Nov 30, 2015

Branderstanding: Dig, Dig, Dig

By Ward Pennebaker

Whoa there, cowboy! Let’s start with a conversation.

Clients often arrive with preconceived ideas about what they need. “We need a new logo,” they pronounce. Or a brochure. Or a website. Or a new signage program. And, indeed, they might.

But our approach has always been to go further and do more than just accept these assignments—which involves discovering the real issues behind a company’s immediate communication needs.

Pennebaker has developed a unique process for effective branding strategies that we call Strategic Guardrails®. But even when we don’t implement this formal methodology, we always start off by asking bigger questions like these:


  1. What is prompting the current need? Where is the company in its life cycle?
  2. What are the key trends in the industry?
  3. Who are the competitors, and what are they up to?
  4. How does your brand stack up against the competition? Time for a refresh?
  5. Where do you want to be in the future?

Answers to these essential business strategy questions are not truly necessary to produce, say, a single good brochure—but they are what provide the fodder for solid campaigns and marketing strategies that work. Which in turn leads to good brochures.

And great campaigns and marketing strategies—with graphics and messages that capture the attention of and resonate with customers—can change the course of a company's future.

Welcome to the power of perception. And persuasion.

Getting to why

Most of our client executives and marketing professionals have been through “self-analysis” exercises, and they’re ready with some pat answers to our queries. They think it's a piece of cake.

But we (and this is what makes us different from a typical marketing agency) do our homework. We push back and we challenge assumptions. We ask the next question.

As you might imagine, this often leads to heated discussions, differences of opinion, and a great deal of primal chest-beating. Clearly, these are not easy questions. There is a lot at stake.

Is this a fun way to get to know a new client? The truth is, it can be—but the process can also be tense, emotional, and full of discord. Do we get people who want us to just “get the $&@#! brochure done already?” Of course we do.

So why do we keep digging? Because sometimes the easiest solution is not the right one. Because big opportunities can be so easily overlooked. Because we truly believe that a company’s marketing strategy has got to be aligned with its business strategy—it all has to make sense.

And because in today’s marketplace, with an over-saturated and cynical audience, a sincere, pertinent approach will win out over a phony auto-response solution, every time.

Case study: a non-profit organization needed to show its big-picture focus to attract more donors.

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