This time in the doghouse studio, I interviewed Karen Leland, founder of Sterling Marketing Group and best selling author of 9 books. You can find her latest, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, right on Amazon. Karen’s clients have included LinkedIn, Twitter, Apple, Marriott Hotels, and others. In addition to having been featured in The New York Times, Fortune, and CNN, she also writes a regular column for Inc.com.
In Karen’s own words, “I spend a lot of my day helping smart, interesting, and committed people make their biggest difference in the world.” That means she does personal, team, and business branding for CEOs, mid-cap companies, and high end entrepreneurs. Why should you care about brand mapping? Simply put, it’s going to save you time and money.
Karen brought so much passion and knowledge to the show, I just couldn’t resist asking for her insights on a variety of topics. If you want to know more about not just brand mapping, but also messaging, copy, and the future of digital marketing, you’ll love this interview. I hope all of you listening get as much out of this conversation as I did!
Brand Mapping 101
Over her years as a branding and marketing strategist, Karen noticed a trend in how most people define their brands. Across dozens of industries, people defined their brand by a sort of elevator pitch or “anchor statement,” a quick, sweeping summary. While those statements are important, Karen knew they don’t tell the whole story — and so she created the brand map process. The brand map has 7 core elements for the client to define, in order to discover and articulate all facets of their brand. Through defining those elements, clients develop a holistic and fully descriptive way of talking about their brand.
The process isn’t something you can knock out on a wet and windy Wednesday afternoon, either. “It takes an entire day to figure out those seven elements! […] So many people aren’t clear and compelling about what it is they actually do. That’s part of why I wrote a book! I can’t spend a whole day with everyone. You really have to think this through in a very deep way.”
As we dive into this a bit further, I want listeners to think of the core elements in terms of the questions they answer. Your anchor statement (or elevator pitch) answers the question, “What do you do?” It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s short. Your unique branding proposition, on the other hand, answers the question, “Why should I choose you?” The answer can include a whole range of possibilities.
- Your specialized background training or education
- A proprietary process you’ve created
- What niche you occupy in the industry
- A unique solution you have to a common problem
Ultimately, your unique branding proposition includes something you offer that’s hard to replicate. It allows you to articulate how your brand speaks to the needs of your audience, and the unique way you address those needs.
Two common mistakes you can avoid with brand mapping
As Karen and I spoke, I realized how much her process could have helped clients we’ve had over the years. This became especially clear when we discussed common mistakes companies make — from Fortune 500 companies to the smallest of startups!
Mistake #1: Designing your site before understanding your story. Raise your hand if you’ve ever hired someone to design your website, only to be disappointed with the finished product. You’re certainly not alone! Karen argues that this disconnect comes from doing visual identity branding before you truly understand your story.
“How did you get here? What is your energy? What do you offer? You need to answer these questions before you proceed with visuals. It’s hard to even choose a font if you don’t have a deep understanding of these things. Nature pictures and pastels won’t fit a more aggressive brand. Chartreuse might be the ‘it’ color this year but totally turn off your target customer.”
Mistake #2: “If you build it, they will come” mentality. Karen mentions that there are over 40 different tactics you can use to build your brand. Don’t let the number stress you out: you only need to focus on 2-4 core strategies to build your brand. Discovering the right ones, however, can be tricky.
“It’s a function of time, money, commitment, talent, and where your audience gets their info. [Brands] get convinced they need to do something — whether that’s Facebook ads, podcasting, or writing an ebook — and spend big bucks on it. They think they can do any old strategy and see results. That’s a huge myth.”
I couldn’t agree more. Having a clear brand map is fundamental to ensuring your brand is aligned with your customer archetypes.
What you stand to lose without brand mapping
When you’ve got a hot new business idea burning a hole in your pocket, restraint is no easy feat. You want to get out there and start building your brand, finding clients, and getting people as excited as you are. In the words of Moondog Kelly, however, “Slow your roll!” According to Karen, you need three things in place before you start brand building:
- A fully up-to-date, modern, well-branded website
- Similarly modern and well-branded social media
- A fully articulated brand
Once you have that platform, you’ll be in a better position to choose which strategies to pursue. What can go wrong if you don’t have that in place before you start to build the brand? Unfortunately, a lot!
“I talk to reporters all the time, and I can’t tell you how many have told me stories about finding someone who seemed like a promising interviewee only to be completely turned off by their website or social. The reporters know that if they were to use that person, their readers would then see an unprofessional, unimpressive site. That would that reflect poorly on the reporter! People grossly underestimate the importance of a solid website.”
Incidentally, the way I got in touch with Karen was exactly the opposite of this. In a moment of serendipity, I received an email from Karen’s company, suggesting I interview a client of theirs on the podcast. When I looked into the company, however, I realized that Karen was the one I really wanted to interview! I was so impressed by her website and her branding that I just couldn’t resist.
Everything but the kitchen sink
This really only touches on the surface of what Karen and I discussed on the podcast this week. Listen along and hear all about:
- AI and its role in the future of marketing and PR
- Data driven analysis
- The importance of language in brand mapping
- How to root your narrative in authenticity
- Karen’s past as a musical theater major
- Her thoughts on thought leaders
- And so much more!
As always, you can get in touch with Karen on Twitter or LinkedIn, and read her regular column on Inc.com. I recommend checking out her book on Amazon — I know I’ll be purchasing it for a few clients! Thanks so much for listening.