery and having the right place at the right time. So promoted posts and stuff are the reality. You got to do it. You got to do it. Then you have to experiment with it. All the social platforms today actually have pretty sophisticated tensions to allow you to do that in a pretty economic way. But we tell that to clients that, that isn’t definitely is a check the box. But don’t get all sad because you’ve got 200 followers on Instagram after three months because all you do is put it out there because yeah, 200 people happen to find you.
With all your friends and family are following you. But if you really want to get it further, you got to promote it. But it is as viable as a place as any other digital media place to do it. Somebody with a good digital plan definitely does it not only social media, but social media certainly is a critical component to it.
Yeah, this is as a holistic approach, and I think that’s what lose sight of it’s like they choose one thing, and it also where you make sure you can be consistent in your usage of any platform. Right. You come up with a fantastic if you pay all this money for a visual ad and then you fire it up and you use your impressions and then you stop using it. That’s a failure in your understanding of what the platform is meant to do and how you get an ROI from this platform, even though it’s a beautiful image, a beautiful video you created.
If you just hammered it into the ecosystem, it’s timing, right? Like an amazing movie comes out on a Friday and does 14 million, and then it came out three weeks later. The same movie could get 4 million. Why? Because Harry Potter came out the same day. So it’s timing placements. But what I really want to branch back to is it’s about taking the foundation of your company, your vision, your customer story, and making sure that it’s from the roots of that. And for folks that want to make sure that they can do this right.
Randy, what’s the best way if they want to contact you and the team at Visual Brand?
So our website is thevisualbrand.com. And I am Randy, R-A-N-D-Y at visualbrand.com.
Excellent. Randy, this is really good. There’s so much more I could tap into. We talk about, we can talk about influence and other things. I’d love to have you back and go into some of those areas because I know it’s. It’s a keen interest to a lot of folks these days of where is the right place to use some of these things. And I know you’ve done a lot of work in this, but I didn’t want to truncate it to a two minute hunk of our discussion, but it’s been really great.
Thank you very much for spending the time.
Thank you, Eric. I enjoyed it thoroughly.