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Ignite Your Brand With Expert Insights Into Your Burning Questions: LinkedIn Live with Emily Youngblood and Cheri Quinn of Mercury Creative Group

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  • What the heck IS a brand strategist? (2:26)
  • How to identify a wonderful idea (3:26)
  • Defining your mission and vision statement (4:37)
  • How does a manifesto or purpose statement fit into an organization? (7:08)
  • If you’re trying to say too many things to too many people, nobody’s listening (9:34)
  • Navigating multiple ideal audiences (13:29)
  • How to determine if it’s time for a brand refresh (16:39)
  • The art and science of brand strategy (27:45)
  • How Mercury is incorporating AI such as ChatGPT (30:47)

Video Transcript

Emily: Welcome. I’m Emily. I’m here with Cheri. This is our first time doing this, so hey, bear with us. We’re really excited to chat with you today about brand and brand strategy and questions that people have submitted and that we know are burning. For those of you that don’t know, I’m the Client Services Director here at Mercury. We are the brand professionals that bring brand clarity and alignment to organizations. And I’ve been with Mercury for the last three years. Had the pleasure of working with many, many clients and leaders over the years, co-facilitating a lot of brand work with Cheri and other teammates. And we also work with our clients on an ongoing marketing partnership basis. So today I’m here with Cheri. I mentioned her name a few minutes ago. We’re here for about 25 minutes and just excited to walk through and answer some questions together that we hear from clients on a frequent basis. And then we’ve been collecting questions over time related to brand. And so we’ll follow up on those. However, we want to leave an opportunity today for your questions. So if you’ve joined us live, please feel free to jump on the chat and pop in a question that you may have that you came here with, or maybe we’ve spurred on an idea or a question in your head as we’ve been talking. And so, thanks for joining us. Cheri, want to introduce yourself before we jump in?

Cheri: Sure, of course. Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. Emily and I are filling in, like she said. This is our first time being live on LinkedIn, which is a little nerve-wracking, honestly. I was commenting earlier about how I’m feeling a little nervous, but want to make sure that you leave with something valuable. We’re just here to share some of our stories. I’m the Lead Brand Strategist at Mercury, and Emily and I work together all the time. We talk to executive directors, we talk to marketing directors and leaders in both corporate organizations and associations, really across the country, and help with branding. So I just wanted to talk a little bit about ‘what the heck does it mean to be a brand strategist?’ 

What do you do? And what does that mean? What does that mean to me? I often describe myself as a self-proclaimed word nerd. And what that means to me is that I like to ask a lot of questions. I like to listen intently to those answers, and then find the common threads of how those questions string together. Really, brand strategy is about setting that framework for an organization that helps them present themselves to the world, to their audiences. And what a brand strategist does, it’s a blend of analysis and creativity. So sometimes you’ll read that a brand strategist creates a brand for an organization. That’s not what we do. We don’t know more about your organization than you do, but we help you discover and define it.

So there’s this great TED Talk that I love. I sent it to Emily. We both love it. It is one of my favorites. It’s from the group OK Go. And they talk about how they find a wonderful idea. So how do you find a wonderful idea? And I feel like that really resonates with me because we are not creating ideas. We’re discovering them, we’re finding them, we’re opening up, and finding the puzzle pieces that unlock relationships, and those relationships being who you are, what you do, and who you do it for. And that’s brand strategy, that’s that foundation of your organization, and that’s what we work to help you uncover. So long answer to a short question, ‘What the heck is a brand strategist?’ 

Emily: Perfect. Moving to our next question, which is: ‘For a lot of our clients, the foundational elements that they have for their organization are around vision, mission and kind of a purpose statement, (organizations kind of call those things different things)’. So let’s talk a little bit about that; defining your mission and vision statement. If we do a brand refresh, or when we talk to clients about refreshing their brand, what do we do with those elements that already exist around their brand? How do we handle that with our clients?

Do you want to  share a little bit more about that, Cheri?

Cheri: Yeah, that comes up a lot. So, mission statement, vision statement. If you type those into Google, along with, ‘What are they and how do I write them?’, you might get a hundred different answers and a hundred different points of view. And we, at Mercury, have a method. So the Mercury Method helps organizations determine what that is, and what it means to them. The vision statement is that long-term goal for the organization, and long-term is a little subjective. So that might be, we want to  accomplish this vision in 100 years, or in ten years, or in two years, whatever that looks like to you. The mission statement is, what are we going to do every day to achieve that vision? So, vision statement, long-term mission statement. This is what we do every day to get there.

Now, if you are going through a rebrand project, and you already have your mission and vision, and everyone in your organization loves it, going through a rebrand project does not mean that you have to rewrite your mission and vision. It means that’s one of those threads, that’s one of those interesting pieces for analysis that we’ll bring along the way and see how it fits in. One of the things I’ll caution against though, is sometimes organizations write their mission and vision statements for the outside world. They write them almost as sales pitches for what they do, rather than focusing on what’s our long-term goal and what we do every day to get there. Yeah. So I caution against, take a good look at it and see, is this a sales pitch that I’ve written because I’m putting it on my website? Or is this something that really is a vision and a mission statement? So that’s how we describe them. And then Emily, as you know, when we’re in discovery, sometimes we approach this if we’re leaving the mission and vision as is, we think about it more broadly in terms of a manifesto or a purpose statement. So our next question is, ‘How does that fit in? How does the manifesto or the purpose statement fit into an organization?’

Emily: Yeah, we talk about manifesto a lot. It’s actually a part of our brand guide and an element that we produce with our clients as their brand foundation. And really, it’s your bigger purpose. So it’s over the top of your mission and vision. And it captures what you believe. So you as an organization believe in something bigger and, almost in some ways audacious, or sometimes it feels un-accomplishable, but bigger than your mission and vision, and that’s your manifesto. So capturing that as part of your brand foundation is really important. And so those elements all go together when we talk about brand, foundation, and brand elements. And sometimes we tweak. We do recommend tweaking mission and vision a little bit depending on what stage they’re at for your organization. If they were created a long time ago, they may need some refreshing and aligning with who you are today.

But they may be, like Cheri said, very much adopted into your organization and part of who you are, and be very true still. And those elements we just continue with and move forward with as-is. So yeah, manifesto, we’ve had a lot of conversations around that. And manifesto is something that we feel is part of your brand foundation. So hopefully we answered that question. So if you follow us on LinkedIn, we’re gonna switch gears from Mission-Vision-Manifesto, to Ideal Audience. And for our clients, we’re split about 50/50. We work with 50% of organizations that are associations, and so they are member-based. And then 50% of our clients are B2B clients that work with typical clients. So people that we identify both things as Ideal Audience. So we will use the language ‘Ideal Audience’, which encompasses both member-based organizations and other organizations. And so, Cheri, tell us a little bit about Ideal Audience and why this is so important. If you follow us on LinkedIn or you know about Mercury at all, you’ve probably heard us talk about Ideal Audience. It’s really important. And so, maybe you can tell your dart story. That’s always a good place to start.

Cheri: Sure. Yeah. And if you’ve heard me or you’ve seen any of my videos with Justin online, or you’ve seen some of our content or you’re working with Mercury, you’ve heard this story before, so bear with me as I repeat this, but I talk about this, if any of you are familiar, if you’ve ever played darts in a bar, right? So I grew up in a very small town in the Midwest. And when I was little, my brothers and sister and I, especially in grade school, my dad owned one of the competing bars in town. And so, that just gives you an idea of how small my town actually was. <Laugh>. But my dad owned one of the bars in town, and my mom worked in the county treasurer’s office when I was little. And after school, we would leave school and walk to the bar because my dad was getting ready for the night, and we would sit in the booths and do our homework until my mom got off work to come pick us up.

Well, the trick was, if we got done with our homework in time, my dad let us throw darts. Which, everyone wanted to throw darts instead of doing homework. So here’s what I know for sure. Here’s the analogy. Here’s what I know for sure about playing darts in a bar, is that you get the most points the fastest every time you hit the bullseye. Now, relating that back to your Ideal Audience, and the messaging for that audience, is that you get the attention of your Ideal Audience the fastest when you are putting somebody specific in that center, in that bullseye. Okay? So every time you’re talking to that person, and you can clearly identify who that person is, you earn the most revenue, the fastest, you get the attention of your ideal member the fastest.

You’re speaking directly to your clients and getting their attention the fastest. That’s why your ideal audience, whoever’s in the center of your messaging, is so important. Now, here’s what else I know, is that if you hit the outer rings of that bullseye, you still get points. So if your dart is landing in those outer rings, if your messages are hitting somebody and resonating with somebody that maybe doesn’t exactly fit your Ideal Audience in the center and how you’ve defined that person, it’s okay. You can still choose to do business with them or accept their membership, or hire them into your organization, whatever that looks like. So it’s okay if their message, if your message still resonates with those people. Yeah. Now, the last thing I want to  say about this story, this analogy is, and I know this because after all those years playing darts in a bar, I’m not good at it.

Cheri: I’m terrible, in fact. But if you hit the wall that the dart board hangs on, you don’t get any points ever, not one time. So if your messages are too big and too broad, and you’re trying to be too many things to too many people, nobody’s listening. There is so much content and so much messaging available to us on a minute-by-minute basis that if you are not working to speak to somebody specific and to find that person, nobody’s really paying attention. So that’s why we say, really define who your Ideal Audience is. And that might be an ideal client, like Emily was describing before. It might be an ideal member if you’re an association. If you’re doing a campaign or you’re really focused on recruiting as a strategic priority, you might put your ideal recruit in that center of your messaging, but really think about speaking to that one person. So, as I was just saying, Emily, you might have more about this, but our next question is, ‘What if I have more than one ideal audience?’

Emily: Yeah. We get that a lot.

Cheri: ‘What happens then?’ We get that a lot.

Emily: Yeah. So for the work that we do with our clients, right at the beginning when we’re setting brand foundation, we really identify one audience. We actually want to have just one audience to start with. It’s going to be easier, and we want to bring clarity and alignment around your brand, around one audience. So we like to encourage people that we talk to our clients, or friends, colleagues, that one audience, that one person that you identify is going to make you the most money the fastest. You are going to get more traction the fastest with that one person. Hitting the outer rings, like Cheri said, also gets two points. You also get, you know, attention of people that maybe aren’t in that center. But for the sake of the foundation work we do, we try to find one common person that we can put in the center.

Now, there may be another initiative going on in your organization, so let’s use an association, for example. The strategic plan might be to grow membership and recruit new staff. Those are two different initiatives, two different audiences. And just to be in full transparency, Mercury has two different ideal audiences. We have a Monica and a Michael, and they’re different. One is an association and one is not. So we do our best to narrow in on one. But there are circumstances in which we kind of stretch that out to one other audience. Now we don’t, we typically don’t recommend having three or four ideal audiences. That again, is where you’re ending up hitting the wall and you’re not getting any points and you’re failing at darts when you’re playing against somebody else. But really wanting to get your messaging narrowed and specific.

When you’re thinking about typing up an email, for example, for maybe your membership for your upcoming event. Think about the purpose of that email and who it’s going to and what you want them to do with it. It should be very, very specific. The other thing we talk about is, you know, that avatar, that person, that persona should be well known in your organization. So people across your organization are identifying that person and saying, I know Monica, or I know a Michael, or I could identify when we’ve reached and, and received a new member that fits that ideal audience. And so when that happens, that’s really cool because you start to really see the brand foundation work come through in a tangible way. Before we move on, we’ve got a couple more questions already ready to answer.

I want to just make sure people know, you can drop your questions into the comments section anytime. We also will save a little bit of time at the end, but feel free to just drop a comment or a question into the comment section whenever you are ready. Okay. So our next question is, ‘How do we know if our organization needs a brand refresh?’ And this common question comes up a lot. I think as we talk to potential clients or people that are looking at potentially partnering with us, they’re kind of scratching their head. They know something is maybe not quite right, or they need some sort of marketing help, but they’re not sure what, so where, what are the areas that we look at, Cheri, when it comes to, you know, your brand might need a brand refresh, or your organization might need a brand refresh?

Cheri: Sure. So there can be some things that are really specific, and then other things that are more indicators of needing a brand refresh. And one is that your brand has become outdated. Another one is, we were just talking about ideal audience, that your brand isn’t getting the attention of your ideal audience, or your brand isn’t positioned for the future. And some indicators of that might be a change in leadership. A change in leadership is one of those things where as leadership turns over, sometimes that happens because of a retirement or a reorg within the organization. But even those reasons – a retirement, or a reorg, or a change in leadership – are indications that something else has changed in the organization. That the value that you’re providing has shifted in some way. And that the messaging that goes out into the world, the brand foundation and brand message and message that goes out into the world isn’t hitting like it used to.

A change in the organizational structure. I mentioned a change in your product offering or the service that you provide, it might have shifted in some way over years, or the visual elements. Your visual elements have become outdated. Sometimes we’ll talk about, ‘How often does this happen?’, and really what we say is a real brand refresh or a comprehensive rebrand might happen every eight to 10 years. It might be seven to 11 years depending on the organization that you’re in. But that is a place where, and some of that’s just simply aligned with how leadership and org structure and the cycle of those things work and falls into that eight to 10 year timeline. But if visual elements have become outdated, if you’ve had a major shift in product or service offering or some sort of org structure, those are the big ones to pay attention to. Emily, what am I forgetting? What other reasons are there?

Emily: Well, I think there’s some indicators based on the kind of goals around your organization. So sales and marketing, kind of looking at, you know, year over year revenue leads, new membership, losing client accounts, or feeling like you’ve lost engagement. One of the other things we hear a lot of is like, ‘We don’t know if anybody’s listening to us or hearing us, and they don’t maybe understand the value of our organization.’ That’s just not getting through. The brand work really helps bring everybody together internally in your team so that you’re all talking about things the same way, at the same time. So some of the elements that come from brand work is that your internal team becomes aligned around how you talk about yourself. So marketing isn’t saying one thing and your leadership team’s saying another; you’re all actually saying the same thing, at the same time.

And that really has an impact on the things I just listed. Sales and marketing revenue, year over year, membership renewals, member engagement or just clients really understanding who you are and what you do. So yeah, gaining alignment around the messaging that you’re sharing, and who you are, and what you do, and who you do it for, really brings forth energy and change to your organization. Sometimes our brand work ends at language. It doesn’t change. We don’t change many visuals but sometimes we really do look at naming and logos and all kinds of other ways that you show up in the world that’s not just content or words. And those visual elements then end up, you know, there’s excitement and change around that too. So I think I answered the question.

Cheri: Yeah, I hope, I hope so. Those are all indicators of needing a rebrand, and sometimes we get questions just about, ‘I’m not sure if I need a rebrand, but here’s what I’m experiencing.’ Yeah. So again, those indicators at Mercury, one of the things we value that we bring forward is clarity and alignment. Yeah. So Emily was just talking about that internal messaging, that internal alignment being clear with your internal team. <Affirmative> So it might not be a big visual change or visual shift that’s happening. Yeah. But there’s just been something within your org, or within your messaging if that happens to be outdated, where everybody’s saying a little bit different thing. I talked to somebody recently and was explaining, you know, that they asked me –I was at an event – and they asked me, ‘What the heck is a brand strategist?’

‘What do you do?’ So I got to answer that question. And along the way, we were at a booth, like a trade show kind of situation, and I said, ‘So what does your logo stand for? What does the name of your organization stand for?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘What do you think it is?’ And I said, ‘Well, it kind of looks like a bird, so that makes sense based on your name.’ And he said, ‘Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been with this org for three years, and I don’t know the story of why our logo is what it is.’ And I said, ‘That might be an indicator that we should have a deeper conversation.’ To be continued.

Emily: So some of the other things that I think we’ve talked about are sprinkled in throughout this conversation is, kind of marketing, branding, strategy. Talked a little bit about – well, we haven’t talked enough about – but there is an element of marketing planning or sort of brand planning, marketing planning that comes into play. So all of these, like, buzzwords, right, in some ways? but there are, you know, points of view that we have around strategic planning marketing and brand planning, and then marketing, kind of tactical planning, or marketing strategy I should say. Tell us, Cheri, what your thoughts are. Maybe you could give us some clarity and alignment around the strategy piece of things or organizational strategy? I know you have a lot of passion around that. And tell us what we’ve learned over the years with organizations around planning and strategy and planning.

Cheri: Sure. So really that strategic plan versus your brand strategy, versus your marketing strategy, versus your marketing plan. Like, how do all of those pieces fit together? Yeah. So the way that we approach it here, brand strategy is your foundation. So if you were starting from scratch, and this is where it gets a little tricky sometimes because you may have developed a strategic plan and then realize brand strategy needs some work, or you develop your marketing plan and you’re moving forward on tactics, but you aren’t able to lead back up a report-back because that marketing strategy wasn’t in place. So that can get tricky, but the way that I look at it from the top down is, brand strategies first; that sets your foundation. And the reason that we say that is because it has the most longevity; it changes very infrequently.

Very rarely, your brand strategy is going to be in place, like we said earlier, for eight to 10 years before you’re really taking a look at changing those brand elements. Or updating those brand elements. So brand strategy first sets your foundation – I’m looking up at my wall because I literally have this on a sticky note on my wall in my office. But brand strategy, that purpose for that, we break it down as clarity and alignment. So brand strategy first sets your foundation, it helps you with clarity around who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and then the alignment is from the inside out, from your internal team, taking that out into the world. That’s the purpose of your brand strategy. From there, setting your strategic plan comes next. And strategic plan is clarity around achieving growth for your organization.

The timing around that. So, if you figure eight to 10 years for your brand strategy, your strategic planning is three to five years, what kind of growth can you achieve and gain traction on in three to five years of time? So that follows your brand strategy, it bubbles back up to it. And you’re creating that clarity around organizational growth and the alignment for all the stakeholders within your organization. That might be a board, an ELT, executive leadership team, and all the way, you know, all the way through who’s department heads, et cetera. Okay. So, brand strategy first, strategic planning next from their marketing strategy. Marketing strategy should be built off of your strategic plan. And marketing strategy evolves annually. So that’s something that you’re going to set every year is your marketing strategy, based on those strategic priorities you’re trying to achieve in that three to five year timeline.

I’m looking at my wall again. So for marketing strategy, the clarity is how you show up in the marketplace, in the world. So you’re setting that, how do we want to this year show up in our marketplace in order to reach our strategic goals. And then the alignment for that is really about outcomes. So what’s happening, and then finally your marketing plan is set annually as well. That’s where you get tactical. That is the clarity around the tactics, the investment in budget and time, and the alignment around who’s doing what. Okay. So from top down, brand strategy first, strategic planning should align with that. Your marketing strategy is built to help you with your strategic goals. And then marketing planning is boots on the ground. Who’s doing what, how much is it costing in time, money, resources.

Emily: Awesome. Seems real simple, but it’s not!

Cheri: It’s not real simple, but that’s where that art and science comes together. Yeah. The analysis and the creativity, how they come together and really discovering those common threads all the way through that creates that really strong organization. Tell the story sometimes about, when you think about the concept of the three-legged stool. Lots of companies, lots of organizations can be really good orgs for a long time. If they’re firing on that operational bucket, meaning, ‘We know what we do and we do it well for the people we serve.’ Yeah. We’ve got our operations down. Yeah. And then that second bucket, they’re like, ‘And we’ve got our finances down. We can keep the lights on, we can pay all our people. We’re managing a budget, we’re doing well there.’ Yep. Great. You can be really good for a long time doing those two things. But when you bring your brand marketing, your brand strategy up to looking at your business, looking at your org from that CEO level. Bring it up to the same level as operations and finance, you can become an evolved, expanded organization.

Emily: Yeah. I will say too, I think for a lot of our organizations, when they get that brand foundation, I keep calling it that, but your brand strategy set, the other elements are easier because you know that you’ve got your ideal audience identified, for example, or we’ve gone through the value proposition exercise so you know what your value is, you know, what sets you apart from your competition. You’ve got some key phrases and keywords to use as you build your marketing tactical plan. So those elements, not to always bring it back to brand, but we are brand strategists. So that brand work that happens at the beginning, I think does help with the subsequent strat planning and marketing planning and all of that. 

Cheri: Yes. Agreed. It’s that thing that helps you understand what to do. It also gives you those guardrails for what not to do. Where you’re not gonna spend your time.

Emily: Yes!

Cheri: I know we’re about at that 30-minute mark. If anyone has any questions to pop through, please enter them. We’re happy to answer anything that you’ve thought of along the way. Anything else that was really a burning question for you that we didn’t receive ahead of time? We’ll give that a few minutes. I have one other one here, Emily, that we didn’t get to. And it’s this question about, ‘Do you use AI in your work? Do you use ChatGPT? And if so, how?’

Emily: Yeah, that’s another topic that comes up a lot for us. And you know, we have a lot of content writers and contributors on our team. We do some AI stuff for idea generation, but we really like to have a point of view and publish content that’s original and unique and really goes back to the brand work. So for every client, that looks a little bit different. I know for some people there’s AI-generated graphic work, or imagery. And we also don’t do that. We source our own images and use our specific clients’ brand to guide our work on that. But you know, we’ve had our curious hat on when it comes to AI and ChatGPT and really have used it for kind of outlines or getting our team started on some things.

But the actual producing of the content and writing of the words is part of our sort of art and science that we create for our clients that really brings that intersection of their brand and who they’re speaking to and what we know to be true about that subject, to fruition. And a lot of times when we work with clients on content, it’s in our ongoing marketing partnership basis. So we’re working with clients month over month on content creation, marketing, tactical plans, paid ads, things like that. And those elements, since we’re an extension of their marketing team, right. So we know them really well and we really create unique and kind of specific information for each client.

Cheri: Yeah. Yeah. I encourage everyone to just keep talking about it. It’s changing all the time. Keep talking about it. How does it work best for you? But I’m a big believer it will not take the place of your own unique point of view. Yeah. How you set that, even though it can help you with that idea generation. I have college-aged kids and asked my son the other day, I’m like, ‘So are you using AI? Are you using ChatGPT for things?’ And he’s like, ‘Is it okay to say that out loud?’ So there’s still, it’s still in this realm of, ‘Are we okay to talk about that?’

I say yes, I vote yes, let’s talk about it and understand it better and keep practicing and it’s changing all the time. So how we use it now might not be how we use it tomorrow. Yeah. Or how we use it, you know, a year from now. But, let’s keep bringing it up. I think I also tell this story about how when I was in school, you know, everybody told me, you have to learn math. I’m not a math wizard, but you have to learn math and equations and memorize these things because you will not have a calculator available to you at any time. Until, guess what? I carry one around with me. In my pocket all the time. So, ‘Haha, sixth grade math teacher.’ Yeah. But I think that’s something, you know, just having that experience and knowing that yeah, let’s use the resources available to us.

Emily: Every organization is looking for efficiencies, right? Nobody has unlimited time and resources. So if it gives you efficiency to get started on a piece of content or some other idea generation, go for it. 

Cheri: For sure.

Emily: Alright, well, it doesn’t look like there are any questions. We could talk about brand, brand strategy, and marketing all day, every day. We would love to have coffee with you or chat over Zoom if anybody has any questions that, you know, maybe didn’t fit the conversation or you’re curious about something. So reach out to us. You can find us on our website, reach out to us via our form, or if you personally know us, obviously reach out personally to us. 

We just want to make sure everybody’s aware of the next LinkedIn Live, which is with Justin, our founder and Nancy Close, who’s actually now a friend of Cheri and I’s after the last several months of working a little closely with her. They’re going to be talking on July 12th. Nancy is the president and founder of CKC Good Food, just an amazing organization here in the Twin Cities. And good stuff coming from that leadership crew, Justin and Nancy. So we look forward to that. If, as I said, if you have any questions, reach out to us. Otherwise, thank you for joining us today and listening to Cheri and me and our passions around brand and marketing.

Cheri: Yes. Thank you, everyone, for joining. You just got a little taste of – we were joking earlier – about how Emily and I have one-on-ones every week, so you got a little sneak peek into our one-on-one conversation, so thank you for being part of this.

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