A Conversation With Michael Bell On Branding

by | Feb 3, 2022

This past summer I finally caught up with my old friend Michael Bell to talk about the Business of Branding and how The Modern Brand has been kicking ass for the past 15 years. Michael is one of the smartest, most forward-thinking marketing professionals I know, and his team has worked on hundreds of projects over the years, so when I decided I wanted to interview someone about Branding…He was the first and only call I made. He came out guns blazing…

Gayle Rogers: 

Hey man, thank you for doing this. I am glad I finally tracked you down. I know you are busy and have a lot more important people to talk to than me, so I’ll jump right in…“What is Branding?”

Michael Bell:

I start this conversation with every client, that branding is the wrong word. Branding has gotten this meaning of that’s my visual logo name. That’s your brand name. What I do is elevate that conversation back up to what we’re talking about is brand positioning.

What I’m selling and what’s important is brand positioning. Branding is one piece of that. What it looks like is one component of brand position, but let’s talk about brand position, why it’s important, and why it delivers value. The answer is everyone in America is a consumer.

Every touchpoint affects that opinion. Is this a high-end expensive company? Is this a tech-forward Apple-type company? Is this a value brand that’s going to be affordable? Is this a lifestyle brand, like Yeti coolers? How does that brand make me feel, and what do I think about it? It’s going to happen. Every consumer is going to encounter your brand in some place, have some touchpoint, and they’re going to form an opinion about you.

Brand positioning is controlling that opinion. There are things we can do to affect where that consumer categorizes you, from the way your packaging looks, to the way the copy’s written, to what colors we use in the website. We can be intentional about what position we want.

What we do with clients is, we spend a lot of time talking about ideal brand position. What do we want to be known for? What are the top five words we hope come to people’s minds when they encounter our brand, across all channels?

I don’t care if they encounter it on the shelf at Target. I don’t care if they encounter it, because they saw an ad on Facebook. Wherever they’re going to have that touchpoint, there are things we can do to intentionally move towards the ideal brand position.

If we can all agree that this is what we want to be known for, then that informs every decision in future marketing. Does this move us towards the ideal brand position? Is a consumer going to see this, and think we’re the luxury company, we’re the value company, or we’re the innovative company?

Branding is one component of that. Obviously your logo, your colors, your name, help with that. You can be intentional there too, but you have to think about it at a higher level. It’s your price point? It’s your sales message. Everything contributes to that brand position, and what a consumer is going to think of you when they have that touchpoint. That’s my pitch. Branding is a subset. Don’t get hung up on that. Let’s talk about positioning. Let’s talk about psychology.


Okay, that’s really good.


Then we can break that down into all the different things that contribute to that, but if you know what you want to be known for, what your uniques are, or what your intention is, everything else gets easier. Then, we’re not debating our sales pitch. Then we go back and say, “Does this align with the ideal brand position we want to achieve? Yes or no?” That’s my elevator speech on it.


I Love It!


For us, that first deliverable, that first piece of this is what we call a Brand Roadmap. It’s a lot of things about keywords, personality, etc., but we bring it back to the three Ps of brand positioning.

It comes down to your promise. What are you promising to consumers? Your personality, what’s that tone of voice, where are you coming from? Are you the guide? Are you the confidant? Are you the peer to peer? What’s the personality? Then, the third one is that ideal brand position. The math equation we show people is, “If you get the promise right, and you get the personality right, it equals the position,” because the position is something you can’t really control. That’s what the consumer’s going to do for you. You can know what your ideal is, and if you did the promise and the personality right, you will achieve an ideal brand position.


That makes complete sense.


In that sales pitch piece of that roadmap, we’ve made them do an absolute statement, “Blank, the name of your company, is the only blank that blanks.” What is the one thing that you do that no one else does? What is that absolute statement? You better have one. There better be one thing. I mean, you can get so specific, there better be one thing that you do that nobody else will do.




That’s really insightful and at the same time really simple. Okay, so is there anything else?


That’s all I got on that. I mean, it’s funny how branding has come into the mainstream as a “thing” that everybody wanted. Then it’s faded out as something that people don’t want anymore, think it’s too expensive, don’t see value in it, or it’s only for Coca-Cola. If you can just park that word and talk about positioning, talk about what you want to be known for, people get it. They want it and then they come to see me.

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