[Podcast] Marty Neumeier on Mastering Brand Strategy

[Podcast] Marty Neumeier on Mastering Brand Strategy

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Join Marty Neumeier, Andy Starr, Jacob Cass & Matt Davies on the JUST Branding Podcast as we uncover the ideas, techniques, and principles that you need to become a brand master, starting at Marty’s famous definition of brand, the process of uncovering this definition, as well as Marty’s classic books Brand Gap, Zag & Brand Flip. We explore the future of branding in the C Suite, and what that means for designers, plus how we can use Metaskills and agile strategy to create better brands. This is an episode not to be missed!

 

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Show Transcript

Matt Davies:
Okay. Hello and welcome to JUST Branding. We are really excited to have on the show today, two absolute rockstars of branding. We’ve got Marty Neumeier and Andy Starr. Marty, if you’ve not come across him, where have you been? But basically he is a bestselling author and speaker often quoted. He’s currently the director of branding at Liquid Agency, and he’s got a rich and brilliant history working for numerous clients, including HP and Apple. And he’s written some of the best books, I would say, available to us from a brand strategy perspective, including The Brand Gap, Brand Flip, Zag, Scramble, and Metaskills. And he’s a little hero of mine. So we’re really excited to have Marty on.

Matt Davies:
Andy as well is an absolute legend. He’s a brand strategist with a wealth of past experience together, Andy and Marty have founded an organization called Level C, which is an organization whose aim is to get brand thinking right up there in the boardroom. So we’re super excited to have you both on, welcome to the show.

Marty Neumeier:
Thank you. Hi everybody.

Andy Starr:
Thank you too.

Matt Davies:
So I think we’ll start off as we always do with our podcast and really start off with this idea of definitions and Marty, we’ve already had some superstar brand strategists on the show already quoting your famous definition, but it would be great if you could give us your definition of brand, and perhaps also explain why you think that definition is really important.

Marty Neumeier:
Well, I like to keep things simple. So my definition is that a brand is a customer’s gut feeling about a company, product or service. That simple. But what’s important about that is that it puts the customer at the center of branding, right? It’s all about what a customer perceives. So otherwise what happens is companies just go ahead and start ticking boxes. We’ll do a logo, we’ll do an ad campaign, we’ll make a package, we’ll design a product, et cetera. And therefore we must be branding.

Marty Neumeier:
With this definition, it forces you to look at what you’re doing from a customer’s point of view. So essentially it’s not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is. So stop thinking about it as stories that you’re telling to the world and think about it as the stories that they’re receiving from you, because they may be different.

Marty Neumeier:
So that’s really crucial to think about it that way. And it also wipes out [inaudible 00:03:11] of branding as creating logos or just creating products and calling them brands. You hear people talk about this brand or that brand when they really just mean a product or a company. So brands are constructs, they’re the stories that customers tell themselves about you. And so what that does put people like designers in the driver’s seat. Who’s going to interpret these stories? Who’s going to be talking to these customers? It’s probably not going to be the chief finance officer, right? It’s going to be somebody who understands how to communicate. So it’s really important for everyone to understand that that’s our role as designers is to get in there and interpret the strategy of the company in ways that mean something to customers.

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Matt Davies:
I think that’s such a fantastic definition. As I say, we’ve had other people quote it. And I think it’s quite scary perhaps for business people to hear that because they almost to accept that definition have to relinquish a little bit of control, don’t they?

Marty Neumeier:
They do.

Matt Davies:
And realize that the customer owns the brand in a way.

Marty Neumeier:
The customer owns the brand, and if you’re doing it right, the customer in some sense is running the company and if the customer is not running the company, you’re probably not doing as well as you could be, and you really do need to put the customer at the center of the company.

Matt Davies:
Oh, Jacob, you’re on mute.

Jacob Cass:
Hi. Thanks Marty, thanks Matt. So thank you again for joining us. I love that definition. I also find myself using it quite often. But what we don’t know is how you actually came up with this idea. When did you define it? And what’s your story to defining brand and branding and what led you to making these books? So this is actually a question from one about listeners or members on JUST Creative from Prince Smart. So we’d love to hear your answer on that.

Marty Neumeier:
It was a long road for me to figure that out. I must have been, oh, I don’t know, probably 55 years old. Maybe when finally it dawned on me that I was thinking about it wrong and not just me, but all the people that I had learned from. When I started out, I was a graphic designer back in the early 70s, and I had my heroes like Milton Glaser and Paul Rand and people like that Pentagram and just wanted to do that and be successful doing that.

Marty Neumeier:
What I found along the way is that no matter how brilliant the work was in those few occasions when I could achieve brilliance, it didn’t necessarily do anything for the company unless it was positioned correctly within the company, and unless I actually knew what the company was trying to achieve. And most of us designers were not very curious about what the company was trying to achieve with our work. We just wanted the work. And so we would be competing with each other to see who could do the most brilliant work and win the most D&AD Awards and New York Art Directors Club Awards. And it was fun, but it was always frustrating when you found out that you did something brilliant and it didn’t really do anything for the company and you didn’t get called back or you didn’t get a pat on the back for that and you thought it was great. Typically, you just sort of shrug and go onto the next job, the next client.

Marty Neumeier:
But after a few decades of this, I started to really want to know more about it. And I started to realize that we had to become more strategic. So young designers in my generation were really enamored with the idea of having a “Concept”. Anybody who had a concept behind their work was revered and people who just did beautiful work that was beautiful on the surface of it was a decorator essentially. So people with concepts ruled.

Marty Neumeier:
It was only many years later that I realized a real concept, the concept that was effective had to be a business concept, it had to be rooted in business. And so I learned this when I decided to specialize in doing software packaging, those cardboard packages that you put software in and sell in a store back in those days. And the package had to do all the work. A lot of people had never heard of the company or the product before they saw it in a store, and that package had to do the whole job, right there, in competition with the other companies.

Marty Neumeier:
So to do that well means you have to be very succinct about what you say about these products. Very clear, because you’re talking about something pretty abstract, something new in those days. And I began asking companies, “What is the one reason why I would buy this product and not the one next to it?” And often they would go, “Well, it’s not one thing it’s these five features or something like that.” And I said, “Yeah, but that’s too many features. You can’t get someone’s attention and sell them with more than one feature. You have to have one thing.” It could be a bundle of features, but it has to add up to one compelling reason, which I started calling the why to buy message. What’s the why to buy message? And that took me straight into strategy. And what I found was that companies hadn’t thought that through.

Marty Neumeier:
And then, over the years I started thinking, well, if they don’t think that through there’s something missing in that company and why wouldn’t I take on that role too to help them think about their product as they’re designing it? In fact, why don’t we think about it together before they design it? Why don’t they come to me and say, “Hey, we got an idea for a product.” And then I could say, “Well, what’s the why to buy message? Why is it superior or different than the competition?” And this was all new to these clients. And so I was just amazed to find myself in this position of being a strategist when I was really just wanting to be a designer and do beautiful work. But I wanted-

Matt Davies:
Marty do you think-

Marty Neumeier:
Yes.

Matt Davies:
…this was something new to designers as well?

Marty Neumeier:
Yes.

Matt Davies:
Was strategy a thing back then or? How did you-

Marty Neumeier:
It was not even a word that a designer would use. Designers were interested in effectiveness, clarity, beauty in a sense. Although, they would never call it beauty because that would be death to their relationship with the client. But they talk about aesthetics and attention getting and those kinds of things, but it was never rooted in a business strategy. If we succeed with this, what’s that going to do for the business? Once you know that, you have a lot more leverage with the client. You have their respect for one thing because you’ll be talking about the things that matter to them, and you’ll be able to situate yourself into the structure of work in a more meaningful way.

Marty Neumeier:
So once I found that, I mean, it turned around to everything. My business just took off. I was able to charge more money for what I did with no change to the quality of the product. The quality of the product was good. It was the understanding of my work that was lacking. So I had to position myself, is the right word, in the client’s minds. I had to be something, it had to mean something to those clients. And so what I began to take on was the idea that if you’re selling software, you have to talk to me. You can’t not talk to me. Maybe you don’t use me, maybe I’m too expensive, but you have to talk to me because you’ll be missing a conversation with someone who actually is leading this field, right? Who’s got the newest information.

Marty Neumeier:
So once I had that, every client had to include me in the pitch. I had to be there. Often I didn’t have to pitch. I just had to explain what I did and say why it was worth the money that I was charging. And I would get the work. So that was a really good demonstration of that principle of positioning of differentiation for designer. And once I saw that there was no going back. I mean, I just wondered what we were all doing up to this point, because we’re all acting like we’re, I don’t know, lawyers or accountants or something where there’s no difference between us. We’re just doing the same kind of work everybody else does.

Marty Neumeier:
And if you think of yourself like that. I’m a designer who could do anything, I’m just a bundle of skills, you’re not going to be able to command the prices that you’re really worth. You really have to be an expert in something unique. And so that’s what I would recommend for all designers. And this will take you a few decades to get to that level that you want to be at, but you need to start moving in that direction and to do that really helps to have an understanding of brand strategy because you are a brand. So even if your work isn’t teaching companies about branding like mine is, you still need to know about branding for your own company or your own position within a company. You need to understand that because it’s going to make a huge difference in how you’re regarded.

Jacob Cass:
That’s brilliant. Matt and I are huge advocates for that as well. And we often say that we should be positioning ourselves as consultants and not order takers. So to summarize what you were saying, just there. And I run a coaching group and I noticed there’s a huge shift when you start talking about this to the students and position yourself as the consultant. It’s just a small shift, but it can really change how yo actually going about business. I think that’s brilliant, thank you.

Matt Davies:
I think it’s quite a brave thing to do though, isn’t it? Because in effect and I often find this when I talk to my clients about focusing and, differentiation because in effect you have to be brave because you have to say, “We don’t stand for that, we are standing this.” And that letting go of other stuff, people get quite afraid about. But weirdly it’s the opposite to that. As you say, Marty, often I find in my work, once you help somebody to narrow down and to find that difference, they can charge more, they can focus more, they can actually add huge value in that area. So it’s strange. Don’t you think it’s a bit counter intuitive traditionally [crosstalk 00:15:18].

Marty Neumeier:
That’s the word I was thinking. It’s counterintuitive. It seems like if you narrowed down the range of abilities you’re going to bring to your clients, you would get less work. But it’s actually the opposite. You got to put yourself in the mind of your customer, the client, it’s what they say it is, remember? And they’re just looking at you as, “What do you do that no one else can do? And is that the thing I want?” And if it is the thing they want, they’re willing to pay a lot more for that. It’s when they don’t have a sense of the hierarchy of who’s the best at this. They get cautious and they want to spend less money. So they start looking at the lowest price I could pay, so I protect myself against spending too much. But if on the other hand, they find out here’s somebody who knows so much about what they’re doing, that they can help me increase sales revenues, my reputation in business, and I will pay extra for that. If I feel confident that they can do it. So that’s where you put your effort.

Marty Neumeier:
Now, the question is, what is it that you’re going to choose to do? Where’s the white space out there for you to insert yourself? And how big does that white space need to be? Do I need to be absolutely the only person doing this or is it the only person in my neighborhood that’s doing it? Or is it just a shade of something I do just with a different style than somebody else. You really have to think about what is the difference you’re going to bring to your position?

Marty Neumeier:
My feeling is that way too many designers try to differentiate themselves on things that don’t matter very much to clients. So it could be their personality or their willingness to please the client or price, which is really a bad way to go about it. Or the look of their work, or the attitude they bring to it, or the process they bring to it. Process can be good, but usually it’s just much more straight forward than that. It’s like, “I am the expert of software packaging, there’s nobody that knows more about it or has done work for bigger, more important clients.” That’s something anybody can see it’s provable.

Marty Neumeier:
So when you say something that you can’t prove, that’s just a matter of opinion, you’re in a weak position. So you really need to be very structural, I guess, you’d say about what you choose to do. Yeah. So that’s what [inaudible 00:18:10].

Matt Davies:
So I’ve seen Andy nodding along there and realize we haven’t really come to you yet Andy. What do you think about all that? When was the first time you heard of Marty and what do you think about definition and ideas around differentiating?

Andy Starr:
Well, so the first thing I wanted to say was in response to the lesson Marty was just saying. And what I think is from a strategist’s perspective, because that’s my background. I’m not a designer. I can barely draw a stick figure without hurting myself, right? But what I think designers who don’t necessarily have a background or a grounding in strategy, what they do bring to the table, what they can be selling constantly is a tangible product. Design is tangible. There’s a tangibility, you can point to it, you can see it, you can hold it, in some cases you can touch it.

Andy Starr:
And as a brand strategist, I’ve always felt at a loss because I can’t design something. Can I design a deck? Sure. Can I design a document? Sure. But the idea of strategy versus design, now I want to be careful because one of the things that Marty and I have been working on mainly based on his career, and his work is a balance, a tension between the idea of strategy and design. But just looking at the two ideas from 80,000 feet, one is tangible, one is not. You can’t really hold strategy. I can’t hold it up and show it to you, right?

Andy Starr:
And so the idea of trying to sell an expertise and strategy is a little more challenging than being able to hold up a portfolio of work that I designed. I designed that, that concept was mine, the approach to the design was mine. So it’s a slightly different perspective. That being said, my background, the 32nd version is I’m a recovering finance guy who got into advertising. I’m now a recovering ad agency guy but the transition really happened when someone put a copy of The Brand Gap in my hand a little over 10 years ago. And I had never seen a book like it. I never really thought about brand, there it is. I never really thought about brand, I’d always just thought about marketing and advertising and communications.

Andy Starr:
And I read it, I started reading it the night it was put in my hand and I finished it by the next morning. I stayed up all night reading it. And I think like a lot of people who have read Marty’s books, I was one of many of them whose perspective and ability to not just see the world, but think about the world differently was changed. And I took that fresh perspective into this new landscape advertising. And for me it was new.

Andy Starr:
And it’s a much longer story, but a few years ago I had an idea with a startup that I was working with, and I saw an opportunity to reach out to someone like Marty, a master of what he does. And I had this idea that really was an early concept of Level C. And I really honestly didn’t expect him to respond. He responded right away. We had a 30 minute Skype scheduled to talk about it that turned into two hours. And his reception of the idea and his enthusiasm for it, just completely caught me off guard and we just ran with it. And I recognize how incredibly lucky I am, because I’m the guy who gets to work with him like this. But it’s been just thrilling so far.

Matt Davies:
So what was the idea, Marty? What was the idea that Andy came to you with that captured your imagination so enthusiastically?

Marty Neumeier:
Well, I’ve been getting a lot of calls over the last, I don’t know, 10 years, maybe, from companies that want to incorporate me into a group of online teachers to basically build their business out. So they’re looking for experts to populate their business with, as well as live teachers too. So I get these and I always think, well, there’s so many of these, why would I join one and not another? I can’t even sort through them. None of them look particularly brilliant. They all look like maybe they could make it, but how do I know?

Marty Neumeier:
I just got tired of that. And then Andy came to me with the hybrid version of that. And he said, “Look, my company has all these workspaces, sort of WeWork spaces and we can turn those into actual workshop events. We can use those with events. And so we have this opportunity to start building a stable of really good experts that give workshops, teach classes, and then we can turn those up into online experiences and other things too.” And I was nodding along. So, yeah, I’ve heard this before.

Marty Neumeier:
And then he said, “The other thing is that we’re thinking is we can get universities to offer these classes for credits.” And the light bulb went on and I thought that is brilliant because nobody else has even bothered to do that. And here you have all these universities that are desperate to differentiate themselves and offer a virtual learning experiences and this is packaging it up for them, it’s perfect. And so they would help pay the bills for all this stuff. And so based on that differentiator I said, “Let’s do the workshop together. I won’t even charge you for it. Just pay for my travel. I’m going to come back to Philly and I want to see how serious you are and I want to see exactly what you’re planning to make sure that this kind of thing would work. And then we can talk about how we’ll partner on this.” And so I did it, we did, what? Two or three days. Andy was it two days?

Andy Starr:
I think it was a three day. It was kind of a test the water just to see.

Marty Neumeier:
Yeah, it was super interesting, a lot of great ideas, but in the end it seemed like the ideas of the senior people in the company were diverging, they weren’t agreeing.

Andy Starr:
Unfocused.

Marty Neumeier:
They were nodding, but they weren’t agreeing on really what they were prepared to commit to. And Andy and I had a heart to heart and he agreed that it’s just sad that it’s not working. It looks like this is all for not. And then I don’t know it wasn’t very long after that we got together and said, “Let’s just do something like this ourselves in a different way. Let’s just do it our way. But the need is definitely there.”

Andy Starr:
Well, it was funny because it was a few months after we had that heart to heart. And I said to Marty, “Look, these guys, they’re just not focused. They mean well, they had a great idea, they have physical space, which is a key ingredient that we’re talking about, but I don’t see it working out and sorry.” And I was crushed. I mean, I went from Marty saying, “Hey, if you fly me out, I’ll hang out with you for three days and we’ll try this.”

Andy Starr:
Okay. We brought him out, I got to pick Marty Neumeier up from the airport. I had never met him before. For me, I was kind of professional geeking out. And then that led into, hey, we might actually be able to do something together that we both care about and we both believed could really make an impact to, sorry, it’s not going to work out. And a few months later we had been shooting emails back and forth at each other ideating. And it was a lot of me saying, “Hey, Marty if this, then do you think that?”

Andy Starr:
And we started skyping and I’m going to focus on this for a second because it still blows my mind. It was Marty saying, “Hey, lets Skype and talk this out.” And we would hop on in a 15 minute conversation, turned into these kind of epic three hour jams, right? And it was a few months later Marty said, “It’s really a shame those guys weren’t able to make this happen, but it’s such a great idea and I mean, why don’t we just try it ourselves?” And I was like, “Seriously? Really?” I didn’t believe him. And we went with it.

Andy Starr:
And it was a few months after that, after just these epic conversations in these jams. I found myself out west closer to California on a client project. And Marty said, “Well, why don’t you come to Santa Barbara?” We’ll hang out at his house, in his home studio and see what we can do in a few days. And I did, and we locked ourselves in his office and we basically followed the process that we teach in Level C. We literally took three days and we practiced what we preach and we landed on it. And I think it was the second or third day I said to Marty, “I wonder what would happen if we dangled this out in the ether and just teased the world, and say, “Marty Neumeier is trying this new thing. This is what it’s going to be. And what do you all think?” And within I said two days, we basically had our first 50 students. We had the sponsor of the first masterclass. And before we knew it, we were planning to go to London to launch this.

Andy Starr:
But we knew what we were doing in the sense of, we knew what we wanted it to be. It was very focused, it was very clear. And I was very lucky because Marty had been doing this for the last several years in his career, leading these workshops, different kinds of workshops. And that’s really how that first class happened. And it just blew up from there.

Marty Neumeier:
There was proof of concept for us that first one in London, and it was oversold. I mean, we filled it. And we didn’t really expect it.

Matt Davies:
Is that the one I joined Marty?

Marty Neumeier:
Yeah, that totally was. You were our guinea pig Matt.

Andy Starr:
You were a guinea pig.

Matt Davies:
Hey, I loved it. It was probably one of the best courses that I’ve ever been on from a brand perspective, not only for learning stuff, but in terms of getting your hands dirty, in terms of like actually playing with the tools, connecting with other strategists, having to hurdle egos and not that my team had a massive ego, but everybody has ideas, so you’ve got to kind of figure out how to navigate that. So it was just such a whirlwind couple of days in the [inaudible 00:30:58], and it was amazing. Jacob do you want to say something?

Jacob Cass:
Yeah. I was going to ask about, to bring this down to people listening. What are the skills that you’re teaching this class and what would you recommend for people to do that may not have access to this course at the moment?

Marty Neumeier:
Well, the last question is the easiest. If you don’t have access to the course, I’ve got eight books on branding. So I would just read those, it’s cheaper. I mean, get as much as you can from those books. A lot of people who have read those books just took one, two or three of those books and built whole businesses on those. Some businesses completely transformed themselves by just reading one of the books for example UPS, company UPS, read Zag, my second book, and renovated their whole company based on that one book without even talking to me.

Marty Neumeier:
I mean, you can get a lot from books, but there are some people can learn really well from books, other people would rather learn in person, doing things. So everyone has a different way of learning. But that’s where I would start. And a lot of people that do come to our classes have already read one or more of the books. Some have read them all more than once, which is great that they still want to come to the class. Because it means they are humble enough to think they can still learn more. And what they learn is a lot more nuance and how to take these skills and use them in a collaborative situation. I think that’s what our classes do that most other classes like this don’t do, is we’re all about getting people to work on teams.

Marty Neumeier:
Your individual skills really, really matter, but you need to fit those into a team situation if you want to work on significant projects, if you want to make a difference in the world. It’s not going to be some project that you do on your own. Unless you’re an author or, I don’t know what else. There’s very few professions where one person can do very much. So you really need to master that. And so this gives you a chance to do that. And if we did that with online classes, it just wouldn’t work as well. I mean, I think there’s a need for learning how to collaborate online, but it’s never going to get the results that you get from really working together and meeting people and breathing the same air as dangerous as that is today, but we’re committed to that.

Marty Neumeier:
So we really think that that’s the differentiator for our offering and the other differentiators that it’s all based on my series of books. And since I’ve got a lot of readers, that’s a pretty good start. I mean, we’ve got 25 million people out there that have read The Brand Gap. So it’s quite a big group of people to draw from.

Matt Davies:
So Marty just-

Jacob Cass:
Absolutely Andy?

Matt Davies:
Oh, sorry. So Marty just to touch on the different books and Level C, do you mind just telling the users a little bit about the levels and the offering of Level C and then maybe a bit about the books and just a brief background on each one.

Marty Neumeier:
I’ll start with the books and then I’ll turn it over to Andy for the levels, since we worked on that together. My first book was The Brand Gap and that was important because it redefined what a brand is, it gave the definition, but that was rather a disruptive definition in the beginning that the brand is really owned by customers and it set me in this direction that all the other books followed.

Marty Neumeier:
So I wrote that. And then people read that and they said, “This is really interesting. And I’m just having problems understanding this whole idea of differentiation. I just don’t see how being different is going to beat being better. Being better, seems like what everyone is trying to do. And you’re saying, don’t try that, don’t worry about that, be different. Be different first and better later.”

Marty Neumeier:
And so I wrote Zag, which is based on the concept, everyone zig zag. Just don’t do what everybody else does and I know this will resonate with a lot of designers out there because we’re all trying to be fresh and innovative and surprising in our work. This is just taking that concept and applying it to business. So how do we surprise everybody with what we have so that we’re not competing head to head with anybody. And so I wrote a whole book on that called Zag. And then people read that and they said, “This is really cool and we’re doing this in our company now because of your book, but we’re just running into all kinds of roadblocks within the company.”

Marty Neumeier:
And so then I wrote a book called The Designful Company, and it introduced the concept of design thinking for companies. It was the first book on that subject and it said, “Look, branding is very powerful, but you need to have a culture that embraces that whole concept of branding.” So just one book led to another, as people started to understand what they needed to do, there was always something more to learn. So I kept on going with those. So that’s the series of books. Most of them are called whiteboard books, they’re short, they’re simple. I mean, they’re something like 18,000 words, 20,000 words per book. And a typical business book is maybe 80,000 words. So it’s very compressed and it’s really illustrating.

Matt Davies:
That’s why I think designers love them. Yeah. Sorry. I was going to say that the other thing that you’ve just probably going to touch on was, they’re really well designed, surprising enough from you. And the conciseness of the ideas is great. I’m a visual person, I couldn’t, I could, and I have waded through the types of books you’re referring to in terms of business books, but I’d far rather, like Andy said, digest something that gets to the point that’s really exciting. And so they’re really great. Before we go on to Andy, but you have in recent years branched out a little bit, haven’t you? And Scramble is an interesting book and Metaskills. Do you want to touch on those briefly before we come back to [crosstalk 00:37:57].

Marty Neumeier:
Oh, yeah. I just have a copy right here. So I just got my deluxe version of the book here. It’s deluxe because it’s got French fold covers. It’s really nice, feels nice in your hand, which I’m selling through a company called porchlightbooks.com for people that want really nice versions of it. And you can get an ordinary version of it on Amazon.

Marty Neumeier:
So Metaskills is about the skills that we need for the workplace going forward. And which happen to be particularly useful in doing branding, and design. So the five skills are feeling, seeing, dreaming, making and learning. Those are five basic skills or metaskills that lead to other skills. And so if you’re good at those five metaskills, other skills become a lot easier to acquire so that the things you learn aren’t brittle, they don’t wear out after time, or they will wear out, but you’ll be able to replace them with new skills quickly because you have the master skills that lets you do that.

Marty Neumeier:
And so that’s something we don’t get taught in school. We don’t get taught these skills. No one’s ever taken a class called dreaming one-on-one, but they should. I mean, applied imagination is really important in a world where innovation counts. So there’s that one. That’s a different kind of book. It’s a deep one but I think if you’re a designer, it’s mother’s milk, you’ll be reading each paragraph going, “Yes, yes, yes.” Because it’s the kind of stuff we designers think about all the time, but maybe we don’t always apply it to our business offerings.

Marty Neumeier:
So there’s that, and then Scramble, as you mentioned before, let’s see. Scramble is not a whiteboard book. It looks like this. And it’s a thriller, it’s a business thriller, but it’s all about design and branding. So it’s a way of bringing the principles in my books to life in a real situation or fictitious situation. But it seems real because all the characters are people we all know. So no illustrations in that one, but it’s got a concept. So going back to what designers love is the concept. The concept is it’s a business thriller instead of a business textbook.

Marty Neumeier:
So I enjoy playing around with different ways of teaching. And everyone will have a different affinity for a different one. As for how we use these books at Level C, I think Andy is the best one to explain that because he’s been focused on this for the last two years.

Andy Starr:
Yeah. So broadly looking at the program that we built, it’s built on these five fundamental levels of mastery, okay? Across the spectrum of brand, right? So we start with fundamentals. The analogy I like to use is for those in your audience who are musicians, and if you’re a musician, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re fundamentals rudiments, if you will. I’m a drummer, drummers have rudiments, and if you can master the rudiments, you can literally play anything. And so it’s a foundation. And so that’s what we start with.

Andy Starr:
A foundation in the definitions in brand and the process, the method of branding and what that really means, okay? That’s level one. Level two dials really deep into strategy. What brand strategy is, what it isn’t and what its application should look like. The third level is architecture, brand systems. If you have an overarching brand and sub-brands underneath it, how do you manage a portfolio of brands? And at the same time using the idea of what brand architecture means to elevate your own higher level management of brand, okay? Again, working towards that pinnacle of brand mastery.

Andy Starr:
Level four is going to focus on teaching brand, not just teaching and learning how to teach Level C masterclasses, because that is going to be one of the key takeaways of it. But it’s also going to be drilling down into your abilities to go back to your teams, your studios, your companies, and not just proselytize, not just preach the word, but to teach it and to help people learn, because there’s a difference between teaching and helping people to learn. Just because you teach doesn’t mean people will get, it doesn’t mean they will have been taught. So that’s what level four is going to focus on.

Andy Starr:
And we couldn’t think of a better step up to level five, which really is going to be mastery through individualized application. That’s what we are intending level five to be. And so along the way, the academic content, if you will, for each class, for each level, is going to be built from one or more of Marty’s books. So level one, that kind of foundation is built almost exclusively on The Brand Gap. The second level of strategy is going to be built mainly on Zag and parts of The Brand Flip. And I think a couple others.

Marty Neumeier:
Scramble.

Andy Starr:
There’s going to be a content academic foundation for each level along the way, and they’re going to come from Marty’s books. So it’s intense. Each level is going to be two or three days long, that’s by design. There’s a reason for that. But it’s not, just like Marty was saying earlier, you can’t just read a book and get it, and you can’t just watch a video and get it. And while everyone learns differently, what we’ve tried to do is design an intellectual and experiential product, if you will. I hate to use that word, but that’s what it is, that gives you the best chance of learning, of being taught and most importantly, of being able to walk out of the workshop and go right back to work and immediately use what you’ve just gotten.

Matt Davies:
Brilliant.

Marty Neumeier:
Yeah. I think I’d like to add to that. So people understand who this is for. We get a lot of designers who want to move into strategy or take their design and apply it at a higher level of business to more abstract problems rather than just a website, some logos and whatever else they’re designing. There’s no need for everyone to go through all five levels. I mean, it’s there if you want it. I mean, there are people that could take the first level just understanding the five disciplines of branding and where they fit and they could use those principles, the rest of their career and do really well with them. And that may be plenty for some people.

Marty Neumeier:
Other people may say, “This is great, but I actually think I could be offering a strategic product in my work. Certainly I could offer that service and make more money or additional money from doing that. So I need to take level two.” Level three is more someone who’s running large projects, either inside a company or outside where there’s multiple brands that need to be positioned together and matrix of brands. And that’s like playing three dimensional chess, it’s different. It’s very valuable. And the teaching, of course, like Andy said, is to really understand deeply what you’ve learned so that you can explain it to anybody. And it just becomes second nature.

Marty Neumeier:
The very top level is for people that basically want to be Steve Jobs. I mean, that’s where this is headed. Now, you think of Steve Jobs as the former CEO and founder of Apple and he definitely was that. His title was CEO, but what he did was branding. I keep all my ideas on little cards, here’s one. If I read something somewhere in the newspaper or book and I like it, or find it challenging, I write it down. And this is a quote from Peter Drucker.

Marty Neumeier:
Now, Peter Drucker, you probably don’t know who he is, he’s long gone, but in the 70s, he was the management guru. So people who ran very large corporations would trust him with advising them on the future of their businesses. He was brilliant. And he said a lot of pithy things that are still true today and were ahead of the times back then. And one that I ran across was this one, it says, “There’s only one valid definition of a business purpose, to create a customer.”

Marty Neumeier:
And you think about that, it’s like, “Well, wait a minute, we’re designers, we’re actually creating stuff all the time, we’re creative people.” And if the definition of a business is to create a customer, doesn’t the business need creative people? It can’t be just salespeople and finance people and like that. So he was already carving out space for design thinkers way back in 1973. And then he went on and he said, “If the purpose of a business is to create a customer, then the business only has two basic functions, marketing, and innovation. The basic functions, the functions you can’t live without are marketing and innovation.

Marty Neumeier:
Think about those two things. Isn’t that what all designers are engaged in? Isn’t that the playing field for design? You’re either in innovation, maybe product design or something to do with creating products, or you’re in marketing, some phase of marketing, some territory that you would call marketing. Even if marketing isn’t your title, even if it’s designed. So there you have it. It’s like a business is those things that we have a natural affinity for, we actually can do those things, but we need the framework. We need the understanding of where we fit in that to be able to climb up that matrix, that ladder.

Marty Neumeier:
And so that’s what we offer. People that come to our classes, some are designers, some are marketing people, some are project managers, some are HR people. You can come from a lot of different parts of a company and get to that top position of being a CBO, Chief Brand Officer like Steve Jobs actually was. And you bring all those skills with you, but for my money, the untapped audience for this is designers because designers already have that very difficult to learn skill of creating something, where there was nothing. And that’s what branding is all about. And that’s what business has to be about now. That’s what innovation is.

Marty Neumeier:
So if not designers, who’s going to be? You’re going to leave this up to finance people to figure out? I don’t think so. So it’s a great road for designers to go along. And even if you decide, I’m just happy doing design day in and day out. I love it. I love playing around with aesthetics. I love communicating with people or creating products. I’m happy doing that. You’re going to be happier knowing where you fit in this framework than if you don’t, you’re going to be able to use it better, you’re going to be able to make your work important, significant. You’ll be able to attract better clients, better companies to work for. All those things will come if you learn branding.

Marty Neumeier:
Branding is kind of the common ground, the playing field for business and design. This is where business and design overlap. It’s all in branding. So branding is your friend. Branding is going to make your life much better, even if you don’t have brand in your title.

Matt Davies:
That’s absolutely fantastic. And I think a lot of our audience who listen to the podcast we know are people who are designers and are looking to get to grips with strategy. So I think a lot of what you’ve just shared there, both of you is going to be super valuable to our audience. Just before we wind up. Jacob, you had a number of people write in with some questions. I wonder if we just do a real quick fire, you can only answer in one or two sentences some of these questions and see how far we get through just because we like the pressure of it. So I’ll hand over to Jacob to fire some at you Marty and Andy. But Jacob, you’re on mute.

Jacob Cass:
Thanks Matt. So I’m not sure if you’re going to be able to do this in a few words. So this question comes from Lou Gray and it is, what’s the difference between branding and marketing?

Marty Neumeier:
Marketing is largely about selling and it’s usually very short term. Getting revenues for this quarter. And branding is a longterm investment. It’s about selling, not just this quarter, but every quarter for the next five or 10 years. So it’s more strategic. They have to work hand in hand, but if you’re going to choose one, choose branding, because you’re going to have more power and more influence in branding.

Andy Starr:
And I would just say as a strategist thinking about it too, or as a younger strategist, not as seasoned as Marty. I boil it down to this. Marketing is a push it’s a sell, like Marty said. Marketing is a push, branding is pulling. One of my favorite Marty quotes from all of his books was in The Brand Flip. And he said, “People hate being sold to, but they love to buy.” And if you just think about it, it’s true. It’s an undeniable truth. People hate being sold to. So why would you focus resources, finances, creative talent on selling to people when they hate that? Redirect it, focus it, do what you can to pull them in.

Andy Starr:
And that is the fundamental difference. Can you split hairs? Can you say, “Well, if you do it differently, it’s just a different kind of marketing.” Knock yourself out. If that makes you digest it more easily, go ahead. But there’s a fundamental difference. Marketing is a push, brand is a pull. And more than that branding is what connects humanity to business. I shared this with Marty a few weeks ago. I said, “When I think about it, brand is humanity’s agent to business.” And branding allows that to happen. So it’s just a different way to think about it.

Marty Neumeier:
100%

Jacob Cass:
Right. Well, thank you for those few words. It was a pretty impossible task. The next question is a little bit closer down to from Spencer [inaudible 00:55:36] and he asks should small startups look into branding right way? Or should they test the waters in terms of the viability of the business before investing in branding?

Marty Neumeier:
Andy?

Andy Starr:
I’m going to say it depends, but for the most part, I would say they don’t have to think about it in terms of investing in branding. If you have a member of the startup who actually understands the fundamentals of what a brand is, then they can start branding from minute one.

Marty Neumeier:
I would say that you should figure out your brand and that’s not about logos. Remember it’s not that stuff. It’s not all the signifiers of a brand. It’s the actual brand, the positioning and the place you’re going to own in the customer’s mind. You have to have that figured out before you even write a business plan. That is job one, which is another reason why I think that Chief Brand Officer is going to be hugely important in the future because to the extent that a business depends on customers, you need somebody at the top that’s going to manage customers, right? And you want to do that even before you start a company, you have to know who the customers are? What’s your purpose in starting this company? How are you going to differentiate yourself? What’s going to make you the only in your category? And then you can start talking about how you’re going to communicate that and spend all the money you need to do to create symbols and messaging and actual products and stuff. It starts with branding. A company has to start with branding.

Andy Starr:
And actually there was one other question that you left out, which I would say is the most important question and when you answer that, if the startup can answer this on day one, then the brand is laid and it’s, why should anyone care? If the startup can answer that, and I remember Marty, when you were sitting in that office right there, we started with that and we had it. We knew it. We could answer it within seconds. And that’s at least for me, that’s when I knew our brand was there and everything else would be in support of as long [crosstalk 00:58:09].

Marty Neumeier:
Yes. We would not have started Level C if we didn’t crack that and it didn’t cost anything.

Andy Starr:
And it cost nothing.

Marty Neumeier:
Knowledge about what we were going to do and what the process of branding is. So that’s what Level C is trying to impart to everyone else is just understanding what are the pieces that go into branding? How do you manage those pieces? What’s important? What’s not important? How do you build a company through the lens of branding so that you know you’re going to have loyal customers when you get where you’re going.

Matt Davies:
So I’ve just seen that there’s another question here that answer leads nicely into, which is a question from Chris Green. And he says, “Is the job of a brand strategist to create the brand or to uncover the brand in an organization?” You’ve got any thoughts on that guys because that’s quite an interesting thing.

Marty Neumeier:
Well, let me take that one because I’ve actually had tons of experience doing that both ways. Often what’ll happen is I’ll get called or my company, Liquid Agency will get called in to create, so-called creative brand or reinvent a brand or a re-imagine a brand. And what we find out when we start working with the executives is that the brand is there, it just needed to be uncovered exactly like you said, or rediscovered. They had it, but they just didn’t know they had it. And it’s probably something that got the company started to begin with and made them successful. And then they just forgot that’s what brought them to the dance. And when sometimes we just go right back to that thing that made you different in the beginning, it’s still valid. But I don’t think it matters whether you’re discovering or creating a brand, you just need to end up with one.

Jacob Cass:
Great. So that was the last question that I saw Matt, unless you had any others on your end.

Matt Davies:
No, I guess it would be nice to finish up with perhaps a bit of an open ended question around maybe a couple of things you’d like to depart from the podcasts with. Maybe some advice for our designers who are trying to get to grips with strategy. What would some of your tips be as a parting farewell to our audience this time around?

Marty Neumeier:
When I go into a meeting with clients, which you’re going to do a lot no matter what role you play, either as designer, a strategist, a brand, CBO, whatever. Just memorize these three questions because it’ll give you the upper hand and it’ll also give you the information you need to do a good job. Three questions are, when you talk to a leader of a company, and you say, “Okay, I just need to know three things. Who are you? What do you do? And why does it matter?” And the third one’s the most important because that’s where you shine is connecting customers with what matters to the company. But they have to answer the question first.

Marty Neumeier:
And usually what happens is companies will just stutter, leaders will stutter. They won’t know the answer. Good question. So you have to go really slowly. Who are you? In other words, why are you doing this kind of work instead of some other kind of work? What’s your passion for? Does this grow straight out of something you believe in, or not? Who are you? What do you do? What business are you in? What category are you playing in? Because if you can’t answer that, your job is impossible. You don’t even know who the customers are, who the competition is. You need to find that out. And then why does it matter is really what makes you different in a way that’s compelling. So just memorize that. Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter? And you will find that you’re in control of the conversation right from the beginning.

Jacob Cass:
Thank you so much Marty. That’s a brilliant way to end this, that summary. Thank you so much. And I just want to take this moment to say thank you so much for your time, and for being on our podcasts and thank you Andy, as well. Matt, did you have anything else to close out with?

Matt Davies:
No, not at all. I think we’ve covered a huge amount of ground in that conversation. You’ve added a huge value. You’ve given us such insights into your background, into your past, but also some absolute gems in terms of brand, brand strategy, why it’s important and why we all need to take note of it and why it’s a super powerful tool in the toolkit of business. So thank you so much for coming on today. We wish you all the best with Level C and good luck, and hopefully we’ll have you back some time to pick apart the subjects in more detail, but thanks so much and take care.

Marty Neumeier:
Thank you.

Andy Starr:
Thanks. Both of you.

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