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#95 Transforming Brand Narratives - A Masterclass in Strategic Evolution
Episode 9512th December 2023 • Jonny Ross Fractional CMO • Jonny Ross
00:00:00 00:30:10

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In this insightful episode of the Jonny Ross Fractional CMO podcast, we sit down with Jackie Bebenroth, a seasoned brand strategist and the Principal of Muse. Jackie brings over two decades of experience in transforming brand narratives and steering businesses toward success. We delve into the nuances of brand evolution, the power of storytelling, and the groundbreaking 'Productive Distancing' method.

Key Points Discussed:

  1. The Essence of Branding: Jackie begins by emphasising the importance of brand in business and how it serves as the heart of any enterprise.
  2. Storytelling in Brand Strategy: The conversation explores how stories evoke emotions and connect with audiences, underlining Simon Sinek's idea that people buy 'why' you do something, not just 'what' you do.
  3. Challenges in Brand Evolution: Jackie shares her experiences working with mid-sized and family-owned businesses, discussing the unique challenges they face during brand transitions.
  4. The Productive Distancing Method: This segment delves into Jackie's innovative approach to brand strategy, which helps businesses gain clarity on their value propositions and align their offerings with their core mission.
  5. Impactful Brand Narratives: The focus shifts to how brands can move from transactional relationships to transformational experiences, thereby creating deeper connections with their audiences.
  6. Branding in Food and Wellness: Jackie talks about her passion for the food and wellness industry and how she applies brand evolution strategies in these sectors.
  7. Implementing Brand Strategy: The episode concludes with insights into building a messaging platform and the continuous process of brand evolution.

Guest Bio:

Jackie Bebenroth is an award-winning brand strategist with a passion for creating impactful brand narratives. As the Principal of Muse, she has led brand transformations for various national and global brands, specializing in food and wellness industries. Jackie's approach is characterized by her unique 'Productive Distancing' method, which has been instrumental in reshaping how businesses perceive and approach their brand strategies.

Connect with Jackie Bebenroth:


Listen and Share:

Join us for this masterclass in strategic evolution and gain valuable insights into the transformative power of branding. Don't forget to subscribe for more episodes and share this podcast with others who might find it valuable.

Listen to the episode


Timestamps:

The importance of brand (00:01:14)

Discussion on the significance of brand in a business and how investing in brand can lead to increased sales over time.


The role of storytelling in branding (00:03:06)

Exploration of how storytelling helps substantiate claims, relate to the audience, and define the purpose behind a brand.


Pain points leading to brand rethinking (00:04:45)

Examining the pain points that initiate conversations about rethinking a brand, including declining sales and the challenges faced by family-owned businesses.


The importance of defining the category (00:13:36)

The speakers discuss the significance of clearly defining the category of a business and how it impacts brand evolution and decision-making.


Moving from transactional to transformational branding (00:15:08)

The conversation explores the shift from a transactional brand narrative to a transformational one, emphasizing the value of purpose and emotional connection in branding.


Creating a messaging platform (00:23:01)

The speakers explain the process of developing a messaging platform, including positioning statements, a messaging toolkit, and the importance of aligning messaging with visual identity.


The productive distancing method (00:26:15)

Discussion about the key to the productive distancing method and the importance of understanding the internal team's beliefs before focusing on external factors.


Challenges faced by family-owned businesses (00:27:21)

Exploration of the challenges faced by established brands and the need to build on the reputation and value within the company before making decisions based on external factors.


The forever evolving nature of brand evolution (00:28:32)

Highlighting the continuous evolution of brand strategy and the importance of constantly evolving and building on the central transformational point of the brand narrative.

Transcripts

Jonny Ross:

But go live. I hadn't. Yes. Hello and welcome. We are live. We live on LinkedIn, we live on YouTube and we are live on Facebook. We have Jackie Bebenroth with us. How are you, Jackie?

Jackie Bebenroth:

You got it. Hi, Jonny. I'm great. How are you? Yeah.

Jonny Ross:

Really good. Thanks so much for joining us. I know it's really early in the morning for you as well. Um, listen, welcome to the Jonny Ross Fractional CMO podcast. Today. We're thrilled to have Bebenroth join us. Jackie is not just an award winning brand strategist, but a visionary leader who has reshaped narratives and driven transformation in the branding world for over two decades. As the principal of Muse, Jackie has pioneered innovative strategies that have steered national and global brands toward unwavering clarity and success. Her approach goes beyond conventional branding, focusing on uncovering and evolving this core stores stories that drive business forward. Jackie's accolades speak volumes about her impact in the industry, her unique, productive distancing.

Jonny Ross:

So I think we're going to definitely step into today. The method has transformed how brands perceive and overcome their challenges, offering a fresh perspective on strategic brand development. So join us for an enlightening conversation that promises to reshape your understanding of brand strategy. Jackie, let's just start with how important is brand?

Jackie Bebenroth:

Brand is everything. I mean, it's the heart of the business. And so when we are working with new clients, the first thing that we're assessing is, uh, symptoms that actually show that their brand might not be, uh, up to par. So, for example, if, uh, we're looking at marketing metrics and we're looking at, uh, conversion rates that have hit a neutrality or have decreased over time, uh, if we're looking at a sales team that has been successful in the past, but suddenly over the last 12 months or so, their close rates have declined. Uh, one of the things we start to look at first and foremost is, is the message and the brand in line with what what triggers the purchase to begin with.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And so that is really where we believe the biggest difference can make when brands start to invest in their brand more often, they start to see that slow burn increase in their sales over time.

Jonny Ross:

Is.

Jonny Ross:

I often hear that it's all about telling a story. Is that something that falls very much into your take on branding, that it's getting across that story and and understanding? Or how important is the story part of the brand?

Jackie Bebenroth:

So the purpose of the story, from our perspective, is to incite a narrative and incite a, an emotion in someone. Um, so the reason to tell stories is, number one, to substantiate any claims that you're making. But number two, to relate to your audience in a way that truly shows them that you share their values. And, you know, there's the saying, uh, Simon Sinek actually said it. People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it. And the story really helps you define why you do what you do.

Jonny Ross:

So yeah, that that makes sense.

Jonny Ross:

Uh, I know you work with some, you know, extremely large scale corporations, uh, for example, Nestlé. Um, and typically you'd be working with um, divisions within that to, to, to work on brand, but also in terms of other, um, clients that you might be working with more mid-sized sort of 20 million to 100 million turnover, that sort of size. And you'd probably be working with the owner. What are the typical pain points that start this entire conversation? I know you mentioned that it might be sales teams that are not converting as much, I must say. By the way, I know, just ask a question, but bear with me. I must say that you know, sales to. I find sales teams will find any excuse in the book to be able to say, look, it's not our fault. There's something, there's something external. And my concern with this conversation is we we're yet again giving them another, uh, excuse. Oh, well, it's the brand, you know, we can't sell.

Jonny Ross:

It's the brand that's the problem. So, you know, I'm curious what you think of that, but also, what are the other pain points that typically start this conversation in terms of we need a new brand. We need to rethink our brand.

Jackie Bebenroth:

At the midsize level when we're working with owners, uh, one of my favorite types of clients to work with our family owned businesses. Uh, because the brand is typically going through a succession process, and the newer generation wants to come in and make their mark and have their own vision. While we we want to maintain the integrity of the older generation and all of all of the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into building that reputation. And so that in and of itself is a very unique evolution and a transition that requires a closer look at the brand to ensure that we're modernizing without completely compromising the equity and the reputation that has been built there. And I can say that's true for any business, family owned or not. And what'll happen with an owner? Circumstance is quite often the owner is so busy working inside the business that they they can't read the label on the jar.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Meaning, you know that analogy where it's like they're in there, they can't see it. And so from that perspective, um, again, it's a very these changes are time consuming. They're expensive, they're emotional. There has to be some semblance of a process, uh, to help that, that owners see the potential in the future more clearly. And so over time, my business has really worked to formulate a process with a series of techniques that allows that confidence and peace of mind, um, when making those big decisions. And we call that process productive distancing. And it's been very helpful. So from a midsize perspective, again, I mean, um, those are phenomenal clients to work with because of all the emotions involved. You know, when you have that ownership, when your name's on the door or however, um, you know, it, it can be, um, a process of letting go and to see clearly. Um.

Jonny Ross:

But yeah, yeah.

Jonny Ross:

It's not being able to see the wood for the trees, is it.

Jonny Ross:

And, and not needing to stand back. And in terms of, you know, the family business, um, where you're trying to save the, the heritage and the authenticity is the, is that can that sometimes be limiting or a bit of a struggle in terms of where you may have taken the brand?

Jackie Bebenroth:

Oh, you hit the nail on the head. And this is coming from someone where I have spent my entire career building stories and narratives for brands. And what'll happen, I think sometimes is that, uh, the heritage, um, the heritage is not the brand. And so it's important for us to help the owners read between the lines of their own stories and understand what about that story? Is connecting with an emotion or a value in the mind of your consumer? And that's where the brand, uh, that's where the brand should stand. Not in the story itself. The story itself is just a way to pique interest. But where you get affinity and loyalty is is where those what those brand values stand for inside that narrative.

Jonny Ross:

I know a lot of work that you do is in the, uh, food and wellness. That's a lot of experience that you've got. Um, but also, I'm very aware that, uh, you know, the strategies and the techniques that you use can be used across most industries and sectors, but particularly food and wellness. Was that just something that you sort of fell into, or was there some background as to why you ended up with food and wellness, and is there a particular. Uh, passion there.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So, of course, I mean, who doesn't have a passion for food? I mean, what a wonderful industry. I will say that on the food side, my husband is a is a restaurant operator. So I've been married for as long as I've had a career. So I've sort of grown up in the food business on the side. So I have the benefit of having that, um, couch side knowledge. Um, uh, but wellness is relatively new for us. I mean, we just really started specializing in wellness within the last five years.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And one of the things I love about working in that industry is because we work with businesses and individuals who are actively advocating for change. So wellness in and of itself requires some kind of behavioral change for the consumer. You're not just buying a product and if you are, it's probably not going to work like like really, truly, um, investing in your wellness not just requires money, it requires time. And that is a different type of buyer's journey. And so, uh, you know, being in the business of change with brand evolution, uh, being our specialty, we've actually applied some of the change methodology that we apply to brands internally. We've then applied that to transformational change for the consumer of the wellness brand, which has been super exciting work. And it's allowed me to really take a step back from traditional branding and focus on, um, behavior change, which is, uh, you know, something that's always part of marketing, but certainly in wellness.

Jonny Ross:

Nice, I like it, I like it a lot.

Jonny Ross:

Let's get let's dive into the, uh, productive, um, uh, distancing method, some of the strategies and techniques and just, you know, well, I guess, I guess probably as a starting point, you know, what is it? Um, and how is it going to help us in our brand evolution? Um, and, uh, and what where does it play a part?

Jackie Bebenroth:

Sure. So protective distancing is a series of techniques that clients who are going through the process of evolving their brand, um, they, they go they are led through this process with us, um, in order to get to a place of full clarity on the value proposition that lives inside their business.

Jonny Ross:

And which is.

Jonny Ross:

So important value isn't it. Yeah.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Yeah. I think it's important for, for especially marketing audiences to understand like what you think might be your true value proposition may not be. And the acceptance of that is the first requirement of productive distancing. Okay.

Jonny Ross:

Sounds good.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So once you've once you've maybe started to question is my is my true value proposition, uh, exactly what we claim it to be.

Jackie Bebenroth:

The next step is to start inside your business and ask a series of questions among your executive team and your employee base to identify their perception. Of the businesses unique value proposition. So we start this by doing a set of qualitative interviews with the executive team. And our goal is not to identify right or wrong answers, or to assess whether or not the executives are somehow connected to the marketing in any way. We really are just looking to understand, um, the strengths and inconsistencies in the brand narrative. And so we ask questions like, um. Tell us about if you were to describe your business, uh, at a backyard barbecue to someone who says, hey, what do you do? Where do you work? Like, how do you explain your business? And there's a couple of things that we look for in there. It's consistency in how they're describing the business and how they're describing what the business does. Um, and that in and of itself is a very interesting process. We get all kinds of different answers and inconsistencies.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So we bring that back to the decision making. Uh, the people who are responsible with the brand for the brand evolution and we say, look, um, you know, people are describing this business in many, many different ways. So let's first start by, you know. Within this committee making some decisions about what is the category of this business like muse. We're not an advertising agency. We're we're a branding firm specifically. Generally, we're a marketing firm. That is the category of business that we serve. You'd be surprised how many executive teams can't define what their category is. So that language is so important. And we don't go any further until we start there and we get some alignment.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah, it's worrying isn't it. But I guess, I mean, I'm really not surprised. Um, although I'd, uh, possibly wrongly assume the, the, the larger the organization, larger the corp, the, the more uh, people do understand the brand, but I but that could be a really bad assumption as well.

Jonny Ross:

And I just wouldn't be surprised in the, in the, uh, mid-sized businesses if that's the case. So you, you have this you sort of you identify what the value proposition is. You then see what the actual exact team believe it is, what the employees believe it is. You then find out that no one's saying the same thing. So what? So, so. And you take that back to the the committee. And what happens next, Jackie?

Jackie Bebenroth:

Well, quite often what we find. And I'll just share a common, um, one of the most common sort of symptomatic, uh, areas that we find, it's, it's this idea that people are focused on the transaction. Um, this is obviously very true with sales teams, but they're focused on this sort of transaction, like we sell this product, and then the we solve this problem and then we get money for it. And what happens when brands are operating inside that transactional narrative is that they become commoditized, uh, very easily.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So now you're competing on the essence of price. Um, there's not a whole lot. It's a very shallow kind of brand narrative, this sort of transactional. Um, we have this. You give us money, we, you know, we give you that. Um, so, so the next layer of conversation we start talking about, we we have this continuum. You start at this transactional, um, status quo. Brand evolution. When it's effective, it helps. Businesses and their teams get to a place of transformation. And that transformation is bigger than the product or service itself. And so that's where the true value proposition is. And it has to do with the purpose of the business. So that's one of the reasons we love working with wellness is because it's a very easy correlation between we will sell you this supplement and we are actually changing lives. Right. And so that changing lives narrative is then what is what we start to promote and prioritize in the brand, because that is ultimately the idea and the emotion that people buy into, and then they buy into the product second.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Right. So it allows brands to overcome this transactional mindset and get into the bigger picture. That is where you can elevate your price points. You'll have higher close rates, and you'll really stand apart from your competition by connecting with your audiences in a deeper way.

Jonny Ross:

So just talk to me more about some of the techniques to achieve that then. So you've taken the conversation to the the committee that you're working with. Um, you're trying to move from transactional, um, to something that's emotional and people can buy in. What are some of the techniques to to achieve that journey?

Jonny Ross:

Yeah.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So we have a hypothesis about what that transformational thing is. Uh, and if you're a fan of Simon Sinek, we, uh, often use the Golden Circle and this power of y idea, this framework. So we say, okay, you we've all defined now what it is we sell on a transactional basis, how we sell it differently from others. And here is what we believe. You're sort of y or purpose or greater transformational message to be.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And if that hypothesis sticks among the executive team, the next step is to really take a close, hard look at all those products and services and understand, do they align with that mission? Do they align with that greater message? Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they were just tacked on because it's like, well, why sell pineapples when we can sell apples and we need, you know, or maybe we had an acquisition so we bolted this product or service set on, but it really doesn't align with that greater good. And so this is where brand strategy really flows into the process. Because if if that product or service line isn't aligned, that is a red flag for us to say, okay, we're going to pull that out, put it over here for now, and maybe create a sister brand or a subbrand around it because, um, the it's compromising. It's it's like not it's compromising that message. Um, and so, uh, this, this concept of vetting and pulling out products and services, this is a very, very difficult, uh, for clients to wrap their heads around.

Jackie Bebenroth:

It's like reorganizing what it is you sell. Um, and that in and of itself is, like, very, very challenging for people to do so. So we get that buy in. That Buy-In might require us to go out to their consumer base and test that hypothesis. Many times we do that, we'll go out to the the consumer base and we'll say, um, you know, here are a set of value statements. Rank these, uh, as it relates to your perception of this business. And so we'll get some additional data to support that decision for that hypothesis. But ultimately, once they are convinced that that is where the potential of the brand lies, then we look at the we go back and, and, um, sort of, uh, slimmed down the product and service set.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah.

Jonny Ross:

I mean, for anyone, uh, listening or watching right now that were that was with me on my last podcast. We were talking about, uh, differentiation. But we were we were also talking about, uh, limiting the products and services that you sell and and focusing, uh, just on a core, uh, you know, some businesses have, you know, 20, 30 services when actually they're only good at 2 or 3 of them.

Jonny Ross:

So it's it's around, you know, it's so important to focus and to, to limit that. So I think, um, uh, what you're talking about there is extremely important and, and. Right, um, and so, you know, I get it. And I think people, uh, listening and watching right now will also agree. So you take it to the the next step in terms of, okay, we're now strip some of the products and services out. We perhaps even create sister brands. We perhaps even moved them into different divisions or, or new divisions or whatever it might be. What's what's the next step in in this in terms of is it then roll out or are there some more steps in in terms of what what what we do next?

Jackie Bebenroth:

Um, before I answer that, I just have to say something. Uh, very key to as a follow up to what you just said, marketing firms are the worst from.

Jonny Ross:

A product.

Jonny Ross:

Including including me. I agree.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And I've worked with, uh, seven marketing firms to help with their positioning, and they will not let go of products and services. They just won't. And it's it's funny because there's so much to sell, right? There's so many different marketing tactics. Right. So, um, yeah, any any marketing agency owner, I would highly encourage you to go through the process because, you know, and we followed our own advice here. We do branding and content marketing for food and wellness businesses. That's it. We don't do digital marketing. We had to learn all this the hard way. But my life is so much easier. Our business is so much more profitable because we've decided to make those hard choices in niche down. So I just wanted to reinforce what you were saying.

Jonny Ross:

It's the power of.

Jonny Ross:

Saying no as well, isn't it? And I and I was talking about that in my last podcast, it's that being able to say no is such a strong power in business. And yeah, and you know, we have to move away from just always saying yes and pleasing people.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah. So I'm glad you've reiterated that. Thank you.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So to answer your actual question, uh, the next step, once we've made some decisions about this hypothesis, now we turn it into a positioning statement. We build the messaging platform. And one of the reasons to do messaging and positioning first is because it really sets the tone and personality for the visual identity and that evolution. So one of our biggest referral sources here at muse, they're design firms. Um, and they send us business because someone comes to them and says, you know, we need a new logo, we need a new visual identity. And they say, you know what? You don't have any substance behind that decision. So why don't you go talk to muse for a while, um, get through that messaging platform and then come back to us and we'll build that visual identity around it. And I often say, if you build a visual identity without a solid messaging and positioning platform, it's like dressing up a mannequin. Um, you know, I mean, the mannequin is going to look really stylish, but there's no there's no authenticity or substance or voice behind that.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And so that's the work that we do. And when our clients become very confident in that, um, in that that messaging platform, it makes all the following steps through building the website, through building the sales materials that much easier, because they're looking back on that messaging platform and just repurposing it in various ways.

Jonny Ross:

What, you mean brand isn't just a $50 logo? I thought that's what I thought. That's what rebranding was.

Jonny Ross:

Uh, I.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Will tell you, though, I have seen, um, very, very passionate owners, um, build a business around a $50 logo, but it's the the logo is not the brand the owner is. And then they're stuck because they can't get out of it. Right?

Jonny Ross:

Absolutely.

Jonny Ross:

You mentioned, uh, messaging platform. Um, just what just. Tell us what you mean by that is that that's not a physical thing. That's a. Just tell me what you mean by messaging platform.

Jackie Bebenroth:

So a messaging platform is it's the definition of your position in the marketplace.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And then it's quite often it includes a mission, vision and values. So it starts from a strategic place. And then it pulls in a boilerplate. So you know your your elevator pitch, um, it pulls in your sales and speaking points. And then at muse, we, we sort of found over the years that if we just throw that over the fence at our clients like they are like, okay, what do we do now? Or maybe the the marketing team is a little lean, right? So so we've actually included a toolkit like a messaging toolkit with all kinds of, um, campaign themes, uh, headlines, um, all, all kinds of like, uh, external facing messaging points that reflect the strategy just to kind of help build that bridge between strategy and execution.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Um, and and then once you have got that, it is the toolkit and it is about the execution of it, because you've then completed the journey in a way.

Jonny Ross:

Um, and um, but, but so what I'm hearing then is the key to, um, this, uh, the productive distancing method is to really stand back quite a way and to at first actually just understand what your internal team believe you are. And and then it's about realizing that, hang on, if we haven't got it right internally, how we can't possibly get it. You know, focus on external until we've got it right internally.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Jonny, I have a whole soapbox about this. I just shout this from the rooftops because I think a lot of branding firms come into it and say, okay, their first step is to look externally at the competitive set, at what the consumer wants. And we see this especially in tech. And for that reason, I refuse to work with tech like we don't work with any tech companies because of this concept of MVP. Like I'm going to put my minimum viable product out there, see what sticks, and then pivoted all around to suit whatever the the market wants.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Um, well, when you're an established brand, you have to first build on the reputation and the value inside the company because it's their it and it's a living, breathing thing. And if if you ignore that and instead make decisions based on what you think people want to hear, then you don't stand for anything.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah.

Jonny Ross:

Well, we are coming to the end, I am afraid. Um, listen, perhaps there is, uh, a an owner of a midsize, uh, or perhaps you know, someone from the exact team in a in a large corp thinking we need to speak to Jackie. We are exactly in this position. We need to make some big changes. Jackie, where do you hang out? Where? Where would you send people to to find more out professionally?

Jackie Bebenroth:

I would say I'm most active on LinkedIn, so you can just find me there. And then our firm is muse headquarters.com. And uh, again, primarily we work with food and wellness businesses, but occasionally we'll take, uh, any industry that kind of comes in with a solid brand evolution need that we can help them solve.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah. Um, I, um, I think and the point there with this, because I love the phrase brand evolution. The point there is that it's forever evolving, isn't it? You can't just, you know, it doesn't. Once you've done this process, you can't just leave it either. Uh, it's it's about constantly evolving it.

Jonny Ross:

Yeah.

Jackie Bebenroth:

And one thing I love about this sort of transactional or transformational continuum is that transformational narrative that is always present. And it and the transactions may change with market demand and economic climate. But but that is one of the advantages of taking this approach, because you'll always have something you can hang your hat on as you evolve around it. There's a there's a central point to that narrative, um, that you can build on and the gains, um, it gains in power over time. So, um, yes, that's absolutely right. It is an evolution. But ultimately that that center, um, transformational point should not change.

Jonny Ross:

Jackie, thanks so much for inspiring people that are listening.

Jonny Ross:

People that are watching. This has been the Jonny Ross, uh, fractional CMO podcast. We've had Jackie B, Ben Ross with us. She's the principal of muse. Uh, all the links to Jackie and her organization will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining us. Uh, please do tell your friends. Please do subscribe. Please do watch out for future episodes. This has been Jonny Ross, fractional CMO. Thank you once again and we will see you all soon. Thanks, Jackie. Take care.

Jackie Bebenroth:

Thanks, Jonny.

Jonny Ross:

Cheers.