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

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.

 

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.

 

Frenemies: Disruption & Opportunity

The ground is moving.

It’s easy to look at the state of the world today and feel like things are blowing up everywhere. Media practices and outlets, politics, social behaviors, language, medicine, education, transportation, the list is endless. So many of the things we know are being challenged, disrupted or are quickly becoming obsolete, replaced by new practices, thinking, beliefs, and beings – sentient or not.

Change, die, hide, medicate.

To many people, this is cause for outcry. Change, unless you are the catalyst, is unwelcome. Over time, whether you want to or not, you adjust, adapt and at times become an advocate for a new way of doing or thinking. And then just as you have adapted something changes again, and again.

So do we view this current state of seemingly ubiquitous disruption with terror and panic? Do we hide under our beds? Or invent a stronger cocktail?

Find your possible, your inner Elon Musk.

Or do we open up, invite it in, and get curious? Can we recognize and dismantle fixed mindsets and explore what new opportunities lie beyond our comfortable idea of how things work? Can we disrupt ourselves for a moment and look into the new open spaces that disruption creates to discover new solutions for ourselves, our workforce, customers, and clients?

What is being done now that can be done better? What can we invent and refine? What kind of positive change can we make out of the messes and mistakes that are bound to happen along the way?

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.

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.

How do users really experience your brand?

The repetition of traveling daily to one place, driving into the same building or walking into the same space can cause an unintended blindness to what is in front of and around us. Understandably, most people are moving through life, intently focused on the next action steps needed to achieve their goals. This practice repeated contributes to success, but over time, can also contribute to oversights that can damage the perception of your brand.

How is space related to your brand, you may be wondering?

“The impact architecture has on a person’s mood is huge. Arguably these are the fundamentals of architecture: not how it looks, but how we feel it, through the way it allows us to act, behave, think and reflect,” says Dr. Melanie Dodd, program director of spatial practices at the Central St Martins art school.

Given that your mood can positively or negatively affect your entire day, why not leverage this information to benefit the perception and experience of your brand?

Below are 7 simple steps to help you see your environment and pivot where necessary to make a more positive impression.

Take a walk.

Start to gain objectivity by stepping away from your space and re-entering along a new or different path. If time permits, take a quick walk around the block and come back inside through an entrance not normally taken.

Settle into a moment. 

Find a place to sit, ideally with a view of the busiest area. Put on your Margaret Mead hat and get curious.

What is the flow of users?

Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Where are they congregated? How does this behavior inform the placement of your signage, both fixed and temporary? Is anyone lost or confused? Is the flow of movement efficient?

A visitor will most likely not tell you that a sign could be in a more helpful place, or include a more clear message, but watching traffic flow for just 5 minutes during a busy time of day will.

How are people using the space?

Furnishings? Accessories? Signage? Is there anything that can be added, moved or removed to improve the user experience?

What do you hear? 

Watch and listen to interactions with staff members: How are valets handling car flows? How are security and staff members handling check-ins? What phrases, questions, comments, and expressions are you hearing by those passing by?

Is there music? Is there clanging? Is there a buzz of energy or a din of chaos?

How does what you see align with your original vision?

And how is what you currently see aligning with users needs? Or not aligning?

Celebrate, ideate and take action.

Make a note of what’s working well or better than you envisioned. Reach out to staff or managers to pass on positive feedback and reinforce what’s working.

Address neutral or negative observations with a 30-minute afternoon brainstorming session. Bring issues to light and invite team members to share ideas for shifting the user experience toward the positive and in a way that is more aligned with your original vision.

Periodically repeat the steps above, to remain attentive to and nurture the brand you have so carefully built. Leverage the power of space to convert customers to a happy army of brand advocates.

Share your story.

Have other ways that you find objectivity in the familiar? Or tips for furthering the connection between your audience and your brand through curated spaces? Send us an email, we’d love to hear more.

 

How do we connect better?

As part of our series on connection, I asked Ben Woo, founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners how we can connect better, and avoid common pitfalls? Here are 5 golden rules to stick by – let’s go! 

Put things in a language that your audience can understand.  A language around benefits vs. features.

Just because there is something that you think about a lot, doesn’t mean that everybody else does. Driving with your own frame on situations can prevent connection. Ben provides an example of work he did recently with a digital media company. If in the process of conducting research, he and his team were to ask consumers, “Which of the following things make you more likely to consume a piece of content?” Most likely they wouldn’t learn much. People don’t walk around thinking about the content they’re consuming. Instead, they think about a particular show they watch or an author or genre they like to read, so it’s key to focus more on how those things really show up in people’s lives. Companies that make products tend to focus overly on product features, tech specs, and innovation but that’s not how consumers think. Customers think in terms of benefits. In terms of, “How will this product affect my life?”

When interviewing or trying to get to know someone, say as little as possible.

When you ask shorter questions, you get longer answers and in the process of doing this, you are putting less of your own language or your own frame onto things. Craft open-ended questions to get more detailed answers. Keep in mind that you want to hear the story of the other person, as opposed to having them fill gaps in your own story.

Keep the focus on the other person, resisting the urge to interject.

I asked Ben about this as it frequently trips me up in conversations – when someone shares something that I too have experienced, it’s tempting to interject and share a story, in an effort to relate. As much as my intention in doing this is a good one, what I’ve learned is that switching to my own story lessons that moment of connection when the focus was on the other person. Ben’s view was enlightening, and inspiring, “Keep in mind that initiating connection is all about giving, about giving kindness openly without direct hope of something in return. As someone is answering something about their own life experience, to give somebody space to do that is a gift.” Ben reinforces, “It’s good to relate to folks, but not by making it about you.”

Approach conversation more like a Ouija board and less like a sheepdog.

Try to push the other person’s story forward, as opposed to interjecting with bits of yours, cutting them off or redirecting that energy. If there is an objective to the conversation, you have to make sure you can get there, but it is much more Ouija board than it is sheepdog.

Listen and follow up with simple questions.

Don’t worry about your questions needing to sound like your favorite late-night talk show host. Use simple follow-ups such as, “Oh, what was that like? And then what happened? Why? When did this happen?” Resist the feeling that you need to entertain and instead focus on gently pushing the conversation along.

What are your companies’ connection questions or challenges? Share them with us and become part of the conversation.

Thank you the founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners, Ben Woo, for sharing his valueable time and knowledge.