I would like to see our country fundamentally rethink our approach to education. I believe that the vast majority of subjects taught in schools are a total waste of time for the students and that some of the most important topics are the very ones that are almost never imparted to children.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Evan Nierman.
Evan Nierman, Founder and CEO of the international PR and crisis management firm Red Banyan. Throughout his 25-year-career, Evan has provided invaluable crisis communications counsel to top business leaders, government officials, presidential candidates and private individuals. Those dedicated to accomplishing their goals — and delivering the right messages at the right time — rely on Evan and his unrivaled team at Red Banyan to Press the Truth.®
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Prior to forming Red Banyan, I served as Director of Communications for a fast-growing, highly scrutinized start-up. I represented the company and guided the CEO through interviews with top-tier media, including dozens of international, national and local print, TV and online outlets. I started in D.C. working at the intersection of politics and policy and had the opportunity to see firsthand how stories are shaped in the media. I very quickly learned that some organizations are more effective than others at capturing and adequately telling their stories. Tapping into the power of the press is one of the most powerful ways to influence opinion. I went to work at a D.C. firm for high-stakes and crisis PR because the impact of that kind of work is immediate and makes a big impact. However, I quickly learned that while the clients were amazing, I felt that they should be treated differently. I decided that one day I would start a firm where we eschewed a transaction approach to business in favor of forming long-term relationships. I distinctly remember one evening at dinner saying to a colleague, “One day I am going to have my own firm, but we are going to do things very differently.” Years later I took the leap and made good on that pledge to myself. Starting Red Banyan was one of the best business and life decisions that I have made.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Our first company logo was truly abysmal. We went through two other iterations before arriving at our current brand and logo. Honestly, when I look back at our very first logo, I am mortified. It was a sinister-looking tree that appeared to have blood dripping from the branches. The lesson I learned was to pay attention to every detail when it comes to your own marketing and branding. In our world, the clients have always come first, but communications companies especially cannot afford to neglect their own PR and branding.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Business done right involves the CEO or other leadership team members constantly seeking the next tipping point. Red Banyan has not even scratched the surface yet in terms of what we will accomplish. For 2020 the goal is to rapidly encounter and leap over our next tipping point as a company. My mentality in business and in life is this: if you are not growing then you are dying. I am not a status quo type of person and I refuse to accept mediocrity. My professional and personal life are about wanting more and always striving to get better.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently looking at ways to take our service offerings and make them more accessible to a wider subset of the market. Our current pricing structure is not a fit for many organizations, so we are exploring ways to provide added value to more companies and organizations. This will allow us to dramatically increase the number of businesses and people whose lives we are able to change for the better.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Read more books. Listen to more podcasts. Most importantly: stop talking and start listening. Marketers, in particular, often love to hear the sound of our own voices. But real learning happens when you actively listen to the person in front of you. New ideas and new inspiration come from listening, not talking. Active listening is one of the most underutilized skills in the realm of communication. And if you need any validation, then feel free to ask my wife of 17 years, who will agree with that assessment!
Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
There is a fundamental difference between how you create a transactional experience with an immediate call to action, which is the route most often pursued when advertising a product, versus branding. The mechanics of how you advertise is flexible, whereas with branding (where you are in essence also selling ideas or issues), you try to tell the story of what you sell and the story behind who is doing the selling. Branding requires organizations to build awareness around their product or offering while at the same time shaping how the public sees you.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” What that means is that people want to buy products or services from companies that they like and trust. Therefore, telling your story and creating affinity and brand loyalty over time will yield far greater results than making one transactional sale with the customer relationship based on an exchange of goods and services for a set price and nothing more, nothing less. Companies need to make sales to stay in business; it’s a critical piece but it cannot be the only one. They also need to pay close attention to how they articulate their brand and seek to build loyalty among their customers. That is how you cultivate repeat purchases. Trust is at the core and that is what brand marketing is all about. You want customers to trust you and believe in you as well as the product or service you provide.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
If a company is failing to convey the proper look and feel, or if the impression they are making isn’t the right one then it is time to rebrand. A rebrand can be done in a situation where something is not working and is flawed, such as Red Banyan’s first logo, or it could be done simply to modernize and upgrade the company’s image. Even the most iconic brands in the world, responsible for producing the logos, commercials and earworm jingles that get stuck in our heads, often find ways to update and put fresh looks on their brands. Rebranding is something that should be thoughtful and careful, but it does not need to be such a painful experience that companies avoid it.
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
There definitely can be. PricewaterhouseCoopers sought to rebrand itself as Monday and then retreated quickly due to the backlash. Rebranding can be updating and modernizing, tweaking and improving. It does not necessarily have to be an overhaul where you are throwing the baby out with bathwater.
Some of the strongest brands in America have gone through rebrands. A good example is the fast food industry. These are challenging days for many of them as people are becoming more health conscious in their food choices. Some iconic fast food brands have adapted, updating their logos, the look, feel and décor within their restaurants aimed at creating a different dining experience. Big brands that have stood the test of time tinker successfully with their branding when they make it an incremental process. When you have built brand equity over time you don’t have scrap everything, but a fresh take is often a good thing.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
Share with care and post with purpose. This is a key social media strategy. Social media is a powerful tool which can be used as a force for good, or the quickest way to destroy a brand.
To “share with care” is to avoid revealing information that can threaten your safety or negatively impact your personal or professional brand, such as posting inappropriate content.
When you “post with purpose” you carefully consider the strategic objective behind your content. Digital footprints are permanent and the posts we share continue to live on even if deleted.
Press the truth. Spurred in large part by the ubiquitous nature of social media and growing global access to the internet, there are more ways than ever for businesses to engage with the public and drive their messages. Sitting back or employing outdated communications best practices will not suffice.
When you press the truth, you take bold action that puts your brand front and center.
Earlier stage businesses with less-established brands can quickly develop them with bold PR strategies that define themselves, set the tone, and tell their stories before others do so.
Employ three Ps to upgrade your organization and brand and keep them thriving.
Prevention. Think constantly and actively about how your organization presents itself. Prevent negative reflections on your brand through disciplined communication.
Preparation. Have a crisis PR plan in place at all times in order to get ahead of any potential threats to your brand.
Practice. Brand discipline requires practice. Members of your organization must constantly work to communicate your messages and ensure that your brand is shining through clearly and positively.
Always think about your reputation. It’s something that must be cultivated and carefully protected. The core values of your company should be reflected in all that you do, including your marketing and communications.
Use social media. This will help ensure that your story reaches your audience. Rally your PR team and social media managers to craft content that is truthful and authentic.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Mailchimp, whose brand has evolved as their products have evolved. The company released a new brand identity alongside a fresh design system. After their primary stage as a start-up, they homed in on what made them unique and brought that across with quirky appeal.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to see our country fundamentally rethink our approach to education. I believe that the vast majority of subjects taught in schools are a total waste of time for the students and that some of the most important topics are the very ones that are almost never imparted to children. Some examples of classes that I think would be wildly more valuable than the average school’s core curricula: personal finance, negotiation, interpersonal communication, entrepreneurship and public service. I’m inspired by thought leaders such as Anna Julia Cooper and John Dewey, who look at bring a more hands-on experience to education and strive to create more opportunity for the kids who need it most.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Not too long ago I had the opportunity of the lifetime to meet one of my personal heroes, Benjamin Ferencz, whose photo hangs on the wall of my office. Ben is the legendary last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor who made his mark on history when he successfully secured courtroom convictions against 22 Nazi perpetrators of crimes against humanity. And better yet, I got to share this experience with my son, Gabe. Ben has a personal philosophy that he shared with us that has shaped the foundation of both his personal and professional life: “Law not war.” He’s not just a hero of the Jewish people, but of all people and this personal philosophy of his is a life lesson in justice and humanity.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.