Smart Branding in 4 Lessons

Kurt and I have been talking about Smart Branding in various posts for several years now.

And we decided that it was time to make some video lessons that really explain how it works and why it works.

The first lesson is free, right here on Vimeo - and you can sign up for the other three lessons on that same page.

Plus you get to see our smiling faces and get a little taste of who we are and how we work together!

Take a few minutes and head over to MBM Smart Branding on Vimeo now.

We look forward to seeing you!

We See You 2022!

Well, it's been a long year.

Two years, actually, since the pandemic tore through our plans and made us think differently about so very many things.

It's been hard.

We've been scared, frustrated and sad.

But we've also been hopeful, helpful and downright inspired.

And now it's a new year.

We're ready for you, 2022!

We've been recording videos for our YouTube page


We've developed a set of 4 Smart Branding lessons on Vimeo

Watch the first lesson for FREE!

And we're ready to take on 2022 and all it has to offer - with authenticity, courage and humility.

Bring it on!

MBM Origins - Chapter One

With over 20 years in business for myself, I smile as I look back. I’ve had some painful experiences as all business owners do, but I tried hard to learn something from every failure. And I’ve had many striking successes that reminded me that I was on the right track. MBM Marketing has evolved dramatically since 1999 and I’ve had a great time evolving along with the business.

Before starting MBM, I was working for a major regional bank, and my entrepreneur husband was always telling me, “Stop making money for other people—you can do this yourself.” I had considered that possibility — but a turning point was sharing the idea with my boss at the time. She jumped up, came around her corner office desk and said,

“Hell yes, if anyone can do it you can!”

That was the moment I gained the confidence to act. Up until then, starting a business was just an idea. But I also remember the day I made the commitment to myself. I woke up, stood in front of a mirror and declared, “You can do this. You’re going to do this. You’re going to start your own business.”

Back then, there wasn’t a concept of brand in the direct marketing world. And I thought the advertising world was giving little thought to branding’s effect on ROI. I saw many companies diluting their brands with conflicting messages to their customers. I was passionate about the idea of a single, focused brand voice — and MBM Marketing was born and remains committed to that idea today.

Frankly, I was surprised with my early financial success, and it was just a matter of months until I started bringing on part-time and then full-time employees. MBM went from a real, viable idea to a real, viable, profitable company! And when I signed my first retainer contract in January of 2000 I started the tradition of opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate every new client and milestone. (That tradition still stands, but today I buy much better champagne.)

A new business always faces challenges. One of my first was a call from a furious client who had put his partner in charge of managing our work together – and when she’d spent more than he had approved, he took it out on me.

That taught me to always have the budget approved at the very top.

Another challenge was when I took on a formal partner, which turned out to be stressful financially and emotionally.

I learned to be excruciatingly clear about values, processes and culture — not just goals.

Fast forward to 2019 when I lost that original client – the one I’d worked with for 20 years. I always figured when that client left, I would reassess my business and myself.

So I spent 6 months thinking really hard about what was important to me, what I enjoyed doing and did well, and what clients told me they found most unique and helpful. During this self-indulgent navel gazing, I also looked back at past successes and what provided real value to my clients.

It all boiled down to branding -- but not in the traditional ad-agency sense of branding.

It was the foundational MBM Brand Discovery process that not only articulated the authentic brand, but also uncovered challenges and opportunities within the company that the CEO wouldn’t be aware of if we hadn’t done our work.

I got really excited about focusing and refining the MBM brand process to enhance what it revealed for clients. This was going to be the new chapter of MBM and me! So as I have for many years, I turned to my good friend and colleague Kurt Steinbock who’s always been a supportive and truthful sounding board.

Kurt will share his thoughts about this new direction and bring you up to date in Chapter Two of our story.

The Knowledge Gap Continues to Haunt Businesses

A recent global study by the IBM Institute for Business Value1 identifies an unfortunate and persistent knowledge gap in business. The gap is the distance between what the C-Suite believes is critical to the success of the organization, and what the employees know is critical.

What’s particularly unfortunate is that Sidney Yoshida described this “Iceberg of Ignorance” in 1989, and it continues to this day. The gap is something we at MBM Marketing talk about all the time, and we want to point out two of IBM’s specific findings:

  • 74% of executives believe they’re helping their employees learn new skills needed to work during the pandemic, yet only 38% of their employees believe the same
  • Nearly 80% of C-suite executives say they’re supporting the physical and emotional needs of their workers right now, but only 46% of employees agree

Even with the effects of the pandemic decreasing, it’s frustrating that knowledge gaps between the top and the bottom of companies uncovered over 30 years ago still exist. And what’s more, these gaps are centered around employees’ ability to do their jobs — from both a skills and health perspective.

These gaps are the difference between a company’s ability to deliver 100% on its brand promises, or not. And if a company is unable to deliver on their brand promises, they’re going to lose customers, employees and market share. The company will stagnate and, without intervention, lose money and possibly fail. It’s a distressing situation too many companies are blind to.

But there is good news!

The gaps are often easy to fix. And as Yoshida and IBM found, the employees in the organization know what the issues are. It’s just a matter of asking the right people the right questions.

MBM Marketing’s Smart Branding™ process continually confirms the Iceberg thesis: A lot of really important information never makes it to the top. And when tiers and cohorts in an organization aren’t aligned, the effects can be awful. Consider this imaginary example of misaligned objectives …

C-Suite: We make the best athletic apparel and shoes in the world.

Manufacturing: This new sole material is probably good enough, and will really help our budget.

Sales: Top line goods are great, but we really need a $99 shoe to fit peak demand.

Customer Service: Customers don’t understand our brand anymore, and 30% of what we sell is coming back.

That is an organization trapped in an Ignorance Iceberg.

If you’re a CEO, don’t take the Iceberg of Ignorance personally. We’re sure you WANT to know everything about your organization and your people, but you have a full plate already. That’s why the information uncovered by an independent consultant can be so valuable.

MBM’s proprietary four step Smart Branding process is designed specifically to uncover the gaps (and hidden strengths) within an organization. We’ve found employees more than willing to share with us what they really see happening within their organization. And we provide strategic recommendations to act on what we find.

In fact, we recently worked with a client who was painfully aware of a division between the key departments in his organization but wasn’t sure how to solve it. During our Smart Branding discussions with his people, they also pointed out the division and that they wished it weren’t the case. But they also offered a simple, inexpensive solution!

The suggestion was presented to the CEO who didn’t realize he was contributing to the problem and responded with a resounding “yes, I can do that.” Now the CEO presents his state-of-the-organization presentation to both departments at the same time, eliminating suspicions that departments were hearing different messages and insights. The resulting cohesion within the organization allows them to focus all their energies back on their clients again.

That’s a small step with big results. It originates with identifying and closing the knowledge gap, and then aligning levels of the organization so that everyone is working toward the same goals. Only then can a company deliver 100% on its brand promise and work effectively for future success.

MBM Marketing supports the best companies by aligning their brands to deliver 100% on their brand promise. 



M & A + Brand

Most newly merged companies go about creating their brand backwards. That causes frustration for employees and unnecessary expenses for management.

Published discussion around merger, acquisition and brand focuses on naming conventions (whether to use one of the company’s names or create a new one) and merging the two company’s logos and color palettes. The conversation then advances to presenting the new name and getting buy-in from employees and customers.

Getting employees on board is essential and we believe there’s a very effective way to do that. But there’s very little discussion about the importance of employees, which we aim to change.

Our experience is that the smartest way to merge two companies is to mirror how two partners join in life to share homes and possessions. People don’t ask outsiders to tell them who they should be as a couple. Partners come to the relationship with their own set of beliefs, personalities and collections. They are two unique individuals who know who they are, take stock of each other, and decide to create a new entity – a unique partnership – by bringing the best of each person.

Companies should do the same, with the help of those who know the brand best – their employees who live and deliver the brand every day.

It’s a simple, yet effective approach to ensuring that the merged company brand reflects the best of both companies, and the employees are on board with the new brand. Ask every employee from each company about the brand. You’ll uncover strengths and gaps in both.

Focus first on the similar strengths of each individual company. This is the new organization’s foundational brand – one that everyone in the new company can embrace because it’s already part of their individual company brand!

If there are additional strengths from one company that align with the expectations and vision of the newly merged company, strategize how to best incorporate those across the new organization.

Then, look at the gaps to see if there are strengths from one company that can help fill the gaps of the other – take best practices from each company to support the merged entity. And if there are consistent gaps across the two companies, you have your work plan set out in front of you.

Once the strengths are solidified, and the gaps are closed, the new merged organization can begin refining the brand message for customers and potential new business. But not until then!

The critical aspect of this approach is talking with each individual company’s employees and incorporating their perspective into the newly merged organization. The best way to build the new brand is by building on the foundations of the brands from the inside perspective of the individual companies. It’s smart, inclusive and cost-effective.

A Pep Talk in Every Drop™

Allergy season is starting in Virginia, and that means cough drops are always in my husband’s pockets. This weekend we discovered HALLS have motivational sayings inside their wrappers!

Is this new? Or are we late to the game? Turns out we’re late to the game – I found a blog post about this from way back in 2010. Oh well.

In so many ways, I love this. When you need a cough drop, you also need a pick me up – a little #HALLSPepTalk to remind you that even though you may be feeling bad, you can still make it through the day. The brand geek in me immediately thought “brilliant!” – HALLS is staking out a unique place in the over-the-counter medicine industry: the Dove Chocolates of cough drops.

Looking at their social media, @halls is taking on this brand messaging in a strong and consistent way. They’ve even created a Spotify playlist!

The little things a brand does on the outside can have a huge impact on their bottom line. More people will choose HALLS in the future because they make us feel good in our throats and our hearts.

But the Smart Branding™ geek in me wonders – what kind of work are they doing inside their brand to make sure their employees feel the same love and motivation as their customers?

Are there weekly Pep Talks? Are there Hi-fives for employees who go the extra mile?

Mondelez International, which owns the HALLS brand, has a strong supportive global presence. They have robust sustainability practices for sourcing ingredients, and are partnering their brands with organizations that support “humaning” (their self-described approach to marketing). They have a Code of Conduct, Corporate Responsibility Guidelines and more, all of which they publish on their website.

It’s impressive.

Of course, I’m still curious to peek under the hood to see if what they do on the inside aligns with what they say on the outside. Do they subscribe to the same “listening, empathizing and connecting” with their own people as they do with their marketing efforts?

What a company does on the inside of their brand impacts the authenticity and sustainability of their external efforts. True brand alignment can make all the difference.

Our Smart Branding process begins on the inside. We want to hear from every voice in an organization before making strategic decisions about how a brand is presented to the world. Unless everyone from the C-Suite to customer-facing employees is aligned on what the company and its brand promise mean and how it's delivered, the brand won’t ring true.

Mirroring Your Brand

Earlier this week my colleague Kurt posted this thoughtful blog on the Art of Listening and it got me thinking. 

Listening is one important half of what constitutes effective communication. The other half is the “sharing” half. I use the term sharing because it encompasses more than just talking – it also includes body language, tone, projection – what the HBR article in the blog refers to as non-verbal clues in a Level 4 Listener.

One particular aspect of sharing is mirroring, which I learned about years ago and have experienced effectively ever since. Many of us access our sense of empathy and naturally mirror the person we’re communicating with: we adjust our tone, energy and volume to match that of the person across the table (or Zoom screen). And we perceive when our companion is doing the same thing.

Here’s a solid post about mirroring and how to practice it if you want to know more. As I said, it’s a highly effective way to build a connection with someone with whom you want to communicate.

When I think about it, our work at MBM is all about mirroring. We are focused on confirming that the company we’re working with is mirroring the expectations of its customers or clients, based on what the company has promised through their brand communications. Our Smart Branding™ Process uncovers the true brand of an organization, including the gaps and strengths, so the company can deliver 100% on its brand promise.  

And to clear, we do not endorse the unhealthy and manipulative use of mirroring either in personal communications or on a corporate scale. I would go so far as to say that rebranding is the unhealthy version of mirroring - it’s imposing on the company what the customers want, without the authentic and healthy aspect of reflecting the true nature of the company and its ability to deliver.

Brand Backsplash Backlash

I’m a huge fan of HGTV. Having renovated three historic properties, I enjoy seeing what the “professionals” do with the bones and structures of the various homes they undertake. There’s so much thought and creativity that goes into keeping the unique attributes of the houses while updating and modernizing them for today’s consumers.

But I have to admit that I roll my eyes every time the new homeowner swoons over the backsplash in the kitchen. I mean really, that’s what they’re thinking about? Not how the access to the fridge relates to the island, sink and stove? Not the location of the microwave or utility of the light switches, countertops and flooring? A beautiful kitchen with no functionality is like a photo of a casserole. It may look good, but it won’t warm your belly and quiet your hunger pains.

There’s a parallel to how most companies approach a brand review or refresh. These companies bring in an expensive creative agency to modernize their logos, rewrite their taglines and develop a color palette that reflects the popular colors of the day. They focus on the backsplash and create a pretty picture.

Smart companies focus on how their people, processes, systems and technology are aligned to deliver on their brand promises.

These are the integral aspects of a company’s ability to develop and maintain a strong brand – the functionality of the kitchen so to speak. And no shiny logo, catchy tagline (or backsplash) can overcome the internal gaps that will keep a company from being just another pretty picture rather than meeting the expectations of their customers.

Where are you focusing your attention on your brand?

3 Big Branding Mistakes in 1 Case Study

As we move into the post-COVID world, a lot of business leaders will be taking a hard look at their brands. That’s great, but a case study we read recently points to three big mistakes you can avoid during a brand refresh.

The client in the case study was reportedly very pleased with the outcome and adding new customers. But we’re not impressed — not impressed at all — with the approach the agency took. They claim success, but we’ll keep watching the client’s income statement for the return on investment. In the meantime, you and your company can draw three lessons from the case study if you’re considering refreshing your brand.

1. Sure, Listen to Your Customers

But start by listening to your team.

The case study spells out the extremely expensive and time-consuming process of developing the new brand platform for the client (over a year in the making — that’s a lot of billable hours). The campaign was positioned as a transformation for the client with a new promise to customers, and a tagline and logo to support it. And it was all based on feedback from the customer. This flies in the face of one of MBM’s key brand principles —

Your employees know what your customers are thinking and feeling — they just don’t know how to tell you.

Rather than a massive customer survey or multiple expensive focus groups (which probably make customers feel pain points more acutely), how about an internal survey of employees at every level — especially customer-facing staff? By engaging them, you’re going to raise morale, create buy-in for any revised brand messaging, and learn what’s really going on in your company and with your customers.

You’ll need to know the right questions to ask, and your employees will need to feel confident that they can be candid with their responses — but the insights will be incredibly valuable, without raising the eyebrows of your customers.

2. Stop Telling Your People What to Think

Until you listen to what they already know.

The case study mentioned that along with the brand launch there was “an internal rollout to inspire and educate employees” plus the creation of “internal assets to educate and generate excitement among employees.” We interpret this to mean the brand development was done in a vacuum and then sold to employees after the fact. It also implies that employees needed to be educated about their brand, and then told to get excited about it! These employees are the heart, soul and frontline providers of the brand and don’t need to be told what it is (now) and how to feel about it. We can see the eyerolling from halfway around the world.

Your employees live and breathe your brand every day – they know more about it than any outside experts. You just need to ask them.

Few human beings like to be told what to think or how to feel. If employees aren’t engaged in the branding process and their voices aren’t heard and acknowledged they will push back — even if what they’re hearing is right. They'll think, “I could’ve told you that, if you’d only asked. And that would’ve saved you a lot of money.”

This is business, and employees are adults who have keen perceptions about their jobs, their customers and the brand they represent and deliver every day. This knowledge is free for the asking — you just need to know the right questions to ask, and assure them they can feel confident and candid with their responses.

3. Don’t Change What You Say to Your Customers

Until you know what your team hears from your customers every day.

According to the case study, there was a big launch for the brand refresh which included an advertising campaign, billboards, video and an industry association’s award for “a winning refreshed brand platform.” All of that must have been expensive too — there were copywriters, designers, filmmakers, editors, media buyers and the media buy itself. All these professionals were working to put into words what they think customers want to hear — in the language they assume customers are using. But…

Your employees hear customer feedback every day — the strengths you can build on and the gaps you need to fix.

Why not ask your employees what they’re hearing? People love to talk about successes and accolades. Nothing makes people feel better than acknowledgement for a job well done, a compliment – especially when their boss, and their boss’s boss know what a good job they’re doing. Talk about raising morale!

They’ll share strengths that better differentiate your business from your competition: the strengths that keep customers returning and recommending the brand to their friends and family. You’ll hear the words and phrases customers are already using. Why pay for a substitute to the real thing, especially when it’s available for free?

And when employees share gaps that need to be remedied, it’s satisfying for them to know they’re making a genuine contribution to your company’s future success.

Bonus: Don’t Overlook Key Details

The entire “rebrand” case study never mentions how a “dated and uninspiring brand” was able to pull off the technology and training to deliver on its new promise of “digital-first, customer-centric.” That’s a tall order of change management.

  • Is the client doing things differently now?
  • Did they train their employees to act differently?
  • Was the technology needed thoughtfully purchased, installed, tested and trained for?
  • How long did it take to be positioned internally?
  • Is the client really delivering on their new promise?
  • What did this all cost? And not just in terms of money and technology, but in employee frustration and morale if promises were made without the backend ability to deliver on it?

If your business is considering a brand refresh, those are all important questions you’ll need to ask yourself before you get started and approve such a significant investment.

Shattering the Rebranding Myth

When companies stagnate, they will take a variety of efforts to reinvigorate. They will

  • Bring in culture consultants which elicits eye-rolling and confusion across their team
  • Double down on their sales people, causing frustration and anxiety in their frontline employees
  • Bring in an efficiency or cost-savings expert who alienates the company’s partners – some of their most loyal and knowledgeable advocates

And the company ends up with an anxious workforce, alienated vendors and a frustrated customer base. So they turn to their advertising team and start down the road of rebranding.

There’s a belief that rebranding will solve a company’s problems. We call this The Rebranding Myth and we’re here to shatter that myth.

  • We believe rebranding is wrong, painful, expensive, unethical and marketing malpractice.
  • We believe companies put a lot of time, effort and money into becoming successful.
  • Rebranding is repeating work that’s already been done, looking for a different outcome (Einstein said this is the definition of insanity).
  • Rebranding wastes time and money, confuses the market and frustrates the team.

A company’s brand is who the company is, how they got to be where they are and why they keep pursuing their dreams. Why would a company want to change that?

The issue is not that they need a new brand, but rather their brand is out of alignment. There are missed gaps and undiscovered strengths within the organization.

You don’t get a new car if the brakes squeak. You don’t buy a new house if the paint is peeling. And you usually don’t get a new spouse if you have one fight.

You look for where the problems are and try to fix them. You realign your tires, paint your house, apologize to your spouse and find a way to realign both your expectations.

Similarly, a company needs to find where their brand is out of alignment. It could be a need for better technology, enhanced training, remodeled delivery systems, and often just better internal communication.

How does a company discover those gaps and strengths? They ask their people – they know. Sidney Yoshida’s Iceberg of Ignorance discovered that in one organization, 100% of the frontline employees knew the issues and challenges facing the company. Their supervisors knew about 74% of the issues. Middle management knew about 9% and the C-suite knew about 4% of the issues and challenges facing their company. A 2019 IBM study confirmed this disconnect continues.

And a 2016 survey uncovered that 56% of employees have suggestions for improvement in their company, and 43% have insights that could reduce costs. Yet only 33% of employees say they are surveyed once a year, or less. And over 50% said employers weren’t asking the right questions.

But even if a company asks the right questions, they aren’t going to get the full, honest, candid, raw insights they need to close gaps and build on strengths to get their organization back into alignment. Few employees feel confident enough to be 100% truthful with their supervisors, leadership team or HR department. There’s just too much at stake.

But, the employees will be candid with an outside third party – especially within the context of discussing brand. Everybody loves to talk about brand.

And this is where the MBM Smart Branding Process comes in.

But first we need to shatter the myth of rebranding.

The Knowledge Gap Isn't New - Not Even In A Pandemic

In today's ForbesWomen, senior contributor Kathy Caprino points to a knowledge gap we talk about all the time at MBM: the distance between what the C-Suite believes is critical to the success of the organization, and what the employees know is critical.  A new IBM Institute for Business Value global study validates the gap that Sidney Yoshida found in 1989, including these two findings:

  • 74% of executives believe they’re helping their employees learn new skills needed to work during the pandemic yet only 38% of their employees believe the same
  • Nearly 80% of C-suite executives say they’re supporting the physical and emotional health of their workers right now, but only 46% of employees agree

How sad that knowledge gaps between the top and the bottom of companies uncovered over 30 years ago still exist. And sadder still is the fact that these gaps are centered around employees' ability to do their jobs -- from a skills perspective and a health perspective.

These gaps are the difference between a company's ability to deliver 100% on its brand promises, or not.

And if a company is unable to deliver on their brand promise, they're going to lose customers, employees and market share. The company will stagnate and, without intervention, lose money and possibly go under. It's a distressing situation too many companies are blind to.

But there is good news!

The gaps are often easy to easy to fix. And as Yoshida and IBM found, the employees in the organization know what the issues are. It's just a matter of asking the right people the right questions.

But how do you know the right questions to ask? And how do make sure employees are 100% candid with their insights? There's often too much at stake for an employee to feel comfortable opening up.

MBM has a proprietary four step process designed specifically to uncover the gaps (and hidden strengths) within an organization. We've found employees more than willing to share with us what they really see happening within their organization. And we provide strategic recommendations to act on what we find.

Because we believe for a company to be successful, they must deliver 100% on their brand promises.

Pandemic Decluttering - Your Brand

Everyone from Marie Kondo to the Washington Post, New York Times and even National Geographic is talking about decluttering your home during this pandemic quarantine. It's a great way to feel like you've accomplished something while we're in this vicious cycle of fight or flight (with no ability to do either).

Decluttering also gives you a chance for nostalgia as you uncover items you used to treasure but no longer serve a purpose. And you'll probably find something you've been looking for that has real value, but got lost in the shuffle of life. At the end of your decluttering, you'll end up with more clean, usable, attractive space in your home - holding on to what's important, getting rid of what isn't and making the most of what you have. It's the same way with your brand.

When was the last time you looked at your brand and your company's ability to deliver on your brand promises?

Are you holding on to concepts, processes or images that don't align with how you do business today? Sure you want to pay respect to the foundations of your company - but do they align with who your company is today? There are ways you can continue traditions and honor your company's history without having to retain all the pieces and parts. And I'm not just talking about logos and taglines, are there gaps in the processes and procedures that need to be realigned with who your company is now?

What about hidden treasures? There are likely some gold nuggets in your organization - strengths in how your team delivers on your brand that your clients love. Do your marketing materials talk about them? Your people hear compliments every day, but how often do they make it to your inbox? And what if those compliments are a real differentiator for your company - a way to show the market what really makes your company unique and special? Decluttering your brand can help you uncover these gems.

MBM has a proprietary process that focuses on discovering those hidden gaps and undiscovered strengths within your organization. We don't call it a Brand Decluttering Process, but I guess we could. And it would certainly make sense right now. Let's find some positives in this global pandemic.

When you've finished decluttering your garage, give us a call. We'll help you declutter your brand.

Why You Should Have a Beer with Kurt

In our current world of chaos and meanness, we’re all searching for some quiet kindness and sanity. One of the places I know I can always find that is with my friend and business partner Kurt Steinbock. And that’s been a consistent in my life since the early 1990’s. Yes, that’s nearly 30 years of acceptance, trust, acute and astute listening from a truly kind human being.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the rarity that is finding someone who will really listen to what another person has to say – listening without judgement, without an ulterior motive, listening with respect for what someone is saying and why they’re saying it.

It’s an innate skill that Kurt has

and it translates from friendship to growing a business to interacting with clients. Kurt will listen carefully and quietly, allowing the speaker to explore and dig deep into their thoughts and feelings. Other than a visage of sympathy, empathy, understanding or seeking to understand, you won’t read an opinion on Kurt’s face. And that’s another rare gift - I imagine he’d be a hell of a poker player.

It’s only after you’ve finished fleshing out your thoughts that Kurt will begin to think about how to respond. And that will take time – with maybe a chuckle or sip of coffee (or beer) – time for Kurt to process what he’s heard and think very deeply about how to respond. And even then, he might respond with a request to think further about the topic or ask some clarifying questions before he shares his insights. But let me tell you,

they’re well worth waiting for.

I’ll share more about that another time. But for now, I want to let you know that if you’re looking for someone who will give his absolute attention and listen deeply without judgement, then Kurt’s your guy.

A Box Worth Opening?

We’re all pretty familiar with the concept of Pandora’s Box. In Greek mythology, Pandora made the mistake of opening a box that contained a lot of bad stuff. You don’t want to open that box!

Undertaking a brand review or brand study can feel a lot like copying Pandora’s mistake. CEOs see it as a distraction, CFOs see it as a waste of money, and your Head of Sales just rolls his eyes and wonders how this is going to bring in more business.

And often they’re all correct. The ad agency comes in with charts and graphs that show how the brand has gone astray and proposes a rebrand, which leads to a lot of distractions, unbudgeted costs and confusion in the marketplace. See Don't Buy The Myth  for more insights on why rebranding is almost always a waste of time and money.

Done the right way, a Brand Evaluation will expose the gaps and strengths in a company’s brand.

And with the right team, a strategy is developed to close those gaps and take better advantage of the strengths to put the brand back into alignment. Rather than distractions, the company has a renewed focus, costs are contained, and customers are reengaged with the brand they initially appreciated.

In fact, this second outcome aligns with the full story of Pandora’s Box - the part we don’t often hear about. In the original myth, Pandora hurries to close the box so nothing else bad escapes. In doing this, however, she traps the one good thing in the box: Hope.

Pandora could have released Hope, too. You and your company are holding a similar box. There might be some discomfort inside—but there’s also the very real hope that you can bring your brand back into alignment and reengage your customers, employees and leadership. Hiring the right team can make your box worth opening.

Doing the Right Thing, the Right Way, for the Right Reason

In a team meeting recently, I thanked everyone for their “hard thinking, heart thinking and heavy lifting.” The phrase came to me because it reflected the various efforts we put into our work together. In my opinion, they are the three components of success in any endeavor – personal or professional.

First you have to do the hard thinking – determining what you really want to accomplish. Think about how it’s going to move you closer to your end goal. And how are you going to get the work done?

Secondly (and this an important step that many businesses and leaders skip over) comes the soul searching – the “heart thinking” that asks if this idea is in the best interest of your efforts. How will this initiative impact the people around you? How will it reflect on your organization (and you as a leader)?

Lastly, there’s the heavy lifting – actually putting in the work to see the hard thinking and heart thinking come to fruition – accomplishing your goal – having the positive impact you want. And it’s heavy lifting because doing the smart and appropriate thing isn’t always easy. Put another way, are you doing

The Right Thing, The Right Way, for The Right Reason?

That’s a mantra that MBM lives by – and we always make sure our efforts meet all three criteria. Or else we don’t do it.

What Would You Learn If You Heard From Each & Every Employee?

I saw an ad for the upcoming season of Undercover Boss the other day and it made me think about the concept and how it impacts the business it spotlights.

You know the show – the one where the boss wears a disguise and goes “undercover” to learn about his employee’s personal lives and hear their ideas about how the company can be more efficient and cost effective. The boss is usually surprised at how hard his employees work, how frustrating the job can be, and how loyal his team is despite all that. And a few employees receive rewards and promotions for their insights.

There are hidden cameras, fake beards and sloppy wigs. That seems like a lot of work to stay in touch with the people who work for you. The employees on the show yell, cry, shake their heads and storm off in frustration. And sometimes the boss does the same thing. That seems like a lot of angst to uncover whether your company is running as efficiently and effectively as it can. And it certainly doesn’t do much to elevate employee morale.

It may not seem obvious as you get caught up in the story, but the boss only hears from a few employees. Imagine if she could hear from each and every employee. And imagine if she could make lasting, impactful changes for the entire organization rather than just a few individuals.

You can learn a lot if you hear from every employee in your organization, regardless its size. And when you do, you’ll learn about strengths and gaps that you may not be aware of. There are likely strengths within your team that will help you move your company forward – unheralded leaders, suggestions for process improvements, or insights into customer behaviors that can predict new products or services (and income). And there are probably gaps in your team’s ability to deliver on your brand which may be as simple as upgrading software or improving internal communications.

But you won’t know about these strengths and gaps unless you ask.

And fair warning, don’t think you can just have your Human Resources team send out a Satisfaction Survey annually to get the insights you need to improve your employee’s lives, your company’s efficiency and your customer loyalty. In order to uncover the true strengths and gaps in your brand, you’ll need an outside, objective and trustworthy organization to ask the questions, evaluate the responses and provide the insights and strategies. MBM can help.

If Your Employees Can't Deliver on Your Company's Brand, Who Will?

When a new employee goes through orientation, they may learn about how the company was founded and get a t-shirt and coffee mug with the company logo. And that’s it for brand education. They move on to technical training, benefits offered, and a mound of paperwork. Even though, no matter their role in the company, they are entrusted to deliver on the company’s brand promises to help keep the company profitable. 

It doesn’t matter if the new hire is an administrative assistant, delivery driver or senior manager – every one of your employees is responsible for delivering on your company’s brand promise. In fact, the closer the employee is to your customer, the more impact they’ll have on how your brand is perceived. All the advertising and social media posts extolling the benefits of your product or service mean nothing if the interaction with your front-facing employees doesn’t deliver.

Think about your interactions with the staff at your grocery store. They can make or break your decision to shop there next time. And how about when you contact customer service about a product issue, or visit your lawyer or accountant’s office? The person on the phone, on the live chat, and at the front desk has the ability to make that interaction meaningful, forgettable, or even disastrous.

And those interactions have direct implications on how your customer perceives the value of your brand.

How do you ensure that your employees know your brand, believe in the brand, and have the training and technology to deliver on the promises of that brand? 

Getting employees aligned with a company’s brand can be a challenge when onboarding requires so much technical training and benefits paperwork. And keeping employees aligned with the brand can get lost in the mix of office politics, measuring effectiveness and managing to efficiency.

A Brand Evaluation will help you uncover where your employees are in alignment with your brand, and where there are gaps. Those gaps can be bridged with focus and effort – but first you have to recognize them. MBM can help.

Your Brand Value and The Current Reality - Part Four: Trust or Control?

Whether you’re in the planning stage of returning your staff to working at the office, or reviewing how the “new normal” of 2020 means your team will continue to work remotely, your management team is conveying various messages around trust to your staff. And that leads to an important question you need to address that you may not be thinking about:

Are Your Employees Empowered to Deliver on Your Brand Promise?

Before March of this year, you may have been able to answer that confidently, pointing to training and resources and ongoing team engagement. But what about today? Have your managers and supervisors supported and inspired confidence in your team during the pandemic?

Does your team still trust that they can make independent decisions? Or have messages blocked their ability to ensure your brand promises are delivered as expected to your customers, supporters and stakeholders?

In a June 2020 opinion article on UPenn’s Wharton Knowledge webpage, David De Cremer, the provost’s chair and professor in management and organizations at the National University of Singapore Business School looks at the Importance of Trust at Work and how COVID-19 has magnified the differences between trusting and controlling employees.

De Cremer talks about how the transition to working from home and online meetings during the global pandemic have highlighted “the negative impact that managers have on employees’ life at home…with complaints about managers who care more about productivity than the health of their employees,” and how “online meetings have become means to monitor and assess work attitude...”

Are you trusting or controlling your employees? And which do they think you’re doing?

Your managers and supervisors may believe they have been supportive and encouraging, building on employee engagement and conversations online. However, the communications and engagement may have eroded your team’s ability to confidently deliver on your brand promises. Regardless of your leadership’s intentions, your employees’ perception is reality. 

So how do you know if your people believe they are trusted to do their jobs? You ask them. A simple set of questions that assesses your team’s alignment with your brand, and their confidence in their ability to deliver, will yield powerful insights into the future or your organization.

Beware, though, of implementing a survey on your own. A 2016 Medallia study indicates that employees are unlikely to be candid on a survey that comes from an internal division such as Human Resources or Employee Engagement. Your team will know the answers you’re looking for and will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

Your brand promise is only as strong as your employees’ confidence in their ability to deliver on it. Now is the time to make sure your team is 100% in alignment from the top down and bottom up.

Want to know more? Contact us today.

In Case You Missed Part Three: Disruption and Innovation


(c) 7/2020 MBM Marketing

Your Brand Value and The Current Reality - Part Three: Disruption and Innovation

You’re well on your way to success. You’ve assessed your brand and made the changes necessary to be relevant in the now. You’ve been strategic and thoughtful in how you’ve communicated those changes to ensure you can deliver 100% on what your brand promises.

Now what? 

Two big words in the pre-2020 business world were “disruption” and “innovation.” Companies around the globe were trying to be disrupters in their marketplace, looking for innovation in their industry and their processes. 

Well guess what? 2020 has been the ultimate disruptor, causing us all to innovate on the fly as we pivot our companies to the new normal which seems to be changing every day. 

Does your industry need additional disruption right now? Have your employees reached the apex of their ability to innovate? Now is the time to double down on your core business, making sure your strategies are sound and your key leaders have a chance to leverage their expertise.

Now is the time to optimize your brand promises and maximize your touchpoints with your customers:


The best use of your time is to document the lessons learned, review the efficiencies you’ve uncovered and determine how your organization will move forward smarter and wiser. 

Take this time to make sure your mission and purpose are sound. Make sure your organization is in alignment with itself and its values. 

Take a holistic and objective look at your company and have the courage to make the decisions needed to ensure your sustainability.


Think about how your new delivery methods are in alignment with how your customers are used to interacting with your brand.

Test and measure how your online experiences reflect the in-person experiences customers are used to.

Determine whether your customer service people will continue to work from home, and if they have the tools and support they need to deliver as expected. And if you’re outsourcing in-person deliveries to a team, make sure they understand and align with your brand.

How you do business will be different going forward. There won’t be a return to normal. You will shape the future or it will shape you. And your brand will be affected by the future you create. 

Taking these and other steps will determine how your company rises from this disruption and takes advantage of all that you’ve learned, positioning your organization for success in the future, regardless of what that brings.

Contact us to get started.

Next: Part Four: Trust or Control?

In Case You Missed Part Two: Communication


(c) 7/2020 MBM Marketing

Your Brand Value and The Current Reality - Part Two: Communication

You’ve completed an assessment of your brand promises. You’ve aligned your strengths and closed the gaps. And you’ve built a strategy to move forward in the now and you’re thinking about a stronger future. Well done, you!

But just because you have this work complete and your senior team is feeling confident doesn’t mean your employees, your vendors, and your customers are. They don’t know what you know. At least, not until you communicate with them. 

There are three keys to successfully communicate what you’ve discovered:

Communicate what’s the Same

Communicate what’s Different

Make your communications Stand Out

Start with your employees. Build their confidence in the future of your organization, and the important role they play. To do this, you must 

Communicate what’s the Same – tell them what they will continue to do that delivers on your company’s brand promise. Reminding them about the great things they’ve done (and will continue to do) to help grow the company will help them lean in to the changes you’re making. Make them feel a sense of ownership. Only then should you… 

Communicate what’s Different – tell them about any processes and procedures that will be changing as you move forward. Give them time and opportunity to understand these changes, ask questions, and make suggestions to make them more effective. There’s already been significant upheaval in how they’re performing their jobs, and it’s critical that you get this right. Then you can…

Make your communications Stand Out – share with your team how your company will continue to be different, and better, than your competition. This is team building at it’s very best as you bring your employees into your vision of the future, motivate them and encourage their loyalty.

Next, you should communicate with your vendors. Follow the very same steps as with your employees – first the Same, then the Different and finally Stand Out.

Only after your employees and vendors are on board should you communicate with your customers. You must be absolutely certain you can deliver 100% on what you’re promising in order to maintain the trust of customers. As you communicate with your customers…

Communicate what’s the Same – remind your customers of the brand promises they’ve counted on, and how you’ll continue to keep them. Change can be disorienting without the support of knowing that some things won’t change.

Communicate what’s Different – tell them what you’re doing differently now to continue to earn their trust. Tell them how these new products or initiatives will make their lives better, easier, more enjoyable. Show them how these differences are meaningful. And tell them how you’ve changed your processes and procedures to deliver 100% on what you’re promising.

Make your communications Stand Out – work with your internal creative team or external ad agency to make sure your messages Stand Out. None of the “in these uncertain times, we care” messaging that everyone else is using. How can your messaging Stand Out to your current customers as well as attract new ones?

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to success. You’ve assessed your brand and made the changes necessary to be relevant in the now. And you’ve been strategic and thoughtful in how you’ve communicated those changes – to your employees, your vendors and your customers to ensure you can deliver 100% on what your brand promises.

Ready to get started? Contact us today.

Next: Part Three: Disruption and Innovation

In Case You Missed Part One: Reflection

(c) 7/2020 MBM Marketing