Branding is key to success in today’s fluid work market
It’s a new world of work. For many that means changing jobs every four years and not always moving up, but rather across the ladder to learn new skills. For others, especially many over 55, it’s about starting a business. In such a fluid market, finding a way to be distinctive, as a person and as a company, is key. That’s where branding comes in.
Whether you own your own business, run a practice or promote yourself, your brand is critical to success. Susan Munter, formerly of Digitas and Hill Holiday and now head of Band55, a marketing agency serving business owners over 55, addresses this in her PDC class, “Branding on a Budget.” We talked with her about why brand is important, common pitfalls and her course.
Q: Why did you start Band55?
Susan Munter: The Kauffman Foundation, an organization focused on education and entrepreneurship, tells us that 25 percent of U.S. startups are headed by business people over 55. Band55 came out of personal experience working with clients in this age range. Each knew they had real talents and that starting a company at 55-plus is different. I did some research but didn’t find any agencies serving this market. Around the same time my son got me watching “The Voice,” and I started thinking about stars such as Tony Bennett (90) and Dolly Parton (74). Parton had just finished an 85-city tour in one year. She did it by hiring a new backup band versus being the only one on stage. That’s the business model of Band55; we are your backup, taking care of branding, messaging, social media, etc., so you can sing.
Q: Who is this course for?
Munter: While some attendees are 55-plus, it’s really for anybody trying to refine their brand or who has not engaged in branding before and needs to create their own mark.
Q: Why is it important?
Munter: If you ask people if they’re good enough with spreadsheets to be an accountant, most would say no. But with marketing, we see so much of it – TV, billboards, websites – that we think we can do it. But branding requires training, expertise and talent. In the class I work with participants to make a brand. It’s especially helpful if you are not a visual person.
Additionally, one of the most important things in branding today is sincerity – it’s critical to connect with customers. But working computer to computer, phone to phone – there’s not a lot of opportunity. You have to understand your customers to connect.
Q: What branding pitfalls do people fall into?
Munter: Three things. [First,] not talking to a real, live people to get input on your brand and researching to know your customer. Your job is to learn their perspective and be the distiller.
[Second,] missing the context of what you are doing. Often people are so focused on their own story/message that they lose focus of the customer and how it will resonate to them. Or they don’t know their greatest assets, and that can take teasing out.
Lastly, “the more you talk, the less I hear.” This is an executional mistake I see a lot. People want to put all of their information on their home page – what they do, why they do it. But the more densely you populate the page, the less people absorb what you are saying. It’s important to identify key points that need to get through to your audience and stick to those.
Q: Which brands are getting it right?
Munter: A simple, yet effective campaign is the Museum of Science’s Support Science on Pi Day inspiring the next generation of researchers, doctors and entrepreneurs. It got me to click on the website and donate. That’s what you want: to create something your customers are drawn to and want to try.
Q: How can you effectively brand on a budget?
Munter: It’s all about deciding where to invest. There are some great tools, like Moo, where you can get nice business cards for $20 starting out. That and a web page is all you need initially. Once you understand the benefits of a good brand, you can analyze when and where you want to invest. You might work with a top designer for a day, get that eye you need and execute it in a cost-effective way.
Q: Give me an example of a campaign you worked on that shows the power of branding?
Munter: Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I learned about difficult medical conditions, one of the most memorable being debilitating, worsening MS. I went to the homes of patients with the disease, observed how they gripped the walls for balance and came up with an education/marketing campaign between patients and doctors to pursue more significant treatment: “Do you walk on walls?”
It’s what we do in branding – crafting a brand that touches a customer need. I love being able to have access to people’s lives in a very personal way. People share their businesses with me, and I feel very lucky. It’s not just marketing for me.
“Branding on a Budget: For Your Business, Your Practice, Yourself” will be taught on Friday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Career Source Career Center, 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, 3rd Floor, Cambridge. Cost is $60 ($55 + $5 materials fee). For information or to register, visit www.pdcboston.org.
Hilary McCarthy is a marketing consultant, content strategist and writer for business and technology companies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.