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Frequently Asked Questions

We at Smith + Connors are often asked to explain what we mean, so we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions about values-driven brand, marketing, and communications.


What is branding?

Your brand is all of the thoughts, feelings, meanings, and associations that are generated when someone encounters your company or organization. Brand is a strategic articulation of how you’re different and why you matter. Your brand is NOT just your logo. Your logo — while important — is a visual rendering of those thoughts, feelings, meanings, and associations.

*Branding* is the act of defining and articulating why you exist, your beliefs, your goals, your personality, and what makes you different. These articulations become the strategic foundation for all of your communications. *Strategic branding*is defining these ideas based on data and research.

Tip! The branding process should never begin with design! It should always start with building a strategy.


Why should I care about branding for my company or organization?

If you don’t brand your business or organization, your audience will develop your brand for you. It will happen passively: People will assign meanings and feelings to your brand based on what they see you do, and what they hear you say. They’ll interpret your brand through the lens of their own thoughts and experiences, rather than a lens you provide for them.

When you engage in “branding,” you take a proactive role in steering people toward the meanings, thoughts, and feelings that you think are the most important, and make your business stand out.  While you cannot “fake” a brand that’s inauthentic, you can use your brand to guide the relationship with your customers and audiences.


What is values-driven branding?

Values-driven branding is articulating what’s important to you, beyond the desire to achieve your mission — whether that’s profit, or purpose, or both. What are the principles you live by every day? What values guide your work? Your values are an important signal of why you matter. Leading with them extends a deeper meaning to your service or product and creates a powerful invitation for engagement.


What if I don’t know what our values are?

A lot of organizations and companies haven’t explicitly defined their values yet. There’s no time like the present. You can work within your leadership team to develop a set of values, or you can work with a brand agency or vendor to help.


Is defining our values really that important?

Yes. Whether they know it or not, people make decisions about what to buy, who to partner with, and who to hire, based on shared values. It happens at an innate level. We think it’s important to make your positive values explicit.


How do I know when to invest in branding?

Ask yourself: Are you absolutely clear about why your company or organization is different from the others? Is it easy to explain why your company or organization matters? Do you know the endgame for your company? Are you consistent in how you represent the company to all of your audiences (including your staff)? Do you have a simple and powerful story to tell that compels people to root for your success and get involved? Is there alignment among your staff, board, leadership on the questions above?

These aren’t easy questions, but branding is all about digging deep and coming back up with clear, consistent answers to those questions.


OK, so that’s branding. What about marketing? What’s the difference?

Branding is building the nest; marketing is sending the birds out to fly. Marketing consists of all the ways in which your brand message goes out into the world and connects with your audiences. Social media, advertising, print materials, signage, your website, business cards — everything has to be coordinated through a marketing strategy based on a clear brand message. What’s cool about having a clear brand is that it makes marketing decisions easy. You know your audiences and what is important to them, and you know what you want to say, and you’ll spend less money to get better results.


Should I manage marketing in-house or outsource to a brand or marketing firm?

Naturally, you have to think about what capabilities and expertise you have in-house and where you want to spend your hours, but there are other considerations as well. Rethinking your brand, especially, is difficult to do in-house, and almost always benefits from an outside perspective. When you have an expert asking the right questions, facilitating discussions, and providing insights, you end up with a clearer view. It’s a lot like therapy. In fact, we call the process design therapy because it has such a clarifying effect.

Tip: The branding process should never begin with design! It should always start with a discovery period to unearth and review all aspects of your business, your audiences, and the marketplace, followed by building a strategy.

As for marketing, it’s great to get creative ideas about where to spend time, energy, and budget, and then to execute using the resources you have. Most internal marketing teams, however, are limited in one or all of those areas, and so we’ve often become an extension of a marketing and communications team. We embed, get to know our client inside and out, and can then execute quickly on all sorts of projects, bringing out the brand story through everything.


When should I hire a marketing agency or vendor?

Once you have a clear and strategically sound brand and messaging, you can think about hiring an agency or vendor to help you build a marketing strategy and execution plan. Just be sure your brand is solid first.

Tip: It can be tempting to jump into marketing tactics as a silver bullet to gaining engagement with your audience. However, we’ve seen a lot of companies and organizations waste effort on marketing without a clear, differentiated core message.


What should I look for in a brand or marketing vendor or agency?

First of all, there are a lot of talented branding and marketing firms out there (though we think we’re special). We think that it’s crucial for a brand or marketing firm to start with the brand story, if it’s not yet defined. It is wasteful to build marketing upon an unstable, undefined brand story. The firm should ask the right questions and listen carefully. We don’t appreciate slick marketing people who think they have all the answers. In fact, the people inside the company or organization know best who they are. We believe that the answers come from a process based on data and insights. Every organization or company is different, and the solution is never cookie cutter. You want people who have confidence AND humility to really see you for what is unique and special about you.


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