Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

An innovative new film-making certification that’s designed to equip storytellers with the skills they need to meet the growing demand for branded media. The program is the brainchild of our two guests this week: Rick Parkhill of Brand Storytelling and Dr. Stephen Marshall of East Tennessee State University. Learn how course students are briefed directly by industry partners including Discovery, Univision, Southwest Airlines, and Intel, plus hear feedback from the first cohort.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Rick Parkhill: People are learning about brand storytelling on the job. They come from journalism, from the entertainment business, and from marketing. This is a collision of industries. 

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Today, we have to skill up people. We have to embed these kinds of micro certifications into their journey so that those are signals back to people like you, who hire people.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy lead, full service, creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us. At the start of this month, we spoke with Miri Rodriguez, the author of the book, Brand Storytelling. Last week, we focused on audio branding and how sonic identities can trigger consumers’ emotional brand associations. Today’s episode continues the theme of using storytelling techniques to elevate branded content. We’re going to learn about an innovative new educational program that’s designed to equip storytellers with the skills they need to meet the growing demand for branded media. The program is the brainchild of our two guests this week. Rick Parkhill is a successful business-to-business media entrepreneur, the founder of Infotext, Digitrends, and iMedia. A self-confessed media junkie, Rick is a keen observer of the impact of media and technology on culture and society. He’s produced over 100 advertising and media events, and is currently the director of Brand Storytelling, a business-to-business media company, serving the brand storytelling industry, which includes brand marketers, agencies, media and production companies, platforms, and content studios. Dr. Stephen Marshall is a professor in the department of media and communications at East Tennessee State University, as well as a brand strategist. Focusing on branding media and multicultural advertising, he’s consulted for Adobe, Coca-Cola, and The Birthplace of Country Music Museum among many others. Today, Stephen is the chief marketing officer for the E.T.S.U. Research Corporation, leading the new program that we’ll be discussing. Rick and Stephen, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Rick Parkhill: Thank you, happy to be here, Adrian. Thanks for having us.

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Yeah, thanks, Adrian. This is awesome. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s start with you, Rick. Could you tell us about your professional background and what prompted you to create Brand Storytelling?

Rick Parkhill: Well, first of all, I’ve been infatuated with the media environment for decades. And now I launched a magazine back in the late eighties called Infotext that was the first publication for interactive media and marketing before the internet existed. It was audio text technology and video texts and things like CompuServe. I’ve been really infatuated with interactive media and the evolution of media over the years. About seven years ago a number of friends of mine came to me that had been attending the Sundance Film Festival and taking brand clients with them. They wanted to be together with these independent filmmakers and the creative community but didn’t have a place to belong to, you know, where discussions could happen around branded content. And I didn’t really understand it at first, but as I got further into the business of content, it really excited me because I could see the shift in the media world that was being fed by advancements in technology. YouTube was really coming on at that time and brands were self-publishing content, and it just opened up a whole new world, for brands to be storytellers. Sort of the perfect storm that was brewing was sort of migration away from analog TB and money that’s been poured into television being re-evaluated. So that got me really excited. We started our first event in 2016 and haven’t looked back. 

Adrian Tennant: Can you tell us more about the kind of content you screen at the Brand Storytelling event? 

Rick Parkhill: Sure. So this year we opened up submissions for brand films. We received nearly 200 submissions, from brands like The North Face, PNG, Red Bull, Apple, Whirlpool, United States Postal Service, HP, Hawaiian Airlines, Pepsi – some brands you’ve heard of! We put together a selection committee that consisted of about 16 people, brands, agencies, directors. They poured through the films and selected 15 films that we would screen over a four-day period at Sundance. The film would screen for our audience afterward, we’d have panels and Q&A with the brands and directors and producers, and even sometimes talent involved in the films. The films range from a three-minute film to a 90-minute feature. Some great films, ones that you’ll see on streaming platforms, like A Woman’s Place by Whirlpool, Dear Santa by the United States Postal Service, Generation Impact by HP, The Beauty of Blackness is a new film by Sephora, Black Boys is an impactful film by Procter and Gamble. So, we’re very proud of the content that was selected and we’re anxious to screen it in front of a live audience in Park City in January but unfortunately, that was unable to happen.

Adrian Tennant: How has the content evolved over the years that you’ve been running the event? 

Rick Parkhill: Well, I’ll tell you, five years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to run the Brand Storytelling theater as we did this year. Had we opened two submissions just five years ago, the quality and quantity of content would have been far less. This is a fairly new phenomenon going on, where brands are redirecting investment away from interruptive advertising to engaging content. Brands are finding their ways onto the streaming platform. When television audiences are migrating to Hulu and Netflix and Amazon plus and Disney plus and Paramount Plus, you go on and on, brands need to follow the audience. So how are they going to do that on a streaming platform that doesn’t provide 30-second spot commercials plus it’s a generation of people that are used to just watching what they want to watch when they want to watch it. So, interrupting, immediate choice is really annoying to most people these days, especially the younger audience that’s so important to brands. They have to compete for eyeballs and interest in engagement. They have to compete with Hollywood. They have to compete with the best creators on the planet, and they’re doing that. And they’re investing money in top-notch creators in great productions. 

Dr. Stephen Marshall: I’ll jump in just real quick and say, I think another part of that change would be companies and brands really understanding that they need to lean into their corporate social responsibility, to stand for something more than just the experience that they’re able to deliver a product service idea and that’s even going to be amplified with environmental social governance and how that’s turning into part of the financial formula for evaluation. Brands are really understanding that need to stand for something more than just, whatever that experience is that they deliver. They need to be part of culture and part of somebody’s life as a signal of I do business with this company because this company believes in, it has this ethos and has this thing that they stand for in our world. Culturally, if you look back, serendipitously in the sense of how things have been changing, we have the pandemic, but we also have so much of a cultural shift, a political shift, all these different things happening. It’s a great opportunity. And I would say that, Rick got 200 films because the brands are starting to really understand that we need to be more than just this thing that we deliver to a customer.

Adrian Tennant: So Stephen, could you explain your career journey and what led you to your current position as CMO of the E.T.S.U. Research Corporation?

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Yeah. How long has this podcast? I was working for Nielsen – this is in the nineties. I was handling clients in Chicago, in New York, and so there was BBDO, DDB, Leo Burnett, and those folks. I got really interested in what my clients were doing with the data. So I wanted to reposition myself as an account planner, be the voice of the customer. In everything that I do, even today, is all customer first, kind of what’s the empathy of the customer and how can we create a great experience? I had a great ride at the University of Florida where I did a master’s degree and I had great mentors there that said, you should do a PhD. I’m not that smart and I thought, what the heck? I’ll try it. Got a free ride to teach media planning, which is something that they also needed somebody to do. and so I took that opportunity And just fell in love with the classroom, fell in love with the opportunity to be part of somebody else’s journey and the excitement of learning. That led to East Tennessee State University when I graduated. I love mountain biking and the mountains in Florida aren’t so great. So I’ve been here since 2006, I’ve been a department chair for seven of those years. I have always been somebody who has a foot in industry. I’ve worked for an agency here in town that landed a nice opportunity with Coca-Cola. It was part of their redesign of their coke, which is their B2B flagship. I helped drive the data that was really helping them understand how people were using it or the opportunities that they were missing out on. We actually worked with a couple of other agencies and redesign the whole Coca-Cola website introduced me to Adobe and Adobe Experience business. 

Adrian Tennant: Stephen, you initiated the first Digital Marketing Graduate Degree in the state of Tennessee. You’re also responsible for creating Adobe’s first-ever University Alliance focused on teaching students with Adobe’s digital marketing cloud. 

Dr. Stephen Marshall: That’s really where the heartbeat of what I do is really in two places, it’s in experiential learning and in micro certifications. I strongly believe that higher education should have these signals. Your degree is a certification, right? Your BA, your MA, your doctorate, whatever. That’s a certification that comes from the university. But in our world today, we have to skill up people, and skilling up means that we have to embed these kinds of micro certifications into their journey so that those are signals back to people like you, who hire people, I’ve got this certification and this and this and this I’m skilled up and I’m current, right? because when I was doing my Adobe gig as a higher education person, I would be at the American Marketing Association and I’d have folks coming up to me and going, “What’s Adobe doing here. I don’t know what they’re doing here?” It’s like, well I guess it’s because you don’t know that the experience platform is the largest global enterprise digital marketing platform in the world. So thanks for sharing your ignorance with me, and by the way, you’re still teaching students in marketing. That’s a scary thing. Right. And that troubled me in a big way.

Adrian Tennant: So, Stephen, how did you meet Rick? 

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Yeah. I had a great mutual colleague, David Stokes-Piercey I teach with. He’s a filmmaker and he was starting to explore the brand film space. And so he said, “Hey, I’m talking to this guy, Rick Parkhill from Brand Storytelling. I want him to do a guest speaking thing in my class. Do you want to join?” And he knows how much I’m interested in what’s happening in the industry world. Right. So making sure that we’re bringing that current knowledge and applicability to students there. So I said, absolutely, I’ll meet him. And then I did a lot of homework on Rick and his network and the people, and the content, you know, if you look at, and then you look at not only the advisory board and the community, but you look at the YouTube channel, you look at this amazing content that is so current, that’s so relevant, with the voices that are at the top of the chain on all this stuff, both in film and in brand and marketing media. When I met him, I said, “Dude, we have to have some kind of an education product here. this is something.” Ricky can tell you, we were, drug behind the car for a little bit trying to figure out what it was going to be. We thought maybe this is a graduate program, maybe this is some kind of undergraduate thing. And where we landed is in a really great place.

Adrian Tennant: So let’s talk about the new Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification. How is the course structured? 

Dr. Stephen Marshall: So it’s very similar to what you would take from Google or from Coursera or some other kind of vendor. But I like to think of it more like, concentrated OJ, right? So it’s really condensed content. It may be a five-minute video lecture, a lesson on something, but you’re probably going to watch it two or three times because there’s a whole bunch packed into it in terms of quality. Then we wanted to really make sure, again, we’re sending those signals to the industry of why you should hire me and why I’m current. And then, the applicability. So the argument that I always make in experiential learning is, I’ve coached teams in the National Student Advertising Competition, that’s part of the American Advertising Federation, it’s an amazing experience for students, and we’ve done pretty well. I mean, in the last couple of years, we’ve been in the National Championships top eight out of 200 teams in the country. But the thing about that process is that those students never actually do the work. So the experience itself, interacting, there’s not a lot of interaction with the client that you get, so I had this lens on all these different ways that we could really make a great experiential kind of thing. What we’ve done with the Brand Storytelling Certification and Brand Film is we’ve taken a lot of those elements and said, okay, let’s pack in these really chunky, but yet small knowledge nuggets. And then let’s bring in real brands and have real brands engaging with students, pitching RFPs to students, and the students earn their certificate by answering a real brand film RFP. And then to bring all these guest speakers that you see on the YouTube channel for Brand Storytelling, we have so much exclusive content with interviews with just some of the best and brightest in the industry that students are able to digest. And then we have engagement with our faculty. So we have these office hours where students get to ask the faculty questions. I mean, 50 plus hours of content over four weeks. It’s pretty, bad-ass quite honestly. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. February’s featured book is Brand Storytelling by Miri Rodriguez. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Brand Storytelling, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m here with Rick Parkhill and Dr. Stephen Marshall talking about the new Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification Program. Well, Rick, you’ve attracted some really impressive industry partners already. Could you tell us a bit more about them and how they’re involved in the program?

Rick Parkhill: Sure. So our industry partners include companies like Intel, Southwest Airlines, Discovery, Univision, Body Armor, the energy drink that was just bought by Coca-Cola. So we have these amazing brands that are behind each one of the cohorts that will produce in 22. There’ll be six of them. In each cohort, we have a single brand who issues an RFP to the students. So they have a one-to-one connection with these students and an opportunity to present their RFP, then, all of the responses become the ownership of the brand. So, they could stumble on a great idea. We have students that range from Emmy award-winning filmmakers to grad students. Anybody can come up with a great idea. We see that all over the place with crowdsourcing these days. There’s a couple of motivational factors that are attracting our brand sponsors. One is that opportunity to interact directly with the students, the other, is that a big part of our mission is a DEI element here. Our industry of brand filmmaking is really imbalanced when it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s reflective of the ad industry. We want to do our part to help fix that. So we’re working with various organizations to help recruit scholarship applicants, that are DEI students that are underrepresented folks, and bring them into an immersive program that allows them to work in teams with other students and have the opportunity to present their response to the RFP in person to the brand live. So we’re introducing these folks directly to Intel and Discovery and Univision and Southwest Airlines and mentoring them along the way, giving them opportunity and building their network. So that’s a big motivational factor from these great brands that are working with us that want to help us in that mission and embrace that. So a couple things, you know, opportunity to interact and meet students, recruitment, all of these companies are looking to build their internal teams of brand storytellers, content development. And look, Brand Storytelling has some history with these folks too, so it wasn’t coming to them cold. They know us, they trust us, and they got behind our mission 100%. 

Adrian Tennant: Rick, in what kinds of ways do you hope the certification will help both current and future brand marketers? 

Rick Parkhill: Well, look, this stuff isn’t taught at university. That’s why Stokes first approached me from E.T.S.U. with this idea. I’ve learned a lot about learning over the last year and a half, and developing the certification program. We know that this stuff isn’t taught at university. Hey, I have a daughter who is 22 years old that just graduated from University of Missouri’s journalism school and strategic communications. She’s learned more about brand storytelling in our house than she did at college. You know, they’re not learning it in school. People are learning about brand storytelling on the job. Nobody comes into this business of brand storytelling knowing everything. They come from different walks of life. They come from journalism, from the entertainment business, and from marketing. This is a collision of industries. So, a brand storyteller needs to understand how Hollywood operates. If brands are going to be creating content that’s good enough to be purchased, to be distributed on the streaming platforms, they need to know entertainment law. They need to know how to avoid the pitfalls, how not to get sued. Brands are risk averse, and there’s a lot of risks in developing and distributing content. There’s just a lot of things they need to know and this course is going to help them figure it out.

Adrian Tennant: Stephen, you mentioned the program officially launched at the end of January, the first of six Brand Storytelling Brand Film Certification cohorts this year. Have you received any feedback from this first cohort? What are you hearing?

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Oh man. Yeah. We’re so excited with the feedback, because it’s just been unbelievably positive, which we hope that that would be the case. This is an entrepreneurial endeavor. We’re doing something that nobody’s ever done before. The thing is that there’s so much content that we have in one place. That’s the first thing is that, even the amazing experts that we have in these exclusive interviews that we do, they all have a good bit of humility to them to say, I’m not coming in here that I have all this figured out, you know, because every brand is going to be different. Every brand is going to have a different approach and strategy and everything that they’re doing. And then understanding how do we communicate the value of a long play of a brand film, to the C-suite. It’s not going to sell more chicken sandwiches tomorrow, right? And that’s not what it’s supposed to do. But a lot of it is a validation for the folks who were in it, especially the folks that are really upper echelon kinds of pros who are in our certification, that are in there because they wanted to be part of the community. That’s a big part of what we’re doing as well, where we’re setting up a really amazing alumni community. We have an amazing Slack channel that’s part of our experience where we were having engaging conversations around things, and folks are sharing other work that they’re doing, or that they know of, or that they’re in. There’s a great peer mentoring kind of thing that’s happening, that should happen in any kind of an education experience, right? As somebody that’s taught in higher ed for more than two decades, you don’t see that as much in undergrad as you do in grad. But in grad studies, that’s so much of what that experience is about, is really deep diving into stuff and then having that peer mentoring. So the community, the access to the brands, to be able to hear from brands, especially if you haven’t done official RFP pitches, or maybe you have done some, but you didn’t really just know how to do it. When you have someone like Brian Newman, Mark Bataglia, Marcus Peter Zelle, Don Reese, I mean, you have these instructors who have so much amazing experience and they’re basically just doing a very sophisticated data dump of their brains. And some of the feedback is just like, if this is just great to have validation that this is what we were thinking, and we weren’t sure. I mean, we have folks who are actually over all of the world in our program right now. But some of the folks that aren’t in markets like LA or New York, but that are doing this, they’re just like, we’re kind of out here, we didn’t know if this was the right approach because we’re not kind of submerged in that culture. And it’s good to have that validation. So some of it’s validation around just approaches. Some of it’s validation around terms and language. And really understanding how do you think about things? And then a lot of it is the nut that everybody wants to crack is how do you think about distribution and how do you tell the ROI story to the C-suite? Because that’s where when you’ve got two minutes with a CEO and you have to explain why you’re going to spend X amount of dollars on a brand film that doesn’t necessarily have a call to action at the end of it that says buy more chicken sandwiches. What does this do for the company? So a lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten, I have a better understanding of how I positioned that idea, or how do I do my story finding, for that brand and helping people understand the resources and the sources that you would look to to really try to understand what is the brand ethos, what’s the brand care about, and why is this story gonna resonate with the brand? 

Rick Parkhill: I’ll jump in on the feedback here a little bit. A good example is, we have a woman in the program, her name’s Faith Briggs. She’s an award-winning director. She directed a film that was funded by the Brooks Shoe Company that made it into our brand storytelling selection this year. She’s an accomplished director who’s a student in the course. And I get an email from her like every other day, it’s like, I’m so glad I found this. She knows how to make films. She knows how to tell stories, but she doesn’t fully understand the nuance of brand filmmaking. And this is helping her so much. And she’s so grateful that it’s there. I’m getting the same thing from grad students that are saying, gosh, this opens a whole new world for me in a career path, there’s so much opportunity here. The world is bending right now in the media world. And these young people are so excited to be a part of this content thing, that is just an exciting element of marketing. So the feedback’s been amazing.

Adrian Tennant: Rick, I know it’s very early days, but how do you see the certification evolving? Are you thinking about designing complementary courses or maybe creating in-person industry workshops or events?

Rick Parkhill: Oh, yeah. Well, look, I’m an event producer, so I haven’t been able to do an in-person event for two years now. The major thing in my career is producing, bringing people together, is what I’ve done, nurturing communities. And that’s what we’re doing with this group. Once they graduate from this cohort, they’ll be in a private LinkedIn group, we’re going to have a strong alumni factor here, this is such a collaborative industry of writers, directors, filmmakers, brands, producers, media companies, they all need to work together. So it all lends itself to workshops on ongoing ways to collaborate. So there’s that, and then there’s additional courses. Of course. We started with brand film, but brand storytelling takes on a lot of different forms. You know, we’re on a podcast right now. Brands are big into podcasting. Audio storytelling, that’s a whole nother course. Social video, very short form, video storytelling for social distribution. There’s this crazy thing around the corner called the metaverse, you know, we hear more and more about it every day. It’s the shiny new thing that’s out there in the marketing media world, and there’s going to be rich storytelling to do in the metaverse. That’s going to require a lot of education. So we see all sorts of opportunities to expand on our course offerings because we’ve got to follow what the industry needs and what marketers and students need is these forms of education and these courses where there’s a need we’ll look to fill it.

Adrian Tennant: Stephen, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about the brand storytelling brand film certification, what’s the best resource to start with?

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Just go to Or if you just get to brain, you will find that link in the nav and click on that. And you can find me on LinkedIn very easily, Stephen Marshall, if you want to have more engagement with me. But brand is where you’ll find pretty much all the information you might want to know about this.

Adrian Tennant: Rick and Stephen, thank you both very much for being our guests this week on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Rick Parkhill: Thanks very much.

Dr. Stephen Marshall: Yeah. Thanks for having us. This has been great.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guests this week, Rick Parkhill of Brand Storytelling and Dr. Stephen Marshall of East Tennessee State University. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights” – just select “Podcast.” If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts and contributing a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Elevating brand storytelling with sound. We examine the evolution of audio branding. Dallas Taylor of podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz reveals the story behind the iconic Netflix sonic identity, Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions explain how jingles are composed, and author Laurence Minsky discusses his book, Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on Audio Branding with code BIGEYE20 at

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS

Jon Ruhff: When you listen to music, if you’re under a scan, your brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree, because it takes all parts of your brain to process music.

Laurence Minsky: Anytime you’re using sound to help build your brand, it’s part of audio branding, and really should be thought through strategically.

David Courtier-Dutton: What you’re always trying to achieve with a sonic logo is people hear it, even in isolation, and immediately all the flood of emotions that they associate with the brand are triggered in the brain.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Thank you for joining us. A growing number of brands are using unique sounds and music, known as sonic identities, to support long-term brand-building. Audio branding can be defined as the use of sound that’s ownable by a brand to reinforce brand attributes. A sonic identity can be as distinctive a brand asset as a visual logo. How many of these can you identify from their sonic identity alone?


Adrian Tennant: In this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’re going to revisit three interviews with guests who provided insights into how brands can harness the power of sound to elevate their brand storytelling, and tap into universal emotional responses to music. Laurence Minsky is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Innovation at Columbia College, Chicago, and an expert in sonic identity creation. He’s also the co-author of the book, Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand, which describes in detail the theory and practice of creating entire audio languages for brands. When he joined us in 2020, I asked Larry why brand marketers need to consider audio branding.

Laurence Minsky: I’ll give you one reason why every marketer needs to consider audio branding today. And that is because of the growth of voice assistants. Right now it’s still in its infancy, but do you really want to leave your brand when there’s no picture, no visual, no colors, no fonts, anything of the traditional branding sense representing your brand, and you’re leaving your brand up to Alexa or Siri? In Europe, where audio branding is more advanced, you know, the countries are smaller, there’s more languages. It gets really expensive to have a brand in every country and you want something consistent and you want to be able to convey it consistently. In America, as we continue to diversify our populations, that will become an issue as well. But also, audio branding is a much quicker way of communicating your brand. Sound communicates much faster and sound also helps direct visuals.

Adrian Tennant: Some brands have sounds associated with their products. Think about the roar of a Harley-Davidson’s engine, the pop of a Snapple lid, or the sounds that accompany booting-up an Apple Mac or Windows PC. I asked Larry if he thought these qualify as examples of audio branding.

Laurence Minsky: Yes. Anytime you use sound to help convey an attribute, it’s an audio brand. The snap, a bottle for Snapple to pop. You’ll get reinforced when you’re opening the bottle. So there’s positive reinforcement there, but you could use that in your advertising. You could use that on TV, on radio, on your website, on your voice assistant applications. Anytime you’re using sound to help build your brand, it’s part of audio branding, and really should be thought through strategically.

Adrian Tennant: One US brand that has consistently employed music as part of its brand is United Airlines, which has used George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” since 1987 at an annual licensing cost of $300,000. Larry is based in Chicago, which of course is United’s home base, so I asked him what he thinks about United’s approach.

Laurence Minsky: What I like is Gershwin’s song is very adaptable to multiple situations and you still get it. It still reinforces. And there’s a lot of positive emotion attached to that and movement and energy and things that convey United Airlines. What I don’t like is really, it’s not ownable by United. Anyone can license that song. It’s now gone into the public domain, I believe. And so anyone can use it. It’s better to start with: what do you want to convey? Who are you? And then create something that you could own basically, permanently.

Adrian Tennant: Audio logos become recognizable through repetition. Here’s one that’s heard in over 190 countries:


Adrian Tennant: Dallas Taylor, the host of the popular podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, joined IN CLEAR FOCUS in 2021 and explained the story behind the iconic sound.

Dallas Taylor: Yeah. This is about the Netflix, TA-DUM – that sound. So there’s a lot of ideas and speculation of where this came from. But we noticed that there was never an acknowledgment of actually where it came from. So there was this whole idea of like, “Oh, it must be the end of House of Cards, season two.” There’s this part where Frank Underwood bangs on the desk and he goes “ba-boom” like that. And if you listen to it, you go, “Oh, okay. That sounds a lot like the Netflix logo, pretty fascinating.” So there’s all this speculation online. “Oh, that must be it.” You know, and I can understand if they want to stay away from that or whatnot, but I wanted to get to the bottom of that. So immediately just in my circles wrote the sound designer of House of Cards, like who actually put the sound in. This person was Ren Klyce, very famous in the sound world. And I was like, “Hey, you know, a lot of speculation that the Netflix audio logo is this sound that you made or your team made…” And he immediately wrote back like no time at all, “Nope, not me. Like, you’d think that it sounds like that, but I know exactly who made it, this person Lon Bender, so reach out to him.” So then I went over there and then we talked and, kind of one thing led to another, I eventually kind of put it on Netflix and said, “Hey, you know, we got these people, but we really want Todd Yellin”, who was the client in this. So Todd Yellen was at Netflix, he was the one guiding Lon and Charlie to create some sort of sonic brand and they spent an entire year on it. But that really stalled because when you’re going into a multi-billion dollar company PR and they’re like, “Whoa, who are you?” Like, “What is happening here?” So we had to show our history, that first they were like, “Oh, okay. What are you about?” I think it took us about a year to get Todd. So, the actual episode came together pretty well. However, it just took a long time to get access. But once we had access to Netflix, everyone was super friendly, everyone was really open.

Adrian Tennant: During the interview, Dallas played a clip from that Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast episode that revealed the origins of the Netflix sonic identity. Here is Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix.

Todd Yellin: First off and arguably most important, it had to be really short. And the reason it had to be short is, as opposed to in a movie theater when you have a captive audience and they’re going to be there and they paid their 10 bucks and they’re going to watch whatever you throw at them. So some of the grander sound idents you can imagine like THX – a great one. It’s really long. The “bom-bom-bom” from 20th Century Fox – long! Even Leo, the Lion was too long because, in our age of click and play, you get to Netflix. You want to be able to click. And there’s no patience. And you want that great experience and you almost want it immediately. So the first thing is it had to be short. Past that I said, I don’t want an electronic sound that is reminiscent of a game platform like Xbox or a computer, like Apple or an operating system, like Microsoft launching. Because we are in the entertainment business. And even though we are the double helix of entertainment and technology coming together, I wanted to make sure that it sounded more cinematic than electronic and computer-ish.

Dallas Taylor: And so another thing that Todd said earlier in the show that really hit home for me. And even Todd didn’t really like sink into this thought. One of the first things he said in the interview, he was like, oh, we just needed something short. And it needed to be like, ‘TA-DUM, it’s Netflix’.” And I was like, it sounds exactly like what you just said. That’s like the bones of what this was. So yeah, it’s just fascinating like that, that’s what they came up with, among multiple versions. They tried all kinds of like random sounds and random ideas and it took them, I think about a year to settle on it.

Adrian Tennant: Staying with iconic sounds, Twenty Thousand Hertz also produced an episode focused on sonic branding which demonstrated some of the most recognizable audio logos in history. In this clip, we hear from Scott Simonelli, CEO of Veritonic, a company that measures the commercial effectiveness of sound.

Scott Simonelli: The big benefit of an audio logo versus a visual logo is that it stays with you after you’ve experienced it. With a visual logo, you might remember what it looks like, but not in the way that you would remember an audio logo, and certainly nobody’s humming or singing a visual logo. As soon as you hear that three-note or four-note sequence, you know exactly where you’ve heard it before. That longevity, that memorability, and that recall is so powerful.

Adrian Tennant: Before sonic identities, jingles were the most commonly-used audio branding elements. A slogan or tagline that’s sung or spoken with or without musical accompaniment, jingles have been around since the advent of commercial radio in the early 1920s. To learn more about their history and how jingles are composed today, I spoke with Jon Ruhff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions, based in Orlando. I asked Jon what it is about jingles that make them so memorable.

Jon Ruhff: So we’ve given a lot of presentations on the history of the jingle, the effectiveness of the jingle, and it’s actually a lot of science behind it. So the thing about music in general, when you listen to music, you’ve got parts of your brain that are in charge of your language and in charge of your movement and they’re just very specific parts of the brain. Well, there’s no specific part of the brain that actually helps you take in the music. So you’ve got one part of the brain that helps you work around the melody. You’ve got one part of the brain that helps you work around the rhythm. And you’ve got the other part of the brain that processes the guitar and things like that. So when you listen to music, if you’re under a scan, your brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree, because it takes all parts of your brain to process music. You have no choice but to be present when you’re listening to music. And that’s why you can always remember where you were when you heard your favorite song for the first time because you’re present and aware when you’re listening to music. And so brands have taken advantage of that for decades. So we always say for jingles, it’s the short, repetitive nature of the melody that’s what gets stuck in people’s heads.

Adrian Tennant: Push Button Production composes and arranges jingles for a wide variety of clients. I asked Jon what the process of creating a commercial jingle looks and sounds like.

Jon Ruhff: So most people don’t think in terms of musical genres or styles and things like that or terms. So it’s our job to get that out of the clients who come to us for a jingle. So what we do is, we have a 20, 25-minute brief call where we really get to know the brand. We get to know the target demo, we get to know the personality of everyone involved. And then what we do then is we gather stock music tracks or popular tracks, depending on which way we’re going to go for this particular project. And we send that over to the client for feedback. And what we do is we’re getting out of them, the things that they probably have never considered before, like, you know, “I actually do like the way that acoustic guitar sounds. And I actually never considered how much I hate the banjo. And I know I absolutely do not want banjo in this piece, but I liked the way track five made me feel. I don’t know why, but I liked the way track five made me feel.” So we take all of that feedback and compile it. And that’s where we lay the foundation for the custom music that we bring out for brands.

Yeosh Bendayan: And it’s just like you would with a visual mood board, the goal of all of that upfront research is to start pulling at common threads. And for us it’s like, okay, well the client, like this track, this track and this track, well, let’s look at the beats per minute and let’s look at what keys it’s written in and let’s look at the different instrumentation stacks that they’re using. And then we can sort of say like, Oh, okay, well, Like, this is the general vibe that the focus group or that the client seems to like.

Adrian Tennant: I asked Yeosh if he had any favorite jingle projects from the 500 or so that Push Button has produced.

Yeosh Bendayan: I will say we have worked on a lot of regional and national pieces that are fantastic. For me the best jingles that we’ve done have been for very small businesses like we’ll get businesses who’ll call us and say, “Oh, you know, I need something for the radio. I don’t like what the radio station is doing for me. I just need something,” but we take that and we do something really spectacular and, you know, it’s totally unexpected for them and they feel so pleased with the end product like that for me is the most satisfying. I know John, do you want to reference any specific?

Jon Ruhff: So when we were just getting the company off the ground, a national restaurant chain came to us and said, We’re paying too much for stock music and we want to do a custom piece that we can run for awhile. And so they said, “We just kind of want something with acoustic…”  and blah, blah, blah. So we got to know a lot more about the brand and found out that Genghis Khan was their brand ambassador.

Yeosh Bendayan: I don’t know that I would equate Genghis Khan with a lot of fun. 

Jon Ruhff: Well, they did.

Yeosh Bendayan: Yeah. 

Jon Ruhff: It’s amazing what a couple hundred years can do, you know?

Yeosh Bendayan: Right. Yeah.

Jon Ruhff: Yeah. It’s the hibachi chain of restaurants. So what we did is we were able to incorporate a lot of the sounds and then sizzles that you would experience when you go to the chain. We incorporated that into the music and we were also able to make it aggressive, but something that wouldn’t frighten small children, and they rolled it out and they ran with it for a long, long time. And we won an Addy award with it.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s listen to that.


Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. February’s featured book is Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story by Miri Rodriguez. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Brand Storytelling, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS on the role sonic identities can play as distinctive brand assets. In his book, Audio Branding, Laurence Minsky highlights Intel as an exemplar. The four notes that make up Intel’s sonic identity have been around for 25 years and while Intel has modified the instrumentation over the years, the four notes have remained the same.


Laurence Minsky: You don’t see Intel chips when you’re buying, but it is a proof point for all the computers you buy with an Intel chip inside it. And that branding has helped Intel make a name and make it a proof point. What other chips are out there? What comes to mind really quickly? And you could see why Intel is so effective because I don’t think a lot of people are going to come up with other chipmakers that give them as much reassurance as an Intel when they hear that little sound.

Adrian Tennant: I asked Larry if he thinks all brands should aim for this level of discipline with their sonic identities.

Laurence Minsky: All branding should be disciplined if you’re doing it right: strategic and thought through. A brand is not solid where you don’t tweak it over time. You know, the best way to maintain a brand is to evolve it slowly, imperceptibly. So it stays up to date and it works in multiple areas, but still conveys the values and the enduring attributes that you want to convey. Good companies that manage their brands, spend a lot of time thinking about it and doing it visually. You should do that the same way with sounds. And do think of it as a long-term investment.

Adrian Tennant: Larry’s co-author for Audio Branding was Colleen Fahey, who leads the US division of the French sonic identity agency, Sixième Son. Larry explained the genesis of their book.

Laurence Minsky: I met with Colleen and she started talking about what she was doing with audio branding. And I learned that it was so much more than just a little logo at the end. It is a whole sound system. And one of the ways in terms of how to use it, even for a package goods or any brand, even for a business brand, about half of Colleen’s agencies, clients, Sixième Son, are business to business firms. And you think of all the different touchpoints, and it’s not just consumer radio spots, which is where jingles end up. But think of the sales meeting, you bring all of your people together. You introduced the CEO with one type of music. You introduced the head of marketing with another type of music. And you come across as disjointed to your employees. And your employees need to understand the brand just as much as your consumers. So you could bring a language to this. It has full flexibility, but still brings back the core notes. So it conveys what they’re about. So you could use it in an internal setting, such as a sales meeting. You could use it as a ringtone. You could use it on the website and voice assistance, all sorts of things. So it’s really a comprehensive solution. And that’s what I learned when I sat down with Colleen. We collaborated on an article for Harvard business review. Where we looked at one of Sixième Son’s clients, and that was the French railroad SNCF, which is one of the most recognizable sounds in Europe is their audio brand. They use it in the stations. They use it on the trains when the doors are opening and closing, they use it in their advertising. You name it, it’s used and it’s highly, highly recognizable. David Gilmore liked it so much he licensed the use of it for one of his songs. Every time that song gets played it reinforces SNCF.


Adrian Tennant: Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions described how they approached a sonic identity project for Pyrex.

Jon Ruhff: Well, when they came to us, they had pretty much everything ready to go and we had to sign like a thousand NDAs. Right. It was a new product that was coming out.

Yeosh Bendayan: You know what Pyrex is, right? It’s a baking dish and I appreciate when a brand really loves its products and they do, and they’re wonderful to work with, but I will say they made us sign a whole lot of NDAs for this new product that we thought, man, Pyrex is really getting ready. They’re going to zag. They’re going to go hard. They’re going to start making cars or something that changes the world. Wow. That’s something big is about to happen. and I mean, this was a few years ago, so the product’s out now, but it is that baking dish that, you know, it’s a little deeper. So you can now have an extra layer of lasagna. Like that was it. And so, when we did this audio logo for them …

Jon Ruhff: … Ten-second piece …

Yeosh Bendayan: I mean, look, maybe if you’re a cook, this is a big deal for you. I’m not a cook.

Jon Ruhff: Well, it’s a heritage brand that they haven’t really changed much over the years, you know?

Yeosh Bendayan: It’s a pretty quick ten-second piece and it’s so cool. They’d be like, kind of let us run wild with it. They’d let us do whatever we wanted within the confines of the brand. And we came up with this really cool thing. And now, it’s probably the most referenced thing that we get when people call us and they say, Hey, I heard this piece on your website, or I recognize this piece or whatever. and that’s oftentimes they’ll want to do something in that style because they’re so happy with it.

Adrian Tennant: Here’s the Pyrex identity.


Yeosh Bendayan: We’ve probably written 500 jingles in the time we’ve been in business. Most of America probably knows one of our pieces.

Jon Ruhff: One of our singers was taking a road trip and was driving through Georgia and heard themselves on a Honda commercial. And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I forgot. We were at a Honda commercial in Georgia!”

Yeosh Bendayan: You know, I think the weirdest of all is finding tribute pages on Facebook and like it’s sometimes if we hear a piece is doing really well, we’ll go search for it on YouTube to see if anybody’s uploading and read the comments, which you’re not supposed to do. But it’s just weird. It’s weird whether they love it or they hate it. I get a kick out of it. Just very interesting to see that somebody has invested time in uploading something that you made and then people will comment on it. It’s very strange.

Adrian Tennant: Mobile devices, smart speakers, apps, appliances, and even electric vehicles all present creative opportunities for audio branding. I asked Yeosh how Push Button approaches these kinds of projects.

Yeosh Bendayan: The first thing that we ask and just like, I’m sure most ad agencies will do is why? You know, we’ll get the, “Oh, we’re thinking about running digital ads, for Pandora, Spotify, or we’re thinking about doing something with Alexa, a skill, or whatever” The first question that we typically ask is what are you trying to get the audience to do? What sort of behavior or, what are you trying to drive home by doing it this way? And then working within the confines of the application is often a little challenging for us. I think a lot of people don’t realize the limitations that many audio applications have. When we’re designing a commercial for car stereos, it’s a very different process, especially when you’re talking about mixing than if we’re doing something that’s going to be consumed digitally because we have to assume that people have laptop speakers. Right? They’re not great quality. And the same when you’re talking about Google Home. Like those aren’t necessarily the best speakers, so it can limit some of the things that we try to do. And we have to make sure that the way that those speakers process what we’re doing isn’t flattening the sound and creating a problem, right? Creating something, unintended. So the process it’s not really that different creatively because we’re still ultimately trying to solve a problem. And now it’s just happening on a new platform. It’s more of the technical execution. So it’s the stuff that clients are usually unaware of is all the things that we’re doing on our end creatively, as we’re developing the creative, where are coming up with ideas and going, “Yeah. But is that going to work on this platform?” And particularly, I think the biggest challenge for us is time constraints. like, you know, yesterday we were facing a challenge with a digital pre-roll six second ad. And it’s like, not just us, it’s everybody in advertising is facing this challenge. How do you attack this problem in six seconds? You know? That’s probably the biggest challenge.

Adrian Tennant: I asked Larry Minsky if he had any recommendations for marketers developing their own audio branding.

Laurence Minsky: I would guess the number one “do” is create one and start bringing your sounds together and making them consistent and aligned and working for your brand instead of helping communicate that your brand is disjointed. Do follow a disciplined process. Do it like you would do a visual brand, think it through, do the research, do the hard work upfront. think of it as a system and do think of it long-term. Don’t think of it as a short-term solution. It’s an investment in your brand, just like your colors, your fonts, your logo.


Adrian Tennant: If you’ve found this episode about audio branding interesting, you definitely won’t want to miss my upcoming conversation with David Courtier-Dutton, the CEO of the UK-based sonic branding firm, SoundOut. David’s company has developed a powerful brand personality tool that measures the match between a client’s music and their brand. David described why getting the right match is so important.

David Courtier-Dutton: The key to a sonic logo is regardless of what it sounds like, the ultimate goal is to create what we call a Pavlovian Trigger or a signpost to the brand itself. So what you’re always trying to achieve with a Sonic logo is people hear it, even in isolation and immediately all the flood of emotions that they associate with the brand are triggered in the brain. 

Adrian Tennant: I asked David how he defines effectiveness.

David Courtier-Dutton: If you accept the fact that the sonic logo’s core goal in life is to trigger the brand association as a distinctive brand asset, effectiveness actually should be 99 percent defined as how well it does that. Not how well has it done it, but how well intrinsically it is at driving that because we start with appeal. People have to like it. If they like it, then it is easier to recall. So recall a fundamental tenet of effectiveness. If you can’t recall something, you can’t recognize it. It’s just simple logic. If you can’t recognize it, then you can’t attribute it to the brand. So recall, this is really the foundation of her effectiveness. And if you produce something that people find really easy to remember, then that will accelerate your route up to brand attribution and we know there is a very strong correlation between appeal and recall as well. So people really have to like it. Appeal also drives propensity to buy as well. The more you like it, the more likely you are to attribute value to the brand and end up buying it. But, in terms of effectiveness, how quickly, when that goes into the market with a million dollars of marketing budget behind it, will it find brand attribution with a meaningful percentage of consumers.

Adrian Tennant: One of the most effective examples of audio branding is this one: 


Adrian Tennant: In addition to being heard perennially during the Super Bowl, the Avocados From Mexico sonic logo has also inspired creators on TikTok to develop some really fun videos that have gone viral, extending the reach and repetition of the brand’s audio identity. You can hear more of my conversation with David Courtier-Dutton of SoundOut about the effectiveness of sonic branding next month.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS. My thanks to all the contributors to this podcast: Dallas Taylor, host of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast, Jon Rhuff and Yeosh Bendayan of Push Button Productions, and author Laurence Minsky, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Innovation at Columbia College, Chicago. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on a print or electronic version of Larry’s book, Audio Branding by purchasing online at Use the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. The offer applies to all KoganPage titles. Please consider following IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts and if you like what you heard, leave us a review or rating. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for listening and until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest this week is Miri Rodriguez, the author of Brand Storytelling, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Miri discusses how brands can use stories to connect with consumers on a deeper level. Miri also shares how she prototypes stories based on design thinking principles, and reveals some storytelling magic tricks. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Brand Storytelling by going to and using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS,

Miri Rodriguez: Brand storytelling is about continuing to build a story that drives customer loyalty that people say, “Okay, I’m connected to the brand. I’m befriending the brand. I’m loyal to the brand that aligns to my same core values or not.”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye, a strategy-led, full service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Thank you for joining us. This week’s episode is the second in our Bigeye Book Club series in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page Publishing. Today, it’s my pleasure to welcome an award-winning storyteller and creative journalist, who’s also the author of our featured book this month, Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story. Miri Rodriguez is a renowned keynote speaker and international thought leader in brand storytelling, personal branding, and entrepreneurship. Currently Microsoft’s senior storyteller, future of work, Miri’s previous clients include Adobe, Discover, and Walmart. To discuss her book and how marketers can put customers at the heart of brand storytelling, Miri is joining us today from her home office in Pompano beach, Florida. Miri, welcome to In Clear Focus!

Miri Rodriguez: Thank you so much. The weather’s beautiful in my neck of the woods, and I am bragging because I used to live in Seattle. So it’s beautiful in Pompano Beach and I don’t take it for granted any minute during the winter.

Adrian Tennant: Well, it’s lovely to have you on the podcast. Now I know that your family is originally from Venezuela, and in your book, you describe how stories were a big part of your childhood. So how did those childhood experiences eventually lead you to a career writing for some of the biggest brands in the world?

Miri Rodriguez: You know, and never would I imagine when I was riding in the car with my parents who were both incredible storytellers in their own space. And I would watch them, I would see them do this, and it was magical to me that they would get on a stage and just move crowds with emotion, with empathy and it was magic. It was magic for me that I would be doing that same thing, you know, in the space of tech, in the space of digital, which is a completely different world from where I came from and what it’s evolved to today. It became a core value to connect with people at the very human level. And that was something that you don’t go to school for. You know, when I graduated, I had a communications major. There were no storytelling degrees. I think there’s some now, which I find it funny. But, as jobs evolved, as digital evolved, as social media came to be, we as humans have always wanted to connect at the very core. And I think, you know, storytelling became that thing that everybody tuned into and leaned into, from a business perspective to say, this is what we were missing the whole time. We’ve been talking corporate jargon. We’ve been very formal. And now we need to connect at the human level. And I was already doing this in the social space for Microsoft, and it just became a natural evolution to my role. And next thing you know, I’m packing my bags and going to Seattle And I was freezing.

Adrian Tennant: Well, your book, Brand Storytelling explains in practical terms how storytelling can be used to trigger human emotions, which you believe are at the heart of brand loyalty and consumer engagement. So Miri, when did you first identify the power of stories applicable to a marketing context? Was there a particular aha moment?

Miri Rodriguez: Oh,  for sure. And I don’t want to give it all away, but I will tell a little story since I am a storyteller. I was brought in to do stories of digital transformation and I am not an engineer. And so I thought I could do it with all of the hard skills that I had acquired at school and some of the soft skills that I had learned with social media. And I thought, you know, anybody can write a story. I can write a story. You could write a story. The fact was that it’s not telling the story, it’s designing a story with empathy for your audience. And I had not done that. And I wrote content, which I thought was really good, but my audience did not. My audience was a very niche audience of devs and IT pros. And when I went through the exercise of going, why isn’t this working? Why aren’t the stories landing the way that I intentioned? It was because they didn’t want to hear from a marketer or for me, I’m not an engineer. They wanted to hear from engineers. And so, the same content was applied to an engineer. I began to ghostwrite and they’re tuned into the content. So there was just this one aspect of how that content landed. Even if it’s really good, you have to take assessment of the empathy of your audience. How are they consuming the content and who’s telling the story is also important. And that was my “aha!” moment. I was like, “Oh, that was the one thing I didn’t consider. They don’t want to hear from Miri. I’m a marketer to them. I’m a communicator. They want to hear from a peer engineer.” And so it changed everything for me. And I used the design thinking principles to break that, to say, “Okay, I need to first empathize with my audience.” That is the first step of design thinking.

Adrian Tennant: Well we’ll get onto design thinking and how you’ve incorporated into your unique approach a little later. You write that research confirms that stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than other types of information. So can you tell us more about the neuroscience of narrative?

Miri Rodriguez: Absolutely. There is this brain awakening that happens when we say “once upon a time”. It is an innate response at the core, human level that when we are invoking a story, we tune in parts of our brain oxytocin and these other chemicals begin to really activate because we’re anticipating something that may appeal to us. When I say, “Hey, let me tell you this story,” you immediately go in and go, “Okay, I wonder what this is about?” Versus, “Hey, let me share with you this data point”, or “Let me show you this picture.” It really is about the anticipation. We all want to anticipate what’s next. We’re curious beings, and we want to know what’s happening. And we want to know if that appeals to us. If that’s something that has to do with me, is that going to impact me in one way or another? And that’s why story works. Because it really levels off the content that we’re trying to drive with a human emotion and we get emotionally attached as a character to the story. I mean, think about the stories that you’ve liked, you know, that you’ve heard, The radio cast or the poetry, or the songs, or the films. There’s something about those stories that you connect with as a character. And that enables you to really feel the emotions, and really get emotionally attached to the story and see it to the end.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Miri, one of the trends we’ve seen in our research over the past couple of years is a greater interest, particularly among younger consumers in understanding what brands stand for: their stance on social and environmental issues, for example. How can brands harness storytelling to connect with consumers on a deeper level?

Miri Rodriguez: Oh, that is a great question. And I’ll tell you, I continue to do a lot of research on the stance of brands and their voice in the market, and how that is impacting sales and bottom line for them. I actually read an article the other day that said that accessibility and social responsibility are what the brand is about today. It’s what consumers are seeing. If they don’t have these elements of how they’re talking about how they’re socially responsible, ethically responsible, how they’re being inclusive in their technologies. That is all going to drive the bottom line for them. And this newer generation Gen Z, and Gen Alpha, they are very much thinking about how they’re investing in their brand. When they purchase a product or service, to them it’s not just a transaction that just drives a product of service to the end line. They are thinking, “Am I contributing to something bigger than myself when I invest this amount of money in the product?” And so to them, it’s not just about the quality of the product, it really is about the stance of that brand. So we’re going to see more and more of that increasingly in the next few years. Brands are going to have to incorporate their stamp, their core values, what they stand for, as part of their story. And if they don’t have it, you know, they’re going to miss out on the opportunity, a huge opportunity to really establish themselves in the market. And so brand storytelling is about that. It’s about continuing to build a story that drives that customer loyalty that people say, “Okay, I’m connected to the brand. I’m befriending the brand. I’m loyal to the brand that aligns to my same core values or not.” I mean, we’ve seen that actually impacted negatively when brands have decided to stay quiet with a social issue or say nothing against something that people expect them to say. So they are being seen as an entity, and a voice, and they should have one and they should talk about their stance.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in Brand Storytelling, you also describe your approach to prototyping stories based on human-centered design principles. So Miri, what led you to apply design thinking to storytelling?

Miri Rodriguez: Well, basically I failed. I failed to do the job. Again, thinking there’s a lot of ego involved when you can write a story and you’re like, “Hey, I can do this.” Again it was this very niche audience that I was hoping to reach and I was not reaching them. And for me, I had to break out of what I was doing before. And I think storytelling teaches us, if we really think about storytelling and story designing, we got to move away from the conventional idea of just telling a story or just writing something that may work or not. It is an empathetic approach to your audience. It is a designed user experience. You have to think of the story as a persona. Actually, the persona is the relationship that the story has with the reader, the consumer. All of us have a unique story, a relationship with whatever we consume. If you read a book and I read the same book, we’re going to have different reactions and learn different things from that book, even though it’s the same content. So for me, I had to really think, “Well, no longer do I approach this as I have my stories fully baked and it’s going to be successful.” It’s the other approach of “I’m a lifelong learner and I’m failing massively.” So I’m going to just prototype things. I’m going to use the design thinking approach, which is five steps, as I mentioned before and the prototyping piece is where you just ideate some stories that you think might resonate with your audience, and then you test them and see how they’re going to react. And if you’re writing a story that is emotionally connected, you’re going to get that reaction. And you’re going to start seeing that response. And I started seeing that and I was like, “Oh wait, this is working!” And so more and more, I started to apply. It’s almost like the audience’s guiding you to tell you, “Okay, this is what we like. This is where we want you to go with the story.” And the story has a life of its own and you let it flourish and you let it, you let its wings take over and fly.

Adrian Tennant: from a practical standpoint, how do you do that prototyping? I mean, if it were a UX project, you would probably do some kind of usability testing. How does it work with a story?

Miri Rodriguez: Yeah, same. So you have to think of the story as a product because it is, and so from a usability perspective, when you prototype it, you prototype it with two benchmark approaches. So the first one is, it’s readership, it’s consumption. It’s the first touchpoint of: they consume the content. Are they going to share it? And are they going to react? So engagement is a big benchmarking when you test it. It’s going to happen organically. You don’t have to put media behind it. If you really believe that the story will actually do its job you have to create a mission for it as you do with any product. Who is my audience? Who am I targeting here? What do I want them to know and feel when they come in touch with the story and what is the takeaway that I want them to have? And so you create a mission for the story. Every story should have its own mission. And for brand storytelling, there’s this long narrative that the brand has, that is consistent, but there’s also smaller stories that are helping the narrative come to fruition and remind the consumers why we exist and what’s happening and how we are evolving. So there’s a consistent practice – it never ends.

Adrian Tennant: You write that only brands that spend a considerable amount of time researching to truly understand which universal truth appeals best to their audience will remain competitive. Okay. Miri, could you unpack that for us? What are universal truths in this context?

Miri Rodriguez: Yes. I call universal truths that emotion that you will feel when you come in contact with the story. And that is what the brand intended to do. A universal truth is if I tell you a story of something that happened to me, and you’ve never experienced anything like it, but let’s say it’s a story about embarrassment. I usually use that as an example and because I’ve been embarrassed a lot in my time, I have a lot of those! But if I tell that story, I usually tell a story about a wardrobe malfunction that happened to me on my first day of my job. I was 16 and people are like cringing. You know, they’re like, “Oh no, I can’t believe that happened to you.” and I say, you know what? This probably never happened to you, but you can, at that moment, I brought you to my space and my place. You were able to relate to me at the very core human level, even if that’s never happened to you. That’s what story does. And so the universal truth is a feeling that all of us at the human level feel. It’s emotions that we all have, and we can appeal to when telling the story. These are stories of fear. These are stories of inspiration. These are stories of love. These are stories of embarrassment. And we all have felt some of that. And so all of that. And so when we are able to successfully connect with another human who’s consuming this story at that moment in that emotion, that’s a universal truth. At Microsoft, for example, our brand mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Our universal truth is empowerment because that’s the feeling. I mean, you know what it feels like to be empowered – or not! Uh, but I don’t have to explain it. It’s universal. And so that’s the thing, that’s the magic of a good story versus an inconsequential story. Stories are stories and some of them are good. Some of them are not. And what I think makes a story good is that universal truth. So brands that are going to really think about designing a story that connects that universal truth at the human level connection, at the emotional level, with their consumers, with their audiences, will win in the market. I’ll give you an example. We’re now telling stories about engagement at the employee level. That’s a thing right now with hybrid work, the future of work, we’re calling in that’s my remit today. And, we have to switch the conversation from employee productivity to employee engagement. That word changes everything. Because in productivity, when I read productivity, I’m like, “Oh, they just want me to be more productive. They want me to be a machine.” But if I hear my employees saying, “Hey, I want you to engage.” Now, there’s a loyalty, there’s an exchange of emotion that I want. The brand is talking to me. So it changes everything, that changes the story. So it’s really that empathy that you have with your audience to say, “What do we want them to feel when they read this? When they consume?”

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Seth Segura: I’m Seth Segura, VP and Creative Director at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we capture valuable data about people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and guide our creative briefs. Clients see them brought to life in inspiring, imaginative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. February’s featured book is Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story by Miri Rodriguez. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Brand Storytelling, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Miri Rodriguez, the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story. One of my favorite features of Brand Storytelling is the series of magic tricks. I’m curious, what prompted you to incorporate them into the book?

Miri Rodriguez: Yeah. So, actually nobody’s asked me that question. This is really great. I like this. I ran out of content. I was writing for so long and you know, those of you who’ve ever written a book will know that there comes a point where you just have writer’s block. And that was my point. I had writer’s block and I just didn’t know where to go next. I was writing the book, chapter by chapter instead of just by blocks. And typically the publisher will say, “Hey, just write free form and then we’ll kind of put them into chapters”. I was like, “No, I want to write each chapter. I want to feel the sequence of what I’m saying.” And so at the point of magic tricks, I realized that I’d been speaking about the foundational pieces and elements of the story. And then I was like, “Wait, we got to add the magic tricks. We got to understand what makes a story actually magical.” and I went back to my parents and how I thought that was magical. And so I envisioned that their storytelling and I really incorporated what I had learned from them, practically looking at what they do. It’s adding to the elements of visual, it’s thinking about fonts and color. It’s the details of a story that dress up the arc that change the scope of a story. You can really give it a different life form, honestly. And so I was actually sitting on my couch, my dog next to me, bored, and thinking what was next. And I had that vision and I was like, “Oh, that’s it. It’s magic tricks.” It’s like how to take this and make it magical for your audience. And that’s where that came from.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I love a magic trick. So Miri, could you describe one effect to us and then share the secret?

Miri Rodriguez: Yeah. So I will share color. I think color is a good one because visual elements really change the tone of how you’re telling the story. And I actually want to appeal to color from many different perspectives because storytelling, it’s not just a written form. The form factors and assets. You can tell a story from many different ways. Of course you can look at a picture and that’s a story. So really there’s many different ways that you deliver that story to your audience. Color has an inclusion factor that I think enables the story to change how we consume it. And if you add a color or even a tone to a voice that somebody’s telling the story, narrating the story, it changes that perspective. And so color is, it’s an element to magic trick that I’ve seen work. We used to have a guy come from Disney to Microsoft to teach us how the narrative at Disney World actually they change the sceneries just by adding a change in colors alone. It actually awakens the brain differently as well. So there’s this powerful tool that we have in color, that enables us to really dress up the story differently and change the outcome of how we want the reactions to be. And I think a lot of people don’t recognize that, a lot of people when you say storytelling, they’ll think of a book or they’ll think of a blog and that’s just one form. If you can actually today in the digital world, leverage vision and leverage visual elements and leverage color, by all means, do it. When you look at your brand and logo, can you change it? Should you change it today? Maybe. That’s something that’s part of your brand story. We’ve seen a lot of corporations do that. Maybe add another color, change the branding, it is something that we are now looking into more and more as to the relationship that we’re having. Again, if you think of a brand that you love, it probably has a great logo and a great color. It’s part of that. And it’s part of that psychology. So color is something to consider bigger and better as part of your brand story. It is not separate from it. It is part of the story.

Adrian Tennant: Miri, I’m curious about your writing process. Are you most productive in a quiet space or do you prefer a coffee shop?

Miri Rodriguez: Oh, I need a quiet, quiet, quiet space. I actually get very distracted in coffee shops. My writing process begins with giving myself a lot of white space. I first type the ideas and the themes of the topics that I’m going to cover. And then I give myself a pause because my thoughts don’t run immediately. I’m like, “Okay, I know I want to write about this.” I put it down and then I actually wake up at like two in the morning and four in the morning. And that’s where my best time starts. ‘Cause everybody’s quiet. And I know that I have all the time. So when I wake up, I’m writing, I’m writing and it’s flowing and I typically write a whole, 1600 word blog in maybe four hours. And if I wake up at two in the morning, so clearly a first draft, but I do flow very nicely. I need some peace and quiet.

Adrian Tennant: I’ve noticed that you also hang out in the social audio app, Clubhouse talking about all things brand storytelling.. What’s the appeal of Clubhouse?

Miri Rodriguez: Clubhouse has been a great platform to connect with people who are truly interested in learning and asking questions real time. And I think the beauty of that is you enter a room and you’re just surrounded by people from all over the place. And in one space. And it is just a very powerful community-based platform, as opposed to other social media, it’s one too many, but you have to type back or you have to reply or maybe get into a direct message approach. This one really enables you to be live, real-time. You feel the energy of people getting curious about what you do and how you do it and learning from each other. And, it’s been very empowering for me to teach techniques because a lot of brands, they don’t know how to take concepts to practical, “Hey, how do I apply this?” I get a lot of questions around, “I hear this, Miri. I get the theory. How do I just start tomorrow? How do I present a business plan to my leaders tomorrow?” So I get a lot of questions of like, “Hey, let’s start right away.” and that really enables me the opportunity to offer that free advice that they’re looking for, and it’s just community building, which I love, I love people and I love connecting with people.

Adrian Tennant: If brand marketers want to adopt brand storytelling, what’s the best way for them to get started?

Miri Rodriguez: What I’m hearing from a lot of brands that I have come in contact with, both big and small is “How do I get leadership to buy in?” it’s almost where we were with social media 15 years ago where we had to explain social media to our executives and ask them to let us create a Twitter profile or a Facebook page. So it’s this idea of buying again into storytelling. And in my experience, the best way to do that is to come in as an expert, you are the professional in the company. You are the marketer, you know your audience, hopefully. You’ve done the homework. Come in with a business plan and propose a pilot. This is an approach that everybody’s talking about brand storytelling or storytelling. It’s in everybody’s top of mind today, so it’s not foreign to anybody. And say, “Hey, I want to create this pilot where we can test these stories differently than we have before as a marketing approach. So you can do a campaign or you can do, a three to six month strategy with an integrated marketing and communications campaign, not necessarily an ad, but a long standing campaign, and say, “I want to try this for the next six months and it’s going to work.” And so when it does, the leadership will buy in, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or funds on that either. That’s where the prototyping piece comes in. Actually it’s a low cost, low effort. I did it myself. There was no money, you know, we have no money. So, I really had to scramble to think about how content was going to get picked up and when you have a good story, you can even pitch it to PR because PR needs good stories. So even within a company, you can pitch it to different places and organizations within your own company with different teams. And they can pick it up as well. So we pitch our own stories internally because Microsoft is that big. And, you know, Windows picks it up or, you know, Office picks it up and then it’s on their channels as well. And it gives it visibility. So there’s so many ways that you can creatively think about stories that will appeal to so many people starting from the top. So if it’s an enterprise-led story, enterprise leaders to enterprise leaders, how can you take that story and bring it down to a level of customers and users? How can you bring it to marketing? How can you pitch it to all these other places? And there’s so many things you can do with a story. It’s so good!

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you generously provide several practical story frameworks and structures that marketers can adapt to their own needs. So, for anyone entirely new to brand and storytelling, which do you typically recommend?

Miri Rodriguez: I recommend that they start with the re-imagined, integrated marketing and communications blend, because we all know what that looks like. We are a part of communications and marketing and we have been, if you’re in the marketing field, you have touched into that space, even if you haven’t directly been in the comms space for example. So we understand this plan of integrating both internal communications and marketing, external marketing as well, and anything that relates to a market advocacy. So it’s an easy way to really incorporate brand storytelling and say, “Okay, what is our brand narrative and how are we going to start delivering stories that are part of our plan, our communications internally?” Who is going to tell it from an executive perspective and really drive this kind of cross-functional, cross-pollination of all the teams that touch communications and marketing, and really appeal to this one narrative that everybody’s going to have a shared perspective in. And from there you can create so many others, and I really recommend that you have shared priorities. These teams need to come together to say, “Okay, This is our mission together as marketing and comms and executive comms and all or anything in between. And, and we’re going to align to this one mission of telling this narrative on behalf of the brand.” And it’s going to look different because all of the verticals look different and it should. But in the end, everybody should tie back to that universal truth. So it looks cohesive and looks coherent. And the consumer who doesn’t know, there’s so many people in different places, to them that it makes sense, right? The communication makes sense because they’re always being reminded of the narrative in the background. So it’s a really great approach to start creating, an re-imagined integrated marketing and communications plan.

Adrian Tennant: In Brand Storytelling, you have a section that looks to the future in which you address artificial intelligence, machine learning, and of course, automation. So I’m curious, have you trialed any of the A.I.-assisted GPT-3-based writing tools that have become available since your book was first published?

Miri Rodriguez: Oh, wow. I’m so impressed by that question. The answer is yes. And I have to say so. Yeah. I mean, I’ve gotten to try some really cool technology, obviously being at Microsoft. We’re very privileged and being in this space, I’ve just been in contact with just incredible, incredible things that I’m just in awe of when I come in touch with this technology. So very much looking forward to this hitting the market for everyone to see. I have to say my first impression of these technologies is that I am inept. but I also love the fact that I did mention this in the book, this integration of AI. If we do it right as humans, we will be able to really enable and empower these technologies to help us become better humans. as opposed to letting them take away our humanity. I want to still write. I enjoy it and I think that people, when they read your content, that’s that connection you’re in that intention, that human connection is there. So there’s gotta be a balance where we, that we, as humans will create when we come in contact with technologies that assist us in the process. It doesn’t feel so robotic. That is still, there’s a human connection and people can still connect at the heart, which is the point of the story. And so, it’s a little scary, you know, like, uh, how that will all turn out, but I also think it’s an incredibly exciting space that we’ll be talking about very soon. Metaverse is another one, you know, the phygital space, that integration of physical and digital, it’s all coming to fruition very soon. I really do believe, and I do say this in the book, that our opportunity here is that we will encode empathy into the technology. And so, instead of the robots making us more robotic, we’ll let the robots be robots and we’ll be continuing doing human things, which I think is very powerful.

Adrian Tennant: I love that. So, Miri do you have any favorite tools, physical or digital that you find especially helpful to boost your own creativity?

Miri Rodriguez: Yeah, a good old notepad. This is me all day long. There’s actually a psychological process when you take notes down, you know, written on paper with a pen, a paper. I read about that. the process of that versus actually typing it’s different, the brain processes the wording and the sequence differently. And it’s so for me, I love it. I love writing and I love taking notes of everything. And I find all kinds of notes everywhere that I’ve written to myself. And then I laugh. I’m like, what was this about? And I remember, but to me, that physical interaction reminds me of my humanity. I get tired from writing, right? My hands hurt. And I think that’s important for me to feel that. It’s important for me to, again, not be so robotic and I think there’s this balance between being efficient and being human, um, Being in my best human condition and I’ll call it that. And so, I liked that. I like to feel that okay, my hand is tired from writing, um, I’ll take a break. I’ll go take a tea and then come back and write some more. so the physical aspect for me is really important. I actually write notes before moving to technology. So I think technology it’s this combination of great things, but also, there’s the sacredness that there is to an author, into writing, into the writing process.

Adrian Tennant: Miri, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, and your work or your book, Brand Storytelling, where can they find you?

Miri Rodriguez: Ah, so many places and please connect with me where you feel best connected. So I do have a website, it’s MIRI rod, M I R I R O Uh, so you can find out more about me in the book there. I’m also on LinkedIn, Miri Rodriguez, and on Twitter and Instagram,@MiriRod and I connect on all of them. I know it’s crazy, but I do take time to answer every question and every person who wants to connect with me, I may not do it immediately, but it is really important to me. So if you have a question or anything related to brand storytelling, I’m here, I would love to help!

Adrian Tennant: And IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners receive a 20% discount off Brand Storytelling and other books published by Kogan Page when you order online at Use the special discount code, BIGEYE20 that’s B-I-G-E-Y-E-2-0 at checkout. Miri, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Miri Rodriguez: Thank you so much, Adrian. I had a great time talking to you. You are an amazing host and you’ve asked really great questions. Thank you so much. They were great.

Adrian Tennant: You’re welcome. Thank you so much. Thanks to my guest, MIRI Rodriguez, the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Brand Storytelling. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts and contributing a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Direct-To-Consumer Insights

Regardless of the size of your organization, as a brand manager or marketer, you’ve likely had to make some difficult choices in the face of constantly evolving consumer behaviors and elevated expectations during the pandemic. E-commerce adoption and price inflation have both grown exponentially, while supply chain issues continue to be a persistent headache for brands, negatively impacting revenues and endangering long-term growth. In this guide, we’ll explain how combining datasets can answer questions about your brand’s health and where to steer your brand strategy.

Introducing The Four S’s of Brand Strategy Measurement

Researchers and strategists intuitively seek to triangulate data sources whenever possible because reviewing different sources of customer and business data reveals anomalies and inconsistencies that are not apparent when relying on a single set of study results. When you combine datasets, you also see opportunities to treat some measures as proxies for data that has historically been harder to obtain or unreliable in present market conditions. 

For a holistic, real-time view of your brand strategy, tap into the 4 S’s of brand measurement: sentiment, search, social, and sales.

1. Consumer Sentiment

Brand lift measures advertising effectiveness, comparing pre-and post-ad campaign results, usually with some control markets to ensure that lift is attributable to advertising rather than external factors. If you have not run a brand lift study before, there are several ways of doing so, including a digital programmatic solution that continuously measures brand lift using A/B testing with in-market respondents. This enables the continuous optimization of campaigns to focus on brand key performance indicators. 

Brand trackers measure brand-specific KPIs longitudinally. If you currently run a tracker, consider adding new questions to ongoing surveys to start tracking consumer attitudes toward issues such as price sensitivity, product availability, delivery, collection options, and any others that are applicable to your brand. If you don’t have a brand tracker, consider establishing one. If you don’t want to commit to a set cadence, many agile research solutions exist that enable data collection from statistically significant samples of consumers within a matter of hours. 

2. Share of Search

In the past couple of years, measuring a brand’s share of search has emerged as a practical alternative to the long-established concept of share of voice, or SOV. Share of search as a brand measure was developed concurrently by two leading strategists in the UK, Les Binet, and James Hankins. This metric is equally accessible to brand managers, marketers, and agencies like Bigeye thanks to tools including Google Trends. 

What makes share of search so useful is that it’s proven to be highly correlated with market share, valuable not only in assessing ongoing brand health but also in predicting demand. As an alternative to manually searching Google Trends for volume data on your own brand as well as your competitors, the online platform MyTelescope combines searches, news, and social media, presenting data in a user-friendly visual dashboard.

3. Social Listening

Over the past decade, social networks have emerged as places where consumers connect and chat about all aspects of their lives – including sharing (and comparing) their experiences with products and services. For marketers, social media has grown in importance as both an organic and paid channel, with the newest platform, TikTok, seeing a massive rise in popularity during the pandemic. You may already be using social listening software to cut through the noise and identify meaningful signals in the firehose of social data, but if you’re not using a listening tool already, this is as good a time as any to consider doing so. 

Today’s tools typically incorporate some type of natural language processing and artificial intelligence. The value to brand marketers is that conversations taking place in social media reflect real-time perceptions and can provide a steady stream of insights around consumer sentiments toward your brand as well as the competition. This combination of qualitative and quantitative data is especially useful when triangulating data sources to reveal the “why” behind a spike in search volume, for example, as well as yielding insights unavailable elsewhere.

4. Sales Data 

If you’re working with a direct-to-consumer brand, you most likely have direct access to your sales performance and revenue data. But this is not the case for everyone. Maybe you sell to distributors and rely on syndicated sales from Nielsen or IRI. Brands that are distributed to unmeasured channels – those not tracked by a third party – may experience lengthy delays between the data collection and reporting.

Where sales data is hard or impossible to obtain, an alternative source can act as a proxy. We’ve already highlighted the correlation between share of search and market share, but you may also use historic campaign lead-to-conversion ratios to predict future sales. Consumers’ purchase intent can also be measured in longitudinal brand trackers as well as in brand lift studies, voice-of-the-customer data, ad hoc consumer surveys or in omnibus studies, where several non-competing brands can ask panelists questions.

Final Thoughts

A strategy focused on delivering long-term brand growth requires a corresponding commitment to brand building. Depending on the category, the impact of long-term initiatives can take up to 24 months to appear in market share metrics. CFOs – and markets – are impatient. The reality for most of us is that we have to balance performance marketing’s focus on short-term goals with long-term brand building.

The 4 S’s framework provides an agile analytics methodology to leverage consumer insights and brand measures, balancing long-term brand strategy and short-term performance marketing tactics.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

The fourth in a series of podcast episodes accompanying Bigeye’s study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. Based on a national survey of over 1,500 US shoppers, it’s clear that consumers are demanding more from retail experiences – in-store and online – than ever before. In this podcast, we discuss how retail is evolving in 2022, explore key data points from the report, and consider what the findings mean for retail, brand, and direct-to-consumer marketers.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Welcome to the fourth in a special series of podcasts, accompanying Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Paige Garrett: When it comes to this crazy time that we’re all coming out of, social media is a way to connect.

Brandon Frank: We follow the sustainable packaging guidelines. And we really say that if you’re going to use plastic, use the highest percentage of PCR that you can.

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer before I thought of the idea of Meowbox.

Doug Stephens: Everyone sort of agrees that the metaverse is a logical sort of evolution of our relationship with online technology.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to a special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye – a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Thank you for joining us. Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today, reflects the results of an online survey we fielded in August of 2021 with data collected from over 1,500 US shoppers aged from 18 to 55. Today, we’re going to recap some of the key results and consider how retail is already evolving in 2022 and what lies ahead. In the first section of Retail Disrupted, we look at which retail channels shoppers prefer based on the category they’re shopping for and the impact of social media on shopping behaviors. 

Adrian Tennant: In spite of changed consumer behaviors as a result of COVID, people express a preference for shopping in-store: 44%. Around one-third are equally happy to shop in-store or online: 34%. And one-fifth say they prefer to shop exclusively online. Among respondents who shop for these categories, the most popular preferences are to shop in-store for food and drink at 61%, followed by furniture and homewares at 51%, and clothing, shoes, and accessories at 45%. We were curious to learn which factors in a physical store add value to their experience compared to buying online. Almost nine-in-every-10 shoppers say that their ability to see, touch, feel, smell, hear, or try on the product in a store adds value to their experience to some or a great extent. Four-in-every-five shoppers indicate a preference for shopping in-store to access better prices or value of products suggesting that consumers perceive the prices of some goods to be higher online, perhaps due to shipping costs. I asked retail futurist Doug Stephens, the CEO of Retail Prophet, why he thinks respondents indicated a preference for shopping in-store for food and drink in particular.

Doug Stephens: The truth of the matter is shopping, especially as it applies to food, is an incredibly entrenched behavior. I think the average is in the United States, for example, about 2.2 visits per week to the grocery store. And so, this is something that we probably shop more frequently for than anything else in our life. So it’s not surprising that this sort of heavily entrenched habit would take some time to modify. But the flip side is we have to appreciate that change doesn’t need to be absolute in order to be significant. We have a tendency to always focus on the bigger number, right? So we’ll say, you know, “only 15% of the retail economy in the United States is e-commerce. Everything else, you know, 88% is purchased in-store.” And that may give a lot of retailers a sense of consolation. But the fact of the matter is it wasn’t that long ago that that number was one percent. And today it’s 15%. And we know that e-commerce is growing exponentially faster on a percentage basis than physical retail is. And so it’s quite likely that at least our projection is by as early as 2033, we may find that 52 or more percent of our consumption on a daily or weekly basis is being performed online and, or by subscription. Why do I say this? Well, it’s not just pulling a number out of thin air. We know that in 2002, 2003, the Chinese economy had virtually no e-commerce as a component in the retail sector, and through the pandemic, they crossed the 50% mark. So we’re talking about a couple of decades, for an entire nation to buy most of its consumption online. So, on the one hand, I’m not surprised of course consumers, we’ll say that they enjoy going to the grocery store. And frankly, grocers haven’t provided them with any sort of incentive, not to, by virtue of a great online experience. But I think what we have to focus on is the potential for that number to increase significantly. And it will.

Adrian Tennant: Influencer marketing is an important part of the social media ecosystem, representing an estimated $3.7 billion in 2021, marking an increase of 33% compared to 2020. More than one-half of all the consumers who responded to our survey follow social media influencers. Those most likely to do so belong to Gen Z, among whom over three quarters follow at least one influencer at 76%. Gen Y respondents are less likely to at 58%. And among Gen X, just under one-third do, making them the least likely to do so at 30%. Respondents identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or Latin X or of Spanish origin are significantly more likely to follow influencers with three quarters doing so compared to 47% among non-Hispanic respondents. That’s a 28 point difference. Social media expert Paige Garrett, who’s Assistant Vice President of Marketing at RVD Communications in New York, explained what she thinks lies behind Hispanic followers’ greater engagement with influencers.

Paige Garrett: Hispanic social media users are looking to just connect. I think that you know, like anyone, obviously, they are empowered consumers and also influential creators in their own right. But I do think that when it comes to this crazy time that we’re all coming out of, social media is a way to connect. It’s a way to stay up to date with our friends, our family, what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s a way to stay in tune with what’s happening in a specific industry that you follow, news, celebrity entertainment, and it’s just a way to stay hyper-connected. And I do think that when it comes to influencers’ recommendations and the way that you as a consumer feel connected to that influencer, it’s very similar to getting a recommendation from a family member or a friend, but you might not be in as close touch with your family members or friends as you are now with these influencers, who you follow every single day and every minute of the day. And there was actually a quote, that came to mind from, Marie Cabo, who is a Fortune 500 multicultural strategist and consultant, she essentially said that the Hispanic community, in particular, they have that sense of established trust when it comes to these micro-influencers that they follow in the same way that they would their families. So it’s very similar to, again, just that person that you trust, who is telling you, you need to buy something, that coupled with, whether it’s a discount early access or a VIP experience that you might not get otherwise it’s that established trust and credibility coupled with the fact that you feel as if you really know this person. And also you might, you know, I think influencers are really engaging with their communities in a way that they are actually in touch with them and actually friends. And if you ask an influencer a question, they’re more likely now to respond than I think they would have a few years ago. So, all of that just works towards greater engagement with influencers in particular. And it makes sense again, from more of just like a human connection, perspective for the Hispanic community as well.

Adrian Tennant: It’s also clear that influencers impact consumers’ purchasing decisions. In the six months ending August 2021, 90% of respondents who follow social media influences had bought a product after seeing it used, reviewed, or recommended. And over one-half of those followers report buying two to five times. 91% of Gen Z that follow influencers have bought something based on a recommendation in those six months with approaching one-fifth of them buying six to 10 times. Gen X respondents are less engaged overall, but just under one-half of them report buying two to five times. Respondents who identify as Hispanic are more likely to have bought six to 10 times in the last six months, 21%, compared to non-Hispanics, 13%. Over three-quarters of our survey respondents who had purchased something based on an influencer, say they’re extremely or somewhat likely to share information about their purchase with people in their social network.

Adrian Tennant: Approaching two-thirds of all respondents own a smart speaker or a smart display. Smart speakers and displays are most popular with Gen Z among whom 79% report owning at least one. Among Gen Y, ownership is at 68% while just over one-half of Gen X reports owning a smart device. Among those who own smart devices, Amazon is the leading brand with 56% of the market. Google and Apple both trail behind at 29% and 21% respectively. Respondents identifying as Hispanic are 19 percentage points more likely to own an Apple product, 29%, than non-Hispanics, 10%, and 15 points, more likely to own a Facebook portal, 24%, than non-Hispanics at 9%. Three-quarters of all respondents who own smart speakers and displays use them for shopping. The most popular uses are to find information about products at 28%, get shipping and delivery notifications at 27%, and to check the status of an existing order at 26%. Gen Z respondents are slightly more likely than others to use that device to manage a personal shopping list or wishlist at 24%, while Gen Y are slightly more likely to manage a family or household shopping list at 26%. The most popular location for smart speakers and displays is a living room at 53% followed by a bedroom at 46% and one-third report having a device in their kitchen.

Adrian Tennant: Direct-to-consumer brands have enjoyed a decade of steady growth, reflecting the widespread consumer adoption of social media. The network effect amplifies social media’s popularity and effectiveness as a source for brand and product discovery. In the third section of Retail Disrupted, we look at how many consumers are buying DTC brands, the categories that are most popular, and quantify the number of consumers who are enrolled in product subscriptions. Gen Z is the most likely to have purchased from a direct-to-consumer brand in the past six months. Approaching two-thirds of this group report doing so at 63%, compared to just under half of Gen Y and just over one-third of Gen X. Almost one-half of respondents identifying as male report purchasing from a DTC brand in the past six months, compared to 45% of those identifying as female. And approaching three-quarters of Hispanic consumers report purchasing from a DTC brand in the past six months: 72%. Compared to two-fifths of non-Hispanics: 42%. Clothing shoes and accessories is the most popular category across all Generations of respondents. Of those who purchased from a DTC brand in the past six months, 53% of Gen Z and X report doing so in this category. In the next most popular category overall, electronics and accessories, 40% of Gen Y and Gen X report purchasing direct-to-consumer in the past six months. But what compels shoppers to buy from direct-to-consumer brands rather than traditional retail channels? Among those who indicated they’d purchased from a DTC brand within the last six months, over one-third are motivated by the availability of fast or free shipping, 35%. Among Gen X consumers, this number is 43%. 29% of respondents perceive that DTC brands represent cheaper costs than traditional retail. But again, this is most prevalent among Gen X at 35%. 29% of Gen Z and Gen Y respondents are motivated by reading positive reviews. 30% of Gen Y and Gen X are motivated to buy DTC due to the uniqueness of the product, or because it’s not available elsewhere, compared with 23% of Gen Z. Among all consumers who subscribed to a direct-to-consumer brand, one-quarter do so for pet care. Olivia Canlis is the CEO of Meowbox, a founder-led DTC brand. She talked to us about her paid subscription service.

Olivia Canlas: So I like to think of Meowbox as monthly deliveries of cat happiness. So it is a box full of themed cat toys and treats that we choose exclusively for our subscribers. And we deliver that monthly or bi-monthly in the subscription model.

Adrian Tennant: Back in 2013, when Meowbox launched, direct to consumer wasn’t nearly as well established as a business model as it is today. I asked Olivia what inspired her to start a subscription box for cat owners.

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer, maybe two or three years before I thought of the idea of Meowbox. I was a subscriber to cosmetics. So I knew that that was something that appealed to me, to my friends, people in a similar demographic as I was. And so I was aware of the concept of subscription boxes, but specifically, like the moment where I thought, “you know what? There needs to be a meowbox in this world!” was when I started getting targeted on my Facebook for a dog subscription box. And Instead of just ignoring it, thinking, well, that doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have a dog, I wondered because I’m more of a cat person, I wonder if there was a box for cats. And upon my initial research, there wasn’t a box that was dedicated just to cat parents.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. To examine how the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has disrupted the retail industry, Bigeye recently conducted a national study with over 1500 consumers. Our exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: what shoppers want from brands today reveals that while people enjoy the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, many still prefer to shop in physical stores. But their expectations of merchandise selections, in-store technology, and customer service are all heightened. To understand consumers’ new shopping behaviors, and mindsets – and what they mean for retailers, direct-to-consumer marketers, and traditional brands – download the full, complimentary report available now at Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. February’s featured book is Brand Storytelling: Put Customers At The Heart Of Your Brand Story by Miri Rodriguez. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Brand Storytelling, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. 2020 saw a surge of activism among Americans looking for ways to advocate for the issues that matter most to them. Socially conscious consumers buy from companies that donate a portion of their proceeds towards a certain cause or whose business practices support a particular group or value. In the fourth section of Retail Disrupted, we look at some of the differences that exist between Generations of consumers and whether they really affect how they shop. Which issues are most likely to impact personal brand choices? Well, for almost 9-in-every 10 respondents, the most important factor is the visual appeal of the product. 89% say this is extremely, very, or somewhat important to them. Four in every five shoppers say that a brand’s policies and stances related to the environment and sustainability are important. With similar percentages citing whether a brand is based in or manufactures its products in the USA, and whether a brand is local to their community or a small business. Eco-conscious behaviors are reflected in these results too, with over one-quarter of Gen Z respondents wanting stores to make it easier to refill reusable containers, 26%. This is Gen Z respondents’ most important consideration, five points higher than Gen Y and eight points more than Gen X. Gen Z are also more likely than other Generations to want the ability to drop off recyclable waste so it can be upcycled into new products at 25%, and for stores to offer carefully selected collections of direct to consumer brands, 22%. I recently spoke with Brandon Frank, the CEO of Pacific Packaging Components, and an expert on sustainability, clean beauty, and recycling. I asked Brandon how brands have been responding to these changing consumer attitudes.

Brandon Frank: The selection of glass and aluminum has continued to be popular and when plastic needs to be used, the most sustainable option and that most people are going toward is to use the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled resin as possible. We know that there are a lot of bio-based resins and other, biodegradable additives and things like that. But we follow the sustainable packaging guidelines. And we really say that you know, if you’re going to use plastic, use the highest percentage of PCR that you can. There’s a lot of supply chain issues with that right now, because the largest companies in the world are buying up most of the highest quality PCR, which leaves a lot of large middle and small brands struggling to be able to meet MOQs and price points, but the industry is responding.

Adrian Tennant: If you’re a regular listener to IN CLEAR FOCUS, you know that the future of retail is a popular and enduring topic of our discussions. So naturally, we wondered what consumers think shopping would look like by the year 2030. Over one-half of respondents believe that by the end of this decade, most retail stores will be fully automated with robots and involve little human interaction. Just under one-half of all respondents believe that most deliveries in cities and suburban areas will be made by robots, autonomous vehicles, or drones instead of humans. And 46% believe that most food for consumption at home will be bought online and delivered from local distribution centers rather than bought in-person at supermarkets. Those most likely to do so are respondents identifying as Hispanic at 53%. Since we published the report in October of 2021, a lot has happened in the world of retailing. In the introduction to the report, we noted that by the end of 2021 digital grocery buyers were estimated to surpass 142 million, amounting to more than half of the US population. Kroger is just one of many retailers benefiting from the surge in online grocery sales. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based company covers around 60% of the US with its supermarkets, which in addition to the Kroger brand, include Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Payless, and Ralphs. In 2020 alone, Kroger’s online grocery sales grew by 116%, surpassing $10 billion. Kroger now ranks among the top 10 e-commerce retailers in the United States. The company has invested heavily in its digital strategy in recent years, as well as supply chain innovations that deliver fresh foods to its stores within 24 hours of harvesting, picking, or slaughter. But perhaps Kroger’s most interesting strategic initiative in 2021 was its entry into a market where it has no physical stores: Bigeye’s home state of Florida. Kroger generates brand awareness through advertising on TV, digital, and out of home, and its visually distinctive fleet of delivery vehicles is increasingly seen across Central Florida. Kroger’s Florida operations are facilitated by a 375,000 square foot automated warehouse located in Groveland. Its customer fulfillment center leverages proprietary technology, including artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. Customers order online and Kroger delivery covers up to 90 miles from the hub location and will cover even more territory when spoke locations such as Tampa and Jacksonville are fully integrated. Well, it must be working because since we first reported on Kroger’s strategy, the company has announced its delivery service is expanding into South Florida. And Kroger delivery fulfillment centers are also slated to open in Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other sites in the South, West, and Pacific Northwest. Kroger’s strategy reflects the disruption that many in the retail industry are experiencing. Corporations like Kroger, Walmart, Target, and Amazon with finely tuned e-commerce platforms and logistics operations have all done well during the pandemic.In Retail Disrupted, we discussed Amazon’s rumored plans to open physical department stores first leaked by the Wall Street Journal. Then last month, Amazon announced the opening of a bricks-and-mortar apparel store in Los Angeles to be known as Amazon Style. Joining its cashier-less convenience locations, grocery, and bookstores, this is the online retailers’ first foray into the sale of fashion through physical stores. Amazon has said that customers will be able to use innovative technology to browse, try on, and buy clothes or shoes, including the use of algorithmic recommendations. So this sounds a bit like Stitchfix applied to physical stores. Shoppers will be able to use the Amazon app to view different sizes and colors for items of clothing. And not to be outdone, Walmart is expanding its fulfillment service that promises to deliver customers’ groceries directly to their refrigerators. First launched in the fall of 2019, Walmart’s InHome delivery service allows customers to place grocery orders online, then receive their deliveries by having a Walmart associate enter their home by way of a smart lock. The service was initially tested in a handful of markets and is now available to around 6 million households across the U S. Last month. Walmart announced that it plans to expand InHome delivery with the goal of reaching 30 million US homes by the end of this year. Walmart is innovating its in-store experiences too, with an interactive approach that it’s calling “Time Well Spent”. It’s actually the second phase of a store redesign project aimed at re-imagining ways to create seamless omnichannel shopping experiences. According to the company, Walmart visual merchandising experts have created engaging experiences that bring to life the human element with QR codes and screens also creating opportunities for digital exploration. And we can’t ignore the robots. If you’ve already downloaded the Retail Disrupted report, you’ll know that our creative team had a lot of fun with the visual layout, which features original illustrations by Bigeye’s Art Director, Rhett Withey. After we published the report, Amazon announced that it has a new robot intended for home use to be known as Astro. Costing $1,000, Astro’s promotional video shows it roaming around customers’ homes on three wheels and being used to move items from room to room, video chat, play music, and act as a mobile security device. But in retail stores, robots are already widely used to clean, take inventory, and help employees restock shelves. And robots designed for use in grocery stores don’t necessarily require large capital outlays: some manufacturers offer a robotics-as-a-service or RaaS model.

Adrian Tennant: Just a few days after the publication of Retail Disrupted last October, Facebook announced its change of corporate name to Meta, reflecting its ambition to shape the metaverse. Since then, we’ve seen extensive media coverage of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, and web 3.0, as well as other metaverse-adjacent topics. Retailing in the metaverse emerged as one of the central themes of the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York last month. Whatever you think about Facebook’s decision to rename its corporate entity, there’s no doubt that it thrust the idea of the metaverse into the mainstream. We’ll be exploring what web 3.0 means for retailers in an upcoming special event hosted by Bigeye. Envision 2022 will be a virtual round table featuring some of the brightest minds in retailing today, including Doug Stevens, CEO of Retail Prophet. Here’s a preview of our conversation.

Doug Stephens: Everyone agrees that the metaverse is a logical sort of evolution of our relationship with online technology. You know, today we’re able to interact, but we’re not able to do so in a very real feeling way, in a very connected way. We’re certainly able to shop online, but again, we have this barrier, where we can’t really experience things or interact with things before we buy them. And so I think there’s wide agreement that this is a logical evolution.

Adrian Tennant: So what does Retail Disrupted tell us about today’s shoppers? Well, it’s clear that we’re now in a new era of retailing characterized by heightened expectations of seamless integration between online and in-store shopping. Even though we’ve all been shopping online more during the pandemic, shoppers still express a preference for in-store shopping. For traditional consumer packaged goods brands, many have already started to experiment with the direct-to-consumer model, enabling them to capture first-party data and develop products that serve niche audiences. We’ve also seen the shift away from conspicuous consumption toward more thoughtful, socially conscious consumerism. More consumers today are considering the environmental impact of the production processes and sources of materials that make products. Looking at the scenarios for retail in 2030, to borrow a line from American speculative fiction author William Gibson: “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” You’ve been listening to the fourth episode of Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. My thanks to all the contributors to this podcast: Doug Stephens, Paige Garrett, Olivia Canlas, and Brandon Frank. To download the full report on which this podcast is based, go to where you can also watch an on-demand webinar. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. Thank you for listening, and until next time, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our podcast guest is Simon Bailey, co-author of Myths of Branding, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Simon discusses some of the false myths that abound in branding. From the titular belief that a brand is just a logo, to the perception that it’s a ‘soft’ area of marketing that doesn’t go beyond visual identity – hear why these couldn’t be further from the truth. For a 20 percent discount on Myths of Branding, go to and use promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Simon Bailey: Ultimately, brands are there to perform two tasks really. The first is to help sustain demand. And the second is to generate loyalty.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye – a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Thank you for joining us. Today’s podcast marks the launch of the Bigeye Book Club in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page. To kick things off, it’s my pleasure to welcome an expert in delivering brand-led business growth, who is also the co-author of our featured book club selection this month, Myths Of Branding, A Brand Is Just A Logo And Other Popular Misconceptions. Simon Bailey has led several well-known global branding consultancies and is now Managing Partner of The Caffeine Partnership. Simon appears regularly in the media discussing marketing and branding. To discuss brand strategy and the book he co-authored, Simon is joining us today from his home office in London, England. Simon, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Simon Bailey: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

Adrian Tennant: How did your early career lead you to brand and strategy?

Simon Bailey: Yeah, it was a kind of interesting start. I originally trained as a lawyer, and graduated law school, but I came out and sort of had a sense that maybe the law wasn’t for me. So I went to London. As you do, sort of seek your fortune. And actually I finished up working for The Guardian Media Group. And at that point, the MD of the business was Carolyn McCall, and Carolyn McCall went on to run an airline and now runs the ITV media broadcast network. But at the time, and this was quite a few years ago, she spent a lot of time talking about how The Guardian newspaper was a brand. And actually as a result, as representatives of the newspaper, we should be confident about what the brand stood for, and also why it could justify a price premium. And actually, that got me thinking quite a bit about the subject of branding and brands because we were talking about it so much. And that ultimately led me to a position where I saw a job advertised for a very well-known sort of leading brand business. I went to see the CMO at the time of The Guardian and said, “If you were going to work with a brand business, who would you work for?” And he was kind enough to put the one I was going to potentially try and work for at the top of the list. So I thought, “that’s really interesting,” and then I joined that business. And then over 20 years worked for both Omnicom and WPP and finished up leading businesses with both of those organizations.

Adrian Tennant: Now you’ve known the co-author of Myths Of Branding Andy Milligan for 20 years or so. How did you two first meet?

Simon Bailey: Well, actually, I will say this once, so I’ll give them a name check. Andy was working at Interbrand, and I then came to Interbrand and met Andy. Andy’s a couple of years older than me. I won’t reveal any more than that. But he, at the time, was one of the sort of leading lights in their strategy teams and naming teams as well. and yeah, got to know him through that. And then we’ve remained in contact and good friends really, ever since. And then of course, more recently we joined together in The Caffeine Partnership.

Adrian Tennant: So how do you define a brand?

Simon Bailey: Well, of course, there was a legal definition. Things like the name, the design, the symbol, and many other facets, which technically help to differentiate the goods and services of one undertaking over on another. And that’s important because of course brands are protectable. But actually, it’s probably more helpful to think about brands as a mix of functional and emotional attributes that you associate with a particular product or service. If it’s more helpful and you want to simplify it further, you could probably talk about the real estate that you’ve got to occupy in somebody’s mind, or potentially even the famous quote by Jeff Bezos. When he said that “a brand is really the things that people say about you when you’re not in the room,” which is a kind of a nice, succinct definition.

Adrian Tennant: Can you tell us a bit about the work The Caffeine Partnership undertakes for clients?

Simon Bailey: Yeah, sure. So, The Caffeine Partnership is focused on helping impatient leaders accelerate growth. And we do that through three distinct areas. So, brand – helping people leverage the power of their brands. Customer experience – helping customers to have a fantastic experience, but more importantly, the owners to focus on what matters most for their customers and making sure that’s consistent across the experience. And then finally, what you broadly term brand engagement, and that can cover anything from helping to facilitate a board meeting or a strategy away day, all the way through to helping large organizations mobilize workforces, get people behind an idea, or indeed help them understand how they need to take on a brand or deliver a fantastic experience.

Adrian Tennant: So what prompted you to write a book focusing on misconceptions about branding?

Simon Bailey: I think the glib answer and I was talking to Andy about this is essentially, we were actually asked to do it. So that’s one thing, but of course, it’s also a field littered with misconceptions. Together we thought actually it would be a great opportunity to bust a few myths and to try and give our own points of view on the subject and also an opportunity to lay down some of the things that we may have learned or experienced over the years.

Adrian Tennant: So Simon, let’s start with the titular misconception, “A brand is just a logo.” Where did this idea originate and why is it a myth?

Simon Bailey: Ultimately, because it’s such a persistent myth. I think that’s why it became the title for the book. It’s one that we hear most frequently, throughout our time inthe sector, really. And of course, brands are so much more than just the logo, which is why it could also be maddening and a bit frustrating. But I think the reason for that is that it’s the logo that people do identify with. That’s the job of the logo: to act as an identifier for goods and services, and an experience, it’s the promise of an experience to some extent. And so I think what happens is those people that are more skeptical about brands or don’t like them, or just want to be a bit derogatory about them will say, “Well, brands are just about the logo” and they’ll tend to believe that’s what it’s all about. And of course, it isn’t. It’s much more than that. And it struck us that was the most frequently encountered, most common almost meta myth that we were trying to address head-on and have a bit of fun with it and make it the title of the book.

Adrian Tennant: Well, chronologically, the first myth in the book is “brands are just a way of charging you more for the same product.” But you write that brands are rarely that. 

Simon Bailey: When you buy the brand, you aren’t just buying the immediate product or service that’s in front of you. You’re actually buying all of the marketing investment that’s gone into building that brand in the first place. And actually, that really matters because we identify with brands. They are to some extent, an expression of kind of who we are and the values that we hold. But brands, of course, also act as a kind of guarantor of quality or of the promise of a specific type of experience. Let’s give you a practical example. If you were in a fortunate position to be able to afford a Louis Vuitton handbag, yes, of course, you are buying into some of the intrinsics, you know, what you would hope to be good quality, great design. But you are also buying into an experience and a lifestyle. And that’s partly what you’re paying for really. And consumers understand that, you know, if you want to invert that idea for a minute, think about it the other way around. When people buy a fake Rolex, and I’m sure that people may have done that in the past, you are really paying less for less. You know, it’s great fun, but close scrutiny usually reveals that it’s a fake. And even if people don’t spot it straight away, then you’ll rarely find it keeping good time in a couple of years. You know, consumers understand the trade-off and they understand that in the end brands are much more than just the product. They are a whole kind of collection of attributes that they’re buying into.

Adrian Tennant: Myth 13 in the book is “Branding is subjective. It’s all fluff and art with no rigor and science.” Now, marketing has academic literature, including journals and studies that underscore its status as an established discipline. Advertising too boasts several professional bodies that offer models of advertising effectiveness. But as you point out, the misconception about branding means that it hasn’t attained quite the same level of respect. Why do you think that is?

Simon Bailey: I think it’s because ultimately, a brand or the brand isn’t consistently owned by the same person or group of people across different types of organizations. So for example, if you think about a large FMCG business, you’ll often have people called brand managers, but actually, when you look more closely, those brand managers are really marketeers. They’re often responsible for the P and L and for the end-to-end performance of the brand.

Adrian Tennant: So a quick UK English to US English translation: in the UK, FMCG stands for fast-moving consumer goods, which in the US are generally known as CPG or consumer packaged goods. Different terms, but they mean the same.

Simon Bailey: Thanks, Adrian. In another organization of a different size or orientation, you might find the brand owned by the finance department or the legal department, because for that business, brand has always sat with the legal because they’re the ones that entertain any issues or infringements. You know, in another business, you might find someone charged with the brand or called a brand manager or brand director where their job is to make sure that the brand is applied consistently or managed appropriately across channels. You’ll have some people focused on trying to make sure that the brand idea is manifested across all those channels. And then you’ll have businesses possibly the more enlightened ones where the CEO themselves see themselves as the brand manager in a sense. And I think it’s to do with the fact that it doesn’t belong in a place necessarily that branding sometimes struggles to achieve the kind of professional parity that you would expect us to believe that it does ultimately deserve. So I think that’s probably at the heart of some of these issues.

Adrian Tennant: Myth number six is “brands don’t have financial value.” Can you tell us more?

Simon Bailey: Yeah. we would assert that brands most definitely do have a value and that value can be quantified. And I think it’s important before we just look at some examples to reflect on why they can and that’s because ultimately, brands are there to perform fundamentally two tasks really. The first is to help sustain demand. And the second is to generate loyalty. They are in a sense, a guarantee of future revenues. As far back as I think, 1988, and I’ll give you a few figures, but treat them as indicative because whenever you go back and have a look at these things, they change depending on who reported them. But Phillip Morris bought Kraft in 1988 for approximately $12.9 billion, which at the time was four times the tangible value of the business. Similarly, I think Grand Met, a little bit later acquired Pillsbury, for something like $5.5 billion, which was a 50% premium on book value. And as we come through the decades, in 2011 Kraft bought Cadbury, the chocolate and confectionery manufacturer, and it obviously went on to form Mondolez, and Kraft paid for that approximately $19.6 billion, which at the time was something like 13 times that EBITDA. So they’re earning before interest tax deductions and so on. And actually, for this asset, I saw a commentator describe that as a very good price. So all of that intangible value is being allocated. And then later on in 2017, Amazon purchased Whole Foods. And I think nearly 70% of the purchase price was allocated to goodwill. And of course, goodwill and brand value are not quite the same things, but within that conduit of goodwill will set a substantial amount of brand value. And I thought it’s interesting just to reflect on two more things very quickly. I think it’s always been part of Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, if you go back, to invest in very well known, very well established brands, because in a sense they are less risky. They are there to generate future revenues as a higher level of confidence, that’s what they will be able to achieve. And then today, I looked just at one of the valuation league tables, one of the more established ones, and Apple’s brand value is, in their view, worth approximately $400 billion. Hopefully, some examples to get people thinking. Of course, it’s also recognized in various accounting standards as well as a genuine asset.

Adrian Tennant: So from a practical perspective, Simon, how should organizations arrive at a financial value for their brands?

Simon Bailey: There are different methods of valuing brands. And, I think, listeners might begin to glaze over if we get into the intricacies of those. But I think it’s probably worth saying that there are purely financial approaches, which, if there are any accountants listening to they’ll understand the kind of process and method that you approach to do that. But then there are methods and approaches, which seek to delve a bit deeper and what they do, or certainly, the ones that have achieved suitable accreditation, what they try to do is establish the amount of earnings that are attributable to the brand, and they call those brand earnings, and they will then try and combine that with an assessment of how strong they think the brand is, or how well managed it is. And that’s used then to create a discount curve, which enables them to establish  almost like a net present value over a certain time horizon. And that will provide a value for the brand and for the assets. And that brand’s strength factor then, depending on how you choose to do that, can be done with consumers so that you’re getting that fed directly into the process. It’s also worth just mentioning this as an adjunct, which is of course the role of the brand, in generating earnings differs by category. So if you take petrol retailing, brands are valuable, but the role of the brand in petrol or gas retailing is going to be much smaller than it will be in say the luxury apparel category, because when you’re looking for a gas station, You may have a preferred brand, but if that’s not available, you’ll definitely fill up with the one that’s closest to you. It’s convenient. Whereas in luxury branding, you’re really buying that brand and it’s that brand and nothing else that you’re seeking. So they’ll look to establish when they’re looking at those brand learnings, you know, the amount that’s attributable to the brand.

Adrian Tennant: Absolutely. Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. January’s featured book is Myths Of Branding by Simon Bailey and Andy Milligan. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code, BIGEYE20 –  that’s B I G E Y E 2 0. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free ebook offer. To learn more, visit our website at

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Simon Bailey, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Myths Of Branding: A Brand Is Just A Logo And Other Popular Misconceptions. Myth number 20 is “there’s no such thing as brand loyalty.” Professor Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, who’s also the author of How Brands Grow, believes that brand loyalty does not exist and that consumers typically choose from a basket of brands, but you think he’s wrong? 

Simon Bailey: Well, actually, it’s not so much that he’s wrong. I think we’re making a slightly different argument in our book. And what we’re saying is that actually, we agree that in a lot of instances, consumers don’t tend to spend enormous amounts of time thinking about brands. You know, you’re not lying in your bed very often thinking about any great depth to your supermarket brand, for example. Actually, brand owners might have milliseconds to occupy some kind of mental real estate that we talked about So we don’t really take issue with that, that we perceive ourselves certainly to be time-poor and lots of things competing for our attention. Our point really is that differentiation and being distinctive are really the same thing. And to back that up, if you look at the dictionary definitions, you’ll find each one refers to the other in an attempt to define what it does. So we think it’s a slightly semantic distinction, really, which is that in the end, what brands have to be is memorable, and if they achieve a memorable status in your mind and they’re there and you’re thinking about them when you’re making a relevant purchase, then that’s achieved its job. So we think that’s a bit semantic. Brands have to be memorable. They have to stand out. And to some extent, it was ever thus. What I would say though, is that he does make really interesting and well-evidenced observations about how brands are built, or if you want to get technical, how to drive penetration. But I think even those instructions or suggestions are sometimes misinterpreted either because people, you know, don’t take the time to read it, or haven’t always fully understood exactly what he means.

Adrian Tennant: Yum! Brands’ chief marketing officer Kan Muench oversees global marketing for KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. He recently told Marketing Week – and I quote: Brand purpose truly is a bunch of – and I won’t say what he said, but it’s an expletive – “because it’s disingenuous. You’re saying my purpose is to make the world a better place. No, your purpose is to make money,” end quote. Simon, your thoughts on Ken’s comments, please?

Simon Bailey: Yeah, you might have to stop me on this one, Adrian. This is a bit of a Caffeine specialist subject. You know, we, uh, we write a lot about purpose and Andy has written actually a couple of books on purpose. And as you know, there’s a chapter on that in the book. So I think the first thing is we’d say actually, no. And we challenge what he said. We’d say that the purpose of a business fundamentally is to deliver value to the customer. And by doing that, you deliver value to shareholders and beyond. And that’s quite an important point. Um, and to be fair to him, I think he does go on in his interview to make the point that he thinks that brands and businesses should improve. You know, he’s just taking issue with a thing that we think people often do, which is conflate or confuse purpose with CSR responsibilities or the ESG agenda, because actually for us, purpose is really seeking to answer the why. So in other words, why you are in business or if you like, why you do what you do.

Adrian Tennant: Just to explain a couple of acronyms. CSR is corporate social responsibility and ESG is short for environmental, social, and corporate governance.

Simon Bailey: Yeah. And actually, we’d argue that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that consumers care not just about what you do or what you offer, but increasingly why you do it. So I would point listeners in the direction of the Havas Meaningful Brand survey and they make some fascinating points about how consumers engage with brands that they fundamentally perceive as more meaningful. And they generate nine times the share of wallet and they are the brands which if not available, a consumer would wait for, as in most instances, you know, consumers will have to buy the brands that come to them. Purpose for us needs to be customer-led. That’s a really important distinction. They need to be really focused first of all, on how they deliver value for customers. But then they need to also take account of obviously the financial and societal impact of what they do. A good business should be always looking to mitigate its impact and to make a positive contribution to a business. That’s just the rules of the game for being in business and to be a successful brand. But for us, a purpose is seeking to deliver value for customers and to answer that question, which is why. And that why matters, because we’re living in many economies in a place where there are lots and lots of choices. And consumers are increasingly asking, “Okay, not just what’s this, but why do you do what you do? What’s behind what you do?” I can give you a very good example. It is a UK one, We did some work for Premier Inn, which is a kind of budget hotel group. And we work with them to establish a purpose. And after lots of work, we alighted on a purpose really about giving customers a brilliant night’s sleep. And the reason that purpose was so motivating is it sits at the kind of intersection of what we believed mattered most to both the customers that went there and the employees that were there to deliver the experience. Because if you’re staying in one of these kinds of budgets and mid-priced hotels, what you’re looking for is a great night’s sleep. ‘Cause you’re getting up for a sales conference or a meeting, or if it’s the weekend, it’s a wedding or, a christening or those types of activities. You want to feel great and you want to feel motivated. But the really important point, I think this serves to illustrate the power of purpose, is that the group, then it’s quite a large group, decided that they were going to focus their experience around that idea too. And so they invested in a Hypnos bed solution, which is a high-end bed that you would normally find in a five-star hotel, put those in all their hotel rooms. They fixed all the air conditioning, made sure that everything was working on a soundproofing level. And then taught and trained their staff to help deliver to customers a brilliant night’s sleep, including some little behavioral nudges and signs asking people to be quiet at night. And it’s been fantastically successful as a brand because it’s very clear and very purposeful about what it’s doing. So for us, that’s an example of delivering value to customers, which delivers value to shareholders, through a customer-led purpose.

Adrian Tennant: Between the original publication of Myths Of Branding in 2019, and our conversation today, the world’s population has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the changes you’ve observed in consumer behaviors, what lessons can we apply to brand strategy moving forward?

Simon Bailey: We’ve got a new edition of Myths Of Branding coming out next year and that’s currently being written, and we will try and update the book and hopefully capture some of these key changes because of course a lot’s happened in a relatively short period. But in a sense, and aside from the loss of life and the negative consequences it’s had for many people and many families, and the next point is not to diminish that, that needs to be acknowledged, but it’s really just to say that in another sense, COVID whether we like it or not, as finished up being a huge social experiment. Because actually, nobody really knows exactly what is going to happen. They don’t. And the reason for that is that we know that some behavior, although not all, some behaviors will probably have been changed forever as a result of the pandemic. And that the pendulum will swing to a new direction, to form a habit. Well, we’ve had, depending on your jurisdiction, probably over two years of people behaving differently and it’s likely that some of those behaviors will stick. I think where you can begin to be more confident and I can assure you that brand owners across the world of every shape and size are busy scratching their heads and employing people to help them navigate some of these things. But I think you could probably take a view that things like safety and security and health and wellness – including mental health – these are all factors which I don’t think are going to go away anytime soon. I think that for certain parts of the population in certain countries, all over the world, those things are going to remain big issues. But we will undoubtedly also see people wanting to spend, go out and enjoy themselves where they can. And I think again, in certain economies, you can see that happening and you can see that happening in, the big numbers, things like inflation and the shortage in availability of products, as well as, you know, stuff that you might be able to point to more anecdotally. But I think it’s fair to say that those changes are underway and there’ll be lots of other things as well. I mean, that’s probably the tip of the iceberg of some of the changes. But I think what we have definitely seen also is how adaptable technology has become. And so I’m amazed that even bars and restaurants in my local community did an amazing job of – when they were able to – turning their premises into tech-enabled, COVID -compliant retail outlets. It was absolutely amazing. In fact, some of their apps are better than some I’ve seen, you know, in organizations many times bigger. And secondly, the flexibility that it will afford for new ways of living and working. And I think that flexibility has definitely worked for certain groups of people. And I think that there will be a clamor and petitioning for people to be able to work more flexibly in the future. I don’t think that’s going to go away. And I also have a sense of that because when I speak to friends and contacts, for example, in the real estate business, this is an immediate live issue. Whether it’s, you know, retailing on the high street, office accommodation, thinking about new buildings and how things are changing the demand at the moment for logistics space and the ability to meet online demand. all happening in real-time right now. 

Adrian Tennant: Simon, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your work at The Caffeine Partnership, or Myths Of Branding, where can they find you?

Simon Bailey: Hopefully, we’ve got a memorable name. So you should be able to find The Caffeine Partnership – you’ll find us online. We’ve obviously got a website,, where you’ll find further information about us, including details of the people in the business, myself and Andy and my colleagues. But you can, of course, also buy the book and we’re on all the key social channels. 

Adrian Tennant: And IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can take advantage of a special promo code that takes 20 percent off Myths Of Branding or any other Kogan Page title. Go to, that’s Kogan with a “k”, and enter the code BIGEYE20 – that’s BIGEYE20- at checkout. This also applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. You’re the first author we’ve interviewed for the Bigeye Book Club, so Simon, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week.

Simon Bailey: Brilliant, thanks for having me, appreciate it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Simon Bailey of The Caffeine Partnership, and the co-author of Myths Of Branding. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just select podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts and contributing a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

The creator economy is disrupting advertising, and provides many creators with a viable alternative to traditional employment. Guest Nick Wolny is a prolific writer and the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. Nick offers advice for anyone considering becoming an independent creator, and explains why creative content side hustles have been embraced among Gen Z. Nick also shares his views on artificial intelligence-based writing tools.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Nick Wolny: Gen Z kicks all our butts in terms of creator ability level. And even this idea of the creator side hustle, Gen Z grew up with it. They are very good at creating content on these emerging platforms.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 34.4 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. The global pandemic forced many people to re-examine their careers and vote with their feet, leading economists and pundits to ruminate on the future of work. Concurrent with the so-called “great resignation”, for some the new “creator economy” became an attractive alternative to the traditional nine-to-five. The creators in this economy are people with marketable skills, services, products, or simply a passion for a particular hobby, who monetize their subject matter expertise with the help of platforms like Patreon, Substack, and Gumroad. Silicon valley newsletter, The Information reported that venture capital firms have already invested more than $2 billion in creator economy startups. And the entrepreneurial opportunities that the creator economy presents, are, it seems, especially attractive to the youngest Americans. Forbes recently released its list of the top 10 highest-earning YouTube creators. The highest-paid female YouTuber is the seven-year-old Anastasia Radzinskaya, who made an estimated $28 million in 2021 through ad revenue and brand deals. No wonder then that polling data revealed that over one-half of young Americans surveyed express the desire to be an influencer. To discuss the growth of this new economy, we’re joined by an expert who’s worked on the agency side, as well as an independent creative. Nick Wolny is the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. He also writes approximately 200 articles a year for Business Insider, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur magazine, among many others, as well as on Medium, and publishes a weekly email newsletter. Nick’s writing focuses on human behavior, media, and the LGBTQ economy. To discuss his life as a solopreneur and participation in the creator economy, Nick is joining us today from Los Angeles. Nick, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Nick, what led you to your career as a writer?

Nick Wolny: Well, it’s funny that now I’m doing mainly writing, because my background could not be more opposite from what I’m doing today, which I think is probably a lot of people these days, actually. My background is that I went to music school – I went to school for classical music. I have two degrees in classical French horn, which is quite unemployable as a degree as I soon discovered. But what was valuable in that is that in music school – or if anyone you know played a sport at an elite level growing up, anything like that – you focus a lot about practice and mastery of a craft or of a particular skill. There’s much more of an emphasis on developing skill, rather than just getting a piece of sheepskin that you can pin to the wall and tell everyone that you’re smart, right? Like you’re training to develop real-time applications. So when I started to get involved more and more in digital marketing, marketing consulting, in my foray into consulting was brick-and-mortar fitness studios. What we found is that working on copywriting and working on marketing strategies that were really writing-based yielded really good results. And I think that’s kind of countercurrent to what we often hear in marketing, which is the video is everything. Writing is still cool. Writing is still cool, everyone! And I think that the writing piece, what drew me to it as well is that writing is a craft. It requires practice. It requires skill and fluency, having a way with words, and developing a way with words. I also think what comes up a lot for us as professionals is that we think of ourselves as good writers or that we already can handle writing. Perhaps we wrote term papers or things like that in university. And then we go to write some content, and they’ve just started to fall flat on our face with that. Right? Like it is a skill, it’s a muscle to be developed. It atrophies when you don’t work on it when you don’t flex it or exercise it. And so all of the different modalities for creating marketing think writing is what really attracted me. And a lot of it’s based in that skill-building essence, yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, you write and publish around 200 articles a year. That’s a lot of content. How do you generate ideas?

Nick Wolny: Now, what I’ll say is I’m not a huge Gary Vaynerchuk fan. I understand that Gary Vaynerchuk is all about “be everywhere all the time.” I’ve kind of mixed feelings about that. He does say something though that I think is really valuable and he says is “Document, don’t create.” And I think what often happens when we get into content creation, particularly as this creator economy energy has really begun to surge, in our internet landscape, people get in their heads a lot about content creation and having to have it be especially rigorous with regard to research and making it more difficult than it needs to be. And so if you take the mentality of “document, don’t create,” just going in and capturing the things you’re already doing, the things you’re already saying with your clients, with your audience, with your peers, with your customers, that can be a really easy way to get into flow. You’re already pulling from your own expertise, your own experiences. If you just sat down and you spoke with a client about three recommendations for their strategy on Instagram, those three things that you just recommended, that’s content, you know what you’re doing with your clients and what you’re doing for your audience each day. Simply the documentation of that can often be the easiest way to break loose with regard to being more prolific with content creation.

Adrian Tennant: Well, with that many articles to publish across multiple outlets, what does your content planning process look like?

Nick Wolny: For writing for different publications or writing on Medium, or perhaps even my personal email list, the first thing that we look at when we want to separate out the different types of content is we look at what the verticals are going to be for these different publications. so for me, writing for different media outlets, what I’m going to write for Entrepreneur magazine is obviously going to be squarely in the field of entrepreneurship, solopreneurship, WANTrepreneurship! A lot of Entrepreneur magazine’s readership is people who are not yet entrepreneurs, but they want to be someday, right? They want those more entrepreneurial tips, but they are still an employee, or if you’re a manager or an executive. That’s fine. And then you have an outlet like Fast Company, which is going to be much more focused on creativity, innovation, productivity, and new approaches to classic problems. and so we first look at that, that kind of helps me determine what I’m going to write for which outlets. And also, I think more importantly, what content is not going to work for certain outlets, and how I need to be planning that accordingly. The other big piece is I want to make sure that I don’t, fry myself, right. It’s a lot of articles! I get that it’s a lot of articles. and so in terms of pacing it to ensure that I don’t get stacked up with too many deadlines in a given week, for example, I’ll plan, maybe three to four weeks ahead at most, just so that I can keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the internet and in the creator economy landscape. looking specifically at what do I have to complete each week? What has to be turned in by a certain time? What deadlines are flexible and which deadlines are not flexible? for anyone who’s pitching media on a regular basis, anything like that, something else that I try to do with editors is once I’ve developed a rapport with an editor pitching multiple articles at once. Saying, “Hey, I’m planning out my quarter. here are eight article ideas that I have, and here are the deadlines that I would project having them done by. do you like this? Should we proceed in this way? Are any of these a ‘yes.’ Are any of these a ‘no’?” And almost every single time, the first thing the editor will say is ” thank you for doing this so that we have some semblance of planning.” And then the other piece is, “okay, let’s do it, let’s make it happen.” And so that kind of forms the skeleton of my editorial calendar and my content planning. What are the things that have non-negotiable deadlines? Those things come first. And then I will build some of my other writing efforts around those deadlines to ensure that I don’t have a week where I hate my life with regard to how much stuff is due by Friday afternoon.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re the founder and CEO of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. What inspired you to start the business?

Nick Wolny: So the first thing I’ll say is that I think there is a shift happening in the creator economy and online entrepreneurship landscape. Historically, we’ve had a lot of activity happening at the opposite ends of the spectrum. You have a lot of people who are doing low-ticket, online courses, tripwires, other information products that are low in price, you get to whet your appetite a little bit in terms of learning about someone in particular. We look at platforms like Udemy or Skillshare or Masterclass that have really exploded over the last couple of years with these low-ticket, information product-style offers. So you had a lot of activity happening there, and then you have a lot of activity happening at the very high end, right? Done for you services, agency services, one-on-one coaches, business coaches, VIP days, lots of intense one-on-one activity for a higher price point. And historically, there’s been kind of a gap in terms of that group program experience or having an accelerator experience where you’re working on the business, or you’re working on growing your platform and you want some handholding. But you don’t need someone to feed you the baby food with a spoon, right? You’re just wanting a little bit of guidance. you can ride the tricycle or the bicycle with the training wheels on it, but you want someone to push you along the way. Adrian, I’m seeing how many analogies I can smash into this one response! So the idea of that, and in my experience as well with regard to digital marketing, is that it would either be these lower ticket courses or it was these higher-end copywriting or digital marketing build-out services. And I wanted something in between, that people were saying that they wanted my eyes on what they were doing. They wanted a small, intimate community of people like them who are at a similar stage of business to where they are. So Camp Wordsmith, it’s intended for coaches, consultants, and creators. It’s a business and writing incubator. So we focus on writing, improving your output of writing, but at the end of the day, we want that content to drive toward an offer of some type. There’s a lot of writing energy online that is a little bit more influencer-focused or perhaps, you know, even like having an online diary and there’s not enough conversation happening about how written content leads to sales: how written content leads to landing more clients, making more money, being able to measure your content marketing efforts effectively Right? We want that feedback. We want those metrics. and so having an incubator, having a group program container that is specifically writing focused, that’s the intention of the program. it also speaks to my music school background. My experience was always that when I went to summer camp for music, I was there with other people who were working on getting better, together. Even if people play different instruments and they were taking different classes over the course of the summer, whatever. People were there to get better together, you loved being there, there was a rapport and you were improving your craft, your skillset that you were there to work on. And so that’s really the spirit of the business as well.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Well, when we talk about the creator economy, many of us, think of influencers, YouTubers, Instagram, and TikTok, but there are also platforms for writers. Now, before we get into those, what do you see as the main differences between the so-called “gig economy” and the “creator economy?

Nick Wolny: I think there’s a lot of crossover between the two of them. Probably the biggest difference I see is that if someone is pursuing the creator economy, they need an audience. With the gig economy, you don’t necessarily need an audience, right? You can go on Fiverr. You can go on Upwork. People make good money on Upwork, right? If they have a very niche skillset, that’s in demand. And even LinkedIn recently announced that they’re going to be building out a freelancers’ platform, a jobs platform within LinkedIn itself. With those different platforms, you don’t need to necessarily have an audience, you just need to have something that people want, a skill that people want to outsource, right? That’s the only prerequisite. If you have a track record, that’s certainly going to help. If you have a portfolio of past happy clients, that’s certainly going to help. But the need for a specific audience, that is reading about your methodology and your perspectives on a regular basis is not necessary to be successful in the gig economy. People are still going to order their Uber’s and their lifts, regardless of who’s driving. With the creator economy, on the other hand, you do have this need for an audience. You’re sharing a perspective, you are sharing an opinion. You are seeking out a lane and looking to be a presence in that particular niche. And then from that audience, from that engaged, critical mass of followers, that’s where you’re able to take it in wherever direction that you want to take it. Some people want to be influencers. They just want absolutely as many eyeballs as possible, and they want to then monetize the access to those eyeballs that’s totally fine. And you’ve got other people who are more in the space of what I like to call infopreneurs, right? That would be myself. Having people in my audience who want to do business similar to how I do business, or they want to learn something specific about writing or about email marketing, something very writing-based. And they’re gonna follow me for that. I’m a subject matter expert in their eyes for that reason. so they want to purchase something from me. They want to hand me some dollars, later on, my presence, my opinion, and my perspectives are part of what has led them to make that decision. Whereas with the gig economy, they just want their Uber so that they can get to the club at a reasonable hour, right? So I think that’s the biggest difference that I see at my end from a 10,000-foot view.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. January’s featured book is Myths of Branding by Simon Bailey and Andy Milligan. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code, BIGEYE20 –  that’s B I G E Y E 2 0. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free ebook offer. To learn more, visit our website at

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with writer Nick Wolny about the creator economy. Li Jin, a former Andreessen Horowitz venture capitalist, writes a newsletter covering what she terms the “Passion Economy.” Over the next decade, she predicts nearly everyone will be part of the creator economy. She’s written, quote, “everything will have a creator component of the job. All of us will have to adopt some of the skill sets and behaviors of creators to be successful,” end quote. So Nick, do you foresee people in every profession embracing virtual brand building and focusing on cultivating these audiences of followers?

Nick Wolny: Okay, so my initial reaction was, “I don’t agree with that.” the idea that everyone in every profession will be adopting some creator economy mechanics. That was my knee-jerk reaction, for sure. And the more and more I think about it, Adrian, the more that I think there will at least be some awareness of what creators do and what the benefit is from that. 2021 was all about great resignation, millions of people leaving their jobs. A year has elapsed. And those people are like, “oh, okay. You know what? I actually don’t like being unemployed either. So let’s go. So let’s go, let’s go back and get a job. This creator thing is actually really hard.” And so I think that both of those things will happen. We certainly see how people are becoming creators. There’s more interest in the creator economy and just the asynchronicity of online entrepreneurship. What I mean by that is that, if you build something the right way, you can dictate when you’re working and when you’re not working. A lot of my clients are new moms, or caregivers, you know, they have some sort of other time constraints that are preventing them from having the usual employee-driven, management-driven career. And so it’s an understandable solution for them. I guess also, I think the thing that comes up that has me hesitant about saying that everyone’s going to become a creator is that I think at the corporate level, companies still want to retain other companies. you’ve got the RFP process, you’ve got the proposals process. Sometimes it takes several months to close a corporate client. I just think that a corporation is going to use an RFP in order to contract an agency or an order to contract someone else, and there’s that process in place. I have a hard time buying the personal brand of an individual will have more weight than the brand or the reputation of the company itself. I just don’t see it, perhaps the initial introduction happens through an individual’s personal brand, but usually, you know, it’s, it’s squarely B2B. Companies are going to hire and retain other companies and the brand of the company that’s being hired, the reputation, the portfolio that will matter. so perhaps you could say that some of the principles of the creator economy would apply to the company’s brand. but in terms of, you know, whether it will rely on individual creators, I don’t know that that’s completely true in that landscape. The last thing I’ll say here is that Gen Z kicks all our butts in terms of creator ability level, and even this idea of the creator side hustle, this idea of poly work, this is the new term for having a portfolio career or having a day job and a side hustle. I think that gen Z grew up with it. They were reared on it from their teenage years. They are very good at creating content on these emerging platforms. They’re better than the rest of us in most cases. And so I think that how they navigate their twenties and how they navigate being in the workplace. I think we’ll see more creator economy side hustle energy in the future, for sure.

Adrian Tennant: In addition to the publications I mentioned in the intro, you also write on Medium, which is a platform specifically for writers. There’s also a paid newsletter platform called Substack on which top earning writers can reputedly earn more than half a million dollars a year from reader subscriptions. Now, Nick, I know you think Substack is terrible yet you’ve said that its current popularity reveals the psychology of aspiring creators. Could you explain how that is?

Nick Wolny: Yeah. I think for a lot of aspiring creators, how they choose their value proposition or how they choose their platform is that somewhere put some arithmetic in front of them and they say, “Look, how easy this will be, just start a paid newsletter. And you’ll be able to have this monthly recurring revenue that happens on autopilot. And all you need to do is write.” And the aspiring creator is like, “oh, I love that idea. I love the idea of monthly recurring revenue.” And I think that they make a decision based on that, rather than learning about all of the different potential interpretations of making money online and the pros and cons of each, and what might actually work for them. If you’re someone who’s creating content and you want to get paid for that content creation, paid newsletters are one of the tougher sells in my experience. I just think… call me forceful, but I just want to get the money upfront! You know what I mean? And I think there’s also a challenge of you have to produce constantly. If you stop producing, you’re immediately dead in the water. You’re right. I don’t love Substack. my gripe about Substack as a platform. Is that, you know, from a tech perspective, MailChimp was doing this 20 years ago. What they’re doing is not new or original. They’ve just integrated Stripe into a basic email service provider. And you can’t do personalization tags. You can’t do automations. There is no built-in audience. And so people say, “Oh, I’m going to write on Substack and it gets published.” Okay. Who’s going to see that? Let’s remember that getting in front of new eyeballs is one of the most important pieces, if not the most important piece to surviving and thriving as a creator: you’ve got to optimize for new eyeballs and Substack doesn’t really enable or allow that. You’re just going to be screaming into a void. So I think from all of that, you know, what I will say about Substack is that it made email cool again. And so I’ll take it because I’ve been over here being lame for years and years on the email marketing side. And now all of a sudden, everyone is like, “Ooh, a private email newsletter. Well, that’s revolutionary. Ooh, Ooh. I love that. Yes!” You know. and I think in this social media landscape, you’ve got more censorship happening. You have more algorithm-based moderation happening that is not always accurate. For example, I have a sex therapist-client who really can’t talk about the most compelling parts of her IP on Instagram, because too hot for IG. You know what I mean? It’s talking about those things even from her medical credentials, a robot on Instagram declares it inappropriate content and shadowbans her. You know? And so I think that people are thinking more about private email newsletters from that perspective. But I just want to be clear on the record that email newsletters are not new. Substack is not revolutionary in that way. And also that if you’re going to take that much time and create that much content, put together a mini-course or something instead that’s 50 bucks, you know? Create the content once and get paid for it over and over and over again. And you might be surprised like if you just take the time to do that, then that will actually be much more lucrative in the long run than trying to beg and plead for the $3 a month, $5 a month, $7 a month subscriptions.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Nick, you’re not only an accomplished writer, you also pass on your expertise to others through Camp Wordsmith’s courses and educational materials. What are the most common reasons why people enroll in your writing courses?

Nick Wolny: So, within Camp Wordsmith, we teach what we call the Four M Framework. What this does is that it helps you get clear, not only on the process of writing quickly and well, but also why are you writing? What is the objective of taking time out of your day? That you could be spending watching Netflix or hanging out with your kids, or doing something at work, and actually staring at a blank Google document and write it. You don’t like what’s the driver there, right? So our framework that we teach, it’s a Four M Framework. We start with Method, which is talking about what is your offer? What are you driving people to? Why are people giving you money? What are they walking away with? Let’s get really clear on that and extract those specific pearls of wisdom because that’s going to be laced into your content writing. Then you would talk about the Mechanism. Okay, if people are going to pay you, how are they going to do that? Why are they going to do it? Why are they going to do it now? And not tomorrow? Then we talk about Marketing. That’s the third M probably anyone listening to this podcast is really clear on what that consists of. Getting clear on where you’re going to be. What is the top-of-funnel strategy? What is the middle-of-funnel strategy, when people already know your name and they’re considering you? What is the bottom-of-funnel strategy? We encourage people to launch every month, even if you only have one offer, even if you are an agency executive or manager, what’s the offer? What’s the promotion this month? What if you launched the same thing every month for a year? What would happen? How much better would you get at that process? And then the fourth piece, the fourth “M” is Management. So we can jump up and down all day about all of this theory, you can put together a real sexy editorial calendar for the next three months of everything you’re going to post on Facebook and LinkedIn and all that stuff. but then it’s actually executing on it and ensuring that that content is at a high enough level of quality, that you’re not completely destroying yourself and setting these really, really high expectations. And then just talking a big game and not actually getting things done. That’s a management issue. I think that comes up a lot for people. People are quite good at coming up with ideas about content, but then when it goes to actually creating the content, that’s where we usually hit the skid and so people either enroll in our courses or they enroll in the full Camp Wordsmith program because they want to ensure that the strategy is in place, but then they also need some help, some support, and some accountability with the implementation. And I’m not this person that says “Go on a writing retreat, go off for a couple of weeks and write your masterpiece.” We don’t have time for that. We’re in a pandemic. Most of us have jobs that are fully spilled over into our day-to-day lives, right? Like work-life balance is totally out the window. Godspeed to anyone listening to this who has children and has been navigating all this chaos the last couple of years. You know, usual productivity advice of block everything out and write your masterpiece, that’s not available for the vast majority of us. And so this is a methodology that is much more along the lines of, “Oh, I’m going to chip away at something throughout the week.” ” Oh, I’ve got 30 minutes between meetings. I’m going to work on this article or work on this email newsletter and pick right back up where I left off.” We want to help people who are going to be writing in that way write more quickly and better than they currently are.

Adrian Tennant: You’re an incredibly prolific writer. In one of your courses, you introduce students to nine frameworks that can help guide writers through the creation of articles. Nick, could you talk us through just one of them and explain how you apply the framework in your own writing?

Nick Wolny: Yeah, so I am very basic. I have nine frameworks that I rotate, in terms of article output, just different skeletons, different topics, different types of articles. There are probably more than nine as well. You know, I don’t write fiction. I don’t do a ton of storytelling. These are mostly tactics-based articles, articles focused on SEO, things like that. exhibiting thought leadership. The one that I think is probably the most popular and the most often cited, or even the one that we see a lot in day-to-day media, I call it the Popularity Piggyback. And the essence of this article template is that you’re being a little more name droppy in your headlines, in the lede of an article, which is kind of the opening section, the opening paragraphs that are going to hook your readers. You’re talking about something that they’re already familiar with. It could be a celebrity, it could be a company, it could be a number of other things, just something that’s already popular. A classic example of this is, “What Bill Gates eats for breakfast every day and what it says about morning productivity” or something like that, right? Because there is an essence of familiarity or something happening in the news in the headline, that gets us over one of the most important humps of written content: headline construction. And actually having people click through from the headline and enter our world and enter our article and stay. Now, one of two things happens from the Popularity Piggyback and this is where we try to distinguish. You have one category of people, which is just writers, who are trying to go viral. they are bloggers. they’re the people who are first to market on Twitter, with very witty stuff. And so some people are reacting to what’s going on in the news, or they are name dropping a celebrity or a CEO or a famous company or a famous brand. And then they give away all their thought leadership. They leave it all on the table. They just spend the whole article talking about that person or that thing, which is journalism. It’s not thought leadership, it’s journalism. You’re just talking about someone, some other experience that happened. How we teach the Popularity Piggyback is that you’re piggybacking on the authority and familiarity and, recognition of this particular brand or celebrity or person. And then you’re using those circumstances to bring it back to your own IP and your own thought leadership. So, here’s a good example. I had an article do really well on Entrepreneur last year. So Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have the same favorite book and so that article title was something about what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s favorite book says about storytelling in business, something like that. And their favorite book for both of them, Warren actually loaned it to Bill, it’s called Business Adventures. And so it’s just a series of New Yorker articles about companies that had different things come up. And so I tell that quick story, but then I connect that back to my own personal thought leadership, and why the reader should be listening to me, why they should follow me, why they should hang out on my email list, you know, just bringing that back to your own IP and your own thought leadership is going to be so much more effective in persuading people to continue to want to follow you or follow your company and click on everything that you publish moving forward because they had a really good experience when they were reading that initial article. Yeah. So that one’s called the Popularity Piggyback. It’s controversial, but I think if you do it right, it can really get traffic moving in your written content strategy.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, I’m curious. Have you trialed any of the artificial intelligence-assisted writing tools out there? And what do you think about that output?

Nick Wolny: There are so many of these tools coming out lately. Oh my gosh. Adrian, am I going to be out of a job? So let’s do a hair of background. For media outlets that are responsible for just pumping out tons and tons of content in order to get that display ad revenue up, they are kind of the industry leaders in A.I.-produced content, the Washington Post was one of the first ones. Of course, this happened after Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. What’s the first thing they did? They built a robot. The robot’s name is Heliograph and the robot produces dozens and dozens of articles a day. It’s mostly about very small, niche things like recaps of high school football games and stuff like that. So anything that’s just completely transactional, no opinion or analysis required. I think A.I. has a lot of exciting opportunities there, but I also think as the general public catches on to reading articles written by robots, their tastes will change. Their palettes will change. They will more actively seek out opinion and analysis and depth, which I don’t think A.I. will be able to provide for years and years. And so, In terms of what I think about their output. I think it’s inevitable. we’re headed in that direction. and I don’t think it means that written content is dead. I just think it means that your audience is going to change, your audience is going to care more deeply about the rigor and the thought and your opinion within your own content. Particularly as this more superficial, canned copywriting begins to become more mainstream.

Adrian Tennant: Nick If listeners would like to learn more about you, your writing, or Camp Wordsmith, where can they find you?

Nick Wolny: You can find me at my website, I’ve got a free download we talked about earlier about those nine article templates. We have those available as a free PDF along with a walkthrough video. So if that’s interesting to you, you could download it off the site. On my list I occasionally promote Camp Wordsmith, we do it about once a month and people can decide whether they want to hear more about it that particular month or not. And then for Camp Wordsmith itself, gives you a splash page where you can go and get a high-level overview of the program, what it consists of.

Adrian Tennant: And of course, we’ll provide links to all of those resources in the transcript for this episode. Nick, thank you very much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Nick Wolny, the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. You’ll find the transcript for this episode with links to the resources we discussed today – including Nick’s downloadable guide with nine article frameworks – on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant –  until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Bigeye’s senior strategist Dana Cassell joins us to kickstart the new year and our ninth season of the podcast. Dana discusses the importance of auditing all a brand’s assets and explains Bigeye’s five-step process. Learn why brand audits start with internal branding, move to external branding, and need to incorporate customer experience. Dana offers advice on determining which KPIs managers need to monitor to track a brand’s health. Download the Bigeye Guide to Conducting a Brand Audit.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Dana Cassell: A brand audit starts with internal branding, moves to external branding, and then also involves customer experience. Most important is having someone on the team who can identify what to measure and then convert the data to insights.

Adrian Tennant:
You’re listening to the first episode in the ninth season of IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Whether you’re a regular or listening for the first time, thank you for joining us today.

Over the past two years, many of us have had to adapt to new ways of working, shopping, and connecting with one another because of the pandemic. Supply chain issues, leading to shortages of some goods, have presented challenges for sellers and buyers – and for the agencies responsible for crafting advertising that connects consumers with brands. Cable and network TV viewership has been declining for a while with streaming services becoming the new normal especially among younger generations of consumers. Taking an audience-focused, strategy-led approach to marketing communications means understanding the underlying beliefs and behaviors of brands’ target audiences, and devising ways of connecting with them wherever they are geographically, as well as attitudinally. But strategy work also encompasses information about brands themselves: how they’re perceived, their competitors – and considers how to grow their market share. Ensuring that we start 2022 on the right track, my guest today is well-known to those of you who listen to IN CLEAR FOCUS regularly.

Dana Cassell is a seasoned brand strategist and self-confessed media junkie. Since 2003, she’s worked in marketing for media brands, including Disney, the Orlando Sentinel, and Bright House Networks, as well as SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, and Orlando Health, among many others. Dana holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Temerlin Advertising Institute at Southern Methodist University and a Master of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. Today, Dana is Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. She also teaches courses in marketing, advertising, and sales, and regularly speaks to professional groups about brand management and digital marketing. Dana, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Dana Cassell: Thanks. Thanks for having me back. Adrian. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s start with some definitions. First, in the context of marketing communications. What is strategy?

Dana Cassell: Yeah, I think of strategy really as a definition of direction and scope. So, it’s more concrete than a vision. It’s informed by the past but focused on the future and it’s all-encompassing. So strategy is for everyone in the organization, all partners in the organization work with it, and no one on the team works outside of the strategy. And the last feature that I think of with strategy is that it’s semi-permanent so it’s not going to change as the wind blows, but it’s flexible to be amended over time. So really direction plus scope is how I think about strategy.

Adrian Tennant: So, Dana, what does your role as Bigeye’s Senior Strategist typically entail?

Dana Cassell: I’m usually brought in pretty early in engagements, which is lovely. And it’s usually about understanding the current state of affairs with our client’s business. So the first thing that I might do is just step into some conversations about what’s been happening, what they’re trying to do. If they have problem areas, what those are, or what they’re trying to grow, what opportunities they see, and then defining the direction and the scope of the marketing tactics that I believe will be the most effective at answering those business objectives. So some of the tactics that I participate in in the process are participating or leading discovery sessions. I also look at a lot of analytics along with the media team and create strategic planning statements out of those analytics. And I participate in conversations about audience definition and then work on defining key performance indicators a lot. So that I think is something that happens pretty frequently – that I’m part of figuring out how we’ll measure the success of whatever we’re working on. Sometimes I’m brought in to work on messaging documents, so I’ll partner with the creative team and the writers at the agency to make sure that the messaging really lines up with the strategic direction. And my favorite strategic work really happens when I have an opportunity to really clearly tie together our client’s current business opportunities with a real clear direction and scope for whatever project we have. That’s like the tidiest time, you know, when I get to come in early enough that I can really just get in the beginning of the project and set that scope and direction. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I love when it does.

Adrian Tennant: Dana, how do you define a brand?

Dana Cassell: So I think about a brand being all the features of a business that makes it what it is. So that would be things like visible features like logos and colors. Or messaging features like key phrases and taglines. And then also I include things that are totally intangible components, like culture and vibe and all of that together is the brand.

Adrian Tennant: It’s a phrase we use a lot, but I think it can mean different things to different people. How do you define brand strategy?

Dana Cassell: So two answers come to mind with this. One is more philosophical, which is the way I think about what a brand strategy is, and the other is more tactical, like what actual work we’re asked to do when clients are using the phrase, brand strategy. So when I hear clients coming, needing a brand strategy, saying those words, most commonly they’re referring to the architecture of how the company and its products are named and work together. So the architecture is what they’re implying and that might be a leading brand strategy or an endorsing brand strategy or having a branded house. So, many times when clients talk about a brand strategy, that’s what they’re looking for. And there’s something that’s happened inside the business that is producing this inquiry – like they’re acquiring another company or they’re changing their name, or they’re launching a new product line, or they’re creating a holding company above their current assets. So something strategic like that’s happening in the business, and now they need a brand strategy to support that new business structure. And I love those projects! Those are like puzzles and that happens a lot. And usually, the reason that clients might come to us for something like that is they’re really close to the business. And, these are sometimes emotional decisions, like if we’ve acquired another firm and we’re trying to figure out how to rename. So sometimes clients really just need a third party to help think through a strategic direction for moving forward that can, understand, but not let those emotional things influence, the decision that we’re making. So another way we use the phrase brand strategy, like the more philosophical approach is it’s usually a document that encompasses all of the marketing components we think of being necessary for communicating on behalf of a brand, like a high-level definition of our objectives, a clear understanding of our target market audience personas, a positioning statement, all the identity components, and the messaging strategy. So you can kind of think of brand strategy in a couple of different ways: either that tactical, more hierarchy strategy, or the collection of communications components that together make up everything we need to communicate on behalf of a brand.

Adrian Tennant: The start of the year is as good a time as any for brand owners and managers to review the previous year’s performance and to set goals for the year ahead. A brand audit can be a helpful tool here. Dana, could you walk us through what a brand audit involves?

Dana Cassell: Sure. A brand audit – it can be a really in-depth process – it kind of depends on a client’s tolerance for our digging, and how much they really want to learn. So at its deepest level, a brand audit starts with internal branding, moves to external branding, and then also involves a customer experience audit. So, what we think about for internal branding are things like mission, vision, values, any kind of internal brand communication, internal communication strategies. And then external branding are all those visual things like logos and print and marketing materials, PR, your website, your social media presence, all your digital platforms, any kind of content that you have. And then we like to include the customer experience of course because that includes the sales process, that conversion optimization, any kind of customer service or retention. So if we’re really kind of digging deep in a brand audit, we look through all three of those layers to understand what’s happening internally, externally, and with our customers.

Adrian Tennant: What are some key areas that brand managers need to take into consideration during an audit?

Dana Cassell: So really understanding what you’ve currently been doing. And I think what’s important here is without expectation of its judgment, you know, just what have we been doing, whether it’s been working or not, being honest about whatever current strategy we have or don’t have – and understanding the way that the team has been working, both structurally, like who is the team that manages the brand inside the organization? And then what are they measuring? So what have they been working on and how have we been measuring the success of those efforts? And then, of course, any kind of data and analytics. So what has that team been looking for? What do we know about our customers? What do we know about our communications tactics? All of that’s really important and sometimes the answers to these feel a little embarrassing or painful, like, “Ooh, we haven’t been tracking that or looking at.” That’s okay! I think a great brand manager gets comfortable with admitting where their opportunities or failures, so I think that’s great. And then really the funnel. We’ll talk a lot in strategy and in media about where are we working in the funnel? And several of the thoughts I have around our conversation today really depend on where in the funnel we’re looking to improve, but do we understand our marketing efforts as they relate to a conversion funnel? And what have we been working on in that funnel? And has that been working? So maybe that’s like a real concise answer to that question. Where in the funnel are we working? What have we been trying to do? And has it been effective? And I think if brand managers are really trying to conduct a brand audit, they have to think about those external pieces too. So that’s also understanding what our competitors have been up to, and that can get into a brand audit too, is really seeing what else is happening in the market at the time – and how our brand is positioned independent of our competitors. And then when you throw everybody together, how are our brands positioned and how distinctive it feels. So I think those external factors are really important, too. And when we do that, we think a lot about the words that we’ve been saying, the key phrases, and, what’s nice about an audit is that you can look back in history and throw everything out on the table and find those common threads. What of the things we’ve been saying over the last couple of years – is that consistent? What have our key messages been like? There’s a lot a brand manager can do in an audit. I think honesty and transparency, and just having a little bit of a thick skin is important.

Adrian Tennant: Dana, where does responsibility for brand management typically lie in a medium to large organization?

Dana Cassell: Yeah, that’s a great question. We often see it in the marketing department. Sometimes there’s a key stakeholder that’s a brand manager. Sometimes it lies at the C-suite level. And, sometimes maybe that’s where the problems for brand management come from – is that it’s being held by someone who doesn’t actually have the tactical responsibilities for it on their plate, nor should they at that level. Sometimes it also lies with product line managers. So I’m thinking of some of our clients for brand strategy from ’21, and we have let’s say, a new product line with an organization that’s launching, and that person who’s launching the product holds the brand for that product. So you can kind of already see where the issue comes from there is that they’re really thinking about a vertical component of the organization rather than the holistic brand. So it can kind of be anywhere, Adrian, and I think sometimes too, this is kind of a sneaky place that brand sometimes lies, which is in HR and internal communications. So sometimes you have a really strong writer or communicator inside of the HR team and they’ll be influencing some of those internal pieces, like mission, vision, values, and internal comm strategy. So it could be divided.

Adrian Tennant: I think it was around the beginning of the 1980s that interest in the financial value of brands really took over. A new word entered the lexicon – brand equity. Do you think that’s still as important today, in 2022, as it was 40 years ago?

Dana Cassell: Well, I don’t think it’s as much of a point of distinction as it was 40 years ago, because everybody’s doing it now. So I think it’s as important because if you don’t have it, you’re really on the outside of what’s happening in the marketplace. But I don’t think it’s going to be as strong of a differentiator as it likely was for some people in the eighties. So when you were doing it well in the beginning, that was a point of difference. It’s not always the same. There are certainly some categories where a strong brand strategy still makes somebody an outlier. It can be a point of difference, but I think it’s just more of a requisite now than it was in the eighties. And I also think two things about brand equity that are really important in ’22, which I think we named in ’21 and important for brand strategy – and I just think they’re really continuing – are authenticity, empathy, and inclusion. So brands that lack any of those three things, equity is just right out the window. So I think a brand is really important right now, particularly important to be authentic and clear, and transparent. To actually have empathy, but then also as importantly, communicate their empathetic platform or philosophy, and then a sincere commitment to inclusion.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Seth Segura: I’m Seth Segura, VP and Creative Director at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we capture valuable data about people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and guide our creative briefs. Clients see them brought to life in inspiring, imaginative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. January’s featured book is Myths of Branding by Simon Bailey and Andy Milligan. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code, BIGEYE20 –  that’s B I G E Y E 2 0. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free ebook offer. To learn more, visit our website at

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s senior strategist, about conducting brand audits. What framework, if any, do you find the most useful when conducting brand audits for clients?

Dana Cassell: I really like starting with that clear understanding we talked about. This usually happens on the heels of a discovery meeting, but having the leaders of the organization sit down and just kind of spill what’s happening, that’s incredibly important. And the faster we can get to a level of trust where that comes out, the better a brand audit goes. So it’s kind of working through a SWOT if you want to think about it in MBA terms or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. If we can have that conversation and really get everything out on the table, the brand audit forms itself from there. So, if we start with that clear conversation, the next step in the framework I like to do is a collateral review. And my favorite way of doing this, which has been harder in our Zoom age is to throw everything literally on a table and look at it together. So finding all the collateral that’s been used since our last big branding effort and putting it out and kind of digging through it visually. And often, you know, we’ll wind up in the office with all of that on a wall somewhere, as we work through the project. And then the sort of the same thing with a digital platform review. So I really like to go and look at what’s been happening online related to that client. It’s interesting, you can ask somebody, “What are your digital platforms?” And they’ll give you maybe eight. And there’s never just eight. You know, people forget how much there is about our business that’s online that we actually don’t have control over. So, looking at the client-held digital platforms and then also everything else that exists about them online. And then, one of my favorite components is an analytics review. So usually the media team and I’ll look together at the analytics that are currently happening with the customer on those digital platforms. And then if a client has it well and can deliver it, poring through customer and sales data. The first component is the conversation, and then from there, it’s really a lot of review and reading. And then after that, we work through those steps of internal, external customer service, and then move into conclusions and presentation mode. That’s the framework we usually use.

Adrian Tennant: It feels very right brain, left brain. So there’s some analytical work there, but there’s also some creative writing and synthesizing what you’ve learned. 

Dana Cassell: Absolutely. And this is like my sales pitch for why strategy is a great position as you get to use each piece of your brain and tell stories and there’s a lot of learning and listening involved before we do speaking. And I think, the older I’m getting, the more I realize it’s a great approach to life in general, but certainly, a really, I think, high-quality way to do business is to really listen to our clients and their clients. And then hear the story from what we’re hearing.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of brand-related measurements or key performance indicators are most helpful for brands to track on an ongoing basis?

Dana Cassell: So we hear a lot about what KPIs people have been tracking related to the brand, and those will be things like search volume, direct traffic, social reach, subscriber numbers or unsubscribes, lead volume, lead quality scores, or all manner of conversion rates and customer acquisition rates and costs, average purchase. But what I think is more important than this master list of KPIs that speak to brand measurement, is having someone on the team that can identify the most important KPIs that tie together the current business objective with the campaign that’s planned, and then being able to look at that data and tell a story. So somebody who can identify what to measure and then convert the data to insights. And in my opinion, having a handful of highly accurate and relevant data sets is the most useful for telling a story. 

Adrian Tennant: How do you typically communicate the results of a brand audit to clients?

Dana Cassell: Yeah, this is always a fun day for us! It’s usually on a presentation and we start with what we heard – and that’s usually what that slide is titled, just “What we heard.” And that can take a long time because we’ve been listening so much. And then we offer up our observations from their current environment. So those collateral reviews, I mentioned, or digital environments. And then sometimes all of this is juxtaposed with their competitors. It kind of depends on the client and what we’re trying to do, but sometimes right after those observations, we’ll also have competitive observations. And then after we’ve done that, which is really a presentation of everything we’ve heard and observed, we’ll present our ideas about opportunities for growth, or if there are problems, what problems we see that need to be corrected.

Adrian Tennant: Dana, if listeners want to conduct their own brand audits, could you offer some tips on how to get started?

Dana Cassell: Sure. I mean, the first thing is I I’m going to say Bravo! for doing your own brand audit, ’cause I think that can be really hard. I think it’s often easier to bring a third party in that doesn’t have the attachment and can be objective, so I think it’s great that you want to do that. I think, for sure, having the posture of objectivity and finding the people on the team who can be the most objective through the process is really important. And then I would just say kind of go back to these tactics I mentioned, getting all the collateral together, putting it on the table, learning what you can learn, looking at your digital platforms, and also the things that are mentioned about your company online, that aren’t your platform, so that complete digital review. Also, looking through the analytics that you have available, and any customer sales data. So really poring through, reading, and listening. Those are the places to get started. And Bigeye has a downloadable guide that you could use – so we’re going to put a link in the transcript for the podcast to that, so if you want to do your own brand audit and kind of get moving, that’d be a great place to start.

Adrian Tennant: So far, we’ve been talking mostly about established brands. For brands that may be only a few months to a year old, do you think they benefit from brand audits or would you recommend taking a lighter approach?

Dana Cassell: I think a brand audit at a few months old is a good idea if you didn’t start with a brand strategy at all. So if we have, an incredibly energetic founder who kind of powered through the first few months, and now all of a sudden we’re in the marketplace with all this energy, but we didn’t consider brand, sure – it’s not too soon to do a brand audit. But if the brand strategy was on board in the development of the brand, then I think that a lighter approach is okay. And I think the first months to a year is a time to listen and learn. I think a frenetic approach to brand change can be very confusing and yield confusing data, actually. So if we are only a few months to a year old and we start making changes based on an audit, it can be hard to understand what the data is telling us because we’ve made too many changes. There’s not enough stability in the brand to produce reliable data. So a brand audit from a few months to a few years old, only if we didn’t start with a brand, which we know happens sometimes, because – what did Steve Jobs say? “The people who can change the world are the ones crazy enough to believe that they can”. So, sometimes all this great change is happening with brands because people have been a little careless with it from the beginning. So maybe at that point, we do a brand audit, but otherwise, I’d say let it sit and then measure and maybe at 18 months, start to think about an audit.

Adrian Tennant: Great advice. In addition to being a very busy strategist, you also teach marketing and advertising to college students. I’m curious, how do younger generations view the relationships between brands and our digital environment, particularly social media?

Dana Cassell: So most recently, I’ve been working with Gen Z. So right now that’s who’s in school, and really specifically working with them on social media and communication. So, it’s my observation that Gen Z expects to be able to use digital environments for two-way conversations with brands, which is really different than what I thought about brands and the digital environment when I was their age. It was definitely more of a one-way, like a robust website that has information for me. But this generation, for sure, sees digital environments as two-way conversation platforms with brands. And they’re also really incredibly good at spotting a lack of transparency or authenticity, and then unfollowing, blocking, hiding, and unsubscribing. So they’re not digital natives, they’re the children of digital natives. They are like double digital natives and there’s no confusion for them about what that digital environment can offer. And they have expectations related to all of that experience that’s just born into their life.

Adrian Tennant: The book, How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp has been hugely influential over the past decade or so informing how many strategists and account planners think about integrated brand communications. One of Byron Sharp’s key ideas is that in order to be successful in the marketplace, a brand needs to be “famous”, like a celebrity, conferring what he refers to as “mental availability” to the brand, which is achieved primarily through consistent exposure, for example, mass media advertising. Of course, it’s an approach that favors already well-established large brands. But Byron Sharp points out that a brand also needs to offer consumers convenient, physical availability of its products. So Dana, do you think this concept of both mental and physical availability still holds true for brand-building in today’s environment, where social media is a more significant channel than it was when How Brands Grow was first published in 2010? 

Dana Cassell: I think in today’s digital environment, there is a lot of room for small brands to be successful and stay small and call that successful. So like an understanding that not every brand has the end goal of being viral and massive, and our digital environment supports that. So there are wonderful ways to balance, let’s say, like a work-life for a small business owner, through successful digital communications. I also think there are big brands that are finding small, niche places to relate to target pieces like segments of their target market beautifully. So identifying that certain channels and digital environments are the right place to connect with certain customers. So I think in general, less of a mass approach and more of a nuanced, unique approach, and I’m definitely seeing a trend of brands connecting their digital tactics with their business objectives. So, not needing to be all things for all people all the time.

Adrian Tennant: Great. Looking ahead, do you foresee the role that strategy plays within agencies evolving?

Dana Cassell: Yeah, well, I’d certainly hope so because I would think any role in an agency that stays the same is falling behind. But more specifically, I would say I’m going to compare what I think will happen with strategy to what I saw happen with digital marketing. So when I started in digital marketing professionally in 2004, there was a few special people tapped on the head as the digital team, right? And as digital marketing grew, it became very clear that every organization within a marketing department had digital responsibilities. So the digital team didn’t go and help PR with digital PR, the PR team learned digital skills to incorporate in their portfolio. And, you know, so on and so forth across the marketing department. And it was kind of fun, you know, to have like digital siloed for a minute. And then it just got so heavy and all-encompassing that it was just very clear that everybody needed those skills. And so many organizations have done a great job to equip all marketing positions with their own responsibility for their digital tactics. So I think that’s probably where strategy is going within ad agencies, that there’s a responsibility for every department to have a strategic outlook. And that really started a long time ago. The creative team has always been highly strategic because they’ve been interested in influence, always, that’s been their role. I see it for sure in media – you know, our media team at Bigeye are my favorite people to sit down with a cup of coffee with because they have very similar brains as strategists. And I definitely think it’s moving into the account side. So, I think of the best features of account team members as being, conversational, empathetic, great listeners, wonderful communicators. And our team has been that for a long time. I am seeing our account managers increasingly have strategic questions that they come to me with on behalf of their brands or questions they’re asking their clients and then coming to me with some answers. So I think strategy is just going to continue to cross over and grow. And it’s a joy to really watch that happen because it means that our entire agency understands the importance of strategy as a campaign flows through each department.

Adrian Tennant: Well said. Finally, if listeners would like to learn more about the role strategy plays in branding, do you have any favorite books or podcasts you could recommend?

Dana Cassell: Sure. The way I like to learn about strategy is by listening to other people who are great strategic thinkers and can articulate the way they think clearly. So I have a couple of examples of that. This year, my pandemic crushes have been Adam Grant and Brené Brown. So if you don’t know either one of them, I encourage you to go find them. They’re both academics, who I think articulate strategy beautifully, and their areas of interest academically, are marrying data with storytelling. So I think, you know, we’ve talked a lot about that today. I’ve mentioned data to insights and storytelling and listening and storytelling. So I think really they’re both just incredible strategists. And I think you could learn a lot by listening to them. The podcast where you’ll find them, but also the podcast that I really like for learning more about strategy is NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz. He interviews people who’ve built some of our favorite brands and businesses, so I recommend it because you hear people tell strategy stories in retrospect. They’re looking back on how they did what they did, and sometimes they knew what they were. And other times they don’t, but either way you hear the strategy. So it’s really easy to learn. And, I think you might enjoy the Burt’s Bees episode, so if you haven’t listened before, that’d be a fun one to start with. And then also Adam Grant, and Brené Brown, both spoke at the How I Built This virtual summit this past summer. So their talks have been made into podcast episodes as well. So that’s NPR’s How I Built This.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent, great recommendations. Dana, thank you so much for being our guest again today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Dana Cassell: Thanks for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today, including our downloadable guide, on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant until next week, goodbye.

Creative & Production Direct-To-Consumer DTC Marketing Insights Website Development

As a Shopify development agency, we develop and enhance Shopify eCommerce stores for our DTC clients. Plugins give us an efficient way to customize our clients’ experiences and those of their customers. This customization translates into increased revenue and efficiency, equaling greater profits.

Shopify plugins make it easy for us to fully customize eCommerce websites for our clients, depending on their specific needs. They also give us the tools we need to easily implement new features that keep customers engaged with the brands. No matter what solution we’re searching for, we can typically find an app that does exactly what we need it to, which in turn cuts down the development time.”

Jenna Radomsky, Bigeye Digital Project Manager

Five essential Shopify plugins for eCommerce stores

Thousands of plugins can integrate with Shopify. That offers store owners plenty of choices. On the other hand, new eCommerce store builders may feel somewhat overwhelmed by all of the options.

Our eCommerce marketing agency gained experience with dozens of Shopify plugins to serve the unique needs of an array of clients. While our clients offer a variety of products and business models, they all have common goals of increasing profits, improving efficiency, and earning more profit.

We find ourselves frequently returning to many of the same trusted plugins to help clients meet their goals. That’s why we commonly suggest a handful of plugins to almost everybody.

Enjoy a brief introduction to our top five eCommerce plugins for DTC Shopify sites:


This email-collection plugin helps build subscription lists. In turn, eCommerce sites can send messages with order updates, upcoming sales, and new product announcements.

Klayvio allows audience segmentation and works with text messaging and email. For instance, it could send out a message through text or email about a sale on end tables to customers who have recently purchased a sofa.

Sales Motivator

What shopper doesn’t love free gifts? What marketing manager wouldn’t appreciate increasing customer order value?

With this plugin, eCommerce sites can encourage larger sales by offering free gifts based upon the total value of purchases in a shopping cart. Users can also select free gifts to enhance specific product purchases. For example, a shoe store might offer a free package of socks or upgraded shoelaces with the purchase of new running shoes.


Today’s customers look for user reviews to help with purchasing decisions. Yotpo can collect and display user reviews with images. Shopify recommends adding reviews to product pages because almost 95 percent of their own customers read them before buying.

Both buyers and search engines appreciate this kind of high-quality content. Plus, Yotpo lets website managers organize the reviews into attractive galleries that can add a social media experience to an eCommerce site.


Paywhirl gives eCommerce sites the ability to offer more purchasing options. Some examples include payment plans, subscriptions, and pre-orders. Offering customers more flexibility provides a competitive edge over competitors that neglect to give customers options.

For instance, BusinessWire recently reported that subscription revenues have increased over 400 percent in the past decade. According to surveys, customers like subscriptions that help them save money and provide them with convenience.


If customers only sell on Shopify or also accept orders from other channels, ShipStation keeps shipping organized and ensures customers and customer service can view their tracking codes. Some highlights of ShipStation features include:

  • The plugin can import orders from multiple channels, like Shopify, Amazon, or even a CRM.
  • Automation and scan-based workflows manage orders to ensure timely fulfillment.
  • The software can compare rates from various carriers and then print labels one at a time or in batches.
  • After the order ships, ShipStation sends tracking info to sales channels and customers.

Why consider these five Shopify plugins for a DTC eCommerce site?

As a DTC marketing agency, we do more than consult with our clients about external advertising and marketing. While site promotion matters, it can only bring people to the eCommerce site. The experience an eCommerce site offers visitors will close sales.

Besides making business sites more useful for customers, these plugins also make sales management more efficient. As sales increase, a more efficient website will help widen profit margins even more.

As a Shopify development agency, we work hard to design eCommerce sites that generate more revenue and lower operating costs. That’s how we bring value to clients and why they return to us as often as we return to these trusted plugins.

Creative & Production Insights

Even as an experienced brand marketing agency, we still suffer from nightmares of designing a logo so scary that it frightens away customers. Still, we make it a habit to study both wizards and trolls in order to benefit from experience and broaden our perspective.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we like to have a little fun looking at some gruesome logo mistakes. At the same time, we’re engaged in the very serious business of helping our clients build their brands. 

Frightful logo mistakes

Learn from these horror stories of bad logos to avoid summoning any monstrous creations.

Pre-2015 Verizon

John McWade of Design Talk commented on Verizon’s 2010 logo by saying it contained one checkmark too many.

Less generous designers called it the “all-time worst logo” because of that same oversized checkmark that Mr. McWade commented on. The checkmark distracted attention from the brand and gave it an unwieldy shape.

In 2015, Verizon made the wise decision to release a new logo, developed by Pentagram, a design powerhouse. The redesign reduced the size of the checkmark and moved it to the right of the company name, making the overall graphic less awkward.

In October of 2010, Gap replaced the well-known blue square with their brand inside with a logo that emphasized the brand name and had a small, blue spare intersecting GAP’s P. Customers hated it so much that the brand rapidly reverted to the original version within two weeks.

Gap learned that customers cared more about the brand’s image than even the company imagined. It’s a scary lesson, but at least the company learned that their customers felt invested. In 2016, they kept the brand in the logo, but they took away the blue square without facing backlash. This story emphasizes the importance of crowdsourcing opinions about a brand redesign for an established company.

Some reviewers of the NYC Taxi logo’s redesign called it a “Frankenstein,” so it certainly fits in well with a list of monstrous redesigns. The MTA isolated the T in TAXI and enclosed it in a black circle, surrounded by NYC on the left and “AXI” on the right.

They actually based the redesign upon a logical desire to avoid confusing the taxis with a subway route designated by a T. The problem centers on people’s first question when they see the new logo: “What is an AXI?”

In 2016, Uber’s new logo replaced the “U” for Uber with a character that looks like the mirror image of a C. The company called it a bit, and maybe they meant to represent the digital nature of their business. In time, they prudently reanimated their logo by using their brand’s wordmark.

2012 London Olympic Games

Host countries create logos to help represent their game’s unique brand identity. In the best cases, the logo represents both the games and the host city. The jarring image from London in 2012 looked more like a psychedelic trip to Berkeley in 1968.

They meant to produce a hip, modern image, but it simply looks jarring and out of place. The design appears chaotic, it doesn’t represent London well, and apparently, almost 50,000 London residents signed a petition to have it changed.

Design rules to keep logo redesigns from turning into slasher movies

As an experienced brand identity agency, we follow some simple rules to develop logos that offer our clients treats and no tricks. We know businesses seek us out to enforce a positive brand identity and not to frighten off customers or generate poor press. In particular, no company wants to invest in a new logo only to have to reanimate their old logo after several days, as Gap did in 2010.

With these rules in mind, avoid generating frightful logos:

  • People should see the logo and immediately understand what it represents.
  • Simple designs avoid distractions and help clarify the message.
  • Avoid awkward designs that make it difficult to place the logo on various media, like banners, packages, and business cards.
  • Use relevant and instantly recognizable symbols.
  • Look at other company’s logos to understand why they work or why they failed, but don’t copy them. Businesses need to build a strong brand identity and never have their logo confused with the branding of another company.

Established companies might also consider passing design ideas by a crowdsourced group of loyal customers. New brands can set up survey groups in their target market to find out how their future customers will react. As an Orlando marketing agency, we know that customers might not always be right, but what they think always matters.