Nov. 15, 2022

E4: Connecting strategy & creativity (Branding)

E4: Connecting strategy & creativity (Branding)

Brian & Russ discuss branding, agencies, and tips & tricks for building your brand story.

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Brian & Russ discuss branding, agencies, and tips & tricks for building your brand story.

Tools mentioned in the podcast:
Adobe Creative Cloud
Envato Elements
^ fyi, these are not affiliate links - we just like sharing

*The episode title is attributed to
Marty Neumeier

Follow the podcast at:
Making MAKA Website
Making MAKA Instagram
Making MAKA Facebook
Making MAKA Youtube

Follow the Brand at:
MAKA Website
MAKA Instagram
MAKA Facebook
MAKA Linkedin

Making MAKA is a recap of the leadership team's personal journey & experiences, your entrepreneurial journey will and should be different, so please take this podcast for what it is, war stories, not specific recommendations or guidance.


Russell Hirshon  0:00  
If you're creating a brand strategy, and if you if you're doing that, it literally is a document, which summarizes who you are, what you're doing your audiences, your audience profiles, the voice and tone, and other attributes of your brand.

Brian Hill  0:24  
Hello, everyone, you're listening to making Maka, a podcast about a startup beverage journey into launching and scaling a CPG brand. I'm Brian Hill. 

Russell Hirshon  0:33  
And I'm Russell Hirshon.

Brian Hill  0:35  
And we're your hosts. 

Brian Hill  0:37  
In this episode, we will be discussing branding and designing for your target audience. 

Brian Hill  0:46  
Hey, Russ, so as you alluded to, in the first episode, your background is in branding. And you actually used to do some agency work and and all that. How do you define branding? Like what is branding to you?

Russell Hirshon  1:02  
from a brand perspective? It's everything as a brand you say? And everything you do? It's the who, what, why and how of your product or service? It's, you know, who are you What defines you, what differentiates you? It's what are you providing? What benefit are you providing to your audiences? And then And then, why should they care? Why should they act upon? What do you want them to do? Once they have disinformation?

Brian Hill  1:31  
There are some brands that have found their voice, and they do it incredibly well. Are there any particular ones that come to mind to you?

Russell Hirshon  1:39  
Well, there, you know, there's, there's so many that that execute on that, that vision to, you know, present themselves as an identifiable ownable brand. The ones that many people are familiar with a recent certainly in our space, people would agree that liquid death is doing a phenomenal job of conveying a unique position in the space and people are aligning with it, and how they started, you know, putting water in a can so that potentially at events, people could could drink and not be called out for drinking water. At least that's part of their positioning, and of course, their audiences originally aiming at individuals that were more outcasts, potentially, and to hardcore music, but that's evolved and with them, their their audiences grown dramatically. Red Bull, of course, is a marketing entity unto itself, aligning with extreme sports, extreme lifestyles, Clif Bars, an outdoorsy and healthy and wellness positioned, food product, there, there are a lot of brands that do it well. And it will need to combine that the brand look and feel the messaging they convey. And of course, aligning with people's desires, and then people actually purchasing them.

Brian Hill  3:02  
And I would say a lot of it comes down to like, the one most memorable thing which is naming. What are some tips around coming up with a brand name?

Russell Hirshon  3:13  
Yeah, you know, and that's what's interesting about naming is, you know, you've got a product and you have to imagine one that it's it has to be short and ownable. It has to be unique in the space. Ideally, it won't conflict with other products and other categories. But most importantly, it has to resonate. You're thinking of when coming up with a name. You if you don't have a name yet, you might go through an engagement with an agency and have a discussion of like, what do we want to call ourselves if it's not something that you haven't decided already or have decided, maybe it needs to be adjusted. But it's a name must, ideally encapsulate who you are, and that vibe that you're you're putting off. And so when you get to that, that that that name that fits, everything will build off of that.

Brian Hill  4:09  
And what's commonly forgotten, it has to be ownable. And what I mean by that trade markable so it has to be unique, it has to be individual, do your research. If you if you don't know how to use the TESS system, which is the system that you would do for submission of your trademark, find someone that can make sure your your trademark is unique and ownable you do not want to be blasting out your brand just to realize that you either have to change it or you're going to get sued later on

Russell Hirshon  4:43  
to your point ownable and that once you you've selected that name that you can extend that to your website domain to your social handles as well because ideally it would be it would be the same one across all channels that are easy for people to assume what it would be and find online,

Brian Hill  5:04  
you do have to find a unique social handle, a lot of them have been taken. So like in our case, we had to, we couldn't just say MAKA, like that's been taken. So we had to go with, Okay, what's the activity what we want you to do with MAKA, we want you living MAKA, so living active. So that's become our handle. People kind of, say living MAKA, as our brand name, when it's not our brand name is MAKA. So there is that little bit of brand confusion that will occur with domains and social handles, just be aware of it.

Russell Hirshon  5:39  
Yeah, and then regardless of where you land, you're going to end up sharing that with individuals. So you know, people will go to the website, they'll they'll see the icons representative of those social platforms, and then they'll, they'll either link or those or they'll search online and they'll and they'll come across it. But simpler is better. And it sets the tone for how your brand evolves. And that, you know, either you're you're doing it on your own, and you're thinking and you're kind of creating the who, what why of your brand. Or you're creating a brand strategy. And if you if you're doing that, it literally is a document, which summarizes who you are, what you're doing your audiences, your audience profiles, the voice and tone, and other attributes of your brand.

Brian Hill  6:31  
Important to note that that's usually a living, breathing document, it's going to evolve. So don't feel like if you're creating this, this strategy that you're stuck with it, it will evolve as you figure out what your brand voice is.

Russell Hirshon  6:46  
You just you just spoke that like a true agency, creative resource, a brand, a brand strategy is always evolving, because you're you're you're refining the audience profiles, you're you're looking, your messaging is evolving, your voice is evolving. But ideally, a single document would would resonate with those tenants, those pillars that your brand stands for. And then it kind of distills singular statements that that ring true to why you're doing what you're doing. And this is the strength of a good brand. It literally clearly speaks to who you are, and why it's important. And people can can grab onto that they'll align with it. They'll say, Well, that's that's my lifestyle, that's this, I'm drinking, I'm wearing these clothes, these clothes, I'm drinking this beverage, I'm eating this product, because the things they say, and the things they do fit my lifestyle.

Brian Hill  7:52  
For those that have never seen or worked with a brand strategy deck. What are some key components that make up that that deck?

Russell Hirshon  8:02  
Before you do the deck you ideally there'd be whether it's internal or external or driven by people outside such as an agency, there would be a messaging session, and you get everyone in a room and you line them up, and you'd ask them, first of all, thank you for being here. Let's talk about your brand. As you know it. If it's a if it's a new brand, if it's individuals who are just starting, if it's just the founders, you have to envision how you see it. And so you'd say what are words to where it's the best describe who you are? Is it an organic? Is it natural? Is it sustainable? Are you diligent? Are you hard working? Some of the more typical worksheets that I've seen? Which are even you'll see them online? Like if you're a car, what kind of car would you be? If you're a person, you know, are you male or female? If you're a color, what color would you be? And so, typically a sheet of like 10 Questions trying to understand if you're young or old, if you're modern, or your, your, your legacy, or just trying to position how you as an owner or founder or creator, see yourself as a brand is one of the things that that the creative exercise would try and find. So when they're creating a logo or messaging, that it's in alignment with what you want, because obviously a designer might have a vision of who you are, and what they feel it is but if it doesn't align with the founders vision, there's going to be a huge disconnect, and that will end a tragedy of time lost. So the brand strategy, as you said, is a living document, but encapsulates everything you are as a brand and it puts it in, in in statements that come from the individuals it puts it in singular words, it puts it in paragraph form in a sentence form and uncertainly and pillars, which literally are what support your brand messaging, this exercise takes place, I think you would have done it when you first started, you would have been asking yourself, what you want to be and the can and how you created this company really did a great job of representing that both visually and in the messaging that that was created, how it evolved is where I had the pleasure of interacting with you, and having these discussions of how that might manifest in communications. But it's, you know, a brand that does not have a strategic plan, from a brand strategy standpoint, is not guided on a path. And you have to know who your audience is that you're communicating. And if and sometimes when you ask individuals related on this journey, they'll say like, well, we're selling to everybody, who's your audience, well, we want to be everyone is our audience. While you don't want to exclude anyone, you there is always a specific audience, that that those people that will immediately align first with what you are creating from a product standpoint. And then there'll be secondary and tertiary audiences as well. But at the end of the day, the first the ones that you're primarily, primarily be speaking with, is an audience that you have to know because if you're if you're making brand communications, and and they're, they're not communicating with that audience, then you're going to miss out and potentially not connect with anyone,

Brian Hill  11:41  
I just want to reiterate an important point you made there, if you're speaking to everyone, you're really speaking to no one, you have to niche down, figure out who your target audience is, and speak with them, resonate with them, make them your advocates, everyone else might join along. But you need to have a singular message that that resonates with a target audience and own it,

Russell Hirshon  12:06  
you have to be transparent. You can't just say things i There was a time when an individual came to us and said that we're making pastries, and we want to be known as the freshest most delicious, wholesome baked pastries you can possibly buy. And we said, well explain to us how you're going to make them well, we were we're going to make them in another country. They came, they come frozen to the location. And the great thing about that is it doesn't cost us a whole bunch. And we'll just pull them out of the freezer, and then we'll put them in a quick Bake Oven. And then immediately rang false with us,

Brian Hill  12:46  
does not scream fresh. 

Russell Hirshon  12:48  
Yeah, you're saying that your your delicious, fresh baked pastries, yet you found a way to make money by making them elsewhere and freezing them and bringing them over? People will find out, people will discover that while you say one thing, it's actually happening completely different way. So you just can't say your your natural organic if you're not, you can't say you're healthy. If you're not you can't say you're sustainable if you're not. And many companies have said these things. And sometimes they say far more people are quick to discover If you are who you say and you do what you say. And that's probably one of the most important things of a brand is to be true to yourself speak in a manner in which your audiences can can relate.

Brian Hill  13:39  
Yeah, green washing is a big issue right now. Everything that you were just speaking to, not being true to what what the brand is and not being truthful about what you're selling. 

Brian Hill  13:51  
Back to the the brand strategy side of this. What else would you include? Like a lot of people think demographics, okay, we're targeting men that are 35 to 45. It seems like there's something missing in demographics. And really what it's called is psychographics. Because it's great that they're between 35 and 45. But I want to make sure that that person's taking a certain action, do you recommend that brands go after psychographics? Demographics? is a combination of both?

Russell Hirshon  14:27  
It's knowing both? It certainly is because when you do audience profiles, you'll you'll say, this is our audience and you'll and you're literally within a brand strategy document and be like audience profiles, and you'll say it's an individual, that individual may have a certain job, they may be within a certain age bracket 25 to 35. They are healthier or not they sometimes they're depending on the product you would say. You would say these are the kinds of things that they might undertake during the week. Maybe they they wake up on Saturday. Do yoga, maybe they aspire to work out more during the work during the work week, they spend more or less time on the couch, they eat certain foods more than others. Or they're maybe they're more health aware. It is it's not just one person, it would be a series of individuals that you from a psychographic standpoint and a demographic standpoint, you're saying, well, we understand it's going to be multiple people, it's not going to be just a single person from a single background that's going to be purchasing your product. Often, it'll be many. But the core, psycho and demographics that you have well will have things in common. They will, in our case, you know, care about wellness, care about the things they consume, have an interest in bettering their lives, understanding that we are what we consume, and think about living active, more active lifestyles. Again, having a document that defines this means that it's serves as A baseline for everyone that interacts with your brand. So when this document, this living document is in its finalized form, with not only statements and words that resonate with the brand, and not only with a description of who you are, and why it matters, and core pillars that that support, why we do what we do. It also serves as this template where if a new employee comes on board later on down the line, that we can just say, it's not just me telling you who we are, it's not just about Brian's amazing journey. It's not just that it's a delicious tasting beverage, it can't be just a beverage, in a can, it's literally a lifestyle, it's someone aligning with the brand, for all we do. And all we say, and, and in that go, ideally goes far beyond just the beverage, but it's our efforts to make the world we live in a better place, which is demonstrated by some of the things you've aligned with. It's us as a culture and accompany. And that lives in the document. And it does take the participation of all stakeholders. And it's living.

Brian Hill  17:15  
Yeah, so So really, this, this is the mission of your, your company, the voice of your brand. This is what you stand for. This is why you are different than all the others.

Russell Hirshon  17:28  
Yeah, and it's ownable. Because once once you've defined those different aspects, you know, you you feel confident about your audiences, you, you feel like these are the individuals that will most likely readily adapt and adopt your your beverage, to your beverage and embrace it, and and where's the messaging will resonate with them, then then you have something that you can build on. And it also serves as the bedrock of communications moving forward. So what happens in your social communications, what happens in press releases, what happens is, when when you are when we're speaking to individuals, whether it's at a sampling, or whether it's on a panel, or whether you're doing an interview? You know, we're consistent. And ironically, in the years that I've done brand work prior, and of course, I did it with individuals far more talented than myself. It was you would come across organizations that were you'd ask people who they thought and what their company was, and summarize it in a single sentence. And out of 15 people note two answers would be the same if they were isolated, and asked to give it so you had a company in which everyone thought that their company was one thing different than what in fact, even the CEO thought it was. So that's a massive dysfunction. brand strategy document unifies that messaging. So anyone who speaks about the company can kind of have a basis for who we are and what we do.

Brian Hill  19:10  
Okay, so you've come up with a a unified voice. A  unified tone, you know who your audience is, you understand the company statements, the brand positions. Now comes the big thing, creating the logo. There's a couple types of logos that you can do. It's either a mark, like an icon, just like the Nike check, or a word. Is there a right way or wrong way? Should it be a mark should it be a word? does it matter?

Russell Hirshon  19:40  
It sometimes will be at the behest of either the designer or the or the founder. The decision maker would say, you know, I want something creative. How do you manifest the brand in its best possible format? Well, it typically would be a name, either with or with or without a mark the Nike swish does come with Nike, of course above it, but the mark represents the brand when the name is not present. So the swish is in essence extends the the brand footprint. So the right way or wrong way is a designer's going to have to create an iteration of the logo. And they may or may not use a mark with it, or the the name itself might be the mark. It is the brand strategy document that will give them the Insight along with communications between you and them, where they'll come back with something that they think best represents what it should look like. And in cases where there isn't documentation or there isn't enough communication, you're you're not able to give them a sense of what you're hoping to have, there could be a massive disconnect. And there's also, you know, many ways to do this, you could take a stab at designing it yourself, you could show examples of logos you like you could you can engage a freelance designer, which has costs that are likely less than an agency or you could you could do an agency and there are massive costs potentially associated with that,

Brian Hill  21:20  
is there an advantage to an agency over a freelancer or even outsourcing this to like Fiverr, or something like that.

Russell Hirshon  21:29  
So an agency will give you a definitive scope. And they will tell you exactly what they're delivering. They have multiple resources, if they assign them to your project, depending on the budget, there is a cost factor with an agency, you know, agencies typically have buildings and spaces to rent insurance, overhead equipment, other costs. And so when you engage in agency, cost of developing a logo and potentially some associated other assets can be extreme. Brian, I know you've you had communications with an agency I with my background, I know that logos could cost anywhere from 25 to 50,000, just for logo executions with freelancers. You know, they'll you get what you pay for they freelance graphic design artists typically wouldn't spend less than 20 hours on developing logos. So that's two to $3,000, minimum, minimum, and most designers wouldn't touch a logo for less than four or 5000. There's also online resources like Fiverr, that you could have them do a logo based on some of the work they've done before and you might pay 25, 50, $150 I know there's higher in Fiverr services. But it's you kind of get what you pay for. And there's no guarantee, you'll still get what you pay for, you could literally engage an agency, and the outcome may not be exactly what you were hoping for. It really depends on how clearly you're able to convey who you are, what you want, and what you're looking for.

Brian Hill  23:13  
Now, let's say whatever path you chose to get your logo, you've you landed on a logo, you love it, you're ready to move forward. Any other steps to this branding process?

Russell Hirshon  23:26  
Well, yeah, you know, with the logo, you know, and getting to that point, whoever you choose, ideally is going to present you with multiple iterations of a particular style. You'll you'll get to one, ideally, and then when you have that singular one, it'll need to convey across multiple touchpoints. Something always to consider that it's will live online as a digital format. But how is it going to work On a, in this case on our cans? How's it going to? How's it going to present itself both on on a canned format? And then how might it be in print materials? How might it be in in a social context, that should be a consideration of whoever creates that final iteration, they would make multiple iterations. So it conveys across the different footprints. Also colors, you're going to have a primary color and a secondary color. And then there might be a black and white version as well. And you'll look at those and you'll be ideally you'll have those locked up and then you'll get vector files so they can scale. So you've gotten a logo, you're lucky enough to find something that resonates with you, you're super excited about it. It's something that you're can't wait to make T shirts with or hats or and then certainly it needs to manifest it's on the product itself. So with that in hand, you've got a brand strategy that gives you a sense of the messaging. You've got a logo, you've got your primary and secondary colors. You're ready to create your brand design, as well as potentially take steps to creating a website environment.

Brian Hill  25:06  
So we're just going to take a quick word from our sponsor here, and we'll be right back. 

Brian Hill  25:11  
Our mission here at MAKA is wheatgrass for all one can at a time. Your first game is on us go to Select your flavor of choice and checkout with the code MAKING2022 to enjoy your free can. 

Brian Hill  25:26  
We just reviewed how to come up with a brand strategy creating a logo producing a brand style guideline. And I can tell you MAKA didn't do any of that, at least not through an agency. We didn't use freelancers, I ended up doing this myself. To be fair, I've gone through this process before. So I had an idea of what was necessary to create all this. 

Brian Hill  25:56  
Really what I did is I stepped back and I said okay, what is MAKA? Well really it's a wheatgrass beverage that tastes great. We're producing it because we want to help activate consumers active lifestyles, we decided that a mark wasn't necessary. At least at this moment. Maybe in the future we we bring a mark in so we we settled on using a word based logo, just our text MAKA, we wanted to make sure that our cans, really branding, not just cans like so you'll see it across our website or business cards, our sell sheets and all that stuff are colorful, vibrant, engaging, fun. It's definitely slightly feminine, but still very approachable. We also decided to be purposefully direct in our imagery. If you look at our cans, it's wheatgrass, we chose that over being an abstract. And it's okay to be abstract. In our case, we just wanted to be very wheatgrass forward, we didn't want to hide it. There's there's some products that do contain small amounts of wheatgrass and they kind of hide it, they may be touched upon it might find it on the back, it's front and center for our brand. This was a brand strategy decision that we made and we just were owning it. We're making sure that that's carrying through all our various touch points. Not only that, we decided to make a really strong statement, which has now become our mission. Wheatgrass for all. You find that on our cans packaging print, you'll find that everywhere. Again, it's something we're trying to own really trying to promote this great superfood. 

Brian Hill  27:40  
Your brand is on your physical product, where else do you need to focus it and look at where your brand might sit and how it would interact?

Russell Hirshon  27:51  
Every single touch point I mean, honestly, it's your branding extends across so many potential spaces that that as long as you have the core messaging identified, that you just have to assume like it's going to appear you know, out of home on Billboard's it could be people's T shirts, it could be on leave behinds, it could be in stores, it could be on shelf talkers, social, it literally appears everywhere. You want to stay true to it, you want to stay on target, you want to reinforce your your messaging. So that just like when you look at any other icon or logo that stands for so much more than the name itself, it means it represents a lifestyle and a way of living. Because we extend our own lives through the products we drink consume and wear you know I what I spoke about with so high level because to create a brand strategy takes weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks to do logos. It takes weeks and weeks and weeks and it's iterations and it's workout and then there's back and forth. But what you did to get where we are today was literally make decisions that you thought what are these? Here's my audience that that I'm communicating with. Here's what I want to say and am I doing what I'm saying? And when you created this company, I think you set it up to be exactly that way.

Brian Hill  29:27  
Yeah, you're spot on. And it's not like this took like was an overnight process. To your point. This took months, not weeks for me to get here. It was a great experience. I remember sitting on the couch every night for a few weeks just trying to figure out exactly what font to use for MAKA because it has to resonate. It has to look good it has to match with what the brand images like it As silly as that sounds to spend weeks looking at fonts, it's important, agencies might be able to accelerate that for you in some aspects. But if you're gonna do this solo, just realize this, this isn't an overnight exercise, this is going to take time and iterate,

Russell Hirshon  30:16  
yeah, you're creating a personality. And I don't think there's a time where someone said it would get done in a certain period of time that it actually got done in that period of time. 

Russell Hirshon  30:27  
Yeah, if everything went right, if everything goes perfect, if you don't have any negative feedback, if you don't have any changes necessary, there always changes, then it will be completed in the in the time you hope. But that's because these things are so important. And they require so much consideration. As to your point, that doesn't take weeks, it takes months, because at the end of the day, it's the most one, it's every decision is the most important decision.

Brian Hill  30:55  
But at the same time, you always have to be moving forward, do not get stuck here. You can always pivot, you can always iterate it into a different look, spend time make sure it looks close enough to what you're trying to do, but do not get stuck. I've seen too many brands not move forward, because they got stuck here. 

Brian Hill  31:17  
It's important to come up with a singular statement that manifests who you are. And by you I mean the brand, what everyone in the company, how they speak about the brand, how they convey the brand, and what you do as a brand. For us, it's wheatgrass for all we think it's very important that wheatgrass becomes an ingredient that everyone has access to, in a meaningful in an affordable way. That's an impactful statement for us, it's gonna be different for every, every other company. Do you have any advice on how to come up with or even start thinking through that impactful statement?

Russell Hirshon  31:54  
It actually comes from that messaging session that starts at the very beginning, where you gather the stakeholders, and you say, give us a list of your most the words that most represent who you think this either this product or company is, and, and then statements as well. And from those statements and words, as well as a consideration of a discussion of what the brand is as a whole, there were things that are going to distill themselves to the top. And from that, you'll get somebody who's a copywriter, or content creator, or a brand specialist who's going to say, You know what I'm able to represent and distill a single statement that best represents who you are and why it matters. And in this case in this case, you know, wheatgrass for all represents, and it goes back to the very premise of what you were doing. It's like you're, you're wanting to share the benefits of wheatgrass with more people so they can live a more active life. I think it's, you know, we both have had this discussion many, many times. But it's it's easy to share and believe in this because we live it every day.

Brian Hill  33:10  
One final thought on taglines here, trademark it, if you have a good one, and you think it's going to be representing your brand. Trademark it as soon as you can. It's a long process, you can pay to expedite it, but it's probably taking 14 months if you just want to go through the standard process. So start now, 

Brian Hill  33:31  
I just want to leave with a couple of takeaways, if you decide that you want to do this solo, this is just my personal experience. And this is is how I would say accelerated coming up with the brand. There's some tools out there that you can use just make this easy for yourself. Adobe Creative Cloud if you've if you have just a little bit of creativity, if you think you can learn on the fly. Try it yourself. Give it give it a go on your own before bringing in a freelancer or before considering an agency. Just start with a baseline and to do that use Adobe Creative Cloud 60 bucks a month, you get everything. The key ones would be illustrator, you're going to need that to do like your your labels, your layflats and all that stuff. You have Photoshop, great for creating mock ups and renderings of what you're looking to do. When we're talking about branding and you're thinking about website start with xD. xD create it's like drag and drop wireframes of what you want your your website to look like. And then there's imagery. There's incredible tools out there. One of the best ones is actually Envato elements. And we'll link to all these Envato gives you anything you can think of if it comes from photo video, if you want templates you can find it on Envato so Have Be easy on yourself use these tools play around, come up with something and then bring it to an agency or freelancer whichever route you decide upon. 

Brian Hill  35:10  
You had your great tasting product, now you have a compelling design. So in our next episode, we will be talking about creating prototypes, and using them with prospective investors and retailers. 

Brian Hill  35:24  
That brings us to the end of this episode of making MAKA. If you have any questions, comments or ideas about our episodes, please send an email to If you like what you hear, I'm making MAKA. Please share the podcast with friends and family and review us on your preferred listening platform. On behalf of MAKA, thank you for joining us on this journey.