MTM Ep#19: 4 Steps to building a powerful brand with Deb Dulin

« More Insights

Welcome back to another episode of More Than Marketing. I’m your host, Arsham Mirshah. We’re chatting with Deb Dulin of Dulin Design, branding extraordinaire Deb Dulin. We talk about why branding is as a foundation for any business and the 4 steps to building a powerful, respected brand.


– [Deb] In order to increase your market recognition and differentiate you from your competition you really need to have that brand foundation solidified. Because that way you can roll out any sort of marketing effort and your customers and potential customers will recognize you for the same great company that you are.

– Hey hey we’re back, another episode of More than Marketing I’m your host Arsham Mirshah, I am joined today with branding extraordinaire Deb Dulin.

– Hi there.

– Did I get it right?

– Yes, perfect.

– I got it right. Cool, thank you for joining me. Thanks for coming today. I appreciate that, this is More than Marketing. We span topics all the way from branding I think is maybe one end of the spectrum and then the other end might be like sales enablement or something like that or direct response or something like that. So thank you for coming and helping me kinda go to what I call an end of the spectrum do you view it that way?

– I view it more as a foundation for any business. You know, a lotta times businesses get going and they’re just trying to get making money and pick things up and the marketing and branding is very scattered as needed, and in order to increase your market recognition and differentiate you from your competition you really need to have that brand foundation solidified because that way you can roll out any sort of marketing effort and your customers and potential customers will recognize you for the same great company that you are.

– Got it, I like it okay. So it’s a foundation, that’s good. So that makes sense when I say one end of the spectrum it’s like hey maybe you should start with your brand and have that foundation to build on top of, so to speak.

– Right, yeah I mean a lot of times though we work with businesses that are already established and we can come in and help them tighten it up and that’s, and a lot of the things we’re gonna talk about today are things they can do themselves.

– Really?

– It’s really just organizing the assets that you already have and sitting down and giving it some thought. You know if you want to take it to the next level someone like myself and my team could help with that. But these are just four simple steps we can take, you can take as your organization to just organize what you already have and make it more consistent.

– I like, Deb you’re being very modest and kind in that, I do agree that you know, these are really good steps. So we’re talking about building a powerful brand. Deb has four steps to get to that powerful brand you know questions to ask yourselves and steps to take. I will say though don’t underestimate the different perspectives that someone like yourself comes in and brings. I for instance, we, I love having a consultant on staff not on staff but paying a consultant because it brings, they see things that we can’t see, I think you do that for your customers.

– Yeah and it’s actually one of my favorite parts of working with different types of customers. Getting in and understanding why they’re in business, why they do what they do, why they’re good at what they do, it’s, I don’t know I just really enjoy learning that, learning new things about each kind of business. We work with a lot of different industries–

– I was just gonna ask that, you’ve probably seen hundreds of different industries in your time.

– Yeah definitely, I mean we if we had a niche we have three, we work with a lot of businesses in healthcare, hospitality, technology. But we also work outside of that as well. The common theme is that they have some sort of marketing in place. It’s either a marketing director or someone who drew the short straw in marketing and they’re stuck with all the tasks, in either situation they need help delegating. They just don’t have all the resources in-house to get things done, so we can do any type of branding design copywriting, some type of digital in collaboration with someone like yourself. But bringing in that outside perspective to look at the business and evaluate where they are in the market and really just tighten things up and make it simpler, easier for the audience to understand.

– And ask questions they may not be asking themselves which is I think maybe kinda part of this four step process here. That’s yeah that makes sense. Foundation to build upon and let’s get into it, can we get into it, four steps?

– Absolutely yeah.

– Cool so what’s the first step that you take?

– So I like to understand who the ideal audience is. Lots of times people come to me and they want my opinion on the logo, but the logo has to reflect what your audience is expecting in your industry and it has to reflect who you are. So understanding your ideal customer is really the first step. Most companies have two to three customer types. It could be different product lines, different service lines that are very different. It could be the same product and two different audiences, so take for example an elder care agency for someone who want to do in-home assistance for senior citizens. You have two audiences, you have the senior whose getting to the point where they need to take that step for assistance, and you have the caregiver who may or may not be local, who may be stressed out, overwhelmed. That it’s the same service and they both need you. But you’re speaking a little bit differently to each one of those customers.

– Yeah and the benefits are different for each one of those customers, or those buying influences as we, we use that term as a buying influence. So for instance in a B to B world I’d be selling one product but you have what we call the user buyer so that’s the person whose probably gonna be using your product or service okay. Then you have the economic buyer that may or may not be the same person. But it’s the person whose signing the check, and they might experience a different benefit than the user buyer does.

– Absolutely, yes we’ve run into that too.

– Yeah so I’m saying the same thing you are it’s just you know, B to C world, B to B world. There’s different users, there’s different, so how do you go about finding these, identifying the audiences?

– When we first get in touch with clients we have a discovery session and that’s one of the things we ask, and they usually know they have at least two audiences. And sometimes they’ll start at the basic age, income, different types of demographics like that. We wanna understand the personality, because most businesses have a pain point. They’re coming to you because you’re solving something for somebody so it may not matter what their age or their income level or where they live is. You’re solving something specifically. So are they excited about it, are they stressed out about it, you have to understand the personality. Are they, you know inquisitive and wanna take an alternative approach to healthcare, that’s a different type of customer as well.

– Yeah so it’s like the emotion that they’re feeling and that they’re feeling now and the emotion that your solution shall have them feeling once you’re done?

– Absolutely.

– Okay, very interesting yeah. So is there questions that you ask or any kind of process that you might go through to identify who those are.

– Yeah I mean I’ll sit there and break it down, I’ll just have a category on a PDF and I’ll say okay. I do ask the basic demographics and I’ll ask personality, behavior, do they have hobbies you know? Sometimes businesses make connections based on certain types of hobbies–

– Well you’re not selling to a business you’re selling to another person so that’s a good, what’s where that hobbies comes in, for example and/or where the demographics come in. ‘Cause you’re always selling to a person or two right?

– Yeah I mean if you’re a brand that caters to an active lifestyle, and you wanna know what types of hobbies your customers have, it’s good to know too–

– Ah yeah yeah yeah.

– Unfold into different parts of your brand.

– See I already went into, see this is what I do. I think like selling like as a sales organization it’s a person selling to a person. Both of them are within a company and those companies have a brand but I think what you’re talking about, and it’s out of my realm, it’s just, that’s why I’m so happy you’re here. It’s like, it’s the brand can do some of the lift for you, some of the sales for you. I think of, I don’t know you just mentioned athletic ware, like Lululemon right? They’re yes they have a logo. But their brand is so much more than their logo. It’s the brand’s personality, it’s the people that they hire, you know? When I walk into a Lululemon the people are generally fit and excited about it and they wanna talk to you and they’re in a good mood and I don’t know. You know, do you see what I’m saying?

– Oh absolutely, and they’ll offer classes, they tend to partner with local fitness organizations and gyms so that you know they give off the vibe that they support local businesses and that in turn brings in more traffic and they’re likely to shop there more and if your friends are wearing it, you’re more inclined to do that because they’re vouching for the quality of it. It’s, the brand is the experience. Lululemon, Starbucks, those are brand experiences and so that’s where you get into different assets like color and logos and the fact that ever Starbucks looks the same and you can come in and place an order at any Starbucks in the U.S. And in the lingo that they want and you’ll get what you want.

– And you know what that experience is gonna be, it’s consistent.

– Exactly. It’s relieving to the customer who is coming in and they just need a quick cup of coffee and they’ll go in and get exactly what they need.

– I love it, I love it, I love it, okay so let’s go on to number two. I think we talked about so audience is step one, step two–

– Is messaging. So messaging is your message has to speak to what your audience is expecting right? Again if you’re an active lifestyle type of brand you’re gonna be exciting, and confidant and breakthrough and innovative, you know if on the flip side you’re working in elder care and you have an in-home elder care agency.

– Safe.

– That’s a very different experience, you wanna show compassion, you wanna show reassurance, this is likely a new phase of a relationship for people that they’re going into. You wanna show helpfulness, experience, people–

– Safety, I don’t know.

– Safety, exactly. Not everyone is going to be there at the time that your staff is there, you wanna show that you’re competent you can take care of this and everyone’s gonna be happy, so.

– Good points.

– So I often ask people to come up with three adjectives that would describe your tone of voice.

– Okay.

– And that usually helps get them obviously it can be more than three but if you narrow it down it’ll just get you into that process of what type of messaging you should have across all your channels and all your marketing.

– And you’re matching that to the audience knowing that they are experiencing some emotion and then now, and they wanna you know experience a different emotion let’s say, and so this message is to elicit that.

– Yeah and a lot of times we help guide companies because your marketing materials should solve a problem for your customers. So lots of companies like to talk about the features that they’ll offer, like I could list 25 different services that I offer. But I help companies build their brand foundation to accelerate their marketing. I help them get projects done I help them get their message clear. That’s solving a problem so if you tailor your message to solving your customer’s problem, if you come in and your company is the hero and you’re saving the day and making their lives easier that’s gonna resonate with your audience. That’s what they’re looking for and if they’re going to your website or they’re looking online at social media and they’re seeing I’m gonna do this for you. It’s straight forward, it’s simple, and it’s exactly what they’re looking for.

– Are you Deb, are you talking about the benefits versus features or attributes, FAB? Features, Attributes, Benefits really what people will actually care about is the benefits right.

– And that can be a bit of a hurdle for people to understand, especially if you built a business, an organization and you’re proud of what you’ve done and you may offer features that are innovative in the marketplace, you can talk about that later on once you’ve got someone engaged with you. But your initial outreach to people should be the benefits of working with you or buying your product or service.

– Yeah that’s like the benefit’s like the hook and then, you get ’em in and the features and attributes of those features are what might push ’em over the edge. That’s what I would think.

– Exactly.

– That’s in my experience at least.

– Yes.

– Cool so step one, audience, step two, message. Anything else you wanna say on message?

– Make sure you understand what’s important to your customers and if you have any type of social proof obviously testimonials, review sites, even just engaging with your staff who talks to your customers on a regular basis, you’re gonna hear things that may be intrinsic to how you run a business that are actually a differentiator from you, I guess your competition. A lot of times when we conduct focus groups we’ll find that, we’ll just interview 10 people and we’ll start to see the common threads. These could be people from very different backgrounds initially, but they like working with you because you have a certain process or you’re just a good personality fit. Pay attention to the reviews and feedback and the social proof you get and that you can take a lot of that and put it into your messaging. Because if you want to attract more customers like that. Other people just like them are looking for that too and when they hear that they’ll just say oh that’s just like me that’s what I’m looking for, I need to reach out.

– Perfect that’s exactly what I need, yeah. No I completely Deb I love what you just said there. You already have the foundation of this in your reviews or in if you record your calls. Listen to your sales calls or your customer service calls or live chats, that content is there already. To help you understand what your message should be. ‘Cause it’s the voice of the customer. The voice of the customer is there the content is there so you can use those assets to uncover it, I also want to add if I may, like the Lulu example, Lululemon example. I think message is just more than just the words that you use I think that your actions that the brand takes can also send a message one that connects with the audience, so for example Lulu says. Hey every Sunday free yoga right? So that’s sending a message of we actually, we care so much about your health that we will underwrite the expense of bringing this local instructor in and to make sure that you get a yoga experience if you’re not paying for it right, that’s–

– Exactly, yeah.

– That’s an action that sends a message that wow, this brand actually cares about me. I also know, I shop there apparently, right? I also know that they will if I had these shorts that didn’t fit, they were too long, they were past my knees they were like oh we’ll hem those for you for free. That sends a message, hey we care about you our customer, you know.

– Yeah exactly.

– You don’t have to pay more.

– I’ve had the same experience the other day.

– You know we don’t have to pay more for that.

– Yeah and they were very gracious about it and it was done very quickly and it makes you want to be a loyal customer because they care and they wanna make sure you get the best experience.

– It’s very cool, very good. You just made me think of that, that the message is more than the words because we were talking about the Lulu example, so anyway wanna move on, step three?

– Yeah so step three is the visuals and I know this is where everybody gets really excited but we need to understand an audience. To develop the message that is targeted to them and then you put it all into the visuals. So a logo, I mean a brand is so much more than a logo, like we talked about it’s experience, it’s message it’s who you’re connecting with. The logo is really the visual representation of all of that. When we work on logo redesigns or even logos for brand new companies we’ve had quite a few discussions before we even put pencil to paper. It’s, we do a lot of market research. We look at their competitors. It helps us get past that I know what I want when I see it phase where people just they’re not quite sure what they want, but when they get there they’ll know and that rather than just going through iterations of things and just not quite clicking it’s understanding it’s explaining to someone this is what your market is expecting for your type of visual. Certain colors, certain symbolism or not. You know certain types of names, certain fonts, things like that, these are the qualities and the personalities of your brand. This is who you are this is your company’s values. We can take all of that and then just when we work on it internally we just distill it down into certain types of adjectives and emotions and things like that and we’ll come up with several concepts that we feel represent what you are as a company into one visual mark.

– But not until you have the audience nailed down until you have the message nailed down, you know you have those emotions nailed down. Then you get to step three, the logo right? Because even things such as sharp edges, you said fonts for example. Serif or non-serif, sharp edge or rounded edges. All those kind of give off a you know give off a personality, an emotion, I think.

– Yeah and then certain industries if you tend to be we’ve done a couple technology firms and the fonts tend to be more friendly and of the moment, you know I, we try not to design things that are gonna be dated in three years. But it would be highly unlikely to pick a serifed font, serifs are the ones with the little feet. Those are 500 year old fonts they convey stability and tradition and experience and there are industries where that’s perfect for but if you’re making the next Facebook that’s not it. There’s certain things that people expect when they look at you when they look at your competitors. And so you do have to work within that sandbox but then you wanna design it in such a way that there’s no confusion between you and a competitor either.

– Yeah good call good call, way to go on the serif thing. I just said non-serif I realized it’s sans serif.

– It’s close enough.

– Yeah but you could just see where I sit right? I’m the computer science guy, I’m like fonts who cares right? But obviously I do care it does make a difference and good call thank you I learned something today. You’re right serif fonts are those 500 year old fonts. Okay a financial firm, maybe who wants to show hey we have all this experience. Trillion dollar on your assets maybe they might use a serif font I don’t know.

– Yeah they do and the legal profession, things like that.

– Legal, accounting this kind of, those–

– Yeah but it’s up to the designer to understand what types of fonts are, what they represent, things like that so we can make sure it matches the emotions you are looking for in your logo.

– Yep I like it, cool, you good on logo?

– Yeah I think so, I would just say too when you have a logo make sure you have at least two different versions of it.

– Okay yeah good call.

– Yeah most people I mean you have your logo on the left and then you have your word on the light, and that’s unless you’re Nike, Target, Starbucks you need to have your name down there you don’t want any confusion about what you are, but if you go to put it on social media this is gonna be really tiny. So your visual should be up here right? Make sure that you have those different versions of it. Sometimes they get kinda cobbled together at the last minute and it can create some brand confusion. But you should have at least two versions of it, single color versions, white or black versions for black and white media or apparel. Just make sure if you just have one folder and put all the logos in there it will make your team’s life so much easier because they’ll just know where to find it. A lot of times that confusion just comes from people not having access to all of their assets.

– Just not being organized right. Just organizing the assets alone can help move the marketing campaigns or marketing initiatives forward faster. Good call on the multiple versions as well ’cause that’s something that bit us in the butt a couple of times, because ours is the logo or we call it the mark. So it’s the mark and then it’s Web Mechanix. But that’s just very long it’s right 70 pixels high 500 across you got a, it doesn’t work in certain formats. Social media for example or you sponsor something and you need more of a box so you move the mark up top, that’s very good, that’s very good.

– Yeah and then you can make the mark bigger ’cause you really want that to become the recognition anyway so yeah there’s definitely versatility to have in that. But it’s good to kind of keep everything consistent still.

– It is obvious Deb that you have done this several times. Many a many a times. ‘Cause I, again I wouldn’t think of that. That’s not just not my expertise so do you know what I mean?

– Yeah and honestly when we have ongoing work with our clients it makes our lives easier too because everything’s already set up already. Or even if they’re gonna take the initiative to do things with another vendor they have all the assets in place. They can go get those polo shirts made and everything’s there. The vendor isn’t scrambling to make a solution for them.

– Right you just mentioned assets so step four now you have the logo, you know your audience, you know the message you’re trying to convey you’ve got your logo down. Now it’s?

– Now it’s the other visual assets. So these are your colors, your fonts and any type of brand imagery. So colors you’re gonna have two to three primary colors for your logo. You know it a lot of that could be, it depends on how you started. Blue is pretty universally accepted color across men and women across many different cultures. Green is a close second. Some colors are more region specific. I do see a bit more purple in this area because of the Ravens.

– Thank you.

– Exactly, I do I’ve gotten a couple Penn State blue requests for logos, navy’s a pretty safe color anyway so we’re able to make that work. So there are some regional preferences.

– I wouldn’t have thought that by the way, regional preferences, that’s a good point.

– Yeah and especially in Maryland too because you’ll find a lot of the red yellow black,

– Red yellow black yeah yeah yeah yeah.

– With the flag and different iterations of that too.

– Yeah UNBC where I went to college it’s the same yellow or gold and black kinda Marylandy

– Yeah with red, go Retrievers.

– Yeah go Retrievers did you went there too?

– I did.

– Oh ho, high five! How ’bout them apples, you learn things on the podcast. I love it that’s so cool. We don’t have to go into when and all that. But that’s cool we’ll talk after okay.

– Absolutely yeah I didn’t know that it’s exciting.

– Me too.

– Yeah so we you can identify a couple different primary colors for your pallette and then you know they tend to be industry specific. I’d have to dive in a little more to each company but certain industries tend to have certain preferences on colors, but other ones may not and that’s okay. Then you may have some secondary colors that just compliment it and you know it’s not, the logo is never if your logo’s green and black. Your logo’s never gonna be in orange but if that’s a complimentary color in your marketing or on your social media posts or things like that it just helps keep everything on brand and that way you don’t have people cherry picking things that they just feel might work for that particular situation.

– Or it’s not always green and black, green black green black it’s something to kinda break up that not expectation but just make it a little bit more interesting, and that’s the way I view it I don’t know if that’s fair to say I mean.

– Yeah definitely.

– I mean that’s what I you know, that’s the way I think of it. Is just okay now here let’s introduce this other color to make it just a little bit more interesting and maybe it compliments, hey I want you to pay attention to this which is why it’s maybe gold and green. But I got this orange thing over here to make it a little bit more this orange maybe icon to make it a little bit more interesting.

– Exactly yeah or different links or certain parts of the webpage just yeah.

– Oh yeah the styles in CSS for the site, yeah sure. I’m telling you from my perspective which I’m, I’m not the branding guy but that’s what I experience when I see a secondary color. I’m like oh that’s okay that’s nice. That’s consistent not consistent. It’s not necessarily the right word, but it’s congruent and it’s interesting and it’s clean I think that’s the word I want to use is clean.

– Yeah that works.

– Okay you know assets it’s funny when you say step four assets, I think when I think assets I think of marketing brochures, website’s an asset. That’s what I think of assets. But it’s interesting to hear you say it’s more like the brand guidelines, that’s an asset.

– Yeah it is the brand guidelines. These are just different facets of the visual side of your brand but yes I mean marketing has so many different assets, and there is a lot of overlap between branding and marketing. Branding is more of who you are, and marketing is how you sell it, and branding is establishing your values, and your personality and marketing can be more specific to a platform or a campaign or a season and marketing is communicating who you are. But in order to communicate it and increase that recognition across all those digital impressions you need to have that solid brand foundation.

– You need to know who you are!

– Exactly,

– you need to know who you are and how you solve a problem. Who you are, who your audience is, and how that connection is made. That’s usually through the message and experience.

– Exactly.

– Interesting.

– Yeah so you’ve been branding all along.

– I have been I just didn’t know it you know I actually have a little framework that I’m gonna do my own podcast on or blog post and it’s a little triangle. So I break down any marketing campaign, I think can break down into three things. The audience, you know who are they, a lotta what you said. Who are they demographic, firmographic, their emotions where are they all that stuff, what are they trying to accomplish? Then it’s message so audience, message. Now the message now again it’s so weird because I’ve been running around the halls here saying this, it’s the audience, what’s the message in my view the message is typically copy. Or and or imagery so landing page copy ad copy, the imagery that’s the message. What are we trying to convey. If it’s holistic health you’re not gonna show someone holding their back, their back is hurting. ‘Cause that’s the current state someone’s in. You’re gonna show someone whose vibrant. Hey I’m healthy ’cause that’s the state you want them to be that’s the message you wanna get across, use our service you’re gonna be like this instead of what you probably are. So audience, message so we have we’re very connected here. ‘Cause those are your step one and two. My step three is experience, it’s how do I get this how do I get this message to that audience. You know what is my again landing page. Is it when they land there what do I want them to call me, fill out a form, am I on or do I want them to take a quiz, am I on different platforms, or am I on just one platform? What is the experience, what happens after they contact us? What happens, you know in the next stage of the funnel. What’s that customer experience like?

– Exactly, yeah definitely you wanna keep it as straight forward, and to the point and because that becomes part of your brand. I went to their landing page, I filled this out, I got what I was looking for, they followed up, they were prompt.

– My expectations were met, or not met. You gotta measure that, what are the expectations? So this whole time I’ve been going around with my little framework and you already had it. For the most part.

– Great minds think alike.

– That’s what it is, yeah it’s that UNBC power, we’ll let Freeman Hrabowski know that he did a really good job.

– Exactly yeah .

– Deb Dulin thank you so much for this. This was I learned stuff, I hope the audience has learned as well, we will link to you, we will mention you when this comes out and all that and then if people want your help they can reach out. Thanks for being so gracious to share your four step process.

– Thank you, yeah it’s been great. It’s been a great discussion.

– Yeah definitely and how many projects did you do last year?

– We do an end of year info graphic every year and it just gives us a good year in review. I think we completed 131 projects, so yeah.

– That’s so cool. That’s so so cool. It’s awesome that you do that, that infographic and keep track of that stuff. Thank you so much for being here, didn’t know we had connections beyond Howard County and such talk about this now. For all y’all out there like, subscribe, thank you, thanks Deb.

– Thank you.

– Cheers.

– See ya.

Deb Dulin

Deb DulinDulin Design

Arsham Mirshah

Arsham MirshahCEO & Co-Founder

Podcasts Info:
Creative + UX
News + Business

Most newsletters suck...

So while we technically have to call this a daily newsletter so people know what it is, it's anything but.

You won't find any 'industry standards' or 'guru best practices' here - only the real stuff that actually moves the needle.

You may be interested in:

Measuring your marketing team’s effectiveness with Chris Allen

Measuring your marketing team’s effectiveness with Chris Allen

Today’s guest is an experienced senior marketing leader that also has a toolbox full of amazing marketing tactics. Chris Allen is the SVP of Marketing at Heartland and the Host of The Entrepreneur’s Studio. \ Chris shares his framework for assessing the ability of your marketing team along with tips on how to communicate marketing...
Read this