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Is Your Brand Message Broken? – Kate DiLeo
The Agents of Change

You have very little time to make a big impact with your brand messaging before your audience moves along or keeps scrolling. So how do you know if you’re hitting the mark or wasting valuable time? Brand strategist Kate DiLeo is here to cut through the noise and give us the 3 steps every sales pitch needs to impact your bottom line.

Rich: My guest today is a brand architect whose approach is rooted in the belief that brand is the path of least resistance to revenue. She teaches you to eliminate complex and ineffective storytelling by delivering a simple yet provocative message that tells prospects what you do, how you solve their problem, and how you differ from the competition. The outcome, brand conversations that convert.

She is honored to have partnered with more than 200 organizations across 20 plus sectors, helping them craft brands that bring more prospects to the table, more users who click, and more customers who buy. I’m excited today to be talking to Kate DiLeo. Kate, welcome to the podcast.

Kate: Thank you Rich for having me. I appreciate it.

Rich: Now, I’m curious. How did you find yourself in a world of brand architecture, helping businesses craft better brands?

Kate: I’ll have to be completely honest with you. I am what I always refer to as an accidental brand strategist. I did not go to school for this. And I think many of us that are entrepreneurs and founders and leaders, have bit of a zig zag path. And so for me, my path began way back when, right before the market crashed, trying to pursue a PhD in cultural and linguistic anthropology. And when the market crashed, Rich, I actually had a professor tell me he’s like, “Kate, listen, we love you, but we don’t know where this field of study is going to be. My recommendation is go get a job and go pay off your debt.” So of course my father was like, “Please leave my house and pay off your debt. I love you so much.” Right?

So I did, I left. I dove into branding as a byproduct of having to start my sales career. I took a job cold calling IT professionals to sell them $2,500 training classes. And that is, believe it or not, where I stumbled upon the power of branding, was in sales.

Rich: Well, what was the segue there? Because I think a lot of people think of sales, especially when they hear the word ‘cold calling’, and you’re just picking up and reading from a script. So did you alter the script or was there some ‘a-ha’ moment where all of a sudden, the brand you were representing, something came all together?

Kate: Well, it was really fascinating. So I ended up working for a great company. So they had a tremendous sales training program. So of course I start my job, they put you through a few weeks of training, so on and so forth, give you all the scripts, they subscribed your leads to the drip marketing campaigns and off I go. Off I go, in my early twenties, and I get it. And for some reason, the scripts were not working for me. And so I, being kind of an experimenter by nature, and realizing if I don’t turn this around I’m out of a job. I decided I had to kind of turn the corner. So I actually threw out their scripts and I really took a step back. And I really asked myself, well, hold on. If I’m buying a product or if I’m buying a service, what do I want to know to make a buying decision? And so I decided to really test this out, to deliver a simple brand pitch.

And there’s really three things that I recognize somebody wants to hear in that first 15 seconds, whether they hit your website or whatever else. And it’s very simple. It’s, tell me what you do. Tell me how you can solve my problem. And tell me how you’re different from the competition. Those three things. And I call these people up rich and tell them those three things. And then I would shut up and go quiet and sure enough, they’d go. Yeah. Send me an email on that. Yes, tell me more. And I ended up successfully being 100% over quota running a $1.2 million a year pipeline. And so that was actually the beginning. It was recognizing that the simple brand pitch that I now teach to my clients comes down to getting to the basics as quickly as you can of telling people what they need to know to convert. Tell me what you do. Tell me how you solve my problem. Tell me how you’re different.

Rich: Okay, so I’m sure there are people out there who are listening, but they spend their day constantly putting out fires, busy with a hundred other responsibilities, wondering if this is really all that important. What message do you have for them that we get them to take a pause and listen to what you have to say today?

Kate: Yeah. Well, first off, can we just call it out that this idea of branding is just such fluff, right? And I think that it’s okay to kind of call that out. When you hear the words ‘branding’’ and even marketing’, a lot of people just roll their eyes, like ugh, creative mumbo-jumbo. Listen, for most of us, what’s the bottom-line thing that we’re trying to focus on. How do we help our companies grow and make money? And if you’re listening to this podcast today and you are in a position where you are in charge or directly influence revenue generation, and I’m going to tell you to stop for a second and listen. Because really what I’m talking about is that your message that you deliver out to the world, your brand message is the path of least resistance to revenue. It is the one thing that in 15 to 20 seconds is going to get somebody to go, “That’s interesting, I want to have a conversation.”

So if you’re in this position where you’re going, “Yes, I’m struggling to get prospects to the table”, “We have new products and services and we’re not sure how to position them”, “Gosh, our message that worked for the last 10 years is no longer resonating with people”, “Oh my gosh, my buying cycle is getting really long.” Those are all indicators. Maybe you need to go back and take a quick look at your brand message and dial that in, tighten that up a little bit so that you have a higher probability of getting more of the right prospects to the right table at the right time.

Rich: So whether you’re just starting out or maybe you’ve been doing this for a while, but you’ve run into one of the problems that you just identified. How does one start? What’s the first steps they should be taking?

Kate: Let me walk you through the big three steps. Are you ready? So step one, if you’re trying to go well, that’s a great idea, Kate, how do I work on my brand? I think the first step that we have to do is take a first look at ourselves. My organization, whether you’re a solopreneur or a large organization, I want you to ask yourself, what problem am I really solving for my customer? I know the products and services I offer, but what problem am I solving? Where’s the set of problems.

And I think the second thing that you have to do to write a really good brand, is begin to understand how does my company authentically show up in the world. What’s my brand’s personality or tone of voice, and differently listen. When you start writing, have you ever experienced just typing an email and you start to write, and the tendency is we’d write this corporate-y mumbo jumbo. You know what I mean? Well, great brands don’t sound like that, do they? They’re really sharp, they’re to the point, they have a sense of rhythm and personality to them. And so what I want clients to do when I work with them is step one is know who you are. Know your personality and know what you’re solving.

And then Rich, step two is pivot that whole perspective and go, well wait a second, who are my ideal customers? Do I actually know what ideal looks like for my top one or two or three target audiences? Have I defined that with buyer criteria? And do I know the deepest level heart pain I solve for them? If you can get those two things down, you can then do the third and final step, which is to write the three core components of your brand.

Rich: Before we get to that third step, I want you to define what you mean by the ‘deepest level heart pain’.

Kate: Oh my gosh. Okay. So I get asked this question all the time. Why would you care about heart pain? Okay. People buy from a place of emotion, don’t we? And when I’m looking for a product or service to serve me, I’m looking for it to solve an actual pain, an actual problem.  You know, it’s difference between buying a nice to have and a need to have, isn’t it. And people are going to go for that need to have first. So the tendency when we try to position our products and services is saying, “I offer branding services”. “I offer podcasting services”. I offer whatever, instead of saying, “Listen, Bob, listen, Susan, here’s the heart pain I know you’re solving. Oh, by the way, how I happen to do that are through these amazing products and services.”

What people want is that emotional element to feel like when they connect with you, you get them, you understand what they’re going through at a human level. That’s the heart pain. Your products and services were built for a reason. And chances are, they were built to solve a heart problem more than just an ancillary feature or benefit.

Rich: I’m listening to what you’re saying. And I’m just thinking like there’s so often, you know, where I run a digital agency by day, and there’s so often when somebody calls me up and they’re like, “I need Facebook ads”, or “I need to rank on the first page of Google.” And I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know just to take a step back and be like, “Is that really what you need?” Like, is that your lowest or deepest level heart pain? I think not. Right. How do you convince a client, or do you even bother, when they’re saying something that is really sub-surface level, but you know that’s not what’s driving this ultimate decision? Do you let them just buy at the surface level or do you try and take them down to that pain point? This is, listen, does it matter if you’re on the first page of Google if I can suddenly generate so many more quality leads for you?

Kate: Yeah, I go right to the heart pain. So my clients, what I teach them is you go right for the jugular, right? You go right for it. In fact, have you ever gone to somebody’s website and you look at their message and you have you ever gone, “Oh my God, they read my email.” That is a brand that actually hits you at the heart level. And the way that you get to that, let’s say, you’re listening to this. You’re like, well, how do I actually come up with that? Can I tell you the secret? There is this really simple exercise I use called The Five Why’s exercise. Have you heard of this, Rich?

Rich: I have not, unless it’s… well, I’ll let you explain it.

Kate: Well it’s asking ‘why’ five times… Right? Okay. So people are like, what are you talking about? Okay. So it’s a simple root cause analysis exercise. And basically the question you’re going to ask yourselves is this, for this particular target audience, when it comes to my products or services, what is their bottom-line need? So for example, for my business, I may say, well, they need a brand that enables them to reach more of their target audience. Oh, great. Kate, why do I need that? Well, because they need to get more prospects in the pipeline. Why do they care about that? Well, because they need to close more deals. Well, why do they care about that? And so on and so forth. And what we realize is by asking ‘why’ up to five times, we don’t take anything for granted. We go from what I think I need, to what I really need. Which is a brand that enables me to achieve my vision as a founder. And I can’t do that if I’m not getting prospects in the door.

Rich: Absolutely. I totally agree. All right. So I cut you off. You had given me two of the things, and we had just finished up with deepest level heart pain, but you were about to go into something. You were about to go into your third bullet point. So what is that?

Kate: Yeah, so the third bullet I get asked is, okay, great. So cool, Kate, I understand my brand’s personality and tone of voice. I understand that I’ve got these audiences and I think I’ve done this five “why’s” thing to figure out kind of the heart pain that I solve for them. What do I do with that information? Okay. So really when we break down a brand there are three key components of a brand that wins work. The three components, I’ll give you the names of what these types of statements are. You’ve probably heard of them.

Number one, you need to have a tagline that actually states what you do. In fact, it is the first thing that people ask you in the room, isn’t it? “Hi Rich, so nice to meet you. What do you do?” I tagline, I build brands that win more work. Now a great tagline should be provocative, not pretentious, but provocative. It should beg the question, “Interesting. What do you mean by that?” And if you’ve ever told somebody what you do, have you ever gotten that response where they almost look at you and go, “Really? Tell me more.” Good. You’re using provocation now where they’re asking that question aloud or internally. So you tell them what you do with the tagline.

Now, the follow-up to that if somebody wants to know more is what we call a ‘value proposition statement’. Now this term gets thrown around all the time in marketing, right? Okay. Honestly, a really good value proposition statement I find is actually a combo of two sentences. The first sentence is what I call like a truth statement. Like the reality is Bob…link. Followed up with a call to action. Therefore, Bob, if you want to solve that pain, do this. Do this so you get that. It’s the point in the messaging. If you’ve gone to somebody’s website, where you go, oh my gosh, you get me. You ever felt that. So tagline, tell me what you do. Then I had a, hold on, curious, let me know more value proposition statement that says here’s your pain. Here’s how I solve that pain.

And then here’s the third piece. Set of differentiators, the bullet points, right? The 1, 2, 3, maybe four, sometimes called the ‘three uniques’ for a business. How are you different and better than the rest? That is the third piece that somebody needs to know to make a decision to work with you.

Rich: All right. I’m brought back to meeting this woman who, when she was asked at cocktail parties – which often involves having lawyers at these cocktail networking parties – they would ask, “What do you do?” And she said, “I make lawyers richer.” And there was nobody who just said “That’s interesting” and walked away. Like, it is provocative for sure. So I can see how that would be very powerful.

Now we talked a little bit about brand guides. And I know brand guides from like a design standpoint, showing how a logo can and shouldn’t be used, what colors, what fonts, and so on. What does a brand guide look like for messaging?

Kate: Great question. And I build this with clients as a part of my process, and I’m sure you do on the visual side with your clients, right? So we always want to have a game plan. We want to have a playbook. So I have a brand playbook. Now the big components that I think you should have outlined from a messaging standpoint would be your top three brand archetypes, which outline kind of personality traits and styles. You need to know your brand’s tone of voice. You need to then have your actual brand documented. So what I typically recommend that you have is your vision and your mission and your values. Now those are typically internal facing brand statements, right? However, I’ll tell you this, they should live on your website still. They just don’t belong on the homepage. Like nobody sees a vision statement and goes, “Oh, I’m so compelled to buy.” However, you know where they belong is on the ‘about page’ of your website, because that’s where people go to look at you. They humanize you, don’t they. People buy from people. So you need to have your vision, mission, values, and you need to have the core essence of your sales language, which is your tagline, your value proposition statement, and your differentiators.

Outside of that, Rich, what I recommend is you should have flavors or variations of your elevator pitches built off that language, as well as a tactical game plan of what updates do I need to make and where, for social media, bios proposals, printed collateral, website.

Rich: All right. So one thing that I’ve noticed in being in business for 25 years, both with my own company but then also working with so many different companies and brands over the years. is once you get to a certain size, or if you outsource some of your copywriting, possibly for SEO purposes, you have more than one person writing your copy. How do you then manage the tone and message if there are multiple people involved? Because I’m dealing with this. Now I used to be the only voice for flyte, or at least 95% of the copy came from me. Now, at least two-thirds comes from team members and I’m trying to find that balance. So what kind of advice would you give me?

Kate: So the balance is, your brand playbook is the backbone that they need to go back to. They have to go back to that. It’s just, wouldn’t you tell them the same thing. If you said, “Hey, you can’t use your logo except in this way.” Or, “Why are you using cobalt blue when our color is orange”, right? So why do we write from whatever creative spirit we seem to have. Like hold on, you go through all this work to create a brand, to create the narrative and the storyline of who you’re saying you are. And if we were trying to attract everybody who’s writing, and I do mean both marketers and your salespeople, should go back to that playbook as the backbone to say, wait a second. If I’m writing an email for a drip campaign or I’m personally emailing a prospect, did I even include our tagline and value prop in there? Did I even mention our differentiators, or did I just write paragraph upon paragraph of content? Go back to the playbook.

Rich: All right. I’m wondering about how the channels we use impact our voice. I’m assuming they do, because maybe say the message that you share on Twitter may be different than what you share on LinkedIn or TikTok or something else, or is it based on the assumed audience that are going to be on those channels?

Kate: Well, that’s really good question. Well, if you go back to remember how we asked about defining your target audiences, so this is often answered in that point. Because I think the tendency would be that we could say, well we should be on all channels. So I always start with this question. Let’s say you come to me and you say, all right, here’s our three audiences. We define what ideal looks like. The question that I think we should ask is, “Okay, well, what rooms, digitally or in person, are those people already in?” What rooms are they already in?

So for example, if you’ve defined your ideal audiences are on Facebook, why are you not on Facebook? You know what I’m saying? If they’re on LinkedIn, show up on LinkedIn. But it also begs the question, Rich, where should we be going in person, face to face? If it behooves you to spend an hour of your month teaching a workshop in a CEO mastermind to reach your ideal decision maker at your ideal company, get there. Wouldn’t that be far worth your time compared to spending wasted dollars on a platform that maybe isn’t right.

I’ll tell you what, I had a marketing agency call me on that, too. And they said, thank you for saying that because we were able to maximum our clients’ dollars far better and get them a far bigger ROI because we took the budget instead of across five platforms and put it here. We look like rock stars. They look like rock stars. Everybody’s happy.

I will tell you what, really ask yourself, “Where do I need to show up?” And then you beg the question of how much out of my brand do I need to put in. If you only have so many characters for a particular ad, maybe just put your tagline in. Does that make sense?

Rich: Yeah, absolutely. Since we’re talking about social media, obviously a couple of things that happen on social media that wouldn’t happen in traditional writing, in most cases, would be hashtags and emojis. Just wondering what your overall thought about using those two different devices in our messaging should be?

Kate: Oh, I think they’re great. So go back to your original tone of voice. If you’re a very serious brand, for example, my gut reaction is that probably when you hit the homepage of your website, you’re not going to have a bunch of emojis floating around. However I’ll tell you, I just did a software brand, and they are just feisty and tenacious. And they’ve got this personality and this humor, and they did the layout and design, and it works. They’ve got emojis, they have hashtags. There’s a social element there that is incredibly compelling to their particular buyer. I think you have to just know yourself. If it works for you, add that, layer that in.

But with anything, don’t do so much that it dilutes the power of your message. Let your words still stand. It’s like have you ever read somebody’s LinkedIn posts and they have more social hashtags than they do actual content? You’re like, what are you saying here? Right. Like I think we have to find a balance. But absolutely you’re part and parcel with your brand narrative and being true to your personality.

Rich: All right. I understand you have a book coming out. What can you tell us about the book? When is it coming out? What will we learn by reading it?

Kate: Sure. So first off, thanks for even asking. So I’ve got my first book coming out this summer in July of 2022. It’s called, Muting the Megaphone – How to Stop Telling Stories and Start Having Conversations. This book is really the practical step-by-step process that I spoke to high-level today, about how do you actually build a brand that wins more work? How do you define your tone of voice? How do you define your target audiences? And step-by-step, how do you write your tagline, your value proposition statement differentiators? So if you’re looking for a very practical kind of pocket brand guide, that is your book. And it’s coming out this summer.

Rich: Excellent. Where can we sign up, if this episode drops first? Well, how can we get our hands on a copy?

Kate: Absolutely. You can check out my website, www.katedileo.com to learn more, pre-order or order the book right from there. We’ll have both a paperback and e-book version.

Rich: Awesome. Okay. This has been fantastic. Really appreciate your time today and your energy and your expertise. Looking forward to seeing the book come out.

Kate: Thanks, Rich, I appreciate it.

Show Notes: 

Kate DiLeo is a brand strategist that helps her clients eliminate long sales scripts that nobody cares about, and hone in on a shorter message that moves the sales needle.  Order her new book today!

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.