Getting Real About Business
The following article appeared on September 11, 2019, via Fargo Inc (www.fargoinc.com). It was reprinted with permission from Mark Puppe (Phi/North Dakota State 1996), the author of the article, which highlights Kevin Tobosa (Phi/North Dakota State 1998).
Your Brand = Your Identity
People are increasingly aware that branding means more than applying hot ornamental irons to livestock. Social media, 24/7 information and intensifying skepticism make deliberate and desired brands difficult to establish and even more difficult to sustain. That doesn’t change the fact that every person, business and organization has a brand and cannot afford to neglect what they own.
Consider how inattentive and unlearned branding—such as misplacement, botched application or unverified configuration— instinctively trigger uncertainty about diligence and accuracy. It also neglects that a brand cannot be wiped away; it remains the image people see, believe and consider the evidence. Owners are forced to overcome intense doubt when it’s time to sell.
Whereas attentive and competent branding helps ensure people instinctively connect an image to intent and ultimately generate results the brand owner desires.
We can know our branding goals, but pursuing them competently can be an arduous and daunting challenge. Regardless, it must be overcome. One business in Fargo commits itself exclusively to creating brand strategies for doing so, BRAVE.
Kevin Tobosa founded BRAVE and says, “BRAVE recognizes that it is uncomfortable to take an honest look at what your brand is. We want to remove that fear from the equation because to really embrace a brand is invigorating and changes companies.”
You may not know about BRAVE, but if you’re in or around Fargo you encounter its clients and strategies daily. It is yet another small business driving business and generating results from behind the scenes.
Tobosa divulged some branding insights helping YWCA Cass Clay and from which you can benefit as well.
“BRAVE facilitates and discovers a client’s existing brand and then creates a clear and honest expression. We do that by strategizing according to customer experience, creative design, voice and company culture and other variables influencing how our clients are perceived”, Tobosa says. “Then we advise clients about how to create, engage and adjust their brand as a positive experience and interact with the business.”
Preparing this article, I learned from Tobosa that generally: Customer experience encompasses tangibles and intangibles such as décor, employee wardrobe, wait times and interactions with staff. What do customers sense when encountering you?
Voice refers to the words, tone and methods used to articulate your message. Are they playful or professional; written or spoken?
Creative design can be visual tools like logos, graphics, colors and even font. Do they reflect peoples’ expectations or drop their jaw?
Company culture means the experiences, sentiments or continuity that a business or organization instills among customers and employees. Do activities align with the promises?
YWCA Cass Clay CEO Erin Prochnow admires Tobosa’s approach and goes farther by identifying him as a driving force in YWCA’s success, prominence and support.
“Kevin has been a constant support to YWCA Cass Clay brand and marketing efforts for nearly five years. He has a gift of gathering information from those involved, using his creativity to convey the message as the group intends, and then provides products and services to support those thoughts in a way that speaks to the broader audience,” says Prochnow.
Those five years include YWCA’s new supported residence for displaced women and their children, Grace Garden. The facility opened Aug. 13, but Prochnow explains how this landmark effort requires decisions about more than financing, building and outfitting the facility. Brand strategy has played a vital role since the beginning and will not fade as a priority.
“The (elements) were utilized to select a name and brand for Grace Garden and included: providing hope, inclusivity, creating pride, confidence, ownership and stability along with honoring the collaboration of those involved,” she says.
Myriad and multiple enthusiastic stakeholders contribute to the effort, but diversity and size can take any group in as many directions as there are members. YWCA utilized the brand strategy to cultivate a productive culture and positive experiences enabling all participants to focus their passion on achieving their common goal: to get Grace Garden up, operating and thriving.
YWCA Cass Clay’s website describes Grace Garden as committed to “allowing (women and their children) to regain stability and sure- footing.”
Reasonable people support the YWCA goal and sense a duty to support it, but this nonprofit recognizes its own duty to continuously and diligently affirm that its activities and vision match its purpose. Elements function together throughout the brand strategy, each complements the others, but consider the plethora of touchpoints operating within the logo alone.
The bird is more than an image. Tobosa designed and incorporated the bird to represent Grace Garden tenants—of whom many flee domestic violence—while articulating Grace Garden’s name, purpose and spirit. Perching upon the words—part of the written brand—illustrates how the bird (tenants) can trust Grace Garden as a place to regain stability and sure footing.
The bird’s strategical value does not stop there. Tobosa used elongated font to connote Grace Garden as a branch upon which the bird land to regain stability and sure footing. Birds take as much time is needed to rejuvenate, evaluate circumstances and options, determine direction and then fly. Flight is a process most people instinctively associate with a bird and many wish they could personally indulge.
According to Tobosa, using specifically grace and garden as the name reveal brand strategy as well. On one level, garden articulates the shelter’s abounding peace, generosity and passion for helping women and their children grow. On another, grace affirms the facility to be a supportive and understanding place where tenants, despite their circumstances, can regain stability and sure footing. Once again, and at a simple glance, Grace Garden brands itself authentically and as desired.
However, Tobosa says brand success ultimately depends on whether a client keeps the brand alive and operable. “You can’t set it and forget it,” he says. “Really good brands are intentional with their touchpoints and constantly learning and refining. BRAVE facilitates and strategizes the process.”
Prochnow explains how YWCA’s brand strategy includes a toolbox of ideas and resources for keeping Grace Garden’s brand alive, operable and aligned as the facility evolves and moves forward.
“Kevin has helped YWCA through a variety of mediums, including video production, facilitating the naming process for a building and for YWCA programs and logo design,” Prochnow says. “Kevin provides not only immense talent but also professionalism in his approach to brand strategy…and has been immensely helpful to our overall messaging strategy.”
Prochnow says that Tobosa’s strategies have eased what would otherwise be a very difficult process. Meanwhile, Tobosa emphasizes that stakeholders’ own ideas and aspirations created the Grace Garden brand. “BRAVE facilitates, never dictates, discovers what a client’s brand is and we create a clear, honest expression,” he says.
However, just because effective brand strategy makes things easier for clients does not make brand strategy is easy. It’s a complicated science and complicated business as well.
Tobosa says, “Other businesses can show their success by quantifying visible or quantifiable results. Strategy is difficult to explain.” Like he said earlier, branding oneself can be uncomfortable and difficult. Even so for expert brand strategists. I’ll also add that divulging strategy would compromise the distinct value of BRAVE’s services. We’re lucky to have him sharing this much today.
Tobosa does not take credit for a brand’s ultimate meaning or success because, as he puts it, “branding is a collective effort and continuous process.”
He’s correct, but for those of us having a brand—that’s everyone—let’s not forget how being mindful, creative, intentional and wise can prevent the branding process from spinning irreversibly out of control. Enter the brand strategist.