Building Your Brand – Q&A with Toby Black – Pluvo


Build Your Brand Lunch ‘n’ Learn session with Toby Black, Owner and Creative Director at Pluvo was organised by Cohort on the 14th of May 2020. The event was facilated by our Program Manager, Dren Xerxa, where we discussed how businesses can build a brand that has a story and design values that are crucial for the success of any business.

The following Q&A is from this session:

1. What is Branding to you? 

Branding is actually a misleading word, a common mis-conception that creates confusion right at the beginning of a brand’s journey and causes the focus to be misdirected towards some of the elements that make up only a small part of what is your “brand”. When you think in terms of “brand” you open yourself up to the real meaning behind it and everything it encapsulates.

A brand to me is the holistic presence of a brand the moulds our perception – all of the characteristics that make it unique. It is represented through every touch-point a customer has, from the conversation with a customer service team member to the packaging of the box, website, marketing – most importantly it is he feeling or perception that is left in the minds of the audience. That is brand.

The best brands are about building relationships over time, not about a one time sale. In order to do that you need to create a brand story that is unique, strong and that resonates with the audience over time. Even if you’re a startup who is developing an app, you must consider how you are perceived by the millions of people around the world who are not your customers as well as those that could potentially be. Your position amongst the other apps in their minds perception is vital. Consider potential customers and also people who might refer customers – they are actually the most valuable, so you want them to be inspired to talk about you and spread the love (free marketing).

It is important to define what is at the core of a brand, looking at the mission and vision for the future, company values and personality. These need to be carefully defined and crafted to reflect the offerings but also appeal to the audience in a way that is unique to the brand. If you ignore these fundamentals, when creating a brand you won’t have the right understanding of who you are and why you do it, which will mean you create meaningless graphics and messaging that have little substance and won’t resonate with your audience.

A lot of smaller companies we work with have done a lot of the ground work here and have a good idea of who they are and what they do, they just don’t know how to present themselves to their audience. So that’s where creating a strong brand comes in. A strong brand helps you establish a unique position in the industry and frames the audiences perception in ways that they will eventually love – creating brand loyalty.

People are constantly looking for connection – a connection with brand is no different, they want to believe in you and be your supporters.

This classic TED talk helps frame this feeling of a focus on the “why” – why you do what you do rather than what or how you do it. Framing your focus around the why allows you to define your brand in a way that has emotive value that is super powerful in connecting:

Take a look: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

2. Why do we need to invest in branding? 

Well, if we rephrase that statement to “why do we need to invest in brand?” it becomes a bit clearer that your brand is more than your product or service, it is the perception of others about your offering. If your product is amazing and does some wonderful things, but it doesn’t resonate with your audience or the customer experience is let down somewhere along the way – you will not see optimal success. That is just reality.

Just look at the constant evolution between apple and Microsoft. When apple shifted their promotional endeavours to centre around brand – selling the “why” rather than the what, they focused on a refined customer experience that spanned from the messaging about think different to the product unboxing experience and most prominently the individual’s experience in using the mobile device. Every part of this customer experience, every time your finger touches the iPhone or it opens via face recognition is all a huge part of their brand. Once apple was onto that, they gained loads of traction and became a huge market leader.

Now, many years on you can also see this focus on the Microsoft side, although they are a little more subtle and less cocky about it. Which to me is also because that is part of their brand too.

3. Do we need a brand strategy? 

Absolutely. Developing a Brand Strategy means digging deep to discover and document the fundamentals that make your brand work. These can then be used to create a visual brand that will actually resinate, connect and inspire. Often at the start, entrepreneurs will gloss over this step and skip straight to the design aspects (lets just go straight to up-work). It may work in the beginning but if the strategy isn’t correct, the brand will eventually fall over because it was not crafted to resonate using the right knowledge. We see this a lot.

4. How do we build and position a brand? 

You need to really define your brand, the competition and also your audience.

We like to start with a simple questionnaire that frames this activity and puts the answers from key stakeholders down on paper. Putting it all down on paper is essential, if you don’t have your brand fundamentals down on paper somewhere, they don’t really exist. Everyone in your company should understand what defines your brand, so that they can actually understand how to use it. Kind of like a user manual for a very expensive vehicle.

Some of the key elements you should investigate as part of the positioning strategy are:

– Define the Who, What & most importantly the Why:

– Define your Competitors

– Define your audience avatars and audience groups

– Define your company values – not just in single world but what does each stand mean – why is it important)

– Choose some key industry benchmark brands (analyse what works and what doesn’t)

– Write down some actionable recommendations based on your learnings

– Define a go to market strategy – How will you reach your audience?

– Make sure it is in a document you can share.

Then you should apply this knowledge and develop your brand identity (creative). By understanding your position, you are now able to check and ensure the creative outcomes answer your recommendations and you can evaluate if the brand will resonate with your audience.

5. Tell us more about brand equity?

This term is used to describe the perceived worth of your brand in the eyes of the audience. If you put a lot of work and money into positioning your brand and your audience perceives it to be of high quality and there is a high level of customer loyalty – then you have a high level of brand equity. If you put two businesses side by side that sell almost exactly the same product but one costs a little more for some reason, and the customers are willing to pay that bit extract, simply because of their perception of that brand. Essentially then, brand equity can be seen as the factor that enables the ability to charge a little more because the perceived value is higher.

6. Do we need to develop a story? How do we do that?

Yes of course, People always love a good story as long as it is not just waffle.

Your brand story is important for customers to know who you are and why you do what you do. It will help customers start a relationship with your brand and help them understand what makes you tick and why they should love you.

It could be based around the hand crafting of furniture over hundreds of years, or about two kids in a garage who came up with an exiting idea to change the world. So even if there is no history, you can start simple and build your story over time, evolving it with your journey. As long as is in line with your strategy, is unique and is inline with reality, you will get results.

7. What about personal branding?

Personal branding takes on the same framework Brand is about helping people to understand who you are and helping them to connect with you. If you take the same approach personally, you can make small changes to help refine your personal brand. In the same way, you need to start with knowing yourself, what’s the why, how and what, and also thinking about who you are talking to.

One important factor is to be transparent and honest – people hat a phony. You can still make adjustments but the more genuine you are in the refinement of your personal brand, the stronger the impact will be.

It can help to look at some celebrities who you admire.

What are the core reasons why you love them?

Here are some that come to mind for me:

Paul Kelly is artistic, grounded, genuine, no bull-shit Australian and humanitarian

Johnny Depp is “artistic, quirky and eccentric”

George Clooney is “slick, charming and witty (old school charm)”

Rose Burn is “Down to earth, traditional, Authentically Australian”

Scarlett Johansson is “Slick, Sassy, Sensial and confident”

In the celebrities case, these are some of the fundamental personality traits of their brand. The defining elements of how they want to be perceived in the media. Personally they may also be quite opposite but in their crafted public perception, these are the traits that win them work in roles that will fit and gain the love and devotion of followers.

7. Do we need to have a unique selling proposition – USP? 

Yes, it is the best way to get cut-through amongst competitors. The more obvious the USP – the easier it is for the audience to understand why they would want to engage with and be loyal to the brand.

8. How do we present that uniqueness?

It will come through if it is crafted from a brand strategy. During that early process, you should be able to see if your USP is weak, because you know your competitors and also know your audience.

The weaker your UPS, the more you have to invest in being creative to establish a strong position.

9. What is an example of a good brand at the Gold Coast and why? Small company/startup example.

Balter is one of my favourite examples. Well it is not a start-up or small company now but it was.

They have a well refined brand which resonates really well. Their brand equity is huge as a result. Considering that they sell a 4 pack of beer for over $20 when you can get a 6 pack for less from some of the more establish breweries.

The reason for this is they entered the market at a time that craft breweries were exploding overseas and the quickly developed a brand which was focused around a formula of personality and celebrity endorsement that was unbeatable in the industry.

The brand experience is charming and refined – right down to the use of a minimal colour pallet and the subtle elements of tongue in check personality that come through all the way through the customer experience. From the very moment a person cracks open a coldy – they are presented with a simple smily face reminding you that beer is for enjoyment, to the laughable aussie character that shines through in all of their marketing.

They have cracked the code and I have to say, I am a loyal customer who really loves the brand. Even now, knowing that they have sold the business to CUB, I will still go there.

8. Does it require a big budget to establish brand recognition? How to bootstrap your brand?

No, but that is all a question of scale. You will always need to spend money on something, otherwise you will be stuck doing everything yourself and when that happens, specialist tasks are not done correctly and the business struggles in other areas because the owners are exhausted.

It doesn’t really matter what your initial budget is, as long as you take the right steps to define who you are. If you are a start-up or an entrepreneur, you should define what areas you really need help with and only get help on those. We often get customers who come to us for help with a rebrand after they have been running for a few years on a brand they created themselves. A lot of the time these brands are horrible, but I always tell them that it is a good thing, because they have tested out the offering and have a better understanding of their market and position.

Sometimes this is the only way to build up the knowledge and also the budget to be able to outsource. Often start-ups need a to launch fast so its necessity.

Remembering that a brand is like a person, it evolves over time and adapts to what’s happening out there. All brands do it, so if the budget is not there in the beginning to get any help, you have to do it yourself, don’t let it stop you. If it is a good offering, there will come a time when you can outsource, refine what you know and rebrand with an even stronger position – that’s a really exciting time!

9. What is your best experience with a brand that you have worked for with a client? 

We love every experience because they are so varied. One of my favourite brands we have developed more recently was Burling Brown Architects. Our clients really enjoyed the process and the education they received by going through the process with us – they got a lot out of the journey, both personally and also from a business perspective. In that case we were working with key stakeholders that spanned two generations of a firm with over 45 years experience so it was amazing to see how different parts of the process resinated with the older generation versus the younger generation. It was empowering to see that a sense of unity and motivation across the entire team to move forward together, was actually a by-product of doing a re-brand.

For me, that encapsulates the value of brand. Brand is about embracing the positive and crafting a powerful perception for all involved. This process can have an impact that is felt internally and also externally and when done well, will always leave a long lasting impression.

10. What are the steps that a small business can do to establish a brand presence with reasonable budgets?  

If budget is tight:

– Do the hard yards and define what you can yourself – dig deep and make sure its all true – then document it, share it and be accountable and stand true to your findings. The more you know about your brand, the easier it will be for others to help you.

– Investigate what government grants may be available

– Define tasks that can be done internally or what needs to be outsourced

– Put together a ballpark Brand development and rollout budget (even if it is very tight)

– If you need help defining the fundamentals (get a brand or marketing person to help – find a student)

– Talk to family and friends to see who can do particular elements

– Contact the universities to find graduates who might be a good fit

– Outsource items on a per job basis to people on job sites like Upwork (just be aware that this can often be very messy and time consuming)


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