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Jarrett Johnston

Specialization vs. Generalization

When customers can Google and find the best in the world, they won’t hire you because you are average or well rounded. They will hire you because you are brilliant at something.

I was driving down the road the other day and a roofing company’s truck pulled up next to me that read, “specializing in all roof types.” How can a company specialize in all roof types? They are essentially saying, “we are just like every other roofing company.” What they should say is, “we specialize in metal roofs.” That would make them unique. That would make them an expert. That would create scarcity.

Your Audience is Not Everybody

The thought behind this innately contrary tagline is the idea that the roofing company wants to attract everybody. Sounds like a good business plan, right? What they don’t see is that if everyone is their customer then no one is their customer. Sure, we would all love it if everyone bought our product. But the days of mass media appeal are over. In the ’50s everyone was watching the same commercials, buying the same cars, and drinking the same drinks. Today, information flows differently. People live in their own tribes and are influenced by tribal leaders on social media or in their peer group. They buy what their friends buy. So unless you are Coca-Cola, Apple, or Amazon you are wasting your time trying to sell to everyone. The goal is loyalty with a few rather than single transactions with many.

Specialization Increases Perceived Value

For most company’s, most of the time, it is better to specialize in a narrow selection of services and products — especially upon launch or while in the early growth phase. Following a strategy that is more focused makes it easier to deliver a high level of excellence with greater efficiency. Specialization increases perceived value in 3 ways:

1. Specializing Positions You as the Expert
If you are the expert in your category you are no longer selling time or materials. You are selling your expertise. You have authority, influence, and knowledge that set you apart from competitors, and that creates massive value and revenue potential that generalist’s can’t tap into.

2. Specializing Makes Marketing Cheaper and Easier
If you are selling one thing it is easy to optimize SEO, sales processes, and marketing programs. If you are selling 10 things you have to have 10x the budget and do 10x the work to get those products or services out there.

3. Specializing Creates Believers, Not Just Buyers
Buyers are great. Believers are better. By specializing and becoming an expert in your field you make yourself so valuable that a customer can’t imagine their life without you. They become someone that believes in your company, your mission, and most importantly your value. A buyer, on the other hand, just wants to fulfill the immediate transaction and then move on. They don’t care about your brand or your company. It is easier to scale a company by creating believers. These are the one’s that will come back over and over, then tell their friends how much they love you.

Should My Business Specialize or Generalize?

If you want to position your company as the brilliant expert, specialize. If you want to be known by more than your products and services, specialize. If your company is newly launched or changing strategies, specialize to increase focus and save marketing energy.

If you have the marketing budget or brand recognition of Amazon, Apple, or Target, then there is obviously a case for generalization. However, in most cases for most businesses specialization is a better strategy.

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Branded House vs. House of Brands

One organization. Multiple brands. How do you organize them in a way that is clear to the consumer but still builds equity in the mother brand? Here are a few common strategies used by companies we love.

Branded House

In a Brand House Model organizations invest in making the single “mothership” brand image known and loved. Customers come to trust the mothership and then by default trust the sub-brands. In most cases, the corporate name and brand identity is one and the same, the marketing is the same, the brand position and the value proposition are the same. It’s simple and easy to apply across a multitude of marketing applications. Examples include Google, FedEx, or Virgin.

House of Brands

Another common approach is known as a House of Brands, where organizations market two or more different house brands. Powerhouses like Procter & Gamble (Tide, Folgers, Pampers), Unilever (Dove, Lipton, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s) and Newell (Yankee Candle, Rubbermaid, Elmer’s Glue) are great examples. Consumers don’t really care about the mothership brand. They care about the brand they are interacting with. Each sub-brand has it’s own value, promise, and identity.

Hybrid Brand

There is a third approach which is a bit messier because it tends to happen organically rather than by strategy. It is a hybrid of the two approaches listed above. Coca Cola, Marriott, and Amazon are three organizations that exemplify a hybrid brand strategy. The mothership is offering value and brand recognition, but the products themselves are also offering value.

The Coca Cola company has leveraged the strength of its namesake with a variety of mothership brand extensions like Diet Coke and Coke Zero, while also having house brands like Sprite and Dasani. Marriott uses a similar approach with a strong mothership brand, brand extensions like JT Marriott, endorser brands like Courtyard by Marriott and house brands like The Ritz Carlton.

So, how do I decide which one is right for my organization?

 

Put yourself in the shoes of the customer.

You may have heard it described as being unable to read the label because you are inside the Coke bottle. It is easy to sit in a room with decision makers at your organization without ever putting yourself in the shoes of the one you are trying to connect with. When discussing brand architecture, aligning on the right strategy is all about stepping outside of what you know and reading the label. Interviewing outsiders could prove helpful.

 

Where do I want to place the brand’s equity?

What do you want people to know more about/invest more in? Is it the mothership brand, the services/products being offered, or a combination of both? Are you planning on selling the mothership eventually? Are people more likely to buy from/interact with your mothership brand or your sub-brands? Make hard decisions on these topics and make sure the entire internal team is aligned so you can build a strong foundation from the beginning.

 

More brands means more marketing.

If you fall into the second or third category that means your organization will have multiple  brands to create and manage. More brands means more budget needed to make sure each is successful. Each brand will likely have their own unique look, website, message, value proposition, social channel, and position. If done right it could provide many opportunities for growing your organization.

Not sure which strategy is right for you?

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7 Myths About Branding

Sometimes it’s hard to define what a brand actually is. In order to define what something is we often find it helpful to define what it is not. Here are 7 myths about branding that we hear everyday.

1. Your logo is your brand.

Your logo is not your brand. Your logo is only a piece of your brand. Jeff Bezos, CEO of a little company called Amazon,said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Your brand is your customer’s experience, the music you play while customers are on hold, and the way your employees dress. With Apple, we might think “simplicity” when thinking about their brand. Or with Coca-Cola we might think “nostalgia.” With Chipotle we think “healthy.” These ideas are reinforced every time we interact with their company. Not just with the logo.

2. Branding is a one-time thing.

Brands are built over time by consistently delivering a concise message for a valuable product or service wrapped in a consistent look & feel over and over and over. It’s consistency at every touch point every time. Consistency = trust. Trust = sells.

3. Everyone is my target audience.

Sure, we would all love it if everyone bought our product. But the days of mass media are over. In the ’50s everyone was watching the same commercials, buying the same cars, and drinking the same drinks. Today, information flows differently. People live in their own tribes and are influenced by tribal leaders on social media or in their peer group. They buy what their friends buy. So unless you are Coca-Cola, Apple, or Amazon you are wasting your time trying to sell to everyone. The goal is loyalty with a few rather than single transactions with many.

4. Branding & marketing are the same thing.

While they are intertwined, branding and marketing are distinctly different. Branding is the long-term sculpting of an organization’s reputation. Branding builds loyalty and value at a macro level. Marking fits into the branding structure by driving short-term sales. It does this by generating key points for the audience to respond. Branding is the why. Marketing is the how.

5. Your brand needs to look like your competitor’s.

If the rational behind any brand decision is “it’s what my competitors are doing”, check yourself. If you look and act like your competitors, then why should your brand exist? Instead, finding your distinctly different place in the world will create better resonance and loyalty.

6. Branding doesn’t have measurable value.

When confronted with the costs of branding, a valid question arises: what value does branding actually add to my business? Is there a clear financial return on my investment? Based on two dozen case studies with Fortune 500 companies, for every dollar invested in visual communication at the point of sale, companies realized a $7.21 ROI. In the book Design Currency, 163 companies from 11 market sectors reported an average of 20% higher profits when focusing on functional and experiential design. The results are clear: branding builds value.

7. Branding is all about the whats.

Every company can tell you what product or service they sell. Not all companies can tell you why they do what they do. It might sound vague and abstract, but people actually make decision based on why first then back it up with logic and reason. People don’t make decisions because of features and benefits. They make decisions because something makes them feel safe, secure, comfortable, smart, or attractive.

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Trust the Process

While we are always seeking the new and chasing the different, getting there doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the act of trusting a proven process and allowing room for magic to happen.

Our branding process is built on 4 key steps, and wrapped in transparency, truth, and vision. Starting with a foundation of research, our approach eliminates guessing and produces unexpected creative results.

Discovery

We start by bridging the gap between who you think you are and who your audience thinks you are. It starts with understanding your customers, their behaviors, and their needs.  To do this, we immerse ourselves in your business and base insights on what we hear and observe.

Strategy

Why does your brand matter? You can’t move to the what without knowing the why. We distill that why into a single idea defining what’s special about you, why that matters and who will care. The process brings clarity and purpose.

Identity

This is where the strategy comes to life. We create a unique look and feel, coupled with distinct voice to clearly communicate your message and connect with your audience.

Application

Now that your brand has the foundational elements needed, they can be applied consistently to every touch point. This is where the vision becomes a tangible reality. This includes websites, packaging, signage, campaigns, etc.

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Responsive Logo Design

If you’ve taken part in building a website since the iPhone, you’ve probably heard the term “responsive design” — the idea that your website responds to the device in use by stacking, shifting, or resizing to best serve the content. What you may not think about though is responsive logo design — how your brand’s logo adapts as that process occurs.

 

What is a Responsive Logo Design?

With logos applying to so many digital touch points (websites, products, apps, social media, etc.) the need for responsive logo design allows for flexibility in application while maintaining the most important idea of brand identity: consistency. The goal is to create a logo that has distinct elements that can scale as devices scale. Your logo on a desktop experience would have the full logo while your Facebook profile image or your website on a mobile device would use a simplified version of the full logo. Here’s some examples:

Guidance for a Successful Responsive Logo

  • As the space or format gets smaller, the detail or elements in the logo become simplified. For example, the name of your company is always right next to the profile image in Facebook, so you can use an icon or simplified version of the logo instead of the full lockup.
  • Stick to 3 – 4 versions of the logo. If you do too many, you will likely lose recognition with your audience.
  • Keep the unique elements/style of the full logo present at all times as you scale down.

The days of one logo for everything are over. We recommend every brand consider how their logo responds to the various brand touch points. Responsive logos are a great tool to ensure a flexible yet consistent identity no matter the application.

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5 Books to Read Before Launching a Brand

You have the next big idea. Now what? If you don’t know this yet, having the idea is actually the easy part. It’s building the idea, branding it, and marketing it that’s the hard part. It’s time to start looking at that great idea though the lens of the consumer. What problem is the consumer trying to solve? What story are they telling themselves? Is your idea actually going to feed your family? Fortunately, there are a ton of helpful resources just a click or two away. These are just a few books to read before launching a brand that have shaped my process, and often where I point eager brands who want to learn faster than I can teach them what to do next. Understanding these fundamentals of a strong brand will be a step (or 20) in the right direction.

1. Story Brand by Donald Miller

From New York Times best-selling author, Donald Miller, comes: Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. The book is a favorite of many of my startup clients, and outlines seven universal elements of powerful stories to teach brands how to connect with customers and grow their businesses.

2. This is Marketing by Seth Godin

One of my personal favorite books from one of my favorite thought leaders. Seth Godin does it again with This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See. Godin offers the core of his marketing wisdom in one compact, accessible, timeless package. This is Marketing shows you how to do work you’re proud of, whether you’re a tech startup founder, a small business owner, or part of a large corporation.

3. Positioning by Al Ries & Jack Trout

An oldie but a goodie. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind is perhaps one of the most influential marketing books around. It was the first book to deal with how to communicate to a skeptical, noise-blitzed public. It describes the need to create a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind. One that uniquely differentiates a company by defining strengths and weaknesses clearly to customers rather than hiding them.

4. Do Good by Anne Thompson

Brands today are expected to do more than just sell stuff. This book was one of the first to demonstrate how doing good is good for business. It explores how employment practices, social responsibility, and charitable giving all influence a consumers trust with a brand. It looks at beloved brands like Toms, Patagonia, CVS, Chipotle and more in an effort to demonstrate how to capture both markets and hearts.

5. Will It Fly? by Pat Flynn

Stepping outside of branding for a minute, from Pat Flynn comes Will It Fly?: How to Test Your Next Business Idea So You Don’t Waste Your Time and Money. It’s for anyone who has a great idea, but needs some measurement of validation before jumping in. If I had to sum this book up in a word, it’s practical. It offers simple advice on how to test out an ideas profit potential.

 

These are only a few books to read before launching a brand. We’ve read a few more, and are always happy to help you launch your brand if you aren’t a reader.

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Meet Jarrett Johnston, Creative Director of Studio Numa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jarrett Johnston.

Jarrett, let’s start with your story.

I grew up in Canyon, a small town in West Texas. It’s the kind of place where everyone waves as they pass each other on the back roads, and the cows outnumber the humans. I was constantly surrounded by family — most of whom started or ran small businesses of their own. My mom was a florist turned real estate agent, her dad and my dad run a construction company. My dad’s parents ran the local hardware store. I had a couple of uncles who owned restaurants. The list goes on. I laugh now, but as a kid, I even had my own office at both of my parent’s businesses. Foreshadowing?

For as long as I can remember I have been drawing or making things. My parents always encouraged those interests by enrolling me in local art and drawing classes. As I got into high school, I accidentally fell into what would become my career. I needed an elective last minute so I enrolled in a computer class where we learned Photoshop. I was in heaven. I went on to graduate from West Texas A&M University with a bachelor in Graphic Design. It was at WT I took my first big kid job on campus as a graphic designer and gathered some experience under my belt before making the big move to Dallas.

Since the move I have worked in small branding shops, big B2B agencies, and leading digital firms — using each opportunity to absorb as much as I could before starting my own business. I’ve had the chance to work with Fortune 500 giants like Interstate Batteries, Phillips66, ExxonMobile and Dr. Pepper, but my heart has always been with small and medium-sized businesses. I love entrepreneurs. I love their energy, their excitement, and their desire to change the world or disrupt an industry. That entrepreneurial energy that was all around me as a kid is the same energy that drives me today.

Though I have always dreamed of having my own business, I didn’t know what that would look like or where that would be. Turns out, it looks like me freelancing from home (most days), outside of Fort Worth, TX, listening to my 2-year-old daughter learn her alphabet in the other room, while drinking Coca-Cola. It’s a dream. And while I live my dream, I get to help people launch theirs. I get to help brands figure out who they are, and then express that in a consistent and compelling way. From hungry entrepreneurs launching the next big thing, to global giants looking to reinvent and grow, to churches and nonprofits changing the world, I love helping them succeed.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Here’s a little secret: even “successful” people are still trying to figure it out. Running a business small or large is not easy. Though I have always been a pretty self-motivated and determined person, some days punch you in the face. There are times I have made costly mistakes, and I had to learn from those and keep going.

In a more practical light, being a one-man shop means it’s all on me. I have always been good at the creative side of what I do, but I also had to learn to do the not-so-sexy stuff like generating leads, project management, client communication, and accounting. These things don’t excite or come naturally to me. However, if they are not in order, I will never get to do the things I love.

We’d love to hear more about your business.

I run an intentionally small branding studio that focuses on strategic branding and interactive design for brands that matter. That usually means I partner with hungry entrepreneurs to create clear and concise messaging and consistent visual identity to move their audience to buy from or interact with their brand.

My goal has never really been to build a big organization. What I have learned in my many years in-and-out of large agencies is that quality often gets compromised, clients feel disconnected from the actual work being done, and processes trump people. Eliminating the red tape allows me to form meaningful relationships with my clients so we can be candid and direct with one another. I often act as a trusted business partner rather than a vendor and can influence a brand beyond what is typically understood as graphic design. I regularly get emails from happy clients saying things like, “you exceeded our expectations” and “you are worth way more than we are paying you.” I consider those days’ mission accomplished.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?

I was revisiting the enneagram personality test recently, and as a type five, a major characteristic of mine is a desire to understand and figure things out. I spend a lot of time asking questions, observing people, and studying what makes other brands successful. It is rare that I simply do exactly what a client asks without truly understanding their goals and helping them think through how to reach them. This curiosity and desire to get it right finds its way into all of my relationships and work. I have the drive to get a project right for a client so we can get it to market faster, and optimize its effectiveness. Everything I touch must be equal parts stylish and meaningful.

Story originally published by Voyage Dallas.

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