When the going gets tough, get giving

May 1, 2009

6a00d8345194a469e2011570641eae970bWhen the going gets tough, get giving. These are tough economic times for everybody, especially marketing agencies and consultants. When things were quiet for us back in January, I booked some events, made some contacts and looked for some ways to give back. Giving your services away with coupons and deals just undermines your value. But giving it away completely to companies in need not only feels good it helps your community and builds your brand.

I choose to team up with other successful Atlanta companies so we could give an entire package of services to a local non-profit. One great benefit of this is that it can be an excellent case study to share with prospects. One of the most difficult parts of being a consultant is usually you can’t discuss any of the great work you do.

I’m extremely honored to be part of the On The House team which is giving a $100,000 extreme marketing make-over to a needy non-profit. There was an extensive selection process with applications, interviews and meetings to choose the lucky winner.

The winner is: The Swift School, a non-profit school for grades 1 to 6 that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia.





We start the process on Monday morning with a Ries & Ries half-day brand strategy session. Al & I will be working with the Swift School team and Matchstic to develop the marketing plan that will then be executed with brand logo design, website design, photography, videography, brochures and other materials.

It is going to be very exciting and I look forward to sharing the work and experience with all of you.

The idea for On the House was conceived by Matchstic, a brand identity house here in Atlanta run by Craig Johnson and Blake Howard. Craig recently interviewed me about the project which I’d like to share with you.

CRAIG JOHNSON: How did you hear about On The House?

LAURA RIES: Blake, Craig and I were all chosen as Top 40 Under 40 award winners by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in the Fall of 2008.

Few of the winners were in branding (a lot of lawyers and real
estate executives), so we gravitated towards each other. They guys had
read some of my books and I was intrigued by Matchstic.

Sometimes you just click with people and that is what happened with
me and the guys. After spending an hour or so having coffee with Craig
talking about branding and life he mentioned the On The House project.
I instantly signed up.

CRAIG JOHNSON: Why did you want to be a part of On The House?

LAURA RIES: I wanted to work with Matchstic. I
wanted to give something back to the local community. And I wanted to
keep busy during this recession.

CRAIG JOHNSON: What makes The Swift School a perfect candidate for On The House?

LAURA RIES: The Swift School
is the perfect candidate because they have everything but a brand. They
have a wonderful school that nobody knows about with marketing
materials that don’t do it justice.

The school is well respected by experts, lead by fantastic teachers,
filled with thriving children and supported by loyal parents. But
nobody has heard of it, the logo is dated, the positioning unclear and
marketing materials in need of investment.

Like many non-profits all the money has gone into running the place.
Many see the investment in branding frivolous. But nothing could be
further from the truth.

After the On The House team gets finished with Swift, I think it
will serve as a great example of how a focused brand well executed can
succeed. Branding means owning something in the mind.  And for Swift
strengthening and defining its brand will allow them to sell less and
teach more, by making it easier attract students, teachers and donors.

CRAIG JOHNSON: What types of clients do you normally work with?

LAURA RIES: We work with a wide variety of clients
from Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Frito-Lay and Disney to
entrepreneurial companies like The Republic of Tea and Papa John’s
Pizza. We don’t specialize in any industry or company size. Our
specialty is branding. We help companies to focus. A focus is the key
to building a brand in the mind.

You are going to be providing a brand strategy session for the Swift
School. Tell us about what you’ll be doing during the session.

My partner/father Al Ries
and I are going to lead one of our brand strategy sessions. This is the
core of what we do. We don’t have long term clients we only work on a
one-day basis. This is the opposite of the way most consultants work.
Most consultants study the situation, figure out the solution and
present it to the client. We work together with the client to find the
answer. That way everybody has ownership of the idea and understands
how we got there. Many times there is internal conflict about what the
brand is or should be, we help to resolve conflicts and get everyone
focused and enthusiastic about the strategy.

CRAIG JOHNSON: What will The Swift School walk away with from that session?

LAURA RIES: The Swift School will walk about from
the session with a marketing plan. Swift will have nailed down its
brand focus and the exact verbalization of the idea.

CRAIG JOHNSON: What do you think is the most important rule in branding?

LAURA RIES: The most important Law of Branding
is the Law of Focus. The way to build a strong brand is by having a
narrow focus and owning a word in the mind. Ex. BMW owns driving. Volvo
owns safety. Red Bull owns energy drinks. Target owns cheap chic. Zara
owns fast-fashion. Nordstrom owns service. FedEx owns overnight.

CRAIG JOHNSON: How can non-profits organizations benefit from a well thought out branding strategy?

LAURA RIES: Non-profits benefit the same as
for-profit companies from a strong brand. Strong brands are more
successful. They have the ability to generate
donations/support/volunteers/PR easier.

Even if you are doing good work it isn’t easy to get attention for
it these days. We live in an over-communicated society. We are
bombarded daily with thousands of images, sales pitches and charity
requests. The only way to get above the clutter is with a focused brand
and message. It is the same whether you are selling cars or curing

CRAIG JOHNSON: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

LAURA RIES: My favorite thing is being able to work
with my Dad. We have been working together since 1994 and he has taught
me so much about branding and life. I love being able to travel around
the world, meeting new people, learning about different business and
helping them to succeed.

CRAIG JOHNSON: What’s the one piece of advice would you give a non-profit that doesn’t have resources to hire a brand strategist?

LAURA RIES: Many companies especially non-profits
hesitate to focus their brand and message. They want to make there
message as wide as possible. But this is a mistake. Your message and
brand needs to be focused in order to get into the mind. You don’t have
to include everything you do in your message. Also read my article: Marketing a Non-Profit Brand.