A great brand lives in the wisdom of your employees. It’s found in the unique strengths of your operations and the passions of your leaders. It is your shared truth.
It provides clear, practical answers to difficult questions: How to differentiate from the competition. How to stretch to new products and services. How to reach new customers. How to evolve your business.
Why does this matter? Because you know deep down that there’s something powerful that hasn’t been articulated yet. And you know that once it is, your team will accomplish more.
So let’s go. Climb the ladder. This is the way from the inside up.
I help organizations define who they are and what they sell, using multi-stakeholder research and feedback. My specialty is working with businesses that can seem difficult to explain.
Helping groups of people express their shared truth, so it can be fulfilled, is my life’s work. I’ve honed my skills through diverse roles: after earning my MBA from Columbia Business School, I became a speechwriter and leader of internal communications at IBM, channeled the voice of the best-selling author Lemony Snicket into groundbreaking marketing, conceived digital experiences for Hollywood movies, crafted high-value pitches for ad agencies, and led global research and strategy projects at in-sync, a leading insight consultancy. In my spare time, I’ve written more than 15 children’s books, specializing in projects that involve faithfully extending the voice of an original author – such as the books in Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures, a new series based on the beloved character, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Today, I combine a professional ghostwriter’s talent for expressing someone else’s vision, a consultant’s analytical approach to data, and a facilitator’s passion for helping others reach their own conclusions.
I love my work.
Have candid conversations with those working on the front lines, in both service and sales. They have rich insight into what matters to customers, and an unvarnished view of where your organization’s true strengths lie.
Talk to senior leaders across the company. The blueprint for the future is in their heads. Where tensions exist, there may be common ground waiting to be revealed.
You must marry your shared truth to how customers think. Figure out where their motivations overlap with your strengths. You are searching for the singular idea about your company with the power to make targets say, “Yes! That’s it! That’s what I like about you!”
Have open, honest discussions about what you’ve heard. Focus on the key themes that unite employees and customers, and talk about how it all fits together. Inevitably, the right answer will seem both painfully obvious and oddly surprising.
Feedback is the loop that hones your story. Throw out what’s not making employees and customers nod their heads. Accentuate what is.
To capitalize on your new clarity of focus, start by bringing the right partners to the table. Nail your pitch. Build your site. Spread the word.
To get everyone on the same page, find the word or phrase that sums up why you matter, resonates strongly with both employees and customers, and focuses your team. It should differentiate you from the competition, and be directly tied to your source of strength. If it’s more than a phrase, it’s probably too long. For example, “Inside up” is one such distillation.
Most organizations have multiple products and services. To appeal to new customers and increase business from existing ones, craft your menu to fit how customers think and illuminate your value proposition. It should make sense to your salespeople, and drive the right kinds of purchases. If you’re a professional services firm, how you categorize services is critical. If you are a digital business, pay attention to core features and navigation.
If your sales and business development people can’t run with it, it’s a waste. With simplicity and strategic focus, tell the story of what’s most important about who you are and what you sell. Make it brief and powerful – and test it out to ensure it motivates prospects to act.
For a professional services firm facing competition from all directions, I facilitated the journey to a new name, a new menu of offerings, and a simple, powerful pitch. One of the largest new client wins in the firm’s history occurred the first time they tried their new story.
In sessions with a company that had “competing” B2B and B2C divisions, I discovered how the divisions’ strengths reinforced each other. This led to a new brand distillation for the entire company, a new menu of offerings, and a new pitch. With a clear understanding of how they helped each other succeed, the two sides became a united front. B2B customer acquisition accelerated in the year after launch.
For a financial services giant that was struggling to interest customers in multiple new products, I facilitated the development of a new brand distillation and a new offering menu. We hatched a quick, intuitive method of communicating the full breadth of the company’s services, in a way that leveraged the strengths they’d always been known for. For the first time, employees shared a common explanation — and customers grasped the possibilities. Sales of non-core products and services took off.
For an industry-leading manufacturer launching a new product line for an untapped market, I facilitated the process of brand distillation and pitch. The process heavily integrated insights from both front-line sales people and real prospects. The resulting strategy created a new category and a proprietary distribution channel, and the brand exceeded aggressive sales targets in the year after launch.
For a family business that had grown into a billion dollar company with thousands of employees, I helped with brand distillation and offering menu for a portfolio of brands. As they grew through acquisition, we crafted a hardcover oral history of the company, organized around key principles of the late founder – the principles that shaped their culture. The book was given to every employee, and especially new ones.
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“Brand strategy” is a flawed phrase. No one understands it; everyone means something different by it. But management researcher Jim Collins defined the core of great brand strategy, based on years of research into how good companies become great ones. His findings encapsulate what every inside-up branding process should strive for. In his seminal 2001 [...]
Not so long ago, the notion of a consistent “Brand Voice” had a place in the highest echelon of brand thinking. As a favored child of Brand Personality, Brand Voice referred to an organization’s distinctive tone, manner, and linguistic style. But for a variety of reasons, the majority of brands now gravitate to one voice: [...]
Everyone knows that Steve Jobs “didn’t believe in market research.” At the same time, we also know that an Apple product goes through countless iterations before and even after launch. What’s the difference between testing and continuous prototyping? On the one hand: Nothing. Prototyping is a form of testing. And on the other hand? Well, [...]
How do you simplify a complicated business? How do you describe it in a way that people immediately get? This is the central question faced by nearly everyone struggling with an elevator pitch, Career Day at their kids’ school, or questions from strangers at cocktail parties. One deceptively simple answer is: Metaphor. I routinely work [...]
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Based in Toronto, I work with organizations in the US and Canada.
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