Contributor at StartupNation
Susan Johnston Taylor has covered business and entrepreneurship for publications including The Boston Globe, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. She’s also a regular contributor to the money section of USNews.com.
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A veteran of marketing, public relations, branding and creative direction, SheBrand founder, Liz Dennery Sanders, has helped some of the world’s most iconic brands tell their stories. Recognizing that not everyone can afford her services, Sanders recently published a book called “Style & Substance: How to Create a Compelling Brand: A Guide to Women Who Want to Build Their Confidence, Their Brands and Their Bank Accounts” to share her expertise with an even broader audience.
We caught up with this branding maven to discuss how brands fumble, why entrepreneurs need to understand their audience and more. The following conversation with Sanders has been edited for clarity and brevity.
StartupNation: Why is this book needed now?
Liz Dennery Sanders: Now more than ever, we need women to step up and say, ‘I can do this.’ We need more women in positions of power, both in business and in our government. There’s a statistic that She Should Run published that women are 51 percent of the population, but our government is less than 20 percent women.
Women really need to figure out who they are, what they stand for, why their work is important and how to speak in a more compelling and powerful way with their audience. But I think on a deeper level, this book is very much about helping women connect to their voice and express themselves in a more powerful way and ultimately become more successful.
StartupNation: You have over 20 years of business experience. Have branding strategies changed or is it just the channels we use to communicate that have changed?
Liz Dennery Sanders: It’s a little bit of both. It’s because of the channels changing that we now have the opportunity to go directly to our consumer. Before, we had traditional media, and that’s how you communicated your message. And now you really are a publisher. You have an opportunity to create content that is of value to your audience, to educate or entertain. All of these things are a very powerful way to connect with your audience and create a community.
The foundational pieces of branding are still the same. It really is still about that emotional connection and differentiation. How am I different from the tens of thousands of people that might be doing the same work that I’m doing? And then really understanding your audience and being able to connect with them on a deeper level. I think that has always been the case, but we now have so much more of an opportunity to reach that audience in multiple ways.
StartupNation: What are some of the biggest branding mistakes that you see?
Liz Dennery Sanders: I think one of the big ones is inconsistency. With a lot of the entrepreneurs that I work with, their website might look one way and then how they show up at an event or a speaking engagement might be a bit of a disconnect from what’s on their website. A confused mind never buys, so when there’s a brand disconnect, when you say one thing and do another thing, that is definitely hurting your brand.
I think another one is having too much of a megaphone approach. Social media is a blessing and a curse in that respect. We have all of these opportunities to connect with our audience and to get our message out there, but a lot of people are using it as an advertising platform. That’s not what it is. If all you’re doing is holding a megaphone out there and touting how great you or your products or services are, people are going to tune you out.
You need to make an effort to understand: “What is it that my consumer wants? What does she care about? How can I connect with her? How can I develop a relationship with her?” Those are the important questions that we have to ask ourselves as brands today.
Related: StartupNation Business Services
StartupNation: How can brands gain an understanding of their consumer?
Liz Dennery Sanders: Asking good questions. First and foremost, the brand has to understand who they are. Why are they doing the work that they’re doing? Why is it important? And most importantly, why is it important to their consumer? Why should she care about the work? What does it mean to her?
And then opening lots of lines of conversation, whether it’s through email surveys, focus groups, events, creating referral programs for friend of a friend, making her the influencer within the community. All of those things can be really important in terms of getting feedback.
StartupNation: What’s the most important takeaway that you want readers to get from your book?
Liz Dennery Sanders: Your voice is important, and what you care about and the work that you’re doing is important. How you express that to the world, your narrative, the story that you tell, is what is going to invite your right audience in. It’s important to learn how to tell that story, and to tell that narrative in a more engaging and compelling way.
StartupNation: What brands do you think execute that really well?
Liz Dennery Sanders: One of my favorite brands right now is Glossier, Emily Weiss’s company, which is a pretty new beauty brand. They were a content brand first with a really popular site, Into the Gloss, and then she launched the beauty brand. I think they’re doing a fabulous job of creating a sense of community with the women that follow them. They’re a millennial brand and they really understand that it’s not just about them, that it’s also about their community.
They created a Slack channel for some of their top clients to network with each other and get together and have lunch and give each other discounts at their places of work. They are actually helping their community connect with each other and it’s really had a domino effect in terms of the growth. In terms of their messaging, they’re very clear that they are an imperfectly perfect beauty brand for imperfectly perfect women, that we are all shapes and sizes, and there is something for everyone. They’re incredibly inclusive, and so they are creating such a loyal, raving fan base.