Long & Short of It

What Does Your Brand Sound Like?

Your brand platform defines your brand – the personality, tone, voice, mission, vision, and other defining elements. Your logo and visual style are an expression of your brand. But does your brand have a sound?

Sonic Sound

MasterCard recently announced a brand update that includes their sonic sound. Not only did they introduce their sonic brand, it is replacing their name on their logo. According to MasterCard it is the sonic equivalent of their iconic red and yellow intersecting circles. Not sure how they figured that out or can hear their logo, but we trust they paid a boatload for that insight.

So why would they invest so much into the evolution of their brand? Look no further than the report recently released by OC&C Strategy Consultants that predicts voice shopping will reach $40 billion in 2022, from $2 billion today just in the U.S. and UK. This is being driven by the rapidly and seemingly viral spread of smart-speaker technology in our homes which offers consumers new ways to shop for what they want when they want it (and that is a trend that will never change).

Should your company be investing in a sound?

No doubt, agencies everywhere will soon be looking to hire aural designers to complement their stable of visual artists. If you are a retailer in particular, it may be worth investigating this further. 

But before you jump on the sound bandwagon (pun was not actually intended, but it works well here), first ensure you have your foundation firmly established with a solid brand platform and only then venture into how to best express your company across all the various types of media whether that is your visual or sound expression.

Mental Models

The Detroit Auto Show recently announced that it is moving to a summer event in an effort to boost attendance after a string of automakers such as BMW and Mercedes Benz decided to no longer participate. No doubt that visiting Detroit in June has more appeal than January, but will warmer weather be a fix for what has been the premier auto event in the world? Perhaps it’s not the weather, but a shift in consumers’ attitudes about cars in general.

 Automakers are increasingly looking to find new ways to be relevant to their target audience and are now showcasing their latest models at places like the Consumer Electronic Show. Something that would have not been believable less than a decade ago. Is Detroit listening or are they stuck in an old mental model and just can’t see how the world is changing around them?

1962 was a peak year in market share for GM, with 52% of the U.S. car market. Today they stand at 18%.

The decline was not sudden nor should it have been unexpected. There were rumblings of change all around them, beginning with the rise in oil prices in the 1970’s, but they were ignored. By the 80’s they finally realized that the Japanese could not only make better cars, but also make them more efficiently, and they were popular with the U.S. market. What took the leadership so long to realize this? Part of the answer is the mental models they operated within.  

 Mental Models

 In his book, The Fifth Discipline,Peter Seng defined mental models as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand our world and how we take action.” Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effect they have on our behavior.” This is not new. The idea of mental models was first introduced by the American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce in 1896. 

 The assumptions under which GM functioned were never written down, but the following were obtained from interviews with retired former senior GM executives: 

  1. GM is in the business of making money, not just cars

  2. Success flows from rapid adaptation, not technological leadership

  3. Cars are primarily status symbols - people want to upgrade

  4. The U.S. car market is isolated from the rest of the world

  5. Fossil fuels (oil) will remain cheap and abundant

  6. The government is an enemy and so are unions

  7. Planned obsolescence works (quality less important)

  8. Efficiency of mass production beats other approaches

  9. Bigger is better – we can manage anything

 Imagine how these filters and perceptions of the world affected the decisions GM was making. Mental models are subtle, yet very powerful. And not all models are bad, in fact they help us organize and navigate our lives. For the most part, they have helped us survive. The issue is that they can influence our behaviors without us even being aware. And, they can at times cause a collective herd mentality that in the case of GM had disastrous effects.  

 What are the unwritten rules or mental models in your company? 

 It’s the stuff you talk about that is not in your employee handbook, or the bits of wisdom you provide to new employees to help them adjust to your culture. Are the mental models of your most senior executives different from the rest of the staff?  How are your individual or corporate-wide mental models affecting your decision making? How are they possibly blinding you from growth opportunities, competitive threats, or changes in your target audience purchase patterns?

 What to do

  •  Take the time to reflect and write down your unwritten rules – whether in your company or in any other aspect of your life. Question them.  How do you know them to be true?  Are they helping or limiting beliefs?

  • Share your mental models with others in your company and look to get to the data behind them. See if they can really stack up or if they are just assumptions that filter your thinking and actions.

  • Get real insights. Has your company taken the time to complete a thorough customer journey path to help reveal exactly why your customers are buying your product or service? Do you understand not only what they are doing through each of the pre, during, and post phases of a purchase, but also what they are thinking and feeling?

Being consciously aware of your mental models and intentionally managing them can not only free up your thinking to new possibilities, but also uncover your blind spots. It’s important to push assumptions to the side and acquire the insights to shed light on models that may be steering (sorry, couldn’t help with the pun) your company in the wrong direction.


Trick or Treat?

Don’t play trick or treat with your marketing budget.

We hate to see when clients purchase services that don’t meet their expectations. This only creates a bad taste in their mouth, and they become more suspicious of agency promises. Agencies conversely, lose the opportunity for a long-term relationship.

If we randomly picked any dozen or so marketing agencies in your area and asked them if they did social media, web development, advertising, media planning, strategic planning, and brand development, bet you that they would all say yes to every one of those specialties.  But how could they all possibly be good at everything?

The short answer is most are not. Some of the larger full-service agencies do have all those capabilities internally. However, most of the small to mid-size agencies only do a few of those things well. Some will outsource the other work, which is an excellent model allowing them to be more nimble. Also, clients aren’t paying for extra overhead they are not using. Unfortunately, some agencies don’t subscribe to this philosophy, and they try to do the work themselves.

We’ve recently seen this trick. A company hired an agency that does great web design and development. The agency also sold them on developing their brand platform. The new website is excellent. The brand platform was all wrong. The client realized their mistake, and the brand platform is now in the trash. In another situation, an award-winning creative agency sold personas to their client.  The personas lacked the depth of detail necessary to be used as part of a marketing plan. In these cases, the client will never work with these agencies again, and the agencies are probably wondering why they aren't getting more business from the clients.

Why do some agencies do this?  We can’t speak for what an agency is thinking – it can range from a sincere belief they can do the work, to trying to save some money or just big egos. If you are an agency, please don’t try to fake it. Be transparent. Elevate your work with the best partners you can find – the investment pays off in the end with better work and hopefully continued engagement.  Treat.  

If you are a client, you also bear the responsibility to ensure you are getting the right agency for your money. Don't go with the first or flashiest agency with the cool office space. Talk to a few agencies to get a perspective.

Whatever it is you need, always do this: 

  1. Get examples. Ask them to show you examples of work that are similar to what they will be doing for you.

  2. Learn their process. Have the agency team explain, in very clear (not marketing speak) and logical terms precisely what their process was to deliver on the examples provided. Pay close attention to how they conducted their research or obtained the insights needed before starting the actual project.

  3. Ask for referrals. Speak to other clients whom the agency has completed similar work for and get their feedback.

If both sides do their part, there will only be treats. Happy Halloween everyone!

CMO & CFO - The Perfect Partnership

A collaborative relationship between the CMO and the CFO is vital for any company.

Through both our client and agency experiences we’ve seen a broad spectrum in these relationships, and when strained, it has far-reaching negative consequences.

A strained relationship is one where the CFO sees marketing as a cost center and doesn’t see the full  value of marketing or brand investments. Marketing often the first thing to cut when budgets are scaled back. It’s a pragmatic decision because the cost savings go straight to the bottom line. 

36% of CFOs believe marketers use “vanity metrics” and another 22% believe their marketing team doesn’t reveal the full picture of their successes and failures, according to a 2018 Viant study. 

From a CMO perspective, this can be frustrating. The lack of support may not only compromise short-term objectives but have a long-lasting negative brand impact. Not to mention that if the marketing team does not feel their work is appreciated, it can lead to lower employee satisfaction and engagement levels.

To make the relationship work, it takes effort on both ends of the spectrum. According to Terry Mosier, the CFO for Fat Heads Brewery, “successful marketing is a symbiotic relationship between what the organization’s products are and the authentic communication about those products with the customer.”

Most CFOs want to see their marketing return on investment. Often, easier said than done when longer strategic or branding related initiatives are in play. As more marketing spend shifts to digital, this helps given it’s easier to track the outcomes.  Though not all spend can or should be digital, nor should all marketing calls to action be purely, “click, call, or visit to buy now.” 

Our advice for how a CMO and CFO can optimally work together could not have been better articulated than by the CFO of Jo-Anne Stores, Wade Miquelon. 

“The fundamental thing is alignment. What can you be aligned? First and foremost is recognizing that we are both here to create value. Value creation happens in a lot of different ways. It can happen through cost-cutting. It can also happen through brand building. You've got to keep bringing back the conversation to a scenario such as, if we were both owners of this business, running it out of our garage, and we were responsible for feeding our families, is this the decision we would make? Would we invest or cut cost? From that perspective, the decision you would make is how you can get to common ground.  The other point of alignment is having clear strategies that have been co-developed within the organization. Many organizations don't have a clear strategy. Moreover, some may have them, but it's implicit, and it's a little bit different in everyone's mind. That leads to conflict.”

No organization can afford to have senior executives who are not aligned. Not to say that the CMO/CFO relationship is the most important, but it is a critical part of the equation.

When this relationship is not ideal, the short-term cost savings of treating marketing as a cost center may blind the company from seeing the impact of lost growth opportunity.  And when it works well, there is far more growth to be realized because cost-cutting your way to profitability is not a strategy.

Tools For Success

Soon after we announced the milestone of our one year in business, we began to receive questions about exactly how did just the two of us do it. But not the deep questions about our strategy or leadership styles. They were about the tactical things such as, who created your website? How did you design your business cards? Or how did we market ourselves?

Good questions, but more than just creating a list of references and tools, we realized two big things when answering these questions. The first is that online tools available today are powerful, inexpensive (sometimes free) and with just a bit of trial an error, fairly easy to master.

These tools are effective for an existing business owner, entrepreneur, and some can be used in any size organization to help with communication. 

The second is that if it weren’t for the incredible support and selflessness of the positive business community in Cleveland, it’s not clear how well we would have made it, if at all.

This list is by no way an end-all or possibly even the best in each category, it just happens to be what we used and what worked for us. We recommend you do your research, speak to others, and try a few things out and see what makes sense for you.


Web Domain: GoDaddy

This domain provider has strong brand recognition stemming from some racy Super Bowl ads.  However, their marketing strategy has shifted and beginning in 2012, they have decided that their sweet spot is the small business entrepreneur – and it shows.  They have a solid platform that makes it very easy to search and lock in your website name with a variety of ancillary options along with pricing tiers. It’s kind of one stop shop, as they can also help you secure your email address and service along with hosting your website.


Email:  Microsoft Outlook

This one gets personal, as we have yet to find that perfect email service we love. But outside of a few quirks here and there, Outlook gets as close as we think possible. Their desktop and mobile app work well. And given we primarily use the suite of Microsoft products such as PowerPoint, Word, and Excel, they all play together nicely - except for macs.  We are Apple lovers and sometimes things just don’t work as smoothly as you would like them between the Apple iOS and Microsoft products. 


Website:  Squarespace

Love it.  We built our site over the weekend. Then of course, we’ve spent the last year endlessly tweaking it, but that would be the same regardless of platform. There was quite a bit of trial and error – but let’s be clear, you are building a website, not just signing up for a domain. If you have the patience and at least a moderate level of comfort with using something more advanced than email or social media on your computer, you can do this. Before plunging in, take the time to really think what you want to say. Look at other sites you love and ask yourself what you like about them. Write this all out ahead of time, it will make the process of building it much easier. We also felt it was important to have good photography. Don’t use some generic stock photos – it will look amateurish and impersonal.  There are a several sites that allow you to download high resolution photos from independent photographers, and many are free. One of our favorites is picjumbo.com.


Accounting:  QuickBooks

Our accountant said so and he is amazing. It allows you to give your accountant access to the site to help manage it on your behalf.  It links to your bank account and most importantly, we can send all our invoices through the program. The great thing about that is by linking the program with your bank account and sending the invoice via email, your clients can pay you electronically (meaning – you get your money faster and less banking stuff to do). One of the best ways to find professional help such as an accountant or lawyer is to ask your friends or colleagues for a reference.


Data Storage: Dropbox

This is how the two of us keep our files organized and collaborate on our work. We can access all our documents via the cloud through our computers or on our mobile devices. It’s secure, though know, that nothing is 100% secure. It also allows us to work on a document simultaneously. It’s kind of creepy though when one person has the file open and is making edits, and it’s telling you what the other person is doing. Some of our colleagues use Google Docs which allows for real time co-editing and more powerful collaboration tools, however, the program converts the document into a google docs version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. and as a result, you have to get used to a different interface. That just wasn’t our preference.


Email Marketing:  Mailchimp  

If you are going to be sending out batches of emails, this is the way to go. You have to spend a little time learning it, but after you create an email template, it’s simple to use and provides great analytics for simple email marketing campaigns. The amazing part is that if your list has less than 2,000 subscribers and you will be sending less than 12,000 emails per month, it’s free! The important part is that by using their service, you can help ensure you stay within the email marketing laws and guidelines.

Tools will only get you so far. Find your support structure within your business community.

Jumping into the abyss of entrepreneurship was as scary as it was exciting. High hopes mixed with high anxiety. And it’s still there. Though now our focus is not on how do we launch the business, instead, how we keep evolving and continue to grow. Other agencies, even those who offered some of our same services, reached out an offered guidance and support, and not just in words. One agency asked us if we had a logo or a color palette. We said no. They said, why don’t we create something for you? Another asked where our offices were. We said, in our homes and through a variety of coffee shops around town. They offered use of their facilities. Another sat down with us and gave us a two-hour lesson on how to build our social media presence. Our accountant wouldn’t take payment until we started generating income.

Grit, authenticity, tenacity, resourcefulness, and curiosity go a long way. But the added support of your community is as MasterCard said, priceless. We have a lot to be grateful and thankful for. And we look forward to giving back, paying-forward to other aspiring new businesses, and to play our part in helping the Cleveland economic environment prosper.

So, check out some of these tools and if you are wondering where you might want to launch your new business, come on over to Cleveland- it’s pretty awesome here. We’d be happy to show you around and introduce you to an amazing business community.