Episode 58: Julia Hook – Six Steps to a Powerful Brand
Want to create a killer brand for your company, project or team? In the first episode of a special two-part podcast series, we’re pulling back the curtains on our own rebranding process to give you the inside look at how to create your own brand. Our makeover guru is brand strategist Julia Hook, an expert in branding for entrepreneurs and small businesses. In this episode, you’ll not only get to learn Julia’s six steps for creating a brand, you’ll get to see them in action.
But we wanted to take this opportunity to do more than just share Julia’s knowledge. We care deeply about helping you achieve what’s most important to you, so we put together a three minute survey that will help us understand what you care about, what’s getting in your way, and how we can help. Your responses are entirely anonymous and will have a tremendous impact on our rebranding process. Keep your eyes peeled for the second podcast in the series, where we’ll reveal the finished product–the new Bregman Partners’ brand–that you helped create.
- What’s the difference between your #brand and your mission? @JujuHook sets us straight on the #BLpodcast
- “It’s not a design or art project. It’s a declaration.” @JujuHook on the #branding process for my company – and yours.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners. We help companies achieve ambitious goals by strengthening leadership throughout the organization. I created this podcast to share ideas that you can use to become a more powerful and courageous leader. We have a treat for you today.
Julia Hook has been a brand strategist for more than 25 years. She has an online program called ‘Unforgettable U’ where she provides entrepreneurs and small business owners an affordable option for developing killer brand strategies so that they are seen and heard.
I reached out to Julia because Bregman Partners is at a time when we need to rebrand. Our brand lags our work, and the message that we send out in the world is unclear and dated. We need help and I thought it would be interesting for the podcast – and Julia was kind enough to accept – to do our branding project in public. This will be like a makeover show – a case study.
Julia will share with us where she thinks we’re stagnating and where she sees room to improve. This podcast is the initial conversation that Julia and I are having on the brand with you, you will have an opportunity to help us develop our brand, and then we’ll follow up after we’ve done the brand work so you can see the changes and learn from the process. It’s a way to learn about branding that’s engaging, practical and targeted to implementation. As you know, everything we do on the Bregman Leadership Podcast is designed to help you execute on what’s most important to you, and this is as direct a process of execution as I can think of. Julia, thank you for joining us on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Julia: Thank you so much. I’m absolutely delighted to be here. I think this is going to be huge fun, and it’s been great so far, so I’m pleased that you’re willing to open your kimono and show the world how this works. We had to start right at the basics which almost seems silly to most people, but the first thing that we really had to do is answer the question “What are you branding?” Right?
There are three different segments in the Peter Bregman world. We have you yourself as author, speaker, and CEO advisor, and then there’s a Bregman Partners company. Then, within that, we have Bregman Partner products like coaching and leadership coaching and coach training. The very first thing that we had to do is step back and decide what are we going to brand first, and I think that we decided that we would house the brands and that the first thing we would do is come up with a global brand that’s based on the essence of who you are and what it is that you bring to the world. That’s where we started, and I’m pretty excited about where we’re going with it.
Peter: What’s the difference between branding Bregman Partners as a house and the Bregman Partners products?
Julia: What we want to do is create a system within which everything eventually lives, so it’s important for us to first brand the house. Brand the Bregman Partners’ house. The idea there is that we come up with a philosophy for what it is that you bring to the world and a differentiator for Bregman Partners as a company. Then, the products that are developed within that or below that really in the branding hierarchy, we want to make sure that we have an established long-term consistency. One of the things that happens over time with brand is that those of us who are branding or those of us who are in a leadership role in a company, we get tired of it.
We see it every day. It feels like it’s wearing out, and so we develop these new programs or new products, and each time we launch one, we want it to be new and novel, and it’s very easy to veer off course. When we begin this project, I always like to pull a client in and say “Hey, let’s set some standards for the house, and then for everything that lives within that house so that we can make sure that you’re building equity in the brand over long-term, and then all of the products within the brand really communicate what it is that you stand for at large”.
Peter: Each of the products might have a different brand than the company itself. The organizational coaching that we do might have a slightly different brand than Bregman Partners, but it needs to fit within the brand of Bregman Partners. If the Bregman Partners brand is all about being dynamic, then we can’t have a product brand that’s all about being unchanging.
Julia: Absolutely. Furthermore, we want the product brand to always support and further the company brand. As brands have equity, the same way that homes or pieces of real estate have equity, and as this brand grows over time, everything that we do, we want it to support and increase the value of that equity. As people see those products as a subset of a larger brand, they will come to trust them. You build that trust over time and over time by expanding and expounding on that message, and also, the visual aspects of the brand so we don’t want to have the spare pieces that don’t line up.
We want people to have a consistent experience from start to finish that as they encounter your products and as they encounter your message, they recognize that it’s a subset of a bigger thing, and over time, that will build this equity in the brand and it will allow you to be seen and be heard in different ways. We just want to make sure that we’re constantly mindful of that consistency both of message and a visual presentation.
Peter: Julia, what’s the difference then between brand and mission?
Julia: A brand shows up for you when you can’t be there. What I always tell my clients is if you had the opportunity, Peter to go out and meet every single person who would conceivably come in contact with your company, then you could very clearly state what it is that you wanted to do and why they should buy from you, but you don’t have that opportunity. A brand stands in for you when you can’t be there, so it actually has many, many elements that allow it to represent your company. It walks and talks and speaks and presents your business and you to the world when you’re not around. A mission is part of your brand, but it’s a very limited subset of what your brand does and what it’s going to accomplish over time.
Peter: The mission relates to what we do out there in the world and what we’re trying to accomplish, and the brand expands to who we are and how you’ll recognize us.
Julia: Yes. Your mission may even be different for different products. Generally with branding, we’ll start with some type of a positioning statement or some type of a statement that includes who the clients are and what it is that the what that you’re bringing to those clients, and your mission generally also includes the how that you would do that, with what values and with what philosophy do you proceed forth in the world. Some of it is just an issue of semantics, but your brand is much larger than simply a mission. It has a lot more elements than the mission alone.
Peter: Everybody has a brand. It’s just their brand may be accidental to some degree. Is that right that …
Peter: Coke puts a lot of thought into their brand. Apple puts a lot of thought into their brand, but you could be an individual coach or an individual consultant or a graphic artist, and you’re going to have a brand. If you’re not thoughtful about it, that brand reflects to some degree the good and the bad and the ugly of how you express yourself, and being thoughtful about a brand can help you be thoughtful about how to step into the world, how you act and help ensure that the image you put out there in the world is the one you intend to put out there in the world.
Julia: That’s absolutely correct, and I meet entrepreneurs every day who have either a platform for themselves or a set of products that they deliver within a company, and a brand just like you said accidentally or they allow it to happen by inertia, and so every time they show up, they show up in a different way. It literally leaves money on the table and it leaves opportunity on the table. Branding is an amazing strategic communications tool, and going through it thoughtfully and taking the time upfront allows … It just opens up amazing opportunities. The beautiful thing about it is you really only have to do the strategy one time.
It’s a one and done kind of thing. You sit down, you work through it, and you create a system and a set of rules, a set of guidelines that everyone who touches or works within your company operates within, and it just like I said allows that equity to build and build and build. Without it, businesses are just rudderless in their communication, so it really is something that you want to do sooner rather than later even if you’re a very small company or a solopreneur.
Peter: Great. Our focus for this conversation will be Bregman Partners.
Julia: That’s correct.
Peter: What’s the first thing that we need to do or that anyone would need to do in order to develop the strategy for the brand?
Julia: The very first part of brand is a differentiator, and I call this the ‘Million Dollar Brand Question’. I ask this of you and of your team members, and that is “Why would someone buy from your company out of all the companies in the world? What is the single one thing that makes you different, and what are you number one in?” This is difficult for smaller companies to grasp because the thought is, “Gee, I work out of my house or I’m one guy”. Right?
“I’m a personal trainer” or whatever your role is. “How am I going to be number one?” Every business is number one at something. It’s a matter of finding how it is that you’re different and how that matters to your clients so that you can assume a position. With your brand, that was the very first question that I asked of you and your team to get us moving forward. “What’s that one thing?” I call it the ‘Juju’. What is the one thing, the differentiator that will allow us to take a brand position to a similar brand position?
Peter: I imagine that this is useful not just for a company or for a solopreneur, but also if you’re part of a company – let’s say you’re leading a team or you’re leading a group – that your group or team should have a differentiator as well that helps you stand out and helps clarify for people how you should show up in the company and in the world.
Julia: Absolutely. One of the dangers in branding a team within an organization is that a team very often wants to latch on or personify or represent a bigger goal for the organization, and so I’ll often hear that our brand differentiator or what we’re about is honesty and integrity or hard work or a performance. I have a good friend that, Natasha [Haslett 00:12:42] who’s also a brander who says that “Anything that you can say I should hope so, at the end of it isn’t a differentiator”, so we should hope that everyone is honest and we should hope that everyone is hard working. As a team brand, what you really want to do is choose a differentiator that sets you apart from every other team in the organization, and that’s an integral part of who the team is and what the team is going to bring forward in the world so that they stand out rather than fit in. This is the idea.
Peter: Let me throw in the Bregman differentiator that we’ve talked about – constant evolution.
I say this, and by the end, we’ll be more clear I’m sure. Bregman Partners is totally focused on outcome. Everything we do is about strategy execution. It’s about getting things done.
What we care most about is helping people get massive traction on the things that are most important to them and that means that we need to be flexible and constantly evolving. We’re experts in the people side of business, the human aspect of business and leadership, and that requires a certain shifting and flexibility. If we’re focused on outcomes and we’re going to achieve our client’s outcomes by understanding people, by definition we need to be flexible so we can do whatever it takes to achieve the objective that the organization is seeking. That’s probably way too much of a mouthful for your differentiator.
Julia: Yes. This is a challenge, that the idea with the differentiator is that we want to be able to say it in seven words or less. It’s our charge now to march through this process and find a way that we can describe what it is that you do differently than any other business in the world in seven, eight, ten words or less, and several of the things that you’ve pointed out really lead to this differentiator. The first is this idea of constant change, this idea of constant inspiration and aspiration and staying loose in what you do, and that does differentiate you for most consulting firms who are going to walk into a place with the system or with an already proven answer. The idea that the outcome that you’re looking for is the number one desired outcome of the organization is a huge differentiator for you.
I think when you and I first talked about it, I don’t know that you saw how unique that was, and so when I pitched it back to you, and that’s often the case with us with our business is we don’t realize that what we’re bringing to the table really is different than what everybody else is bringing. As soon as you explain that to me, in my mind, it’s just a beautiful differentiator, so we’re going to have to somehow talk about this dynamism, this constant change, this constant becoming as your differentiator, and it’s relatively esoteric, so we have a charge here in terms of how we’re going to describe it.
Peter: It’s true that we live and breathe this so we don’t think of it as unique. Everything that we do is based in a partnership. The coaching that we do, the organization consulting. Everything’s in the context of partnership, and that’s because, while I’m very confident doing what we do, I don’t believe that I understand my clients’ business better than they understand their own business.
I believe that everything needs to be a collaboration in a partnership, and that’s so obvious to me that I really don’t see it as a differentiator. I can’t imagine that every consulting firm doesn’t work in that way.
Julia: Yeah. They don’t. I’ve hired lots of them. It’s interesting too because what you’re talking about, what you said there in that a couple of times and what you just said was “I believe I believe”. The second part that we really have to move into as we’re creating your brand is a philosophy, and that philosophy is based on what you believe and what you stand for and how you show up in the world, so your differentiator is really what you do and for whom, and your philosophy now, we get into how you do that.
How do you do that in a way that’s true to you and true to the company? That’s step two. That’s the next thing that we’ll be developing is this whole philosophy centered around vision and around what I call ‘Brand Morals’ and a manifesto that we’ll write or we’ll publicly declare what you believe and what Bregman Partners believes to the world.
Peter: This supports the differentiator in effect. This I believe. Like we will hold an aspirational bar for you as a client, as an individual in an organization, that’s greater than maybe you’ve even imagined, or we bring our whole dynamic selves to what we do, and we support our clients in doing the same.
Julia: Yes. You’ll have a list of what I call ‘Non-negotiable’, so things that are just not on the table. At anytime if you had to sacrifice one of these principles, then the deal just wouldn’t go down. That’s the way it works. This is what we stand for.
This is what we believe in, and every time that we show up in the world or on your organization or in the books that you write or however it is that you present the brand to the world, if you’re to sacrifice something that you believe in, then you have to step back and say “Wait a minute. Is this really the direction that I want to go?” The philosophy not only informs the people who are buying from you, but it informs everyone in your organization how we’re going to move forward as a team, and you can see then how the brand comes to life. It’s not a design project or an art project. It’s a declaration of who you are and how you appear in the world, how this company behaves in the world.
You have some very interesting words wrapped around your values as we started to talk about them, warmth, and flexibility, and curiosity, and experimentation, and things being deeply human. Those aren’t always words that are used philosophically for business consulting, so again, this philosophy becomes part of that differentiator. It informs how you will deliver on your promise of differentiation.
Peter: Listeners, think for yourselves about your businesses. Are you clear on what your differentiator is? Are you clear on your brand philosophy? One part of who I am – maybe it’s a belief or a philosophy or simply a non-negotiable – I love and care deeply about people AND organizations.
I really actually love and care about both. That plays out in day to day situations. Let’s say, for example, a coach who works for us says something in frustration that’s disparaging about a client. I always jump on that right away. I’ll be direct: “That’s not how we talk about our clients”. I’m happy to talk about the challenges they face, but it has to be with respect.
It’s interesting because that’s a differentiator connected with the idea of partnerships with our clients because ultimately, that feels different than what I’ve seen in other consulting firms, and so it’s just an example of how brand philosophy and differentiator have to be wed to each other in a certain way. Am I thinking about this correctly?
Julia: Yes. You and I could both be delivering strategy. We could both be delivering the same product in terms of the end result for the customer, what they’re hoping for, the end result for our client, but the way that we do it, the values that we bring to it, the philosophy that we have behind it would completely separate our two companies. I always encourage my clients and take into the process of writing a manifesto very publicly declaring, “What do I believe and what do I stand for that informs the way we do business every day?” What you mentioned is interesting because it’s very hard to give people feedback on behavior unless expected behavior is very clearly stated, and what a manifesto allows you to do is to show what it looks like.
Sometimes, people will say, “Our company believes in love”. My question always is “What does that look like? What does a day look like when everyone is loved? What does a meeting look like when we’re showing love?” When you can publicly declare what these values look like when you bring them to the world, it’s very, very easy to give people feedback and say “This is out of line with the values or the philosophy that we’ve brought forth”, and it’s very easy for you to connect with clients.
Ultimately, your values and your philosophy are where you connect with someone. They allow you to get into a conversation about something other than outcomes or something other than your business, and that connection then takes off from there.
Peter: Step one is differentiator. Step two is brand philosophy. What’s step three?
Julia: A story. Depending upon what industry you’re in and who’s reading the story and how we work, obviously, the personality of that story would be different, but in our third step, we’ll write a story. You have multiple stories. You may have a backstory that’s about Peter Bregman himself. We may have a how it works story in terms of how this is all going to flow for the client’s end result.
You may have a how you buy story which is about how your products are packaged or how I engage with you over a period of time. There are stories in all different levels, but the idea is that your client or your potential client, whoever they are, they need to see themselves in the story. They need to see themselves as the protagonist in the story. Everybody wants to be a character in a story, and so we have to have all the same things that a great story would have, some great character development and some plot twist, and we’ll spend a lot of time with this. Where your philosophy connects with your prospects and buyers, your story really influences their purchase decisions.
The story is what allows them to make an informed decision. The biggest part about telling a story is we want to get it straight. Stories get retold when you tell them the same way every time, so we want to write the story, and then we want to get our story straight.
Peter: Could you give us an example of a story? I know that everyone has an origin story of how I got to where I am, but you’re describing something farther reaching than the origin story. You’re saying this living, breathing, continuing story of the brand.
Peter: Using what you know about Bregman Partners, can you share an example – or a different company example if you don’t have a Bregman Partners one.
Julia: We had talked about multiple audiences that you would have, so you have some leadership training as a product that you provide, and then you have coach training for people who are going to become Bregman coaches, and then you have a product where you come into organizations and you provide training that effects change in leaders with the organizations, so you might have a different story for each one of those products that you provide. It’s either a how it works story or how you buy story. The idea is I see myself moving through the story of this product and I understand the transformation that I will undergo because we’re always selling transformation.
We’re never selling a product. When you sell training, what you’re really selling is the person that I will be after I’ve completed the training. That’s what I buy. I want to be effective or I want to be beautiful, or I want to be confident, and so …
Peter: The story is YOU having filtered through the brand? YOU having used the brand. How the brand has impacted you.
Julia: Yes. The story is about my transformation as a buyer, and the beautiful thing about that story is that people slide straight into them. Again, if you can get it right in the beginning and write a story that’s inspirational for people where they can see themselves in the story, you only have to write it once. You just tell it again and again.
Peter: I imagine that some people might squirm a little bit at the challenge of narrowing down the story because they don’t want to narrow down their potential clients or customers. I think that’s probably one of the challenges that we have to face and that anybody has to face in their brand story: you need to make some choices and you need to narrow your focus in a way that makes the story specific. Writing is only interesting when it’s very, very specific, so the story has to be specific enough, and that means you have to make decisions about what you leave in and what you leave out.
Julia: That’s correct. It is an act of bravery and courage to decide who you will best serve, and then set forward in serving those people because the fear is we’re going to leave everyone else behind, but speaking to everyone is the same as speaking to no one. It just won’t happen, so we want to speak to people very specifically. We want to speak to the transformations that they’re going to experience based on what we bring to the world, and it just influences people in an amazing way and in a positive way, not in a manipulative kind of way.
Peter: We’ve got a differentiator, a brand philosophy, a brand story, and our next one is brand personality?
Julia: Yes. You and I again, we could have two different companies where we’d tell a story of transformation, but the personality of my company and the personality of your company might be very different. This is one of the areas that I think with Bregman Partners that we have a real opportunity to show your brand in a new way based on this dynamism and what you bring to the table, so it’s very common for us as businesses to adopt the brand personality of our clients rather than the personality of our business. You serve all of these corporate clients, and you have a brand right now that feels very stayed and very corporate and very static in a very safe way, but you have a personality that’s quite dynamic. One of our challenges will be to communicate that personality to show that personality, and that’s all kinds of things like the word choices that we’ll use, and voice, and tone, and color, and icons or images that we’ll use or how we employ video or different tactics all put forth a personality.
We can think of brand personalities right now that are just very, very easy to see like Red Bull is one that I always give an example of because of this kind of crazy brand personality in all of the things that they support, and so we want to make sure that that personality is authentic and that every place your brand shows up, that personality shows through, in social media, in all of your online messaging, through your podcast, everywhere that you show up. Everywhere that your brand shows up, we want that personality to be consistent.
Peter: It’s such a great distinction you make between the brand personality of the company and the brand personality of the clients. It seems like the brand personality of the company has to be accessible enough to the clients that they could say “Yes, this is someone that we would work with.” It can’t be so different that they would say, “You know what? They’re not even in the ballpark of who we are and who we relate to”.
Peter: It has to be very relatable to the clients, but if it’s the same, then you lose any sense of distinct personality and interest and engagement that people might have in you, you lack any kind of aspirational aspect to it.
Julia: Yeah. One of the things that happens with brand personality is it gives clients permission. When I bring in a consultant, I often bring in a consultant because that group or that team allows something to occur in the organization that I couldn’t have done on my own and I don’t feel safe doing on my own. All of a sudden, you present this personality. It’s like being able to hang out with somebody who’s different than you.
You use that person as a mirror, and it’s the same way with brand personality. We all desire to in some way be something else or be up next to something else, and so you’re right. That personality has to jive with your clients, but you don’t want to be, and I had told you this in the meeting, you don’t want to [eat tofu 00:30:56]. You don’t want to take on the personality or the flavor of everything around you. You want to be very clear about what your personality is.
That’s something that we work really, really hard in from a consistency standpoint. People need to know what they’re going to get. They need to feel confident about what they’re going to get, and this is very important for smaller businesses who have a brand for the business that’s maybe separate from the brand from a leader. People will say to me, “Gosh, I sell health products, but my personality is this. How do I infuse my personality into the brand?” The brand’s personality might not always be the personality of the leader, so it’s a very thoughtful, very strategic discussion about how’s the brand going to walk and talk and look and feel in the world.
Peter: I love it. Step five, touch points.
Julia: Touch points. This is the part of branding that everyone leaves out. Everybody stops right at the point they deliver the brands, but we want to create moments where your clients or your prospects say “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they just did that”, because that’s where legends are born. Actually, we’ll go through the entire process of your brand communicating with people from start to finish to the point that they buy or the point that they don’t buy, and we’ll identify very specific moments where you can create extraordinary experiences for people that allow them to step back and say “Wow. That was an amazing moment. That really surprised me, and that’s the delivery of the brand. That’s the brand showing up in a really unique way, and that’s …”
I think the old-school way to say it is “That’s the money shot”. Right? That’s when it happens, but it’s very important for us to engineer those moments, and in your case, to engineer them in a way that’s deeply human, that touch people in a way you want to touch them.
Peter: It’s this beautiful dance. You use the word ‘Engineer’ which I think is a very interesting and useful word that it’s this dance between authenticity and intentionality, and that to be authentic doesn’t mean to follow every impulse in every moment.
Julia: That’s right.
Peter: You want to be thoughtful and intentional about how you show up, and you want that to be authentic because if it’s not authentic, it’s not sustainable.
Julia: Authentic doesn’t mean spontaneous. You can engineer beautifully authentic moments that make people feel loved and cared for. Just because you planned them in advance doesn’t mean they’re not real.
Peter: I love that. Julia, we’re running out of time. There’s so much more that I want to cover. Thankfully, there’s a lot more that we will be able to cover because you’re going to be back on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Peter: In the meantime, if people want to find you, get in touch with you, if they want to discover your material, if they want to learn from you as a resource around branding, how can they find you?
Julia: They can go to ‘Strategicjuju.com’. I have a blog there. I have some delicious freebies at my homepage where you can download things and learn about branding for free. I do have an online program that I do as a do it yourself program if you’d like to go through, and as a fully coached program for people who want to go through it with me. ‘Strategicjuju.com’ is the house for all of that, and that’s where I hang out, and that’s where I weekly disperse all of my branding goodness.
Peter: The next steps for us include going through and refining each of these steps, the differentiator, the brand philosophy, the brand story, the brand personality, and the touch points. Where do we go in addition to that? Is that the basic thing we’re going to do that people can expect to hear back from us on?
Julia: Yes. We’ll share all of that publicly, and then at some point, we’ll write creative brief that you will release to a team of creative professionals, whether they’re designers or illustrators or videographers or copywriters, whoever you choose to engage, and that creative brief will inform all of these people about what they need to bring to the world visually. At some point, the brand will roll out visually to support all of the things that we’ve created. Most people start there. Most people start with step six. Right?
“I’m creating a new brand, and it’s going to be green, and here’s my logo, and here’s what it looks like”. If there’s one thing to take away from the conversation, it’s that that’s not step one. That’s step six. We want to do all this other stuff first before we get there.
Peter: That’s great. Folks, go to ‘PeterBregman.com’ and look at the website to just get a quick glance as to what it looks like now and what the brand feel is. Julia has mentioned that it’s staid – not reflective of who we are – so notice that. We’ll look back at it as a before and an after we’ve done this work so that you can see the impact that a thoughtful branding process creates.
Julia, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. This has been such a fun process so far and I’m really excited about the next steps as we get more clarity about what we’re putting out there in the world.
Julia: It’s my absolute pleasure. I’m really excited too. We’ll talk to you next time, see where we’re at.
Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit ‘PeterBregman.com’. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.
Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds. To receive an email when he posts, click here.