Ep. 18 Working w/Agencies – Identity and Branding

MARCH 15, 2020

00:19 Welcome to episode 18. Working with agencies, identity and branding. All right, folks. This is the fourth and final episode in a series dedicated to working smarter with agencies should you choose to hire them and the vast majority of you will have to. I see too many founders getting twirled around by overpriced agencies, inexperienced agencies, agencies who have little experience with promoting new trademarks, agencies who just suck at creative, and agencies who are just plain creepy nasty. If my prior three episodes haven’t made it abundantly clear, the prior three in this series, you have to remember that agencies monetize two things, ongoing creative and strategy work upfront. They don’t make money placing your ads on any platform. The former will be the creative. The former will be a recurring expense they always want to expand. Oh yes. And the latter is a one-time high margin fee, ka-ching.

01:20 You have to have a very strong, competitive strategy and positioning as a founder and as a team prior to hiring any of these folks, if you ever hope to contain the costs and focus them on disciplined execution. Remember, they sell their servicers for a living you don’t buy their services for a living. So if you don’t come in confident, disciplined, and focused, they’re going to start to take over the leadership of your strategy. They’re almost going to feel as their professional obligation. If you want to leave the relationship with your agency, rather than having them lead you around the land of Oz, you need to listen to what I’m saying in this series. It’s not that I don’t like agencies, it’s that so many people who work in them are just not that great. The first time most founders contact anyone in the agency world is when they have to come up with their trademark, their logo and associated what they call, trade dress. And that’s what I want to focus on briefly in this final episode, in the series on working with agencies. All right.

02:21 Brand, branding, logo, identity, what the fuck? There are only about 100 plus business books on branding on Amazon. I’ve read about 15 of them. And basically I maxed out, I totally maxed out. Look, I believe that some of them were okay. I believe fundamentally it’s important to stay focused on the empirical aspects of what you’re hiring an agency to do. They are tools to drive growth. That is it. And their executioners, their tacticians primarily, and they’re helping you come up with creative output that will help promote your business. All right? So you have to keep that in mind even when you engage in a process where you hire an agency to come up with your name, your trademark, and your logo, and your general identity. Because they’re going to call this process something super, super pretentious, and that’s called, creating your brand.

03:21 And its pretentiousness is where a lot of people get sucked into a game in which the agency will play to that founder’s ego, to the maximum financial extent. And I see this all the time. So when you are hiring someone to help you come up with your, let’s get empirical, trademark name, your logo, which is a visual treatment of the trademark, and the graphic design scheme that you will use across all marketing touch points, that is what you are hiring a branding agency to do. You are not hiring them to write a 95 page Shakespeare grounded, Aristotelian rhetoric citing, PowerPoint to justify what they’re coming up with. The graphic design scheme, I’ll be really honest, the most boring part of what a branding agency does when it does it well, is actually the color scheme, the font treatments that are very well thought out, very modern, differentiated just enough in your category that you have literally a rule book that you can use inside your internal marketing activities to keep you consistent across all visual touchpoints with the trade and the consumer.

04:26 And basically the entire known universe. That is one of the most critical aspects to hiring a branding agency. They’re the first group of people, the first group of external professionals who are going to coach you on how to be a disciplined founder. Because the only reason you hire them is to have a disciplined approach to your identity in front of retail accounts and the consumer. And you’d be shocked how undisciplined the average founder is when they enter this industry or any industry, honestly, but in CPG, you have so many different touch points that it’s easy, easy, easy to have your trademarking literally look different than your consumer marketing. Or even worse, have you consumer marketing use different colors, different fonts on different platforms, oh my God, shoot me now. It’s the kind of stuff that branding agencies at Expo West are grumbling about, left, right and center as they walk the floor.

05:13 And when it gets really mad, they all rush to the bathroom and scream. You may have heard them. Then they come out, they wipe their forehead off, and they’d begin again, hopefully, in the quest for well put together packaging. It’s not a joke, their grumbling has a point, a very important point. If you’re eight and a half by 11 [inaudible 00:05:33] to the trade, doesn’t use the same fonts and graphic treatment of your brand as your package does next to it on the booth, you have what we affectionately call a professionalization problem. I talked about that in a prior episode. So these folks do add value. Like I said, the graphic designer rules themselves are almost the gravitational core of consistency that is critical to driving memorability in a crowded marketplace. Because if the consumer eyeballs and their attached brain keep seeing the exact same font, the exact same color scheme, again, and again, and again, eventually they’ll remember it, which makes it much easier for your marketing to work, which makes it much easier to push them to try it.

06:16 And it makes it much easier for them to remember what it is when their friend Sally says, “Have you tried this low alcohol beer? It’s called op de do de do, because it has a very clear memorable package design. But also, you’ve seen the font. You’ve seen the same font in 25 different places already. Okay? I’m getting way too detailed, but that is the power of branding, is that the visual consistency is the essence of what they’re injecting into your business. And my guess is, unless you’re a graphic designer, you don’t got it. So, hire these folks if you don’t. The content of your trademark and your logo, in my professional opinions having spent 20 years researching consumer behavior and how they receive these things, is not nearly as critical folks as the sheer consistency of execution and the treatment that you select is modern.

07:04 And at least that it not be clearly signaling fonts or color schemes from decades ago. And those are big bang you over the head no-nos and most people can intuitively see those mistakes, sometimes not. I see them all the time still at a fancy food show, shoot me now. An agency will select from a modern palette and they’re going to force you to get everything consistent. They’ll give your team the graphic design rules to stay consistent. Hire these folks, please, just don’t overpay. I’ll be honest, it’s generally smarter to hire one agency early on to do both your branding, let me repeat this, which consists of your trademark name, which is also a legal issue guys, this is not just poetry class, a visual treatment of said name, otherwise known as the logo, and a graphic design scheme instead of rules for how to present your brand in any platform that human eyeballs use.

07:58 It’s smarter to hire one agency to do both that branding work and your package design all in one sexier package, the package, oh, that was a bad segue. The package is so critical in initial consumer communication and driving trial. And as I’ve explained earlier, it’s an analytical exercise to get that package design right. And it needs to be tied, I believe, to whatever assumptions are going into your trademark name and logo. If you choose to have assumptions that are deep and meaningful and you don’t need to read my book. In fact, it is much, much more important that the trademark and logo, in terms of the front panel essentially, is much more important than the trademark and logo in terms of the content that actually persuades trial. It’s more important than what everyone glibly refers to as branding throughout this industry.

08:53 I’m serious. That is what the consumer research has taught me. And it’s the package symbolism that most founders underfund and totally screw up. In fact, they overthink the trademark and the logo, and they underthink the package symbolism. Because they haven’t been trained in how package symbolism actually works. Which is why, if you can hire someone who has done successful front panels for early stage trademarks, please do, separate issue. All right. Too many founders obsess about their name, right? And their logo, and the look and feel, and this is infinitely worse, I found, when they’re from a marketing or agency background. You know how long I spent coming up with a PGS trademark, four hours, folks. My criteria, a, choose a business name that contracts into a memorable acronym. Seems to be working so far. B, a logo that symbolizes disciplined growth, which is what I preach and I teach now.

09:47 Now, I had to do the usual BS of looking through existing web domains as I settled on my business name. No, but I did the logo myself in about two hours in Photoshop, because I’m an amateur photographer and I use stock photography. And I’m a cheap ass. No, no, no, no. I’m a bad role model, I know. I spent half a day, okay, seriously, half a day and I didn’t have any business. So I had tons of time to tweedle my tweedledees and spin my wheels. I got to spend two weeks. I refuse to fuss over. In my line of work, I am the product. I know that. No one gives a shit what PGS means or whether it ties to some ancient Tibetan mantra signifying the cosmic origin of humanity and the gentle folds of a saffron flower. Come on. People are buying me. I’m in the rent a brain business. I am not pretentious enough to think it’s any more glamorous than that.

10:35 Here my brain, here’s the fee. PGS is simply a professional symbolic gesture, a social signal that I’m trying actually to be a professional advisor, not a huckster stalking people at Expo West because they couldn’t find another corporate job. And guess what? Your CPG trademark logo founders is no different. Oh, I see so much overthink it’s beyond me. Yes. Color and font treatment have an effect on your target audience. This has been studied by smarter folks than me. Let the professional graphics people at an agency guide you there. I trust them. You should trust them if they’re any good. But don’t overthink it. And don’t overthink your trademark name. Read my book, I talk about why not. It needs to be short, super easy to pronounce and spell, and should avoid semantics that connect to niche ideologies that alienate, or anything that triggers disgust, bad taste, or anything else off putting to a mass market audience that you the awesome successful founder will eventually want to attract down the line.

11:33 Your trademark needs to be written for not your cycle geek friends at the vegan CSA garden, but for the people who are going to make you rich down the line, who shop at Kroger. You need to be spending your money on thinking through the touch points that drive trial with strong purchase intent. That’s the package symbolism guys. It’s not the trademark and it’s not your logo. Sorry. There’s no, none, negative, nada convincing social signs evidence that I’ve seen that proves that your branding in early stage CBG is what’s driving trial or repeat. Absolutely no one in a grocery store walks in and thinks, “Oh God, I’m looking for an amazing brand today. Just a killer brand.” They’re looking for categories of stuff to consume people. That’s where their brain is. It will always be there.

12:22 Your job is to get attention within that headspace, whoa, and it’s not easy. Trust me. I paid people to let me shop with them and they really aren’t paying attention to shit. Trust me. If there’s a three-year-old in their cart, they can barely even remember why they came in the store. Look, your trademark and logo need only do the same thing that mine does for my business. It just needs to communicate some basic things, that you’re a professional, that you’re dead serious about this, and that you want business. That’s all I have this time folks. And remember, as always, be safe out there.