Five Ways to Protect Your Brand

Another word for “Brand” is “Reputation.” It is that reputation that makes customers want to do business with you—or not.

If you are not actively working to promote and protect your brand, your competitors will be more than happy to take control of your brand for you and tarnish it for their gain.

Don’t let that happen.

Here’s how to be proactive with your brand.

1. Live Your Core Values

Your business should be based on four or five core values that you hold to be of utmost importance. Once you have defined those core values, LIVE THEM. This goes all the way back to Shakespeare, when he wrote in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, for then thou canst not be false to any man.” Your clients can smell a rat a mile away. Live your core values, and they will come to know they can trust you.

2. Think of Your Business as a Person

People want to interact with other people, not faceless façades. Give your business a personality consistent with your core values, and develop that personality in all your interactions with everyone—on and off the job. People buy products and services because of an emotional connection. I am friends with a car enthusiast who can tell you every logical and mechanical reason why the McLaren is an extraordinary automobile. But at the end of the day, when he finally buys his first McLaren, it’s not going to be for those rational reasons. It’s going to be because the McLaren makes his heart beat a little faster. Give your clients a positive, emotional reason to do business with you.

3. Focus on What Makes You Different in the Marketplace

There are lots and lots of people out there who do the same things you do. But what makes you stand out from the crowd? It could be that you offer a particular product or service that none of your competitors offer. It could be that you use a “secret ingredient” in your product that makes it so much better than the competitors’. It could be that you are the first to offer a certain level of service. Whatever it is, capitalize on it, and make sure the world knows about it. That difference is the reason people will seek you out.

And hand in hand with differentiation is

4. Don’t Copy the Big Guys

When a business is successful, everybody thinks if they copy what that business does, they’ll be successful, too. But, guess what? All they’ll be is a knock-off copy of a successful business. Don’t be a dull clone! Embrace your uniqueness! Trumpet to the marketplace what makes you different.

5. Build Long-Term Relationships with Clients

Your friends are comfortable with you because they know you. Your clients will be comfortable with your business if they know the business, its values, its personality, its consistency over time. Build that emotional connection with your clients. Keep them wanting to do business with you because, time after time, you have been there for them.

If you follow these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to protecting your brand and your good name and building a customer base that trusts you.


No Pizza

A post on Facebook recently caught my attention.

A well-liked pizzeria in a local town had been sold to new owners. The previous owners had close ties to the community and had generously donated gift certificates to the local school’s gift auction. The person who won one of the certificates went to the pizzeria a while later to use the certificate. The new owner informed the prize winner that he would not honor the certificate.

[Let’s take a moment of stunned silence.]

Word got back to the school’s PTO president. She called the new owner and explained that the school had ordered food from that pizzeria often in the past for school events. She hoped he would reconsider honoring the gift certificates as they were given to help support the two schools in the community in which he now runs a business.

The pizzeria owner started to bad mouth the previous owners. The PTO president politely stopped him, saying it was really none of her business. She said she was hoping to speak to him later about a pizza party for one of the grades, and that she hoped they could resolve the gift certificate issue. The pizza shop owner then got very nasty with her and told her he didn’t want or need her or the school as a customer! And he then hung up on her.

[I think another moment of stunned silence is called for here!]

The PTO president ended her Facebook post saying that she had no plans to support a business “that is rude and will flat out say they don’t want my business or even our school’s!”

In the spirit of fairness, I did look at the pizzeria’s social media. There is no mention of trying to support the local community. Their posts are full of boasts about their many years in the food business and how great they are and how many customers they have. Then there was the video of the owner showing off the lights he installed in the restaurant’s front window and bragging how no one else in town has lights like these.

Pretty jaw dropping.

The lesson here is that your brand is who you are. Your brand is also how others perceive you and your business. You need to control your brand and let it reflect your authentic voice, your core values. (And if your core values aren’t in the positive range of human aspirations, maybe that’s where you need to start a reexamination of what your brand is.) If something goes awry with the perception of your brand, you need to quickly resolve the issue to keep on a positive track so your present customers will want to continue doing business with you and so you can attract future customers.

For all I know, this pizzeria makes the best pizza in the world, but its brand—at least in the minds of everyone associated with the local school—is that the owners are nasty, mean-spirited, and have no interest in supporting the community in which they are located. That negative perception trumps any good word of mouth about the food. People are not going to support a business that doesn’t care for them.

Indeed, I checked the Yelp ratings for this restaurant, and nearly all of them slam this pizzeria for rudeness and poor service. There also appears to be a boycott going on by all the school’s supporters. Sadly, there appears to be no effort by the business to respond to this fatal condemnation of their brand.

I think the late, great Maya Angelou perfectly summed it up: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You Want It When?!


This cartoon with the four figures laughing hysterically above the caption, “You Want It When?!” is ubiquitous. Over the years, I have seen it tacked up in print shops, college bursar offices, car repair garages, copy centers, you name it. It is also, of course, a favorite of many a graphic designer.

And I am in one of those weeks where this cartoon seems to be the theme of my life. As all these “crisis” emails come in from clients, making a kerfuffle (what a great word!) of my carefully laid plans to complete other bigger projects, I am struck yet again of how a strong branding program can help in situations like these.

An organization that lives its brand—practices its values, acts according to its principles, pursues its ideal client, positions itself strongly and strategically and never strays from that position, and uses its brand as its guiding light—that organization is much better equipped to handle the occasional crisis. It may still be stressful to accomplish what needs to be done in a short period of time, but the guidance of a strong brand will help the solution to be a relatively simple one. If you have a clear image of what your organization is, you’ll know just as clearly what your organization should do to solve those sticky situations that pop up from time to time.

That, and planning. Planning is good, too….

So, What is Your Position?

Businessman agitator with a megaphone pipe

You’ve got a snazzy logo, you’ve got what you think is a good brochure, your elevator pitch is sharp and amusing, everything feels good, feels right.

But for some reason you’re just not getting the sales numbers you felt you had every reason to expect.

You start going over everything in your head. Maybe I should rewrite and redesign the brochure. Let’s change up the key words on the website. Maybe I need a tag line that’s catchier.


Or maybe you need to better define your position.

Say what?

No, we’re not talking about where you stand on a political issue. We’re talking about your market positioning.

Your organization’s position is what gives people a reason to buy from you. It’s what differentiates you from your competitors.

Are you the first to offer a certain product or service? Do you have a specialty that no one else in your market offers? Perhaps you make your product slightly differently from your competitors so that it works in a uniquely superior way.

All too often businesses play follow the leader. They see a business being successful, and so they think if they operate the same way, they, too, will be successful. And maybe they will, but not as successful as they would be if they were the leaders.

Be bold in stating your position. Make sure to trumpet your uniqueness so everyone knows that you are the one with whom to do business.

Who are You? (apologies to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey…)


I once met someone at a networking event who was handing out business cards, refrigerator magnets, notepads, and pens. What was remarkable about this rather ordinary practice of using promotional products to promote a business was that each of these pieces—while using the same business name—showed a completely different logo.

It was bewildering. I liken it to going to a party and introducing yourself by a different name to everyone you meet.

Who was this company? There was no one image with which to identify. Was this company going to change its presentation to suit whomever it was dealing with at the moment? I couldn’t trust anything about this business with a split personality.

When it comes to branding, consistency is essential. You must decide on what the authentic personality of your business is and then be true to it.

Let’s say your business personality is young, hip, and playfully irreverent. You’re certainly not going to have your staff dress in pin-striped business suits. And on the flip side, if your business personality is conservative, serious, and forthright, it’s not a good idea to have a front desk receptionist who chews gum and cracks jokes with everyone who comes through the door.

People do business with and buy from companies with whom they form personal attachments, and those emotional bonds can only be created with a business they know and trust and with whom they can identify.

Once you define what your company’s personality is, you must do all you can to convey that personality in everything your company does. What is said—and how—when the phones are answered. How you and your employees dress. What your logo looks like. What your external and internal communications say. What colors are in your company’s palette.

The list goes on and on.

It may seem daunting at first to think of every permutation to which you must attend. Once you are focused on your true personality, however, you’ll be surprised at how easily everything else falls into place.

A Venn for the Doctor

Odell Logo Final CMYK

My doctor was starting her own private practice. It was a big step, taken with not a little trepidation.

I remember when I started my own business. The euphoria of being my own boss was certainly tempered by a bit of white knuckled terror, but the thrill of making a difference in the world on my own terms certainly won the day.

I knew the same would be the case with Dr. Tamara Odell, as did everyone who knew her. She is the most extraordinary doctor I have every known. She’s certainly one of the smartest people to take the Hippocratic oath. But more than that, she is caring and compassionate, and she listens. (Yes, really! When was the last time you had a doctor care about what you had to say?) Plus, she doesn’t take any crap from anyone.

We had many conversations about the branding of her new practice, trying out different names and discussing the values she wanted to project to her patients.

As I do with all my logo clients, I had Tam fill out a comprehensive creative brief to help her think through the brand image she wanted to project and to help me give her values and mission a graphic identity to represent her brand. My instructions are always to not edit the answers, to just let the information flow, because you never know where inspiration will strike.

There was one notation on her brief that jumped out at me as I reviewed her answers, something she later told me that she almost did not include:

“I describe my style of medicine as a Venn diagram—traditional medicine, alternative medicine, nutrition, spiritual—I practice @ the overlap.”

Although I had some other ideas that I worked into concepts for her consideration, her statement about the Venn diagram really got me going.

I started by drawing a four-part Venn diagram, and then I deconstructed it, taking away everything except the areas that overlapped. It was an interesting shape, but nothing special. Then I rotated the shape 45 degrees, and suddenly it wasn’t just a piece of a Venn diagram: it had taken on a resemblance to a quilting motif. It still looked clean and modern, but the added hominess of the suggestion of a quilt spoke to the warmth and compassion that is Dr. Odell.

The color palette of greens and blues also elicited feelings of comfort and care.

For the logo type I ultimately decided on Yana, a font family with classic lines but also with decorative serifs that perfectly fit the personality of Dr. Odell and her practice. Also, “Yana” is a Russian name, so I saw the use of this font as a nod to Tam’s fondness for (and previous study of) Russian literature. (That’s the kind of private inside tribute I get a kick out of including in my designs when the opportunity presents itself and it works for the design!)

For the logo design reveal, I first showed Tam the other concepts, which were well received, but no fireworks.

When I revealed the Venn logo concept, however, she burst into tears.

Yup, that’s right. I made the client cry. Not something I strive to do, but then again this client is a dear friend, and the energy and emotion in the room at that moment made it clear that we had found Tam’s logo. Special moment.

With the logo finalized, we then moved on to the design of her stationery, signage, office intake forms, everything carrying through her practice’s graphic identity.

After just a year and a half, Dr. Odell has a robust practice specializing in the treatment of tick-borne illnesses. She’s one of the best in her field. I’m humbled to have helped her with her branding.

Telling Stories

“Tell your story” is the exhortation of marketing gurus everywhere these days, and with good reason.

Telling stories has connected us as human beings from time immemorial. From the stories of the ancestors told around ancient campfires to the collected fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers, from the works of great literature to a movie about a galaxy far, far away, stories have always enthralled us. When my kids were young, story time was a treasured, not-to-be-missed part of their bedtime ritual.

Stories tell us where we come from. Stories tell us we are not alone in our experiences. Stories help us map where we are going.

It is no different for your organization, be it a corporation, an art gallery, a college, or a nonprofit.

You have stories to tell, of course, and tell them you should: how your company started, who you are, how your organization helps people.

Your ongoing story, however, is much bigger than those singular tales.

Your ongoing story is the story of your brand, how your organization is perceived by the public, by your current and potential clients and customers.

Everything your organization does every single day tells a part of the story of your brand. How you engage with your customers. How you interact with your employees. How you live up to your commitments. How much value you bring to your clients. How you make people feel when dealing with your organization.

Stories are powerful.

How well are you telling yours?