How To Manage a Successful Branding Process And Stay Alive

Nilly Assia
CMO
MDGO
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How To Manage a Successful Branding Process And Stay Alive
What follows is an article based on Nilly's appearance on the Techie Talkie podcast.

Why Surveys are Underrated Marketing Tools

I think that one of the tools I always think of as a tool that helps in creating awareness for a new category, which is basically what I'm trying to do today at MDGO, are surveys.

One of the things I'm doing is to create surveys. I build a database in my marketing automation, which is highly targeted to the titles that I want for them to be converted as time passes. I create surveys through Survey Monkey for example, very simple surveys with extremely accurate questions in order to expose the pain points.

Because, when you're in a place where you need to create awareness towards a certain problem, you need to understand that these people have this problem in the first place.

Surveys are a great tool to do that.

There's another way, which is also surveys but on a different channel. For example just now we've made a big consumer survey in the US, and its outcome is very interesting because you can actually use it afterwards in order to produce very juicy PR.

After that you can share the outcome of these surveys on the email marketing, to these titles, in order to do some kind of sharing of industry insights.

Truly, they can be repurposed in so many ways. To create awareness, to create a good PR, to create good stories. After that you can use them in order to lower them down the funnel, and to engage them in this dance we're constantly trying to do with them.

Authentic Brands Work Best (Whether You’re Tech or Not)

My favorite brand, hands down, is easily eTORO. I've been accompanying this brand from the day it was born, when I was sitting with my better half over a cup of coffee one morning. But more than that, it's a brand that has a few elements that I highly value.

First of all, it's smart, it's bold, and it knows not to take itself too seriously. Now, when a brand goes with this video, it automatically produces some kind of emotion from the other side, and bonds you to the brand a bit more. That's it.

The fact that I’m married to the founder also might have something to do with it.

As far as non-tech brands go, my favorite is IKEA. I'll explain why.

When you think about values that a company writes for itself, companies always write values such as 'Innovation', 'Productivity', 'Creation'. Each one is just another superlative.

The beauty of IKEA is that when they built the company's values, they were more humble and more authentic. They said, 'Affordability', 'Creativity', 'DIY'.

These three values automatically make you understand that you're in a very defined niche. They were honest, they were real as to what they wanted to be.

And the beauty of it, is that it's in line with the products, the campaigns and with all of their videos.

So, many times when you see companies write values such as innovation, creativity and all that, later on there's a gap between the product and the strategy, and here this gap doesn't exist. And that's the beauty, because it's real.

It especially comes through in their videos, which speak on such a real, emotional level. There’s one video of theirs that literally made me cry. It was about a night lamp.

Whether It’s Brands, Videos or Campaigns, It’s Really All About Story

That’s just a great example of the power that video can have. I’ve worked on quite a few videos, but the most exciting to me now is the last video I did for MDGO.

It’s kind of like my experience with writing suspense literature.

There's such a feeling of satisfaction when you manage to resolve that tension and crack the suspense wide open, whether it's to crack a murder investigation or to crack the brand's strategy, the brand's story.

Especially when it comes to a brand like MDGO with such a complex story. Because on one side you have B2B, on the other side you have B2C, you have two champions you need to address and to lure them in.

And the ability to connect the dots, to understand what will attract or what will produce value... It's this very delicate point where you manage to bring the value both to the customer experience and to the business champion, the VP claims, which to this purpose are my two champions in the worlds of MDGO.

And while you're doing that also to tell the story in a very refined way, is a great satisfaction. So that's something I'm really happy about and proud of, this process we went through.

You’ve Gotta Fail your Way to Success

I’m always appreciative of success, and quick to celebrate when it comes. But I have no illusions. I think that in our world we continuously fail, over and over again.

When you're doing ABM, when you're doing digital marketing, PPC. You're endlessly...I wouldn’t say failing. You’re endlessly learning.

If there's something that works well, you want it to work even better, you want to grow on it. On the other hand, if there's something that isn't working well, you want to investigate it, you want to go down to the root cause of what happened.

And if it didn't work well, you want to understand whether it's the channel, or is it the lead source, the messaging, the creative, the call to action.

There are so many things that can influence your success, or lack of success at the end of the day. And it's a part of our job I think, as marketers, to improve it all the time, to optimize constantly.

But one natural side-effect of this process is the fact you're continuously failing. Because it’s so crucial to remind yourself, that the ratio of success is tiny, and even when you're building it, it's very difficult to know if it'll succeed or not.

This is doubly true when you're in a startup that’s just getting off the ground.

You’re always in the place where you need to understand what works and what doesn't. It's not like you already have a few good assets that you know you can run with, and they'll be your cash cows from the get go.

Why you Need to Brand Way Earlier than you Think

Rebranding is a very lengthy, difficult process, and it’s often only attempted by brands who’ve been around for quite a long time. Right away with MDGO, I knew that wasn’t going to be us. I was immediately adamant that even though we were in a very early stage, rebranding was a must.

The reason for it was very simple, the story wasn't resolved.

When the story is not resolved, you can't dress it up with messaging, and campaigns, and a lead machine, because the basis is unresolved.

So, for me, even before I officially started working at MDGO, I knew this was the first project I had to get done. That's because our goal from day one was to create demand and create leads -- to build assets that would 'feed the sales people' as I like to say.

If a brand’s foundation is unresolved, it doesn't matter what you try to do afterwards, it'll just be a guessing game.

You want the essence, the strategy and the story to be resolved and communicated to everyone so they'll understand.

That's because ultimately, the company's employees are our ambassadors, it's important that they feel connected to MDGO's story and essence. It’s only from there you can start building all the other elements of marketing.

The Right Story Doesn’t Happen By Accident

But unlike so many other parts of marketing I discussed before, the perfect story is not something you land on by accident. You have to dig deep, find the facts, and gain the initial insight to tell the truest story you can.

So, at the early stage, we had preliminary discussions with all kinds of prospects, and we realized that, first of all, we didn’t truly understand the customer pain points yet. And the company had already pivoted more than once.

The day I started, I learned of all these changes, and understood very quickly where we were and what we had to do.

We were selling to insurance companies, and our champions were the VP Claims and the VP Customer Experience. It was clear that any story and strategy we decided on had to capture both of their interests at once.

We had all the elements of this story back then, but we hadn’t figured out how to put it all together. I mean, it wasn't in existence and it needed to be built and created from scratch, I didn't even need any more proof points. The other point was, and we also had discussions about it, was, 'What do I need to bring forward in order for this process to be a successful one?'. 'Am I missing today any information that I need, for this process to be successful'?.

And when we did this kind of a checklist, I realized I had everything I needed. I had the competitive landscape, I had whatever I wanted this product to do, we have the value proposition, the truth is already with us, now it's just the matter of cracking it, and that was the difficult thing.

But At a Certain Point, you Need to Take a Leap of Faith

A challenge that’s even harder when you don't have customers and haven’t proven your product-market-fit yet.

But no matter what you do, there will always be an element of uncertainty. That’s where courage comes in. Having the conviction to just take the leap of faith. Because at a certain point, you won’t be able to get any more validation while the window of opportunity is still open.

It’s important to remember though, that even though you start with that leap, the process also goes through evolution. I mean, the company changes

Suddenly, you have customers come to realize that the market is a bit different than what you first thought.

The world isn't standing still, it keeps going all the time. And then it's possible you'll go for a second stage of adaptations to the brand's story.

I mean, to make yourself stick with this story just because that's what you decided 18 months ago, is not the right thing. You need to be agile the whole time, you need to continuously adjust to what's going on in the market, and reinvent yourself.

Key to Successful Rebrand? Manage Expectations

For me it's the fifth time I'm going through a rebranding process. If you would've asked me this on my first time, my answer could've been different.

Today I'm looking at it in a very business like way, what do I mean by that? If you're accurate and you know exactly how success looks like, and you're not entering this kind of novel where you don't know what to expect and how it's going to look at the end, and you arrive at this process with all kinds of thoughts that it'll be something different. At the end, when you're getting the result, perhaps you're disappointed with yourself.

So, when you know to define exactly what you're expecting this thing to be... That is, you specify that you want exactly this and that, on this and that time, and I want it to be loyal to who we are, both in the aspect of quantity and quality.

By the way, a very interesting story. With MDGO, when we entered this process, I was certain we're going to change the name of the company. I was certain we're going to produce something different all together.

And in the midst of this process I discovered that it's actually okay to create a new category, but to stay with the brand's name, it serves us well.

But in the same breath, to be very accurate with your expectations from the aspects of quality, deliverables and time, and most important, to manage expectations within the organization itself.

Especially if you have a team that never went through such a process, and in MDGO I was blessed with an amazing team and an incredible management that had faith in its professionals. I mean, I was told, 'Nilly, you're the CMO, you're the professional, take the keys, we trust you'.

Now, when you have such a vote of confidence, you're feeling comfortable making these moves, because in the end of the day, it's everybody's interest for this process to succeed. It's in the agency's interest, it's in the CEO's interest, It's management's interest and also yours.

Don’t Brand by Committee

From the beginning you need to define who the decision makers in this process are.

In our case it was the CEO and me, and it's very important to leave it that way.

Because the moment you open it to everyone, you invite people who have never been through such a process, and haven't participated in those 30 meetings, they don't have the context, and they don't know the whole process you went through till this point of decision making, and to the decision you took.

That's why the idea is to include at the beginning everyone who needs to be included, to take in all this information for the brainstorming and research phase, this phase where you're feeding off everybody's views.

You just need to make the distinction between owner and contributor.

There's the owner who leads the process, and there's the contributor who's contributing to the process. You need to know when to let them in, and when it's no longer relevant. Not relevant just because they need to concentrate on other things that are their day to day.

The beauty about it is that it allows you to run fast, to make decisions and run fast. Because when you have too many cooks in the kitchen, it gets much more complex, and ultimately gets in the way of what you really want -- that everybody will be fully bought into this process.

Define What’s Right for your Brand, then Stick to it

With MDGO specifically, in the research stage, the whole management was involved. We interviewed each and every one of them, we gathered later to think about the strategy and the cracking, and really in the last steps it was just the CEO, Itay and me.

And here I have to say, Itay is something else, one of the most incredible CEO's I've worked with. He really puts his trust in the professionals, and it makes it a much more correct process for the brand.

Because that way, the whole point of view is not a subjective one, but an objective one, what's right and what's wrong.

That is, when decisions are being made, they're not being made by what's beautiful or not, they're made by what's right for MDGO and what's less right for MDGO, and there you start with the elimination process.

If you're doing this expectation managing right from the start, in the brand's and company's favor... Because that's what should guide you. There's no room for ego here, your objective is only what's good for MDGO, for this purpose.

For example, when we did this little face lift for MDGO's logo, we had two choices.

One was to use this tiny protrusion on the logo, and the other one to go without it. This protrusion, this sharp tip, was about two millimeters tall and I'm even exaggerating, but it made a huge difference, and suddenly it looked like a different logo.

Both logos were good, and you need to know also when to let go, not to be bound to this thing. No one will die if it looks a bit different, okay? You need to know how to let go, and if it's not right it's not supposed to be there at all.

But when there's this indecision between two logos, and the whole difference is this tiny sharp tip, you need to understand that both logos are fine, one of them looks a bit finer and the other one is a bit more readable. Which one will you go with? And then you think, what's my brand? Is my brand more clever and intelligent, or is it more important for me that it'll be clearer?

Eventually we went with the second option, the smarter looking, finer one, the one that you look at for a second and you're trying to understand what you're reading, it increases its memorability.

Again, cracking this is almost like that sudden “aha” moment that makes a suspense story. You have all these seemingly separate elements scattered throughout the process, and suddenly one crucial piece of information comes along, and just like that, they all end up clicking together.

The Secret to Instantly Stronger Creative Feedback

Another important element of the process is to give feedback that's built according to the tools you defined at the beginning. What do I mean?

For example we specified we wanted the brand to look clever, young, bold, but that can connect with everyone, by being eye-level and honest. We defined some kind of parameters at the beginning, and then a creative came along that didn’t sit well with it. How do you give this feedback?

So I think the way to approach it is to answer in the feedback according to those same parameters you defined at the beginning. You say, 'It feels to me like it's a tiny bit more grown up, less young, or alternatively, it feels a bit condescending and less honest or eye-level.’

You should really use those parameters, and I think that can help the creative team to go back and say, 'Okay, I need to make it a bit younger, I need to make it less condescending' and there are tools you can do it with.

That's something that later on is helping them.

While if you're just saying, 'I don't like it'... what do they do with that?

There’s also two different types of feedback to give for two separate elements. One for the overall creative strategy, and another for the specific ways those are translated into final products.

I mean, it could be that there's a certain treatment that makes the final product into something that feels like a hard sale ad, and there's another treatment that will give it a very premium feeling to it, with dark colors for example. So, the ability to communicate or to express these differences is also a tool that later on can help the creative to go and make it more accurate.

Focus on Winning Internal Buy-In First

It’s very easy to put all your focus on how you launch the brand to the outside world, but I believe it’s just as important (if not more important) to launch your brand internally as well.

First of all, you want the first curtain raising to be for the company's employees, employees and investors. I mean, people that are really close to the brand. They will also be your ambassadors later on, on the outside.

At MDGO we held this company event, we raised the curtain, we told them the whole new story of MDGO, and at the same time we did a few cool videos. We showed them the videos and it was received with great love and positivity.

After that we built a website, and the moment the website was ready, which was about a week later, that's when we did this sort of outward-facing launch.

Now, because of the current situation with COVID-19, you can't do a big in-person event, so of course we used digital means. Some LinkedIn, some emails, some social media. We used these means to refer people to the website, and now we are focusing on PR efforts to push it forward.

The Secrets to Accelerating Branding Successfully

It all starts with the process of decision making. When you define your expectation management at the very beginning it sets the entire tone.

We struck up an SLA from day one that said I'm coming back to the agency with feedback within 24 hours. From one milestone to the next. Of course, only if we feel that we are okay with it, I mean, the pace or the time tables won't dictate the quality of decision.

But that goes back to what I was saying earlier. When you have only two people that make the decisions, it accelerates every stage of the process.

That seems like not a huge deal, like what’s one or two more people at the table. But I can’t stress it enough that this is the key.

When you have more than two people that are making the decisions, you won't be able to make that kind of SLA up front.

That's why when there were two people who said, 'We went through the process, it's our 15th meeting, we have context for everything, we know what it needs to be', it was very easy to make the decisions.

When you let other people in, and I'm not talking about MDGO right now, but previous procedures. When you let people in suddenly in the middle of the process, when they have no context as to what happened before, they didn't go through what you've been through...

They start backpedalling, asking all kinds of questions that were probably answered months ago, and it hinders the whole process. That's why the key is to specify two people that will lead the process, will make the decisions, and then you have to meet the SLA of 24 hours to get the feedback.

Which sounds very short, but what you don't know within 24 hours, you'll probably won't know also within 48. Because I really believe that there's something in the initial feeling... It’s a complex process. You did all that work up front. You crafted and perfected that story. Got buy-in. Defined creatives. There are a lot of emotions and intuitions wrapped up in all of that.

So, there's something in your initial feeling, when you see it, you immediately know if it's a yes or a no. You can make fast, strong decisions because the brand is not even something you need to think about anymore.
You just feel it.

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Nilly Assia is a tech marketing expert with two decades’ experience -- working with global industry leaders such as SanDisk and Gemalto, as well as in startups like Portnox and now, currently as the CMO of MDGO. Nilly is also a best-selling author with another book on the way.

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Techie Talkie,  the tech marketing podcast is a casual meeting place where the best tech marketers share their most impactful trade secrets and marketing hacks . Its objective is to inspire creativity within the tech marketing space and help marketers rise above the noise. It is hosted by Asaph Shulman, a serial marketer and CMO of Firebolt and our very own Carmel Yoeli.