Affection, branding, and soap.

Affection, branding, and soap.

As much as we want our business to be the best in our field, sometimes the brutal truth is that we are one of many excellent companies. Small businesses can come to dread the idea of competition, and often the idea of having to compete can keep people from promoting their services. You can narrow down your client base, but usually, there are still a lot of people serving the same audience.

So, how do you build a brand around a business like this?
Let’s look at some big brands. Not the exciting ones, like Apple or Nike, but brands for an everyday product: soap.  Neutrogena, Dove, and Aveeno are all brands at a similar price point, aiming for the same general customer. There are some product differences, but essentially they all do the same thing.

The first level of differentiation is in how each brand frames the idea of skincare. Neutrogena emphasizes healthy skin. Dove emphasizes moisturizing cleansers. Aveeno emphasizes natural ingredients.

One of these brands takes differentiation to the next level by going beyond product differences.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty promotes the idea that all women are beautiful. This has nothing to do with the quality of Dove’s products, but it is persuasive in positioning the brand as pro-women and body positive. Women have talked about (and been internally tortured by) the unreasonable beauty standards set for women for decades, and Dove finally listened. Dove is the only skincare brand that shows up as shared content on my social media feed. It gets shared because the message is powerful. Dove has connected to a powerful “why” for their brand, and people pay attention.

So what does this mean for your business? Even in a crowded and competitive field where you can’t demonstrate that you are significantly better than other service providers, your brand can stand out.

You can stand out by:

the way you speak to your audience
the values you hold
the way you deliver your service
You can stand out by standing up for what you believe.

Dove is an excellent example of an ordinary brand that has hugely distinguished itself through brand messaging — they were clear on their purpose and chose a mission that would resonate with their audience, not a coincidence! Dove makes fine products. One aspect of their brand focuses on promoting features of their product, but they distinguish themselves by the way they talk to their audience.

Can you think of the “why” behind Neutrogena or Aveeno products? Maybe these companies have decided on this internally, but it’s not as clear or as compelling in their messaging as the Campaign for Real Beauty is for Dove.

Questions for reflection:

What aspects of your purpose will most resonate with your audience?
What can you do to align your messaging with that purpose further?

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How the magic happens.

How the magic happens.

Last week we talked about how a consult can help you get to the root of the problem you’re solving, and I find it’s helpful for people to know what comes after identifying the problem.

My process is highly intuitive, which comes from experience, but there is a strategic method underlying that intuition.

We start with a kickoff meeting where we dive deeper into the problem we need to solve and also make sure all of the relevant parties are identified and involved at necessary points. We also audit existing materials.

The audit is a key part of the process for understanding what has been done, what has gone well, and what direction the organization wants to go in, we really strive to get all of the relevant information out in the open. Discovery is an intense but necessary process.

Like death and taxes, we predictably start with strategy. One way to frame the strategic thinking is with who, what, and how?  The “what” phase is really about the “why.” And Who’s on first. You’re following, right? 🙂

A great deal of what we work on in the first phase of discovery is understanding the SMIT or the Single Most Important Thing. With the focus provided by understanding our SMIT (not to be confused with Smurf) we are able to navigate the entire project with clarity. When we try to do too many things at once, we can’t excel at any of them.

The second goal of discovery is to help the team get buy in from their superiors and decision makers. This goes back to having clarity around goals and understanding the stakes and the why of the project. Often people closest to the project get excited about the new direction, but struggle to “sell” that to their superiors. Discovery helps put the project in context so that the meaning stays connected to the goals and metrics.

After what and why, comes who. Who is the audience for this project? We delve into questions around the audience and existing landscape. If an organization doesn’t know who they are talking to, their ability to communicate effectively significantly diminishes.

The third phase of discovery is the “how.” During this phase we ask what the strategy for achieving our goals are, we discuss the tone, message, and visuals. I draw on all of the information that has been discussed up to this point and I create something that aligns with the goals and messages we’ve discussed.

While design can be central to our daily lives, we rarely take the time to stop and think about the process of how something came to be what it is, (unless it doesn’t work). The purpose behind the Union Method is that we think about what we want something to be so that what we create is effective. Join us in the journey to design intentionally.


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Why does it matter?

why does it matter?Your work.

Your message.  

Your fundraising goal.

Why does it matter?

What would happen if you didn’t do it?

Who does it matter to?

How would people’s lives be different if you quit tomorrow?

These questions are at the root of  how we design.

At every new stage, with every new objective, these are the questions you must ask if you want to make the biggest impact you can.

Contemplation and action can be at odds, you have to find the balance of asking and doing that works for your organization, but don’t sail a rudderless ship by getting mired in day to day operations and forgetting to check the map.

Check back next week for more insights into how we think strategically about every design project we take on.

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