Thrive Global: “Go within before going outside.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Lauren Solomon

This article originally appeared on Thrive Global, p
Go within before going outside. This means to go to your employees for feedback, to really hear from them what’s working and not working. Based on that feedback you will know if you need to stick where you are or make some simple adjustments…

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Solomon, President and Founder of LS Image Associates, Inc., CXO of SnappConner PR, and TV co-host of Good Day Orange County. She’s a trusted image advisor to CEOs, corporations and individuals throughout the world. Lauren is the former VP of Professional Image Development for Chase Manhattan Bank, author of Image Matters! and holds an MBA in Management from New York University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been practicing image since I received my first makeup kit at age three. All these years later, I’m able to apply it to businesses, personal brands and much larger scale operations. It’s amazing what a makeup kit at the age of three can allow or create. The real turning point was an assignment “to create a business we would love to walk out to tomorrow” in a marketing class in the NYU Executive MBA program. This was it. This was my hobby. It was what I loved to do and did for family and friends in my free time. Everyone somehow walked into my closet and walked out happier, smiling bigger and feeling better about themselves. I knew there was something to this whole image and personal brand thing. That was the inflection point.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Before I was in the business of image and fully understood the subtleties and meanings of different styles and colors and the impact they can have, I advised a colleague to wear suspenders and a matching pocket square. It was clearly a more formal than he needed. I suggested it as a way he could give his image a little bit of a “lift.” He went out and bought suspenders with clips, not the braces which button into the trousers. Shortly after, I dove into my studies and really understood the difference. I had to go buy him a new set of braces with coordinated pocket squares to correct the message in support of his personal brand. It’s the little things that make the difference and are the key to brand and image in the first place. That story illustrated for me that a massive makeover if not usually necessary, especially for people leading companies who’ve already achieved great things. It’s those little tiny tweaks, the two-millimeter difference or the two percent improvement that shifts the attitude and the energy of an image, and ultimately will inform the result.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

I’ve had the incredible good fortune of working with people who were truly visionary. When I discovered image as a corporate conversation, I realized fairly quickly that it was a true business bottom line conversation. The executives got it. They got it almost faster than I did because they could see how to apply it to all of their businesses and their goals. I could only see what I knew. They had a bigger, broader whole-business vision. When they took my vision and my dream and expanded it, it enabled me to see the overall impact of addressing the employees’ personal brands and how they flowed directly up to the corporate brand. The results were powerful. Until today it boggles my mind that every company and person everywhere doesn’t do this as a matter of standard practice.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am always working on new projects. I especially love creating “new” by expanding what’s already been done. My image and corporate work are my original passion — to help every person show up as their very best at all times. My work in brand and image has led to my deeper work in broadcast, and the work in broadcast is leading to the creation of new levels of passion-play and new opportunities to help broader and different communities that even six months ago I didn’t imagine. The connectivity between everything I do and the chance to layer on new opportunities excites me — every time I learn something a new layer appears and with each new layer comes a new community and opportunities to serve more people.

I’m in constant awe of the genius of my clients. In my corporate work, while we can’t name names just yet, some of the clients are responsible for world-changing discoveries that with our help will have the benefit of an ideal brand and identity as they emerge.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

It hurts my heart to see people or companies develop their brands based on superficial assessments. Then, six months down the road they have to go back and redevelop the whole brand because it’s not who they are or want to be in the marketplace. Because they didn’t approach it properly from the beginning, it’s expensive and time consuming. It not only creates burnout, it creates frustration and a negative cloud that hangs over the brand development and, ultimately, the marketing, which should be exciting and fun.

The secret is understanding who you are today and identifying the bridges that will take you to the future. This requires visioning and dreaming which few truly allow for. If more people did this they’d have an easier time building the foundation of a successful brand. They’d also avoid burnout and the risk of leaving it up to others to define them. Ultimately, if you don’t define yourself from the beginning someone will step forward in a matter of minutes and their definition of you could be more convincing than your own.

Another secret — as you participate in the visioning and dreaming, instead of focusing solely on the product or service you’re selling, focus on all possible audiences, even those you’re not considering right now. Focus on how you will make their lives and/or the world better. If we could really speak to the ways all products or services change lives, we’d communicate differently, and in doing so would make our lives and our jobs so much easier (as well as provide a greater outcome for all).

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is truly identifying who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to be known in the world. Brand marketing, then, is communicating that message into the world and putting it where your audience is, as well as where the people who don’t yet know about you can become acquainted. I see brand marketing as putting the brand in the right place at the right time.

Product marketing should flow from the brand. Your product doesn’t stand alone but is a piece of what exists under the umbrella of a brand. So while your brand is your global consideration, everything should flow up to the brand, ensuring that the alignment and the messaging are consistent. Product creation is what trickles down from the brand. The communication of each product must be in full alignment with the global brand message. You can’t market a product in a vacuum although, unfortunately, many try.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

From my perspective, the investment needs to start with the brand. Then you go to the marketing and communications efforts. First, you must know who and what you are. Then, you can sell something. You have to get that self-image and clarity around the core of the product or service or person you are introducing to the world. Once you do that, the rest of the communication should flow more easily. When we look at how this impacts others, the better you know yourself, the better I, the consumer, can feel that you understand me and can help me, make my life better. Ultimately, marketing and communication express how the product or service will make the consumers’ or clients’ lives better.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Number one, to stay current and top of mind; to be sure you are speaking to your audience and to where they are today. If you were selling a Ford Model T in its day versus a Ford SUV today, you’re speaking to different audiences, even though you’re basically talking about the same item. You must prove that you are current and at the top of your game. Then the listener/client prospect can trust and hear you. This is a great opportunity to show that you understand your customers’ issues and position your product relevant to their current needs.

Number two, when something major changes in the corporation or industry. It may be a small twist that’s needed or potentially a complete overhaul. But the internal organization needs to be reflected in the external brand. A change in the world may impact how and where you want to be known. So a new product, approach or technology would really force a rebrand to make sure that alignment is there.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Well, nobody knew what Google was until Google appeared. And why would “Apple” be a computer or technology. Coca Cola comes to mind as an example of why to not rebrand when you are truly globally pervasive. When you are known for one thing, to try to step out and create something new may backfire on you. You run the risk of your current audience not agreeing with the direction you’ve taken, and backpedaling, maybe even retracting it. On the other hand, did you take the right time to brand well in the first place? The best brands are going to last for hundreds of years.

It is really important to understand the motivation for rebranding. This pertains to a one-person business as well. Initially, when I created my consultancy, I wanted to appear larger than a single person operation. So I gave the company a corporate name. Years later I realized “I am the brand.” Initially, I wasn’t — I had a day job and I had my consultancy. So the branding was good at the time. When I realized it was time for me to step out as a unique entity, it was time to rebrand. That is something people should pay attention to.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Go within before going outside. This means to go to your employees for feedback, to really hear from them what’s working and not working. Based on that feedback you will know if you need to stick where you are or make some simple adjustments, perhaps a logo refresh which can give the company an entirely fresh approach to its marketing and messaging. As an example, when Chemical and Manufacturers Hanover Banks merged, we needed to revise the logo yet keep the essence of both. So we went to the employees for input. Based on that input we came back with 5–10 designs and created a core committee to do the work. Building excitement within the organization is equally or more important than building the excitement outside. What really excited people was that it was the first mega-merger on Wall Street. Yes, many jobs were lost, but many new ones were created. There were a lot of conversations that made it imperative to get input from the employee base before going to the marketplace because getting the buy-in of employees gave us the support of 30,000 people who were also customers. Starting it from within was one of the major factors that helped to make it successful.
  2. Focus on a different strength of the organization. If you really look at the strengths of the organization and elevate different ones at different times you can give the brand a refreshed and re-energized approach to its messaging across a strategic combination of messages, which will speak to different audiences. By speaking to new audiences who perhaps haven’t heard from you before it appears as if a whole new brand has landed. It’s unexpected, fresh and new. For example, Delta Airlines has refreshed its look repeatedly over the years as a way of emphasizing the things they’ve done to stay current.
  3. Dress up your visual image. Dressing up your website or physical location can upgrade your visual image. Dressing up your personal or company “dress code” is a way of leveling up as well and signaling to your audience that you are stepping up and doing something new. Something as simple as a black and white photo of the SnappConner agency staff, before I joined them, for example, made it easy to tell the professional level and capacity of every individual on the team. Ill-fitting clothes, shop-worn shoes, poorly chosen eyewear or hairstyles, for example, send a message to the world about your confidence and capabilities which speaks volumes about your organization as well.
  4. Empower and engage every member of the team. In addition to visual image, the engagement of the company’s team members is vital. I will never forget, I was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and heading to work on Wall Street. In the subway car I could hear two young tellers speaking ill of the bank they worked for, in very loud tones. I looked around the subway car and counted about 200 people hearing this message along with me. Everyone was being involuntarily drawn into these very big and negative opinions about the organization that was paying for their rent and their lives with only their teeny, limited view of what actually goes on at the bank. As an executive of the bank, I imagined my bonus flying out the window as I realized these were the individuals who interfaced with our clients on a daily basis. This experience underscored the importance of the company sharing its dream and vision with everyone within the company. As a young employee, it wasn’t until I heard the CEO make a presentation about all of the hospitals, the schools and the projects the bank was funding that were bringing good to millions that I started to really understand what our company did and what my role within it was doing to support the overall success. Everyone should be included, from the top execs to those in the mailroom, in understanding the vision and being clear about the value they add and why they are there. And then they can be challenged to help embody that vision and brand in everything they do.
  5. Understand both your professional and your personal vision and mission. The piece about involving and including your employees should extend to the development of not only a professional vision and mission but of a personal vision and mission as well. People want to feel good about the companies they work for and buy from. In my case, it’s my love of animals that can influence my business choices. I use my business platform to support my desire to clear the shelters and encourage people to “Adopt, Don’t Shop,” and especially to rescue-adopt. When business and personal beliefs come together there’s magic in the power you will have.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I can think of many examples, but one that is completely unexpected is not a company but a product of nature. The cauliflower. In 2018, Fast Company named it the trendiest product of the year, with data showing it increasing in purchase by 71 percent over 2017 and showing up in one report in 36 different products within a single store. First, it was kale, then brussels sprouts, now cauliflower. Even chips and snack foods are touting the inclusion of cauliflower to make them “healthier” and more current. It’s now to a level that the rice industry has taken action to prevent cauliflower products from using the word “rice.” This brand makeover was the work of multiple organizations that weren’t necessarily working together, yet collectively have managed to make this plain, lowly vegetable one of the hottest nutritional trends. It’s brilliant and fun. And, let’s face it, if cauliflower can be pizza…well, you can be anything!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. ?

I’d say to remember that success is rarely about a particular technical skill, rather about finding and engaging the people around who share your vision to jump in and make it happen. This has happened again and again in my life. Michael Darling, my professor at NYU who gave us the assignment to create a business we would want to walk out to “tomorrow.” Jack Stack, head of the retail bank at Chemical Bank who saw the value in investing in the human asset of a business, the people, in a way that opened the door for me to introduce professional image. It was a groundbreaking initiative within a Fortune company to help elevate the employee base and help them better understand and exhibit their value within the brand. And Cheryl Snapp Conner (SnappConner PR), who as a client became a friend and, ultimately, an amazing colleague who saw the value of the work for one person and immediately envisioned the value on a broader scale. She brought it in house to her own organization which has become cutting edge in its approach to high impact and high standard communications, integrating the verbal and the visual in a way that has not been done in the past.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two favorites. Both are credited to Sir Winston Churchill. “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” I believe that, and I appreciate that he was able to voice it so simply. The second, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” I believe deeply that as we achieve greater and greater things within our lives it is our absolute responsibility to pass that on to future generations, to teach and help them understand that their achievements come with responsibility. The belief that achievement allows purely for personal freedom is misguided. Achievement that begets true greatness requires taking on more and more responsibility to achieve well and to use the benefits you gain for good in the world.

How can our readers follow you online?

There are many ways!, LinkedIn (Lauren Solomon at LSImage), and at Facebook, Lauren Solomon.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.