Sep 15, 2021

The Four Key Elements That Make a Great Brand, 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:

  • How Steve initially discovered his passion for branding, and how his company Brand:Wallop delivers on their promise for clients
  • Why Steve believes "your mission is what you do, but your brand is the distinctive way you carry out your mission"
  • What four key qualities a great brand should hold, and how you can use those four qualities to inform the content you produce
  • What to look for to identify and address problems with your branding, and why listening to your customers is the key to getting your branding right
  • Why the biggest trend in branding is creating an experience and long-term relationship with customers, and why it's better to "build peaks" rather than "fill potholes"
  • Why collecting data from your clients and responding to feedback is the key to being "audience-centric"
  • Why momentum is crucial for building or refreshing your brand, and why consistency is vital
  • How to structure your "brand team" to make the most impact, and what roles your brand team needs to thrive


Additional resources:  

Show Transcription: 

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich: Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. I'm really excited to be here today with my good friend, Steve Brock, who is the CEO of Brand Wallop. As you can probably surmise from the name, he is branding expert extraordinaire, has taught Josh and I everything we know about branding, which for Josh is a lot more than me. But I can fake it. But I really wanted to have Steve join me today and just talk about, particularly in light of all that's happened in the last couple years, how organizations are thinking about brand, what you should be thinking about with your brand, and just really dive into it. So, thanks for joining me. 

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

Polly Yakovich: I like to have people start by giving a little bit of their bios themselves so I don't have to read it, but can you just tell me a little bit about what your journey was like, what you've been doing, what you're doing now? 

Steve Brock: Okay. Let's give you the relevant pieces [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: Yes. 

Steve Brock: So, I did an MBA in international management years ago. So, emphasis on marketing Pacific Rim, especially China, and Mandarin Chinese. So, a three part program. And at the time I was exposed to the concept of branding, but it was more academic. And I had a guy, when I was ... I was doing an advanced language program in Taiwan, and he was the head of Nike for Taiwan, or for Asia, who was living there. And he told me in school, he said, "I know you're a marketing guy, but the thing is you learn marketing on the job. So, take as many finance courses as you can because you can't really learn that on the job." 

Polly Yakovich: Interesting. 

Steve Brock: Yeah. And I think it's good advice, and I did, because he said, "You may not have to put together a PNL, but you better know what it is, and how to do it." So, I saved-

Polly Yakovich: Especially if you're really dumb and become an entrepreneur. 

Steve Brock: Exactly. See, that's why [crosstalk] 

Polly Yakovich: We're clever. Sorry to say clever. 

Steve Brock: Yes, very clever. Very creative. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: And you have to do that, because you do, right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: You have to put it together, and you have to figure that out. So, I think branding is the same way though-

Polly Yakovich: If you want to make money. 

Steve Brock: Yeah. Yeah. Good staying distance. So, that became the theoretical part of it. Then years later I worked for World Vision International relief and development humanitarian group. And then got recruited away from some guys to start a company. There's the entrepreneurial piece. It was mostly digital marketing, web design. High Point Solutions was the name of it. And what we found was that in doing a web project, building a website for a client, if they didn't have a good brand it was really hard to do that. So, ended up having to do more and more of the brand stuff, and I really like it. So, that was, gosh, dating myself, 23 years ago that we started High Point. So, High Point came and went, and Brand Wallop, so two agencies in that time. The whole branding piece has been a constant theme, and now I probably spend 80%, 90% of my time strictly on brand work. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What year did you start Brand Wallop?

Steve Brock: Brand Wallop was in ... End of 2008. 

Polly Yakovich: Oh, wow. Wow. 

Steve Brock: I know. 

Polly Yakovich: Time flies. 

Steve Brock: Time flies, yeah. 

Polly Yakovich: Why branding? What about this discipline keeps you coming back? Or bashing your head into the brick wall time after time? 

Steve Brock: It's a padded wall, not a brick wall. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, that sounds so bad. I've never heard that before. I'm going to use it. 

Steve Brock: It's because, for me, branding is fundamentally about story. And great stories are always compelling, and everyone's got a different story. So, it's an endlessly interesting type of space. I think it's also, for me personally, just kind of the way I'm wired, it's a great combination of the creative side of it, but also the disciplined side of it. So, one thing I've talked about on a personal level, is that I like to do work that ... Oh, I don't know when this came about, I find this as being sublime and effective. And sublime goes back to the Hudson River School of Artists back in the 1840s-ish, something around that, who define sublime as being beauty combined with moral goodness. So, this idea of something that's beautiful but it actually has some goodness to it as well. 

So, take sublime, combine it with effective, that, to me, is the type of work I like to do. So, brand fits in that category of there is an element of beauty to it, not just aesthetic beauty, but even issues of balance and justice, and things like that, combined with it makes it different. So, it's not just art for art’s sake, but it's toward something, towards accomplishing something. so, all that just kind of the way I'm wired, and the difference it can make for organizations. Because I honestly believe that obviously we do a lot of marketing, right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: We all do. But to me it's like if you don't get the foundation right on the brand, it can really mess up all the marketing, and communications, and even experienced design work that you do. So, that's why, again, branding is important to me because it's so foundational. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, I agree. So, talk a little bit about how has branding evolved over the years? And I want to dig into later, and I think you have a lot to offer about what really is branding, because people think of it as being their logo, or their colors, or their packaging. It makes me crazy when all my friends are like, "Oh, good branding." And I'm like, "That's the package." You know what I mean? 

Steve Brock: Yeah, that's exactly it. So, add to that, so here's how it's changed. In the last decade or so there was a couple areas of brand have become more prominent, but even in corporate branding, which is the area that I focus on the most, there's been some changes. So, let's talk about the broader picture. I would say the biggest change you see is the growth of the personal brand that you see with social media-

Polly Yakovich: Influencers.

Steve Brock: ... and influencers. That's exactly it. I'd say there's some people that really get it and do a really good job on it. I would say the majority of them do the same thing except for assuming that brand simply means your logo, to tagline, or things like that. They assume that really brand means style. Okay? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: And brand and style are really close, but the thing about it is brand is a more comprehensive concept there that goes beyond just the way you talk, or things like that. We do a lot of work with non-profits, but it applies to corporations and individuals as well, which is your mission is what you do, but your brand is the distinctive way you carry out that mission. And too many people confuse those two, and they think that their mission is that's the thing that needs to be distinctive. But it's like no, you can have the same mission as anyone else, it's the brand piece that's going to be distinctive. So, all that to say is a lot of influencers just tend to focus on the superficial, what we would call almost the symbols of the brand rather than the deeper understanding. They may be really good at the colors, they may be really good about even their voice, how they speak, and sound, and what they talk about. 

But they don't really get the deeper, what we call the essence of the brand, in terms of how are you that much different? And particularly here's the problem you have in both corporations, and companies, and also with influencers, is the echo effect, where you start having people that mimic others simply because they see what's working. If you're a YouTube influencer, you just start saying the same thing that others have and stuff as well. So, that distinctive part of the brand gets lost there. On the corporate side, I would say the biggest change I've seen, two key points. One has been the growth of relevance, that we say that a great brand needs to be, I would say four things. It needs to be relevant, it needs to be distinctive, it needs to be true, and then it also needs to be actionable. I forget who said it, there's some quote which is this, is it's not a brand unless it makes you money. 

And it sounds very mercenary, but I think it's really true. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, absolutely. 

Steve Brock: It's why you can't brand baseball, but you can brand MLB, major league baseball, because it's a thing that you can do. And so, back to this issue, it's really hard to be ... You can be distinctive, you can ... We joke about you can light your hair on fire and jump off a roof, and you would get media coverage for 15 minutes of fame there. But being distinctive alone, it's hard to sustain. Right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: But being relevant, that's becoming the piece where if you're relevant to your audiences they'll stick with you longer. And I think organizations that are doing branding well start to realize how much relevance matters. And the key about relevance is, relevance is determined by your audience, not by you. So, unless you real understand your audience well, you're not going to know that. 

Polly Yakovich: Interesting. It's interesting how the four play together. As you were talking about differentiation, one of the things we've been thinking about, and talking about, and it's hard to do with clients, is like everyone can produce content now. And there's no litmus test for whose content is the most true. I mean, everyone's just pumping out tons of content, educational content, et cetera. And it's like how do you stand out when it's been so democratized? 

Steve Brock: That's exactly it. 

Polly Yakovich: And everyone can put it wherever. On a blog, on LinkedIn, have access to your audience, et cetera. But talking about how those four work together, I think for us, I think part of what we focus on is you have to be different, you have to stand out. If you aren't going to post anything on your site, or social media, or send an E-news out this month and no one notices you're gone because there's so much clutter, then you've lost. You've missed it. 

Steve Brock: Exactly, exactly. Well, this is years ago. I was trying to remember when it came out, but the book by Chris Anderson called The Long Tail. It started the whole concept of long tail, which is this idea that if you sell a few ... If you find your niche, basically, you can sell to smaller audiences, but there's a lot of those smaller audiences out there. And one of the things he notes in there is this kind of, I'll paraphrase his comment, which is we talk about content is king. And to your point, Polly, that's what most people think. Everyone's like, "I just got to get the content out there." But he's saying, "No, that's no longer true. What's true is not the content is king, but context is king." 

Polly Yakovich: Wow. 

Steve Brock: So, what does he mean by context is king? It's the idea that most of us make decisions based upon the recommendations of others, reviews, all these different things that provide context to that content. So, remember back to the day when you could actually go to a theater and see a movie? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: Well, I actually have done that in doing these talks with different audiences, and then I'll ask people, "How many of you made a decision to see a movie based upon the trailer, or the paid advertising?" And usually out of a group maybe of 100 people, you might get two or three. Literally that's it. Now, it does influence them in terms of awareness, but in terms of actually buying a ticket-

Polly Yakovich: Deciding, yeah. 

Steve Brock: Exactly. It comes down to friends, and reviews. Okay? That's the context for it. And so, if you don't understand that context, and that's the relevance piece, because your friends are more relevant to you, and they're going to give you a more relevant recommendation. So, all of that matters more than just producing endless content. 

Polly Yakovich: That's a great analogy. We're primarily talking to B2B organizations who are looking to sell to other companies, even though they're selling to humans at those companies, how do most people identify I have a problem with my brand? Or I don't think my brand is providing me these four foundational components, or maybe not in the right way. How are you seeing people recognize that they need more? Or do they think that they're fine because their logo looks good? How are people self-identifying that they need to do that, or they need to spend more time there? And how can they be looking for what clues maybe let them know they need help there? 

Steve Brock: Right. Well, the obvious things are going to be revenue and market share, and things like that. But the way that we go about diagnosing that more than anything else is listening to your audiences. Not just to your clients, if you're in the B2B space, but your client's customers. So, if you don't do the brand research you never know, you're just guessing. And as I mentioned, relevance is in the mind of the audiences, so you need to understand what's relevant to them. So, when you do this research, and normally what we do is kind of a combination of qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative means you do in-depth interviews with the people who know the organization best. And then you do it on a broader basis, usually with a web-based survey, so you get a objective measurement. 

The point of it is you're trying to understand what their perceptions are, because we see this over, and over again, that you have three centers of perception. One exists in the minds of your audiences, which is actually the most important one. Another one tends to exist in leadership of the organization. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, absolutely. 

Steve Brock: And the third one exist in staff. So, what you end up having are these gaps between those, and part of the branding process is to close those gaps so that ultimately, or optimally, you would have everybody that leadership, who is in charge of vision, staff, who actually dictates culture, and then audiences, which kind of dictate perception. That all of those are the same way. You can't do that unless you do the research to understand what those gaps are. Okay? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: So, usually it's going to be marketing bottom line drivers that make you realize, "Okay, we're losing market share here, or it's becoming more difficult to maintain it," that's a key about differentiation from your competitors. And then once you recognize those symptoms, then to say, "How do we fix that?" Then start listening to your audiences to know what their perceptions are. So, key thing about branding is you do the research to understand, remember I said it's [inaudible] relevant, distinctive, and true, for example. The true piece comes from the audiences, because that brand only exists in their minds. You can try to control it, but the reality is brands are like memories. You can plant a memory, you can remind people of it so it doesn't fade, you can even try to correct it a little bit when it starts to get off-track. But you can't control it. If you could, everybody could just buy their way into a brand, and you can't do that. 

So, the point here is you need to understand what that perception is, but you don't just go with that. What's the old quote? I think it was Henry Ford who said, "If I had listened to my audiences, my customers, I would've built a faster horse." So, there's a point where they know it's true now, but you need to make that also aspirational to know where you want it to go in the future. You can't stretch beyond it. But you need to [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: They don't have the same vision. 

Steve Brock: They don't have the same vision. So, you have to start with what they perceive, but not just stay there. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. So, is that what catalyzes most people to reach out to you, is market share? Performing-

Steve Brock: No. Actually, it's even less tangible than that. It's usually a desperation of we don't know what else to do. We do know that it's harder to get our message out there, we know that our competitors are doing better in some ways than we are, we know that yeah, it's the market share, our sales are down, or that the messaging ... Here's a very common one. The messaging we have been saying is no longer working. Okay? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: Or, here's the number one thing of all that we see, is the messaging, it's not working because it's not constant, consistent messaging. It is all over the place. And we start to realize that wait, we need to align, and so everyone's saying the same thing, because in the world of social media if you don't have a clear, consistent message, it gets garbled really quickly. And so, they start to realize we need to do something, but we don't know ... And most people come to us, for example, thinking that we just need to get our messaging better. And then they discover brand is not messaging alone, brand is actually the highest level of strategic discipline within an organization. So, it should dictate all your other operations, internal management, HR, all those functions actually are effected by the brand. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And then, healthy governance to make sure that once you've got it all sorted out, that you do say on, essentially the same track. 

Steve Brock: Yep. 

Polly Yakovich: I think that for lots of organizations, particularly in our space, we all understand big brands, right? 

Steve Brock: Right. 

Polly Yakovich: Like Apple. Everyone wants to be Apple, everyone wants to be Coke. Whatever different phases of ... Everyone wants to be Disney, they feel like such successful brands. Why does every organization need to think about their brand? And what's the hope for if you're a SaaS provider, or if you're what you think of even yourself as a boring, B2B kind of organization, why should brand be important to you? 

Steve Brock: Yeah. So, couple things. Actually, the SaaS is a good example. So, software as a startup is increasingly a subscription model. So, a lot of people get into it primarily from a revenue model standpoint more than it is from a technological ... You'll tell people, for example, "Well, it's so that we can do upgrades and things like that." But the reality is, let's face it, the reality is it's a better subscription so you get people recurring things. Well, the idea is though, the downside of that is that it means that that purchase decision, and the experience of the brand is an ongoing one, not just a one-time type of thing. So, you have to actually be even more concerned about the brand if you're in that type of a space because people have ...

I hate to pick on them, because they went from one of my favorite brands to now one that I'm not really thrilled with, is Evernote. 

Polly Yakovich: Oh, yeah. Yes, they have been making me crazy. 

Steve Brock: I know, right? And so, that's-

Polly Yakovich: All their new roll-outs, I'm like, "It's worse, it's worse." 

Steve Brock: Exactly. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: I feel like they have taken the things that were the best aspects of it, and they just keep rolling it back because someone, somewhere said, "Hey, we could try this," and it feels like they're following requests that I don't know if anyone that really is using those. I mean, it's just little things. Just a manual sync function. They say, "We don't have to have manual sync anymore because it automatically does it." Well, you know how many times it doesn't automatically do that? And I want to be able to do that. I'm telling you, the whole point there is that, that is a software as a service type of model where they just haven't really listened, I don't think, well to their customers, and it's ... I don't know how they're doing financially, I don't know that. But I do know is you're going to really start ticking off a lot of your core audiences pretty soon. 

Polly Yakovich: You know how rare it is for me to start researching other technology to swap over something I've done a long time? And that's the only thing in recent time, I'm like, "I'm going to sort of start my Google search on what's the best note tech out there right now." 

Steve Brock: Right. And the sad part is, I know, and they count on it ... Creative Cloud's another one, like Adobe, had ... The same problem I have is because I do a lot of writing on the side, like travel writing, and writing creativity, and different things, so I do a lot of research on it. And I have a lot invested in Evernote because I've used it as my main repository of a lot of these ideas. So, it's hard. The switching costs are high. And they know that. Same with Adobe. They know that with a subscription they've got me there. But you're right. Or QuickBooks for businesses, that's another one. Absolutely hate, hate, hate the way that they try to upsell you all the time on every little thing, and change things, and customer service there, horrible. I don't have choice. 

But that's the interesting thing about, from a brand standpoint, is from their standpoint they ... I've heard this from clients who say, "Yeah, but we'll lose 5% of our market, but the increased revenue that we'll get from this new subscription model, whatever, will more than cover that." So, they're thinking truly and only in dollars, not in terms of experience. What they don't realize is as soon as a competitor comes along with a better offering, the loyalty there is not only zero, it's negative. So, it's not [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: So, what I hear you saying is even though you can't be Disney-

Steve Brock: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't answer your question. 

Polly Yakovich: No, it's okay. But your brand is still of vital importance. 

Steve Brock: Oh, it's huge. It's actually more important for a smaller organization, because it's your key tool for differentiating you. So, Disney, Nike, Coke, all of those are big brands, and they have ... What makes them good is actually going to be the same thing that makes you even smaller [inaudible] organization good. And that is consistency. So, they are ruthless. I mean, I had a client I can't mention, once. Their brand colors, someone literally brought a notebook, just a off-the-shelf notebook into a conference room, and the person said, "That is the wrong PMS colors. That notebook is off-brand, you need to remove it." 

Polly Yakovich: Wow. 

Steve Brock: I know. It's-

Polly Yakovich: That's wild. 

Steve Brock: That is wild. But that's what makes them good is that consistency. So, smaller organizations they still have the same benefits of building that deep connection, that relationship. You ask about the trends, I would say that's probably the biggest trend overall is this idea of experience, and of building longterm relationships with your customers. 

Polly Yakovich: Well, and everyone wants to talk about the experience, but you can't do that if your brand isn't ...

Steve Brock: You can't. 

Polly Yakovich: Established. 

Steve Brock: Right, right. Exactly. And so, it takes a while for them to do that. So, there's a great book, [inaudible] by Dan Keith. I mean, you know the book. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: Power of Moments. One of the things I love about Power of Moments is they explain how to create the, what they call, defining moments. And these are ones that are both memorable and meaningful. And one of the things that their research has shown is that they say build the peaks, don't fill in the potholes. And what they mean by that is you're going to have elements, if you do a customer journey, and you're going to have elements of that experience that are going to be good, and they're going to be bad. So, they would say, "The research supports the idea it is better to try to build up the good ones, rather than try to fill in all the bad ones." And yet, most organizations try to go, "Oh, we messed up here, we need to fill this, we need to fill this-

Polly Yakovich: It's almost like a strength finders approach, but for-

Steve Brock: It is, it is. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: It is. We would say it's like an appreciative inquiry. That's an approach from Case Western Reserve University. But the idea is that you focus on the things that are working, rather than what's not working. But the main point of this is that you seek out what those great experiences are. See, that's the problem. The QuickBooks or whatever that we've talking about, is there are not that many great experiences. And so, but there's a lot of really bad experiences. And so, if they were to come with something that said, "Okay, that'll just save me so much time in-

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, the well of your customer loyalty is so dry. 

Steve Brock: Right, right. So, another way to think about this is in the concept of good will. And in accounting, that's an actual dollar assigned value that you have. And so, the stronger that good will, or in branding terms brand equity that people have, the more they're willing to forgive you when you do make mistakes. And in today's world with reputation management, you're going to get some ... No company is not going to be effected by that. How's that for double, triple [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, yeah. 

Steve Brock: Everybody will have something that comes up at some point, that you're going to have to rely on good will for them to overlook. And if you don't have that there, they're gone. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And I have in my mind to ask you about the risks, but we've already just covered a lot of them in conversation. I mean, the biggest risk is you have this audience, and a competitor comes along, and you don't have any of the things we just talked about, good will, loyalty-

Steve Brock: Yeah. I remember visiting a direct marketing shop once, and the CEO had his screensaver, had the message that says, "A terrible thing happens when you stop selling." And then the screen goes over, and it was dot-dot-dot, and finally it comes, "Nothing." And it's so true. A terrible thing happens when you cease being relevant. And the same issue is nothing. So, even almost worse is just this idea of just people to stop. Sales go down, and you're just not a value to people anymore. 

Polly Yakovich: And you might still have customers, but they might just be waiting. 

Steve Brock: Exactly, holding on till the next good thing comes along. Yeah, switching costs are great, I mean, but loyalty ... Yeah. You got to be prepared, because that's ... I mean, innovation is disruption. Someone's going to disrupt your little comfort. 

Polly Yakovich: You might not know the answer to this, but how would QuickBooks, or Evernote measure those of us who are still paying for their product, but are dissatisfied and just sitting on it? 

Steve Brock: Again, I would do it from a research stand. So, we talk about there's declarative data, and behavioral data. Declarative is traditional research of asking people, and what they say. But what people say and what they do aren't always the same. And then, behavioral data is when you act upon something. We can measure it from a direct response standpoint. They could do both. They could be giving offerings, and actually I've seen it with Evernote, they just added a calendaring function. And they invited, I think, probably everybody, who knows? But to the beta use and testing of that. They did a good thing on that. I didn't respond, because it wasn't relevant to me, because they didn't do ... That's behavioral. They didn't do the declarative, they didn't come out and ask people. 

And you see it all the time. That's the other problem with it, and I'll be honest, it's hard, is how many times do you get emails for take this survey, right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: And we just become survey fatigued, and we don't do it. So, you almost have to incentivize people. Or connect to them and say, "Come clean." Because I've seen interviews with Evernote where it's like, "Yeah, we heard some of those things, but our developers have these new great ideas." It's like, no, come clean to simply say, "We understand we're not hitting it." And be transparent. 

Polly Yakovich: Well, and the truth is for something like Evernote, or QuickBooks, that you and I with different businesses, or whatever, have used deeply for years, if they did send me a survey I actually would take it because I have years of notes in Evernote that are a hassle to change over. But I'd be happy to tell them that they're frustrating me. 

Steve Brock: If. 

Polly Yakovich: If they ask. 

Steve Brock: Here's the biggest issues. No, two things. If they ask, right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: That's the first half. And if they then acknowledge that they heard that. That probably is bigger than anything else is it's ... I mean, everything comes down to being are you going to be organizational centric, or are you going to be audience centric? And if you're audience centric, you send out the survey request, you get feedback, then you respond to that. You don't just ignore them from that point. 

Polly Yakovich: It's so easy with big companies to slip into being organization centric. 

Steve Brock: Oh, absolutely. 

Polly Yakovich: They want to make your people happy, and developers want to do these features, and this and that. It's really hard to-

Steve Brock: Because you have to go out and ask people, and that's a pain. But I just remember-

Polly Yakovich: More importantly, if you ask them you need to do something about it. 

Steve Brock: Right, right. And tell them, and show them that you're [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: Or be willing to change. 

Steve Brock: Yep. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: I remember when we were doing website designs all the time, and we would do a web strategy, and we'd do the information architecture piece. We would have the organization site map, we would take it on thin paper, and put it over their org chart. 

Polly Yakovich: Oh, wow. Gosh, that's a good-

Steve Brock: Yeah. And you could look, you could hold it up to the light and you could see how much they lined up. And we had a term for that when they lined up that way. We called it the kiss of death. 

Polly Yakovich: Wow. 

Steve Brock: Because what it means is you've organized your public facing web presence according to your organizational structure, not according to your audience's needs. And when you do that, yeah, you've got a real problem, because people really don't care about how you're structured. They care about what can you do for them. 

Polly Yakovich: I mean, they don't care that much about you at all, they only care about themselves, and how you benefit them, and what they need. I mean, that's the hard part about organizations, I think, as well. 

Steve Brock: And that's one of the key things on the branding front, one of the things we do is, you call it value proposition, but it's basically what are the functional benefits, what are the emotional benefits, and even this term self expressive benefits. And so, self expressive benefits is a really good one that most people don't think about, which is, they're just down the street from here so we'll pick on REI. If I shop at REI, I actually perceive myself as a more adventurous person. Same thing with a Red Bull has a lot of that too. Nike, it changes your own self perception. So, and the emotional benefits, we always focus on what is, what we call, the fancy term, highest order emotional benefit. All that means is if you could have one emotion you wanted your customers to feel, what would that be? 

And most organizations don't think in terms of emotions. But most of us, as human beings do. What's that old line about I don't remember what you say, I remember how you made me feel. That applies to companies as well. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, absolutely. So, what's the hardest part about brand building, and brand maintenance? 

Steve Brock: Consistency. I would say that you could have a mediocre brand strategy, but if you carried it out consistently over the three years, and it's usually around three years, that's more in the non-profit world, I would say it's at least a year and a half to two years in the corporate world. It really comes down to how many touchpoints you have. So, in a B2B space, you may actually have multiple touchpoints with your customer. So, they will experience that new brand sooner than it will if you're only getting some sort of newsletter periodically. So, the point is you need to be consistent at every single touchpoint along the way, because that's what builds the brand. If you're not, and most organizations are not, because what happens is ... Sorry, when I say not, they are not consistent.

So, what happens is that they then will shift their messaging, and their core message, six, nine months after they've done a rebrand, and then you have to start that clock all over again. You never get traction. That's the thing is you're really looking for, whether you're for profit, or a non-profit, not-for-profit, you're looking for this concept of momentum. And you won't get momentum, you won't get that traction unless you have a consistent message, and a consistent way of living out that message over time. 

Polly Yakovich: Well, and even without a new brand relaunch, or if you're refining things, how do you see companies ... I agree with you completely. So, over time how do you see companies maintain that consistency? How is that possible? How are you structured in order to make sure that doesn't slowly fall off the rails? 

Steve Brock: A couple ways. Number one, and the most important, is great brands start internally. If you don't have everyone, and I mean everyone, on board with the brand and they are well trained, and even motivated to understand it and apply it to their jobs, it's not going to succeed. 

Polly Yakovich: And well trained means talked about all the time. Not like once a year, not like you came on and we trained you on this. 

Steve Brock: Right. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: So, we talk about this idea of the essence of the brand. And the essence in corporate world, some examples, like Disney's essence is magic. Or Nike's essence is optimal athletic performance. Or Starbucks is actually community. Like one cup of coffee at a time, that type of thing. Or one of my favorites is Harley Davidson. Their essence is freedom. So, you could almost like, "Well, freedom I get from a consumer standpoint, but how do you apply that internally?" And one process we do is start saying, "Okay, what does freedom mean to you, Mr. Operations Manager? What does it mean to you, the person who's polishing the chrome on the tailpipes? What does it mean to you, who is in charge of accounts payable?" If you don't get it to a point where they can apply the brand to their own specific job, it is just another marketing concept, and it doesn't matter to them. 

But when they do, then you start getting, again, momentum. You get this traction, because it starts internally, and people can start to think in those terms. Once you get that, it's a matter of challenging them. It's like all of us, it's like going to the gym. What are you doing when you're going to the gym? You're actually breaking down the muscles, and building them back up again. Same thing in an organization. You don't just launch this thing out there, and say, "Hey. Well, we got a new brand." You constantly challenge [crosstalk]

Polly Yakovich: Read the manual. 

Steve Brock: Yeah, read the manual, here's your style guide. But you want to keep bringing up new challenges, how do we apply the brand here, and here, and here, for every single decision that you make? And this is new product lines, this is new expansion, this may be mergers and acquisitions. All of it becomes one of okay, how does the brand guide this? How do we make it work for them? You're learning by doing, and you're learning by applying it. And that's the problem most organizations don't do, they just let it go. They don't keep using it. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. So then, do you suggest for most organizations, obviously depending on the size, that there are always people whose jobs it is? I mean, does that line the marketing department? Just like tactically, what does it look like, do you think? 

Steve Brock: It could, depending on the size of the organization. You do want a person. In the best case scenarios, it's like a full-time person, it's like your brand manager. In realistically, if you're an organization of less than 20 people, for example, or even less than 50, you may not have the luxury of making that a full-time position. It could be like your marketing manager, communications person. I've seen it in organizations where it really is just one of the folks in the C-suite that just has a passion for that, that takes it on. And what they then do is they build a team of others who is part-time for them, but that brand leadership team becomes the ones who manage it, monitor it, over time. 

Polly Yakovich: Brand ambassadors. 

Steve Brock: Well, and that takes it even further, because the brand ambassadors become a team that are ... You have a brand leadership team. Let's take a optimal scenario. Let's say you have a 100 person company. You have a brand manager, that brand manager has a team of four or five people, including representation from your executive team, that is this brand leadership team. They make the decision for the brand, anything new coming up, and they report back and keep it in front of your C-suite. In addition, you have people, what we call the brand ambassadors, brand champions, whatever you want to call them, that are located throughout the different departments. They're people that have just an interest in it. And I guarantee you there is someone at some level of the organization, and the good thing is these people tend to be the informal influencers. So, a lot of them are going to be admin people, the person that everyone goes to when they need something. 

And these people, they understand enough of the brand to be able to say, it's like, "Oh, you're doing that new slide, or the new PowerPoint, and you may want to try these images. These are more on brand." Or they kind of review things where people say, "How did we describe ourselves for this audience?" Whatever. They can be your first stop, and if they can't answer it, they report it back up the brand leadership team. But I mean, it takes [inaudible] 30 minutes, at most a week or something of their time, to do that. But by having them embedded there throughout the organization, they're excited about, and they're going to be actively looking for ways to keep the brand going as well. So, dirty little secret about branding is done well, it's actually a changed management process. It's as much organizational development as it is marketing. So, that's to your point of where does it fit? It needs to be at the strategic level, but usually it does end up being in marketing.

But better have connections to HR operations, all these other areas. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, that's great. Steve just laid it out for you, so if you don't have this structure you might really want to consider it, because I think it's a great playbook. And that consistency point is just one that you see so much. Even if somebody has an amazing brand, and nobody knows what it is. 

Steve Brock: Well, the thing that we find is that there is two aspects of it that are overlooked. Number one is the idea that it's more than just the messaging, or the tagline, or the colors, or logo, or something like that. And then the second is that not only is it more, and covers more of the organization, but it has to be on the human level. And it has to go deep in that. And here's, I guess, a third point. It has to be simple enough. So, if we take it, we go through this lengthy branding process that has Edison's personality, promise, brand positioning, all these jargon-y garbage things that no one outside of branding knows what they mean. And then we translate that into a one-page set of questions, that you can ask anyone in the organization making decision on behalf of the organization, writing, or speaking on behalf of the organization. They just go through this set of questions.

I mentioned Harley Davidson freedom. How does this lead to freedom? For whom? That might be one of those questions. Does it represent this brand voice or this personality? You just go through those, and simplifying it that level, and then having these brand ambassadors, or champions. Those two factors alone are hardly ever done, and when they are, those are the most successful brands we've ever seen because they basically institutionalize your brand, and make it deeper than just the superficial aspects of it. 

Polly Yakovich: That's incredible. So, my last question that I ask everyone, that I am curious about what you'll say about yourself is, what is your superpower? 

Steve Brock: Well, I had a conversation with my in-laws a week or two ago, we were down in California visiting them. And my father-in-law said something about a conversation we were having. And I mentioned the fact that my epithet, my tombstone, is probably going to say is, "Here lies Steve Brock. He had a cocktail party knowledge of life." Which is I have all these-

Polly Yakovich: I love it. 

Steve Brock: ... esoteric facts you pick up, and have no helpful usage. But it's like yeah, I learned just the other day an Ermine, you know Ermine? Like a mink? It's like a-

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: It has a white coat? 

Polly Yakovich: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve Brock: That if you want to capture or contain one, all you have to do is put garbage, or filth, or dirt around it. And they will die before they dirty their coat. 

Polly Yakovich: Oh my gosh. 

Steve Brock: And stuff like that. Pretty interesting, right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: And I mean, absolutely useless. Right? 

Polly Yakovich: Well, and then you retain it. That's the most amazing part. 

Steve Brock: So, if I were to summarize the superpower, actually, there is a serious aspect to it, I would say it's synthesis. So, the fancy term in creativity it is-

Polly Yakovich: That is a very good [crosstalk]

Steve Brock: Yeah, it's common tutorial thinking, being able to say that that Ermine, little anecdote there that seems totally useless, at some point is going to make a great metaphor. Right? 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. 

Steve Brock: For something. I don't know yet. So, that's kind of it, bringing those disparate-

Polly Yakovich: We're all going to steal it.

Steve Brock: Yeah, there you go. 

Polly Yakovich: It's going to be the anecdote in all of our speeches coming up. 

Steve Brock: Yeah, yeah. Just like an Ermine, don't cross that garbage. 

Polly Yakovich: That's amazing. Thank you so much for your time. 

Steve Brock: Yeah. 

Polly Yakovich: Where can people find you, follow you, read from you, read about what you're doing? 

Steve Brock: All right. So, the most common workplace piece is Brand Wallop, W-A-L-L-O-P, as in Paul, dot com. There you get to find out about the company. Me, more likely you can find the other side of my work and writing at So, that's more about the intersection of travel and creativity, but it has a brand implications in it as well. 

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Because you are a lifelong traveler, and writer, and speak about traveling. And you can get a lot of good travel tips out of Steve. 

Steve Brock: Yeah. And so, the thing we're working on right now is a second book. The first book came out this year, a couple months ago, called Hidden Travel. 

Polly Yakovich: There's a link to it in the show notes, so you can-

Steve Brock: Okay, yeah. So, Hidden Travel came out, and it's about just ... It's literally applying these ideas, like how you create these defining moments, and these magic moments, on a trip for others, and where to go. Because we all have those moments when you travel, and this is a great thing from a brand standpoint too, is you want to create those moments that you'll never forget. But how do you do that? Especially on a trip. And then how do you learn from that? So, the next book is Hidden Travel for Creatives, and it's more about innovation, and creativity, and the lessons you learn from travel on that. But I think the brand implication there is concepts like distance, and movement. We talked about momentum. All these things that you can learn from place and space, and how you apply them to your life, or in this case to your brand. 

Polly Yakovich: Amazing. Always, always, always inspiring to chat with you. Thank you again. We'll link to all of that in the show notes so you don't have to memorize and write it all down. Thank you. 

Steve Brock: You're welcome. Thank you. 

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating, and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. 


Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich



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