Want to edge out your competition in 2024?
Stop thinking of branding as just another marketing tactic and start using your organization’s identity as a powerful differentiation strategy.
Recently, we talked to two of the nation’s top experts, Blake Howard and Craig Johnson, who argue that strong branding builds a moat around your organization, commands premium pricing, and attracts top talent.
We asked Howard and Johnson from Matchstic, a brand identity house, who work with industry titans like Mailchimp, Chick-fil-A, and Spanx about measuring brand ROI, trends in AI, and where leaders should prioritize their efforts next year.
Above all, the duo’s message to leaders is clear: if you want to win big, it’s time to expand your perspective of branding from a logo or color palette to your secret weapon in 2024.
We’re sharing our conversation below, which has been edited for length and clarity.
How can leaders better understand brand ROI?
Richard Simms: Thank you for joining us.
Today, most leaders know branding is important, but one thing many still struggle with is how a great brand translates into ROI. How do you help customers and potential clients understand that thought process?
Blake Howard: Here’s a story to help you make sense of branding ROI:
Five years ago, I’m taking our kids to see Disney on Ice at the height of Frozen fanaticism.
As we enter the arena strobe lights are flashing, music is playing, and fog machines are roaring.
Right before us, a vendor appears, holding spinning wands that light up. Naturally, my daughter and son start pleading, “We want a wand!”
Having seen similar wands online, I know they retail for about $2. Curious, I wave down the vendor and ask about the price. To my surprise, each wand cost $25!
This scenario perfectly exemplifies the concept of brand ROI, which boils down to: price premiums.
If you remove the sticker from the wand, it becomes virtually worthless. But, in that moment, with the enchanting atmosphere, we ended up buying two wands.
However, what we were really paying for is the emotional value, the experience, and the build-up which made that Frozen sticker worth so much more than the wand itself.
Ultimately, brand ROI comes down to your pricing premium compared to a similar offering. And if there really is no increase or separation or differentiation, then brand is almost meaningless.
So that’s one way to think about it. At least in the in the for-profit sector.
Richard: That’s a great story. Of course, they got you for the $50, no question. As the dad of a 5 year old girl, I need everyone to know “Frozen fever” is not over. It is still going strong.
What are your recommendations to maximize branding ROI?
Carlos Gonzalez: I’m curious, when clients approach you for strategic advice, what you recommend they do to get the most ROI out of their branding engagement?
Craig Johnson: First, get clarity. What are you trying to accomplish?
People come to us for a lot of reasons, but most come down to: Are you trying to you solve a problem or to capitalize on an opportunity?
The end result may be similar, but the way you attack those scenarios are very different.
Next, realize branding is both a practical market side endeavor, as well as a creative effort.
Often, finance folks may not realize how much branding matters, until they:
- Get handed a cease and desist on their name because somebody else owns the trademark.
- Are involved in a multi-company merger and need to figure out: “What should we all be together?”
- Realize they overlooked stipulations in a purchase agreement to use a specific name and logo.
- Acquire another company
Lastly, hire experts.
Every situation is different. Part of our job is to navigate your specific situation, including the wants, needs, and sacred cows, which can include clients afraid of losing their logo. The other part is educating clients who believe they’re hiring us to do a creative job, when they’re really hiring us to help their business get to a different place.
Ultimately, we’re here to influence what needs to change in order to help you achieve your business goals.
How is Matchstic using AI?
Carlos: Right now, the topic of AI is creating a lot of confusion and fear in the marketplace, especially for the creative industry. Have you started integrating those technologies in your work?
Blake: Currently, we use AI tools to generate ideas.
For example, if you need 25 analogies for transformation, ChatGPT can provide them quickly.
Additionally, we’re exploring the use of AI for copywriting and brand voice. Specifically, we are exploring how to combine brand guidelines with tools like ChatGPT. As part of our work with organizations, we help define the guardrails of their brand identity. This ensures that as their communications team grows and scales, the messaging remains consistent.
In the future, we aim to have a better understanding of prompt engineering, so we can guide clients on how to use the right prompts to generate accurate and consistent copy.
How can creative organizations leverage AI?
Carlos: Using AI as a tool for starting projects has been successful for us too.
Instead of starting from scratch, we can quickly convert a customer’s words into a more organized format. Then, we can show it to them and they can easily approve or make changes.
In the past, it would take multiple rounds or mood boards to align with a client.
Blake: Yeah, we still need to see how it will affect things like the basics of brand identity, such as designing a logo or planning a color scheme.
For now, the artistic side of what we do seems to require a lot of human intelligence, which feels strategic and distinct from what AI can do. Maybe AI will catch up at some point, but even then it will only be able to use existing data, not predict the future.
“If brand builders focus on what’s next and use their creative thinking, they’ll stay ahead of what AI can do.”
However, AI is definitely helpful in implementing and activating a brand once it’s defined and created.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t think we’re there yet. But I imagine a world where you can simply tell AI what you need, like a new PowerPoint deck focused on XYZ, instead of starting from scratch.
The AI can use the brand guidelines to put it together, which saves time and effort.
Richard: It’s important to understand that the way you ask for something and guide the AI affects the quality of the output. So, it’s still a tool and requires some knowledge to use effectively.
Ultimately, deep experience is still needed for making strategic decisions and piecing everything together. At the moment, it seems like these tools can be a way to increase efficiency, but not replacing the overall vision component.
How is brand identity a recruiting tool?
Blake: There’s a recruiting aspect to building a brand your employees resonate with. It’s no longer okay to have some corporate identity that doesn’t have a lot of personality.
“Right now, candidates are looking for the best situation for themselves professionally, but they’re making decisions just like consumers do in the market.“
That’s where you’ve got to message to them with your purpose and a meaningful story.
Throughout the great resignation, the battle for talent was so profound that a lot of B2B businesses realized they need to rethink their employee value proposition and build a brand that attracts top talent.
Craig: People come to us for all different reasons, including those who tell us, “We have all the clients we need, that’s not our challenge, attracting top talent is.”
Richard Simms: That’s great insight.
Thank you again to our guests, Craig Johnson & Blake Howard for taking the time to join us on The Digital Footprint podcast and for sharing your wisdom and expertise.
If you’re ready to level up your brand strategy:
- Connect with Craig Johnson & Blake Howard on: Matchstic.com
- Check out Blake Howard’s podcast, A Change Of Brand