Transcript – Episode 37

Fred Dunayer: Welcome to the SCORE Small Business Success Podcast: Been There, Done That. To get free mentoring services as well as to see the wide variety of resources available for small businesses, visit our website at or call 1-800-634-0245. Now here’s your host, Dennis Zink.


Dennis Zink: Episode number 37: Branding. Fred Dunayer joins me today in our studio as co-host, SCORE mentor and our audio engineer. Good morning, Fred.


Fred Dunayer: Good morning, Dennis.


Dennis Zink: Fred, our guest today is Steve Smith with Consonant Custom Media. Steve, Welcome to Been There, Done That.


Steven Smith: Thanks, Dennis. Glad to be here. Thanks for the invitation.


Dennis Zink: When it comes to strategic brands, Steve Smith is passionate about branding, identity and image. Steve has spent over 30 years in marketing communications having worked with companies like AT&T, Subaru and Uniroyal to name a few. In 1997, he started Steven A. Smith and Associates, a marketing communications company that lead to Consonant Custom Media in 2010 which is a content marketing and custom publishing company. Steve has received ADDY Awards in recognition of creative excellence as well as the Advertising Federation’s Ad Man of the Year Award. Steve, again, welcome to Been There, Done That.


Steven Smith: Thank you, Dennis.


Dennis Zink: Steve, how do you define branding?


Steven Smith: Well, you know, many people think of a brand as a logo but it, of course, is much more than that. The logo is your graphic identity. It’s really just the visual representation of your brand. I’ve heard a brand defined as a promise and I think that’s very, very appropriate because your brand sets up a series of expectations in the consumer’s mind and it’s up to you to be sure your brand either meets or exceeds those expectations. There’s a great quote from Walter Landor, the founder of Landor Associates, the firm that created brand marks for companies like Levi’s and FedEx and others. He said, “Products are built in the factory but brands are created in the mind.”


Dennis Zink: Steve, how do you make your brand clear, credible and connecting?


Steven Smith: Well, a lot of it is about the user experience. Regardless of what you are, a restaurant, retailer, manufacturer, professional services provider, the user experience is more important especially now it’s more important than ever. Keep your brand simple and keep it clear. Keep your graphic identity clear, keep the business model simple and easy to explain. That, of course, the credibility comes from having a business model that’s simple and is very easy for the consumer to understand. That 30 second elevator speech? It should even be less than that because the elevators in my building are pretty fast, I got to tell you.


Dennis Zink: How would a company go about selecting a name for their company, their product or their service?


Steven Smith: Well, having done that for my own companies and for several others, I think it’s important to have a clear understanding among your team why you’re in business in the first place, what is the essence of the company. What Leo Burnett referred to as the inherent drama within your product so what is it that you’re trying to accomplish and what’s the consumer benefit because at the end of the day, it’s really all about the benefit to the consumer. If you come up with a name, come up with a theme that is repeatable and that is very easy for the consumer to understand, that’s where you start. It has to be something that goes to the essence of what your brand really is. If you look at the name of my company Consonant Custom Media, Consonant means in harmony with and what we mean by that is that the work that we do, the content that we create is in harmony with our client’s brand values.


Dennis Zink: How does using branding identify and differentiate one brand or one company from the next?


Steven Smith: Well, you can do it graphically and you can do it with your statements, your messages and of course now, the direction that branding has gone in, in advertising in general, it’s not necessarily about one way messages. It’s about content and storytelling. When sharing the stories and the types of stories that you’re sharing, that helps the consumer to understand the brand.


Dennis Zink: What are some significant changes that have taken place in branding?


Steven Smith: Well, there are some things in branding that were true in 1899 and they will probably still be so in 2199. There are certain fundamentals to which brands should adhere no matter what their business model is. Be honest, be transparent, don’t treat the consumer like an idiot. Yeah, that’s a very simple one but people tend to forget it. David Ogilvy famously said, “The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.” That is true today and it always will be, of course. As for what’s changed, branding has evolved because the consumer has evolved and now, the consumer is much more savvy and much better informed. For one thing, he does not have informational needs that are beyond his reach. He or she has immediate access to all kinds of information around the category, the company, the specific product. Now, it’s important to maintain a conversation with the consumer and share stories with them rather than just attacking them and interrupting them with one-way marketing messages.


Dennis Zink: What are some examples of brands that are doing interesting and new things?


Steven Smith: Let’s see, one of my favorite examples is certainly a major brand and that is Coca-Cola. One of the biggest brands in the world, if not the biggest. Three years ago, they scrapped their traditional corporate website and they launched something called Coca-Cola Journey as a storytelling platform. They don’t even call it a website. They refer to it as a global media and content hub and there is plenty of content. There is something like 24,000 videos on that thing. I think three years from now as others follow suit, this is kind of going to be the norm rather than the exception.


Dennis Zink: On the flip side of the coin, what are some brands that are not doing it right?


Steven Smith: How much time do we have? I would say I can point to two immediately and they both happen to be in the automotive category. That is Toyota and VW. The two biggest automotive brands in the world and they have both kind of messed things up recently. VW, of course, with the diesel emission scandal and Toyota with a couple of things. The past several years, they had an unintended acceleration issue that they didn’t handle quite well and now, we’ve just heard that they’re discontinuing their Scion brand.


Dennis Zink: Yeah and GM as well.


Steven Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Dennis Zink: Had some issues.


Steven Smith: Yeah, GM certainly has plenty of issues over the year.


Fred Dunayer: Well now, that’s an interesting question because that’s not a fault of the branding but obviously, there’s a branding issue that gets created when a product has problems. Is there a particular strategy you recommend for branding repair?


Steven Smith: Good question, because no matter what, you will have problems so the problems are … Every problem that comes along is an opportunity for you to either do well and reinforce your credibility and restore your credibility in the consumer’s mind and build your brand or if you do not handle it correctly, you will be crucified on social media and bad news spreads faster than ever before.


Dennis Zink: Yeah, speaking of social media. How has digital technology in social media affected branding and advertising?


Steven Smith: Well, I think everything now is digital and we are in what I referred to as the post-advertising era and we’re very soon to be in something called the post-digital era. Because really, nowadays everything is digital. Everything that we do is digital. I don’t think that is a term that’s going to be around very much longer but social media has probably been the most significant change in branding. With social media, it’s a big reason why the consumer is so empowered these days. We have an empowered, extremely well-informed and extremely well-connected consumer. Social media can make a good brand stronger and it can also be very troublesome for a brand that is less than genuine. Either they’re handling … They have a crisis on their hands and they’re not handing it well or they’ve been exposed for having some kind of a policy that is doing a disservice somehow to the consumer. It cannot be swept under the rug. It has to be dealt with, the brand has to take it head on and communicate in a very honest and open and transparent way with their consumer.


Fred Dunayer: I think there’s one going on right now with Starbucks. It was just announced the other day that Starbucks is changing their rewards program. Apparently, it was extremely popular. Last night, the late night TV comedians were making jokes about the changes and obviously, that’s something that they’re going to have to get in front of. What’s troubling is that it’s very possible that that program that they had in place was simply not cost effective. It was costing them too much for what they were getting out of it and they had to change it but they have no choice but to make these changes and then, face the wrath of a million bloggers.


Steven Smith: Right. You’re referring to the loyalty program.


Fred Dunayer: Yeah.


Steven Smith: Right, right. Essentially, they changed the structure of the loyalty program where it’s no longer based on frequency but it’s based on how much money the consumer spends.


Dennis Zink: How can you improve branding for your website?


Steven Smith: Websites are undergoing the same kind of transformation that every other aspect of branding is. Now, it’s no longer sufficient to have this sort of traditionally structured website. I’m not saying that you have to do something like Coca-Cola has done but I think that a good website now has to have more content, higher quality content, better connectivity. It used to be that as long as you put your basics out there, the About Us page, the Products pages, the drop down menus, now it’s really a storytelling and a platform story sharing platform and a content hub.


Let me put it this way, this goes to the content marketing aspect of a website. It’s important for you not to talk too much about yourself. When I say that to people who have been in business for awhile, business owners, marketing directors who have been doing it for awhile, they kind of look at me like, “Well, that’s the purpose of the thing, so we can tell people about ourselves.” What we’re seeing is because of the changes in … The societal changes and the fact that today’s communities, your consumers and everybody around you are much better informed, those one-way messages just don’t work anymore.


If you share stories about the people behind your brand and not just their bio but who are they? What do they do? Why did they feel passionate about coming to work each day and working on behalf of your brand? Then of course, your customers. If you’re doing a good job of that and if you have original high-quality content, well-written content, I think that at the end of the day, that’s going to win the day. That’s going to be much more effective than just a bunch of one-way messages that say, “Here’s who we are, here’s our product, here’s how to order,” and that’s the end of it.


Dennis Zink: What are your thoughts on marketing to millennials, that’s been the big thing lately?


Steven Smith: This is great. I mean, people just have been going nuts over this. I think awhile back, people just went crazy with, “Oh my God, the millennials are … ” As if they were a different species and how marketers have to go to these extraordinary lengths to appeal to them. I think, now everybody’s kind of calmed down a little bit and they’re saying things like, “Well, the millennials are not who we thought they were.” There are really just two things to keep in mind about reaching millennials. One, they are much more likely to access information and interact with your brand on a mobile device, and two, they’re much more likely to trust user generated content. There was a piece on Mashable not too long ago that said that millennials are 50% more likely to trust user generated content rather than content that’s generated by the marketer or by the brand. That is probably the most significant thing to keep in mind about millennials.


Dennis Zink: That’s why there’s such a demand for things like Yelp and different reviews that people do when they try to eat at a restaurant or product or service. That goes a long way except there’s a lot of people forging those too so how do you know what you’re looking at?


Steven Smith: That’s a double-edge sword, yeah. It is very, very likely that they will have already read several reviews even before they visit the brand’s website. Of course, if you go to just about anybody who’s selling anything online, there will be reviews, there will be positive reviews and of course, there will be negative reviews. I think that you don’t want to underestimate the consumer’s intelligence. I think a smart consumer who has a genuine interest will genuinely read those reviews and kind of average them out and kind of take stock and really make a … Usually make a pretty well-informed decision.


Dennis Zink: Sometimes there’s follow up from the company saying, “This is a competitor or disgruntled employee that left or … ” If they know.


Steven Smith: Yeah, if they know. Sometimes, it’s very difficult for the brand to know that but that is true.


Fred Dunayer: My rule of thumb is to not ever trust anything where you’ve only got one or two reviews. You have to have a decent population of reviews and if not, go to a product that’s got at least a couple of dozen reviews. It’s not just millennials by the way, a lot of us have learned in this digital age to do this research and I hardly buy any product anymore where I haven’t done that kind of research.


Dennis Zink: What about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)? Where does that fit in with branding?


Steven Smith: The most important thing to remember is that search engines reward companies that create good content. It’s just about creating and publishing very high-quality content. Overtime organically, that’s what’s going to give you that advantage in terms of search.


Dennis Zink: What’s the best advice that you can give a company that’s starting up on building their brand?


Steven Smith: Well first, the basics. As I mentioned before, keep your brand very simple and structure a very good clear graphic identity. Also, keep your business model simple and keep it easy to explain. It’s been said that you should be able to explain it to a five-year-old or if you have a product that’s being sold at retail, you should be able to describe it to a five-year-old, send them into the store by themselves and have them come back with that product.


Like if it’s Morton Salt. Look for the blue package, the girl with the yellow raincoat, he can come back with that package, “Here it is, I found it.” Yeah. Also, remember that people are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of input every day. There’s no question about that so you have to be clear, be concise and this is something that … Kind of having grown up in the advertising business, this is something that we fight with clients about over the years.


I’ve done a lot of counseling on this particular subject, is stick to one message at a time and that will have maximum impact. Then of course, focus on the benefits to the consumer. At the end of the day, it’s all about what is the benefit to the consumer and what are the things that differentiate you from others that are in your channel. Is it lower price? More convenience? Better taste? Faster pain relief? A unique experience? Whatever it is, simple clear cut, easy to understand. This is very conventional stuff really but it is very often overlooked.


Fred Dunayer: Steve, a lot of times your brand might have multiple categories of customers. Could be millennials, could be elderly, could be kids and you’re trying to appeal to all of them with your brand. How do you address that?


Steven Smith: I think it’s an opportunity for you to test different messages with different communities, target audiences if you will. Also, this is where a good media strategist comes in handy. It’s extremely valuable so if you have somebody on your team or if you reach out to somebody on the outside, a freelancer or an agency, they can help you to choose different media options that will target those different communities. Then of course, you probably want to use different messages as well so the media and the message have to work together in order to reach those different communities even if what you’re selling to the different communities is exactly the same product.


Fred Dunayer: You might do something on Youtube and something else on your webpage and something else in mass advertising?


Steven Smith: Yeah. I think major media advertising, you may do one thing and then on social media, you might do a little bit of something else. I would say that it … For example, you have in terms of traditional media, let’s say you want to reach people while they’re driving. Well, you might choose Pandora, you might choose Outdoor. Outdoor has been around for 300 years or whatever.


Fred Dunayer: Billboards.


Steven Smith: Yeah, exactly. Billboards and bulletins and some of the electronic ones are very good. If you want to reach people while they’re in their cars and then of course, there’s radio. Morning radio, afternoon drive time, those tried and true more traditional media outlets are still going strong.


Dennis Zink: Let me ask you about style guides for a minute. That drives me crazy. When I see companies and their logos are transformed, they don’t even look like what they’re supposed to look like. They change the typeface, they cut the word … If it’s a couple of words in the name, they’ll put one on top of the other one instead of side-by-side or they’ll change the colors, they’ll change the size, they’ll change the proportion, they’ll add a tagline, they’ll take it out. What’s your comments on being consistent in style guides?


Steven Smith: I would say it is absolutely essential to invest wisely in good identity and having authored several of those brand guides, I have to say, don’t do it yourself. Please whatever you do, do not … For God’s sake, do not hold an employee contest to design the logo. This is not a good idea. There are many options available, freelance graphic designers … Everything from a freelance graphic designer to a full-service marketing communications firm.


There’s always going to be something that’s going to fit your budget and the brand guide or the visual identity standards and so on, you might have a brand with lots of moving parts. When my agency rebranded the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in 2006, we had a brand that’s a … It’s a good local example. We had a lot of moving parts in that thing so we were very sure to structure a brand guide that set forth very clear, very simple and easy to follow visual identity standards.


That’s one that could be used as a model for others and I think it’s a good example because there were different divisions, different arms and legs and moving parts and so forth, but they, over the years since the rebrand, they’ve done a very good job of keeping that together. If you are not paying attention to your own brand, then you can’t rely on other people to be the guardian of your brand. That’s where the value is and so, you need to use it correctly. Be sure that everybody on your team uses it correctly and respect that brand and keep it intact.


Dennis Zink: Let’s talk about trademarks and registered marks. When would you recommend that it be done?


Steven Smith: I have to say that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to this but I work with a very good intellectual property attorney and I would say that would be my best advice to my clients. That’s what I always do with my clients when they ask me that question. I usually will defer that to my intellectual property guy because that is another member of your team that if you don’t have one now, you should really think about getting one.


Fred Dunayer: What are some of your favorite brands, other than .. You mentioned Coca-Cola but has there anybody in the last few years that’s come into the picture new that you’ve really appreciated or unappreciated their efforts to brand?


Steven Smith: I have always been interested in the visual aspect of branding. The symbolism and the architecture and the use of color and typefaces and so on. Of course recently, I’ve become more interested in the sociological aspect of the brand and the fact that that’s what’s so fascinating to me about the fact that branding is always evolving. That’s because the consumer has evolved. One of my favorite brands, I have to say, is the aforementioned … One of the offenders that I mentioned in the automotive category and that’s Volkswagen. I’ve been loyal myself to the VW brand over about the past 15 years. When you look at the initial U.S. market branding that was done by the team at Doyle Dane Bernbach, it’s just brilliant work to begin with.


My absolute favorite print ad of all time is still the single word headline, lemon. I just loved the lemon ad because when you think about that ad … Here is a picture of the product, it’s a full page, at the time I guess it was about Life Magazine or whatever, you look at that ad and there’s a picture of the client’s product and underneath the photo of the Beetle is the word lemon. You think about, “My God, what guts it took.” You had to have a very gutsy agency in the first place and you had to have a client that really had the nerve to put that out there because it was just a very, very attention getting, very powerful print ad. That’s still my favorite print ad of all time and that was from 1960, I think.


Fred Dunayer: Well, can you explain that ad because I don’t know that a lot of our listeners will remember that. You mentioned there’s a picture of the vehicle and then the word lemon. What makes that a good ad?


Steven Smith: Well, what makes that a good ad is that it’s a headline that just sucks you right in. It makes you say, “Oh my God, this is their own car and why are they referring to their own product as a lemon?” Well, the fact of the matter is that that particular Beetle did not pass the quality control inspection. There was a blemish in the piece of chrome trim by the lid for the glove box and so, the Volkswagen inspectors would not pass that particular car. In explaining that, they make a statement about quality, they make a statement about their confidence in their product and they talk a little bit about how these cars before … When they come off the assembly line, before they are passed, they have to go through a rigorous inspection.


Dennis Zink: I love the way they did the … and I don’t know if it was Doyle Dane, back around that time when they had ‘THINK SMALL’ and they had … You had all these white space and this little picture of a little Volkswagen in the middle. Think small is great. It’s really clever.


Steven Smith: Well, sure because at the time, American cars were gigantic. I mean, if you think about a 1959 Cadillac and …


Dennis Zink: A boat.


Steven Smith: Yeah, I mean it’s a land yacht. Along comes this little car and they wanted to change perception because at the time, the typical American consumer was all about, “Hey, bigger is better.” If the car is bigger, it must be better.


Dennis Zink: Comment on perception and perceived value of a product.


Steven Smith: I think the perceived value of the product, that’s really where the real value is. If it’s a strong brand, it will create a strong perception. That perception is really where the value is. Perceived value can be enhanced by good corporate practices, high-quality products, products that people really believe in and improve their lives. That kind of sounds high minded but it is true. A good product will, in some way, improve some aspect of your life. The value, of course, is damaged by some of the things we talked about earlier where let’s say the brand has not done a very good of responding to a particular crisis or a problem. If you come out with a product that is just a terrible product, you might have a very strong brand but if one of your new products does not perform well, well that damages the whole thing. At the end of the day, that’s the most valuable thing that I think you have.


Fred Dunayer: I have decided to start a new business. I’m going to compete with Apple. I’m thinking I’m calling my company Pear. Where do I start? Who do I talk to? I have a limited budget, how do I get the branding show on the road?


Steven Smith: I think you have to stick to the fundamentals. First, figure out who you want to be, what does your brand want to be when it grows up, you need to have a very, very buttoned down business plan to make sure that it’s feasible in the first place. What does your product do? What is its purpose? What’s the essence of your product? Who will use it? Who do you want your customer to be?


If you look at those kind of basic marketing strategic planning questions, who do we want our customers to be, what will we do to acquire that customer and then, what will we do to keep that customer? If you can’t answer those questions, then maybe your business model is not quite what it should be. If you want to go out and compete with the big guys in a very mature market, I’m not saying it’s impossible but you need to be realistic about the kind of budget that you’re going to need in order to attract attention, in order to get launched and you need to be very clear about what your product is and what it does.


Presumably, if you’re going to go out there and compete in this very mature category, you must think that you have a product, you must be absolutely convinced that you have a product that will do something or will fit some kind of niche that the competitor is not in.


Fred Dunayer: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about or anything that you want to reinforce that we have talked about for our listeners?


Steven Smith: I think in the no conversation about branding can be complete without talking about what’s happening right now and where we’re going with brands. I have a few examples of trends that have been reported for 2016. I’ve chosen three. There are many but I’ve chosen these particular three. The first one is technology driven and that is 3D printing. 3D printing will give retailers or is already giving retailers the ability to respond to market conditions and conditions like weather or news events and they’ll be able to do it in real time and they can product products or they can produce components of products on demand right in the retail environment. One example is Nike and they’ve begun to do this with soles for their running shoes.


Another one is based on consumer experience and that is the resurgence of print media. Now again, notice I didn’t say the rebirth of print media because I don’t think print media ever died. I think everybody was kind of writing the obituary a little bit too prematurely but we’ve all been told that digital technology and digital delivery of media would replace printed books. What we’re seeing now is that resurgence due to the tactile experience that it offers the consumer. Last year, the New York Times reported that in the first several months of 2015, ebook sales in the US actually fell by 10% while the number of independent brick and mortar bookstores increased. JC Penney, everybody knows JC Penney, after scrapping their print catalog in 2009, well now it’s back. Some traditionally, historically digital brands like Birchbox, the online beauty products retailer. They’re launching print catalogs.


Example number three involves storytelling. Storytelling is a favorite subject of mine because that’s where … It involves lots of high-quality original content. Packages that tell stories. What we’re seeing now is a trend where we all know that authentic stories can help make a brand feel more accessible and more relatable to the consumer and lots of brands like Coca-Cola on their Journey website and many, many others are sharing stories on their content hubs. Well in the next few years, it will no longer be enough to have attention getting colors or a unique shape to your bottle on the store shelf. Your product will have to have a story that will then establish its points of differentiation and the story will be conveyed right through the packaging. This is becoming more and more important because the consumer now has all kinds of ways to screen out your marketing messages, right? At the point of purchase, we’re going to see brands make that differentiation and make their product standout and make a statement.


Dennis Zink: Well Steve, thanks for being our guest today on Been Here, Done That and for enlightening our listeners on branding.


Steven Smith: Thank you, Dennis.


Fred Dunayer: Thank you, Steve.


Fred Dunayer : You’ve been listening to the SCORE Small Business Success Podcast: Been There, Done That. The opinions of the hosts and guests are theirs and does not necessarily reflect those of SCORE. If you would like to hear more podcasts, get a free mentor, view a transcript of this podcast of would like more information about the services we provide, you can call SCORE at 800-634-0245 or visit our website at Again, that’s 800-634-0245 or visit the website at



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