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Unleashing the Power of Branding

In Conversation with Nate Ebel

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Nate Ebel, Founder & Owner of Ten31 Marketing, a branding and digital marketing agency located in Bloomington. Nate Ebel emphasizes the significance of building strong customer relationships, delivering value, and creating exceptional brand experiences.
Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

Your brand should communicate why you exist beyond just making money. It should reflect the values your company is built on and how you want to be perceived in the market.

Nate Ebel
Founder & Owner of Ten31 Marketing

Hey, hi, everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show, E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Nate from Ten31 Marketing. Welcome, Nate, to our show.

Hey, thanks for having me. Look forward to being here today.

Great. Nate, before we move forward and discuss digital marketing and marketing and branding with you, I request to introduce yourself and your agency to our audiences tonight before we move forward.

Yeah, sure. My name is Nate Ebel. I founded Ten31 Marketing almost eight years ago. We are a branding and marketing agency. We work on everything from brand strategy to design to digital marketing and ongoing marketing campaigns. We started back in 2015, it was fully just digital marketing. So the typical web development, SEO, pay per click. And then over time, we evolved in getting more into the branding space. That’s something we’ve moved into a lot more in the last year or two. But overall, we are more of a full-service branding and marketing agency based out of Bloomington, Indiana, here in the US.

Superb. Nate, since you have found your agency, can you please explain the process you go through while helping a company or any client of yours develop its brand foundation? What are the key elements involved in creating a strong brand foundation?

The way we do it here is that we like to work with the executive team or the founder of the company that we work with, and we take them through. We have a five-phase process for our brand strategy that we go through with them. And for that brand foundation piece, we like to get to the core of why they exist. Why do they exist beyond just making money? So obviously, we all know that when we start a business, we need to make money. We want to make money. But beyond that, what’s the why behind it? And so we get into the deeper questions of why you exist. What are the values your brand is built on, your company is built on? How do you want to be portrayed? How do you want to position yourself in the market to separate yourself from the competition? So we have a series of exercises that we will go through with teams, and executive leaders to pull that out. What we found is that a lot of times companies will just jump right into the marketing piece and they’ll maybe just feel like they’re spinning on an endless hamster wheel trying to figure out what’s going to work.

And they don’t have a whole lot of foundational strategy as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. In that brand foundation piece, we helped to develop, okay, why do you exist? What’s the purpose of your business? Getting clear on who exactly you serve, what exactly you provide to them, and what’s the messaging you want to communicate to them? And then we build upon that so that in each phase of that brand strategy process, we’re able to point back to the core of who they are, what they’re built upon, and then how we can best communicate that to their target audience and their ideal customers and clients.

Absolutely. While as marketers, we sit down with visionaries, founders, and owners of businesses, and we ask all these questions about how, what, and why. And at times, it does happen a lot that even they would have not thought so much about their business before starting it out. Does this happen to you?

Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes we go through stuff with clients and I’m like, Oh, man, yeah, I forget that. And so it’s a lot of, I think, especially the longer you’ve been in a business. We went through this process recently with a client that’s a regional bank that’s been that’s existed for 100 years, and they didn’t even know what… They couldn’t even remember quite what their vision was or their mission or any of those foundational elements of who they are. So yeah, I think it’s easy to just get caught up in the day-to-day task-based work as a business owner, that you forget the obvious, which is why should you be doing this. Or is what you’re doing currently on the marketing side helping you move forward toward the business goals that you have set? And we see that a lot where we’ll have clients that might approach us and say, hey, can you manage our social media? Or can you do this for us? And then we will say, Yeah, we can. That’s a service we can do, why do you want that done? Does that even make sense for your business?

Because we could just give them a quote and then start doing that. But at the end of the day, we want to be able to help their investment have a positive ROI. We want to help see the business grow. And a lot of times they just don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s what we found by helping to ask those good questions, they can then better see a clear picture of, okay, yes, I might think automatically that I should be on social media or that I should be doing advertising or print or whatever the marketing strategy might be. But without doing that foundational brand work, you’re not really going to know if that’s even what you should be doing and if that’s going to be the best use of your time and ultimately your marketing spend.

Absolutely. Because this happens to us a lot. When we said on these discovery calls and sessions, the founders, actually go back to their drawing board to understand why they started the business in the port space. And how do they want themselves to be seen online and to be presented? And how do they want their target audience or their consumer segment to look at them? Can you do that? Talking about businesses and audiences, how do you help any business to identify its target audience and conduct market research for understanding, to get a better understanding of their customer’s needs and preferences?

We always like to start. If it’s a business that’s existed, they’ve been around, obviously, they’ve already got a current customer base that we can do research on or get to know better. But if that’s the case, it’s an existing business. I use the example of this bank that’s been around 100 years. They’ve got a long history of who their customer base is. And so we’ll start there and find out, okay, out of your customers, who’s your ideal customer? And so we like to create an ideal customer persona, client persona. What’s their age range? What are their demographics? What do they like to do? What are their buying habits? What do they spend their time at? We’ll create some surveys to connect with their current customer base. And we’ll specifically talk to the ones who are the clients that you love and you want more of. And those are the ones that will spend a lot of time asking questions, getting to understand what you like about this company. Why do you continue to do business with them? So we like to hone in on who is your ideal personas, and then we will do direct research and questionnaires and surveys with them.

And then we will also do from… If there are then newer markets that they might want to get into or they want to try and find new customers, then we’ll start to do our research to look into, okay, what’s generally the shopping habits? Where does this baby boomer generation spend their time at? Do we need to do we target them on social media? Or do we need to send them a mailer? Do we need to run a pay-per-click ad? It depends depending on the stage of the business where the client is. Something like a startup is going to be more in the vein of still trying to identify who their ideal customer is if they’re just starting to get their first ones. But ideally, we love to be able to find who are the clients that you love, that love you. How can we find out exactly what it is that makes them continue to do business with you? And then how can we find more of them?

Yeah, absolutely. A very valid point there, Nate, is that you focused on touching base with your existing customer segment and understanding what they like about you. While we try and explore that blue ocean all the time of untouched pieces, we miss out on the fact that we should touch upon the existing customer base that we have and build on that brand value versus going and testing the waters once again and seeing what our competition does. Very valid point. Where it’s easier to build on the value which already exists and people relate to your brand, those value systems which you already have got. That’s a very valid point there. Then creating a brand value or brand positioning in a segment, like you mentioned the use case of a bank, which is a very tough competitive segment in itself. Can you walk us through the process of creating a brand roadmap for any new business or any new segment for that matter? How do you ensure that the roadmap is aligned with the company’s overall vision, mission goals, and objectives?

When we create a brand roadmap, that’s the final guiding light document that we’ll put together as we conclude any of our brand strategy work. And it’s an all-encompassing roadmap that is not just pointing toward what marketing activities need to be done, but it’s also touching on what needs to be done internally in the business. So it also will touch on things like, how do you do customer service? How do you communicate with clients? How do you do HR? What’s your employee culture like? That’s one of the biggest things that we try and get across and communicate to businesses is that your brand encompasses more than just your marketing. It is. Every experience that somebody has with you and your business is a representation of your brand, good or bad. So the more that you can be intentional about tying it back into, again, here’s why we exist, why we started, what we want to portray, here’s the values we want to communicate, we’ll then go through each part of their business and look at operationally how do you inject this brand experience into that. And again, I mentioned it on the customer service side.

Then obviously it ties in then on the marketing piece, when we’ve discovered here’s what the business financial goals are. We always like to start 10 years out and then scale back into what looks like three years out and one year out, so we have a good mixture of short-term and long-term. So we then tie that roadmap to, okay, here are the activities that we need to do for us on our agency side on the marketing piece. And then for them as a client, things they need to work on their business side internally, operationally, employee related that’s going to help drive that brand experience. And we’ll put together then timelines and really like priority maps for here are the priorities that we need to move into on the marketing side, and then there are things that we’ve identified that can be put together to help better create a custom client experience that’s going to keep people around. And with the bank as an example, what are things that we can do as this bank to provide a better brand experience from the minute they walk into your local branch, from the time that they go on your website?

And that’s where we’ll always go back to that roadmap to see if everything we’re doing stays true to this roadmap we identified. And the more that we can stay clear to that roadmap, the more we’re going to be on the path to reach those business goals three years out, 10 years out.

Absolutely. I appreciate the way you’re diving deep into the business and not just focusing on the hits on the website. It’s very critical. I speak with a lot of people in the digital marketing agencies world overall, and I see very few people focusing on what exactly are your customers getting out of it, which is like a post-sales discussion rather than just hitting those clicks on the website and putting it on a presentation. Just taking care of your piece of the work while the overall branding and the exercise of putting that value to the end consumer ensure repeat consumption of your service or product. Overall, which gives you that grand value plus positioning plus revenue because it’s repeat business. People dive that deep into the client’s businesses.

Yeah, absolutely. I always like to use personally the examples of well-known brands such as Apple or Starbucks and talk about how anyone that owns Apple is likely an Apple fanatic. They’ve got extreme brand loyalty to that brand. And so there’s an experience that Apple has created. What type of packaging you’re going to get, what type of design, and what type of simplicity, ease of use, and connectivity between their products? So people have put a lot of energy and investment and time and strategy into what they want that brand experience to be, which has led them to being one of the top most profitable companies in the world. And we like to look at that as well. But hey, every piece, everything that you do matters to your brand experience. I always say that in the end, the brand wins every time. You touched on it that you can run a campaign, get a lot of website visits, can get some conversions. But if you’re not creating the experience that’s going to keep them there long term, then there’s nothing to say they won’t just then leave to the next competitor who’s going to give them a lower price or anything else.

So we want to always look at it more holistically. What can you do as an overall company and brand to not just bring those customers in the door, but then to provide the experience that’s going to keep them around long term? And obviously, you’re going to be more likely to leverage the long-term customers you’ve had that already enjoy your services to bring more of those in than trying to just find a bunch of new ones. Keeping, and retaining those clients and providing that great experience is a big deal.

Absolutely. It improves your brand positioning against your competition because, like they say, nothing is perfect. Every brand, even Apple or any of the top brands, there comes a time when you might have had a bad experience. But how to fix that bad experience is also very critical. Five pointer reviews out of five reviews that you have on your website do not look that genuine to me as a consumer who goes on your website, to see, let’s say, a thousand reviews. And even if it is a 4.2 starter, a 4.3 startup, I believe it more. Because there will be some things as a service or a product that you might not have met your customer expectations with at some point in time. But how you go back, fix it… For me, for example, a review saying the product was awesome, versus I received the packaging was so and it was not proper and they returned the product in a very swift way, replacing it with a new one, and apologizing for the service I had earlier. Yeah. Making up for the hiccups which they might have had. That gives you that experience that even if something goes wrong, this particular brand is there to protect me. That goes a long way in terms of seeing how that particular brand values its customers. For that, a lot of credit goes to you, Nate, in terms of diving that deep into the customer’s business to be able to have that influence too. Make the changes because these are changes that happen at the root level. So credit for that on your team.

Yeah, thank you.

It’s all about storytelling when we talk about branding and positioning. Can you help us or our audiences, understand the importance of storytelling? How do you create compelling storytelling for any brand that gets associated with you?

We like to, again, tie back into how we start at the brand foundational level. Every brand has a story of a founder, why they created it, and what led them to take that plunge to go start their own business, likely they either wanted to create something better or they saw something there was a need for. So we like to tie into that. And a lot of times we’ll see that we have a client right now I know that we’re working with another different industry but similar and that they’ve been around for almost 100 years. And they have a great story of quality and value and just how great their products are. But that wasn’t a part of their messaging. And we’re looking at, okay, how do we get back to telling the original brand story that ties into why the brand was created, how it has this long history of high quality, really great customers, really great customer service. And so we like to tie back into similar with the brand foundation. Why did you start? What was your purpose? And then in terms of tangibly, how we help to tell that. Video does a better job than anything else to help communicate that.

Certainly, there are going to be written components to it as well, but we like to incorporate as much video as we can into showing that and then showing the results from a client or customer standpoint to get testimonials or reviews to be able to have people speak to, here was the experience that I had, and sharing that overarching story that in a way is inviting the customer into that brand story. And then vice versa, the company can enter into the customer story, if you will. And you can almost get into it, I’m sure you’re familiar with the story brand framework. It’s a popular one. You can bring the ender into the customer’s world, making them the hero because there is a balance I see where sometimes you can get too overly focused on just sharing your company story and sharing about us and our story and journey. Or sometimes the customer or a new potential client might say, That’s great. I just want to know, can you do this? Or, How good are your services? I think there’s value and you want that to be the overarching theme and underlying message that comes across, but in a way that’s going to invite the customer into that addresses their pain points, addresses how it makes their life better, addresses how it gets to the deeper why of why are they purchasing this product, or why are they purchasing this service beyond it being just a basic need. A lot of similar elements from looking at it from the customer standpoint and the company standpoint as well as getting behind what’s the why of it all.

Absolutely. Now, I’m going to put you in a spot. Let’s say you get on board a client, which unfortunately does not have a perfect brand image. Then the customer segment or target audience for that matter. How do you handle such a branding crisis for a new client?

We’ve dealt with that before where there’s maybe a company that they don’t have the best brand image, and one, they might not even fully be willing to admit that. So there’s been somewhere they’re focused on, we just need to get sales, but we’re trying to communicate that the sales aren’t going to come if they go and Google you and see a two-star review, or your average rating is two out of five stars and there have been lots of reviews. So trying to communicate that we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves by trying to just put a bandaid on it when there are foundational issues here that employees are unhappy, there are bad customer reviews. And so, yes, we could go run a bunch of ads to get some new leads coming in, but is that only going to lead to even more negative reviews? What we like to do is, A, if the client is aware of it, they know that it’s not representative of what they want the company to be and they’re willing to fix that, own up to it, then we will do any rebrand that’s necessary in the sense of on a design level.

If it’s maybe just outdated or that’s from visual, we’ll clean that up. But ultimately, we like to tie it back into, again, what’s the original brand purpose and the brand foundation that we’re trying to function off of? And then we like to go back and see, okay, what do we need to clean up within the company to help provide a better experience across the board? And then is there something that we might even need to do from a PR level that’s owning up to some of this? I know that we had, for example, years ago, there was a client that put on a big event. There was a big festival they did, and it ended up being terrible weather that day. It was an outdoor festival. The location was in the middle of nowhere. So there were buses that tracked in people, and it ended up just being a huge nightmare because of the weather, and cars getting stuck in the mud. And there was tons of just really bad PR online. It was quite literally a crisis for them. And I know initially the tension for the client was it wasn’t our fault, it was the weather and we could only do this much.

And there was a wall coming up that they wanted to be defensive about it. But we were able to talk them through, look, hey, this is the opportunity to acknowledge that, yes, the weather played this big part, but we apologize for any oversights that we saw on the planning side or on this or that. We’re going to give a refund to the people that weren’t able to make it or the people that came in at a bad experience because ultimately that’s going to give a much better impression to the public about, as you mentioned earlier, when something does go wrong, what are you doing to fix that? And so I think being willing to be humble, if you will, in that sense, and to acknowledge, Hey, we want to do better. We want to do what we can to fix this. And that’s what they did. And it worked out great. People were grateful. They were thankful. The event continued in the following years, and it’s been good ever since. I think it’s a willingness to be able to acknowledge and just it’s okay. Nobody is perfect. No business is perfect. So like you said, when you do make a mistake, how do you respond to that? I think a big part of it as well is that a lot of companies will try and fully separate that this is a company, not a person, but tying into the personality side of it, it’s people want to engage with companies in a way that they would engage with a person or a friend. And so nobody would like a friend that’s dishonest or not willing to own up or apologize in the same way that they don’t want a company to be that way. So yeah, sometimes there’s a lot of soul searching or looking in the mirror, but it’s possible to be able to come back stronger from a crisis and take advantage of that.

Absolutely. Before we let you go, to all the small business owners who are listening to our podcast, or probably agency folks who focus on branding for small businesses. What advice would you give them, small business owners or agencies who are building a brand for small businesses looking to build a strong brand on a limited budget?

I would say that if you’re starting a smaller business, you don’t have a big budget. There’s a lot you can do just based on your brand and the reputation you’re able to build from that. I would make it a priority to all the clients or customers you do have, even if it’s a very small amount, and focus on making that the best experience possible for them. Because I know we’ve even experienced this here at our agency where we’ve not done a ton of outreach marketing sales on our own over the years. And we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had almost all of our growth has been through referrals. And so I think that’s because though we put the time and effort into when someone does work with us, our work, our experience, the relationship we build, they’re going to be willing to go refer us. And so none of that requires a budget. That just requires being willing to care, and truly have the client’s best interests in mind. And then there’s obviously on the marketing piece, there’s a lot you can do on your own today. Everybody’s got a phone that has a camera that’s got better quality than anything two, three, or even 10 years ago.

So there’s a lot you can do just creating your content, doing what you can. But I think ultimately, the biggest thing I would recommend is trying to create that, what’s that experience we can provide to where somebody is going to want to share that with others or refer others because people will do that when they have a good experience. And we’ve also seen where there have been times that clients have come to us and they came from a massive agency out of LA or Chicago, but they didn’t feel like they cared about them at all. They couldn’t get in touch with them. They had a bad experience. And so we might not have the firepower staff-wise that they do, but we’re able to provide a much more personalized experience for them. And they’re willing to stick around longer for that because they feel valued, and appreciated. And obviously, the work needs to show the results still, too. But I think that there’s a lot there that the old saying that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. And I think that sometimes people forget that because there are so many tactics today with digital marketing, you can do so much that you almost forget the basics of, hey, if our word-of-mouth referrals aren’t even happening because people aren’t happy, then that’s probably something we should take a look at.

Absolutely. I always say this to my clients, that’s free marketing. We marketers, we pitch a lot of brand marketing strategies. We prepare these decks and sit down with you. But all it starts from the fact is that if you are good at what you do, you’re going to land up with more business. Because I got a good service. I’m going to sit with five people and talk to those five people about this good service that I receive. And this is no budget on your sheets. This is free marketing that I am doing as your client on behalf of you. Very strong marketing. All that it takes is for you to be good at what you are doing and then you pile up or multiply on that with your brand marketing campaigns. That is where we all come in.

Yeah, absolutely.

Great. Nate, it was lovely speaking with you. I’m sure our audiences would have benefited a lot from you. We’ll try and get hold of you for another detailed episode. Since the time crunch, we had to wrap it up, but we’d love to get you for another detailed episode. Thank you so much for taking your time. Yeah. thank you.

Appreciate it. Had a lot of fun and I look forward to being back on again sometime soon.

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