180: Manufacture a Brand with Ed Delia 

Ed Delia is the President of Delia Associates, a branding, marketing, and PR agency focused on B2B businesses in manufacturing, technology, engineering, pharmaceutical, and industrial services. We discuss the importance of an authentic brand-audience connection, how to uncover your ideal target market, and the easiest way to manufacture your brand from scratch. 

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Manufacture a Brand with Ed Delia

Our guest is Ed Delia, the president of Delia Associates, which is a branding, marketing and PR agency focused on the specialty manufacturing, industrials and financial services verticals. Ed, welcome to the Management Blueprint show.

Thank you, Steve. Thanks so much for having me.

Well, it’s great to have you here. So let’s plunge in right now, and let’s talk about what attracted you to building a business in branding and marketing.

Sure, absolutely. So I’m a second generation leader of Delio Associates. My father founded the company in 1964, and I grew up around the business. I didn’t really have plans to join the business, but then he and I had one of those father-son hard-to-hard talks, and in 1995, I was turning down a job offer to join DeLeon Associates full-time, and sometime after that, we executed a buyout, and he retired. But around that time, it was a very interesting time for B2B brands, and the company was founded as a traditional business-to-business advertising and PR firm. And in 95, we saw companies starting their first forays onto the internet, so building their first websites.

And I remember looking at that experience, and shortly after joining, we started developing our first websites for clients as well, but that companies were almost like doing a brand makeover online. So they were appearing and being one way offline through all their traditional channels, and then they were looking at the internet as almost to remake and reinvent themselves and look totally different. And I remember thinking, well, that’s kind of odd. Aren’t you the same company? Why would you look so different online than you do offline? Shouldn’t you want to look the same?

And that’s when it started to occur to me that in that small to mid-sized, A to B space where we live in, there was not really a firm understanding of the concept of brand. And that’s really what started into motion what is now what we call the brand leadership solution, which is our proprietary and patented system for building and enabling brands. But it all began there with that realization that I don’t think this audience really understands, and I’m a big believer in staying in the state of wonder.

Because I think great things happen when you wonder. So I was sitting in a hotel room waiting for a meeting. I was actually in Toronto and it was a rainy day, so I was waiting for my meeting. And I said, I wonder if we built a system to enable small to mid-sized B2B brands to express themselves more forcefully, more impactfully, and with greater alignment, what could the possibilities be? And that’s when the brand leadership solution was born.

I love that idea of being the state of wonder. And they say that, you know, the right question is even more important than the right answer. So that’s like half the job is asking the right question. And then the answer is to find you. So that’s great. So how is branding different for the digital space to the actual physical space? So before the internet age, how was it different, branding a business? Now let’s forget about the technologies and the media that those brands appear, but the whole idea of branding, how did it evolve through the industrial age to the Internet age.

The right question is even more important than the right answer. Click To Tweet

Pre-Internet, it was a lot simpler. And honestly, the channels of communication were much more defined and they were fairly fixed. If you were a B2B brand, say early 90s and before, you probably went to trade shows. You had a very, very knowledgeable and experienced professional sales team that functioned as your holders of knowledge as well as your brand ambassadors. You probably engaged in trade media, probably print, and did some direct mail as well as maybe hosted some events.

So those channels were fairly fixed and as long as you fully engaged in those channels effectively and delivered a common brand experience effectively, you could have success from a marketing standpoint. Once the Internet made its debut and then became more commercially mainstream to the small middle market B2B enterprises, that extended that reach and then we’ve seen subsequent further extensions of that reach through social media and other types of digital engagements and really more of a fragmentation now of that media. It doesn’t mean that the traditional methods of engagement aren’t any aren’t important.

It’s just that there’s a wider array now and a wider tool set to express one’s brand. Is it now half the job is that you’re finding those media where you want that you should even expose yourself or is it about putting a little firepower behind the brand so that you can appear in all media? 

Yeah, in the small and mid-sized market, if I could wave my magic wand and a brand could do anything, yeah, they’d be in multiple forms of media and just blowing it out. But that’s often not realistic, nor is it sustainable, right? It doesn’t make sense to build a massive brand communications program for a company that’s just going to crumble under the weight of its own program. So what we typically do is identify first personas and then growth strategies to engage those personas. And it’s more about prioritizations.

What are the most effective media? Is it trade show? Is it social? Is it a combination? Is it content? Is it email outbound? Is it inbound or some combination of those tools, sometimes direct mail. It seems like an old and tired form of communication, but when nobody’s doing it, it gets attention. It’s ultimately really saying, who’s the target and what’s the best way to reach them? Where are they? As the saying goes, you fish where the fish are. So where are they? And let’s go fish there because we’re going to have more success than trying a blue sky idea and hope and pray.

Okay, that’s a good segue into your framework. This is a podcast of business frameworks, management blueprints. So what is your framework for manufacturing a brand in the B2B space in the digital age?

Okay, so we have a four steps process. It’s the four D’s, discover, define, differentiate, and deploy. And that’s our process for building brands. In brief, Discover is all about discovering the entity. And we do that through an internal discovery. We always want to ask the brand stakeholders and the people that represent the brand, who are you and what are you all about? And how do you see yourselves? Right? We then go externally and they ask some of their key relationships. What do you see when you see this brand? How do you see them?

And then we look to the external competitive landscape and say, who else can be seen in this space? Who else is vying for attention in this space? And when we triangulate those three positions, we come away with some key insights for understanding of how this brand sees itself and how it’s seen on the outside and what the competitive space is doing. So from there we start to build the framework of understanding. We often liken our process to an hourglass. So we’re at the top of the hourglass where it’s wide and we’re working towards the next phase which is defined where we’re starting to get where only a few or one crystal drops down in the hourglass and then it expands again.

So with that discovery and that understanding we can proceed into developing the define, where we’re starting to really understand the target brand persona, and then what we call the four brand cornerstones, which are the brands, we call it brand DNA, which is at the core, their reason for being, or what some would call the why. Why does the brand exist? The brand personality, which is essentially an understanding of if the brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? Would it be smart? Would it be funny? Would it be serious? Would it be rugged? And then we go further into defining the brand’s value proposition.

Another way of saying, what’s its secret sauce? What can this brand do that nobody else can quite do like it? And then finally, the brand connection. What is the central connecting idea that’s going to unite this unique brand with that distinct target audience to form a relationship. And that relationship could be a customer relationship, it could be an employee relationship, it could be an investor relationship, it could be a community relationship.

So we look very broadly in terms of the relationships we’re trying to connect with, because at the end of the day, the brand is the brand. You don’t change who you are when you’re going to reach out to investors for money versus who you are when you’re going to reach out to somebody to work there versus who you are when you’re reaching out to the marketplace to engage new customers. The brand at its core should be authentically unique and then the modes of expression may change based on who it’s reaching out to.

Brand at its core should be authentically unique and then the modes of expression may change based on who it's reaching out to. Click To Tweet

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack here. It’s a lot to un-puffin. So my first question is about this hourglass. I’m not sure I understood. You basically said that you want to narrow down exactly who you are focusing. Is this the target market? Is it about finding the right kind of customers that you want to go after? Or is it about the message? So what is the hourglass analogy about?

Sure. So the way we look at the hourglass is we’re at the top, which is the discover phase. We’re pouring sand in and we’re learning, right? We’re getting narrower as we get to define and we’re starting to really be crystal on who our target is and what their fears and concerns and goals are and how we can help them. We’re also talking there about who we are distinctly as an entity and who we are at the core and what our persona is. And then from there, we start to expand out into differentiate, great, so what’s the message? What do we need to say? What are the words and visuals that convey our authenticity, our distinction, and also create that emotional connection that will bind us to our ideal relationships and then deploy is at the base. But we’re literally deploying outward and deploying that message out for the purpose of creating engagement.

This is great. And then the four quarter stores are the why the kind of person that you are. You are, it’s the personality of the company, if I understand well. Yep. And then you have the very proposition slash secret sauce. So what makes you a unique offering. And then the brand connections. I’d like to dissect number two and number four. They seem to be the most interesting, or the thing that I have not heard very much about. So what do you mean by the kind of person, the company is the kind of person? So give me a couple of examples or describe this whole concept around it.

Okay. So, brand personality is really about setting up the tone of the brand, right? So I’ll use a consumer example real quick. Hallmark, right? Hallmark cards. We’ve all seen Hallmark greeting cards and birthday cards and the like. And Hallmark is, if we had to define their personality, it’s very loving, right? It’s loving, it’s warm. Would you expect to ever see racy or dirty language used in a Hallmark card? No, it would be inappropriate. It would be what we would call off-brand. So what did Hallmark do? They created a brand called Shoebox, right? And Shoebox was their ability to, under another brand, say things that couldn’t be said in a Hallmark card.

Because if they did so, they would have tarnished the Hallmark brand on the Hallmark image. So personality is really what sets the tone and the style of messaging for the brand. If a brand is serious, we wouldn’t be playful or funny. If a brand is innovative, we wouldn’t look commonplace. If a brand was rugged, we would make them look anything but soft. So you’ll see a lot of, like Caterpillar in the B2B space and the industrial equipment, that’s a very rugged brand, right? You see that Caterpillar logo, you know it’s gonna be big, strong, it’s gonna be yellow, because that’s their color, and it’s gonna be tough, tough as nails. That’s what Caterpillar’s all about.

Brand personality is really about setting up the tone of the brand. Click To Tweet

John Deere to go in the same category is all about assurance, the message, nothing runs like a deer, right? You can just keep going and going, right? Nothing quite like it. So brand personality, and it’s the old adage of Shakespeare, to thine own self be true. If you’re going forward or you’re asking your brand ambassadors to go forward with a brand that’s not authentically true to their personality, they won’t do it. You know, I’ve seen that many times. I’ll see sales teams like, yeah, we have sales tools and we have literature and we have marketing, but we don’t use it.

Why don’t you use it? It’s not us. What do you mean? It’s not us. Well, it doesn’t feel right. What that’s telling me is the way that those messages are expressed are not in alignment with the internal brand personas and the personality of the brand because the people representing the brand feel uncomfortable. And they shouldn’t feel, if anything, they should feel great about the message they’re putting out there. They shouldn’t feel uncomfortable.

So that’s fascinating. So how do you discover the brand personality? Is it, what is it rooted in? Is it the individuals that founded the company? Is it the product? Is it the customers that respond to the product? How do you discover it?

The discovery typically comes more internally and usually will have assembled what we call the brand development team, which is the internal people in a client’s company that will go go along the journey. And usually those people are the strongest brand advocates. We often invite CEOs and heads of marketing to pick the team based on the old Jim Collins analogy, the mission to Mars. If you’re sending a contingency of your company to Mars to meet the aliens, who would you send and why? And usually you’re gonna send your best, right? Your most avid, strongest people, your biggest brand advocates who are going to represent you the best.

The same should be true for the brand team. And in our discovery process, we’re asking a series of questions of this team to start to pick away at what that personality is. So we might ask them to do an exercise where they say, if your brand was a car, what kind of car would it be? If it was a musical style, what kind and why? If it was represented as a symbol, what kind of symbol would it be? Or if it was a celebrity, who would it be and why? And the why is very important. The why tells us what we need to know about the personality.

And from there, we’re starting to amalgamate those responses and come to some very definitive conclusions about how this brand sees themselves and their personality comes out, and 99 times out of 100, we’ll ask the question, we’ll show the different, we have a framework where we show, here’s all the different brand personalities and the brand personality scale, and inevitably, they always pick the right ones. They’re like, oh, we’re this, and absolutely, they’re that. It could be rugged or innovative or thoughtful. So typically, once they start to think about it, they know internally who they are and what they are.

That’s fascinating. I love that. I love that concept. I definitely going to think about it for my own business as well. And the other thing that maybe is connected somewhat to this idea of the brand personality, but it’s about this brand connection. So you said, how do you connect with your customers, your employees, your community? How do you create this emotional bond with these people? So tell us a little bit about how that works and why it’s important and how you do it.

Okay, so we use a framework called the brand-audience connection. And on one side, we have all of the parameters of the audience. And let’s just say we’re using as an audience, maybe a prospect, prospective customers, who they are, how they’re feeling, what their needs are, what they’re thinking, what we’d like them to think, and what will we need to do to manifest this change or give them what we often call RTBs or reasons to believe.

We then lay down all the parameters of the brand and how it delivers value and the type of relationship that it’s looking to form, whether it be one of an advisor, a guide, a navigator, maybe one of more of a partner or a friend, if it’s a very softer brand, if it’s more of a, you know, touchy-feely brand. And then we start to work towards the center and say, all right, what is the connecting idea that’s going to unite this unique brand with the wants, needs, and thoughts of this audience. And when we build that central thought, that’s called the brand audience connection.

Creating the 'brand-audience connection' is about crafting the central idea that unites a brand's value with the desires and needs of its audience. Click To Tweet

And in that thought, basically we’re saying, here’s what we want, this is the idea that we want to plant in the minds of whomever our audience is. Because once we do, we believe we have the foundations of a relationship. Wow, so it could be, if it’s a problem-solving message, you know, and I’ll pick on you, Steve, and this might be the central idea, but nobody can solve problems like Steve Preda right? So if somebody has a problem, hey, they’re gonna call Steve, because nobody can solve business problems like he can or as fast as he can, and that might be the central idea, right? And if they believe that, chances are when they have a problem, they’ll give you a call, and nobody else.

It is. On the other hand, it is probably a more nuanced exercise because you don’t just want to connect with problem solvers because they are maybe 15% of the public. So you want to connect with something broader. So I think it may be a more nuanced, but I really like this idea if this was a car, what would the car would it be if it was a musical? Do you say musical scene or musical instrument?

Musical style.

Musical style, okay.

Like jazz or rock or alternative. Yeah, classical. Sport is another one that’s very telling. So it also tells us how they see themselves. Do they really see themselves as a team or is it more of an individualized sport? So there’s a lot of meaning for us as the brand navigators to the responses. And we usually don’t like to… I’m tipping my hat a little bit. Usually when there’s somebody going through this exercise, we don’t give them a lot of rationale for why they’re doing this. Just like, go along, have fun with it.And they do.Yeah. And they offer up some really interesting answers.

So, does the company have to be of a certain size for this to work? Because if you only have one individual, or maybe it’s an owner, a dominant company, then that person will have their favorite car and favorite sport, and it’s gonna be clouded by their personal preferences, wouldn’t it?

Well, clouded, but also true, because at that stage, they are primarily the brand. So they’re actually being quite authentic. So their likes and their taste and their DNA and their persona is coming out, because at that point in time, they are the brand. So they will be more heavy handed in its meaning and that’s authentic, because that’s what they’re going out and representing. So we would lock into that. Sure.

So would the brand evolve in most cases as the company builds out or the founder will attract the kind of people they are and then they will attract like-minded people and then it’s going to be fairly stable in the long run.

A lot of it depends on the leader. But if the leader is very much hands-on and very engaged in the business, then yeah, they’ll probably start attracting people that share that person’s values and vision, hopefully, and will be somewhat like-minded. There are reasons why a person goes to work for a company. And it’s not just, oh, well, they were hiring, so what the heck. No, there’s a foundational reason. There’s something that drew them there. And in the small, the starting of a small business, it could be that something that inspired them from the leader’s vision, or the story that person cast about where they were going.

I know a very high-level, like, kind of a super admin assistant, she could have worked, she could have made probably three times the salary that she made, but she loved that CEO’s vision that she left a major job to work for and loved that experience. Because there was something there that resonated with her. She’s like, I just felt like I was home, and this is where I belong. And that’s pretty powerful, when somebody can say that. You know, an employee will say that. I love it here, I love the action, I love the day. The day flies by, I don’t even notice it. I’m so happy here. I mean, that’s what I think as leaders we all want. You want people to come and just love the ride and love the experience.

Well, that’s some amazing ideas. I feel like this episode probably has three or four frameworks in it. So it’s going to be difficult to choose, but that’s a good problem for me. So, so thank you. Thank you for sharing these ideas. And there’s, there seems to be a lot more to a brand where a small business than I even thought. So it’s fantastic to reflect on. So if our listeners would like to learn more about that, then how can they connect? How can they get in touch with you, where can they find more information?

Sure, thank you Steve. So I’m very findable online, so on LinkedIn I’m Ed Delia, D-E-L-I-A. Also our website, delianet.com has lots of great information and resources and I can always be found through there. And we also have some really cool webinars coming up too, so that might also be a nice opportunity to check out. And those are also listed on our site.

Okay. Fantastic, so at Delia present Delia Associates, which is a brand expert, second generation, you guys been at this for decades and they chose. So thanks for coming to the show. And if you’re listening, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel. We are in on YouTube and we’re growing the channel and we are also on LinkedIn. See Play the Business Growth. We post video snippets of our past podcasts. So if you want to catch up with what we’ve been doing and talking about, then that’s the best place to go and watch some videos. So, thank you for listening and Ed, thanks for coming.

Thank you so much for having me, Steve. It was great speaking with you today.


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