Brand Strategy Pillar #1

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Strategically positioning your professional services agency will attract your target audience on your terms, resulting in fulfilling work and increased profitability. Positioning, at its core, will serve as your method to focus and refine the market landscape.

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The mistake most agencies make when introducing themselves is leading with their services. The typical answer is straightforward: We are graphic designers… or I am an accountant/ architect/engineer/attorney, etc. The problem with this information is that it’s the least distinctive and engaging aspect of your business—positioning is not your service.

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Your positioning starts with your expertise. For example, “modern8 solves brand challenges for companies that struggle to stand out and connect with their audiences.” This introduction opens the door for follow up, like “How do you do that?” or “What kinds of companies do you help?” components. While each element alone may not distinguish you, together they can create distinction and uniqueness.

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Expertise-driven positioning allows your agency to build a narrative around what you do that can save your potential client from failure—it’s classic storytelling.

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The second component of positioning is identifying the industries and clients you serve. By focusing on a specific industry or niche, your expertise will deepen and become more valuable, allowing you to grow your client base organically. 

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After identifying who you serve, the next component to articulate is the benefits your service will provide to your audience, like what is in it for them or what is the ultimate value that you will provide if they choose you. Don’t be vague. Make it easy for them to understand and see how what you do will help.

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Your process is the final component of your brand positioning. It’s your unique way of solving your client’s pain points. A proprietary process provides a framework for delivering consistent results and building trust, credibility, and reliability, as clients know what to expect when they hire you for your service.

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A well positioned brand leaves a lasting impression.

Brand Pillars of Professional Services

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Covered in our last newsletter was a general overview of how brand strategies differ depending on whether you have a product or service-based company.

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The first step in understanding your three brand pillars is to be clear about your strategic goals as a professional service. These typically stem from current market perception issues or changes in business objectives.

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Professional service brands have the potential to stand out in the market through strategy-based decisions. An effectively developed brand strategy requires three key components. While each element alone may not distinguish you, together they can create distinction and uniqueness.

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Pillar One, Positioning: Your What. Your positioning clarifies and clearly states your services and clientele. It communicates your expertise, the unique benefits you offer, the specific problems you solve for your target audience and industry, and the process you use to address them.

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Pillar Two, Perspective: Your Why. Your perspective reflects your worldview, how you see opportunities and challenges in your industry, and your purpose, which are the values that drive your business beyond profit.

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Pillar Three, Personality: Your How. Your personality reflects your heart, your culture, and how you communicate. It includes your desires, values, tone, and voice to help you express the brand internally and externally.

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These three brand pillars should answer the following questions: Who do we work with? What do we provide? What value do we create? Why does it matter? What are we known for? How do we operate? And how would people describe us?

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Your brand should be pieced together by 3 key pillars.

3 Brand Pillars Chart

Service or Product

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The Tangible v. The Intangible: Product companies offer tangible goods that customers can see, touch, and use, whereas service companies provide intangible offerings, such as expertise, advice, or solutions

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Brand Strategy: As a result, product-based brand pillars should emphasize physical attributes, features, and benefits, while service-based brand pillars should focus on conveying value through expertise, trust, and reliability.

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Differentiation: Product companies prioritize product design, functionality, and user experience to differentiate themselves in the market and create memorable customer experiences. Service companies rely heavily on customer interactions, personalized experiences, and consistent relationship-building efforts.

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Messaging: Product companies should focus on understanding their customers’ motivations while highlighting the features and specifications of their products that will meet those needs. In contrast, service companies should emphasize how the benefits and outcomes of their services will solve a client’s problems while highlighting their expertise, process, and unique value propositions.

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Visual Identity: Both product and service companies benefit from a strong visual identity, but product companies should emphasize packaging design, social media presence, and visual aesthetics to create emotional attraction that draws in their customers. Essential for service-based companies are branding elements, such as logos, colors, photography, and imagery, which emphasize and convey professionalism, trustworthiness, and expertise.

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Brand Personality: Service-based companies’ personalities should center around the people doing the work, how they interact with their clients and teams, and how they problem-solve. Product-based companies’ personalities should be based on their target audience while depicting the brand through an identifiable voice, look and feel, and point of view that resonates and aligns with audience lifestyles.

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Whether you’re a service-based or product-based company, evoking emotion within your target audience is a priority. Once cultivated, your brand can powerfully shape perception, influencing the customer’s behavior and building long-term loyalty.

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Knowing the difference, makes a difference.

Service vs Product Brand Strategy chart

How To Hire For Strategy

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Hiring an agency for brand work shouldn’t be a quick and easy process. It’s a significant investment of time and money for returns that aren’t immediately visible. Since branding is a long game that will matter beyond the budget, how should your company evaluate who to partner with and hire?

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To start, define your objectives and what you hope to achieve with the agency. Whether you’re building and shaping customer perceptions, repositioning due to new market conditions, or aligning your brand with a change in business objectives, a clear understanding of your goals will influence your selection.

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Understand the relationship you are looking for. Do you want a partner or an executor? How much do you want to be involved in the brand process? Do you believe in quickly completed work or time with an agency that can fully grasp who you are and where you want to go? Do you value cultural fit for a successful relationship?


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Research brand agencies. Most creative agencies have beautiful portfolios and a process. Spend time reviewing how they do their work. Does the agency use a one-design-fits-all solution or work individualized to the client and their goals? Does their brand process resonate with you? Do you align with the agency’s method for accomplishing work? Does the design work include a strategy that explains creative decisions?

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Interview your shortlist. In the interview, do provide context but let the agency ask questions. The more curious they are, the more thorough they will be in their research. Through a case study, determine how their process can solve your problem. Does their process adapt for service-based versus product-based clients? Does their creative output match the strategy and the overall goals? Workflow-wise, is there a flow to communication and a commitment to timelines?

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Gather feedback. For validation, reach out to clients that have used the agency. Ask for insights into the process, relationship, performance, responsiveness, and desired outcomes.

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Assess the vibe. If you choose your agency wisely, the partnership will last longer than a few weeks. Your instincts play the ultimate role, so tune into your gut for the final decision. Find an agency you vibe with and get to know the team. Both parties should like one another and have mutual respect.

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Before you start hiring, make sure you check off all the boxes.

Strategy Hiring Checklist

Why A Newsletter Strategy is Important

From prospecting to purchase, modern technology has provided us so many opportunities to access and connect with our customers throughout the sales funnel process. Marketing, is an essential piece of the process, but often, those endeavors can be costly, with ROI’s that are not always easily measurable.

Newsletters are a simple and cost effective solution to raise interest in your brand and deliver timely marketing messages to your audience. Dollar for dollar, few marketing tactics deliver more value than newsletters. While they shouldn’t be the only piece to the strategy, they are a low hanging fruit of the mix.

So what are the advantages of newsletters beyond being cost effective?

Strengthening the Connection
Your subscribers have already shown interest in your product or service at least once, so staying in touch with them by delivering regular and useful content to their inbox will continually keep you at the top of their minds when the need (or want) arises. 


Providing Value
Most potential customers don’t want a hard sell. Hard sales are focused on the product or service, and not the customer. There will be times when this tactic is appropriate—more on that later, but this approach does not provide the opportunity for a relationship to be built on trust. Providing engaging and valuable content is the best way to connect on what the customer is actually looking. It will also keep the competition at bay, because you understand them on a deeper level. You know what your customer’s preferences and interests are, so you can address these topics without overtly asking for a sale or contribution. Again, building on that trust.

Customer Insights
Many newsletter platforms also provide an eyeful of useful information to any newsletter sender. By regularly monitoring campaign clicks, and conversion, you will gain insight on your customers’ preferences and motivations, and have the information for future marketing and business strategies.


Removing Pain Points

Relate to and take the pain away by speaking to legitimate industry pain points. Come from a place of empathy and understanding, and don’t be afraid to take a stance. Your audience wants to align with your brand because you see the world in a similar way, so talk about issues that they are facing. And to make it come full circle, you should be sure to mention and connect how your product or service’s capabilities help resolve said issues.


Upcoming Events

And lastly, to occasionally tease your customers about an upcoming release or sale will result in an immediate sale if you have done a sufficient job at consistently resonating and connecting with your audience. After all, you are a business and selling matters. But remember if you have promotions and sales regularly, your audience may never purchase at full price, and your brand may never gain long term value.

Now might be a good time to look at your current marketing strategy and determine if a newsletter tactic might be the low hanging fruit you should act on. 

The 4 Pillars of a Successful Website

Regardless of a business’s industry, online presence has a massive impact on its success. At the forefront of that presence should be a website that is memorable, easy to navigate, and a place that can generate leads and revenue. In our present day, the world has become a smaller place. Information is easily available and at our fingertips, and it impacts the way we receive and share information and live a quality life. Still, some businesses still don’t fully understand the importance of having a website that is modern and effective. Afterall, many customers will visit a website, sometimes dozens of times, before making purchases. 

 

When creating a website there are numerous key factors that will contribute to how it is perceived. At each step of the way, an effective website must capture the trust of the potential customer. The website must pass the eyeball test at each level to unlock the desired results that prove its effectiveness.

 

The fact is, effective websites don’t just happen. To attract and retain traffic, a website’s content, design and experience must all consistently, and simultaneously, be on point. 

 

Sadly, we’ve all experienced websites that leave much to be desired. 

 

Websites that don’t communicate a clear purpose, leaving visitors confused.

 

Websites that don’t have a simple, sequential user experience, but lackluster interfaces which lead to more confusion and skyrocketing bounce rates.

 

Or, perhaps the worst of the bunch, outdated websites that feel like they were designed and launched in preparation for Y2K.

 

At a8ency, we believe effective websites share 4 critical criteria: 

 

  1. Is it Clean? Is your website’s design aesthetically pleasing and inviting, or is lack of organization on parade? If you aren’t using contemporary designs and layouts, people may think you’re behind the times—and not worth their time or money. If it doesn’t look the part, it simply won’t perform the part.
  2. Is it Simple? Aim for less fluff and more simplicity. Whether we realize it or not, as humans we all crave a simple experience. It’s not just about the words you use. It’s not just the images. It’s how they are presented, and often how easy it is for people to find them. If your website experience wouldn’t be described as simple, it’s time to revisit the experience. 
  3. Is it Educational? Does your website communicate who you are, what you do, and what the next logical step is? Everything published should be keyword rich, while being timely, accurate, and ordered in ways that align with customer needs. Does it also inform visitors of your products or services with elevator pitch brevity?
  4. Is it Compelling? Does the site invite engagement and conversions for the business? Does it generate leads for the business? If your business needs sales to thrive as most do, your website must be compelling and be ready to capture transactions.

Branding Marketing

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We define branding as a strategic and emotional foundation that builds customer loyalty over time.

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Marketing is typically defined as the action of promoting and selling goods and services.

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We’ve often been asked if we also offer marketing, and, up until now, we’ve politely declined by stating that we are primarily specialized in brand design, then referring our clients to a marketing agency.

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However, we’ve noticed a gap between marketing and branding—they don’t always work synergistically together, and our clients are missing the opportunity to build brand customer loyalty in the short term and over time.

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So what did we do? We launched a brand-based, full-service marketing, sister organization to modern8—a8ency.

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a8ency is about creating compelling and innovative campaigns that bridge the gap between marketing and design, in order to reach your target audience.

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We are also excited to introduce our modern8 audience to a8ency’s Managing Director, Eric Dahl, who comes with years of marketing experience and will be leading the a8 charge. Eric will share his brand marketing perspectives and experiences, which will provide you with insights on bolstering the value of your brand.

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Your Brand Om

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As consumers, we’re pretty familiar with taglines and the general purpose that they serve.

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Some brand taglines have become so successful that they are well-integrated into our language and pop culture as normal euphemisms, such as “maybe it’s Maybelline or maybe it’s…”.

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But what goes into this deceptively simple element of your brand?

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Taglines are the memorable, compelling, and concise way to tell what your brand stands for and promises.

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They can adapt and transcend as time moves on, while carrying your brand’s essence, personality, and more.

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Taglines are built from a thorough understanding of your brand, and, once you develop a tagline, they should be used frequently and consistently to build cachet.

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“Brand mantras are poetry. And they are powerful tools, not just for building brands, but for building organizations.” – Chris Grams

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(The remedy for your dynamite brand)

Short and Sweet

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Headlines are a succinct way of creating brand-based communications that are insightful to your brand’s priorities, personality, values, and more.

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As a strategy-first agency, we believe in referencing the strategic columns of your brand in order to build any form of messaging.

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Because headlines are meant to be efficient and effective forms of communication, it’s better to build them strategically and relevantly for wherever and whomever they are placed.

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As prominent copywriter Eugene Schwartz put it, “There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.”

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Writing intentional headlines with focus also prevents them from feeling generic or, on the opposite side, from being so encumbered that you lose all understanding and meaning.

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A well thought out headline builds additional layers of visible character for your brand. Therefore, develop headlines that deepen your brand perception over ones that only exist to acknowledge and compete with the competition.

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“Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” – Fairfax M. Cone

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(You’re only as solid as what you build on.)

Brand Persuasion

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Your potential customers need to know why they should buy from you and your brand.

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You’ve done the research and spoken with your brand’s potential clients, and you’ve also spent time defining and understanding your brand and who you are.

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Now the task is to figure out how do you signal your future buyers and bring them into the fold?

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You need to speak to your audience using the right platforms (i.e., social media platforms, events, podcasts) where they exist, and utilize the right voice, tone, and correct message.

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Formulating the visuals and messaging takes creativity. Getting seen in the right place and gauging if it works is a science.

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“Don’t think that those millions will read your ads to find out if your product interests. They will decide at a glance — by your headline or your pictures. Address the people you seek, and them only.” – Claude Hopkins

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Assignment: Write about the last 5 headlines/ads that were served to you, and what you remember about where they were and what they said. What worked to capture your attention? Was it the words? the design? the placement?

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(Make sure they’re the right buyer…)