Reboot and Reframe: Branding lesson for life #5: LEARN WHEN TO SAY NO

say_NODo you constantly say “yes” to all the wrong things, leaving you absolutely no time or energy when the right opportunities come along?

If you’re an entrepreneur and you can’t relate to this, I’d love to meet you.

We all worry about saying “no” to business, partnerships and even advertising opportunities. What if this is my one chance to attract a boatload of customers? What if this is the only client I get this quarter? That old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is definitely a truism…..sometimes.

If you constantly accept clients who don’t fit your ideal profile or the type of work you want to be doing, how can you free yourself up to attract a better, more profitable client for the long run? Understanding your brand in clear detail will help you determine if someone is a good fit. It will help you say no to marketing opportunities that seem seductive at first (“Wow! This event attracts 5000 women!”) but in reality, turn out to be a waste of time and money (“Oh, those 5000 women will never be the ones who will buy from me!”)

As I learned to adapt to my new reality post-brain injury, I couldn’t say yes to as much as I would have in the past. I had to be selective in which clients I accepted and how I spent my time. This meant turning down some work that, while intriguing and interesting, was not going to be a good fit for me. And you can do this in an elegant and tactful way. You can explain that you don’t have bandwidth right now with your current client load, or you can recommend another resource that might be a better fit for their needs.  With partners, you can gently say the opportunity looks fabulous but you think you might be going after different target markets. With an advertising opportunity – well, this is business after all, and you can simply say, “We don’t see this as a valuable way to spend out money, but thank you for thinking of us.”

Remember, your clients and partners say something about your brand. They are your advertising.

By focusing on what you want, what you’re good at and what you can realistically deliver, people will appreciate your honesty more than they’ll appreciate you not having the time or mental energy to properly serve their needs.

View the juicy video for Lesson #5  here.

How do you determine which work to take on and which to pass up? Any tips or fun stories about times you have turned down opportunities?

BACKSTORY TO THE SEVEN LESSONS: What do recovering from a  brain aneurysm and branding have in common? Quite a bit, it turns out. Recently, I got the wonderful opportunity to share my dramatic story at a Women Business Owners luncheon and I promised I’d post the lessons here for everyone. This is a seven-post series.

Lesson #1: Focus (and backstory to the series)

Lesson #2: Be Authentic

Lesson #3: Count on Your Tribe

Lesson #4: Practice Patience

What you never want a customer to say about your business

We’ve talked a lot here at Red Slice about “walking your talk” and living your brand inside and out. Here is one newspaper article quote you never, ever, EVER want associated with your company and brand:

Chevron’s rhetoric and the public image that they put forward is very different from how they’re actually operating.”

This is from a recent WSJ article citing Chevron’s new ad campaign. The campaign attempts to answer critics head-on and evoke almost an anti-industry message. In an industry where most advertising shows generic, almost fairy-tale images of “frolicking children, serious scientists and splendid vistas of mountains and rivers”, Chevron is going head-on to address what oil companies should and shouldn’t be doing on a moral level. Headlines like “oil companies should support the communities they’re a part of. We agree.” and “Oil companies should put their profits to good use” abound in this campaign.

But are people buying it? Apparently not all of them, as indicated by the quote above.

Don’t make a claim unless you can really support it. And if you really want to make that claim in order to remain competitive, then ensure you modify your practices, policies, products or personnel to back up that claim. There are no shortcuts. Do what you say, say what you do. That’s how you build a strong brand over time.

Do you think oil companies can effectively change their brands over time? If so, how?

Philanthropic Giving: Business Model or Brand Message?

As mentioned in a previous post, giving back to the community and maintaining responsible business practices are really hot for consumer loyalty right now. I personally hope this trend continues into perpetuity, as businesses have amazing reach and leverage to make a difference in the world. I pray this is not just a fad.

I read a sidebar in the WSJ today about businesses following in the footsteps (no pun intended) of Toms Shoes. For every pair of shoes they sell, they give one pair to a child in need. Pretty cool. While this may add extra costs or eat into margins, its also the reason why many loyal customers continue to support Toms – and they get ton of great PR around it. The WSJ article states that a July survey by Cone LLC found that 19% of adults would switch brands – even to those with higher prices – to support a cause. That’s pretty powerful, especially during a recession.

Toms passes the extra costs onto consumers, who don’t mind paying it because, hey, they need shoes anyway and want to help people in need at the same time. Now many start-ups are mimicking this concept in small ways. The article cites Warby Parker who gives money to a nonprofit called Restoring Vision or every pair of glasses they sell. And a necktie retailer called Figs donates school uniforms to children in Africa for every tie sold.

While profit margins and growth may be slowed because of this, the companies seem to be trading off brand loyalty and attracting a  certain kind of loyal customer for the long term. That’s pretty smart, if they can keep it going. But I wondered if this is a business model shift or a brand shift? Obviously, you have to tweak your pricing and fulfillment to make this happen, so it does impact the business model and how fast you can grow. But it also ties so closely in with the “soul” of the company and what it stands for – and that is a brand decision if you ask me. It’s promoting a value to attract customers who share that value – which means it’s about a promise and a targeted message. All branding decisions.

Whatever you call it, I like it. And I hope it continues. But maybe that is because I am the type of person they are trying to attract. If someone is striving to make ends meet and cares about price, they are not the target audience for these companies.

Does that mean businesses who engage in this practice always need to be targeting a more affluent customer? What do you think?

Why I chose Droid over the iPhone: A college student’s perspective

Guest post by Red Slice intern, Suzi An

I traveled to Los Angeles for ten days in early July for a class that I took during the spring and I somehow ended up having my phone stolen five days into the trip. Once I returned back to Seattle, I immediately went to purchase a new phone. I was met with a dilemma: be connected constantly with a smart phone or have a simple phone that performs the necessary functions. As a college student, I feel as if I am missing out on having a smart phone because everyone around campus would be walking around with their fancy phones that could do a million things while my phone struggled to keep up with me. Maybe it was fate that my phone magically disappeared because I was immediately drawn in to the world of a thousand possibilities in the palm of my hand.

When I walked into the retail store, I noticed that T-Mobile had a wall dedicated to shiny and sleek Android phones. Being attracted to sparkly and shiny things, I ended up walking towards the long white wall and staring at a cell phone that essentially looked like the iphone but in Samsung form. I was mesmerized. All thoughts of buying a non-smart phone had completely vanished into the consumer’s abyss. I knew that because T-Mobile does not carry iphones, this was the closest I would ever come to own such a device. My mind flashed back to the TV ad campaigns that Android had put out within the year. All I could think of was what the Droid actually does. The high-tech machine robot in all the commercials had gotten me intrigued by all the possibilities that this phone could do. I carefully pick up the sleek phone and the bright screen turns on. I tap the screen and see that the fallen-leaves-on-water wallpaper moves as if my finger had dropped into the water. It was a little much for me but it was fascinating to see this phone interact with me. I then see all these different applications that were on the screen. I slide through at least 8 screens where each was had at least two apps on it. Long story short, I made my decision in less than a second. I wanted a smart phone just like everyone else so that I could check the weather or stalk people on Twitter or play awkward games like The Moron Test (which I passed, I’m not sure if that means I’m a moron…).

Obviously, I purchased this ridiculously expensive phone and my friends and I compared it to the iphone and their ad campaigns. Now, when most people think about the iphone, they think of AT&T, poor reception, and dropped calls. There is no image that I associate with the iphone, other than the sleek Apple whereas with the Android, I associate it with a hi-tech robot that is able to do everything I want it to do. That’s not a very positive way for the iphone to be perceived but no one seems to care because it’s an Apple product. It is highly desired, easy to use, and profitable. Apple products are undoubtedly popular among college students and because the iphone came before Android, Apple is going to win over customers because people are familiar with the brand. Apple practically infests my campus (to which I undeniably contribute). Although I am a huge Apple fan, I cannot seem to shake the Droid away. It most definitely Does. I’ve spent more time fiddling with my Droid than I have with any iphone. The Droid commercial lives up to its name and I get excited every time I see the small green robot pop out of the corner of my screen. It is as if he’s saying, Hello, I’m here to make your life easier.

Monitoring your brand on social media

A big welcome to Red Slice summer intern Suzi An, the author of this guest blog post.

Once a brand has been established, it’s easy to forget the importance of monitoring its impact. How do you know if it’s “working” or if the right buyers are responding unless you immediately see  a sales jump (not likely to happen immediately).  Many business owners and entrepreneurs develop a brand and expect it to work it’s magic. This is true to a certain extent, but it takes much more than just a logo to build a reputable status. This is why it’s important to monitor your brand so that you may see how people perceive it in addition to their reactions. This will give you the means to tweak the necessarily elements in order to create the brand that matches your identity.

There are many tools out there that can be used to observe who is talking about your brand and the exciting thing is that you have the option to monitor your reputation for free. Here a few free tools that are user friendly and can be customized to your liking.

1. GOOGLE ALERTS: The most popular as well as accessible tool that is buzzing around is Google Alerts. This tool sends you email updates daily, weekly, or on a real-time basis on the latest topics of your choice, or your brand name. You can even customize where you want Google to search for your name such as blogs, articles, videos, etc.

2. TWEETBEEP: Tweetbeep uses Twitter to email you updates every time someone Tweets about your keywords. The great thing about this tool is that you can set alerts up for what people are saying about your competitors in addition to your industry sector.

3. BLOGPULSE TREND SEARCH: This tool allows you to create graphs based on buzz trends for your keywords or phrases. BlogPulse gives you a visual on how your brand is doing online and you can easily compare and contrast results to your liking.

4. BRAND MENTIONS: This social media listening tool forages around user-generated content, which includes comments, blogs, events and tracks mentions of your keywords throughout these areas. Brand Mentions searches through Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Delicious, Twitter, etc and emails you results. You may also choose to subscribe by RSS.

Though this is a relatively short list, there are more than hundreds of tools on the Internet whose soul purpose is to help businesses and entrepreneurs alike in securing their brand. Use these tools to your advantage, meaning collect your data, analyze, and take your next step in making your brand beyond everyone’s expectations.

This is a guest post from our new Red Slice intern, Suzi An.

Are you ready for a Big Turn Off?

Yes, I know. We normally ask for people, places and things to turn us on, ignite our creativity, spark our inner muse.  But good friend of Red Slice and Guru of New Sarah Browne just unplugged and regained some sanity on her recent trip to Alaska. I loved what she had to say in this interview at The Big Turn Off and how she views the whole world of social media as a branding mechanism.  As a branding strategist, I 100% concur with her opinions: just because you can brand doesn’t mean you should.

I’m especially torn about the whole personal branding movement we’re experiencing. From Gary Vaynerchuk’s call to arms for following your passion and monetizing it to smaller players in a niche space, millions are flocking to their own platform. Part of me loves the freedom of self-expression that we are experiencing. As an actress, I’m all about telling stories and not letting old fuddy-duddy gatekeepers, networks or publishers prevent someone with an important message from getting it heard in the world (and especially when said-gatekeepers give wretched people like The Real Housewives and the cast of The Hills a voice). I love the niche interest sites, the recipe blogs, the wine sites, the inspirational communities that have been birthed in recent years.


With any freedom, there is a quality-control price to be paid. People out there claiming to be experts who will “gladly share their secrets of success with you if you become a member, pay $5000 and attend my boondoggle conference in the desert every spring.” Exploitation comes in many forms and while there are those out there offering true value, many others are the digital age’s new used car salesmen or snake oil peddlers. Just because I can self-publish a guide at Kinko’s and spin it out via social media to the masses does not mean it’s high value or useful to anyone.

I’ve been skeptical now for a while of anyone whose personal brand comes off” infomercially.” If I see a web page with lots of exclamation points, testimonials, different size fonts, random use of color, and lots of words in BOLD, I tend to put my guard up. Again, some of this is very useful information to be shared and enjoyed but… can we tell the good from the bad? I don’t necessarily believe all content should be free either (that is for another blog rant). After all, someone has worked hard to research, filter and write useful content and I believe it’s not our God-given right to get everything in this world for free. But it’s a blurry line, isn’t it?


What are your thoughts? How do you feel about personal branding in the digital age? Are things getting our of hand? Do you need a break> Any platforms or gurus out there you really like who are bringing good stuff to the party? Share in the comments.

It sucks when you ruin your brand, doesn’t it?

As with all branding, personal branding – formerly known as “your reputation” – relies on clarity and consistency across what you say, how you look and what you do. We all work very hard to build up and safeguard our personal brands. Often, as we go through life, we don’t even know what our personal brand should be until we really get clear on who we are and what we are all about. You then find that your natural actions – your attention to detail, your creativity, your positive energy – created that personal brand long before you even thought about it.

Yesterday, my personal brand took a hit. And it wasn’t even intentional.

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say I did something – in all innocence, I swear – that I wasn’t supposed to do. I broke the rules without meaning to. Now a person who I truly admire but who I have never met thinks I’m horrible. Of course they would: they don’t know me personally and my brand has not had a chance to prove itself over and over again. They have not seen me stop for a stop sign when no one else is around, or inform the restaurant hostess that the ladies room is out of TP, or give back the extra change I received in error from a distracted barista or use a corporate credit card with full responsibility. Their interaction with my personal brand was limited and so I didn’t have that “cred” built up. Now this person either thinks I’m stupid or a scammer. And they told me blatantly that “I was smarter than that” so I can only assume they think the latter.

As someone who detests breaking the rules (and detests it even more when others do) this was a hard pill to swallow, needless to say. I realized all the explanations in the world won’t change this person’s mind. I was upset all day yesterday and into today, much like the horrible feeling I had as a child of doing something wrong and knowing mom and dad were disappointed in me.

That’s the thing with brand: You’ve got to be vigilant. You need to remember that every new customer does not have history or know the story of how special you or your business really is. You have to prove it every time. And when things go wrong…and they will (hello BP, Tiger Woods, and now Maria Ross) I guess the most important aspect of your brand is how fast you recover, how sorry you are, and how you try to make amends.

Have you or your business ever suffered a brand hit? Please share the story and the lessons you learned in the Comments.

Be careful how you sell

This may sound like an odd title, but HOW you do business really is just as important to your brand as WHAT you do, or your logo, communications, etc. Take a lesson from a business owner who I am sadly watching destroy their brand through pushy, in-your-face promotional tactics.

This person is an expert in their field. They have years of experience and have gotten real results for people. But somewhere along the line, this person got some bad advice from a coach, or colleague or guru and has started to destroy their hard-earned brand image. Someone must have told this person that in order to make more money they needed to sell, sell, sell. Which, of course, one does need to do in order to make money and we talked about being an effective salesperson in a previous post. But you can’t be a robot about it if you want a brand that still needs to stand for excellence, expertise, and influence. You need to practice good judgment and tact as well.

This person is now in 100% sales mode at every waking moment – to the point that they are selling at inappropriate times and speaking engagements.  And when I say inappropriate, I really mean it: we’re not talking about the good sense to promote yourself when you are networking or speaking. We’re talking highly inappropriate as in, you have not respected your audience enough to know when to pull back. The well-respected brand is now eroding into an infomercial. Which is okay, if that is the business you are after, but given this person’s value and years of experience, I’m not sure that is what they want their brand positioning to be.

This truly makes me sad as I watch this happen and I hear the rumors and see people distancing themselves from this brand. Remember, how you behave and how you do business is probably more important to your brand promise than any graphic or website ever could be. Brand is visual, verbal AND experiential. And this person could be hurting themselves in the long haul. Sure, maybe they are making tons of money and then, what the heck do I know? There is certainly a market and a place for such a brand and maybe that is indeed what this person wants to go after.  But personally, I’m not sure I’d want to forsake my reputation for some short-term gains in a way that might cause me to miss the boat on being the kind of business I really want to be.

Brand at work: How DRY Soda’s brand has evolved

Here’s a peek at a case study that will be featured in my upcoming book, Branding Basics for Small Business, due out this Spring/Summer:

A strong brand strategy does not remain stagnant; it can evolve to adapt to changing demands and dynamics while still staying close to its roots. Sharelle Klaus, Founder and CEO of DRY Soda Company (, has evolved her strategy while still staying true to her mission of creating a new soda category. Sharelle saw a market need for a modern non-alcoholic beverage when she was pregnant and couldn’t drink alcohol. As a food and wine lover, she grew frustrated with the lack of options available to pair with fine meals. Sharelle hoped for a drink that was simple, all-natural, caffeine-free, low in sugar and made with the highest quality ingredients – a beverage that could complement great food or act as a light refreshment on its own. DRY Sodas come in seven flavors: cucumber, vanilla bean, juniper berry, lavender, lemongrass, kumquat and rhubarb. DRYs brand is modern, all-natural, well-designed and sophisticated and this is conveyed through their gorgeous bottles, their visual identity and the fact that DRY is found in high-end restaurants, stores and at food and wine events.

As the brand grew, they protected it by carefully choosing high-end distribution partners and initially did not want to mass market it in any way. However, consumers’ beverage choices are changing and wellness has become a bigger priority to everyone, not just the higher-end market. People are cutting down on sugar and First Lady Michelle Obama has unveiled an initiative to fight childhood obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine asked soda companies to lower their sweetness level and DRY Soda was the only one that met the requirement. In keeping with their brand as a “modern soda company” they had to evolve the strategy to meet consumers where they are today. So they increased their flavor choices to include more mainstream preferences, decreased their price point to stay competitive, and opened up distribution channels. They are looking to begin selling through Target in 2011, a mass market brand but one with cache and sophistication that aligns well with DRY.

They are staying true to the brand by still choosing those distribution partners carefully. Partners that do not align with their carefully cultivated brand values will be turned down. As they open up distribution, DRY is finding which “brand levers” work in different markets. But they stay on course to the original brand values of all-natural, sophisticated, modern and well-designed so as not to alienate their early adopters.

“We still need to build the brand customer by customer even though we are expanding our reach,” says Sharelle. “We always want any new consumer’s first experience with DRY to be consistent with the brand and you tell your brand story by where people can find you. We build our brand region by region so people can develop strong emotional attachments– and that approach influences how we roll out the product in each new market.” DRY Soda can be found throughout the United States and Canada and in limited international distribution.

The Brand of Valentines Day


Many things in our lives have brands, other than businesses: Think Paris, Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day. Yes, I’m late to the party as it was yesterday, but the traditional brand of this festivus of love permeates our culture – and many have even backlashed against it. So how can a holiday have a “brand” you ask???

If brand (as Red Slice always believes) is the image or mindshare that something occupies in a person’s mind, then of course Valentines Day ranks right up there. Just hear the words and what is your reaction? Hearts, red, love, diamonds, flowers, chocolate? And true to form that brand lives in the mind of the consumer (no matter what Hallmark may try to tell us), people who have different experiences with the big V have different brands perceptions. Some people find it tacky, campy or fake. Others take issue with one day out of 365 being approved for “showing your love.” Still others that may not be romantically involved with anyone find it torturous, cruel and lonely.

Valentine’s Day in our house is good, simple, sweet fun but has also come to symbolize “crowded high-end restaurants with horrible service.” We spent a few years trying to dine out on the actual day, February 14, only to finally learn that prix fixe menus and restaurants that try to jam as many people in as possible make you feel like a heifer at the State Fair. We are willing to spend good bucks to dine out in style, but the food is always sub-par. There is absolutely nothing romantic about that – and to boot, many reputedly good restaurants have tarnished their own brand with us because of their chaotic atmosphere and mediocre mass-produced set menus -  to the point that we won’t go back on a regular night. We know this isn’t fair, but hey, once a brand impression forms (and it’s a negative one) it truly is hard to shake it.  These eateries may make a killing on one night of the year – but at what long-term brand price?

What are your brand perceptions of Valentine’s Day? Do you think the “brand promise” of romance, hearts and flowers is an accurate experience, or does Cupid suffer from a brand identity crisis by not walking the talk?

PS: We had our Valentines Dinner on Friday, February 12 this year. And mmmmmm….it was good and well worth the money this time around.  Lark Seattle, which we tried for the first time that night, lived up to its brand and so we will be back.