April 5, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: Essential Branding Elements for Successful Content Marketing

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is the essential branding elements for successful content marketing, with guest Kate DiLeo.

“Once you know who you are and how you show up in the world, there are going to be people who authentically resonate with your tone of voice and personality. You cannot be a chameleon with your brand and your content.”—Kate DiLeo

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Kate DiLeo, founder and CEO of The Brand Trifecta, to explore the essential branding elements for successful content marketing. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: Why is developing a strong business brand important, and when is the right time to start?

A brand is the promise you make to customers. Your brand articulates what you do, what problem you solve, and how you’re different from competitors. 

“It’s always really important to think about brand as this is the promise of what we say that we deliver for the world. It’s the promise of who we are and the value we bring.”—Kate DiLeo

“Brand is the promise of what you’re articulating to your customers. This is what we do for you, this is how we solve your problem, and this is how we’re different and better than the competition. That’s brand at its core.”—Kate DiLeo

This conversation focuses on the messaging side of branding. We explain the visual side of branding and how to create a powerful brand image in Canva Pro in this blog post from our friend Dayana Cadet

“A lot of times people think of brand as the visual side of it: the logo, the colors, the fonts. I stay in my lane of the messaging side of brand.”—Kate DiLeo 

Any time is a good time to develop your brand if your goal is to drive revenue. 

“There’s always a right time [to build your brand]. If you want to sell, if you want to drive revenue, you need a brand.”—Kate DiLeo

Your brand should extend through your content and lend a unique perspective to what you create. 

“The way you brand your content shouldn’t be the same way you’re branding all of those big brand assets. I think people can really struggle with how to bring a brand alive in the content they create.”—Erika Heald

“One of the things folks need to do early on if they’re planning on using content marketing as a primary way that they’re approaching marketing is to define their brand voice. As a content creator, if I don’t have that definition in hand and I don’t know how the brand shows up in the content we’re creating, it’s really hard and time-consuming. Because then you have to ask for reviews and feedback and input from a bunch of people and drive consensus.”—Erika Heald

Q2: How can brands create a differentiated brand voice to activate in content marketing?

Brand voice is the first thing that Erika and Kate define when working with clients. 

“I need to build my brand. What does that even entail? If I were to think about the buckets of work that I do for clients, typically, the first bucket of work is actually looking at your brand’s personality and tone of voice. In other words: How do we authentically show up in the world as an organization, or your personal brand as an individual.”—Kate DiLeo

“The second bucket is who are we going after and why, which is basically target audience analysis. Understanding your ideal customers and personas that you’re really trying to speak to.”—Kate DiLeo

“And then you get into actually building what we call brand statements that resonate with those individuals you’ve identified. And those include two types: internal and external focused brand statements. Internal are things like mission, vision, values—super important, but they don’t sell. And then brand language that sells or things like your tagline, value proposition statement, differentiator.”—Kate DiLeo

To start defining your brand voice, ask yourself this question: If your brand were a person, who would it be?  

“I love to take a very simple approach to helping an organization or individual really understand their brand’s tone of voice or personality. The question that I love to ask is a fun one: If your brand were a person, who would it be?”—Kate DiLeo

Your brand voice should have a distinct personality and rhythm. 

“I love to push it further, not just talking about the personality traits, but I want them to name a public figure or celebrity. And I want them to think about how that person sounds. When it comes to a brand’s tone of voice, we’re trying to get our arms around not just personality—oh they’re cool, they’re nice—but what’s the rhythm? If you were to close your eyes and just listen, could you know what brand is talking to you?”—Kate DiLeo

“As humans, when we write any type of content, anybody will write the concept down and then go back and revise and tighten. So then I ask you as you’re writing, ‘OK, that’s great, but how would Matthew McConaughey say it?’ and my clients will say, ‘Well, he wouldn’t say any of that.’ Exactly, so why are we saying anything else?”—Kate DiLeo

Erika shares her process for finding a brand voice in five steps in this CMI article. 

Q3: What do businesses need to understand about their ideal audience to tailor their brand messaging?

B2B personas often include irrelevant information that doesn’t help target the persona with engaging and meaningful messages.  

“Frequently, a lot of the ‘audience understanding’ is anecdotes that are passed on from sales. Or you’ll be given a persona that somebody’s really excited about, and it’s a bunch of demographic information that has nothing to do with your job. It’ll be a B2B persona talking about how your target audience is moms with kids, but that is not relevant to this technology product that I’m not selling. Why is this here in this persona?”—Erika Heald

Personas should include demographic and psychographic details. 

“A lot of us, even as seasoned marketers, think of buyer personas or target audiences often just from a demographic standpoint. I challenge my clients to create a list of what I call buyer criteria, usually 20 or more, that include psychographics. We’re listing things like decision-making style.”—Kate DiLeo 

“Let’s say you sell software to B2B. Okay. Who cuts the check? What are the biggest pains? What’s the level of bureaucracy? Are the teams aligned or not aligned? How do they communicate? Are they autonomous and collaborative and coachable?”—Kate DiLeo

Well-built personas empower your team to find and approach the most relevant potential buyers. 

“With target audiences, we have to remember there are enough people out there that could potentially buy from us. We need to understand who our great buyers are and who are really the ones we want to speak with. But in order to even spot a ready and great buyer, we have to first understand what ideal looks like.”—Kate DiLeo

“If we get that down, the person behind the sector you’re going after, all of a sudden, you begin to recognize that your brand’s voice is speaking to another human who also has a voice.”—Kate DiLeo

Don’t list personas as titles on an organizational chart. 

“Instead of speaking to the title in the org chart. Which, frankly, for a long period of time, a lot of B2B marketing has felt that way, where it’s talking to an imaginary everyperson who has a specific function within a company. Which means that it engages and excites zero people.”—Erika Heald

Position your brand how you are today, not what you aspire to be. 

“Should I brand myself for who I want to be or who I think I should go after? The answer is actually, no. Brand is not aspirational. You don’t build a brand for who you think you should be or who you hope to be, because your competitors are going for groups A, B, and C, and you want to take that market share, so you think you need to be like them and show up that way. If your competitors are doing a great job being blue and green, let them be blue and green. There are enough buyers in the world that are really craving hot pink or orange and need you to be hot pink and orange.”—Kate DiLeo

Q4: How can storytelling help or hinder a brand’s efforts to engage its communities?

Storytelling can connect with your community. However, it often neglects what your ideal audience cares about.  

“When done well, storytelling has the ability to be a really great way to connect with your community. But we’ve also seen some brands lean so heavily into storytelling that was not what their ideal buyer was interested in from them—that is the kind of expense that gets somebody fired.”—Erika Heald

Kate’s book Muting the Megaphone explains how to approach storytelling well. 

“When we lead with storytelling, we often inundate people. Because, at its core, storytelling is one person talking and one person listening. My whole thesis is that your brands can create a conversation, where at each sentence that they read, from your tagline down to your value proposition statement down to your differentiators, it’s about creating a provocative, aka emotional, response where somebody’s going ‘Interesting. What do they mean by that? Tell me more about this.’”—Kate DiLeo 

“The idea is to move away from paragraph content at the front of the conversation, and instead lead with shorter, but more impactful, messaging that is authentic to your brand’s tone of voice and opens the floodgates for someone to really engage at every single sentence and phrase.”—Kate DiLeo

Brands need to first answer their customer’s questions before engaging them with storytelling. 

“I do think story is important. We need story. But this is about order of operations and placement of content. Buyer psychology shows that when people first interact with a brand, they don’t want to hear a story, they want to quickly understand. Tell me what you do. Tell me how you solve my problem. Tell me how you’re different. And it’s only once the brand addresses those three things through what I call the Brand Trifecta—which is a tagline, value proposition statement, and differentiators—are buyers opting in.”—Kate DiLeo

As Erika frequently says, content must address the “what’s in it for me” for your reader.

“One of my favorite phrases is the old ‘what’s in it for me.’ So much brand content, especially on the B2B side, is so about the brand, and it’s not about the person that the brand is helping. We don’t want to hear all about someone else, we want to hear about how our lives are going to be better. We want to be engaged.”—Erika Heald

Storytelling should balance brand messaging and meeting your audience’s needs.

“When Donald Miller came out with the book Story Brand he brought storytelling to the modern marketer; fantastic concept. We really began to understand that we had to speak in such a way where we made the customer the hero of the journey. And I love that. The problem is, nobody told us how to write that story, let alone write it in such a way where it wasn’t a bunch of just droning on and on.”—Kate DiLeo

“It’s about finding the balance with brand messaging where you can speak to what you do and the value you deliver but in a way that they feel that they were a part of what you just said.”—Kate DiLeo

Q5: What competitive research should marketers conduct to inform their branding strategy?

Brand differentiator statements should highlight how the brand stands out from competitors. 

“In a brand message, your three most important lines of defense are: A tagline that states what you do, a value proposition statement that’s only a couple sentences that says here’s the reality of what you’re facing, and here’s how you can solve that, and then differentiator statements.”—Kate DiLeo

You should create a set of differentiation points to address your many strengths and customer concerns. 

“You can never solve all of your differentiation points in only one or two sentences. This is why having a set of differentiation points is really important.”—Kate DiLeo 

Research your competitors’ websites and see how they position themselves in media interviews to see how you can differentiate.

“How do you really state how you’re different and not sound like everybody else? The first one is, yes, understanding your competitive landscape and certainly doing a bit of research on what they’re doing.”—Kate DiLeo

Create customer feedback loops—through surveys and direct customer conversations—to understand how your product stands out.

“The second thing is to do customer feedback loops. If you’re not asking your customers and surveying customers—Why did you choose us, why did you choose us over the competition, who else were you talking to? It’s fascinating to see an immediate pattern of three to five things that they’re going to say that made you different and better.”—Kate DiLeo

Your differentiators should evolve over time as the competitive landscape and your product or service change. Build alignment between sales and marketing to keep both teams ahead of the changes. 

“And that’s gonna change over time. Every salesperson is gonna have different answers to that. You’ve got to make sure that the marketing folks, the people driving the brand and creating the content, hear it. Because I’ve been in organizations where that didn’t happen, where the marketing folks were the last to ever hear anything that customers said, which is such a shame.”—Erika Heald

“Brand is your intersection moment. It’s the glue that ties sales and marketing together. If we’re running off the same pitch playbook of saying this is what we offer to the world and why you should buy from us, all of a sudden, something magical happens. Marketing gets you better leads, and sales can say here’s what’s working and here’s what not. And you begin to collaborate and improve that message over time and are able to surgically implement messages and content into the world that are going to get your ideal buyers to the table faster and more shortly.”—Kate DiLeo

“Our people are what makes us different” is clichéd. If your people are a differentiator, explain how by reinforcing their expertise or qualifications. 

“Everybody says, ‘Well, it’s our people. People are what make us different.’ That’s awesome, but everybody’s got good people. There are ways to turn our people into actual differentiators. One of the easiest ways to do that is to describe your proprietary approach, meaning what you’re actually getting at is the fact that your people follow a very systematic process and are process driven and process focused.”—Kate DiLeo

“The second thing is if your people can be backed up to say we really are better than the rest. I had an IT services company that I branded years ago, and their team had more Microsoft certifications than any organization out there. These guys were so senior that they taught for Microsoft and other groups.”—Kate DiLeo

Every differentiator should matter to your buyers. 

“We don’t talk about a differentiator unless it actually matters to our buyers. What we think is cool and great and different about us may not even be something that our buyers care about. We always have to remember that.”—Kate DiLeo

“And depending upon who you’re talking to on the buying committee, because you’re not just selling to that one person who cuts the check. You’re having to persuade the decision maker and you’re having to persuade the person who’s going to be using your product or service every day. What the CFO cares about is going to be different than what the CMO cares about or an individual [contributor] cares about.”—Erika Heald

“We’ll have a top-level tagline value prop and a set of differentiators that I like to call homepage language. It can speak to everybody, but it provokes them to want to go deeper. But then we do get audience-specific. I’ll build that same set of Brand Trifecta messaging per audience, so we will have differentiators that speak to the CFO, we will have differentiators that speak to the CMO. Because what they deeply care about is different and we’ve got to speak to what’s in it for them.”—Kate DiLeo

Q6: Are there tools you recommend to help build and maintain a business brand?

Store your branding elements in a shared and easily accessible location, ideally a system that is embedded in your team’s workflow.  

“Where within your CRM or system are you deploying content outside of your website? Your first line of defense is always going to be what? Website. But if you think about that as the hub, what else is coming off that? If you can find a single system like a HubSpot or Salesforce that are access points where sales and marketing access the same materials, that is extremely helpful.”—Kate DiLeo

“Have it in a single point of entry in the database. And then that messaging is then deployed across email, sales assets, and tools. You do need a system.”—Kate DiLeo

Kate recommends Zoho as a great starting point. You can then mature into a HubSpot or Salesforce setup. 

“Even for small, small, small teams, Zoho is a great system that’s integrated. If you’re not needing everything in HubSpot, get started with Zoho. Maybe then you mature into something like HubSpot or Salesforce.”—Kate DiLeo

Even a project management tool like Monday.com can help. We share several project management tool recommendations in this article.  

“Having something as simple as Monday.com is a great way. If you don’t have a project management tool, get one.”—Kate DiLeo

A brand site or brand book is only necessary for larger midsize and enterprise companies.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of vendors promoting things like having a brand site or a brand book in order to do some of this. And I think that’s really speaking to the fact that there’s always a struggle around how to enable everybody and get everyone on the same page. Is that something that’s necessary, or is investing in that kind of a tool really more of something you’re going to do if you’re working with a number of external resources or content creators?”—Erika Heald

“It is going to be larger, midsize to enterprise. If you have multiple agencies accessing your information that you need to use the same set of messaging to deploy, fine, I understand having a central repository is great.”—Kate DiLeo

Format your branding elements in whatever way works best for your team. An entire book may be unnecessary. 

“I would ask a different question, which is: Do you need it in a book format, or what’s the format that is easily copy and pasteable that’s easily accessible, that’s the central point location where all messaging lives?”—Kate DiLeo

“If everybody knows they go to one spot, but that one spot is in the same system where most things are being deployed, it’s a lot easier. If I have to log into a separate system to access that, it will never happen.”—Kate DiLeo

“To have written down on a single sheet of paper our brand’s tone of voice, our tagline, our value prop, our differentiators and core features and benefits… Is that supposed to take up more than one, maybe two pages maximum? What else are we even writing down? Then you’re getting into deployment content.”—Kate DiLeo

Q7: What mistakes do marketers often make when activating their brand through content?

Always involve sales and executives when crafting your brand. This will generate buy-in and accelerate review cycles. 

“The number one mistake I see is that they do not have sales in the conversation and creating their brand, and sales continually in the conversation and the deployment of said brand. You cannot build brand in a box. It is not just for marketing. Your brand needs to be created with C-suite leadership, it needs to have sales in the room to create that, because there’s going to be buy-in and collaboration.”—Kate DiLeo

“It’s so important, because otherwise you’re going to not see anything be approved. People may think that they understand someone else’s vision, but when you get down to the branding elements, that differentiated voice, and what kind of content we are going to create, you have to have that involvement. Otherwise, you’re just creating something that is going to be a waste of time.”—Erika Heald

“As marketers and as content marketers, we have influence to bring key stakeholders to the table as we create and shape our content so that we have buy-in, and, more importantly, they’re going to back that. It makes sense to them. It requires us as a modern marketer and content creator to no longer just sit behind our keyboards and write and create, but to have a seat at the table and talk about why content is creating actual customers. We can have that conversation and tie the two pieces together between content and revenue. Ears will perk up. We will get buy-in. We will see budgets shift. And we will begin to notice the nature of our work shift in a very positive way.”—Kate DiLeo

“When you have a strong brand, and you have this understanding of what will help drive people to make that purchase, then you’re able to say no, I don’t think we should chase after this new channel. Why would we spend all of that money at this event when it doesn’t attract any of the people that we would want to actually sell to, just because our competitor is there?”—Erika Heald

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