On being a horrible branding client.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We learn something new everyday.” I agree. Today I have learned that I am a horrible client.

Why? Read on, dear friend.

When working with clients to build or rebuild brands, we start with a workshop to discover everything we can about where our client is now, where they want to be instead and why. This workshop has structure, but at the same time, it is a fluid exercise. We encourage clients to share anything and everything that comes to mind as we serve them small prompts, like Venus and Serena’s dad serving them balls, that they run for and hit repeatedly using a million different muscles. But never fear; we don’t make clients run, and no hand-eye coordination is necessary to attend our workshops.

Why do we have workshops and not worksheets? You ask because your time is precious and you never have enough.

We lead workshops either remotely or in-person to activate the collective energy of humans gathering and thinking together. In brand strategy, this is called collective effervescence. How often have you been in a meeting, discussing a project, and amid this loosely structured meeting, you have an idea? Would you have had that same idea on your own? At your desk? While filling out yet another form?

We think not.

We believe the world needs fewer forms and more human interaction.

More structure with a lot of space built-in for sharing, thinking together about specific ideas, dreams, goals, behaviors, data, learning, cultures and movements, history, the future, and results. When we think together, in a safe environment, we have one rule and one only. The rule improv uses for comedy is, “Never say no.” When someone shares something, you add your ideas, memories, or knowledge building on what was shared. This process diminishes the fear of failure and builds trust and collaboration, making it easier for people to be vulnerable and express ideas. The result is collective positivity and a safe space for sharing, creativity, and innovation.

So, why are we a bad client? Or why am I, Marni, a bad client? Because I hired someone to help us think about our brand. I have confidently and successfully done this for clients, but I am wrestling with the process for our brand. The first step was a worksheet to fill out. That worksheet is still blank. I haven’t done my homework, and in fact, I lost my it. Yikes. I need more help with branding than any of the clients at Seed Agency right now.

I am now going to go back to working on my worksheet. But if you feel like it’s time to think about how well your brand is connecting with your intended audience, let’s talk. I would rather help you than fill out this worksheet.

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Change is the only constant. How to embrace and leverage it to strengthen your brand.

Around here we think a lot about change. Working with clients to create new iterations of products and brands, we are up to our elbows daily in looking at the process, and whys, the challenges, ways to make it more palatable, ways to inspire embracing the difference between where a brand or a person is now and their ideal vision of themselves in the future.

Yet every day in our own lives, we find ourselves bracing against change, looking for small ways to avoid it because let’s be real, the idea of constant change is disturbing.

Small amounts of change can feel refreshing, like entering a newly painted room or taking a weekend trip to a place with a higher altitude, or more sunshine than you’re used to. So how do we balance the need for stability and the need to remain open to small shifts? Small shifts that enable us to stay plugged into the world around us, but not overwhelmed? Shifts that allow us to emerge and grow into our best selves without feeling like we’ve changed so much we’re unrecognizable?

I remember a few times in my twenties being asked to house, baby, or puppy sit. I’d say yes because the idea of stepping out of my own life for a few days or a week intrigued me. Sometimes I not only lived in someone else’s house, but I drove their cars – think baby seats and dog hair. Living in someone else’s house and driving their car was delightful. I was fully immersed, dwelling in another person’s home, reading their books, cooking with their pots, and trying their spices. One time it involved borrowing a shirt, (think babies who spit up) but mostly I stayed away from wearing their clothes. That seemed like a boundary line inappropriate to cross, unlike using their soap in the shower and their shampoo. Pretty much I was still me, but everything around me was theirs.

I loved it. Until I was ready to go home again.

Going home after one of those visits allowed me to see my world with new eyes. It helped me discern what I wanted to keep and create more of and what I was ready to part with.

So how does this apply to work? To brands? Clearly, a brand cannot try on the trappings of another brand for a weekend. Or can it?

When we work with clients on content planning, we look at the competition. We look at who the competition follows and who they are followed by. We look at their hashtags. We sift and sort and learn from what they are doing. We go back to what we are doing, shift where appropriate, test and measure results. We continue to make small changes, aligned with our brand core, and watch what transpires.

Regardless of whether we wish to evolve our brands, or ourselves, the world is evolving around both constantly. Eventually, if we want to keep playing, we must confront change and find a way to participate.

And when we do this, we first remind ourselves why we do this. We do this because it would be our avocation if it weren’t our vocation.

So before you feel overwhelmed by the idea of change, first allow yourself to feel the joy that comes from feeling plugged in, listened to, alive, and understood. Then marry this feeling of joy and connection to the process of evolving. And then take the first step to assess where you wish to go from here and what needs to happen first to get there.

And if you’d like a partner to walk through the process with you, to guide you, and encourage and inspire then we are right here.

2022 Planning: Gen Z by the Numbers

One of the most crucial aspects of content creation for any brand is knowing your audience. Once you know who your audience is, where they hang out and the challenges they face, you can create engaging content, and share it where your audience lives. Seems simple enough. But how well are you balancing the audience you have now and the audience you’ll have in the near future?

Here are some reasons to consider how the Gen Z-audience figures into your content and creative strategy planning for 2022:

Gen Z currently comprises 70 million people in the US, with a combined spending power of $150 billion.

Defined as those born from 1997 to 2015 Gen Z shoppers now range in age from 6-24. Despite their young age, they number about 70 million in the US with a combined spending power of $150 billion.

Companies should expect Gen Z to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to social causes.

“For the last several years, the most important social cause to Gen Z has been combating climate change or protecting the environment. However, this year our research revealed a rapid shift where racial equality and social justice jumped to the top spot,” Jason Dorsey writes in MarketWatch. “This trend looks likely to continue given the emotional connection to the generation, and will have a big impact on brands, companies and investing — such as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) — for decades to come.”

79% of Gen Z is willing to engage with a brand that could help them make a difference.

That initial engagement can lead to long-term loyalty.

77% of Gen Z shoppers say shopping online allows them to buy products from new or small companies they couldn’t find in stores, vs. 65% of other age groups.

While 54% of consumers still haven’t bought something they saw on social media, nearly 60% of Gen Z have done so.

28% of those have made purchases on TikTok. 43% on Instagram, 35% on search engines like Google or Yahoo, 15% on ecommerce-only sites like Amazon or Etsy, and 14% on fashion or trend websites.

What’s with all the numbers you ask?

While we are a creative company first, we use data and information to ensure that the messages we create can connect to your intended audience. Without data or strategy, creativity is fine art. At Seed Agency, we love the challenge of crafting art built on thoughtful strategic planning.

Are you looking to refine your brand strategy to reach new or emerging audiences? Let’s talk.

 

Source:  How to Cultivate Loyalty with Next Gen Shoppers, The Robin Report

Maintaining an on-brand message during a crisis.

Due to unavoidable built-in wiring that comes installed free in all humans, we will each at some point during a time of crisis, be overcome by the part of our nervous system that in an effort to protect us, shuts down everything we don’t need in an emergency. Despite how much we might wish to use them, while in “fight or flight” mode, triggered by stress, panic, or surprise, our brains will be momentarily closed for decision making.

With a few slow, deep breaths, your brain will kick back into gear. And with it your ability to think wisely about how to proceed with creating the necessary messaging to communicate with your teams, partners, vendors, and most importantly, customers.

Four things to keep in mind while you navigate communication during a pandemic, that will serve you always:

 

Empathy: We are all experiencing a loss of some sort. Keep this in mind while you frame your intended message.

Information: There are so many rumors and so many rules, it is hard to keep the facts from the assumptions right now. Stick to what you know, keep it as brief as possible, share the most crucial information each type of audience needs from you, in the simplest form.

Optimism: We are bombarded by bad news on a normal day, let alone during a pandemic. Unfortunately, this causes more stress on the nervous system and consequently more stress on the immune system. Incorporating positivity and forward-looking optimism into your message is one way to support the health and wellness of your tribes, at no cost to you.

Consistency: When you know someone well and have a sense of comfort and fondness in your established relationship it is shocking when one day that person shows up with a totally different hairstyle or accent, or tone of voice. The same is true for your brand. In any message you are sharing, stay true to your aesthetic – the visual side of your brand, your color palette (or lack of one), and the language you use to communicate. The more you look and sound like yourself while sharing information, the more normalcy, comfort, and possibility for connection you bring.

For more information about how to create compelling and on-brand messages during a crisis or anytime, send us an email at hello@seedagency.com We’d love to help.

Notes for young creatives starting out.

You like me, you really, really like me.

I don’t think there is any better feeling in the world than feeling seen. The feeling when another person compliments you on something that you love doing. A little taste and I want more and my brain, as with jelly beans, will do almost anything to get more. Including sometimes, giving work away for free.

But when we enter the state of bliss brought on by positive affirmation, we must take note and take care.

When a client compliments us on a job well done, we say thank you. Of course, we want more adulation so it is tempting to work hard and overdeliver. Sometimes, when a client compliments, he or she might add in with that compliment a request for more. This is a normal part of being a client. They see that you have skill beyond what they had seen before. We cannot assume they are trying to be exploitive, we can only assume they are seeking the best work and solutions for their business. That is their job.

But if you find yourself so high from the compliment that you agree to do additional work without acknowledging the additional time and effort this work will involve, you have just compromised your business for the sake of someone else’s.

Flattery will get you everywhere, or nowhere.

When flattery is used as a manipulative tactic, it is the flatterer who appears to win. But long term, nobody wins as the added expectations for more work without additional compensation create resentment and sours the relationship.

After school tricks that you are too smart to fall for.

When I was a child I would use a naughty trick with my sister while we watched after-school specials in the family room. “I bet you can’t get to the kitchen and bring me some ice cream in three minutes.” “Yes, I can!” She would exclaim. “Really?” I’d say. “Prove it.” Off she’d dash. A few moments later I’d be sitting in front of the tv, a giant bowl of rocky road on my lap. This scenario only repeated a few times before she got wise.

If we are to run successful and sustainable businesses we must wake up and not just know but make clear the value we represent to our clients. We must thank them for their acknowledgment of our hard-earned skills and talents, and at the same time, charge appropriately for our expertise.

Gratitude and curiosity.

As a small business owner, this can be scary. We love it when people want more of our work, and asking for more money after you’ve just received a nice compliment and a small request seems petty. So what do you do? I find the simplest approach is to go to your heart and answer from there. Say thank you to your client, for the compliment. Then let them know you would love to fulfill this new need, how they would like you to handle the time needed to address it?

You are not chicken, you are a brave and talented soul.

Let me remind you that you did not get into this business because you’re a chicken. You are doing this because you are a brave, brilliant, talented person who can think and create in ways that other people cannot.

Ok. I’m not a chicken. But I feel like one right now so what do I do?

Start by noticing if you’re feeling annoyance or anger. A psychologist would say that behind your anger is fear. Put the fear to the side for the moment. Then recognize that your client is only seeing what looks like brilliance, with no effort on your part. To them, your skill is the equivalent of magic.

Magic = billable.

What they aren’t thinking about is that this skill is not a magic trick that we can do without thinking. This is a skill developed through thousands of hours of practice. And just because the result of thousands of hours of practice is that we make something look easy, doesn’t mean that it has no value. It means the reverse. The easier something looks, the more time and effort went into learning how to do it, and thus, the more valuable it is.

Muzzles sometimes required.

The one thing I have done and wish I hadn’t at times (long, long ago of course – like last week) was to become defensive. Don’t be defensive. Don’t let these kinds of requests trigger deeply buried personal feelings of not being valuable or acceptable or worthy. You are valuable and you are capable of communicating that calmly and confidently.

You can do this.

In summary, when a client seeks the very best from you they are doing what they must do to support their business. Your business depends upon you doing everything in your power to run sustainably and that means charging the appropriate fees for the value you bring as the result of your excellence in your craft. Just because you enjoy what you do, and you make it look easy, does not mean that it is to be given away free.

Quite the opposite.

Now go. Do something brilliant and bill appropriately. I promise, it will feel just as good if not better than getting that compliment.

 

 

Our approach to creating relatable brands for our clients.

Q:

Does our logo look tired? Can you tell us how we should update it? Is the orange still relevant? Is the typeface dated? Is the icon working?

A:

If we answered these questions before asking many more first, we would be referencing our ideas of what is valuable, relevant, and interesting. Those answers would be about us, not about youyour customer or the true value you represent and therefore, they would be wrong.

If that was our process, we recommend you fire us.

Your questions need answers that come from looking more deeply at who you want to have a conversation with. Who do you serve? How do you serve them? What is the most important way that your service improves their life? How are you serving them vs. the competition? What insights and additional questions come from asking these questions? And so on.

The answers can reveal which services your customers need and value, and which may need to change, a little or a lot, to better meet customer’s true needs and practices as well as revealing clues as to the best way to speak to your customer so that they can hear you.

The world changes with ever-increasing speed. Thus, the way you talk to people, the reasons you think they work with you or buy from you and the narratives and media channels you use all benefit from consistent, periodic evaluations.

Pop Quiz

Who is using your product? What are their 3 biggest stressors daily? 

Why and how do your customers choose and use you?

What are you doing now that positively impacts your customers lives that your competitors are not?

And how is that message reaching your customer? 

If you haven’t considered these questions in a while, we can help you through the process.

And from there, we can talk about the color of your logo.

At Seed Agency, we help clients navigate their brands through an ever-changing landscape of customers, behaviors, media platforms and data. If you need a partner in better navigating toward your own north star, we are here to help.

 

Word of the moment: CONNECTION. What can you do about it?

As in fashion, home decor, art, and architecture, trends exist in the words brands use to talk about what they deliver. A notable promise ubiquitous today is the idea of a brand delivering “connection”. We are guilty of this as much as anyone, so let’s talk about what this really means and where it works.

Customers are bombarded by the messaging, ads, and calls to action, in the physical and digital realm at a rate of about 4,000 ads per day. Studies have shown that the number of messages can increase to 20,000 for those who are perpetually online.

Everyone wants connection, and brands know this, so they have turned connection into part of their value proposition. Promising that if you engage with their offering, you will experience a greater sense of connection, to yourself, or to others. But do these promises of connection really bring about better connection?

Can promises of connection be backed up by actions and results? Are brands researching and discovering better ways for customers to live a more meaningful and connected life by engaging with their product? Or are they just leveraging the latest brand buzzword in an attempt to win more eyeballs and dollars?

We are challenging our clients to let go of trying to achieve connection by talking about it and instead represent it, facilitate it, be part of making it happen.

Here are some places to start:

  1. Connect to your community by donating time or a percentage of your profits to local homeless shelters, food banks or schools.
  2. Invite young creative talent in local schools to decorate an open public space, plant a garden or perform on a weekend afternoon.
  3. Invite actors or performers to put on workshops for your tenants and the surrounding community – who doesn’t want to learn to chat more comfortably at a cocktail party or how to use humor as a tool for better networking and relationship building.
  4. Host a mini TEDx style lecture series. 
  5. Get out and talk to people to discover something your community needs. Put a task-force together to tackle it. 

Taking positive action to benefit your community has to power to elicit positive feelings, make real change and indelibly imprint a brand in the minds of users more than any combination of words and images.

Ready, go.

Can I borrow your eyes for a moment? Using empathy to better understand and engage your ideal customer.

To win eyeballs you might want to first imagine they are yours.

It’s very easy to look at perceived behavior and data, and project what people want. But it’s another thing to empathize with the experience of your key customers to better understand where they might be coming from and what they need from you.

You want their attention, their eyeballs, but what you really need are their eyes.

To better understand how to get their attention, imagine first that you can borrow their eyes and look out. While you’re at it, borrow their shoes as well. You don’t need a degree in cultural anthropology, as fascinating as the Yanomamo people and indigenous tribes of Africa can be. Instead try pausing for a moment letting go of your own view of the world, and your own beliefs and stories of how things work and simply imagine that you are your target customer.

What is that customer thinking about when he/she wakes up? What is their biggest challenge of the morning or day? What do they need most? And how does what you do solve for that need?

Use data. Use empathy. Use both to gain broader insights into the real challenges your customer faces and how you can help solve them.

“Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes even for an instant.”

-Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

Humans fail to fit into most standard settings. Why that’s good news for brands looking to connect.

Are you a small, medium, large, or…?

Living in an industrialized world means that we are surrounded by systems that attempt to automate and simplify most activities, services, and products down to a basic set of options and settings. But nothing about you or your customer is a standard size. And that is a good thing.

The gold is in the variations.

People do many of the same things but with slight variations and reasons behind each one every day. Why do we do what we do? Why do we like what we like and crave what we crave? Our behaviors and thinking are a mix of built-in habits and responses to the detailed and ever-changing world around us with some hard-wired caveman stuff thrown in. Most behavior is driven by our need to accomplish large and small goals and a desire for doing this in the simplest and most enjoyable way possible.

Forget ‘branding’ and ‘positioning.’ Once you understand customer behavior, everything else falls into place.

Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples

Ask why and then keep asking.

When looking for better ways to authentically and helpfully engage with your customer, look first at their actions before, during or after they use your product. What is your customer doing and feeling  in each phase of the interaction? Now that you are in the mindset of your customer, how you can improve their experience?

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz discovered that between home and work, people could enjoy a small but meaningful moment for themselves, and the idea of the ‘third place’ was born. Starbucks still uses this ‘third place’ concept to craft a customer experience which results in a much larger imprint on customers than discussions of beans or coffee preparation alone.

Keep looking and stay malleable.

Getting into your customer’s mindset and asking questions is a discovery exercise that you can do to fine-tune any branding or messaging effort. To keep up with the ever-changing world your customers occupy, repeat the practice a few times each year to stay tuned-in to your true customer experience to maintain a positive impression.

Let us know how it turned out, or, if you don’t think this is your thing, we are but an email away.

 

Man plans. God laughs. Plan anyway.

They say that when man plans, God laughs. We find it wonderful to make people, and if possible deities laugh, so we plan.

We also find that if we don’t plan, we are super busy all day, but in the end, find it hard to measure just what we accomplished with all of that busy-ness. So, we set goals, create action plans, look back to see what worked and what didn’t work and use that insight to adjust and keep going forward.

In the midst of the holiday frenzy of parties and shopping, light shows, and end of year ‘best of’ lists, we are stopping for a moment and asking ourselves a few questions to help get 2018 off on the right foot. In our Girl Scout-inspired spirit of preparedness, we offer this list of things to ponder, as you get ready to kill it in 2018.

Winning: What marketing initiatives and events went right or better than expected in 2017? For each of those wins, name three decisions, actions, or people responsible.

Learning: What didn’t go as planned? What ideas failed? What were three things learned from those failures?

Change: In what areas do you plan to grow or change in 2018? And how will this set of changes solve problems that your customers or stakeholders struggle with now?

Actions: What are 3 action steps must be taken for you or your team to successfully make these changes? And what lessons from number two can you apply as you create your plan of action?

Assessment: How will you measure the effectiveness of the changes you are making? And how often will you measure?

Time: What timeline are you giving yourself and your team for putting these changes into place?

Partnership & Cookies: Who can be your partner in planning, mapping, strategically thinking about, taking action and achieving your goals? Who will hold you accountable to your timeline and pick up the slack or play cheerleader when you or your team are overwhelmed? That is the easiest question of all. Us!

Wishing you the joys of the season and a spectacular new year.