Startup branding expert Keli Hammond chats with Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO, Ray Zinn, about the importance of branding for early stage companies.
Keli Hammond is CEO of B Classic Marketing & Communications in Washington, DC and author of the marketing book Craved: The Secret Sauce to Building a Highly-Successful, Standout Brand. A highly sought-after speaker, trainer and writer, Hammond regularly speaks to groups of business owners, students, and women about self-care and personal and professional growth. You can learn more at KeliHammond.com and can find her book at CravedBook.com
Ray Zinn: Well, good morning, or good afternoon, wherever you are today. We are so delighted to have this podcast today with you and my name in Ray Zinn; I’m the author of Tough Things First, and also the website, as well as Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO. I am very honored and privileged to have a very special guest with me today, this is Kelli Hammond. She, I think, is in Washington D.C., she is an author, she’s consultant, she helps people brand their products and their company, and she’s just an all around extremely competent and helpful person. So welcome today, Kelli, glad to have you on the program.
Keli Hammond: Thank you so much, it’s an honor to be there.
Ray Zinn: So can you tell me a little bit more about yourself to our audience, Kelli, about you and kind of what you’re up to?
Keli Hammond: Sure. So I actually just finished my debut book, the name of it is Craved: The Secret Sauce to Building a Highly Successful Standout Brand. I wrote it … so I have 15 years of industry experience in marketing communications, advertising, brand development, positioning, all of those different kind of business strategy pieces that are flanked under the umbrella of marketing. So I wanted to take all of that expertise and the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years, having seen so many different brand problems, and kind of distill it into a really clear, highly fundamental and foundational book that really walks people through all of the things that go into branding and marketing yourself or your brand or business.
Ray Zinn: Well I’ve heard about branding, what’s so funny is that, as a kid, I was raised on a cattle ranch and my grandfather was a brand inspector, and so each cattle owner had his own brand and it’s a special, unique little symbol that we would put on the back of the animal, on his rear, and that would then identify him as being owned by that particular brand owner. And it’s so funny because my grandfather, we’d go round and he would inspect these cattle and make sure that they were owned by that person, and so I always thought branding was putting this identification on the back of an animal, and so here we are, talking about branding but in a different format. So-
Keli Hammond: They are related, actually, which I’m sure we can find some type of way to link in, tie it together.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, because they are unique, the brands are registered, they’re unique. I don’t know that we register all brands in business, but I do know that if you’re an owner of cattle and you want to make sure that somebody doesn’t take your cattle, because they all look alike, as they say, and so you would put this unique brand on that animal and that would distinguish it as yours, so it’s very similar.
Keli Hammond: You said two keywords; unique and distinguish, and it’s funny because I think that there is probably a lot of alignment in the way that they looked at branding and how you saw it growing up, and what actual businesses and companies do when it comes to that same term.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, you talk about brands and they have to be unique and they have to spell out who you are. For example, if you’re a doctor you wouldn’t want to come across as somebody who does landscaping, so you’d want to make sure that you identify yourself properly so that you are unique and people can relate to you. Why do startups need to focus on their brand early on? What’s the reason for that?
Keli Hammond: So, startups specifically, you’re coming out, regardless of your industry, you’re coming into a saturated market, because every market is saturated at this point, right? So there really isn’t a market that isn’t dense and that doesn’t have any competition, regardless of who you are. Society has just evolved so much that we’re pretty much tapped in to everything, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room and space for startups and newbies and aspiring entrepreneurs or business owners to kind of come in and make their mark, and a big part of that is that differentiation.
So, for startups specifically, and someone coming into the space, it’s important that as a beginning business venture you make sure you highlight your uniqueness and what makes you different and how you help people. So it’s not just what you do, a big part of branding is not just a color or font … I mean it is, but that’s not the only thing. One of the most important parts of branding is really clearly conveying to people how you help them and, beyond that, why you help them. It’s just really creating that differentiation, that uniqueness, to really show how you stand out from your competition.
Ray Zinn: Well, you know, when I started my company, Michel, in fact I don’t know how many times people have asked me, “Well what does Michel stand for? What does that mean?” And I thought it was pretty obvious; M-I-C … the company’s name is spelled M-I-C-R-E-L, and it’s supposed to stand for microcircuits that are are reliable, so it’s an acronym, but having to explain to somebody, I said, “Wow, I thought it was pretty obvious,” but I guess it wasn’t so obvious because why do they have to ask me what it stands for, so it’s not obviously just by looking at the acronym. Like Apple, Apple sounds like it’s something in a grocery store, not a computer, so how do you go about identifying your name with your product?
Keli Hammond: So there are a bunch of different pieces. Of course people go right to logos, typically, when they think about brands, and that’s a part of it but it’s certainly not the entire element. When the people think about themselves as a brand they should really start with the experience that they want people to take from working and collaborating with them. It’s less about having people, at least early on, it’s less about having people know your acronym and more about having them know the experience and the value that you provide. So people will eventually learn your acronym, people will remember your name, even if they don’t know what it stands for, if the experience that you provide is trustworthy, is timely, is needed, is reliable, then your brand experience will speak for itself. And even if they can’t say what your name spelled out means, they can still say, “Michel,” right? They’ll still be able to say, “That brand is trustworthy, check them out.” And the word of mouth will grow and how your brand is positioned will start to morph and take shape.
Ray Zinn: You know, what I’ve found is that, and this is when I started my company, that I tried to go out and find out what the customers want; what is the main goal of my company, and what do my customers want? And I found out that they want two things, they want quality and service, they’re not that much concerned about price, believe it or not. Now, purchasing may argue with you about that, but I tell you, your customer that uses your product is concerned about quality and service. So, whatever you want your brand to be, make sure it comes out sounding like quality and service.
Keli Hammond: Absolutely, absolutely. And so, when you think about the quality and service component of your brand, that’s your reputation, right? And your reputation will be what attracts customers to you and then, once they become familiar with that reputation and have that trust, then you can start focusing on things like your tone of voice and the font you use. But the larger goal is to really convey that promise and then to keep that promise, and that is the crux and the foundation of your brand.
Ray Zinn: That’s that reliability that we’re talking about. Now, how reliable is your brand and your product? Are you a low end, medium end, high end? How do you want to come across? And when you think of a particular product, it’s usually quality and service, and that’s really what I told my people I wanted them to focus on, was don’t focus on the price, just focus on quality and service and you’ll have a happy customer.
Keli Hammond: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then, from there, you can really start to niche out, or to decide, “You know what? I want to focus on this specific segment of our target audience,” or, “I want to focus on showcasing this specific part of our brand,” maybe it becomes how customers feel after working with us, that’s part of your brand too, how people experience you, how you’ve impacted lives for the better as a result of being part of someone’s life or their business.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, so what advice would you give a startup that’s just struggling with, “What do I do? How do I get off on the right foot to brand my company?” So, what kind of advice would you give them, Kelli?
Keli Hammond: One of the first things I would have them start with knowing is what type of personality do they want to create? So are you a serious brand, are you a fun, more friendly brand? From there everything that makes up who you are will start to morph, and how you talk to people, based on who you’ve identified as your target and what they need, will become more clear. So, as you’re mapping out your marketing strategy, you want to look at things like, like you said, your price, right? You want to look at the things that your customers or your potential customers are struggling with. All of those things will kind of make up your brand, you want to make sure that you’re answering their questions in things like your content; are you writing to help people? Are you doing video that explains how you help people? What are you clearly mapping out that shows your credibility that will ultimately lead to your brand’s reputation?
So really just think through the various pieces and components that will make up how you convey your credibility and how you share your experience with the world.
Ray Zinn: Exactly, and I appreciate that because that’s really … you know, the customer … or, my customer. The companies that are startups tend to focus on raising money, focus on who they hire, and they’re so down in what we call the thin of the thick of things that they don’t really step back and look at, “What’s my mission? What is it I really want to convey with my product and my company?” And that’s a mindset, isn’t it, Kelli?
Keli Hammond: Absolutely, absolutely. So in my book, funny enough I start out my book with a section called Get Your Mind Right. It’s three chapters that really focuses on three different factors that you should think about before you start the brand building process, especially for startups. So there are things that you want to do like … you know, it’s beyond just ideas. In any part of business you are required to have a great deal of discipline and branding is no different, so, when you’re thinking about exactly how you’re going to set yourself apart, start thinking about what makes you distinct? What are the things that you do better or that you do differently than everyone else out there, because that will help you sell yourself, because we’re all in the process of selling something. And it’s like you need to sell someone better than someone else, and yes, it comes down to quality and service, but it also comes down to how you position yourself and how you showcase what you do, and how-
Ray Zinn: And also that brings up a good point, Kelli, because listeners on this program may also include individuals, and each of us, you, Kelli, me, your employees, they all have a brand, and whether that be your spouse or your children, they all are establishing their own brand, and is your brand going to be a good one? Are you going to be a good student at school? Are you going to be a good employee? Are you going to be a good politician, or a lawyer, or whatever it is you’re going to do? And so your brand, personally, is important, and I think you talk about that in some of the articles that you’ve written, don’t you, Kelli? What article comes to mind about that?
Keli Hammond: Absolutely. So everybody is a brand. There are businesses and startups, there are of course conglomerates that are brands, but each of us individually is a brand as well. And so when you think about the same or similar fundamentals for branding a business, they can be applied when you’re branding yourself. And branding yourself can work not just for entrepreneurs but can help you advance in your career, it can open up new opportunities, it can help you pivot into different career trajectory, it can help you open up new side gigs for yourself; say you want to moonlight as a photographer but you’re currently an executive, personal branding can help you with that too and it’s a good way to showcase your expertise as you pursue those passions.
So, when you think about personal branding, it really is about clarifying who you are, positioning your expertise, and then showcasing your strength and packaging all of that, basically packaging the genius inside of you, right?
Ray Zinn: Yeah, so it’s not a flip flop type of a brand, or you’ll be known as a flip flop, so, again, we’re back to quality and service. So, as an individual, if you’re trying to establish your own brand, you want to be consistent, you want to have that passion, that quality of drive, and just be there to serve, not be a clock watcher, not be somebody who’s focused on money. And I know a lot of startups and I ask them, “Well why did you start your company?” “Well, because I want to make a lot of money.” Well that’s not the reason, I think, you should start a company. You should have started a company to have service, to add something to the world, to add something to the culture. And so it’s so important, I think, and you stress this well in the articles you’ve written, how important it is to have a purpose in your life, and whether you’re a CEO or whether you’re an employee, whether you’re a housewife, a mother, whether you’re a husband or whatever your vocation is in life, you want to make sure you have a purpose, you’re just not living here just to exist, you want to make a difference.
Keli Hammond: Absolutely, absolutely. So it’s funny because I mimic exactly what you said, which is if money is your goal you’re going about things wrong, because what happens if the money doesn’t come quick enough? What happens if you don’t see the return on investment that you’re looking for? Are you going to just quit? That means that your heart was never really in it, you know? And so you really want to think about, not just for marketing, for branding, for getting to the next part of your life, you really want to think about the things that you want to give back to the world, how do you want to impact the people around you?
I think one of the most impactful ways to start to frame who you are and figure out your direction is to think about the story that got you to where you are, like who are you? What makes you interested in the things that you’re interested in? There’s a philosophy that guides you, and telling that story and knowing that story is really important as you start to craft out anything personally for yourself.
Ray Zinn: Exactly, I know. And so, Kelli, if people want to know a little bit more about you and what you do, where can they find you?
Keli Hammond: They can find me all over the place. So the easiest place to find me is on my website, kelihammond.com, my name is spelled K-E-L-I, last name Hammond; H-A-M-M-O-N-D. I do a lot of conferences and speaking engagements all over the US, and globally as well, so maybe you can find me there if you’re in attendance. And then you can find me on social media, and all of my social accounts are linked from my website, but I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of those.
Ray Zinn: We want to express appreciation to you, Kelli, for taking the time today to speak to our audience about the importance of branding and branding your personal life as well as that of your company. So, again, thank you, thank you ever so much, appreciate Kelli being on the program today and, if you want to learn more about her, look up kelihammond.com and you’ll find, I think, a very delightful and a very energetic, enthusiastic person who will help you with your brand.
This is Ray Inn, I appreciate you tuning in today on our podcast, you can learn more about my company, Tough Things First, by going to our website, toughthingsfirst.com, and my book, Tough Things First, obviously. And then my second book, which is called the Zen of Inn, you can find it on Amazon or any of your normal bookstores. Appreciate all of you joining with us today, really appreciate Kelli’s joining us and sharing her knowledge and wisdom. Again, thanks, Kelli, appreciate you being here today.
Keli Hammond: Thank you, you have a wonderful day.
Ray Zinn: Thank you too, Kelli.