Margie Agin is the author of Brand Breakthrough: How to Go Beyond a Catchy Tagline to Build an Authentic, Influential, and Sustainable Brand Personality.
She also the founder of Centreboard Marketing, and an award-winning marketer who helps B2B technology companies discover what makes them unique and find the words to say it.
In this episode, she shares her perspectives and insights into how to craft a brand strategy framework that unlocks rapid business growth.
Some topics we discussed include:
- The problem that B2B companies face with their content
- Is their brand strategy a cause for it
- How Margie defines a brand and a brand strategy framework
- What are the deliverables for a brand strategy
- The role of culture in developing a brand strategy
- How to unpack culture when developing a brand strategy
- How to identify the brand voice
- Framework for a successful brand strategy
- What do we need to look at beyond the brand strategy framework
- How to develop brand awareness
- How to develop brand adoption
- How to develop brand advocacy
- How Margie approaches content development in light of a brand strategy framework
- and much more …
Vinay Koshy 0:00
Margie. Have you ever been to Japan?
Margie Agin 0:03
I have I lived in Japan a couple of times.
Vinay Koshy 0:07
Excellent. So I've never been. But I've, for a long time had stories about how efficient their train network is. And I'm told that they pride themselves on most in in being on time and the efficiency in which they operate. For those who, like me haven't been to Japan, but haven't heard about their efficiency, I believe they've developed a series of habits that have always become second major to them. So to give an example, a train conductor might look at the timetable and say, The train is due to leave at 3pm. But time is now 2:58pm. And I raised the orange flag to let people as to the trains departure in a minute. And about 2:59pm, the conductor calls up the time announces that the train is leaving, and that people should stand clear of the departing train, and say it out loud that he's raised the green flag for the train to start up and depart the station. It seems very simple, and and maybe a little silly in that everything is talked or said out loud. But it's incredibly detailed and elaborate. And at the core of it, I couldn't help but think is a brand strategy framework, which has evolved over time into the behaviors and actions that an entire company or organization takes. So I was thinking about this thing, okay, I couldn't help. But most organizations aren't anywhere close to being anything like them. And I was wondering, what would you say is the challenge for most businesses to really build a brand that even gets to people like me, who've never even been to Japan?
Margie Agin 2:05
Wow. So I will, I will pick up your analogy thread, okay. And maybe even dig a little deeper into that have you had to be honest, I have not lived, I lived there in the 90s. But I'm pretty sure that even today, I mean, some of the things that I observed and experienced living there are so fundamental to the culture and the experience of living there that probably very same today. And I and I think that's the key to the fact that that wasn't just a brand, you know, value or attribute of the Japan rail company, but it what you're talking about are the way that they really understood what their customers needed, and how their what their customers expected from them. And it's, it might be different if that same company possibly was operating in a different place, or hadn't come so organically from the Japanese culture. So, and I mean, I was, you know, an American living in Japan, but I'll give you a couple of examples of what I observed that kind of reflect that, and then kind of bring it to you know, why I think how I think that's sort of a lesson I guess, for for other companies operating in other places. So yeah, the trains are eerily on time. Yes, consistent. And also, you know, clean, but everyone really understands sort of the way you behave on a train and the way you prepare for a train and how you interact on the train. And, you know, so when you're standing at the platform, there's sort of dots on the platform. I mean, there are I live outside of Washington, DC, there's dots on the platform in Washington DC to write that, theoretically, are supposed to be the spot where the door is actually going to open, right? But I can tell you in the Washington DC system, the door never actually opens on the dot, you know, everyone sort of jostling back and forth to try to figure out how to get on the train and who gets off the train and you know, where you stand. And so in Japan, they're, they're standing in the line, you know, directly one in front of the other, and the line waiting to get on the train, and everybody stands in these very strict lines. All the people get off first, then the people get on. That's just that's just how it is. That's the expectation. And that's the behavior, right? And like just one other example about sort of being prepared. So I was a teacher. I taught with a Japanese teacher of English through the JET Program. So I was partnered with a Japanese teacher in in basically middle schools. And so when they went on a field trip, they had the bus come a day early, and they practiced the children getting on and off the bus to go on the field trip, but they didn't go on the field trip that day. They were just practicing going on and off the bus, a field trip. So that Everyone knew exactly how to act, where to be at a certain time. And so that they were fully prepared for the next day.
Vinay Koshy 5:09
Margie Agin 5:09
So when you sort of have the expectation from your customer base, that this is what the expectation is right? Then you as a brand, have to really understand where they're coming from their expectations of you, and be able to meet them where they are. And that's, I think, you know, a brand lesson for many companies, whether they're operating in another country, or they're just trying to reach a new market. And they need to understand, you know, the way that that target persona or target audience thinks, right, and what their expectations are maybe their experiences positive or negative, right with other companies in order to kind of get inside their head and understand their context, or they won't be able to really form that connection with them. And that's the core of a strong brand is understanding your customers and really building that connection with them.
Vinay Koshy 6:05
Hi, and welcome to the predictable b2b success podcast, overnight coaching. On this podcast, we interview people behind b2b brands who aren't necessarily famous, but do work in the trenches, and share their strategies and secrets as they progress along this journey of expanding their influence, and making their businesses grow predictably. Now, let's dive into the podcast.
Margie you, are the founder of Centerboard Marketing. And for listeners Margie Agin is an award winning winning marketer, who helps a b2b technology companies in particular, discover what makes them unique and helps them put together the words to give voice to it, if I understand that correctly. And you're also the author of Brand Breakthrough: how to go beyond a catchy tagline, to build an authentic, influential and sustainable brand personality.
Magie. I'm curious, when you started centerboard marketing, what was the problem that you were trying to solve?
Margie Agin 7:14
So I started Centerboard Marketing about eight years ago, after 10-15 years or so, as an in house marketer with technology companies. And I worked not really in the brand role. In fact, I was more an online marketer, demand generation marketer, and even a market researcher in my career. And so I was in many experiences inside a marketing organization, where a brand was created, defined often by marketing leadership or company leadership, sometimes by an external agency, right, and then sort of delivered to the rest of the organization with a very high level kind of brand statement. Often the brand identity, visual identity was pretty well fleshed out, but not kind of the underpinnings of that, that we that was were often missing. So there was this big gap between the time and energy and effort that people had put into developing kind of the, you know, new brand identity, or Dan personality, or even tagline or logo, and then the rest of the organization that needed to act upon it. What we needed was sort of that middle part, which was the messaging, the positioning and kind of all the pillars that led up to sort of that overriding brand statement. And without that, it was very difficult to know how to embrace and execute on that brand vision. And unfortunately, what happened in in many of those cases was the brand either didn't get used, right, though, wasn't used properly, it was used inconsistently because people sort of made things up as they went along. And so it lost the the, of, you know, the benefits of having the intentional brand power that it was designed to have. A lot of money got wasted. And a lot of people were sort of spinning their wheels and recreating things over and over again. Right. And so that's why I one of the reasons why I started centerbore marketing and why I wrote the book was that I really wanted to sort of help fill that gap and talk about the types of things that need to happen in between, you know, the high level brand message and the boots on the ground marketing people sales people, you know, other type of people that are interacting with customers to really make the brand come to life.
Vinay Koshy 9:44
Excellent. And Margie, you've obviously have quite a journey to date, but what would you say is your personal area of strength?
Margie Agin 9:54
Oh, other other than leading middle school children on field trips. So I work with a lot of technology companies with difficult to describe products. And I'm not a developer or an engineer, but I love talking to developers and engineers and sales engineers and product managers, who are really the technical experts and kind of extracting the really unique kind of message points and value points from this cool technology that they've just built. And, and turning it into language that is more human. And, you know, customer friendly, I think, because I'm not an engineer, you know, I get it enough that I get the jargon and like, I, I've been around, especially markets like cybersecurity, or, you know, other SAS products to really understand sort of the trends and the lingo. But I, you know, I don't write like that. I don't think like that. So I get to be the one that sort of asks the innocent question, and then go, Okay, so really, this is what you're saying? and kind of put it in human language. Excellent.
Vinay Koshy 11:07
And in that area of strength, what would you say is something that businesses don't know what should?
Margie Agin 11:17
Well, businesses often get extremely internally focused? You know, it because most of the people they talk to every day are within the business. And they start or even within their own industry, right, but certainly within the business, and they hear the same things over and over again. And they become sort of self fulfilling. So one of the things that companies don't do as much as they should, is talk to their customers. Or when they talk to their customers, they're sort of coming with a certain internal bias, rather than really having their ears open. And taking in what the customer may be saying to them is sort of their problem, their way of looking at the world, the words that they use the context that they're living in. And it's, it can be very difficult even after I've worked with a company for I have some clients I've worked with for years, and I've almost become an internal person, right, it is very difficult to turn those, turn yourself, you know, looking from the outside in and be able to take a step back. So it often does help to have an external person, a third party talking to your customers, without you in the room, so that they can sort of get the unvarnished truth. And listen for those patterns, whether it's a customer who loves you, or when you've lost in the past, or that, you know, left you for some reason, checking back in with those people and really getting, you know, the unvarnished truth is is something not a lot of companies have a like a program for or waiting to do on a regular basis. And I think that that's, that's really a key part of just continually learning and adjusting your brand, is by finding ways to keep tapping into your customers.
Vinay Koshy 13:09
Okay, and we're talking about customers, or keeping customers at the center or the heart of your business as being an issue and perhaps an inward focus as well affecting companies. But in your experience, do you think those issues tend to flow into the kinds of content they put out there?
Margie Agin 13:32
The issue of being too internally focused? Yeah, I think we're it, you know, both in what you say and in how you say it, right. So it may be that you that the the questions that your customers are asking your sales team, for example, the the questions that come up, that are objections, or the things that are asking on social media, you know, those things, if we listen to them can become great opportunities to refresh content, so that we're not just, you know, part of content creation is telling your story, and, you know, talking about your new product launch and your perspective on the world, and that's, that's a piece of it certainly is to, you know, differentiate yourself by having a point of view and showing, you know, showing your stuff but the other piece of it is listening to what people are asking, you know, listening to where trends are in the world that are outside of your own business and then responding to that and reflecting on that thoughtfully so that, you know, you're not just talking about yourself all the time.
Vinay Koshy 14:42
Okay, let's see if we can unpack that a little bit. Perhaps a good place to start would be how would you define brand strategy?
Margie Agin 14:52
So we talked, we started talking a little bit about how what you say and how you say it, right. So the what you say part event is really the messaging and positioning piece of brand strategy, right? What's our unique perspective? How do we differentiate that from what anybody else is saying? can we prove that? What are some examples that we can use to prove that said Do people really care about those things? Right. So though that's part of the brand strategy is sort of the messaging framework, messaging architecture that goes into it, then I also look at how you say it, which I'd say is more brand voice or vant, brand personality. So stylistic kinds of choices, vocabulary, the way that you the kind of the craft of content creation, very similar to how you think about design, right, but now we're thinking about it in terms of language, and, and, and word choices. So if you kind of take the example of a company that, you know, is creating content, but it sounds like anybody else in their market could have written the same thing, right? If you took the logo off the content, you wouldn't be able to tell what company wrote it, there's nothing distinctive about either that what it says or just the feeling that you get when you read it. So that kind of emotional connection, and the feeling you're trying to produce in your customers is also one of the kind of core tenants of your brand strategy, some of the ways you can really make that kind of come to life is through your voice, that makes your brand seem a little bit more like a human, like a person with a personality instead of a robot. And especially if you're a b2b company, you know, there's there's this tendency not just to all sound alike, but to sort of sound a little bit like robotic and to corporate. So, there are many different types of brand personalities, even that b2b companies can embody that help their content stand out. So for example, you have some companies that think of themselves as pioneers or, or even rebels, where they're disruptors, right, they're shaking up the market. And if they consider themselves a brand like that, they might use words like, you know, turning the industry on its head or shattering, this the status quo, or, you know, that's a completely new way of doing things because the current way is broken, you know, sort of this aggressive language where they're almost contrarian. Other brands are not like that at all, you know, they're more sort of the caretaker brand, or like a much more of a softer, warmer, kind of compassionate partner to you, right. So they would never use language, like what we were just talking about, they may, you know, talk about, you know, always being very positive and aspirational, or very vivid, almost like poetic kinds of language, metaphors and story, sort of stories that are more personal. So thinking about, you know, your place in the market, what your competitors are doing, what's true to your company culture, right? And also, as we started our conversation, sort of what culture are you operating in, all of those things really go into developing a brand personality for your company that will help you stand out among among a crowd that is all trying to get the attention of the same people.
Vinay Koshy 18:40
So as you're saying that I was wanting to dive in a little bit deeper. So if I understand this correctly, at the core of your brand strategy, you really want to identify the kind of culture that the the leadership identifies with, and it's certainly more evident on a day to day basis, because that's what comes naturally to them and makes them...
Margie Agin 19:06
Especially when you... Yeah, I mean, especially when you have a smaller company or company where the founders are still very involved, you know, it's a startup or they have a really tight, well defined culture that will help the brand be more consistent. So you're not just sticking something on your website, but when people actually interact with the people from your company, then, you know, they what they get is true. So that is definitely a key a key piece of this.
Vinay Koshy 19:31
Because the other thought that came to my head was how do you unpack a culture as someone coming into the organization to really define their brand identity and strategy?
Margie Agin 19:44
Yeah, so I try to get a lot of different voices in the conversation, at least from different parts of a company. Right? So this goes back to sort of the idea that it can't just be the marketing team, you know, away on average. Treat somewhere, right? We've got marketing, we've got sales, we've got product people, we might have support people, or you know, engineering people that that want the support, people may be interacting with angry customers, right. And engineering people may be going on site and fixing problems, right. So we've got all different perspectives on the same problem. So I do workshops where I get those different people in a room together. Lately, we've been doing a virtual room and doing some of it offline before we all get in a call, right. But there's a lot of different type of exercises that you can do once you have the right group of people. So one way to sort of look at a brand attribute, kind of a pyramid. So you sort of picture in your head, a pyramid of three levels. One is core table stakes kinds of brand attributes, that any, any company in your market could probably say the same thing, easy to use, provides value, well, let's hope that any company, you know, would be would probably say that or should say that, right. And then as you move up the period, sorry, the pyramid, you've got like a defining characteristics that are a little bit more unique to you. And at the top of the pyramid, we have things that are truly differentiating things that really, you know, make you different from, from others in this space. So I have sort of like a card sorting sort of exercise where there's a bunch of different types of attributes, I give people the choice of selecting, or they can make up their own if they don't see it on the list. And then, with all these different voices in our room, they kind of place these cards at different points in the pyramid, and prioritize them, what's in what's out what's higher than the next. And it's the prioritization part. And the negotiation and discussion part is where the rubber meets the road. Because I find that it doesn't really matter whether you choose the word, you know, collaborative, or, you know, friendly, or something, it matters what people really mean by that. So that's why you got to get the people in the room together, so they can hear each other, have that conversation and even argue about it, right. And I try to facilitate that. But then I have to sit back and listen and let them sort of talk through some of these choices. It it's difficult to say, you know, I want to be both inspirational, but I'm also practical. Okay, we could do that. But there's a spectrum. So how do we balance those two things? And where do you think you are on that spectrum? Right, because there are some things that will naturally come out that everybody wants to be, but we have to make a choice about which side we're going to lean on to more heavily. So finding the words to define what is ultimate, ultimately, and innately you know, very amorphous, like culture is is not easy. But this is one way to get at it to say, Okay, if we force this prioritization exercise, and you only had three words, right, what has to be the top three, and that we're going to lean into doesn't mean, you can't be all this other stuff. But just we got to pick where we're going to be because we can't be everything to everybody. And if we pick 25 ways of describing ourselves, then it's too watered down. So it's, it's more of this exercise of like, Can we really get to it? So that's, that's one way we go about that. And then reflecting that back to the company, that getting maybe a few more voices to check in and say, yeah, this, this does sound right to me. You know, it takes a few rounds to sort of get that confirmation. So that's one. That's one a big part.
Vinay Koshy 23:56
So that's to help define your brand voice. Would that be a good expression to use?
Margie Agin 24:02
yeah, I would say brand attributes. All right. So the attributes, then define the voice and the end, the tone and the words that you choose. But those attributes really can be a guidepost, whether you are developing the voice, or the visual identity, or even the products themselves, right, because they ideally should be consistent across all the different touch points. This is just one way of saying to people who don't know me, right, think about if you're pitching your company, to somebody who you want to work there, you say, why is working here, different than working anyplace else you worked? Or if you went to a customer and you said how is working with our company, you know, as your partner or your vendor, right? different than other partners or vendors that you've worked with? And I'm not talking about like, oh, the product is great. It does this, you know, what's the experience like for them? What are the emotions? They feel what's the like, you know, what is the experience of working with your company and you find that you may think, for example, that you're very easy to use. But if your all your customers say that you're not, you know, then it turns out that your brand is like it or not what your customers have to say about you when you're not in the room. Right? So that's, that's the second piece is after you develop this great desk description of your own culture, you got to check it, check it against what your customers really think.
Vinay Koshy 25:34
Would you say that there's discussion around brand attributes? Is something that you do in conjunction with giving voice to or at least unpacking and brand values?
Margie Agin 25:51
Yes, absolutely. And I think the values are becoming more and more important to tell to the external world. You know, it's not just an HR exercise, it's also something that future employees want to know. And customers want to know, too. So, yeah, I mean, a partner in that for me, because I typically come into the marketing side, but often we partner with a human resources team that is very much thinking about the values and the culture of the company, and also the employer brand, like the recruiting brand of the company. So usually, companies have a sense of what that is. We know when it's something sounds like us, you know, or we or if the again, like the leadership of the founder, you know, they, we kind of know what the personalities, but they just haven't put words to it. And they haven't socialized it in a way that everybody buys into it.
Vinay Koshy 26:52
Sure. Okay. And as part of that exercise, as you're checking what you've come up with, as an organization with your customers, are you then identifying your best customers and developing profiles around them?
Margie Agin 27:13
Personas are a key, yeah, are a key part of understanding what let's say we've been talking about going to your customers and talking to them, right? So understanding, when I say customers, we can't just look at the company as a whole, we have to really think about like, what are those titles? And what are the roles within the company? So So yeah, so that's that exercise of understanding personas and developing personas is is kind of a forerunner to then going and talking to the folks or I guess it goes back and forth, really, because you'll start with a persona that is, you know, your best guess. And then you go and you talk to your to the actual people that you think fit that persona. And then you make all these adjustments based on what you've actually heard them say. So when I look at personas, a b2c kind of persona is often very light in the sense that it's it's often based on, you know, demographics, or, you know, but even if you look at that, you know, all millennials don't think alike, all 40 year old women with two kids don't think alike, right? So in a b2b sense. It's, I don't really care if their 40 year old woman or a millennial, you know, I care about in their job, what's going to make them successful. How do they define success? What's standing in their way? You know, how will they feel when they're successful? What questions might they ask? Those are the kinds of things that that are helpful in a b2b persona. And so I can take my best guess at that and have a have a starting point. But then we got to constantly refine it, you know, iterate, and update and refine.
Vinay Koshy 28:56
Certainly, Okay and what point do you consider the competition?
Margie Agin 29:04
So I'd call that like, the third leg of that stool. All right, we've got the internal part, the cultural part, then we've got the second part, which is the the customers that personas. So hopefully, by that point, we've developed a framework that is, you know, true to who you are, as a company, or me, true to who you are, as a company relevant to what your customers actually care about. Right? And then the third piece is, is it really unique in this market? Are you saying something that other people are not saying? So the best sweet spot is when you can find something that you know, there's a gap and the other competitors either aren't saying or just aren't leaning into and that's where you can, you know, you can take a look and, and say, Okay, well, I see something customers really care about that. We offer that nobody else is doing. So to truly differentiate yourself, you know, you got to find something to say that doesn't sound like everybody else.
Vinay Koshy 30:08
Okay, so in a competitive space, are you really going back to the origin story of the company and the issues that they were trying to solve?
Margie Agin 30:21
With origin? I mean, it depends on the company, right? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes the origin story was, you know, 50 years ago, and sort of the company has moved many places since then it doesn't matter anymore. Right? But many times, yes. Especially if you're talking about a startup and you've still got these people involved. And, you know, they have a real reason for being that is relevant today. Yeah, people people kind of want to know, your origin story and why you decided to do what you do. So that's, that's, that's a place you could go back to, you know, and the story could could change, you know, as, as the market. The market around you evolves, and your company evolves. I was just looking at, I was just reading an article about salesforce.com. And how they've, they changed their tagline it was Do you remember how they had that sort of, like, Ghostbusters thing with like, the no software? Right. And everyone had like the sign up with like, the No, no, no whiners. Right. But it was no, no software. And like, that worked for them 15 years ago, because it was very unique to have like a SaaS product that was in the heavy eirp system that was unique in the market right. Now. With it's almost like, you know, every, there's a million other companies that could say that, and that's sort of the table stakes now. Yeah. So I think their new thing is we bring customers and companies together, or people in companies together, I think is what it is, which really, I mean, Salesforce has become the hub of, you know, every every integration and plug in, in the planet, you know, as a Salesforce blog, because it's the central place. So I think they nailed it in terms of their unique value in the space that they play. And they had to change because what their origin was, is just no longer unique.
Vinay Koshy 32:24
Is there anything else we should consider when looking to create a differentiation strategy?
Margie Agin 32:36
Well, I mean, there's so many ways that you can differentiate from the unique offering and value of your product to the experience of working with your company, it just even more important to differentiate today than ever before, because especially if you're talking, you know, technology company or SAS company, I mean, there are exponentially more competitors in the IP for for a SaaS company than there were, you know, even five years ago, and it's also easier for your customers to switch than it was years ago. Right. And so you know, NPS, which is sort of like the branding standard of how you measure, you know, would people recommend you to another company, sure, the, and that those scores have gone down dramatically across the board, there's much less sort of brand loyalty in most markets than there has was before and there's so many more choices. So just being aware of how important that is, and not just relying on the products to do that job for you, you know, your products can be amazing, but they're actually pretty easy for people to replicate. Once they're out in the wild, it has to be more than just the technology that sets you apart. It's it's the whole experience of working with your company.
Vinay Koshy 33:58
So okay, and we've talked about how you go through some of these exercises to define your brand voice and tone and perhaps personality as well. Is there a conversation to be had around brand archetypes?
Margie Agin 34:20
So I like to use archetypes as a way to bring the personality of the brand to life in a very tangible way. Right so for people who don't know that archetypes are this concept that came from psychology and then Carl Jung was the first to kind of really use these but I mean, they they've been used in literature they've been I mean, they're in tarot cards if you want to picture sort of the deck of cards with like, these different kind of characters that like the there's the magician and there's a sage and there's we talked a little bit about the rebel before. Alright, so these two are different characters. That thing about it kind of pop up many times in movies or in literature, and they're kind of innately recognizable to us, because we keep seeing them again and again. So we've developed sort of this shorthand, if I say, Oh, he's like a rebel, you will immediately kind of get a picture in your mind and what that might be like. But if I, if I say, oh, you're the kind of brand that's a little bit more like a coach, right? Or a guide, then you get more of the sense of shorthand of what that might be, like. So even b2b brands, it's not just b2c brands, even b2b brands can have a personality, and they play that role in the brand story, and kind of the brand narrative, they have a character that they embody, and that they play almost like the the movie playing out in front of you. And if you kind of know your character, then you you, you can guess you can ad lib. Well, here's what the character might say, in this kind of situation, because I really understand how this character thinks and acts and their role in the in the customer's life.
Vinay Koshy 36:07
okay, and would you say that, in doing that, and flushing out the personality and tone, that you're always describing the characteristics, or if you will, like the human brand, within the company that exists within a company, which would affect recruitment, and suddenly, the kind of cultural fit you're looking for with people?
Margie Agin 36:35
Yeah, I think so. I mean, people don't really trust companies anymore, you know, they, but they trust people, they trust word of mouth. And so the more you can make your, your brand kind of feel like a person, that then even if they haven't met you in person, and they're just reading something or going to your website, they'll get a sense of what your, what, what you're like, right, and it makes you feel more like a person. So you can kind of close that gap a little bit. build trust, really, which is about kind of closing the distance between you and your customer, or you and your potential employees so that you can kind of get to know each other a little bit faster.
Vinay Koshy 37:20
So and as you're using all these facets, to look at educating, informing your customers and providing a degree of value. Are you recommending and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong? But are you recommending that they should really be looking at content that fits at the intersection of customer needs, and customer needs, and the value and the brand identity at the intersection of both of those, which is how content is fairly unique and yet speaks to an audience? And I'm writing that because a lot of companies go, well, what's the next topic to write about? And? And how do we share it in the marketplace? And we kind of keep scratching our heads every time we go down this exercise of producing something new. Whereas if you have those defined, it's easy to look for things that fit in that intersection.
Margie Agin 38:23
Yeah, oh, at least you know where to look. Right? Yes, if you need a balance, you can just be talking about yourself all the time. All right. So here's our latest thing, or, hey, we won this award, right where we've hired so and so that's the that's that we're going to be appearing at this place. That's the easy part. Right? Like that fills up the calendar. But you've got to leave, half or more, I think, ideally, is the space for the other stuff, and which is demonstrating your understanding of the customer contexts, whether it's the problems that they have the questions that they ask and answering them proactively, or just this is the trends in the market. These are the areas where, you know, everybody needs to learn more about and then you can still when you're presenting that talk about your unique perspective, right, or how you solve that issue. So there has to be a connection back to you. I mean, I wouldn't say that you need to write about things, you know, like, say if you're in here in the cybersecurity market, there are so many things that everybody in the world is writing about right now, you know that that just happened in the cybersecurity suites. But you've got to take it to the down to the specific connection to why your company is writing about this, right? What's your perspective on it? So there are some larger trends that your customers care about, but you're going to put that in the context of what your company can do to help or why your company, you know, has a unique take on this problem. So I think if you can blend those two things together? Yeah, you're absolutely right, that's the best place to go. I think getting those customer questions, it sort of gives you an endless source of content topics and ideas, right? And listening to what others, you know, are saying the analysts are the those that are in the sort of larger market space in which you play and what the trends are that they're noting, that also was a great source. I've set up many social listening kind of post listening posts, where you just follow you're following a bunch of thought leaders and listening in on what the conversation is not just about you. I mean, you do need to know what they're saying about you. But you the brand, you're the company, right? But also what what's the buzz, you know, what's the trend, like, what what's sort of the thing that everybody is talking about. So you can tap into that. And not just not just have your own agenda for your content calendar, but be filling it in with all these external sources.
Vinay Koshy 41:10
So, so just using example of data security companies, or data security companies, most people if you're speaking to technical folk, would suggest that their customer is the CIO or the CTO, and and really needs to be pitched accordingly. And, at least in my limited experience, will often talk about all the technical benefits of bear system. However, more often than not, at least over the past few years, B CTOs and CIOs have a very limited budget. And it's probably for a CEO, one of the last things that they look at in terms of allocating budget, but to use a more recent example, where British Airways was fined 800 million pounds for a data breach. But that's something that catches the attention of a CEO. Right. And if there's legislation like there is in Canada, and that that severely penalizes a company for not securing the information, when again, it's something that is fairly high up on a CEOs agenda. So you really want to understand the decision makings, right in buying a particular product and not just address it based on feedback from within the company, but on the actual decision makers themselves. So probably in ....sales?
Margie Agin 42:46
yes, I mean, in most cases, in companies like those, I find it it's a b2b sale with a salesperson, sort of traditionally, you know, rather than something that's like, well, it could be but they're clicking through and buying on the website without sales interactions. So definitely sales can provide a ton of feedback, but often sales is looking to marketing to to say, Alright, who should I call, you know, we've got to put together our email lists and marketing, we need to know who those job titles are, we're going to run LinkedIn campaigns, we need to know which job titles to target with which message, right. So when I develop work with companies to kind of develop their brand, story, or brand narrative, we often have one core one, but then different flavors of that story for different job titles or personas. So let me give you an example of that. So the cybersecurity since we're, since we're talking about that, right? So the it buyer, which might be the CIO or the person who works for the C CIO, and is like doing the legwork and the research, you know, they may care most about things like is this product compliant? How does it fit with all the other stuff I bought? Right? How so how does it integrate? What's it like to set up? You know, do I have to pay for maintenance, like, it's a little in the weeds, but these folks often get in the weeds. Okay. So this might be the questions and the topics that you talk about, you know, for this for that group, where versus if you're talking to the CEO, then you're going to bring up issues like you don't want to end up in the news, right? Or you're going to build brand trust with your consumers because they want to know you're taking their personal data seriously, and you're a good ethical steward of their personal data. And if you're talking to a business buyer, which is increasingly a buyer for technology products, not coming out of the CEOs button here the CIOs budget, but the business unit budget and making that purchase sometimes even without the IT department at all right. So if you You're talking to the business person, you may be talking about productivity and the ability to do your job without involving it, right, and ease of use, and you know, business value, all these different kinds of topics that you're going to bring into the story are going to vary. And that's why it's so important to have these different personas and, and understand their pain points and their day to day lives and how they're going to measure success. So your core story is still, you know, like the big picture, but we need to have different flavors of this brand, but I call the galvanizing brand story or the brand story, you know, for different people that you're talking to. And then that story becomes, essentially the elevator pitch for your sales team, the sales deck that you create, you know, the way that you think about your website, and you have sort of these different sections of your website. So we can make it longer, or we can make it shorter. But we need we need a core story that everybody in the organization could articulate it from top to bottom and then tweak it as they need.
Vinay Koshy 46:10
Certainly, and is there a framework that you use to flesh out these stories?
Margie Agin 46:15
Yeah, so I mean, I look at one of my people that I look up to most in this market, has come up with this idea of the, of the galvanizing brand story, Doug Kessler. So he's from velocity partners, and in the UK, love the way they write. And so I use kind of that framework that they've put together, and I've made it my own, you know, a little bit based off of that as the core, but essentially, it sort of has several different parts were at the end, the beginning is the customer context, right? What is the world that they're living in? And then what's the trigger, there has to be some, some change in their world, right? It could be a new compliance, you know, mandate came out, like the one in Canada that you talked about is one in California, that is happening in the US that's created a lot of banks among companies handling personal consumer data. So you know, we've got a change in the world, then we've got Well, there's opportunities, we want to create a vision in something that people get really excited about. So they kind of see what they get asked. It's an aspirational or inspirational, more practical kind of vision, then we get into, but there's, but there's risks, you know, if you don't do this, then there could be repercussions. So creating urgency, that's one of the the main parts of this of the storytelling structure is, we need to create a reason to change just because the world around you is changed. Even so many b2b buyers and technology buyers are going to stay in the status quo, just because it's easier, they're afraid of change, or they're not ready to change, they're on a budget. So those sort of top portions like there's a change in the world and there was risk and there's opportunity are about changing the status quo, then kind of agitate that problem as much as we can. There's obstacles in the way, maybe you've tried X, Y, and Z and it didn't work before. Alright, so we agitate, like, this isn't working, and that isn't working, and here's all the problems, then we get to the breakthrough, right? Maybe there's a new market segment, or there's a new product, or there's a new way of thinking about solving this problem, you introduce that's at the point where you introduce your company and how you help them achieve that breakthrough. So your role, your character in this brand story really is in service of the customer achieving the vision that you've set forth for them, right? So then you got to prove it, we need some proof points, why should you trust me? I've said I'm going to help you. But what are the reasons why I can do this, like nobody else can. And here's how I can prove it. Those are essentially the like six elements of the brand story in that structure. And if we move through too fast, right, which I think there's a tendency to do, then we get to the, you know, you're talking about your company, but you haven't brought the reader or the buyer along with you. So I even if in every conversation, you don't go through all the elements to at least sort of set the groundwork first, rather than just going in and talking about yourself right off the bat is is essentially the structure of the brand story.
Vinay Koshy 49:37
Okay, so that makes a lot of sense. I guess it's something that we've touched upon, but haven't quite dove into is the visual side of things when it comes to brand identity. I'm assuming that is very much part of the core brand strategy conversation that you would be having.
Margie Agin 49:55
It is but to be honest with you, I am not the designer, right so i I partner with a lot of designers who look at my scribbles, you know, and and we share the same goal of interpreting that brand attribute pyramid, right? So we partner together a lot, but you don't want me doing your visual items.
Vinay Koshy 50:21
But is there a process that you would work through with these designers in order to actually provide that tangible?
Margie Agin 50:32
The same, right, the core of the brand attribute exercises is the same, right? And so that, that helps both sides. And, you know, having a good strong, open relationship with between the writer and the designer is is important. So ideally, you can kind of sit together and, and work on these things as a team.
Vinay Koshy 50:54
Okay, certainly. Margie, we've been through a fair bit as we've explored a brand strategy. But is there some aspect that you feel we haven't quite touched upon, but need to highlight?
Margie Agin 51:10
Gosh, I think we've covered a lot of ground. Now, you know, so much of this sounds really good in theory, right? And then you go to the, to put it on paper, and either you think God, I'm never gonna be able to do all these things. Because I have to, I also have to keep the trains running and bring in leads this month, right. So I think just to sort of set an expectation for companies that are entering into this process, that this is not something that you do in a day, or a week, and that you're going to try and you're going to, you know, some of this is gonna fall flat, and some of this you're going to learn and take in and evolve. So if you think of it as just an ongoing journey, you take it in pieces, then you can break it down into something that's much more manageable than trying to do everything all at once.
Vinay Koshy 52:07
Okay, would a good way of thinking about your brand strategy be almost thinking of it as your compass, in terms of determining where your business should be headed?
Margie Agin 52:21
Yeah, I think done correctly, it's a business decision making tool, right? And and not just about the words you choose, and how you position yourself, right. But should you partner with a certain company? Or should you launch a product? Should you have a perspective on political matters or not, you know, the all these kinds of choices that are that happen, even at the highest levels of a company. At some point, you go back to the brand touchstone and you say, this is something that we should be doing that is true to who we are.
Vinay Koshy 53:01
Margie, this has been terrific, a lot of golden in what you've been sharing but...
Margie Agin 53:06
Vinay Koshy 53:07
If you were listening to this episode, what would you say is your top takeaway?
Margie Agin 53:17
Cuz, talking to customers, right? talking to customers, keeping your ears open and receptive and willing to take criticism, making that time in your marketing calendar that even if you're not asking them for case studies, that you're, you're talking to several customers, you know, a month, a week, as often as you can, everything you do is informed by that. And if you as a marketer just come forward and say, you know, hey, this is what I think then why should anybody believe you, but if you come forward and say, Look, I've talked to 20 customers, and you know, I see a pattern here, then you have a leg to stand on, you're much more respected by the rest of the organization, which is, you know, an ongoing goal for the marketing department, in many companies. Right. So that would be my number one takeaway is make sure that you have time with customers.
Vinay Koshy 54:13
Okay. Excellent. And Margie, if listeners are curious and want to find out more connect with you, where would you recommend they head to?
Margie Agin 54:22
Yeah, please, please reach out to me visit my website, which is centerboard dash marketing COMM And my contact info is on there and information about the book and so forth is on there. So that's the best place to find me. centerboard marketing.
Vinay Koshy 54:38
Okay, no worries. We'll include that in the show notes. Thanks so much for doing this.
Margie Agin 54:44
It was really a pleasure. Thanks so much.
Vinay Koshy 54:47
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Related links and resources
- Check out Centerboard Marketing
- Get a copy of Brand Breakthrough: How to Go Beyond a Catchy Tagline to Build an Authentic, Influential, and Sustainable Brand Personality
- Listen to my interview with Felix Cao – How Brand Values Can Powerfully Drive Growth (With Brand Value Examples)
- Get more inspiration from Sean Whitford – Generating Demand to Boost Growth: How to Use Demand Generation Strategies
- Learn from Mark Edwards and Neil Cumming – Sustained Competitive Advantage: 9 Simple Elements to Deliver Long Term Business Growth
- Listen in to my interview with Brian Basilico – How to Use The Power of Emotion in Marketing to Drive Business Growth
- Discover the Lift-off Strategy: How to Boost Business Growth With an Empathy-Driven Content Marketing Strategy
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