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StoryBrand Guide Brian Sooy Blending Clear Messaging & Clear Design - The ROI Online Podcast Ep. 10

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In this episode of the ROI Online Podcast, host Steve Brown speaks with fellow StoryBrand guide Brian Sooy.

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Brian is an agency owner, author of Raise Your Voice, and podcast host with a background in design. In fact, Brian went to school for graphic design before entering the design field.

His career evolved from there, though, and he eventually moved in a more marketing-oriented direction, became a solopreneur, brought others into his business, and moved into a mainly strategic role for his agency. The agency, called Aespire, works with businesses and entrepreneurs to improve their messaging, bringing design methods to bear on marketing. Brian’s aim is to use words and other design elements to produce clear messaging.

Steve and Brian discuss various aspects of the transition from working as a solopreneur to having a team. Brian talks about empowering both workers and business change, developing processes, determining who the company should serve (with either a niche or generalist character), and the reinvention process. Brian started out wanting to solve problems through design, but then specialized further and looked for a vertical sector to which he could specifically cater his work.

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This brought him to his current work, and his company as it stands now is most suited to companies with about 25 or 30 to about 1,000 employees; leaders of such companies tend to be approachable, want to see growth, and have much to gain from help with communication and the clarity of their message. Brian tries to help them to change their approach, find their voice, and think about their company in the long term.

At the present time, as Steve points out, the long-term view necessitates taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting move of business toward digital platforms. He and Brian discuss their use and the future of such means. They also consider the delivery of value to customers, which Brian sees as a major focus of his 25-year-old company.

Aespire helps businesses to unlock their full potential, works with a diverse assortment of brands, and tries to be of service even beyond profit to non-customers. Brian also sees the focus on providing value come into play in conversations with his clients; he works to help them determine their purpose, brand, and story, and so works to help them see their value. He tries to see and understand them in their virtues and values, and in turn to help them build a trusting relationship with their own customers.

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Learn more about Aespire at Aespire.com.

Learn more about Brian on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.

 

To learn more about StoryBrand, pick up your copy of Donald Miller's book, Building a StoryBrand, by clicking this link.

And you can get a shiny copy of The Golden Toilet on Amazon here:https://amzn.to/2X3NKlB

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Topics: Sales, StoryBrand, Graphic Design, HEO, Connection, Story

Brian Sooy : 

Internally, we can follow the same process. If a leader is out there saying, "These are the attributes of our brand. These are our values. And these are our virtues (which are two different things)." What does that mean for how we must behave and how we should be treating one another internally, and how we should be interacting with customers? Because that interaction should be consistent, internally and externally. I believe it was Sam Walton from Walmart who said, "Customers are going to be treated the way employees are treated internally." That's an exact quote, but that sentiment is: Leaders are treating employees and team members poorly. That's just going to flow through right up to customers. So there's a huge connection between those because we can't be split personalities. We can't be one way internally, and expect that not to show from the external.

Steve Brown : 

Hi, everybody. Welcome to the ROI Online Podcasts where we believe you, the courageous entrepreneurs of our day are the invisible heroes of our economy. You not only improve our world with your ideas, your grit and your passion, but you make our world better. I'm Steve Brown, and this is the place where we have great conversations with winners just like you while we laugh and learn together. Welcome back, everybody, to the ROI Online Podcast. today. I'm really excited to introduce you to Brian Sooy. Brian is a StoryBrand guide. He's also an agency owner. He's an author, and he also has a podcast. And I've gotten to knowing through the StoryBrand group, and this will be an interview that we proudly publish in our series of interviews with StoryBrand guides and agency. Brian, welcome to the ROI Online Podcast.

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah, thanks, Steve. It's great to be here. And I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you.

Steve Brown : 

Yeah, this is fun. I've been having great conversations with StoryBrand Guides and other business owners. And so you fit all the requirements for the folks that we want to have on this podcast. Because the folks that listen to this podcast, they're business owners. They're entrepreneurs, you know. They're fighting the same battles that you and I fight. And there's this one thing that I noticed in all my conversations: When we get to sit down and have a conversation with someone that is our peer, we figure out we're fighting common struggles. And there's this little thing that goes through our mind that says, "Oh, I'm not crazy." And that's illustrating how sometimes we feel alone. And we don't realize it others are wrestling with some of the same challenges and so the value of this conversation that you and I will have will be huge.

Brian Sooy : 

Great. I agree. I sometimes I say, "I feel alone as John on the Isle of Patmos," so the apostle john was exiled and like he was alone.

Steve Brown : 

Alone, yeah. And that's how we do feel because we were all these ads. So like John, for example, he's like having to find his food. He's just having to figure everything out on his own. Entrepreneurs and business owners like you and I do the same thing. So you have a handful of books that you've published. You have an agency that's been around for 25 years. You've been doing this for a long time. You have a podcast as well. Tell us a little bit of your backstory on how you landed into this area of your expertise or your value that you bring to the folks that you serve.

Brian Sooy : 

Sure, it's a story of continual reinvention. 35 years ago, I graduated with a BFA in graphic design from Bowling Green State University, and you can kind of break it up into decades. So that first decade was as a designer and actually lettering artist. I did a lot of hand lettering. I'm not sure if there's any brands you would recognize that still use some of the lettering, but hand lettering is using ink and paper back when people did it that way. Worked for American Greetings for a short spell in their art department. So that starting out as a designer then moving more into 25 years ago, similar situation as to what happened now. A layoff. So I got laid off and prior to that had vowed, "I'm never going to start my own firm because that's just too much work." And all of a sudden, I'm thrust into that situation. And that's continually evolved over again this last 25 years from being the solopreneur to deciding I want to manage an agency and bouncing in and out of all the different roles. I'm still not sure I've discovered what I'm the best at.

Steve Brown : 

Yeah.

Brian Sooy : 

But I have learned that I have strengths. Other people have strengths. Together, we balanced one another's weaknesses. And now my role is more of a strategist. I write. I do a lot of high-level strategy. And the other writing is all woven in and out of that. So everything's still around words. I'm either designing words, or I'm writing the words and using the all those together to create clear messaging for people. The whole idea of clarity goes back, again, 25 years. I have the first brochure I ever produced for the agency, and in there talks about helping businesses find clarity. And as you know, from the StoryBrand framework, it's all about clarity. So I feel I've come full circle, in a sense.

Steve Brown : 

That's awesome. You know, I think about some of the StoryBrand guides that listen to this. They start off as solopreneurs, or a lot of them do ,that we're aware of. And when I started my agency, I just had one person that was either dumb enough or smart enough to come on board and work alongside with me. But that's a big, when you say reinvention... There's many reinventions from going from, "Alright, I'm going to do this," to starting to build a team, to starting to design systems. I would love to hear some of your lessons from that journey that you've taken.

Brian Sooy : 

How long do we have? There are so many lessons. And it's not just those things from processes. So in a sense, you know, the whole process side is, you don't want to talk about replacing people with processes. But there's there's a way of strengthening the whole system by augmenting the people with processes that we're empowering. Yeah. And empowering... The empowering has been a huge word that we've used for a long time. We talk about empowering people, or empowering change to accelerate impact. The other part of that reinvention is not only internally but it's external. Whom are we going to serve? What are the verticals we want to serve? As in any business, whether we are an agency owner or we're consultants or niche business, if your niche enough, you're either serving a vertical that very strongly with your expertise or you're a generalist. You'll sell to anybody. But it doesn't help you increase your value to the people that you really want to serve. So if you're just trying to serve everybody, you're almost average at that point. Not that there's anything wrong with being a generalist. But you're serving a lot of different people and having to learn their systems and processes and sales approaches and how they should market to their individual audiences. But if you even systematize your vertical approach to business, you can start to then be more selective in the businesses you work with, and deliver far greater value based on your expertise. And that's what I think is really exciting about the whole reinvention process right now. And we're coming out of, I'd say 18 months of reinvention. Thankfully, this time, I think we hit ahead of the downturn last time. It coincided with the downturn and it was not pretty.

Steve Brown : 

You talking about me as a generalist and landing on some essence of your real strength and specializing. But I think we have to do a march through a generalist desert for a while to learn many things to grow in our diversity of experiences, to reveal an area that we figure out, "Oh my goodness, I never imagined myself actually enjoying that or being really good at that." In my case, I was always pushed over into a sales position, but I didn't realize all these other areas that I never, I never got to spend time or explore until I started this business. And I've discovered other things that I'm really good at, that I never would have done had I not started on this journey. What are some of the things that... I realized that we probably start off with one idea: where our agency is going to go. But along the path, we figure out, "Oh, no, it's not that. It's this." What was your experience?

Brian Sooy : 

And that's been different over the decades. So starting off, it was as a generalist and thinking more along the lines of, "Here's what I am good at." Again, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design. I also am a type designer. So those things coming together to basically solve problems through design and really design... It's a design thinking approach to solving problems, something that's actually really popular now through IDEO, formalizing that and turning it into their process. But we were doing that 25, 30 years ago, we just didn't know to call it at that point. So, I was designing websites and brochures and all the things, all the clutter, and thinking about the messaging behind that. I always like to say, "As a graphic designer, we're just simply contributing to the solid waste stream."

Steve Brown : 

By the word clutter. Contributing to the clutter, great.

Brian Sooy : 

Yep, we're adding noise. So we're part of that 35,000 pieces of email or marketing noise that you have to experience every day. But all that has to fight for attention. And it's a combination of the words and design and knowing how those work together to actually persuade and influence and inspire. That's something that design contributes to, so actually, I like to say, "Design makes words beautiful." But then also then starting to look at Well, if we're a generalist, there's also opportunity to serve vertical markets. Where am I interested in serving? What really can I take from my personal experience from the business experience and then apply to a vertical sector? My problem is: I'm what people call multi passionate. I'm curious about everything. I'm the type of designer who will dive into the pool where there's no water and invent the water on the way down. And that's not always a good thing. So I'm willing to learn, but after a certain time, you just like, "OK, I want to stop learning so many new things and apply them vertically." And so now the focus is more on really helping CEOs and business owners solve the problems that they have. Because when we talked about being alone and connected, I can relate to that. And there's a certain size business that we relate very well to the CEO, the business owner, the entrepreneur. And we connect not only on a personal level. Because of the thinking and design thinking approach that I have in the agency advocates, that it really creates a quick level of trust and reassurance for that CEO or business owner that we can guide them and we're here to come alongside them and help. We're not trying to sell them anything. We're trying to help them solve a big business problem. And those, those are wide and varied almost no way they can just say, "Here's the shopping list."

Steve Brown : 

There was a point where I had this epiphany that businesses go through a life cycle just like you and I. You're talking about phases, or 10 years, you changed or iterated or reinvented yourself. And businesses go through cycles, too. And I don't know why, but just one day, the light bulb went off. And I thought, "A business in its life grows up. It goes from a toddler to a teenager to more of a mature adult, and then it gets old and becomes... struggles to stay engaged." But I realized that there was a certain leader in the organization at a certain stage that we really connected with and you're alluding to that when you say that there was a certain size of businesses were the leader in that organization just immediately understood that there is a legitimate business process for design when you approach it from solving a business problem,. There's a there's a quote by Seth Godin I really love. He goes, "Our job is to creatively solve problems." And just because you're good at designing or drawing, and you call yourself a creative, that's true. But people that come up with unique solutions are creative as well. And it's not just the people that... I ran away from wanting to draw. It was just embarrassing. So I didn't embrace that. But I realized later, I'm very creative in many other ways. And so I am a creative just like you. Talk about the people that you started recognizing, you really connected with. What was that certain size?

Brian Sooy : 

So in terms of... It's interesting in terms of employees, it's anywhere from 25 to 30 up to 1000. It's still at about 1000 the CEO, while remaining still surrounded by strong teams, is still a approachable. And again, the commonality between that. And then say the owner of a local HVC firm. They're still approachable. They're really desperate and looking for help, because they know they're at a point where they can either stagnate or grow the organization. At the other end, when it's 900 to 1000 people, they're profitable, hopefully, and they're very strong, but they know there's always room for improvement. And the common thread between all of these comes back to: Clarity of messaging and story. Communications is the thread that ties it all together. At the one end with the big extreme, they're gonna have multiple initiatives serving different sectors, and some will be strong, but they don't align with the vision of say what the CEO has for them. So if they're X hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, but they know it could be multiple millions of dollars, what is it going to take to get to that. So we just start talking about that from. It's really it's the story you're telling, or it's the story you're inviting people into, or coming back to. They're talking about benefits here and you're just talking about features, but you're not actually engaging the customer. The other end, they're saying, "We've got too many things going on. We need to simplify and streamline it so there is clarity. So when our two or three CSRS, customer service reps, talk to customers, we're addressing their problems and their needs versus an HVDC firm." The favorite story I like to tell is they always talked about, "Well, we've got these great furnaces and air conditioners," and now they talk about, "Oh, sorry, you know what, we're sad to hear that your your hot water tank is leaking. That must... That's probably making you late for appointments. We'll be out there right away, so that you don't have to worry about that anymore." It's just changing the way the conversation is held. And then all of the touch points that align them with business goals and messaging.

Steve Brown : 

You're talking about. There's a transition in business, they go from short game, thinking, "I need to make it to next week. I need to make it through this month." To starting to evolve into more of a long... can afford, if you will, the entertainment of long game thinking and planning and implementation. And that seems to be the folks that this StoryBrand messaging really resonates with the most that I've recognized are the folks that are starting to search for a better way to do something. Well, that means they've come to a point in they sat back and thought about, "You know, we really need to get our act together online now and I... We need to start having a proper expectation of this investment. What is it?" So they start researching. They stumble into StoryBrand or they stumbled into your book or they stumble into my book, and they resonate with that messaging in there. And I've found that the conversations when when they're pivoting to how important it is to start investing in the long game stuff. That's where this messaging really can be impactful. It can impact the short game. But there's the leaders that we resonate with. I'm trying to measure, "What is their tolerance? Do they need to make something happen tomorrow? Or do they have the tolerance to go through getting the fundamentals correct, and then start building on those fundamentals?" When you talk about the size of your companies, that's where they are. They have they're starting to have a team that they can have an expectation of investing in that long term planning, no?

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah, they are. And they're, they're looking at not either or they're looking and both are saying we need to make these changes now. So we can create some short term impact. It may not be a profit impact. It may be process improvement change, but long term, then they're looking at, "What do we need to be doing now that's going to change the equation in six months, one year, two years, 10 years?" Because, you know, you talked through that that business cycle earlier and in an entrepreneurship environment, like if you were to work with an incubator, they would talk about startup growth phase, mature and then established. And it's as you age is where you need to start rethinking like a startup. And so there's a cycle that goes on. So maybe it's not the entire business. But if you're getting to the mature phase, you need to start looking at, "Well, we've created all these methods and processes. Can we productized them? Or are there other opportunities that we have to take what we're, we've already developed in create new revenue streams from them?" That's the kind of thinking that takes place. I've not seen that be any different, whether it's with a for profit organization at about that size at the lower end or not even a well run nonprofit, to a global corporation that's really looking for every aspect of the business to be delivering the ultimate value that they can both for consumers but also for the profit of the business.

Steve Brown : 

We think about this time that we're in right now. Got a blog coming out it, the title is going to be, "Well, can't you just do a zoom call?" Right? And I'm imagining the conversations that are going to happen with the CFOs, or the CEO, when the people come back and they want to go back to traveling, or going out and seeing people, or investing in what used to be normal and just accepted. But this event that we've been experiencing together has really reshaped the way that we see things and made us or forced a lot of us to consider things that maybe we were avoiding considering, which is remote working, or doing this. Having a zoom call instead of flying out and sitting side by side with a microphone like it used to be. What do you see as far as reinvention and how you're going to help your your customers in this new phase of business?

Brian Sooy : 

You know, we have embraced and had embraced the digital and the Zoom months prior to... We've been we've been using it because we do serve clients across the US and in North America. So it's not always possible to just jump on a plane and go to the other side of the country. But I'm going to use it to just say, "Look, can we do this on Zoom because it doesn't really be the type of meeting that we need to have in person." Like for instance, we have one client that's several hours away. And part of our contract was face to face meetings, I think twice a year. And it's four and a half hours to drive there to our meeting for and a half to drive back. Thankfully, I have family in the area and if I need to, I can stay with them. But that's just I believe, a colossal waste of time for a planning meeting like that when we could do it on Zoom. Accomplish just as much We both get six or seven hours back from that. But on the other hand, there are times where we just need to sit down, especially in the business we do. Because we're talking about paper, we're talking about finishings. And we're talking about the feel not only of how people feel, but the feel of objects. So your book that... Is your book is available in print, too? I know I have the ebook. So your books available in print. So people want to touch. They want to feel. They love the tactile feel of objects that they hold in their hand. That whole terms called unboxing now. When you get your Apple Air Pod Pros, the unboxing as part of the whole process, that feeling like, "I can't quite get the lid off because there's a vacuum suction." That's part of the experience. And if we can't be face to face, and if we if we can't help our clients deliver face to face in person experiences, where does that leave what we do? You can't just talk all the time. You have to actually experience that interaction. So I think it's a matter of finding the... Again, and both, of the whole process not not only for us internally as in our businesses, but what we can advise our clients. What's the best thing to do?

Steve Brown : 

Think about the thinking behind the paragraph in your agreement, where you're gonna have to face to face meetings every year. Why did they put that in there? Or why did they insist on that? Because of some thing that happened in the past that they wanted to avoid. Right?

Brian Sooy : 

I believe it's that particular director of the organization is very relational. And so it's... And there is there is a sense of trust and reassurance that comes from being able to shake hands, to look somebody right in the eye. I mean, I'm sure you look at this same thing too. Where do we look at our on our screens? Is it in the camera? Is it at the the picture of the person? Are we able to make that that eye-to-eye contact? It changes because we're... You're a little closer in the frame than I am. You've got reflections on your glasses. I'm not wearing my glasses. So there's all of these things and we can't pick up on. On body language. If I fidget, it's just because, maybe I'm uncomfortable. I just want to keep moving. There's all of these things that we can't pick up in a digital call that we need because it just feeds our own personal sense of community. And, I mean, do you want to spend the next five years doing zoom calls instead of meeting face to face with people? Honestly?

Steve Brown : 

I enjoy enjoy the relationships that I develop. I have friends that we became friends because of our business relationship. But then I also think about the time that I can spend with my family or my people has been increased because I've sat in and spent the time to invest on how to get good at communicating and developing the relationships via video calls. We've been doing this for several years. Let me tell you when I first started, I was totally a fish out of water. It has been a something that I've grown into and got good at. And so it's now it's another diversified skill I have. I can be totally in my zone, personally, or I can do it remotely. So it's something that I've just, instead of letting it be a hurdle or a barrier, I've embraced it and done everything I can to improve the experience. I call it HEO. So what we're talking about is HEO right now, and you've alluded to it but so opposite of SEO. It's human experience optimization, using whatever technology that we have available.

Brian Sooy : 

Sure.

Steve Brown : 

Most every day for the last 10 years. I've worked with business leaders such as you. And there's this common conversation that I've had over and over again. It goes a little like this, "Steve, I see other brands excelling online, and I feel we need to do the same because my customers are expecting out of us. I'm not sure where to start, but I think we need to redo our website. What's the best way to approach this?" And this is why I wrote my book, "The Golden Toilet: Stop Flushing Your Marketing Budget into Your Website and Build a System That Grows Your Business." It's a book designed to empower my business leader so that they have the words and the proper expectations to communicate what it is they really need and get what they really need instead of something that's sold to them, it puts them in a position of confidence and clarity. And so to get this book, it's a great read, you can go to Amazon, get it there, or you can go to thegoldentoilet.com, and click on Get your copy. Now, back to our conversation.

Brian Sooy : 

What will it be like to adapt? We used different platforms and now we've actually started engaging with clients who ask, "So what do you think about (we won't name the platform) this platform we're using?" And just to be honest with them, they're looking for frank assessments of the platforms we use or they're using and is it easy? And sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. So I think that's part of that equation too. And even simple things is, you know, advising them on like, "Look, you're completely backlit by that light behind you. The only thing missing from the conversation is a voice masking modulator." So you know, just a funny way to just say the lighting is important. Maybe put a lamp in front of you so you don't, you're not silhouetted so that everybody has a great experience and you're helping. They feel like you're helping them create better digital interactions via whatever video conference tool they're using.

Steve Brown : 

A lot of our clients, because of the system and we have in played, probably 90% of clients that we work with are remote clients. And so they come into our system. We use Basecamp. We use Zoom. We use Google Docs. You know, we use various tools. But what I've noticed is a lot of them adopt... They were introduced to a new way of considering and managing projects, for example, and they may not use Basecamp, which we don't care, but they'll implement a version of this because we help them mature...or not mature...to expand or to do something maybe they would have avoided or not really research because they're too busy fighting all the fires that they do every day. But walk them into and help them gain confidence in a new tool can be empowering for them.

Brian Sooy : 

Sure.

Steve Brown : 

So talk to us about Aespire and talk to us about the kind of clients that you guys really connect with.

Brian Sooy : 

Sure so Aespire, we're a 25 year old agency. And the type of clients that we work with are the type of entrepreneurs and CEOs who do work really hard at what they do, but they're not always experiencing the full potential of what that looks like. And so we come alongside them to help them fill time and capacity and resources, not only on the marketing, communications, and design side, but sometimes even on business planning side because they are all interrelated. Of course, we know sales and marketing need to be talking. So we come in and we just start asking questions and help them see where they're potentially leaving money on the table or they're just not unlocking the potential of the silos of the teams that they have because of silos in place. And we do that for a number of brands that are both global brands, national brands, and then local companies with which we work. Electronic Merchant Systems is a client of ours, they're a national merchant services provider. Vitamix is a client of ours. We work with a company right now that I think is in the thick of the COVID testing called Connexus Laboratories as well as colleges, universities. And one of my favorites is a food bank here in the area we're in because, and again, when you talk about organizations that are just in the thick of things, the the food bank has delivered, I think close to another million pounds of food in the last three or four weeks, which is just... They've had to ramp up their capacity in their processing. Another one of our clients makes a really nice product called plastic welding rods. And I just found out those plastic welding rods are being used for testing swabs for COVID and to build ventilators. So it's really interesting in what we do, because there's such an interaction between things that are going on in culture and in society right now and the things they're doing. That just makes it really interesting to have clients like this come to us. And we do a lot of outbound marketing in terms of podcasts, thought leadership, writing. We're not always helping people who are clients. I got an email over the weekend from someone who said, "I found this article that you wrote in 2013, on the difference between purpose mission and vision." She said, "We took that article it inspired us and we we used it to help merge three parishes. Needed to come together in a Midwestern city." She just said, "And I wanted to say thank you for publishing that." So we deliver value everywhere we're doing it. And we I think we often forget that we always go, "Oh, look at... Are we making money on this?" But I find that's where the impact is made in doing something that's beyond just the profit.

Steve Brown : 

You're illustrating how important it is that we can miss bigger impact that we can have when we empower our clients to do better. They come to us because they're not experts in that area. And they look to us to help them to outsource that strength or that vision or the insights. If we don't take it serious or don't think about... What you're just illustrating is: Literally, you could help be in the middle of empowering a company that can tell change the future health of many, many people. Seriously.

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah.

Steve Brown : 

So that's, that's awesome. I don't want that to be missed on my team, that the work they do really does matter. It's not just taking off a task; you're creatively helping someone do something and be better at that they need you for.

Brian Sooy : 

And when you think about that, driving back to the idea, and this is a concept/an idea we talk a lot about is what's the purpose behind what you do. And we typically always have a purpose conversation with every client because you they may think we're just selling plastic welding rods, and it's like, "No, you're creating a product that helps farmers feed families because they can go into the field and weld shut a leak that's appeared in a watering tank. You know, those big, 500,000 gallon watering tanks, those type of things." So it's going beyond to like, what's the outcome of what we do and how we serve people? I'd like to think about that in the broader sense too from that purpose because we're like other organization/ What do you do? Well, we do branding and marketing and communications like, so does a million other agencies. So that's why we talk about that feeling you have when you've worked really hard, but you're not getting the results from all that hard work. That's just wrong, isn't it?

Steve Brown : 

You're selling yourself short in a way. I love what you just said about you don't just make these welding rods. And that's what's wrong with marketing. And that's why it's broken. We do welding rods. We have the best welding rods, they last longer, they're eco friendly, whatever, totally selling them short on the true value that you're helping them reveal. I'd love to hear more about how you sit and work with them,to get them to recognize that. What's the process you take them through?

Brian Sooy : 

We've retooled our entire process over the last three years and starts... Everybody has to start literally with StoryBrand. Where are we talk about positioning in two ways. One is positioning the company as to: what's their authority and expertise and credibility? And then positioning the customer. And when you think about most, most companies don't think about positioning the customer, they don't think about what role does my brand play in the customers life? And what difference does it make to them? And then we start moving through this, you know, either it's a value conversation, "What kind of value do you deliver to them? How do you invite them into a story so that they feel like either they're part of the solution that you provide? Or that the solution that you're providing can help them solve a problem." There's a little bit of a distinction there, depending on the organization, but it, again, drives back to creating engagement, helping build a community around the brand, where it doesn't feel like it's all about the brand or it's really all about the customer, of course. And then from there talking about, "Well, OK, if we know this is how we need to invite customers into the story, what are the touchpoints that that looks like?" And boy, that's where it gets fun because touchpoints can be all of the things that we all love doing. So we laid out the strategy, but what are the tactics then that put that strategy into action, and whether that's the whole marketing ecosystem that's digital, which can include automation, of course and all the things that we love and the website and nurturing those relationships back to, "What's the physical interaction that people have with products we produce and not only the packaging but the experience of using the product?s because nobody loves to get a beautiful package and then feel frustrated by not being able to utilize what's in the box, right?"

Steve Brown : 

Used to be such a joke about that packaging. You can open yet to have scissors and then you risk impaling yourself while you're trying to open that that's like the worst example of a human experience, right?

Brian Sooy : 

But it is. What we think about marketing in this sense, in the broadest sense that what we're doing is two things. One is creating trust relationships between the customer in the business. And the other is, well, and that flows into building relationships. And those are the two key roles. It's not the sell stuff. If we build the relationship and people trust us, they're going to say, "Hello, here's my money. I need what you have to offer because you've told me you can solve my problem. You can help me overcome this challenge." All of those things that are meaningful to the customer, and important to the brand, but really more meaningful to the customer.

Steve Brown : 

We hear that all the time: build trust, build trust, build trust. But it's like, "OK, is there like a supplement I take or something to build trust?" It's amazing how powerful when your messaging conveys, "I understand you. I know what you're struggling with. You're safe here." That's how you're building trust. That's a collateral benefit. I'm really getting your messaging clear.

Brian Sooy : 

It is. And I think it makes it makes the brand memorable because you've created a deeper connection. It's on an emotional level. When I talk about story, I talk about engaging the heart and mind. Too often we lead with facts and data, which of course, engages the mind. But that's where we need to make that jump over into story that turns those facts in that data into something that comes alive, that touches the heart. And there's specific ways to do that, that we found work. And that's why design is important as part of this conversation because the photos, the colors, the tactile feature, even the typography brings it to life and it helps people feel in their heart what they see with their eyes and think with their mind.

Steve Brown : 

I talked about we have this body guard. When we hear people talk about the lizard brain or the brainstem; it's the old brain. It doesn't process language, but no decision is made unless that part of the brain signs off on it. How do you get a sign off from that part of the brain? But when you wrap in what you just discussed, it's the communication that happens non verbally. It's an emotional communication. It's super fast too. If you compare to an old modem in the days that you hear that AOL iconic sound to fiber optic, that's how that part of the brain communicates. That fiber optic way. And that's why the design is so important, because it's communicating a lot more. And we hear that a picture communicates 1000 words or whatever that cliche is, but that's why that cliche exists.

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah, and it definitely does. And it doesn't even need to be an image. We do a lot with type hypertrophy. So when we talk about this evolution, not only did I do hand lettering, type designer, so design fonts, you know, they won't appear in your Microsoft Word document unfortunately. But it's when you take and you actually take a phrase or a quote... You know, you see a quote where some words are made big. Some are small. You create contrast based on how we would say the words and you turn that phrase that you would say verbally into something that you can actually hear it said visually. It just is way more powerful than just hearing somebody say a quote or just seeing it typeset in an italic with a couple of quote marks around it.

Steve Brown : 

We talk about reinventing their yarn, and I'm imagining working for American Greetings, right?

Brian Sooy : 

Yes.

Steve Brown : 

So I imagine they... You see the movies where someone writes the little phrases in the cards that you buy from Mom or whatever, but going from that world, at some point, you had to go, "Hey, actually, what I'm doing has a lot more value in another application." When did that epiphany happen for you?

Brian Sooy : 

Oh, I think it's just It's always been there, knowing that the words we write become part of the character and culture of a brand. And I explore that a lot in my book, but it's... The things we say about a brand are similar to the way we present ourselves personally. We talk. We have tone of voice. We have certain language that we use. Well, brands are the same way. So it's really important that we start with messaging because what we're doing is we're, again, using words to start to create this relationship and the best brands... I mean, a brand is what other people think in their gut about the organization or the product or service. It has nothing to do with any of the external things that we see. It's their gut feeling. So words and actions are going to work together and that's just going to be driven out of the character and again, the way a brand talks. So you can tell there's like a million ideas around this. So when we can help people find clarity around that and say, "Look, here's... You need to have this one voice. You may have many messages, because we all do, but it's just like when you pick up the phone, when we talk, if I were to hear you on the phone, I would recognize your voice without before you saying, 'Hi, it's Steve.' And likewise, if we know each other well enough, and we've become familiar, we don't need to reintroduce ourselves." So all of this has helped us become familiar with one another. So that's how we approach it. It's a matter of building familiarity going back to that idea of trust. And welcoming people in by saying, "I see you, I understand you." And it's not just this. "I see you with my eyes." It's like that Swahili phrase that I don't recall what it is, but it's like, "I see into your soul. I get you. I understand you. So let's walk this path together."

Steve Brown : 

That's awesome. I love that metaphor of recognizing the voice to recognize your brand. Your brand... I think the thing that really resonated with me when I learned a brand is the feeling that someone has after they've interacted with you. That's right. That's your real brand. And, and either that's like, "That was kind of weird or I don't think they understand me. And that's not what I'm looking for." And a lot of times you can't put it in words. And that gut feeling you refer to.

Brian Sooy : 

That's right. Or you can you know, there are there are, roughly I'd say, you based on Young's writing, there's about 140 characteristics that we can equate to brand personality. And we know this because we use a brand personality measurement tool at Aespire, and we survey individuals and teams to say, "Tell us how this brand makes you feel." And then we take that and map that to, in a sense, personality profiles around the brand of the organization, so we can measure where they're at and where they think they are. And it's fascinating because often on a grid of 16 different profiles, they may be here, but they want to be here. And so we start to have that conversation. "OK, how do we get from here to there in a meaningful way? And again, what is that going to take? Let's walk through this whole journey of discovering your voice, positioning, the brand of the personality." And then even talking to the customers and having them do the same thing so we can see where there's misalignment and where they needs to be more alignment.

Steve Brown : 

How much of that process you know, when we talk about brand personality and the intent of why we would want to go to that exercise and identify it and really make it clear. Our default mindset is: That's who we're hitting on the outside our potential clients or customers or prospects. But how does that resonate on the internal organization?

Brian Sooy : 

Internally, we can follow the same process if a leader is out there saying these are the attributes of our brands. These are values and these are virtues, which are two different things. What does that mean for how we must behave and how we should be treating one another internally, and how we should be interacting with customers? Because that interaction should be consistent, internally and externally. Because I believe it was Sam Walton from Walmart who said, "Customers are going to be treated the way the employees are treated internally." That's not an exact quote, but that sentiment is if leaders are treating employees and team members poorly, that's just going to flow through right out to customers. So there's, there's a huge connects between those because we can't be split personalities. We can't be one way internally and expect that not to show from the external.

Steve Brown : 

I think it's one of the biggest levers that a leader can get right, to lead the organization with that clarity that you're talking about. You think about the times that you've researched the product. You've looked at it you decide, "You know, this is a viable option that I want to implement here." And then as you get closer into the organization, all of a sudden there's this disconnect. Maybe you can't put your finger on it, but they were like rude or is like totally opposite of what you expected. And you, you walk out of there, and you really are upset. And I've thought about that. "Why am I so upset about that?" And it's because I feel misled.

Brian Sooy : 

True.

Steve Brown : 

Disappointed. I invested all this time, and I had envisioned the future with this situation. And here, here, you just wet blanketed that, right?

Brian Sooy : 

Well, yeah. So they said to you, "We promise we're going to treat you this way and that you're going to have this experience." And then all of a sudden, like, that doesn't match up with my experience. You broke the promise. So trust is broken, and then they have to go through that whole process again, of trying to reengage you and eight steps forward and 12 steps back along that whole continuum of a journey. We call it a continuum. They've invested money to attract you and inform you and inspire you to get you engaged. And then they did a poor job of stewarding the relationship. So you end up back along the continuum somewhere.

Steve Brown : 

So I call that that's part of the HEO, the human experience optimization. And, and it's a higher purpose. And in has many things. The technology that you're going to use that experience the interaction, the communications and clarity of... Yeah, there's so many things involved in that. And that's the area that I think that all organizations should really invest him because as far as long term value, it's huge. If you're building a business, that at some point, you want to exit, well, you're going to get X for that cash out, if you will. HEO's where you can make it exponential outcome can because you're touching on all these things that most organizations are oblivious to.

Brian Sooy : 

Part of that comes back to: think about the interaction with what we do as it relates to human resources and staffing and creating culture inside of an organization. Because then... I always like to say culture is character and action. So again, we have those attributes, and people are on the same page with how they need to be aligned in serving each other, and serving customers, then that culture is going to really reflect the character.

Steve Brown : 

That's excellent. I love these kind of conversations. So talk to us about your book, "Raise Your Voice." When did you decide to write that? Why did you do that? What was the whole purpose of the book as far as your business application, what you're doing?

Brian Sooy : 

So "Raise Your Voice" came about as I was working with a couple of consultants in terms of advising the firm reading a lot of their work, interacting with them quite a bit. Both of them are talking about becoming the expert and then one of the great ways to do that is to write. And a lot of people would start with blogging. And I had been blogging. So the next step was one of them literally saying, "Hey, you fool. When are you going to write the book?" And actually started it the next day, which is kind of funny. It took 18 months to write. And the whole idea behind it was to align that expertise and thought leadership with a vertical that we're serving at the time, more heavily, which is the nonprofit sector. And just again, writing this book with the idea that: How can you talk about branding and creating a culture of generosity and philanthropy without talking about branding, and what does that look like? Which was really challenging because it forced me to think about brands and marketing communications so many different ways. So 18 months later wrote that, and published it, made every mistake possible, in terms of what I should have done, what I didn't do. Like where I invested money, why I shouldn't I've invested the money, but that's OK. It's taught me a lot. And it's actually... We've leveraged those mistakes into an area of the business where we work with authors and thought leaders to help them publish books and get the right type of publicity and market and everything. And so it's it's been beneficial in terms of bringing some clients in positioning us. So there's there's a side of the business where we are interacting with certain nonprofit leaders who then influence other nonprofit leaders. And then the next iteration of that which I've just recently started on is a more business focused version of it. Because there are 12 principles in the book that help any organization create brand clarity when you use those 12 principles. And from day one, people saying, "Where's the business edition? Where's the Business Edition of this?" So having a little extra time on weekends and in the evenings now, it's a great time to actually work on the next phase of that book. It showed me that I love talking about leadership and so forth. To study, because I mean, I'm just... I don't wanna say making up as I go, I'm making the mistakes as I go.

Steve Brown : 

Exactly.

Brian Sooy : 

And I'm learning from them and sharing those lessons. And I think that's what a lot of people appreciate is that, and again, this word authenticity is overused, but it's like: I'm making mistakes. I'm sharing the lessons I learned, and I'm interacting with people. And I'm seeing that they may be struggling in an area. So what resolves the tension? And then I turned that into this idea of design leadership. For leading a company, we have to be intentional about how we're doing it. That is a design process. And I don't think a lot of people think about it that way. So we'll see where that goes.

Steve Brown : 

That's excellent. I love that. So Brian, if someone's listening to this, and they want to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way to do that?

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah, thanks for asking. So our website is aepire.com, and that's aespire.com. And on LinkedIn, it's just Brian Sooy, and I'm on Twitter, and Instagram publishing some personal stuff, and then some Creative Leadership posts. But those are the best ways to get a hold of me and define me.

Steve Brown : 

So that's Brian Sooy with two O's.

Brian Sooy : 

Right, Brian, you got the pronunciation right too.

Steve Brown : 

Oh, good. What are some of the ways that people approach it?

Brian Sooy : 

Oh Suey. Sodi. Scoy. So-oy. So.

Steve Brown : 

That's funny. Yeah, I've been called Kevin.

Brian Sooy : 

There reminds me that that penguin in Madagascar, you know, Kevin.

Steve Brown : 

Hey, I appreciate you and I value... This has been fun. I get a lot of energy from these. And thank you so much for being willing to be a guest today on the ROI Online Podcast, Brian.

Brian Sooy : 

Yeah. And Thanks, Steve. I always appreciate an opportunity to have a great conversation like this too. So thank you so much.

Steve Brown : 

Thanks for listening to another fun episode of the ROI Online Podcast. For more, be sure to check out the show notes of this episode. And feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, where we can chat and I can help direct you to the resources you're searching for. To learn more about how you can grow your business better, be sure to pick up your copy of my book, "The Golden toilet," at surprise, thegoldentoilet.com. I'm Steve Brown, and we'll see you next week on another fun episode of the ROI Online Podcast.