E36: Brand Distillery Part 3 - Designing Your Brand Perceptions

Brand can be defined as "the gut-reaction others have about you". So, what's the gut reaction you intend others to have? Garrett and Michael will talk about how to design brand perceptions, and be properly positioned in the mind of the customer.

Michael Reynolds Hey, everyone, and welcome back to Part 3 of Brand Distillery. Our podcast series has a five-part series on working through the Brand Distillery workshop that we do live. Again, the experiment here is that we're doing it as a podcast, and so far, so good. We've gotten good feedback. I turned to Garrett and said that right as he took a big drink so...

Garrett Curry Sorry. I wanted to respond and I --

MR [Laughs] He's hydrating before Part 3 here. We're in the -- halfway through here. So today is Part 3. Part 1, we talked about escaping the jargon of the financial industry. Part 2, we talked about appealing to the story of the customer and talked a little bit Star Wars, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz, which was a good time.

GC Yeah. I think Lord of the Rings may have been in there.

MR I think it was. By the way, Allison is not with us today; she is out. She is actually working on a show. For those who know Allison, know she leads a double life working the -- she is the stage manager for our local theatre here in Indianapolis. She's working on The Cat in the Hat production doing stage management for that. So Allison is a lover and a volunteer of the arts. We wish her well as she runs the stage today; so it's just me and Garrett and, of course, Nathan running the board. Thanks, Nathan. Appreciate that. Part 3 we're talking today about designing your brand perceptions. Garrett tells me there is no homework today; so you're off the hook on homework, but we have a great message to work through today. Where are we starting, Garrett?

GC Well, actually, there's a really good reason why we are not going to have homework today or, to be honest with you, if you download the notes for this on our website, you'll also find that there's not a section devoted to this, which is a good thing. Here's why that's a good thing. Jumping in to what we call brand perceptions is actually part of our actual brand engagements with clients. This is something, actually, far and above and beyond just our workshop; so this is kind of a treat, I think, for those that want to peek behind the curtain on the kind of process we actually take clients through. So let's talk about brand perceptions a little bit. I think at the very beginning of this series, I believe I defined brand, as far as how I understand it, as --

MR Brand is just your logo, right?

GC Right, it's just your logo.

MR That's all it is.

GC Well, actually, no. You're wrong. It's actually your coffee mug --

MR Oh, right.

GC -- with the logo on it.

MR That's your brand. Got it.

GC And a t-shirt.

MR Got it.

GC No. A logo and things like that -- things you interact with visually, those are the outward facing expressions of brand. But those things are actually born from somewhere much deeper, especially with words and values, the kind of language that you really want to speak to people, that's where those things are really born out of. So it's very systemic. When we talk about brand perception, what we're talking about is that gut reaction. That's what we're going to -- so I kind of use those interchangeably. So when I say "brand perception," I mean how people in their gut are responding to you. What that means is it's beyond their control; that's their natural response to you. Here is an example. Michael, do you shake people's hands pretty often?

MR I do.

GC Or are you a weirdo germaphobe?

MR No, I'm pretty -- I shake hands on a regular basis.

GC Okay. Can you characterize -- I'm quizzing you. We didn't talk about this before. Can you characterize a couple different kinds of handshakes you encounter with people that might be different from one another?

MR Oh, sure. There's the -- I think I saw this on a chart somewhere in a meme, actually. There's the super strong handshake like the guy that's trying to prove he's so strong, and he's like I've got a firm handshake. And then you've got the other end of the spectrum, the wet fish, the, oh, really, really weak handshake.

GC Right.

MR And then in the middle you've got people that linger too long or maybe they let go too quickly and it's awkward, and then there's the perfect handshake when you're both in sync, you shake the right amount of times, you let go in sync, and it's all just perfect. That's a little more rare, but we do strive for the perfect handshake, I think.

GC That's good. Okay. So -- I, by the way, little fun fact about me, I actually took a course --

MR In handshaking?

GC -- well, handshaking came up. So apparently, a really good handshake -- the perfect handshake, as you mention there, is more of a medium grip, three bounces --

MR Yeah, three is the number.

GC -- okay, the three-bounce. So it's the three-bounce. So when you're not doing that -- and you don't notice it. When you do a handshake like that, no one notices it. But then when you do a handshake wrong, everyone notices it. Wow, that guy really squeezed hard --

MR That's true.

GC -- he's trying to prove something. Basically, the message is I could kill you if I wanted to. The cold fish -- yeah, the limp handshake is kind of weird. I mean, there's just -- okay. Through a handshake, brand perception is on fire at that point. Based upon that contact, there's a gut reaction that happens in all of us.

Let's have some fun with this a little bit. If someone is squeezing your hand really hard trying -- as if they're trying to prove something, what's your gut reaction about that person? And they could be wrong. They could be totally wrong about that person, their intent or whatever -- what's your gut reaction to that?

MR My gut reaction would be they're full of themselves. They're trying to show off.

GC Okay. All right. Maybe another one would be a need -- they have the need to show that they are superior --

MR Yeah. A power grab kind of thing.

GC Kind of a power grab. But here's another perception that comes out of that as well: insensitivity.

MR Oh, yeah.

GC Now, if you were to reach out and, let's say, shake the hand of someone over 70, and you did that kind of grip, you'd probably just put them in pain because of arthritis; so there's an insensitivity to that and people really feel that. That's a great example. Let's talk about the limp fish. This one -- there's a lot of things packed into that [laughs]. Let's talk about the limp handshake. When you encountered that, what is your impression of that person?

MR They have no self-confidence.

GC Oh, okay. No self-confidence. Okay. That's good. I would also say they have social ignorance as well. They ought to know.

MR Well I'm a high D personality on the DiSC profile; so I'm really judge-y sometimes. [laughs] So I'm like firm up your handshake --

GC The only --

MR -- be strong!

GC -- the only people you should be correcting handshakes with are boys under 12. You should definitely take that opportunity. You're going to save them a lot of grief and poor brand perception in their life. [laughs]

MR Right.

GC So that's a great example, I think, of brand perception and anyone can relate with that. When they interact -- when anyone interacts with you in such a way through a handshake, you're going to have a gut reaction to them; so it's a very, very real thing. So let's talk about branding for a moment. What I mean by that is actually designing the gut reaction people have about you. We actually have power, we have influence, we have the ingenuity to actually shift how people respond to us. In the case of handshakes, I suggest taking the course I took in college with the three-bounce.

MR Handshaking 101?

GC Right. Exactly. So by changing the handshake, you're changing people's perceptions. So it's the same in branding and messaging and in design and go on and on and on. There are so many points of engagement that, I think, banks and credit unions are going to have with their customer. Good or bad, people are going to have a gut reaction to that. What we do in trying to tackle brand perceptions, especially negative ones or unclear ones, is we actually try to take people through a process of identifying 10 specific perceptions they want their customer or member to have about them. So we narrow it down to 10 because -- I like having 30 at first and then narrowing it down to what matters. We take clients through that process. It's words, concepts or even metaphors that end up serving as the 10 things that equate to your brand perception. Essentially, what do you want people to associate in their minds when they hear the name of your institution? That's a really good question to ask your team. It's a really good question to ask yourself.

In our experience, when we take people through this process, here is normally the first response we hear from clients: We want them to know we're different. That's always the first thing. Now, that's a surface-y kind of answer there. Remember, we talked last week about the different challenges people have? There's external challenges, then there's the internal challenge. When people say, "We want them to think we're different," that's not what they mean. They want people to think they're better. Because who cares if you're different; you want to focus on what makes you better. We really encourage our clients to try to determine what is it that's going to make your bank better than your competitors. What's going to make your credit union far superior among those, maybe, down the street? And that's a really good question. It takes some soul-searching because, surprisingly, a lot of businesses really aren't sure what makes them better. I'm not quite certain why they struggle with that, but they simply do.

There is a formula for brand perceptions. Michael and I play back and forth. I kind of knock marketing sometimes because mark- --

MR Well marketers ruin everything, to be fair.

GC They can. They can. Marketing -- oh, man. It just takes so many forms and some of those forms are kind of slimy and some of those forms are just amazing. I tend to be cautious when it comes to painting perception. I really like to tell the truth. I really like to research a bank or credit union and excavate what is true and valuable about them. And as a brand strategist, I try to bring poetic justice to that. So being true is very, very important or all you're going to do is disappoint people and that's the last thing you want to do. Here's the formula for brand perception -- what you want people to associate with your bank or credit union. The first -- it's one part what people are looking for, and it's one part what you can actually deliver. Put those two things together and you probably have a key brand perception you want people to have. Does that make sense, Michael, to you?

MR It does. It does.

GC It's a simple -- it's actually a very, very simple equation. Take one of those out equals disaster. If you just want to talk about or try to appeal to what people are looking for in your brand perceptions but you can't deliver on it, that's absolute failure. But then, let's say you just want to put out there what you can deliver on, but it's irrelevant to those you're trying to reach out after. Total disaster. You got to have both of those.

We have worked heavily with a credit union here in Indiana that is in a smaller town and I think we've alluded to them before. They're called Afena Federal Credit Union. Great group of people, really big hearts, and doing some really good work in that town. They're in the midst of a very saturated market within Marion, Indiana. We took them through a pretty hefty branding process that had a lot of research, lot of interviews -- we actually walked the streets and talked to people in the town of Marion about their thoughts on banking in that town. So we started tackling their brand perceptions, and here is what we discovered. I'm going to go over this list with you really quick and see what you think of it, Michael. Let me log back in here -- okay.

The first thing is this. We wanted to show what not only set them apart, but what we felt like made them superior to their competitors, but superior in a way that people in that town actually cared about. So here's an example. Lot of factories have come and gone from Marion. With that, a lot of financial goodness has come and gone from Marion. With that, a lot of institutions have left, including banks and other businesses. So the first perception we wanted to put out there was that they never left. No matter what happened in that town -- economic crisis, factories moving -- this credit union never left. We felt like that meant a lot to the people of that town. A second one, which I think is really related, is this idea of we are all in this together. They are the champion of that community. I think that's a huge brand perception. People want to feel like their bank is not for themselves, but for everyone in their proximity. Also, there's a lot of people that struggle economically in that town and they need to overcome a lot of their challenges; so we focused on the word empowerment. That if you work with Afena, they're going to empower you to overcome your challenges. And, as we all know, credit unions, they're a special group of people. And when it comes to people making loan applications and making those sorts of requests -- where they might struggle on getting a yes to a loan due to a credit score or something like that, credit unions tend to approach things a little more holistically and Afena certainly does that. Another brand perception is working hard to say yes to your loan. Working really hard. And I think that's significant. And there's a bunch of other ones we came up with like there's local decision making; we want people to know that. The staff care with all their hearts; they're non-judgmental when it comes to your credit score; they consider your whole story; they're the light at the end of the tunnel; they're neighborly; they're local. Those are all brand perceptions that Afena felt not only made them different, but made them better and appeal to what people are actually looking for. That's a pretty hefty list on brand perception. And that's a unique -- I think that's a unique set of brand perceptions that fits Afena. And that's what's wonderful about working with an organization like ours -- a studio like ours is that we can mine that out of institutions. So what are some -- I'm curious, Michael, just as a marketing expert, what are some other brand perceptions that you feel like have been really powerful for banks as more and more introduce themselves to the community strategically --

MR Powerful in a good way, or bad examples?

GC That's a great -- I'll tell you what. If you have a bad example, let's hear that stuff first --

MR Well I think we touched on that in previous episodes -- the bad example I say is always they have the part of the equation which is what they can deliver, and they leave out the what people care about. And so they're always putting signs out saying our rates are whatever -- 4-point-whatever percent or this product or this service or car loans -- it's all about product, product, and they leave out the part of the equation about what people care about. We talked about that a bit last week, actually.

GC Yeah. And I'm merciful on that though, because hey, you know what? That's true, probably. And that's really important to them. I can't knock them for their enthusiasm, but I think, as a brand strategist, I knock them for their lack of empathy --

MR Yeah. Yeah.

GC -- in understanding what people are really wanting.

MR I'm actually not going to answer your question. I'm going to pose a different thought instead [laughs] --

GC [laughs] Go for it.

MR -- because it's our show and we can do what we want, right?

GC [laughs] You're in charge.

MR What I was thinking, as you were describing as you went through the points with Afena, is it struck me you don't have to have this "earth-shattering, sparkles and rainbows, and party" kind of thing where it's this massive campaign or this massive, differentiating thing. Some people think you have to have this big, powerful explosion of a brand --

GC Right.

MR -- and you don't. The most powerful brands sometimes are the ones that have quiet, firm strength, and especially related to competitors. What I noticed with Afena is Afena is not saying we're the biggest, baddest credit union in the world. They're not saying that. They're saying hey, we've been here all along. We've been a foundation in this community the whole time. We want to help you build an enduring legacy to contribute to the community as a whole. We want to help you. We want to say yes where others have said no, and we want to hear your story. In and of itself, those things don't sound like earth-shattering statements, but when you put it in the context of the whole story that we've built for Afena credit union, it makes me want to be a member. And I don't even -- I can't be a member; I don't live there. But I want to be in Afena. It makes me really excited about what they can do, especially when you stack them up against their competitors. When you look at other banks and credit unions, especially the community banks, the credit unions in the area, you're not seeing that type of messaging. You're seeing product and here's our website that's 10 years old, and here's our -- we don't have any videos or anything, and we're not really teaching financial literacy, and we're not really saying anything in particular; we're just saying product, product, product. And meanwhile, here's Afena saying yeah, we have product, but here's what we're talking about. We're talking about things that matter to you and we're saying it consistently, and we're saying it beautifully with visual -- stunning, visual creative to back it up, and we're saying it with consistent messaging and the people can deliver, and we really feel like the people can deliver. That's what really struck me is you don't have to have this world-changing message. You have to have a message that resonates with the people you want to help.

GC That's excellent. Very well said. I think credit unions are -- they are very different from banks, and I think they all have their own advantages over one another. I think in the case of credit unions, honestly, they're in a position to really bring people to tears almost and to create that "tingling up the spine" and for there to be a pitter-patter of pride when they advocate for a community or they advocate for a certain demographic. That's a big, big deal. And if they can speak the language of that demographic, people will really respond to that. And hopefully, they're responding to something -- genuinely responding to it -- and they're responding to something that's genuine coming from that credit union.

MR Here's the thing. There's no reason a community bank can't have the same message.

GC I agree.

MR Now, if you're Chase, a big mega-bank or national bank, customer service is not really what you lead with. It's not -- you're a number, basically. That's not what they lead with. But a credit union or community bank or a regional bank that has some local ties to the community and a geographic presence, they can really lead with this kind of message.

GC I think they potentially can, it's just not necessarily their first response, but I think they can be taught to do that, and I think they should be, especially in the community bank, as your stating there.

So here's where the rubber meets the road. This is hard work at first. It's a struggle because we limit it to 10, because people want to say yes to 30 things and we don't let them. We slap their hands and burn pieces of paper they've written down on Post-it notes and so forth. We want to narrow it down. They have to make choices. When we get through that whole process, we're left these 10 things. Here's where it gets very useful. Those 10 things end up serving as the standard by which you measure your ad copy and your marketing efforts -- the subject matter, the things you're talking about. They remind you of what you need to constantly reinforce in your marketing efforts. It's a checklist. So let's say you are going to produce a campaign. It could be a social campaign. You could be integrating it with direct mailers, whatever. Are you hitting these points in that campaign? You might be writing ad copy for a bunch of stuff you're going to do in some local papers. Are you hitting these points in that ad copy? You might be designing a set of billboards. Are you hitting these points in that ad copy? You might be trying to put updated content in your website. Are you hitting these points?

MR It's really your blueprint for all of your marketing efforts.

GC It is. If you're not hitting that, you're diluting your brand; you're off topic; you're out of your genius; you've left your middle lane. This is very, very critical.

We want to give you guys some examples of some of the billboard designs we've done for Afena. They're actually going to be going up, hopefully, soon. We worked really hard on these. We did not go to their brand messaging we composed for them. We worked really hard to do that, which lives in other places within their marketing efforts. We went straight to -- directly to brand perception and turned that into their billboard campaign copy. Here are the four statements that are blazed across giant billboards across Marion in the coming weeks. Here are the statements. Of course, their logo is big and prominent on the left side, but then you have these statements and they go as followed. One, "Empowering the people of Grant county to build an enduring legacy." That goes right back to the perceptions we're trying to produce. Second one, "Bad things happen to good people. We're always here to help." That's the second. The third, "We work hard to find a way to say 'yes' to your loan." And I think one of those billboards is located right across the street from one of their competitors.

MR Nice.

GC So when someone gets a no, when they walk out, they're going to look up at that billboard and go next door.

MR That's genius.

GC Yes. And the fourth one -- I like this one a lot -- "We lend to you, not your credit score. Come in and let us hear your story." I think that's brilliant if I don't say so myself. [laughs]

MR Well that's actually the way -- you're a little biased, slightly biased, but that's the way things used to be. Now, it's just a credit score, but it used to be that -- back in the day, you would look holistically at the whole person. You'd look at their financial history with lots of different elements, not just a number so...

GC In a small town, who do they know? Who can vouch for them? It gets real George Bailey at that point, which is awesome. I love that. Those are some really good examples. What we're going to do is we're going to post those billboards so you see those examples and what implementation execution actually looks like based on just thinking through some brand perceptions a bit. Where can they find that, Michael?

MR That is at capitalpointmarketing.com/afena.

GC How do you spell Afena?

MR I was about to say -- you're way ahead of me. A-F-E-N-A. So capitalpointmarketing.com/afena, spelled A-F-E-N-A.

GC All right. Hey, that's all I got, Michael. Anything else you want to bring up?

MR Sure. Yeah, it's a PDF download. It's got the four examples. So these are billboards, not bus? You said they're all --

GC That's a great -- yes. I'm sorry. I apologize. This is part of a greater campaign. These are actually the bus panels --

MR Okay. Because they're really long and thin --

GC -- they are long; so they look unusual. There's going to be a version of these on a series of billboards with actual portraits.

MR Okay. These look great, by the way.

GC Thank you.

MR Yeah. I would say, while there is no homework today, would it be useful for our listeners to draft or sketch out or work through some brand perceptions on their own?

GC Yeah. Try to do 10 things. If you can narrow it down to 10 gut reactions you want people to have, yeah, scribble those out. If you guys have that, we'd love to hear those so we can bring those up next week, perhaps.

MR Yeah. Or just work on it as you get some time back at your own locations and figure out what makes sense for your particular financial institution. So informal homework, I guess. All right. This is awesome. Like I said, the work that we've done here for Afena makes me want to go join them and get an account with them because they look different. And different also equals better. Different doesn't always equal better, like you said at the beginning of the show, but in this case different does seem better. I like that. All right. Anything you would add, or are we good to wrap there?

GC I think we're good to wrap there.

MR All right. Next week's episode --

GC I'm holding back.

MR Holding back? Yeah. Keep the good stuff till the last two. Next week's episode is Part 4 and this is where we will talk about crafting a great one-liner. This is where we start to distill, no pun intended, in to some of the practical outcomes of this exercise, right?

GC Yep. Absolutely.

MR All right. Wonderful. We will look forward to that. Garrett, as always, thank you, thank you, thank you. Great work here.

GC You bet.

MR I'm excited for all of our listeners who are following along, and we will see you next week.