[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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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding. We are really excited to have on the show today, two absolute rock stars 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 best-selling 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. Andy as well is an absolute legend.

He’s a brand strategist with a wealth of past experience. And 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.

Thank you. Hi, everybody.

Thank you, too. So I think we’ll start off as we always do with our podcast and really start off with this kind of idea of definitions. And Marty, we’ve already had some superstar brand strategists on the show already quoting your famous definition.

But it’ll be great if you could give us your definition of brand and perhaps also explain why you think that definition is really important.

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’s 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, you know, like, oh, 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. 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. So that’s really crucial to think about it that way. And it also sort of wipes out pre-definition of branding as, you know, creating logos or just creating products and calling them brands.

You know, 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 is 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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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? And kind of realize that the customer kind of owns the brand in a way.

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. I mean, you really do need to put the company, the customer at the center of the company.

I love that definition. I myself 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 brand in and what led you to making these books? So this is actually a question from one of our listeners or members on JUST Creative from Prince Smart. So we would love to hear your answer on that.

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 I 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. I started out as 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. And what I found along the way is that no matter how brilliant the work was on 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 kind of not very curious about what the company was trying to achieve with our work.

We just wanted the work. And so we would be sort of 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 on to the next job, the next client. 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, you know, young designers in my generation were really enamored with the idea of having a concept, in quotes, concept. Like 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.

It was only, you know, many years later that I realized a real concept, a concept that was effective, had to be a business concept. It had to be rooted in business. And so I kind of learned this when I was, I decided to specialize in doing software packaging, those, you know, 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.

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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 kind of new in those days. And I began asking companies like, what is the one thing, 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. And then, you know, 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 is 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.

Marty, do you think this was something new to designers as well? Yes.

It was not even a word that a designer would use. Designers were interested in effectiveness, clarity, beauty, in a sense. 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 all 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 the work in a more meaningful way.

So once I found that, I mean, it turned around 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 kind of lacking. So I had to position myself, is the right word, in the client’s minds.

I had to be something, I had to mean something to those clients. And so what I began to take on was the idea that if you’re doing software, 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. 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 a designer.

And once I saw that, there was no going back. I just wondered what we were all doing up to this point, because we’re all acting like we’re lawyers or accountants or something, where there’s no difference between us. We’re just doing the same kind of work everybody else does.

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 kind of prices that you’re really worth.

You really have to be an expert in something unique. So that’s what I would recommend for all designers. And it’s going to 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.

That’s brilliant. And 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’re kind of saying just there. And I run a coaching group and I noticed this is 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 you’re actually going about business.

So I think that’s brilliant. Thank you.

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, you know, focusing and, you know, differentiation, because in effect, you have to be kind of brave because you have to have to say, like, we’re not going to we don’t stand for that. We are standing for this.

And that kind of letting go of other stuff people get quite afraid about. But weirdly, it’s it’s kind of 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 become, 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 counterintuitive traditionally for business?

That’s the word I was thinking. It’s counterintuitive. It seems like if you narrow 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’ve 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? 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 know who’s, 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 price.

What’s the lowest price I can 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. 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 it 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.

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 the 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 straightforward 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. 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 the thing that I think is missing.

So I’ve seen Andy nodding along there and realized 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 of that definition and ideas around differentiating?

Well, so the first thing I wanted to say was in response to the last thing Marty was just saying. And what I think is so 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? What I think designers bring to the table, 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. 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, 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? And so the idea of trying to sell an expertise in 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. You know, 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 always just kind of thought about marketing and advertising and communications.

And I read it. I started reading it the night it was put in my hand. And I was finished.

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 called advertising. And for me, it was new. And, you know, 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 real 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 schedule to talk about it.

That turned into like two hours. And his reception of the idea was just and his enthusiasm for it was just completely caught me off guard. And we just kind of ran with it.

And it’s, you know, 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.

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

Well, you know, 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. You know, so they saw my, they’re looking for experts to populate their business with, as well as live teachers too. So I give this and I always think, well, why would I, 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?

I just got tired of that. And then Andy came to me with the sort of hybrid version of that. He said, look, my company has all these workspaces, sort of like we work spaces, and we can turn those into actual workshop events.

We can use those with events. So we have this opportunity to start building a stable of really good experts that teach workshops, give workshops, teach classes. And then we can turn those into online experiences and other things, too.

And I was nodding along. So, you know, I’ve heard this before. And he said, the other thing is that we’re thinking is we can get universities to offer these classes for credits.

And that, like, 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 to offer, you know, virtual learning experiences. And this is like 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 a workshop together, and I won’t even charge you for it.

You 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 see, 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 a what, two or three days, Andy? What was it? Two days?

I think it was, I think it was a three day. It was kind of like a test the water just to see.

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, they weren’t agreeing. They were nodding, but they weren’t agreeing on really what they were prepared to commit to. And Andy and I had a sort of heart to heart and he agreed that it’s just sad, but it’s not working.

It looks like this is all for naught. 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.

Well, it was funny because it was a few months after we kind of had that heart to heart. And I said to Marty, look, you know, these guys, they’re just not focused. They mean well, they had a great idea.

They have physical space, which is kind of a key ingredient that we’re talking about. But it’s just, I don’t see it working out. And, you know, sorry.

And I was crushed. I was crushed. You know, 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.

OK, we brought him out. I got to pick Marty Neumeier up from the airport. I had never met him before.

And, you know, it was just it was, you know, for me, I was kind of professionally geeking out. And then that kind of 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 kind of shooting e-mails back and forth at each other, kind of ideating. And it was a lot of me saying, hey, Marty, like, what if, if this, then do you think that? And we started Skyping.

And, you know, these, and I’m going to focus on this for a second because it was, it still blows my mind. You know, it was Marty saying, hey, you know, let’s 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, you know, it’s really a shame those guys weren’t able to make this happen, but it’s such a great idea. And I’m in, why don’t we just try it ourselves? And I was like, seriously?

Really? I didn’t believe him. And we went with it.

And it was a few months after that, after just these epic conversations in these jams, I found myself out west kind of closer to California on a client project. And, you know, Marty said, well, you know, 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 did, 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 kind of dangled this out in the ether and just kind of 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 say, two days, we basically had our first 50 students.

We had the sponsor of the first master class. And before we knew it, we were planning to go to London to launch this. But we knew exactly 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…


That was proof of concept for us, that first one in London, and it was oversold. I mean, just, we filled it.

Is that the one that I joined, Marty?

Totally was. You were a guinea pig, Matt.

You were a guinea pig.

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 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 figure out how to navigate that. So it was just such a whirlwind a couple of days in the Barbican.

It was amazing.

Thank 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?

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 transform themselves by just reading one of the books.

For example, UPS, company UPS, read Zag, my second book, and built their whole, renovated their whole company based on that one book without even talking to me. So, I mean, you can get a lot from books, but 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 wanna come to the workshop, 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 you 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. Like your individual skills really, really matter, but you need to fit those into a team situation.

If you want, you know, 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, you know, 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.

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.

Just to touch on the different books and Level C, do you mind just sort of 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?

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. I gave you 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. So I wrote that, and then people read that, and they said, you know, 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 gonna 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 second, you know, better later. And so I wrote Zag, which is based on the concept, you know, when everyone zigs Zag.

Just don’t do what everybody else does. And I know this will resonate with a lot of designers out there because, you know, 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.

It’s 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. And so then I wrote a book called The Designful Company. And it introduced the concept of design thinking for companies.

It’s 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, there’s 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 that’s why I think designers love them. Yeah, sorry, I was going to say the other thing that you’re just probably going to touch on was they’re really well designed, surprising enough, from you. And the conciseness of the ideas is kind of great.

Like I’m a visual person, I couldn’t, well, 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, like digest something that gets to the point that’s really exciting. And so they’re really great.

But you have, before we go on to Andy, but you have in recent years, sort of branched out a little bit, haven’t you, and Scramble’s an interesting book, and Metaskills. Do you want to touch on those briefly before we jump back to it?

Yeah, Metaskills. I just have a copy right here because I just got my deluxe version of the book here. Deluxe because it’s got French fold covers.

It’s really nice. It feels nice in your hand, which I’m selling through a company called Porchlight books.com for people that want really nice versions of it. And you can get an ordinary version of it on Amazon.

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 like 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 let you do that. And so that’s something we don’t get taught in school.

We don’t get taught these skills. You know, no one’s ever taken a class called Dreaming 101, but they should. I mean, applied imagination is kind of 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 just like, 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, you know? 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, you know. So no illustrations in that one, but it’s got a concept.

So going back to what designers love is a concept. The concept is it’s a business thriller instead of a business textbook. So I enjoy playing around with different ways of teaching and everyone will have a different, you know, 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.

Yeah, so broadly looking at the program that we built, it’s built on these kind of five fundamental levels of mastery, okay, across the spectrum of brand, right? So we start with kind of fundamentals. The analogy I like to use is for those of you, for those in your audience who are musicians, and if you’re a musician, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

They’re kind of fundamentals, rudiments, if you will. I’m a drummer, drummers have rudiments, you know? 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, 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 kind of higher level management of brand, okay? Again, working towards that pinnacle of brand mastery. Level four is going to focus on teaching brand, not just teaching and learning how to teach level C master classes 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 won’t get it, doesn’t mean they will have been taught. So that’s what level four is going to focus on.

And we couldn’t think of a better step up to level five, which really is going to be mastery through kind of individualized application. That’s what we are intending level five to be. And so along the way, each level is going, the content, 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 strategy is going to be built mainly on Zag and parts of the brand flip and I think a couple others, but there’s going to be a content and 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 of being, 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.

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 websites and 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.

I mean, and then they could use those principles the rest of their career and do really well with them. And that may be plenty for some people. Other people may say, this is great, but I actually think I could be offering a strategic product in my work.

You know, 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 like someone who’s running large projects, either inside a company or outside where there’s multiple brands that need to be, you know, positioned together and sort of matrix of brands.

And that’s, you know, it’s like playing three-dimensional chess, you know, it’s different and it’s very valuable. And the teaching, of course, like Andy said, it’s to really understand deeply what you’ve learned so that you can explain it to anybody and it just becomes second nature. 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.

And to kind of, I was just looking at this, I was going, I keep all my ideas on little cards. Here’s one. If I read something somewhere in a newspaper or a book and I like it or find it challenging, I’ll write it down.

And this is a quote from Peter Drucker. 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 we’re ahead of their times, 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, to create a customer. 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. 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 design. So there you have it.

It’s like a business is those things that we do really, 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.

And so that’s kind of what we offer. So 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, a Chief Brand Officer, that 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. So if not designers, who’s gonna be, you’re gonna 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 gonna be happier knowing where you fit in this framework than if you don’t. You’re gonna be able to use it better.

You’re gonna 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.

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.

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, like 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. I’ll hand over to Jacob to fire some at you, Marty and Andy.

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

Marketing is largely about selling. It’s usually very short term, getting revenues for this quarter. Branding is a long-term 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.

And I would just say as the 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 a pull. 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’re just thinking 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. And that’s really, 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.


Great. Well, thank you for those few words. That is pretty impossible task.

So the next question is a little bit closer down to from Spencer Rivago. And he asks, should small startups look into branding right away or should they test the waters in terms of the viability of the business before investing in branding?

I’m going to say it depends, but for the most part, they don’t have to, I would say they don’t have to think about it in terms of investing in branding. If you have someone who understands, 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.

I would say that you should figure out your brand and it’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 a 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 so forth. But it starts with branding.

Company has to start with branding.

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 kind of laid. And it’s, why should anyone care?

If the startup can answer that. And I remember when Marty, when we were sitting in that office right there, we started with that, 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 us growing.

We would not have started Level C if we didn’t crack that. And it didn’t cost anything.

And it costs, right, it costs nothing.

Knowledge about what we were gonna do and how, you know, what the process of branding is. So that’s what Level C is trying to impart to everyone else is just understanding like, 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 brandings so that you know you’re gonna have loyal customers when you get where you’re going?

So I’ve just seen that there’s another question here that leads nicely, that 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 got any thoughts on that guys?

Because that’s quite an interesting one.

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 create a brand or reinvent a brand or reimagine a brand. 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.

It needed to be 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 that was, 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.

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

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

I like to, when I go into a meeting with clients, which you’re gonna do a lot, no matter what role you play, use that either as designer or strategist, a brand, you know, CBO, whatever, just re-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. The three questions are, when you talk to a leader of a company, you say, okay, you 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. And usually what happens is companies will just stutter. Leaders will stutter.

They won’t know the answer. They’re a good question. So you have to go over it really slowly.

Who are you? In other words, what is it that, why are you doing this kind of work instead of some other kind of work? What is it that, what’s your passion for?

Does this grow straight out of something you believe in or not? Who are you? What do you do is what business are you in?

What category are you playing in? Because if you can’t answer that, you don’t even know 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 what 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.

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, so much for your time and for being on our podcast. And thank you, Andy, as well. Matt, did you have anything else to close out with?

I just, I think we’ve covered a huge amount of ground in that conversation. You’ve added 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 kind of 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 sometime to pick apart some of the subjects in more detail.

But thanks so much and take care.

Oh, thank you.

Thank you. Both of you.

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