BigMouth's Mike Yoffie on Building an Effective Brand
Successful branding is all about telling your story, says Mike Yoffie, chief of “moving the chart” for BigMouth, a San Francisco-based marketing consultancy. Telling your story helps you make those all-important “empathic connections” with prospects and customers, the crucial first step in making your company stand out in the crowd.
“These days, people have way too much information to process,” Yoffie observes. “But when you identify with them deeply, they can magically sort out a lot of stuff, put it aside, and say, let’s hear more about that.”
Pieces of the Puzzle
Branding is not the same thing as advertising or marketing. Advertising is where you buy space in order to get your message across. Marketing is trying to understand who your clients or customers are, how you fit into their world, and what is the most effective way to reach them.
“Branding operates in a nebulous area that contains all of these things,” Yoffie says. “It’s the process by which you see the world from your audience’s perspective. You really feel their aspirations, vision, and pain points. It’s communication on a deeper level, where you see you’re just one part of a much bigger puzzle for your prospects, but you develop a message that genuinely resonates with them.”
Start by drafting a short sentence that states the one thing you want your audience to know and understand about your business, Yoffie advises. Your “audience” may include customers, prospects, funding sources or investors, prospective hires, media, etc. The ultimate goal is to tell your story in two or three paragraphs in a way that connects with your audience. “Put your business into their context,” he says. “This is your brand-positioning story.”
Humanity = Magic
What goes into that story? “Your message should be simple, professional, and have an impression of quality,” Yoffie says. “It also needs some genuine humanity. That’s the magic.”
As an example, he cites RoseRyan, a Silicon Valley-based finance and accounting firm, which hired BigMouth in 2005 to overhaul its brand.
“The firm had 45 consultants, low brand awareness, and a name — Macias & Ryan — that no one could pronounce or spell. Revenue growth was steady but slow. We spoke with them, their partners, team members, clients, and so on. These guys were doing an amazing job, because they used an employee-based business model that set them apart from the competition. There was a real culture there, a real set of values. But they hadn’t yet learned to tell their story.”
BigMouth repositioned the firm as a “finance dream team.” Its branding campaign featured all team members prominently and combined “fun,” “human,” and “deeply relevant” elements to get the company’s message across. “We created a new name and a ‘cool’ brand in the supposedly staid world of accounting, and we communicated this message through a new name and ID, internal culture building, direct mail, collateral, events, and a reconceived, highly focused website.”
According to Yoffie, RoseRyan's revenue increased in the first two years after the relaunch.
A Perfect World
“In the small-business world, everything you do is a deposit or withdrawal from your brand,” Yoffie says. “The goal is to do everything perfectly — and since that’s not possible, do fewer things, but do them as well as you can.”
- Design a website that’s concise, easy-to-use, and delivers just the
information people are looking for;
- Create a great brochure and save money by distributing it as a PDF;
- Think of the precise role these materials can play in the sales process to make them more focused and more impactful;
- Keep your story short and simple; and
- Communicate like you’d speak to a close friend, not like a robot or an institution. People connect with — and want to do business with — other people.
“We strongly advocate embracing branding as a strategic tool from the very outset,” Yoffie says. “All too often, businesses hold off on the branding process until they start to grow, but we believe that’s too late. Strategic communication creates clarity and energy that can make the difference between stagnation and success.”
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.