May 12, 2023

Talking branding, with Steve Brock

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Steve Brock leads a studio of talented and experienced researchers, strategists, designers, writers, programmers, project managers, an odd chef or two, photographers, videographers, organizational development specialists and assorted other creatives. As a studio, his team pulls together the most appropriate team for clients’ specific needs. And somehow, it all works. Brilliantly. With a wallop even.

For more than twenty-years (that’s like over a century in internet years), Steve’s team have helped some of the nation’s top corporations and not-for-profit organizations discover who they are, determine optimal ways to convey their story and then create experiences and artifacts that bring that story to life. You can call this the branding process, brand building or a host of other jargon-filled terms. Steve and his team call the end result delight.

Steve is very hands-on with all Brand:Wallop clients. He believes that every project matters and every client is a potential long-term friend. He not only gets involved in all the strategy work but even helps out on copy and photography when needed . At Brand:Wallop, they believe you and your staff will achieve greater delight with your brand (as will you audiences) if you experience it in the process of building your brand.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Key trends in the branding space in 2023
  • How brand is evolving in the world of ChatGPT and generative AI
  • Why brand is still the best strategy to pursue for the health of your business even in the face of economic uncertainty
  • How to differentiate in an industry when there seems to be an expectation that everyone shows up in the same way
  • The power of moments in branding (see the Chip and Dan Heath book below)
  • Steve’s latest branding success stories and nightmares

Additional Resources


Josh Dougherty: Hello and welcome to the show today. I'm excited to have Steve Brock join me, a longtime friend/mentor for me who's taught me a lot about branding over the years. Steve, good to have you here.

Steve Brock: Thank you, Josh. It's great to be here.

Josh Dougherty: Great. I'd love for you to just share a little bit of intro—about who you are, what you've been up to lately — for people who haven't heard you, or didn't hear you maybe, last time you were on the show with Polly back in the day.

Steve Brock: All right. So yeah, I've been doing this brand stuff for longer than I care to think about, for almost— no, actually this year will be a quarter of a century doing this. Does that sound impressive? 25 years?

Josh Dougherty: That's very …

Steve Brock: Yeah. So actually it just means I'm old. But [I’ve] been doing it on both the corporate side with folks who— Microsoft, Walmart, Prudential, folks like that. And then on the nonprofit side with a whole bunch of both—, just social service, a whole range of not-for-profit. Yeah. But the interesting thing is the branding stuff is pretty much the same.

Oh, and I should say this, the [my] latest focus is on doing a course on branding for artists and creatives—basically for solopreneurs who have an artistic or a creative kind of bent to them. So that would be another kind of audience for the brand.

Josh Dougherty: Nice. I love that. And I do agree, like you started to say, it's pretty similar for everyone.

Steve Brock: It is. 

Josh Dougherty: It pretty much is. 

Steve Brock: Yeah. Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: That's one of the things I like about it is you get to just dig into concepts and try to understand people and then tap into some creativity as you're going through the process.

Steve Brock: That's exactly it. Yep.

Josh Dougherty: Cool. Well, I wanted to have you on just to reconnect and talk a little bit about brand as we enter  this weird phase— maybe where we are in 2023. People are nervous about the economy, even though the economy seems to be going pretty well. People are nervous about technology. And then I think just overall there's a big pressure for the people:the clients we work with in the technology and healthcare space to have quick wins. And I think that's a time when people stop thinking about brand and they start thinking about “how do we drive revenue” —which I don't think the things should be mutually exclusive.

But wanted to pick your brain on some of those things. And before we dive into talking about some of those emergent things, I'd love to hear from your perspective as you start a new year. You've been doing this a while, and you're probably often thinking about what are the trends, what are the concepts I need to be thinking about as we look forward. What's new from your perspective? And then what hasn't changed in the discipline of branding?

Steve Brock: So what's interesting about this is we need to differentiate between a product brand or service brand, and then an organizational brand. And I think that almost all the trends you see tend to be more around products and services because they tend to change packaging It's all the visuals that tend to be more of the changing aspects of it.

Because the second part of your question, what hasn't changed? To me, that's the thing, particularly for an organizational or corporate brand — that shouldn't be changing that much. Because if you keep changing it, you don't get that consistency— that is the thing that differentiates you, that keeps you going, that makes a brand work.

So trend wise, yeah, you see a lot of things. Just watch Super Bowl ads and you can see some of the more—I'll call them the superficial, but really the brand expressions, the look and feel type of things.

You see two trends that I think are emerging or just kind of continuing, which is one is visual towards really busy and bright. You see a lot of oversaturated, overdone stuff. And conversely, you see a lot of more of not quite minimalism— because it's not like the old traditional Apple computer, a lot of white space— but it is a lot of singular colors and big emphasis on typography, and just the type with a color and maybe one or two other elements. So this kind of a trend for more or for less.

I think another one you see— because I spend a lot of time in the area of corporate social responsibility, and that's one area I see— is changing is people are smart and corporations are starting to realize that the whole kind of, oh, “greenwashing” if you will. The idea of saying, "Oh yeah, we're environmentally sensitive," but only in their ads, and then their practices don't change.

I'm actually starting to see— it's a really cool thing— is they're becoming less overt about it in bragging about all the green or socially responsible things they're doing, and more in terms of their practices. So more about what they do rather than trying to show it and tell people about that. So that's a good thing.

Same thing with the diversity. I think we're going to see a continued trend towards reflecting greater diversity, but again, that should be probably part of everyone's core brand anyway. And then I guarantee you— okay, here's the crystal ball.

Josh Dougherty: The prediction.

Steve Brock: The prediction, yeah. So maybe I can't guarantee that, but my guess is what you're going to see is actually a little bit of a backlash to the diversity issue in the next two to three years. And when I say a backlash, it's simply going to be that people realize that some brands are starting to make it look like diversity just for its own sake, and eventually they're going to want to see "Now are you authentic about this?" So that authenticity concept that has always been out there is even stronger now.

And I guess one last trend you do see continuing from the last couple years in that space is the idea of user-generated content. So it's not all just you talking about it, but it's getting— whether it's Instagram or TikTok or anywhere else where your customers [are] and are generating the content for you and doing it so it feels a little bit more authentic. But that too—anything you do has to truly be genuine as opposed to trying to look like it's genuine. Because then we get to the— as you've heard me say Josh, many times— it's winking with both eyes. When you try to overdo it, do you lose the subtlety.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. I think a couple things stood out to me in what you said. That's what hasn't changed about brand, right? Brands that know who they are deep down and understand what makes them unique. It isn't even always about uniqueness, right? Because in diversity, it should be about who you are at your core, right?

Steve Brock: Right. Great.

Josh Dougherty: That it is maybe unique, but if you understand that and you can live it out, you're going to weather any of those trends versus just trying to say, "Oh, we need a new corporate marketing campaign. We’ve got to make sure any ad we put out has the right components on it so that we look good."

Steve Brock: Well, and you just hit on, I think, [what] a really big point on the diversity issue is. It's like my favorite line about how there's more people that hate Apple in the world than there are the people that love Apple just because of the nature of there's more. Apple has what, less than 10% of market share for, say, laptops. But does that make Apple a bad brand? No, it makes Apple a great brand because those who love Apple really, really love Apple and they really have bought into the brand. So the point of it is, great brands are divisive.

Well, great brands aren't for everybody. Great brands really do choose their audience carefully. Now, within that audience, there is going to be diversity in terms of the demographic aspects. We tend to think about [demographics] whether that's ethnicity, age, gender, whatever the case may be. And that part, yes, you do want to always maintain that. But great brands are going to be very niche-oriented in terms of carefully choosing or appealing to a limited audience. And the more specific you are on that audience, the better you're going to be. Even [in] a major corporation, you can't be all things to all people because then you're no things to anybody, or whatever the non-double negative version of that is.

Josh Dougherty: Totally. Yeah. I think it's an interesting thing for us all to think about of how do we focus in our message so that it actually lands because otherwise it won't. It doesn't, right?

Steve Brock: Here's a funny thing. So we were just doing this last week on this branding course I was talking about. And one of the things, going back to the research, that I found is this: how rare it is for any company to actually know their audience well. And so we've gotten to the point where everyone's asking you to fill out a survey for the net promoter score. "How likely are you to recommend this to a family or friend?" or all those type of things. And so they know different behavioral kind of characteristics or even the fancy term of the declarative data on what people say. But they don't really know what those people care about. Okay, because they don't really take the time to do a deep dive in terms of talking to their, as we would call it, on the more limited layer, your favorite fan. Knowing who that favorite fan is really, again, psychographics more than demographics. Fancy terms here, but demographics are more the things like we mentioned: age, gender, income, education, those type of things that can have a quantitative measurement, almost like a binary type of thing.

And the psychographics are more your interest in passions and cares and values and beliefs. And those are the things that you really want to dive into and know. So you could have a really diverse demographic audience, could go from 18 to 80 in terms of people, but they all have a certain passion for a particular subject or a particular need. So in the healthcare realm, that might be they all have a keen interest in a certain type of service that they care about more than say— I'm just making it up, but maybe how they're treated matters more than the diversity of the medical the innovations that are offered or something.

Josh Dougherty: And I think that type of thinking really is important, especially in the healthcare space where you're talking about systematic inequities in healthcare. You need to understand the type of people that you need to reach because it allows you to reach further if you need to. Because there's probably a large marginalized population of some sort that could really benefit from your stuff if you can reach them, but you need to understand what they need.

Steve Brock: That's exactly it. And how they want to be treated. So it's one thing to say, you hear this all the time, organizations talking about like, "Oh, we treat everyone with dignity and care." Well, do they? Would all of those audiences, particularly those more marginalized audiences, feel that way?

Now imagine if they truly did, if you had a brand where every single person said, "I felt heard, I felt seen, I felt respected," that is going to cover a multitude of other potential problems that they might encounter in terms of dealing with insurance or whatever the case may be. But if they had that perception because it came out in the experience of the brand, not just what the organization was saying about the brand, that's going to be a huge plus.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. I want to go back to something else you said at the very beginning. So loud design being a trend, these bright colors. How do you think that translates into the B2B space versus the B2C? Because I totally see that very clearly, I think, in all of the consumer brands—packaging, all that sort of thing. Do you think that translates over into the B2B space as well?

Steve Brock: Not as much. That's why I think that to me, kind of differentiating it between the product and the organization—or I think what you find is, in the business to consumer space, that people's affinities are very fickle, particularly now. And therefore, you have to try to make all these changes all the time just to try to appeal to the latest trend, [or] whatever.

In the B2B space, I don't think you have that. There's a little bit more of a sense of loyalty simply because contractually, you have a different process in which they always talk about your two greatest loyalty factors are just laziness and switching costs. And it's true. In the B2B space, once you gain that relationship, it's much more likely to maintain it just because it's harder for them to find alternatives, et cetera, et cetera. 

So no, I don't think that most of the design trends are going to be as applicable. They can show up, but I don't think they, they're as relevant and they don't have to be.


Josh Dougherty: Especially if someone's going to redesign their B2B website once every five years, you're going to learn how to date pretty quickly, right?

Steve Brock: Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Josh Dougherty: All right, next semi-related question is: have you written your first novel with ChatGPT yet? 

Steve Brock: I didn't have to write it. All I had to do was give the prompt.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, exactly.

Steve Brock: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: I asked that jokingly from someone who has gone through the pain of writing a book, the process. But I'd love to hear what you think ChatGPT and really the acceleration of natural language processing is doing to the fields of branding and differentiated content creation, et cetera. How are you seeing that show up in your work?


Steve Brock: Well, that's, you just hit the nail on the head with that word "differentiated," because that's a problem with ChatGTP, it's not differentiated. And so I have found it very useful for— in the writing space to give the prompt of like, "Okay, I need a back of the book summary for a book dealing with this subject, blah, blah, blah." And I've got some really good stuff that talks about— I actually did it just for a fun experiment on the book I'm doing on, well, [it] actually relates to the branding course. And it came up and it said something, something, including “the issues of this” and “the pricing for your work.”

And I thought, "Oh, I've not even thought about including a chapter on pricing." So that to me is where ChatGTP or the others [natural language processing tools] are helpful, is that it gets you to— it's another brain, right? It's another perspective. It helps you to think of things you may not have thought about.

Now, if I were to take that copy directly off of there, it'd be like, no, don't think so.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, we've had the same experience as we've maybe written FAQs on a website for a client or done something like that. It's amazing to get the initial response, but then you read through and you're like, "Ah, that's about 72%, right?"

Steve Brock: Correct.

Josh Dougherty: But it doesn't feel at all [like] the organization.

Steve Brock: Yeah, that's the thing. And so if branding is about differentiation, ChatGTP is an anti brand tool, because it's trying to water everything down to the lowest ... If you think about how the whole algorithm works, it's just pulling stuff out there and just, it's a mashup. And the issue of voice, this is why I'm not too concerned about it from a creative standpoint, is voice is what we have either as individuals or as companies that differentiates us and makes us unique.

We've talked about before the idea of how you say something, your voice, is actually more important than what you say. Perfect case, what we're talking about is what you say—the messages—ChatGTP can come up with that. How you say it in a way that is captivating to your audiences, not so much with AI.

Josh Dougherty: Especially not at this point. Maybe in 10 years we'll be having a different conversation, but—

Steve Brock: You're right. Well, there already are some out there where [what] you can say is, "I want to write this in a voice that's somewhere between Robert Louis Stevenson and a Steinbeck, but with a twist of Asimov and a science fiction kind of approach." And it can do that. It can actually kind of take that and get the cadences, sentence lengths. I'm interested to see the one who says, "Okay, do me a blend of Faulkner and Hemingway, "so you might actually get normal size sentences if you take those two extremes.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, I'm interested about that too.

I think the thing that I'm also fascinated about is a lot of the magic of brand is in the processing. So sitting— I think at times, we've been in hotels back in the day, just processing through ideas. And it's great to have something to do have the work for you to create a final product, but that doesn't substitute for the, I don't know, backup brain, slow thinking that happens when you're going through the rest of your day or your week. And that's where I'm not too concerned about it completely overtaking the creative side of things too, because yeah, it's going to make connections based on data, but not truly a— I shouldn't say it's completely original— but an original connection.

Steve Brock: Well, and to your point, garbage in, garbage out, right? So in the sense that it's the processing, you're saying that becomes the transformative aspect of it. And if you're not doing the processing, you just got a bunch of words, and that's really not going to make that much— you haven't internalized it.

That's the thing— why another kind of offshoot of this is, why with a lot of our clients today we're spending a lot more time on the issue. Not just of brand messaging, but on brand behaviors because it's how people act, particularly those that are front facing in terms of customers, that makes a difference for the brand. And ChatGTP is not going to help you with that. And neither is it [going to help you] if those people are just run through just like, "Here's your script," but they don't really understand the why behind it.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. Yeah, that's a really good point. And it leads me on to the next question. There's this big urge right now in the uncertainty that exists in the market to naturally pursue closing revenue, to start cutting corners, to do that sort of thing. And in the B2B space that we work in, there's always this tension between building brand and doing the sales revenue-oriented activities. And you're trying to balance that. Right now I think the pendulum is swinging towards the revenue generating activities. Why do you think investing in brand right now is still the best strategy? 

Steve Brock: Well, I think that it's a false choice to say it's one or the other. I think it's both/and. And in fact, if you ask me, I think that more and more things are both/and. The problem we have, particularly in business, is what's been interesting about working with artists you know, the creatives is, they know how to hold paradoxes and the discomfort of tensions. They know how to hold it together better than a lot of folks in the C-suite of a typical corporation. And I think that's what we have to all learn in today's world is we all need to be more artists in that sense of living with ambiguity.

And so that ambiguity is, it's not like, "Do we build your brand, invest in that, or do we just concentrate on sales?" It's like, yes, what you do is you start realizing or thinking through how can I get my sales team, for example, to be on brand in terms of their messaging so that every sales opportunity, or one step up, every marketing message you have out there becomes more differentiated and more focused on your particular aspects.

How do you become, essentially— the short way to think about this is relevancy. That, to me, continues to be one of the key— I won't say it's a trend so much as a long-term movement— towards we say your brand needs to be relevant, distinctive, and true. Well, it's going to be distinctive if it's relevant. And so the way to even improve your sales is by being able to show your relevancy there. So I think it's again, this, not a misnomer so much— it's just kind of a misalignment in thinking to think that “I have to cut my brand in order to increase sales.” And that’s not the case now. Loud and clear, hear me well, you don't have to necessarily be investing in a whole bunch of new added, what most people think about in brand in terms of, oh, I need to do a new logo and I need to do work on our tagline, need to do all this. So now it's the deeper issues of the brand experience that matters, particularly now.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, I think that's why I was excited when you brought up branded behaviors. Because I think even about an organization that we worked with a few years ago who we came up with five branded behaviors for [and] how the people are going to live out brand, because most of your people aren't going to remember the whole brand platform. And two of them were really focused around specific actions that people could take in sales meetings every single time of how they were recapping out the close of a meeting and how they were focusing the main message of their conversation. And that should help us close. It doesn't help.

Steve Brock: That's perfect. Yeah, that's exactly it. Yeah, that's the thing about it is it's kind of this weird—again, both/and combination of, I'll call it this. I'll make up a new term. Well, new to me, “strategic tactics,” right? Those are tactical, but they're highly strategic. And I think that's the key right now is the more we can do that's tactical, just rubber meets the road type of things, but that are strategic in their nature— that's what's going to help.

Josh Dougherty: So what about if someone doesn't really know what that core is? They know they need to do tactical things, they want to be doing something that's building for the long-term future and not just like a scattershot activity to get stuff done, but they haven't taken the time to define the core. There's, I don't know, quick things that they can do or approaches that they can do to get started with understanding what that core is without breaking the bank if there isn't a bunch of extra money laying around to go through a brand process.

Steve Brock: See, what I would say is, what I'm coming to the realization is that you can tell people a lot. Sso I keep coming back to this course because it's been an eye-opener for me. The reason I did it, [is that] for 20 some odd years, people keep saying, "Oh, can you make the brand consulting/brand building process cheaper, particularly for smaller businesses and stuff?" And … that was the nature of the reason for I went ahead doing the course. But what I'm finding is, and I'm hearing this from clients as well, and people that have done the beta version of it. What they say is like, "You know what? You can give us all the head knowledge about branding that you want, but we need you to guide us because this is more art than it is science." And there's a certain science behind it as well as you know.

So my short answer on that is hire Josh to do just a consultation— a short half day brand workshop if you can't afford the full process. Because honestly— you and I, we've done it together, we do it separately all the time— is sometimes a couple hours sitting down and just asking the questions that we live and breathe every day but that are foreign in terms of the way people think—That can be so helpful, far more than “we can give you all these other tactics” and “you can read these books” and stuff like that. But it's just not going to sink in because it's, again, the processing of— It's like you're talking about “if I just do ChatGPT,” well, I haven't processed it. So that's one of the things there is— just thinking through it, getting those questions and doing it that way.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, I think that's pretty interesting because often in a half-day conversation, you can get to the high-level, core nugget of a brand.

Steve Brock: Yeah.

Josh Dougherty: And then the rest is about refinement. I was thinking about the conversation we were having about brand architecture around December of this year. We were exploring for one of my clients: how should this healthcare brand set up their brand architecture? And I come to the idea, I think, in a conversation of how it should be set up. And then you said, "Oh, yep, that's it. Now to figure out how to do it.”

Steve Brock: Well, and that's the thing. And so just to be clear, for those of you who don't know what we mean by brand architecture, it's just if you have—

Josh Dougherty: That's a good reminder, right?

Steve Brock: Yeah. Brand, right, the organization. But then you may have a subsidiary or what we call a subbrand related one, or they could literally be the master brand. Again, fancy jargon term for the organization. But then you also have each individual product line or something like that. Those would be subbrands. And how do all those work together as opposed to operating as silos or something, that's what we mean by brand architecture. And yeah, it really is both easy and extremely difficult. But if you get it, then it kind of clicks.

Here's the biggest thing I find, and you tell me Josh, if you have this as well, is the hardest part of the whole branding process is this thing we call the brand essence, which is this concept. So the examples we give are for Disney, their essence is magic or Nike, it's optimal athletic performance or Lego, it's learning through creative play as opposed to just being a toy company. Or Harley Davidson, it's freedom.

These are concepts that are intangibles and they're not what you would use for a tagline. And the problem we have with almost every client we go through when we start the branding process is they want to apply a tagline to become that essence. Or they're going to say, "Yeah, so we are a home builder, so therefore our essence is the home."

It's like, "Good, but that's not going to really differentiate you." So getting to that, that's what you need someone from the outside to help you walk through that and get over that.

If you can get through that part, honestly, I've seen clients can take and run with it from there. You give them the kind of framework, they can fill in the rest. So if you want a low cost way, but you really kind of need help on getting that essence, because it's hard to do and it's hard for any of us to, if you try to ask it of yourself, what's my essence as a human being as a person? Kind of hard.

Josh Dougherty: You're going to struggle. We have the same struggle, and we have the same struggle with people wanting to jump to a tagline. Or you start coming up with a concept and then they're already comping up [with] ads in their heads about exactly all the messaging. I'm like, "Oh, no, no, no, that's not what I meant."

So we're trying to think of what's the core thing. I think something that's really helped as I talk to people about this to get them on board is really asking the question of, "Do you know what you're really selling?"

And that starts to get— to peel back the onion a bit from not just, oh, “I sell,” I don't know, “technology consulting services,” because lots of people do that. But what are you really selling when you're asking someone to sign a contract? What are they signing a contract with you for?

And I think that gets people to start thinking. You still have to explain, “okay, now we're not going to put that as a tagline on everything,” but it gets people to get underneath the surface a little bit and understand at its core, even in a really maybe boring B2B sale, it's an emotional connection that you're selling. And so what does that emotional connection look like for you?

Steve Brock: Well, it's funny because earlier today I was on a telemedicine call with my doctor to get results of some blood work I had done. You know what he sold me today? It was relief.

Yes, it did have to do with the specifics, but the way he framed it, the way the results of the test, all these things, it could have been scary stuff. And instead it was, you could say hope or relief. Purely emotional, had nothing to do with the factual, functional benefits of how he operates his medical practice. He was selling relief.

And if it had gone the other way, he would've been selling hope or at least comfort or at least someone to go with you, see. So those are the deeper things that a lot, or a lot of companies, don't realize. That's the real product. 

Josh Dougherty: And if you can get that, you can do the rest, because then your messaging, platform, all that sort of stuff— even the design side of things— suddenly becomes easy.

Yeah, so once you have that essence defined you know a little bit of who at the core are we. You talk a lot, and one of the things I love about your branding approach is this focus on the power of magic moments. Can you share with people what that means and what you're thinking about as you talk with clients about that? 

Steve Brock: So I'm completely ripping it off from Chip and Dan Heath in their book The Power of Moments. But I'm not ripping it off because I'm telling you that that's where it's coming from. So get the book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they wrote—


Josh Dougherty: We'll put in the show notes for people if they want to grab it.

Steve Brock: I love this book because so much about experience design comes down to this idea of creating these, as they would call it, meaningful and memorable moments or defining moments or what we call magic moments— however you want to do it. It's the idea of the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, "We do not remember days. We remember moments." And it's so true. It is so true.

And The Power of Moments, the book— what they talk about is creating, they have a fourfold framework for creating these defining moments. And the beauty of it is if you create a defining moment for a person you can, you're not going to want to do this, you don't want to mess up, but if you do mess up, you can mess up a lot and they'll still love you because that one peak moment kind of overrides all the other marginal moments they may have with you.

So it's so helpful because if your customer service process or your sales process or whatever, you know it has problems, but there are huge ones that you're going to have to fix. Maybe you don't worry about fixing all those little, as they would call them, you don't fill the potholes, build the peaks. And so the peak moments are these memorables.

So their fourfold thing is this. It's an elevated moment. So it's a moment of elevation. It's different from normal, it stands out. So we went to a restaurant, my wife and I this weekend, they used Google Assistant for their reservations and it didn't work, didn't connect. So we get there, it's our anniversary, and they didn't have our reservation. And my wife even shows her the phone reservation, and they were apologetic. We had to wait. We got seated actually near the doors, kind of cold, blah, blah, blah.

At the end of the dinner, the server said, "Okay, anything else?"

We said, "No."

She says, "Okay, so there's no charge."

And we said, "What do you mean no charge? Like for the drinks?"

She said, "No, your whole dinner. The owner felt so badly that it was your anniversary and that we didn't have that thing." They created peak. They went from actually a negative experience where we would never have gone back there again to now they created that peak. They created an elevated moment there by—because it's different than you would expect.

Okay, elevated, next is a moment of pride or accomplishment where you run your first 5K and you feel that sense of accomplishment, that's a meaningful moment.

Next is insight. You have this aha type of moment, and those type of ones can create these defining moments.

And finally is a moment of connection where you're at a wedding or a funeral or some other, an office training thing where you finally connect with people in a way that you never have before. Those are moments of connection.

So Dan and Chip would say, don't use the acronym because it's kind of cheesy, EPIC, but frankly it is easy to remember that way. So elevated, pride, insight, connection. Use those and you can create just about any experience.

The beauty of it is you can say is like, okay, if I want to improve the onboarding experience of the new client, how could I improve it by adding a moment of accomplishment? You could say like, oh, I could see a moment of connection. I want to connect to my people, but what if I did accomplishment? What would that look like here? What might it do to be an elevated experience? How could I even redecorate this particular room? Or whatever it is that takes it out of the normal, all sorts of ways.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah, really interesting. And I imagine you could start out by just looking at your processes as an organization and say, let's look at each key process and choose one new thing to do at each moment.

Steve Brock: Well, and this gets back to what we talked about earlier, knowing your audience. It's like, okay, who's your real audience? Who's that “favorite fan” type of thing? Or quite frankly, who's your most valuable or profitable customer or client? And focus on them. Start off with them so that you're not having to try to spend too much, but you just really concentrate on a key experience for them.

Josh Dougherty: And then I do think it comes down to back earlier in my career, I'd always be like, let's do everything now. But maybe it does come down to saying let's do three things and then let's see what happens.

Steve Brock: Or let's just do one.

Josh Dougherty: Or do one.

Steve Brock: Let's just do one thing first and try it. Yeah.

Well, so all of you out there listening, Josh and I are big fans of the agile approach or just the minimum viable product. And that's the same thing here is let's try one thing and just do it just marginally well enough just to see if it works. And then you can refine it from there. But don't try to make it too big and invest all sorts of time and money on something you don't know is even going to work.

Josh Dougherty: Yeah. Awesome.

Well, so we close out, I'd love to hear a couple, maybe “war stories” probably isn't the right word, but stories. I think it's always fun for people to hear conversations around true, actual things that happened rather than talking concept about brand. So could you maybe share maybe one branding success that you saw in the last year? This doesn't need to be one of your clients. But what's something where you thought, "Hey, that's a real breakthrough moment for a brand" and it really stood out for you and explain why. 

Steve Brock: All right, so again, we won't name names here to make it safe and easy for folks. I would say a breakthrough moment was doing what we call kind of a brand audit after they had already gone through the branding process two or three years earlier. And to go back to the client for a half day review and to see just how well they had executed the brand. And were still doing it and were consistent. Because, as you know Josh, we don't see that very often.

Number one biggest problem with brands is that it takes, on average most brands, particularly small businesses or nonprofit, it takes on average three years from the time you do your brand work, you refresh the brand, for your customers to start repeating back the messages. You want three years

Josh Dougherty: And about six months for everyone to get sick of doing it. So that's a large delta.

Steve Brock: That's exactly it. And so someone, particularly in your creative area is going to say, after six months, "Oh man, we've been saying the same thing over and over and I blah, blah, blah, blah. I don't want to do it anymore. Let's change it." And then you start that clock all over again. So this was a client who had actually said, "No, we're going to stick with it and we're going to keep doing it." So to me, because it's so rare, that was a highlight to me. 

Josh Dougherty: I love, too, the emphasis on actually doing a review to see how we're doing. Because I imagine when you completed that, you had 50 ideas that came out of what you could do for the next year, three years.

Steve Brock: It's funny because a little behind the scenes for everyone out there, from our standpoint as kind of, if you will, consultants in this space, you always feel a little bit like you never want to push too hard and you never want to. And after you do this big expensive brand project, a lot of times you don't want to say, "Oh yeah, I want to try to sell you something else." And so I kind of back away sometimes on the brand audit or the next steps. But the reality is it's so helpful because you can't, it's like your identity and on your own— the brand essence we talked about, you can't see a lot of things when you're too close to them and been doing it yourself.

So just having literally an hour a month type of checkup, say, "Hey, this is what we're dealing with. What do you think about this? What do you think about this?" That's probably one of the best investments you can ever make, because then you're getting constant feedback and you're not going down the path too far before you if it's off.

Josh Dougherty: Totally.

Steve Brock: You can change it.

Josh Dougherty: What about a nightmare? Anything? Any nightmares?

Steve Brock: Well, okay, so our biggest nightmare, and this is not a one-time thing, this happens every single year, is our dreaded client who is, I don't have them as much, but they still pop up, are this wonderful combination of arrogance and ignorance. Where because everyone has heard about branding, you get people who think they understand it, but don't and are just kind of stuck in their opinions on it. And it makes it very difficult to work with. And I know no one listening to this has ever, ever had to deal with anyone like that. But yeah, ignorance and arrogance, bad combination.

The other nightmare we see more common, and this just came up again, is back to that issue of behaviors where if you don't stick to the training of all your people on the brand and then keep reviewing with them over and over again, it's not going to stick for them. And so then the brand gets diluted. And the worst part about it that happens then is it starts to feel like, oh, this is just another marketing campaign as opposed to, no, this is a long-term core aspect of our company.

Josh Dougherty: So going back to the ignorance and arrogance thing. I think it's interesting because I think many people— I know tons of smart marketers, brand marketers inside of organizations who understand the value of brand, but they run into that ignorance or arrogance above them as they're trying to push through an initiative or start something.

What are maybe tactics in the time that you've been working to help bring a C-suite on board that may think they understand all about what this type of work is? How can we better equip some of the CMOs that we're talking to and listening to the show about how to build that case?

Steve Brock: The number one best way to do this of all is brand research. Because what you do is by going out there and actually surveying, so either you do, we tend to do a combination of interviews, so qualitative interviews one-on-one with the people who know your brand best. And then quantitative surveys out to a broader range of customers and stakeholders. That gives you kind of validation of what you heard in the interviews and also some new insights.

If you have that, so here's a little tactic for you as a CMO to use, if you do that, start your meeting, your presentation by asking your C-suite or whoever's there in your leadership meeting to answer what they think the answers are to: How do people perceive us? What's the number thing that people value most about us? What is the thing that they like best about us? What is the thing that they like least about us? What's the thing that matters most to them? Any questions like that. And get them to write it down in front of you, and before you then reveal the thing and then get them to share it and go around and share it.

This is not a shaming tactic here. This is a way to get people to own up and realize for themselves, it's helping them to realize, oh, I have these assumptions that may not have been true. 

Josh Dougherty: To have that aha moment you're kind of architecting.

Steve Brock: Exactly. That's a perfect thing is you— that's exactly it. You have that moment of insight there for them when they realize, when they do see them, the results. It could be that they're right, spot on. That rarely happens. What we found, we tend to find that there's a difference between internal perceptions and external. And that creates a moment of humility, which allows you then to say, “Okay, look. See, we don't see our own stuff as well, so let's keep moving through this process,” which will help us do that.

Josh Dougherty: And I think something— thinking about that, empathy is huge in those moments. So you've got to be able to express that empathy. And it might even—we've had success in doing that —where we have even the leader who is driving the initiative to share what their thoughts were as well, because usually theirs are off as well. So you're creating that vulnerability for yourself also, because the big thing we were on trying to do is use that moment to bring people together into a shared sense of purpose. And so you want to make sure you're not pushing anyone off to a point of resentment, or you made me look bad in front of my peers.

Steve Brock: Yeah. And I think that's a really, really good reminder. And the way to do that in part is also say, is like, I had no idea, and you do it too. Say, "Based on going in here, here's kind of my perceptions and here's where they were off and stuff." So it’s shared. So that's a really good way to disarm it.

Last thing on that really quickly is the best compliment I ever hear from clients is "You came in— and so many other consultants or agencies we've worked with came in and tried to tell us who we were and come up with something new for us. You didn't do that. You came in, you listened to us, and you told us what we already knew, but you found words that we couldn't to express that."

And when you do that, you are now an ally to that leadership because you'll never, as an outsider, love the brand as much as they will or know it. And being able to listen well and come in that kind of posture of humility and of just appreciating what they have, that's another great way to build it. So even if you're inside the organization, to be able to say, "Look, it's not about coming up with something new so much as clarifying that essence, that identity that's already there, and then building upon that."

Josh Dougherty: And I think to close it all out, that's what branding is in its essence too: listening to your audiences and giving them new words to describe something that they already wanted, right? 

Steve Brock: Yep, that's exactly it.

Josh Dougherty: Well, thanks for giving me some time today, Steve. It was a great conversation. Appreciate the time.

Steve Brock: Yep, always a pleasure. Thanks.

Josh Dougherty

Josh Dougherty



OCT 11, 2021


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Marketing doesn’t have to be painfully intrusive, like getting yet another telemarketing call right when you sit down to dinner with your family.

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