No matter how great you are at what you do, if you don’t know how to apply a value to it for others to see, then you remain in the shadows. This is what today’s guest sees that is lacking among businesses and entrepreneurs and that ad agencies tend to miss out. Timothy Bush introduces us to Zahra Cruzan, owner of Brand Author where she works with local agencies, retailers, and product-based businesses to create custom branding and marketing systems that help them stand out as a premium brand in any market. In this episode, Zahra shares with us the process of how we can develop our brand strategy. Looking from the inside out, she talks about the importance of being able to piece the internal processes together where you can work with authenticity before worrying about what’s on the outside. Zahra also takes us across her journey into marketing and gives out some great pieces of advice that can help us see through the challenging times, such as the one we are globally facing today.
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Developing Your Brand Strategy With Zahra Cruzan
I want to send some love out to all of you during this time. We are in uncharted territory, Big Boxers. I have never seen anything like it. My father had never seen anything like it. Nobody that I know has ever seen anything like this on such a global, massive scale. Not only are we dealing with sickness and death, but economic difficulties and disaster. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know what to say about it. All I would tell you if I can quote Jim Rohn, and I wrote about this on my private Facebook group. Jim would say that for every hard winter, and when he’s referring to winter, he’s referring to a hard time, there is a spring.
Spring always comes after winter. It never fails. In the course of life, spring follows winter. We are in the hardest winter of our lifetime. What that’s going to mean is that spring is going to be so sweet. Here is the key, and if you haven’t listened to Jim Rohn, which if you listen to Tony Robbins, you’re by definition listening to Jim Rohn because Jim Rohn was Tony Robbins’ mentor. If you haven’t listened to Jim, you’ve got to get on iTunes and take a listen. During the winter when things are difficult, maybe you’re snowed in like we are. We’re snowed in. We can’t go anywhere. We can’t see anybody. We can’t talk to anybody. We can’t have dinner, go out on dates, go to the movies.
It’s like we’re on pause. What are you doing with your pause? What are you doing during the winter of this season that’s going to give way to massive growth in springtime? Use this time, learn during this time. We launched a brand-new course on pricing your product for retail. It should be out on the website and then I’ll do an official promo. Take this time to learn, prepare, do the things that you’ve wanted to do. I don’t know about you, but my house is one of those places, except for my office because I work from home, that it passes through on my way to do this or do that. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at it, seeing it, wondering what I could do to make it better. I don’t generally have time to do that, so I’m passing through. I have the time and I’m making it better.Without the context of a brand, it's hard to see and apply a value to the skillset. Click To Tweet
A lot of times when you are in a long-term relationship, my wife and I have been married for many years. That’s a long time. Some of you maybe have been married longer, but you get into a routine. Maybe you’re busy that you don’t even have those times to have those deep conversations anymore. It’s the kind of conversation that you used to have when you first met. My wife and I have been taking walks. We’re still allowed to walk. Hopefully, that won’t change, but we’ve been getting out and during these walks, we’ve been talking and having great conversations. My daughter, since she was a child, she loved video games. Luckily for me, because I love video games too. We’ve been playing some video games, something we haven’t been able to do in ages, doing some projects around the house. I looked up some old lists from some full focus planners that are on my shelf and I went through the personal stuff to see what I listed down as things I wanted to accomplish in the house but never got to and I made a new list and we’ve been knocking those off.
When this is all over, we will have launched three new courses. The first one is pricing your product for big-box retail, brick and mortar retail. The second is already done. It needs to be recorded. It’s a course on how to pitch anything via video conference. It’s super timely for that. That’s going to be $39. I hope that you come to the website and watch that course because I’ve been pitching via video for years. Most of my clients, I never meet face-to-face. We’ve been doing video Zoom back before Zoom. It was Skype for years and I have some real thoughts on the difference between face-to-face and video conference, what works, what doesn’t, and I put that into a course for you.
Lastly, we’re putting together probably the most comprehensive course on how to get your products into big-box retail than we’ve ever done. It’s going to be the mother of all courses that you can take on your own. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re doing with our pause. I can’t wait for spring. I can’t wait to go back to the beach. I can’t wait to see my friends, have dinner and have a great meal at a restaurant. It’s going to be sweet and I know that it’s going to be that way for you. This isn’t going to last forever. It’s not even going to last even close to forever. I want to make sure that you are taking the time.
Do some binge-watching. We watched Succession. If you haven’t watched Succession, I’m giving it my seal of approval. Season three of Ozark, last episode of season three blew my mind. I’m not binge-watching some stuff. That has its place, but let’s also get some things done. Let’s also make some things happen. In that vein, I want to introduce to you, Zahra Cruzan. We had a great conversation. I met Zahra at the Inspire Conference. We were both speakers there. She is a brand expert. She owns a company called Brand Author. You can check it out at BrandAuthor.com. She’s the Founder of Brand Author and works with local agencies, retailers and product-based businesses to create custom branding and marketing systems so they can stand out as a premium brand in any market. She is awesome. In the vein of what I was talking about, let’s elevate ourselves. Let’s learn something. I want you to pay attention because Zahra is about to take you to school on branding. Without any further ado, let’s get right into it.
I’m with Zahra Cruzan from the Brand Author. Tell us a little bit about you, what you do, so everybody has an idea and then we’re going to get into some questions and have some fun.
I’m the Founder of Brand Author. What we do is we’re an agency that helps companies go through a process that we call brand modeling. It’s a three-pronged process where we develop out your identity, your offer and then help you to build your culture and your advertising and marketing a piece of that. The reason that we developed this twist is that we saw a big gap in what traditional ad agencies were providing. That is the gap that creators have. A lot of creators, for example, are good at the skill set that they have. Let’s take something that we’re all familiar with, like an architect. You can have an incredibly talented architect who can create unbelievable designs. As an employee, that is a huge asset.
As an entrepreneur and as a business owner, that can be challenging because, without the context of a brand, it’s hard to see and apply a value to that skillset. Unless you have all the other pieces of knowing who your target audience is, understanding what makes us all say words like we’re the best, we’re the most elite, we’re the most custom, we’re quality. Unless you understand what that translates to value-wise, monetarily for your customer so that you can position yourself in the right light, in the right place, that skillset that you have gets thrown away. You’re not able to leverage that. It slips through the cracks. In a worst-case scenario, business owners don’t even look at that. In the best-case scenario, they understand it. They try and put together some messaging or an ad agency will try and put together some messaging to try and translate it. Because they’re missing that brand about the offer development section of it, they’re not able to deliver on that promise in a way that makes sense and leaves you with healthy margins. Seeing that gap, we decided that was something that we wanted to do. We had the heart to do and to fill that. That’s what we do.
In a nutshell, your company does what? I understand the process that you’re talking about, but somebody would seek you out because why?
Somebody would seek us out primarily where the bulk of our businesses is we design custom franchises. Let’s say you have 2 or 3 spas or 2 or 3 restaurants and you have what’s called a local chain. You’re doing well enough. You’re surviving, you’ve got multiple locations, but nothing functions unless you’re there. You’re hopping from location A to B to C and back again. By the time you circle back around to location A, all hell is broken loose. Fires are needing to be put out and you do not see a healthy profit margin because you’re not running efficiently. What we do is we help to organize all of that for you and develop it into a brand. We organize your offer development, we’ll help you understand your net margins, we’ll help you understand your ideal customer, who you should be marketing to, understanding where your customers are coming from, what they want from you.
I’m helping you put your policies and processes together. Internally, if for those of you who are in the restaurant business, you understand the term like the back of the house, everything that’s behind the scenes. When you look at branding, it should be done from the inside out. What the world typically does is worry about the logo and the messaging and work from the outside in. That’s completely in reverse. We get your insides ready as step one. We get all of the internal stuff ready and organized and positioned to succeed. We have our visual team put together your logo, your package, your design, the interior design for your bricks and mortar. The advertising keeps with the messaging and things of that nature. That’s it.
The whole back of the house thing resonates with me. I see a lot of people these days, because of the internet, Facebook and videos, it’s ‘fake it until you make it.’ I feel like I’m way behind. I found out when you see these ads with people standing next to their Ferrari, that’s rented generally. I’m let down. I’m like, “That guy is crushing it.” That guy is crushing it to the point where they can rent a car, stand in front of it and make you feel like, “If you do what I tell you to do, you’d be a mirror.” I see a lot of ‘fake it until you make it’ going on out there. That does not create good branding because what will end up happening is at some point people get to take a peek behind the curtain and there’s nothing back there.
For ethical reasons, I hate that strategy. Also, in the sense of you cannot pull it off the way you think you can. We live in a digital age where there is nowhere to hide, even with businesses that I work for that are traditional and not so many gurus and thought leaders. When you tell everybody you care about your staff, but your staff is posting pics on social media about the terrible break room or my boss did this or the cell phone videos of random customer service attacks and things like that. We see. From a brand management and a brand reputation standpoint, that ‘fake it until you make it’ will cause you more harm than good in the long-term. It’s better to be authentic.
Most of the time, where you’re at in business is exactly what will position you better when you understand your ideal customer avatar. I’ll give you an example of our business. When we started, when we were first opening our agency, there were a couple of things that we were concerned about. One is we were starting and we were being pitted against and shopped against some of the large ad agencies in town and people who had big accounts already, Coca-Cola and Nike. We’re thinking, “How do we compete? How do we fake it until we make it? We can’t lie and say we have customers, we don’t. We looked at the audience, the customer base that we had, what we were developing, and who could use this. It wasn’t Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has already developed these internal systems.
We were looking to get people who were local chains and didn’t have that set up and they didn’t want to hire somebody that was working the Coca-Cola. It’s one thing to be able to maintain what’s already been created with the budget. That’s huge. It’s another thing to help a company do that from scratch. For instance, for our ideal customer, they may be impressed by the guy who runs the Coca-Cola account, but that’s not who they would hire. Number one, their first thought is, “I’m not Coca-Cola. I don’t have the budget Coca-Cola has. You can give me all the coolest stuff to use. It’s going to cost me $1 million a campaign and I don’t have it. What can you do for me?” What they understood is that we were better positioned to help them because we had experience with smaller businesses that look like them. Had we have gone out and faked it until we made it, we would have lost the business of the people that are our bread and butter. Authenticity and transparency are going to be the name of the game. Oftentimes, it makes better sense for your bottom line too. We don’t see that right away.You need to understand that God's got this, and the solution's already there, so stop worrying. Click To Tweet
We talk about it a lot. A lot of times, one of the biggest fears of people going to big-box retail is that they don’t have any big things to talk about. We’ve done some business online and so I always tell them, “We’re going to talk in terms of percentages. We’re going to look at your sales story and make sure that you have a story first. I did this and then I did this. As long as there’s a solid progression, even if you’re doing $9,000 a month and you did $7,000 last month, if there’s a solid per percent progression, that’s what we’ll focus on because that’s real. That’s true that we are progressing at that rate, not that we were trying to be somebody that we’re not. That’s not to say I don’t want you telling a retail buyer, “My product is right out in my garage.” You can call your garage your warehouse. I interviewed Jocko Willink and the title was Solopreneur Leadership Strategies.
I had put a question to him of, “How does a single solopreneur stack up against a huge company if you’re at a trade show?” His answer was super simple. He said, “When you’re small, everybody gets to talk to the CEO.” I always think about that. I always talk about that because it’s true. Instead of seeing that as a negative, see it as a positive, you’re talking to the main decision-maker. You’re talking to the rainmaker right now. Whereas twenty years down the road, I might have ten people in front of me before you could talk to me, but right now you have my full attention. Let me ask you this. Did you always want to be in marketing? When you were a little girl and were playing dress-up when you guys were playing John Wayne movies with the family, did you think that you were going to be helping franchise owners?
No. In retrospect, it makes sense, but as a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut. Back then, little girls had these joy boxes, flip tops with the fitting, and I would pull all the little ballerinas out to make little Petri dishes out of my jewelry boxes. All of my university school, it was a Bio major with Chem minor. There was no hint of that. When I started working, I was in insurance. I was first and overnight, the person that gets the calls. I was doing that in college. People get into an accident and they call in and say, “It was an accident.”
Through that, they started using me to write a curriculum for different software, overnight processes or emergency and I got promoted to the adjuster, an investigator. I happened to be working in the industry. It was the year that Florida had five hurricanes all in a row. It was Ike. There were a lot of like what we’re going through now, just not on as great a scale. We have people that will call the insurance or calling from the roof of their house, trying to get help, airlifts and they were insured. That’s the only thing that they had because they grabbed their home insurance policy and ran to the roof.
There was a lot of in-house training and there was a lot of how do we deal with this crisis management. That’s where my skill set was to create SOP, flows, guidance training. I started to get more and more of that work. Over the years, I moved over into the sales side of things and then started doing the same for them. I was in corporate sales and marketing and training for several years. We moved to London when my husband did his externship for his Culinary degree. When we came back, we decided to open a restaurant. He opened a restaurant. That was my baptism into small business entrepreneurship, brick, and mortar. We did that for five years. I got pregnant and I was a stay-at-home mom for a while before I went back into work. It was a windy road. I had no idea that this is where I would end up. I do enjoy it.
It sounds like the whole thing you were doing at the insurance company was preparing the backend of the insurance company so that when people call it a crisis, they don’t feel like, “We’re not prepared for that. I didn’t think that you’d be calling me from the roof of your house.” It sounds like that is good preparation.
It was a good writing curriculum, understanding how to distribute it at a Fortune 500 level where you’ve got international offices. How do people get the information with then locally in-house? It gives you a good inside view of how that’s done, which makes it a lot easier to reverse engineer it. One of the things we tell businesses, even if they’re not ready to franchise, is you don’t have to choose to franchise, but you should make your business franchisable. Meaning whether you’ve got 1 location or 50, you want to make sure that you have your systems in place. We have one location. We are based in Texas. Yet within 72 hours, we had a response for our clients. We had a system set up for the COVID crisis.
We had a protocol for the word, policy, on what we were going to do with our current clients, how we were going to adjust their contracts, what relief we’re going to give them. We had free training set up. We had automatic triggers set up for how they would get that information. We had copies of all of our policies for COVID distributed to our entire team. It was all done within 72 hours. Because of that, we didn’t lose a single client. Nobody has skipped a single payment. Nobody panicked. None of our proposals ghosted us because everything’s on flux. We kept on and that’s because even though we’re not a franchise, we’re franchisable. Everything is set on systems. We have a process. Nobody could play COVID. We didn’t have a specific pandemic crisis procedure set.
I was going to say if you did, I was going to be worried about you, “Let me pull this file out.”
If we did, I would be Nostradamus. Nobody had any way of predicting that this will happen. We did have all the systems in place so that when something like this happens, you insert crisis here, whether it’s an internal crisis, office floods, fire, Facebook goes down. If our CRM goes down, if something happens, we have a system of how we deal with the crisis. You insert and adjust specifically. It’s almost like a template. You go in and fill and make adjustments specific to what the emergency is. It stinks that the situation that we’re in now sheds the light on how important having that stuff set up in place is but it is, and it’s usually helpful.
Mark Zuckerberg’s heart did a little flutter at the thought of Facebook going down. It would be on par with a pandemic. He’s thinking, “If Facebook went down, that would be the same as COVID-19. That’s amazing.” I’m sure he’s excited about that. I don’t think things are ever going to go back to the way they were. I already see some clients making changes. ECRM, who’s my biggest client, is making changes. Let me ask you this. What is a piece of advice from parents or the grandparents that you’ve got that you remember most when you were coming up? It could even happen in college. Was there one piece of advice that one of your elders gave you that sticks with you?
There’s a lot because I have a big family.
Does any of them revolve around John Wayne?
You’d be surprised there are many of them. I don’t know. It’s not a quotable necessarily, but I know my grandma growing up. My grandma has a stronger faith than anybody I’ve ever known. No matter what I’ve come to her with, whether it’s personal, business, being a mom, the first thing she always says to me is, “First of all, you need to understand that God’s got this and the solution’s already there, so stop worrying about it. The second thing is now that it’s all going to work out, figure out the details.” That’s a huge help for me my whole life because I’m a data girl. The second thing is to have a plan, and I’m a girl who loves to plan things. When things don’t go right, as a human, my initial response is what-ifs, “What if this? What if that?” It’s easy to fall into that trap of scenarios. Pulling that out, I have it on a 3×5 that I have on my corkboard. God’s got this.
I was going to say that sounds quotable.
That’s set and so I don’t have to worry about what if it doesn’t work out. Plan and work as if it is worked out and then that helps you to refocus and do what you want to do. I’ve been pulling that out.
I was 7 or 8 when my dad started giving me tools for birthday and Christmas. When you’re 7 or 8, getting a set of craftsmen wrenches was not good, and he did that. Every Christmas or birthday, I got tools as part, not that it was it, but there were always tools involved in the gift-giving. By the time I left for college, I had two big toolboxes full of tools. When I left college or even got an apartment, I realized that I was the only person anywhere that had any tools. Everybody would come to me for, “Can I borrow a screwdriver? Can I borrow this?” Nobody had any tools. The lesson it taught me was you’re getting tools of some kind all the time.
They may not seem relevant. As a seven-year-old, I wasn’t going to go out in the backyard and tear down the lawnmower and it’d be like ratcheting this or that. You don’t always know why you’re getting the tools, but you do have to put them away in your mental toolbox or your physical toolbox because sometimes you’re going to be in a place where those tools are going to come in handy. My dad, I don’t think he was trying to teach me a life lesson. He didn’t want to buy me thousands of dollars’ worth of tools at one time. He started building it up over time. I swear I’ve used that in sales, in training many times. Don’t discard all the tools because they don’t seem relevant to you right now. Take it, lock it away. At some point, you may be the only one in the room with the tools. For crisis, like Facebook.
That’s smart. We might be swapping out some of Robert’s Transformers for his birthday with a couple of tools.
You’ve got to be ready first. I gave my dad a hard time like, “Screwdrivers? Come on.” It’s not what any kid wants. I never used any of them. I never used one tool that my dad gave me. When I left for school, most of them were still in the thing that they came in, the packaging, but I still have a full set now all these years later. That was interesting. Most of our readers aren’t franchising out there. Most of them have a product or a couple of products or some products. They might have them on Amazon, they might not. They might be wanting or thinking about having a product.
We were talking about what buyers and retailers want. They want to do business with brands, companies. They don’t need our help. It used to be that twenty years ago when I would walk into a buyer’s office, they would be like, “Tim, what do you have?” I was the only person that was bringing new stuff into their office but now, they have sourcing people all over the world. They don’t need my help to get them a product. They can find something close, similar, whatever. They certainly don’t need that. What they can’t get, what they want, what they need is partnerships with brands and companies. A lot of times, our readers struggle with do they have a brand or do they have a name on a product? Do they have a company or do they have a product on Amazon? Let’s break this down and start. How would you know if you have a brand?
You’re right, the landscape of big-box has changed. Before, the best asset they had was the products that they put on the shelves. Now, the best asset a seller can offer is an audience because what retail hurts for these days is traffic. If you can guarantee unique traffic to their store in search of their product, that’s what they want. To do that, you’ve got to have a brand. You’ve got to have a tribe. You’ve got to have a following of people who will go and walk or drive to Target to grab your product. While they’re there, they’ll also buy $100 worth of other stuff from Target and that’s a win. Target and big box, they look at those, “What unique audience can you bring us?”
If you’re Joe Blow Amazon seller, you have a product that’s doing well, if you want to ask yourself, “Do I have a product or do I have a brand?” What are some things that you could check off?
Here’s an easy way to a litmus test that. Send a survey to your customers and ask them, “What’s the coolest thing about what we do? What do you love the most about it?” If you are not getting at least a 60% consistent answer, you do not have a brand. You’re a commodity.
If they’re a brand follower, if they’re loyal to your brand, they’re going to take the time to answer you if you have a commodity. Is that what you’re saying?
Having them respond to a survey is an indicator that they like you enough, that they’re enough of a follower? No. What I’m saying is what creates a brand is they are known for something. They appeal to a certain group of people because they are seen to be the best provider of something. That’s the brand. Let’s take Apple for instance. Apple is targeted. They resonate best with creatives and people in the tech industry, people who design software, and they resonate well with that audience because they are seen to be the best provider of artistic creativity. If you look at their software for creatives and graphic designers, it’s leaps and bounds ahead. If you look at the colors that they do, if you look at how simple it is, non-techie people, creatives who can use simple equipment and not be lost in Microsoft’s black hole of options and apps. They are seen by a specific group of people to do a specific thing better. Give me something random that somebody would sell.
Everything that comes to mind, I’m under NDA not to talk about. Let’s say you have a certain type of towel for the beach.
Let’s say you’ve got a beach towel. You’ve got a lot of competition in the beach towel game. How do you know if you’ve got a brand or if you’re a commodity? If it’s somebody like, “I’ll buy you if you’re on sale or if you’re the cheapest. Otherwise, it’s anybody’s game.” How do you know? If you send that email, you send that survey and the vast majority of your responses are, “Because I love the graphics, I love the design of your beach towels,” then you know that you’ve got a brand. You are the fashion-forward beach towel. That’s your niche, that’s your USP. That’s something that people will pay extra for because, “I could have gotten the beach towel for $8.99, but I bought your beach towel for $12.99 because I love the paisley design on your beach towel.”
For others, it’s going to be maybe the quality. It is the plushest. Thread count if you do it for towels. It is the most absorbent, most durable, or it’s the plushest, most comfortable beach towel. For others, it’s the size, “I’m a 6’5” guy and all of my beach towels fit me like midriffs when I tried to wrap them around me, and it doesn’t work for me. Yours is a decent size.” You’re going to get consistent answers. If you’re getting things all over the map, it means you’re a jack of all trades and you’re a master of none. That’s not a brand because what that does is a couple of things.
Number one, you’re not known for anything. You want those brand consistencies. If people aren’t saying the same things about you, you’re losing that brand, you’re losing that consistency. The other thing is that if you see them all over the spectrum like that, then your margins are going to reflect that. You’re going into too many pockets and you’re probably not showing much of a profit margin. You’re losing your ability to scale. When you look at your brand, to keep that up for all those people, you’d have to keep spending an excess of money to be the best at this. The reality is that different people care about different things. In the market, there is no undisputed best.
There’s an undisputed best for specific segments of people. If you’re getting survey information back and it’s all over the place, then you’re likely not developing out a brand. You’re not developing out your tribe. You don’t have your early adopters who have latched onto this one thing that you do well. You’re likely going to end up spending more money on marketing because you’re going to have to market to more verticals. You’re going to lose margin because your cost is going to be too high. People see you more of a commodity. It’s more feature-driven, which means that as soon as somebody comes up with the generic version of what you do and matches feature for feature what you do, your values come to drop and so are your sales and your market share.
I think that goes into what we talk about a lot and people struggle with a lot is the difference between a feature and a unique. One of the first things I do with every client is I ask them to give me between 5 and 8 features of their product and then 3 to 5 uniques. Ninety percent of the time, their uniques are features.
Internally, we call that the fingerprint effect. There’s a name for it. We’ve got the fingerprint effect. I need the secret name though. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you do it. App for an app, a button for a button, color options for color options, there is virtually no way to be unique. Even if you can, you won’t be unique for long. Even if you’re an inventor and you have a great idea, give it three weeks and now you’re going to have 30 other companies with the same idea. It’s not good enough to have a feature. It’s a way in which you do it. It’s the approach with what you do and the story that tells your ideal customer that you’re delivering on your brand promise. Off the cuff, if you don’t have a brand promise, you don’t have your ideal customer, and you don’t have your position in the market, you do not have a brand.
If you don’t have an ideal customer avatar, which means a clear understanding of who your perfect dream client is, and you don’t have your position in the market, then you don’t have a brand. That’s why the surveys are good indicators because they will tell you that you have no position. It will probably also likely tell you that you don’t have an ideal customer avatar. You’ll see the different kinds of customers that you have coming in responding to that. I’ll give you an example of a business that we did. We did a protein bar and this protein bar was a wonderful product. It was non-GMO, it hit all the marks. It was flavorful. It was a unique flavor. It wasn’t like your typical peanut butter protein bar, Oreo protein bar flavor. It was unique. There was a savory line that was all great. All of those things are replicable. We had to find how we were going to develop that product into an actual brand. What we did was we looked at who this product was specifically designed to help. Who could this help? We looked at all of the ingredients because they say, “We have better ingredients.” What does better mean? We looked at it. It has Omega, which is good for focus. It has no whey protein, which is better for digestion. It has no rice syrup, so it’s a low glycemic index.Plan and work as if it is worked out. That helps you to refocus and do what you want to do. Click To Tweet
A lot of us stopped there. That’s better but that’s not necessarily valuable for everybody. We take that and then we’ll say, “Who would give a crap that their protein bar has these features?” As creatives, it’s difficult for us to take that next step because for us it’s understood. It’s common sense that these are better ingredients, but why are they better ingredients and who are they better ingredients for? What we’ve found is that those are better ingredients for endurance athletes because these are people who are base jumping, these are people who are doing rock climbing or doing dangerous work. They needed to have no sugar fog. They needed to have a clear brain. They were usually on their excursion for over eight hours and so they needed something that has a low-glycemic index that they weren’t going to be hungry with.
What we understood was that they were perfectly positioned to help these endurance athletes. You think of an oversaturated market, like the protein bar, you can’t get much more over-saturated than that. Trying to find something new in an oversaturated market, we have to look and be specific about who we were trying to target. By doing that, we were able to find our position in the market. We were not just another company that was going after with like all-natural, non-GMO. That’s what everybody else was saying, but what could our claims, our messaging say that was unique that would resonate with the endurance athlete’s mental clarity? Low-glycemic index for endurance performance, for long-term performance.
These are not CrossFitters that are going to go crazy for 30 minutes and then sit on the couch. These were endurance athletes. This had to last quite a while. Finding messaging that made us unique. Now, we were the premium offer for endurance athletes and that’s what set us aside and allowed us to create a brand. Once you’ve got that position in the market, you know who you are, you know what you do and you know who you do it for, you’ve got that position in the market. Now we move on to the offer development. Now, we’re able to talk about a name and a logo and what the packaging looks like. We even got celebrity endurance athletes to come on and be the face.
We need boxing. We emulated that so that we could get the visual look that we wanted. We went into offer development. As we develop the offer, what specific things had to be in place to be consistent with the brand and to make this a no brainer. They’ve thought of everything. They were in my head when they made this. One of them was 100% compostable packaging because these are people who are in the documentary people who not only don’t have access to trash cans everywhere, but they also care deeply about the environment and their carbon footprint. What kind of ink did we print on the packaging, the custom packaging for 100% compostable packaging?
We had to think about where were we going to put this? What retailers? Do we need the little notch for hanging? Do we need the box at what volume? Who are we going to put it to? What retailers are we going to go after first? We weren’t going to try and hit a Walmart first. We were going to try and go after REIs and Outdoor World. Who are we going to target based on what the brand model was? What features did it have to have with it? What look did it have to have? Putting all of that together creates that brand and following. What messaging were we going to have?
Who are we going to be tagging on social media? What kinds of posts were we going to be putting? What events are we going to be doing? Who are we donating to? What strategic partnerships? We’re going to be strategic. It puts a lot of focus and clarity into what you’re doing instead of trying to be everything to everyone and do more and more. You can get a lot more done with less if you’re focused and intentional. Maybe a soccer mom who is looking to do weight management isn’t going to see this as particularly better, like any other protein bar and that’s okay. What we created was a strong brand that everybody in the environmental and endurance athlete arena was talking about this. That’s what creates that concentrated buzz. You could do that much more quickly in the smaller group than if you’re throwing it out there to everybody right off the bat, especially for a lot of companies that don’t have a huge marketing budget. Starting, you’ve got to be the big fish in a smaller pond, so to speak, so that you can start to create that buzz.
This sounds like a real all-in mentality. Do these companies do anything before they start this process with you to make sure that people even like their bars? Do they have any data? They’re not thinking something up and then creating a brand around it and get in a position before they even know that it’s going to sell or do they?
We get different types of businesses in different stages. Oftentimes, for some of the larger ones, they’re either local chain looking to create a franchise. They’ve got that proof of concept where they’ve got the three. We have others that are product-based or agency-based. They come in a variety of stages. Sometimes they’re companies that have been surviving, but they’re ready to scale. They’re ready to get into retailers, they’re done with the farmer’s markets, selling off of their Etsy page or their website, but they’re not sure how to do it in a scalable way. Going from retail to wholesale, it was a big step and there are a lot of things from an operational standpoint that you need to have ready.
Sometimes we get them at that stage where they have enough proof of concept already going in that the product is viable. It’s a matter of cleaning it up and organizing it so that it’s ready to scale. We have other companies that are in the launch phase. For them, we work with focus groups. We have an international focus, a group farm that we use where we can run anything from the people you see at the mall or the grocery store is giving samples and questionnaires, all the way to online. We also bring people in as well. Those are more for local markets. Say we’re going to do a restaurant that’s opening up and they’re still in the menu development plan. We’ll have focus groups put together, we’ll invite them in and we give them their surveys and questions into smaller focus groups. When they’re getting ready to launch, they haven’t already gone through that phase, but we’ll take them through that phase so that they’re best poised so that we get some actual data that we can work with.
Checklist-wise, if you’re out there and you have a product and you have some proof of concept, you need to find out what’s number one?
Number one is always looking at your brand DNA first. You’ve got to know who you are. You’ve got to know your identity. The second is going to be knowing who your ideal customer is. Who you are, who you do it for? Finally, what do you do? What is it? What is the transformation that you’re giving them? Not from a technical product. People are seldom buying the product. They’re buying what that product allows them to do. If you understand that, then you understand your position. The first thing that you need to do as a company is to understand your position. To do that, you need to know who you are, what you do and who you do it for.
There’s some homework for you right there. You can work with customers from all types of status, of all budgets. Are there people that are too small for you, a lot of people are going to read this and think, “Do I have a brand? What am I doing with the brand? Am I enticing to a retailer? Am I even at a place where Zahra can help me?” Do you work with all ranges of companies?
We have different offers. If it’s one-on-one client work, those are going to be a little bit better points for established businesses. We do have a lot of online resources. We do have an online course, which is for more if you are launching or on a smaller budget, it’s a guided course giving you the fundamentals of how to create a brand and build the framework for that. As you launch your company from a bootstrap place, what are the things that you can do to create your brand so that you can scale quickly? Once you get to a place where you’re looking to scale up, that’s when you would call us for one-on-one services. We do have a lot of help and resources out there for even small businesses starting.
You go to BrandAuthor.com. If you’re not sure where you fall, you can go in to schedule an appointment. We do offer a 30-minute consultancy free of charge to the discovery session to see where you are in business and what your needs are. From there, we can direct you to somebody that would benefit from one-on-one client work based on the project needs. If it’s a general branding and you’re starting, we’ll direct you to the online resources that we have.
If you’re out there doing your due diligence, staying at home, being away from social distancing, then you’ll be able to go to OnTheShelfNow.com and find that out. Two questions. When building a brand, never do these two things?
One is never replicate what’s already there. Don’t copy. Don’t be generic. The minute you copy something else that somebody else has been doing, you’re sunk. You’re already generic, so never do that. Secondly, never react. Always respond.Different people care about different things. In the market, there is no undisputed best. Click To Tweet
Always respond in what instance? What does that mean?
Everything, your brand reputation, your brand, and how it’s seen is a culmination of people’s experience with you. If you are reacting to things, you are schizophrenic. If a customer complains or they want a refund, if somebody trolls you on social media, if someone gives you a one-star Amazon rating, if customers want to cancel contracts with you because of the COVID crisis and you react to that, then you are creating a scenario in which you may be putting information out there. Best-case scenario, in an inconsistent manner, which is still terrible, why do we buy from brands? Because we trust them. We know what we’re going to get. It’s like people.
The people that we cling to are the people where we know what we’re going to get from them. I know how someone’s going to react to things. That’s how we build relationships with people. We’re a little hesitant and sketchy around people that some days we’re having a great day and they’re wonderful people and other days they’re mean and cruel, and so it’s the same thing with the brand. When you’re reacting to things where if you’re having a good day or you paid the bills and someone calls in and wants a refund and you’re like, “No refunds ever. Go away.” On another day, when you’re feeling generous, you’re like, “I’ll give you a refund.” When you’re reacting to things, if one day somebody trolls your social media, leaves a nasty comment, you ignore it, and the next day you go all in and rip them a new one, you’re not giving the brand consistency. Best-case scenario, you’re inconsistent and it hurts the goal of a brand, which is to create a level of trust there. You can’t trust what you don’t understand, what you don’t know.
Worst-case scenario, you’re going to create a lot of negative press out there. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Always respond. Get in place in as many processes. We call it what would brand do. When you get nasty comments on social media, have a protocol for that so that your social media manager isn’t going in there and like, “You don’t know anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Many times we see that where somebody will make a complaint and then the owner or the manager will go in and tell the customer how technically they’re wrong. They think they showed them and that all the other people reading the review will magically understand that it was the customer’s fault, not the company’s but in reality, what does that do?
When you have a set position on things, how you’re going to respond, maybe you say, “Whenever we get a customer complaint in there, instead of getting into it on a Facebook thread, we’re going to go in and send them a direct message offering assistance. Messaging them directly, asking how we can resolve it and get more specifics on what happened.” What’s the response versus the reaction? In scenarios that are new that you don’t have policies set up for, taking the breath takes a beat. Think about if I say this, then what are the possible outcomes? Develop a response from there so that you understand. Many times, as entrepreneurs, we’re like with that baseball bat and hitting things as they come at us and it’s very reactionary. Short-term, it clears our inbox tasks. Long-term, it can create a big mess for us to clean up from a brand perspective.
I know somebody who does that well, and I don’t want to butcher his last name, but he’s the creator of the X3 Bar. He’s all over Facebook, but it’s this new way or a different way of working out, which has for him like oodles and oodles of research behind it. He’ll put out a post and there are always the naysayers and they’re like, “This is the same as this or this is bogus.” “Don’t you want to do this?” He never reacts to what they say. He only provides information. “You can’t build muscle that way.” I’ll say, “You can. Here’s the documentation. Here are the articles. Here’s the research that’s done,” and then he puts the links in there. He has these set answers to all. People don’t read down through a thread, the other thing too.
They’ll ask the same question 50 questions down that ten other people asked the first ten questions. He’s consistent with his answers, but they’re never a reaction. They’re always a response about the data, not a reaction to whether they do or don’t like his product. They’re trying to get people on this page to transfer over to another product that they’re promoting. He just responds. His name is Dr. Jaquish. He’s super good with that. That’s good advice. The last question was, “When building your brand, always do this.”You've got to be the big fish in a smaller pond so that you can start to create a buzz. Click To Tweet
Always work from your brand identity guideline. Never deviate from that. Whether you’re rolling out a new product, you’re responding to a crisis, you’re launching in a new market, you’re developing out a new vertical, always do it from a place where your brand identity guide is in your hands. Use that as a guideline and a bible to do that with.
That’s almost like a mission statement, guiding your intentions. If you have a certain code that you live by, you always put up all your life questions against this code to see if it’s in line with it. By the way, I always try to bring everything back to a movie somehow. What you were saying, the whole reacting, reminded me of this scene. Did you ever see the movie Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith?
I did, where he’s homeless and then he becomes an investor.
He goes into the training program where he’s making no money. How he got that way was he bought all these medical devices. He spent his entire life savings and then he had this big idea that he was going to sell them to these doctors and life would be grand. It wasn’t working out that way. They lost all their money. His wife leaves him, he can’t afford his rent. He’s got his kid and they become homeless. Every day he’s out trying to sell these medical devices to doctors. At night, they have to find a homeless shelter or sometimes they spend the night in the bathroom, whatever. He’s down to his last one. He has no money because earlier in the day he was standing on the sidewalk and a guy from his program at Merrill Lynch or wherever it was said, “Do you have $5?”
He gave him his last $5. Here he is in this doctor’s office. The doctor is interested. These things are like $600, $800. This is everything and it doesn’t work. He flips a switch and it doesn’t work. You see it building in him like he’s going to flip and lose it, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t react to it. He simply says, “I’m not sure. Let me take a look at it. I’ll get it fixed and then I’ll bring it back.” The next scene is he’s up all night in a stairway of the homeless shelter fixing it. He does take it back. He does sell it. Had he reacted, he would have never had the opportunity to go back and then sell it when it did work. I always think of that when I’m about to rip somebody a new one.
That’s me and technology. Whenever I’m doing a webinar or some online training, and because I stink at technology, there’s some debacle. It’s always, “Keep the smile, don’t freak out, don’t throw your laptop.”
Big Boxers, I hope that you’ve had an opportunity to think, at least start thinking about, “Do you have a brand? Are you taking steps to build a brand or are you comfortable with selling a product online?” By the way, it’s not a process that has to happen overnight. You can still enjoy your honeymoon time, building revenue online, and at that same time be taking steps towards building your brand. You can go through Zahra’s course and start learning it on your own. When you’re at that critical moment, you may be in a position to bring down the thunder and have her help you personally.
It’s ever-evolving. It’s like doing the dishes or working out. There’s never a point where you say, “I finished it. That’s it. I never have to look at it again. It’s done forever.”
Dishes aren’t that because it comes back to every single day. I don’t know what happens, but you do the dishes and tomorrow they’re back. I was going to say it’s like a virus, but too soon. Zahra, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. I appreciate you spending time with all the Big Boxers out there. I’m sure they’re taking the information that you gave to heart and it’s been helpful. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. I had a lot of fun.
We will talk soon.
I hope you enjoyed that. Zahra is crushing it out there. If you want to find out how she does what she does if you want to find out how you can create a brand, remember what I told you. Remember, I said 100 different times, retailers want to do business with brands. They don’t need products. They can find products. When they look at your product, they’re not just looking at that. They’re looking at your company, at your brand, at your offering, at your look and feel, at your website, how it ties together. They’re looking at all of that. That’s what they can’t get. They can’t buy it. They can’t borrow it. They can’t own it. They can’t go to China and get it. It’s your brand. You created it. You have the following. You have the influencers, you have the social media, you have the engagement. How do you get all that? How do you put it all together? You’ve got to get with Zahra. She’s going to help you do that. Everything that you might need to know about getting a hold of her, I recommend that you do that. Let her know that you read about her here at On The Shelf so that she knows where you came from.
I’m going to close out with a couple of announcements like always. We’re having some great things happening in our private Facebook group, On The Shelf Now. Go to On The Shelf “Now”, hit join and be part of that community because we’re doing live events, we’re having great discussions, we’re building each other up. It’s a great time and I want you to be there. If you want to know how to price your products, go to TLB Consulting, click on Courses and buy the How to Price Your Products for Brick and Mortar Retail course. You’re not going to be disappointed.Never react, always respond. Click To Tweet
Keep an eye out under Courses at TLBConsulting.com for our How to Pitch Anything Via Video Conference. That’s one that you’re not going to want to miss. We’re going to let you know when that’s happening about our complete course on how to get your products into big-box retail. I want to hear from you. I want to know how you’re doing. One of the ways that we can do is if you join our Facebook group so that you can get in with the community. We can start having conversations. We can know how you’re doing in all this turmoil. I want you to know I’m praying for each of you out there. I wish all of you the best. Be safe, be well. Until next time, we’ll see your products on the shelf.
- Brand Author
- On The Shelf “Now” – Facebook group
- Solopreneur Leadership Strategies – past episode
- Courses in TLB Consulting
About Zahra Cruzan
Zahra Cruzan, founder of Brand Author works with local agencies, retailers, and product-based businesses to create custom branding and marketing systems, so they can stand out as the premium brand in any market. After spending nearly a decade working and training in marketing and copywriting for both small ventures and Fortune 500 companies, Zahra decided to open her own Brand Agency focusing on marketing and sales systems that integrate both offline and online campaigns into one easy to implement systems. By using her proprietary system for creating a brand’s infrastructure, she has helped entrepreneurs breakthrough markets at every level. Brand Author Agency is dedicated to creating wildly profitable brands by applying strategy to vision. Her work has won international awards for her clients on platforms such as Linked In.
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