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4 Ways to Maximize a Branding Tool You Are Already Using Every Day

An edited version of this article was originally published on Entrepreneur on June 25, 2015.

Rarely given much thought in brand creation or marketing efforts, your email signature can sometimes be seen by hundreds of eyeballs on a daily basis. Once you start thinking of this rather minuscule part of your communications a little more strategically, you will see how it can easily turn into an important branding tool with a build-in and engaged audience — a tool that is personal and, yes, free.

FINIEN_Branding_EMail_Signature

Your signature can further engage current clients and partners or educate potential clients and employees about your brand’s mission and culture. Working with entrepreneurs day in day out, I always stress the signature as the most simple, yet most overlooked brand asset. Usually it is being greeted by a “deer in the headlights” type of aha moment, one that I would love to project upon you by sharing four incredibly easy ways to push your brand upwards, while sending your emails outwards:

1. Resurface or re-purpose your tag line

The tag line used to be one of the key brand communication tools. Things shifted and today tag lines often end up being the headline on your landing page or used in certain lock-ups of your logo only. It’s time to celebrate your tag line again. It is a clever elevator pitch in a few words that quickly describes your brand’s purpose, and the email is the perfect piece in your marketing mix for it to live, be shared and live on happily ever after.

2. Showcase all of your brand’s active social-media channels

This one’s a no-brainer. Now check your signature and make those updates to ensure all social brand channels are indeed showcased as there are new ones popping up faster than you can read this article.

There is no easier way to gain followers that care. Period.

3. Leave them with your genuine thoughts, not a dead man’s quote

People are over the inspirational quotes and they don’t need to know you message was sent using your iPhone, tablet or even smartwatch. Instead, use your signature real estate to highlight the latest blog post you wrote or share interesting news of your brand – another way to create more touch points. Remember that you already have the attention of a reader, and she is only one click away to learn more about your brand. The “leadership area” of your signature as I like to call it, can be individualized by department or receiver, too. This can ensure the information is personal and relevant.

4. The more data used, the more important design becomes

All said and done, ensure your signature is not overwhelming. It needs to always be the second read after your message, even when you reply to an email with solely the two letters “OK.” The signature should always feel just like that:  a place to either grab a phone number or address from or to further engage with your brand; the latter you will now have successfully achieved.

To further help you visualize these tips, I am equally reluctant and happy to share with you my E-Mail signature, as it reads of June 22, 2015.

That being said, signed truly,

FabianGeyrhalter_EMailSignature


How To Define Your Brand Personality

What is your brand personality? Hint: It’s not your personality. It’s not your team’s vibe. It’s not the look and feel of your product. It might not even be what you had in mind when starting your company.

It’s time to define what your brand’s personality actually is, and I am glad to share ‘the secret sauce’ with you.

A brand’s personality is derived from keywords that best describe your brand’s character as if your brand was a person. You think about how your brand wants to be perceived by your target audience – how it wants to make them feel. Who is your brand as a person? Is (s)he helpful, clever, feisty, glamorous? Below graphic from my bestselling book How to Launch a Brand describes this process and can help you get started on this simple, fun and extremely powerful early branding exercise, which is best done together with your team:

Brand_Personality_FINIEN_HowToLaunchABrand

After compiling your list of keywords, associate each keyword with one or more brand personality archetypes. See the archetypes we like using, together with example keywords, below:

FINIEN_Brand_Personality_Wheel

 

At the end of that exercise, you will see which three personality archetypes have the most keywords associated with them. Those are the personality traits your brand needs to fully represent from here on out in all of its visual and verbal communications. This simple yet very meaningful exercise should assist in defining the company name, the brand identity design as well as the brand atmosphere.

Looking at Target as an example most of us are familiar with, it quickly becomes obvious that we see Target first and foremost as a Friend, a Mother, and a Dreamer. What is your brand’s personality? Get your team together in a room, put your therapist hat on and find out!

Going through a brand transformation? Contact us to discuss how we can enable your relaunch.


Naming Your Company? 4 Ways to Get Unbiased Feedback

Sell your team on a new company name by following these four steps.

This article was originally published on Inc on June 10, 2015. 

Two years ago, I had an epiphany. And I did what entrepreneurs fear most after successfully being in the same business for over a decade: I made a big change. I decided to drastically reposition my design and branding business, and with that came the necessary name change.

After crafting hundreds of names, I picked the name FINIEN. The team had its doubts. The name could be reminiscent of a shark (fin) or even death (finir in French = to finish), hence no one would ever hire us again, especially as a consultancy that crafts names for a living. We might be doomed. Despite these fears, we moved forward with the name, and that decision has treated us well.

FINIEN_Naming_Feedback

Here are four key takeaways from naming companies like our own that will assist on your quest for a great company or product name. The rule above all rules: after consulting with (and hiring) professionals who derive names for a living, trust your gut and go for it. 

So you went through the checklist and you feel it is the right name for your company moving forward. If that’s the case, don’t open it up for the emotional, unproductive feedback typical of a larger group. If you ask your significant other, (s)he will likely react emotionally and might not understand the full strategy, research and context. (S)he will hear an unfamiliar name and will immediately sense danger. If you ask your co-workers, they might have similar feelings, in addition to the fear of their professional future within your company. What if the name backfires? Why does our fearless leader have to ask us, “Is it not a good name?

They should be afraid. Naming is a scary thing, but lucky for them, you already did that part for them and you’re confident that you’re on the right path. That said, sometimes you just have to ask for peace of mind and to give your key partners a feeling of ownership prior to officially taking this significant step.

As long as you present a clear case as to why a name change is necessary, tell them that you’ve narrowed it down to 1 (or 2) final name(s) through hiring a professional naming agency (if applicable) and that you have a clear favorite (and explain why). You now want their buy-in (what you will get is their opinion) just in case you forgot anything when making that decision (and make sure they’re in the know for the big announcement). If you’re about to have that meeting, here’s how to go about it the right way:

1. Define the Confidants. They Will Define The Outcome.

Who should be the two to four people who you want to gain feedback or buy-in from? Choose them based on their involvement in your company. They may be co-founders or partners, but they shouldn’t be freelancers, non-VC level employees or peers. Not to discriminate, but to keep it to a very small and influential group that you’d like to have your back during the rollout phase.

2. Be Confident. Be Assuring.

Tell them you made up your mind, even if you’re still split between two names. Explain why the change was necessary. Share how long the process took and how many names you went through to get there. If applicable, share that they’ve been professionally derived and vetted and you feel very excited about the new company/product name. It’s a new era and you’re thrilled to let them in early on.

3. Story First. Names Later.

Present them with only one or two names. Even if you’re still indecisive, sound assertive. If your presentation feels insecurely, they will feed that fire. First, tell the story of each name as well as the meaning and the keywords that have been used–only then show them the name. After sharing the backstory, say the name out loud while showing it on screen or on paper. As they familiarize themselves with the name, tell them your grand vision for how clients and co-workers will use it, how it sounds answering the phone, how great it would look visually, and how the name really tells the story of your company without limiting your future growth. Repeat for name No. 2, all while keeping the next rule in mind.

4. Leave the Past Behind: Say Hello To the Future

While looking at the new naming options, most will only associate with the past (the ‘faster horses’ syndrome). You’ll have to reiterate the idea that this new word will soon not represent any current connotations (usually only negative ones will be brought up by the group, like ‘death’ and ‘shark’), but will instead represent your company. Your mindset is already in the future; if you’re renaming, you already emotionally detached from the current and attached to the new name. It will be a big challenge for them to overcome. Remember our name, FINIEN? The (short and rather brilliant) name would have likely died by committee based on past associations. Today, you hear FINIEN and you think about branding, startups, and yours truly. It’s how it works. Brands are being built. You have to explain why it’s necessary to think of the name six months from today. Try not to associate any words with the name, but rather the image of your company.

Gaining buy-in is crucial to finding a great name. Use these points to prep for the meeting that may decide the future of your brand’s name. And, most importantly, trust your gut.


Launch Glocally – Not A Choice, But A Necessity

It is a fact, we have all gone completely glocal!

To think about cultural diversity means inclusivity, not exclusivity. It speaks to today’s Zeitgeist. You think globally, but you act locally – it’s how we live our lives today and it’s how we launch brands today, which leads me to your very own brand launch.

FINIEN_Glocal

Your new brand will be exposed to a global audience from the get go even if you set out to create a very local or regional brand. Plan your brand launch around a very specific and narrow audience (you need that focus), but craft your brand name and design to have a unified global appeal in order to be embraced in other markets. Your positioning and core values should work globally, but a local strategy is where you touch communities.

Thinking global mitigates the risk of depending on one country or region’s economy for your success – you can easier move towards new markets if you think globally from the start.
 As a startup you don’t want to alienate future markets. Even if you intend to create a local-only brand, cultures within most regions are diverse, so by thinking global, you will ensure in a worst case not to offend, and in a best case to attract a larger, more diverse audience. Additional glocal incentive, if you needed it: Investors want to see global thinking and ambition and will likely make larger investments in your venture.

So how do you get there? Keep these 4 rules in mind as you develop your brand:

1. Craft and test

Carefully craft and test your brand name, brand identity design and brand voice to make sure it is globally accessible and acceptable

2. Position universally

Find universal values or truths that you can leverage with your brand positioning

3. Think 10 years

Think about how you want to have impacted mankind with your brand a decade from now. It will make you launch as a global brand, nearly guaranteed

4. Hire diversity

Employ staff with international experience and a global view, making you an authentic glocal venture from within

With these in mind, you should be in the right state to go completely glocal! You won’t regret it.

Marissa Hui, a key influencer of FINIEN’s naming and design strategies for our clients over the past years, is a contributor to this post. As Marissa is moving up North (onwards and upwards as they say), I want to take this opportunity to thank her for all her hard work, also on behalf of those readers who had a chance of working with her. Farewell Marissa!

 


Is Your Startup Turning Into The Meh Factory?

You start off with a grand vision, the big thought. You can imagine the person who will go crazy over your offering right in front of your eyes.

As you find yourself diving head-first into product development, in many cases your target audience starts to automatically widen and with that you run the risk of your startup turning into a factory of…meh.

A Meh Factory is pointing towards, and hitting the center of the bullseye perfectly. A good thing you’d assume, but the bullseye is smack in the middle of everything: not too this, not too that, it’s just right in the middle. A product that tries to appeal to everyone and do everything. It is not the cheapest, not the priciest, not the coolest, not the best – no, it’s just right there, sitting stagnant in the middle of it all and by hitting the target spot-on, it is missing its target audience, its initial reason for existence, entirely.

FINIEN_TheMehFactory_Branding

Becoming a Meh Factory is an even easier trap to fall into for an existing brand that is losing its soul, a great example being Gap (You can indulge in this story, exemplifying a brand’s quest to remain relevant).

As a startup you can protect yourself from falling into this gap (sorry!) early on. As you enter the development phase, remind yourself that as a new brand on the market it has to be your main goal to work towards reaching someone’s heart and not everyone’s mindOnly if you get one ‘tribe’ to not only like, but fully love your offering can you create a cult brand. And that is exactly what you should target. Shoot into any corner, just don’t point towards the center as you’d be missing your target – you know, the person you were thinking of when your idea first popped into your head. Make her love your brand, others will follow.


Twitter’s Periscope: What’s The Naming Scope

As you may have heard, Meerkat now has a new, serious, competitor. And no, it’s not the Minneapolis agency Periscope, which greatly enjoyed getting a lot of buzz today when Twitter launched Periscope.

Twitter did not talk to the agency by the same name, has not asked them for their Twitter handle @periscope (Wait, really? They kept @periscopeco), nor cared about the fact that they are naming their product the same way. Twitter decided to stick with the name of the startup they acquired, a very ‘speed-to-market’ move, and when it comes to naming, a highly questionable one.

FINIEN_Periscope_Branding

Twitter is 36.5 million followers larger than the agency by the same name, and the world will, after just a few days, think of Twitter’s service – and Twitter’s service alone – when hearing the name Periscope. Periscope, the agency, will not be so happy about it when confusion turns into annoyance and a dillusion of their smart brand name.

The question remains: Why stick with the name Periscope? A rather great name for a ‘full-spectrum creative agency’ that helps uncover and look at things differently, but for a live-streaming app?

Given all the red flags, they kept going with a name that stands for an apparatus consisting of a tube attached to a set of mirrors or prisms, by which an observer (typically in a submerged submarine or behind a high obstacle) can see things that are otherwise out of sight (via Google).

Leaving early adopters to adjust to a new name in order for a brand to focus on its much bigger future after having serious funding infused, or being bought by the big guys, would be the right move. Startup names are often just that, they are quick MVP’s of something that really should not be driven by lean startup methodology to start with. And definitely not go past an acquisition or merger.


Your Brand’s Core Values: From Document To Embodiment

Deriving your venture’s core values early on is essential to formulating a strong brand from within.

Imagine your core values being displayed beautifully in your company’s lobby: Your team will see them every day and it should engage and inspire them. At the same time, clients and shareholders should be able to read, and be in agreement with, your core values actually representing, and serving, your brand well. They need to resonate across the board. We advise to keep those value-statements to three very short and actionable sentences (some of the more universally applicable examples we derived with our clients in the past months are shown below):

FINIEN_BrandValues

It is easy to notice that core values often sound similar, perhaps even a bit generic if taken out of context, regardless of how hard we worked with our clients on crafting them. They often do not feel naturally implementable either. No surprise then that they often stay put on a desktop in a PDF document, rather than being embodied by the team.

I gave this issue a lot of thought as I urge my team and myself to create work that is intrinsically being embodied by our clients to push their ventures into great brands.

I recommend embodying your core values the same way I would recommend you preparing for a very important presentation: Once you have the presentation deck done, the speaker notes inserted, and you start practicing, you will realize that the more you practice, the more you embody the content and overall spirit. The day of the presentation you will notice that you fully embody the content, to the extent that you could hold a successful speech even if a major electricity outage hit – in candle light, without slides, without speaker notes – because you are living the content.

Treat your core values the same way: Try assigning one of your new brand’s three core values to each day of the work week, then make it your goal to do something each day that turns the words of one core value into action. It might be a project scope document and you decide to question the status quo and try to turn it into a better product. It might be actively doing good and being the example by staying late to help a co-worker meet her deadline.

Examples are endless, core values there are only a few, so if you start checking one value off the list day after day over the course of two weeks, and you ask your team to be doing the same, you will quickly realize that you do not have to be reminded about the values anymore – you will just be doing it. This will be the magic moment where you will be embodying your brand’s core values, and that brand document that resides on your desktop can now be accidentally erased, because it does not matter anymore. Action, as we all know, speaks louder than words.


Startups: Stay Human

When I got up at 4:45 AM to catch an early morning flight to SFO to spend 3 days engaging with the freshest crop of startups, I was pondering why I was so drawn to them. Was it the fascination with the new, the constant innovation, the ‘anything goes’ attitude, the unstoppable flow of borderline naive optimism?

 

Yes, of course, all of the above is why we are all interested in startups, but the real reason why I dedicated the majority of my professional life to working with Founders comes down to something much more basic: Startups are human.

 

FINIEN_StayHuman

 

I always look forward to engaging with Founders and their teams, because they are real. No politics, no fear, no artificial hierarchies, yet all the struggles, even more than we see in the corporate world. Here we have human beings that are not aspiring to move their lifestyle from a BMW 5-Series to a 7-Series, but pushing an app that will benefit mankind from a 1.0 to a 2.0 release.

 

The beauty of purely human business interactions is lost in the vast majority of large companies I worked with over my career. I only get to feel them at the local Farmers Market and in the startup community. Not knowing is a virtue, learning a given, sharing a must. As startup Founders gain success, I urge you, do not lose the magic you possess, the magic you enjoy so much while being amongst yourselves, that magic of not only being human, but acting human.


Do You Embody Or Represent Your Brand?

You can establish/own/run your brand; you can represent your brand; or you can literally be and fully embody your brand.

If you create a brand that is solely based on yourself (obvious examples include a fashion brand, thought leadership brand, Etc), know that if you ever have the desire or need to re-brand and/or re-position, you will face many challenges. Sounds logical after the fact, but as you go down that path of associating your name with the brand, it is easy to let the ego, or the simplicity of finding the domain name, run the branding process and push you into the limelight for good (may that actually be for better or worse!).

 

FINIEN_BrandAsAPerson

 

The issue of personal brand re-positioning will gain public attention during the US presidential election next year as we will be faced with two very different (and different types of) personal leadership legacy brands. Who is Hillary Clinton 2016 is what I pondered in The Washington Post (read this past Sunday’s cover story here) as we are collectively trying to re-define what her brand stands for today. Is the latest Bush brand in fact what the general public would assume it being based solely on his brand inheritance? I am not in politics (and smart enough not to discuss politics as part of my professional blog), but this comparison is the easiest way for you to watch the strategy, drama, and difficulty of personal brand re-positioning unfold on the big stage.

If you decide to be your brand, like a Martha Stewart did so famously before you, the coming months might make you re-consider and opt to solely represent your brand instead.