In the inaugural episode of the Solving for B° Podcast, BrandExtract co-founders and members of the creative team dive into how we create brand believers. You’ll learn about why making brand believers is crucial for your success and about our process of creating brands that audiences believe in. We’ll also talk about the role belief plays in our own brand.
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*This transcript has been edited and formatted for readability.
The Importance of Believing in a Brand
Jeff: Hello, welcome to the Brand Extract Podcast. Today we go some real heavy weights in the studio, the founders of Brand Extract. We've got Chairman, Jonathan Fisher, Bo Bothe, President and CEO. Also joining us is Chris Jones, senior designer and critical author of much of the brands we build here. I'm Jeff Lane a writer and moderator for today.
Today we're going to talk about something that has been on the minds and lips of everyone here at BE lately. That is the idea of belief and how important that is in the realm of branding.
Just to level set for our listeners, a brand is not something you own but rather something you manage. It's the perception of you held by your customers, your investors, all of your audiences. So given that, why do we think belief in a brand is important?
Jonathan: It’s about the difference between knowing and believing. You can know something. It may or may not be factual, but you can have knowledge of it.
Belief takes that to a larger level; it's subconscious, it's emotional. So when it comes to believing in a brand, it becomes almost cult or religious-like, in that sense.
Jeff: Like a sports fan.
Jonathan: You become a raving fan, part of the tribe, a member of an organization. And it's not always logical. It's both left and right brain. There's a connection there. For me, that's the difference between knowing and believing.
Bo: People must get the information they need, that is knowing; the factual things you have to know. But the believing part is what motivates you to want to know, to want to buy into what's going on.
If you know God exists, or you know that the facts are true, well okay, that's great. But if you really believe in it, you might get more behind it. You might buy more; you might spend more time with it. That's the difference!
Jeff: I know that authenticity's an important thing, and when we're talking about brand concepts and making creative decisions, you want to say, “We want to go with this because that's who these people are.”
And sometimes, “Oh, we don't want to make that decision because that's not who they are.”
Is there something you want to add about that?
Chris: Belief is trust; trust in someone to deliver on what they say they're going to do – and people are very emotional and driven by emotions, so belief really taps into that.
Difference Between Knowledge and Belief
Jeff: Let's talk a little bit more about knowledge and belief. I can know that something's the most expensive, that something has more iron in it than its competitors, or I can know that there are more options here. But what is belief?
Bo: What makes you spend more on an Apple product than a Samsung product? What makes you spend more on a type of car or a type of shirt?
Maybe the shirt lasts a little bit longer, but things have gotten to the point where they're so throwaway that unless you spend a lot of money on something, almost everything's replaceable. So what is it that makes you buy that Carhartt jacket or the Nike shoe?
Jeff: Or, wait in line around the block for the newest thing even though you don't know if that newest thing is going to work, right? You believe it is.
Bo: That's the crazy thing. It's just that you believe that it's better. It's not just knowing that it's better; it's something deep down in you that makes that happen.
Jonathan: Along with that, belief means you are now connected with a product or a brand association. So there is the concept of status and eliteness. By drinking Starbucks coffee, you become part of a cooler club. That's another component that you can see in this process.
Jeff: So then, it's personal.
Jonathan: Yeah, you become connected with it. I'm that much cooler if I drive this type of car, or wear this type of clothing product. I'm going to be that much more successful in my career if I take this class, or go to this school.
There's an association that comes along with this factor of belief that I think you have to consider in the process.
Chris: Waiting in line for food is a good example because these people wake up and get out there at 7:30 A.M. to get in line for barbecue, and wait for hours. It's simply because they believe that that experience is going to be worth it. It taps into something else.
Jeff: And maybe they want to say, “I'm one of those people that's willing to do that.” It says something about you.
Bo: And going back to Jonathan's point, my accounting professor at school used to say, “There are three things an MBA always has to do: know their formulas, walk in with their Wall Street Journal under their arms and carry their Starbucks cup.”
You have to know the formulas to do the job, but the Wall Street Journal and the Starbucks were meant to send a message: “Look, I'm really cool.” Or, “I'm smart and I have money.” Or, “I use my money wisely.”
Which relates to Jonathan's point about association. All those kinds of things you associate make it a deeper relationship with a product, service or even a person.
Jeff: Some people will have that belief because they know it's reliable. Or, it could be a sense like, “This brand gets me, understands me and wants me to be included,” so then I feel I've got a belief and a connection there.
How People Create Associations and Relate to Brands
Jeff: Maybe it's because the brand is doing good things.
Let’s discuss an affiliation with brands that are doing good things. There are people that support a particular company because they’re out there donating something. Like TOMS. Although, I guess it's a little bit different for everybody. What do you think?
Bo: What you personally believe in has to align with your values. If somebody's punching holes in the earth and drilling oil, and you don't believe in that, it's hard to really get behind it. Others who focus more on the engineering and love solving that kind of problem might get behind it.
There's something inside of all of us that bridges the gap between knowledge and belief. The brands that tap into that -- who you are as a person -- are the ones that resonate with you.
That's what we try to do with a lot of the brands we work on: we try to make it personal and custom to who they are as an organization so they can attract the right people to their cause.
Jeff: That's what we do, right? We make believers. But the people out there already have something inside them that's going to make them connect, and our job is to help the brand or company tap into that.
How Do We Make Believers?
Jeff: So can we talk a little bit about the process of making believers, the things that we do and our strategies?
Jonathan: We start by defining the touchpoints to the brand?: how are those beliefs being formed? Are they consistent? Do they deliver on the promise?
Once you understand where those connections are, you can help the client visualize how those connections are formed through their interactions, messaging and digital experiences.
Then you're able to understand where the gaps are and understand where some of the value is hidden and buried to leverage and surface it. Then we can strengthen the entire customer journey through a process for them. That's part of the process to create that level of belief.
Chris: If you are a CEO and you set the values of your company, and then you don't bring that into your hiring practices, you may end up hiring people who don't necessarily correspond with your values.
Then a customer may interact with that employee you hired, who is not reinforcing those core beliefs of what you say you value, and you've damaged your brand.
Bo: Then you have to deal with the consequences of that. If somebody comes into an organization and they don't fit, you have to make hard decisions spend a lot to train them up and risk that they may leave. Or you have a customer that you've tricked into buying a product that they think you want them to buy, but the reality is that it's not a good fit for them.
It's going to generate bad reviews, bad publicity. And all those kinds of problems come when we're not honest about who we are, and we don't develop a system, to Chris' point, that protects us from people that don't align with who we are as a company.
Jeff: Jonathan said something about hidden value. I know we've come across clients who think they make these things, and then through our process, we discover that, actually, they do a lot more.
Maybe they've thought about some of those other things that they do, but they bring more to the table. And sometimes they don't even see it, so it's our job to help them understand that. Then there's the next step of making them believe it and willing to act on it.
Jonathan: There are things that people do that are invisible in their everyday process, and because they work in their company, they just take it for granted. They don't realize that servicing it, calling it out, creating an infographic, a value chain visual around it, can help customers truly understand the difference that you bring to the marketplace.
If everybody's using the same words – quality and service and integrity – then they all have these generic yet personal meanings to whoever they're talking to. Your level of quality may not be my level of quality. How do I then truly understand the difference between what's there?
That's part of the process, too; stepping back and looking at what you're doing, how you're doing it. And if you can, changing the playing field so that they're no longer particularly focused on the generic of quality and instead focus on something very specific to them.
Bo: The whole reason BrandExtract exists is that people would always say, “The market's buying fast, so we need to look fast.” As designers, Jonathan and I got really tired of making things look fast. And when you're talking to a client, that's a bunch of 90-year-old people hand-sewing something. That type of company is never going to be fast.
What we've been able to do is call people on it. We say, “Look, you're not a fast company, but this is what you do, this is why people buy your product, this is why people engage with you, and this is why they want to work with you. Let's talk about that in a different way.” We want to differentiate in the way they look.
It kills me when I see people that want to be so different in the way that they look or color their hair or have a shocking look or something like that. Is that true to who they are? Is that really who they are or how they want to be perceived?
Brands seldom think about themselves in that way. And it's hard to align everything you do around the core values you have. It's hard work.
Jeff: But you’ve got to do it.
Bo: Right, and you’ve got to believe in it. You’ve got to hire people who believe in those things too.
Jeff: It’s not just what you do, but how you do it, how you present it, how you share that with someone. Some of those things that are critical because that says who you are.
Jonathan: You can put service promises, guarantees and discounts together. You can start to leverage whatever it is that you uncover differently for the consumer, and that helps them understand how you differentiate from your competitors. So that becomes even more of a proof point to that promise.
Bo: Chris talked about something really good, and I'd love for him to expand on it a little bit: truth! It has to be true to who you are, and again how a brand expresses itself is a big piece of that.
The Importance of Authenticity
Jeff: Authenticity, right? It has to be authentic. You can't deliver something in a way that doesn't reflect who you are.
We make a lot of those decisions, but it's very specific. It's not just delivering the product. We have all these decisions – what type of font are we going to use, and what photo style are we going to use.
Chris: We have clients that will come in and they say, “I want to look like Apple.” But it's like, “You may want to look like them, but do you really know what that means? Is it clean? Is it dirty? Do you show up to your meetings in suits, or do you show up to your meetings in jeans?”
There are all these kinds of questions you can ask people to try to figure out who they really are. Does the brand look like and sound like who they really are? Or are they just trying to copy someone who is already being successful?
Jonathan: Another example is clients that say they care about the environment. But they’ve got you asking, “Where are the recycling bins? What is your sustainability policy?”
You start asking questions and you dig a little deeper and it's just lip service that they pay to the position. Somebody told them it was better for their business valuation, or they thought it was the trendy thing to do, or they didn't realize that it would be operationally difficult to do it, so they stuck it on a poster somewhere and then forgot about it. You see quite a bit of that.
Chris: That gets into belief, trust and why it's all so important because if you do that, and you get caught making these decisions that don't align with what you say you're doing, it is going to affect your business.
And nowadays, it's so much easier to get caught because of social media and the amount of communication we have, that you can't shovel anything under the rug anymore.
If you don't live and breathe what you say you're doing, people will find out, and then that erodes the belief in what your company says you're going to do.
Bo: That's one of the biggest things that's changed most recently. It used to be – we joke about this – the beautiful woman with the shiny toaster on an ad and that was the brand. People would believe that because it's on paper and a book so it must have been true.
Today, it's so easy to individualize, get feedback, find somebody that doesn't or does agree.
There's always somebody that's going to have an opposite view or position, and that takes conviction, which is probably another thing we can talk about in another podcast. But, it's one thing to know, it's another thing to believe, follow through and do it.
Jonathan: People are going to call you on it. Three, four or five decades ago, the world was a very different place. Today, you can't hide anything. The truth is going to come out, and authenticity has to be there at every level of the organization: from the top down to the field operations to the customer touch points, to the merchandise, and the quality of the product or service.
Those pieces have to be connected because if they're not, you're not going to reach that level of belief.
How Inspiring Belief Supports Client Success
Jeff: We've got a great portfolio of clients, and from my point of view, we're able to help those clients believe in themselves and believe in their brand, and they've responded pretty well.
What would you attribute our success or our clients' success to? We've been able to align those things, and they've been able to buy into belief and make it happen. What would you attribute that to?
Bo: We actually tap into who they are. I think we're strong enough as an organization to say, “This is who you are.”
In some cases, they don't believe it, and that's unfortunate. It's not often, though, because of the research we do. We come back to them with really good data on why it is what it is. But that's the difference: really getting them to own it.
The second piece is that we're really good at getting other people in the organization to buy in, giving them some message that's easy to adopt.
Now, it's not rocket science; it's pretty easy when you know that the whole organization believes something. They can get on it. We work hard on flipping the switch to get them to understand why it's valuable for them to be a certain way.
Jonathan: When you use data science techniques, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and the voice of the customer, it's very hard for somebody to sit there and go, “No, I don't care,” or “I don't worry about it.” And we’d be like, “Let me show you the hundreds of verbatims from your clients that say this is true.”
If you want to change the perception of their reality, you're going to have to change your reality as much as anything else. You're going to have to do something differently. Respond faster or put some technology in place.
From an agency perspective, we look at it as a business first. We look at it as an operational promise, and we move into the creative realm so that we're not allowing those disconnects to exist.
The worst thing we can do for somebody is to take them at their face value, not test the theories and not challenge the marketplace on it. For us, it's a little bit of management consulting, and it's a little bit of agency creative. It's that hybrid in the middle where you find the reality. That works the best for us.
The Biggest Challenge to Inspiring Belief?
Jeff: What would you say is the biggest challenge when convincing a client to believe in something, or to believe in something they didn't know about themselves until we've talked to them?
Bo: Inertia, history, politics.
Jeff: They've been doing something for decades one way, they find it hard to change.
Jonathan: They can know it's right for them, but they still won't adopt it because of the politics involved in the organization. That's something that we see.
I've had clients call me back nine, ten years later ecstatic to tell me they finally changed something because someone left or the market turned around. And they couldn't be more excited to say, “We finally got to this.”
Bo: I'll be honest, though. I don't think we see that too often. In most cases, when a client comes to us, they know that there is some sort of confusion around what they believe or what others believe about them.
When we show them the verbatim, go through the process of talking to their people, and give them what their people say, how they differentiate in the marketplace, what their customers are telling them and, in some cases, what their shareholders or investors are really concerned about, it's pretty easy to develop a message.
I think the hardest part to get it adopted is to communicate that to an entire organization. It's fine when it's a 20- or 30-person organization.
It’s a little more complex to get all the people at Marathon to pull the red M out of their hands when they switched the logo; to get all the people across the world at GSE to get behind that orange color and change the hat that they were wearing.
Or, in some cases, companies that were struggling for long periods of time to get them to buy into a new vision for the organization. That takes belief. That takes working with the right people at the right times to get them to buy in and to then share it with others.
That's how simplifying the message and story makes belief easier.
Jonathan: Once they do buy in, once they do believe, I'd say the second part of that challenge is getting them not to short-change the process. They're so excited they want to just jump to the finish line. Like, “Well, we don't need that. We can just skip deploying this brand to the employees. We'll just launch it publicly.” And we’re like, “Wait, time out!”
They're often really excited once they buy in, but then getting them to follow the process that has proven to work over and over again can be a bit of a challenge.
How to Inspire Belief
Jeff: Well, BrandExtract has a brand, right? What do we believe about BE? What's the thing that we believe the most about BE?
Bo: Do the right thing.
I think we do a really good job of our mission. We inspire people to create, transform and grow. But I think at the end of the day, it's our job to make the right decisions, and to help our clients make the right decisions.
If we need to have a hard conversation, we need to have a hard conversation. If they need to have hard conversations, it's our job to help them have that, to give them the fuel, words, information or the skill they need to do that. That's the only way that these types of projects work.
Jonathan: Definitely our core values. Do the right thing is one of those critical core values. Having grit, which is what it takes to get it done. Sometimes you've got to move mountains to get the things done because of the timetable, a budget issue, politics. That fortitude is critical in the process.
When we give somebody our word, it's good, and we're going to do it, no matter what. We talk a lot about being all in. We've worked hard to select a group of people that believe passionately in this process and they will go to the mat and do what it takes to help that client win.
Jeff: I know that the people here believe in what they're doing, and they're passionate about it. None anymore than Chris, who's very passionate about design, and very thoughtful about your process when you're building these brands.
Chris: Well, I was going to say “acting the part.” We do act with heart, and we do everything we can to try and help our clients go as far as they can. We're just really passionate about it.
It doesn't matter if it's a very corporate company or nonprofit. We care that we're trying to help them grow and succeed. You have to have that heart, backed with the grit because sometimes it's tough, but we just try really hard and believe.
Jeff: Well, we did say that there's an emotional component to belief so that passion is what's going to help drive it.
Well, I think that covers our topic for today. Thank you all for being here.