Branding

Branding with Matt Desmier

By the time this is written, I sat with brand strategy expert, Matt Desmier discussing possibilities for developing digital strategies for a city. However, the conversation did not start there…

Walking in and going through the usual greetings, the first thing that Matt said to me was to bring up my excluding him from the list of brand building lessons from the Spark.me conference. While this was not intentional, this post somewhat is because I’ll be seeing him again… soon. And I want to draw attention to Matt’s style (see video below for personal and professional style).

The reality is that when you look at Matt’s list of approach, style, and achievements, he really does stand alone. He can seem loud and outspoken, yet proves to be thoughtful and methodical in conversation always breaking down trends and possibilities. These are a few reasons, I enjoy listening and speaking to him. 

With that being said, Here are some guidelines that I have applied in my own processes as well as when working with others. 

Brands are built by what others are saying about you.

Brands, good or bad, are the summation of what others are saying about your business or products. Despite what many think, a business cannot dictate what others think simply by creating good content and strategies. Potential customers read what you say, but they believe what others say more. 

A good brand understands this, and makes their interactions with customers central knowing a good brand is being built by these actions. The same is true for the brand’s actions toward employees. Good brands develop good culture internally, and mobilize their greatest asset in the process. 

Brands are living things. 

Brands grow and mature. They shift. They evolve. 

As business leaders we need to expect this and guide our brands along how we desire them to go. They need to become something bigger and stretch. There may be times when the business becomes a bit uncomfortable in order to accomplish something new. This all part of the growth cycle. 

Much like in life, if a business is not growing and finding new ways forward, they quickly stagnate and die. 

Brand is the center of everything you do.

Every business, organization, even individuals need a center point to anchor it. This is the brand itself. A stated and active list of brand values and practices shape and define this center point. Values and practices form the foundation for the brand to be built on in the day to day. 

Keeping the brand at the center provides a guiding line when difficult decisions need to be made. Today, brands are forced to ask themselves if they will take a stand on political and social issues. Some choose to do so, and others do not. At the end of the day, when we know what our brand is about and what it values, we have a reason for making the decision. 

Brands that are successful have integrity.

Brands that people love have principles and act on those principles. They are honest. They have integrity. When brands lose a sense of their purpose or principles, they lose sight of who they are and create a PR crisis for themselves. 

This goes back to the need to understand the values of a brand. Founders and the early employees create the values, and act on them to solidify the culture of a brand. By their actions, they bring integrity to the brand. Brands that lose their integrity take a long road to recovery and few ever do recover. Integrity must be an operating part of a brand. 

These are a few guideposts on branding from Matt Desmier. I first heard him at the 2017 Spark.me Conference in Budva, Montenegro. His talk in 2018 (video below) was more pointed the topic of branding. It deserves a thorough listen. And it is certain to provide a framework to begin assessing your own business, organization, or personal brand.

Brand Building Lessons from Spark.ME

On my birthday in 2015, I found myself walking on stage at the Spark.me Conference in Budva, Montenegro. A few months prior, I had applied to be an official blogger (I also had purchased a ticket because I didn’t expect to be accepted as a blogger) at a conference I had never attended and only learned about the prior year. I had met some of the organizers over the preceding months, yet there I was receiving a cake and being wished “Happy Birthday!” in spectacular fashion.

I fell in love with a brand because I realized quickly, the people behind it CARE.

What is the Spark.me Conference?

The conference describes itself as “one of the most carefully curated business/internet conferences in Southeast Europe.”

Spark.me has been organized each year since 2013 as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program of Domain.ME

While it may not be the biggest conference, I am certain it is one of the most intimate conferences allowing the participants close access and networking opportunities with leaders, pioneers, and top thinkers in the realms of marketing, tech, startups, and entrepreneurship.

(You may also find an astronaut or cyborg roaming around…)

Since I love this brand(-ed event), here are a few brand building lessons I learned over the 4 years of attending the conference. 

Be personable.

“We can’t love a logo. We love a person.” Mark Schaefer

Brand building is founded on connection and relationships with our audience. We tell stories that allow people to love and trust our brands. Mark Schaefer, a globally recognized top marketing strategist and speaker, spoke in 2018 about the need for brands to become more personable to succeed in their marketing. Mark spoke about the decline of mass marketing content centered around the digital identity of a company. 

Instead, brands must focus on the community that they are building. Brands must give their customers and audience a story to tell and an experience to share. User generated content and community shared content are some of the best brand building resources out there. It is up to businesses and companies to activate the potential of their audience.

Set yourself apart.

“What are you known for?” Mark Schaefer

During Mark’s talk in 2018, he spoke a bit on personal branding, but hit points that I believe can extend into our businesses. In fact, it is an age old branding lesson. The need to be known for something. The need to differentiate. 

Whether it is a personal brand we are building or our business brand, we need to carefully consider what we want to be known for. Is it already saturated with content, or is there a market to saturate? We find our niche, and focus there with persistence to make our brand known. 

Look Inside.

“It’s a lot easier to change what you say about yourself than changing yourself.” Denise Lee Yohn

Self assessment can be difficult for anyone especially businesses and organizations that see something going wrong, but not sure what it is. Denise Lee Yohn, a brand building expert, recognized that strong, healthy brands are strong and healthy internally first

“Good brands start from within.”  Denise Lee Yohn

The priority of businesses in developing the far reaching brand must be building something special and strong within their own ranks prior to looking outward. Creating hero stories for the employees creates a greater opportunity for hero stories for the customers. In fact, brands have a strong reach because they have strong employee engagement with their brand.

Start at the core.

“Brand values = meaning” Peter Kim

In 2017, Peter Kim, VP of Digital Consumer Engagement at The LEGO Group, spoke about the story and essence of the LEGO brand, and more importantly how great brands make things awesome. They do this by pursuing brand values which bring meaning into the lives of the employee and consumer. 

Much like Denise’s reminder that amazing brands begin from within, Peter emphasized that amazing brands are so because of their values and the meaning those values bring. “In the case of the LEGO Group, their mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. Everything they do goes back to children and how to support the children.” 

Collaborate with your community. 

Timo Vuorensola, a Finnish filmmaker well known for films such as Iron Sky and Iron Sky: The Coming Race, has also become known for his achievements in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding his work. During his talk, he discussed both areas heavily and how he was able to leverage the help of the community that bought into his ideas to create something special. 

For brands, the ability to not only engage them as an audience, but then go deeper by collaborating with them moves them into actually being a community. Communities much like families are not necessarily born but forged over time.

As a brand how do you collaborate with your community to create greater success and draw them deeper into your brand story?

Be mindful of the process.

“Show up! Follow up! Close!” Steli Efti

To say Steli Efti is high energy is an understatement, but with that energy he can deliver so much value in such a short time. He has been launching companies and building brands since the age of 17. He is currently the CEO of Close.io

In 2015, Steli forced his audience to think about the basics. He challenged those around him by acknowledging the solutions to their problems are known, but not convenient. In the end, solutions are left undone. 

One challenge brands face is consistency and follow through. Steli points out that when startups and brands show up, follow up, and deliver, they will win. It’s a day to day process, but it forces consistency by the brand. In today’s media savvy world that disseminates information quickly, being inconsistent once can kill the brand. 

Spark.me 2019

This year the organizing team has already made some exciting announcements! 2018 saw the conference surpass new heights in participants and interest. This year the conference will move to a larger venue in Porto Montenegro in Tivat!

The Spark.me conference is not only about the keynotes and speakers. It also includes being a part of a transformative and engaging community. Tickets have gone on sale. I recommend grabbing your friends, team, or business partners and become a part of the community in 2019! 

Experience Spark.me and experience Montenegro!

(For tips about what to explore in Montenegro in May check out my post here. And let me know you’re coming.)