Jul 27, 2021
A huge chasm has opened up between companies and consumers. Many businesses think we’re still in the 20th century in an attention economy; they think they’re competing for as many eyes on their company as possible. They think they can gain sales from simply blanketing the media with enough messages.
Technology, customers, and businesses have moved past that splatter approach to marketing. Instead of trying to catch the attention of every consumer we can, we should create a personal brand to target our products and services towards a specific niche audience. We need to be designing our products and services to bridge the gap between business and people.
One thing that can help us bridge this gap is branding. But what is branding and why is it important? In today’s episode, we’ll discuss this and other things Leigh George has learned in her career such as the small moments, failing forward, and value-based pricing.
Dr. Leigh George is the founder of Freedom, a strategic branding and marketing un-agency. She worked as vice president at Ogilvy for over 20 years, and she helps marketing teams eliminate noise, gain clarity, build consensus, and develop actionable strategies to reach and persuade customers. Leigh has a Ph.D. in branding, making her one of the very few people in the country with that distinction.
What is branding?
Branding is often confused with visual identity: logo, colors, typography, etc. Leigh explained that a brand is more than that. A brand is why we started our business in the first place, answering these questions: Why are we doing this? What do we stand for? What’s the purpose of the business?
The reason we started our business can’t be that we want to make a million dollars because our customers don’t care about us making money. The purpose doesn’t have to be a social purpose, but our customers should be at the center of our purpose.
Once we know the purpose, our brand should be the story around that aim. Our brand should show how our purpose relates to what matters to our customers, a central challenge that they face, so we can show the impact we can have in their lives.
Our brand should be there from the very beginning of the business. It isn’t something we tack on later to make selling easier. Once we know our brand we can express it through things like logo, colors, tone, products, services, etc.
Why is branding important and what are the benefits?
“Your brand should act as a foundation and a touchstone for every business decision,” Leigh said. Should we develop a new product? Is it in line with our brand? Should we open an office? Is it in line with our brand?
A brand helps us differentiate from someone else who's selling the exact same thing. It sets us apart from the competition. Customers have many alternatives to choose from, including alternatives that aren’t in the same space.
For example, if someone is shopping for a car, an alternative could be taking public transportation, riding a bike, walking, carpooling with someone, or living somewhere they don’t have to worry about transportation. “If you don't have a brand, then it's very difficult for someone to weigh why and how you're valuable to them versus an alternative,” Leigh said.
Branding is also important for our company internally. If our purpose is just to make a bunch of money and our employees are making minimum wage, they won’t have anything to believe in, and they’ll feel like they don’t have a purpose within the company. Branding creates something our employees can be excited about. It can give them a reason to wake up and come to work every morning. It can help them feel like they’re making a difference because they have a greater purpose in their work than just a job.
Customers are the Disruptors
Sometimes in companies, we are so focused on our own products or services, but customers are the ones who are able to disrupt industries. “If you think about Apple, or Blockbuster, or any of these case studies that people tend to turn to as examples of big technology, innovation, or disruption, what's behind that is really a change in customer behavior that was just accelerated by technology,” Leigh said.
This is an idea that Leigh is super passionate about. In everything she does with the companies she works with, she strives to develop a deep empathy, understanding, and interest in her clients’ customers to really understand how the customers’ passion intersects with what is unique and special about the brand.
Leigh’s Entrepreneurial Journey
When Leigh was in graduate school, she thought she was going to be a professor. However, over the course of her studies, she became fascinated with the branding work of the companies she was studying. She also felt that academia could be isolating and separate from the rest of the world, so she redirected her career towards branding.
Leigh made a big pivot, working at many different agencies, big and small. She got to a point where she felt the agency model was not keeping up with the needs of clients. Agencies were more interested in their awards, their egos, and talking about themselves. “To me,” Leigh said, “my job is to help clients improve their business, help them change the perception about the brand, help them get more attention, help them attract and engage and spur action among customers. So it's really more about clients than it was about me.”
One night, Leigh was complaining about this to her husband, and he said, “Why don't you just do something about it instead of just complaining?” So Leigh started her un-agency, using that word on purpose to show that it is different from traditional agencies. For example, unlike most other agencies, she doesn’t bill by the hour so that she can focus on the value of the work and build strong relationships with her clients without either of them worrying about tracking time.
The Little Things
The moments in Leigh’s career that she’s most proud of are when she is able to see the difference she’s made for her clients. One of Leigh’s clients was a global company. One day, she was presenting to the company’s president and board, showing them the findings and analysis from some customer research she’d done with the marketing department. The presentation went well, and as Leigh was leaving, the president ran down the hall after her. He had a look of wonder on his face, and he said, “Thank you so much. That was so valuable.”
Leigh also remembers a time when she was working with a different company, and a member of the marketing staff told her, “You've hit the nail on the head. It's like you reached inside our brains and you intuited exactly what makes us us. I'm already imagining how I'm going to be using this.”
For Leigh, these small moments are the best moments in her career. She can see that she’s helping people and making a difference in their companies. Sometimes we get caught up in having big results or making big changes, but we need to remember to appreciate the small things too.
Leigh believes in what she calls failing forward. She said, “Anytime something doesn't go as planned or goes sideways, to me it's a moment to reflect and say, ‘Hmm, why did that happen? What does that allow me to do or not do?’”
One of the biggest mistakes Leigh made was with managing her time and energy. Because she runs her own company, she has a lot more control over her time than many other people, but she often gets caught up in the needs of others.
She had to learn how to schedule things for her and her clients’ benefit. Her creative thinking is better in the morning, so she blocks that time off. Her energy is lowest in the afternoon, so she tends to schedule meetings then. She doesn’t have meetings on Mondays and Fridays because she knows she’s either recovering from the weekend or exhausted from the week and getting ready for the weekend.
From her failure, Leigh has learned to not overpromise or overextend herself. Failure has been stigmatized in our society; it’s viewed as negative and shameful. Failing forward is a concept trying to destigmatize failure. Instead of thinking of failure negatively, we can turn it into a learning opportunity. “Failure shows that you tried,” Leigh said. “It's about experimentation, and not every experiment will be successful, [but] it gives you feedback and input and learnings that you can apply next time.”
Value-Based Pricing and Customer Loyalty
Leigh’s best monetization strategy is to use value-based pricing rather than billing by the hour. Value-based pricing is billing based on the perceived value of a product or service, no matter how much time it takes.
This kind of pricing helps maintain a stronger relationship with our clients because we're not having to nickel and dime them for every minute, and they’re getting a great result. They don’t have to pay a bill with perhaps not much to show for it.
It is a great way to create loyalty with clients and customers because it shows them that we care about them and that we’ll be there for them. Being there for our clients, especially during the hard times, is one of the best ways to foster deep loyalty.
Thank you so much Leigh for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
Connect with Leigh
To learn more about or connect with Leigh: