The Consumer VC: Venture Capital I B2C Startups I Commerce | Early-Stage Investing
Bonus: Sasha Strauss (Innovation Protocol) - Brand Strategy, Not Making Brand Too Personal, and Importance of Positioning
May 7, 2020 · 45 min
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Sasha Strauss is the founder and Managing Partner of Innovation Protocol, a full-service strategic brand consulting and design firm based in Los Angeles, with a presence in San Francisco and New York. Some of his clients include Google, Doordash, Nestle, Paypal, and Concur Endurance Group. Sasha also teaches Brand Strategy to MBAs at UCLA, USC and UC Irvine.

Highly recommend Sasha's TED Talk if you are looking for more resources about the power of brand and want to be inspired.

One book that inspired Sasha professionally is Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries. and one book that inspired Sasha personally is XXXX by Joseph Campbell.

You can also follow Sasha on Twitter @sashastrauss. You can also follow your host, Mike, on Twitter @mikegelb. You can also follow for episode announcements @consumervc.


On this episode we discuss -


  1. What is brand? What led him to starting Innovation Protocol? When an entrepreneur is thinking about brand for their startup, what types of questions should they be asking themselves? If you were starting a B2C brand, what would be his starting point? Importance of positioning/competitive analysis
  2. Is building a brand the most expensive asset one can build and the hardest? How does he think about brand today? Consumers have more choice and can have more of a connection with a brand than ever before because of the various ways they can interact with brands (social media, D2C ecommerce channel). Does he think that this is the golden age of brands and consumers will pay a much larger premium than ever before just because of the brand or does he see due to competition and the fewer barriers to entry to start a D2C business online, that it’s going to be harder than ever for a brand to charge a premium?
  3. How does he think about brands that have a social missions or are eco friendly, because if brand is an emotion and if the consumer has a deeper connection to brands that have a social or environmental initiative, would consumers be willing to pay larger premiums for those brands? How does he measure the impact of brand on a consumer’s purchase decision?
  4. What is one thing he would change when it came to the perception of brand? What is one piece of advice for founders when it comes to brand?



Here's the full transcript

Mike Gelb 0:00

Sasha, thank you so much for joining me today. Especially during these difficult times how are you and your family doing

Sasha Strauss 1:10 glad to connect and my family's doing okay, everyone's huddled down and hunkered down I guess is the right word but huddled together as a family and indeed be making it through staying busy keeping our minds active all the things you need to do to make it you know,

Mike Gelb 1:25 absolutely it's that's really good to hear your brand strategist,

Sasha Strauss 1:28 what is brand brand is a relationship. It's the simplest way to understand its purpose, but it's a relationship which means that for spur human to have a have a connection to something, there has to be some dialogue or experience or understanding your interface and just like people knowing people, you you know someone by name, a product or a service also needs that same kind of identity. So a brand is just a mechanism that you use to bridge a relationship between a product or Service and the audience

Mike Gelb 2:01 got it. brand is not only external, it's also internal. Right? Right.

Sasha Strauss 2:05 So that's what when I say that a brand is you know, relationship between a product and service and its audience, the audience may be internal, it may be the the builders, it may be the salespeople, and maybe the HR department, it doesn't matter. Again, you work, let's say you work for a big company that manufactures products. If you don't have a dynamic relationship with that product, if you don't feel emotionally connected to it, you're just a transactional talent, you're just kind of doing the job. Whereas if you feel again, connected, inspired, informed, you start to care deeply. And that helps you perform at a higher level. It helps you if you're an HR, it helps you recruit with fervor, you know, you're like, oh, come work for this organization. Because we do these things and we make this stuff and it affects these people. And so brand is that it's kind of crazy wrapper that takes all of the aspects of an organization and its outputs and and humanizes them In a way that can build connection, got it. Tell

Mike Gelb 3:02 me a little bit about your background. I mean, we're also gonna put the link into your TED Talk, as well in the show notes. That was, to me really inspiring. I actually teared up during when I first watched it really powerful. What interested you in having a career in brand, also a little bit about what a brand strategist is what led you to starting innovation protocol.

Sasha Strauss 3:21 I've never met anybody in my life who was a brand strategist. And in fact, when I was young, there wasn't such thing as one. So it was a it wasn't the kind of thing where it was passed down from an uncle or I read about it in a book while I was a student. It was honestly a physiological psychological response. It was a defense mechanism on my part, I'll make it really simple like this. anyone listening will remember when they were 10. And they saw a TV commercial or they heard a radio commercial or they saw a billboard. And there are those people who are like, oh, okay, fine stimulation. And then there were those people were like, Oh my gosh, I need that hamburger. Oh my gosh. Oh, I want to buy that car. My gosh, I want to play that sport. And I was one of the people who was wired to have the oh my gosh, I want that thing. I want to experience that thing. I want to believe that thing. And so my, my childhood experience was one of being pulled by all of these communications, it didn't matter if it was from a religion or a car company. I was pulled by it. And until I was sort of, I don't know, awoken when I was 1718 years old, and started to realize, like, wait a minute, I don't I don't actually need that thing. Or I don't really like that kind of car. Why am I called to desire it? And that was because someone communicated to me or to people like me in such a particular way and in such an engaging and relevant way that it was hard for me to look away. So the short answer to how did I become a brand strategist was I needed to protect myself from all of the communications that were encroaching on my consciousness, and the only way I got to be able to do that was to figure out how they were made. So after turning 18 from that day forward, I only Worked for advertising firms, marketing firms, public relations firms, you name it just constantly while I was in school, after school, etc. And then inevitably, you graduate and you work hard, and I worked very, very hard. I absolutely worked seven days a week for a decade. And what it enabled me to do is become, quote, an expert, you know, someone who's had enough exposure and enough time on the topic to, to be good enough to basically hang up my own shingle. And that's what I did in 2006. With innovation protocol, it was just simply me saying, alright, I've practiced this enough, I've been around it enough, I've worked it enough. Let's see if people will pay me directly then that's what started the business.

Mike Gelb 5:38 That's awesome. That's awesome. So tell me tell me a little bit as well about what is a brand strategist like the actual role when a company like hires you on as a consultant.

Sasha Strauss 5:47 So if I was describing earlier that in my youth I was highly impacted by the communications of organizations. And then as I aged up, I found ways to understand those communications and and defend myself against them as a professional, what I've been able to figure out is how to actually create those connections. And I don't mean create those connections in a distorted way where I'm trying to get you to buy something you don't need. But what a brand strategist does is it figures out individual figures out who the audience is what they are experiencing, and then tries to meet them in the middle with with language and ideas and explanations that fit within their lifestyle. So here you are doing a podcast. Imagine that whoever's marketing to you a microphone or cables or audio editing or headphones, they come at it with a very technical spec driven motive, you know, like, okay, here, buy this microphone because it has the specs. But the fact is, is that you're not a microphone expert. You may be able to do some research and collect some details, but you're not a microphone expert. And so, what the microphone company has an obligation to do is not only tell you what it technically can do, but also connect to you based on how you might use it like produce the best part Cast Do you ever could or, or maybe you'll podcast more because this thing works so well or it makes it easy for you to podcast. And you see that those are explanations expressions beyond the functional capability of the device. And that's what a brand strategist does. Whether you're selling airplanes or bubblegum, the responsibility is the same, it's to sort of contextualize the capability of the product in a way that the audience can relate to and connect to.

Mike Gelb 7:26 I know you've worked with a ton of Fortune 500 companies, some of the biggest companies in the world. But I mean, this podcast is mostly focused on startups. And how do you think about or should an entrepreneur approach brand from the very, very beginning?

Sasha Strauss 7:42 I actually really appreciate the question because believe it or not, whether it's b2b or b2c, or startup or fortune 100. The actual approaches remain very, very similar. So my, I'm in a lot of entrepreneurs, societies, and I get that question. You know, someone comes up to me and they say, I don't have these fortune 100 budgets. Come on. You know, what can I do here? And my reaction is the same. My reaction is, Well, okay, are you going to be communicating? Do you know, people don't buy what they don't know exists? So you've got this direct to consumer offering. I don't know what exists, so you're going to have to talk to me. Okay. Well, are you talking to me the same way that an alternate product is talking to me? Or the product that I already use to do that activity? Are you speaking in the same words with the same tone, because if you are, I'm gonna have a really hard time telling the difference between the two of you. So the key factor for a startup is go about it as if you were building it with intention that you're not just trying to get quarterly revenue. You're trying to build annual revenue trying to build multi year connection with your audience. And that means that you have to do the things that big commercial brands do too. For example, commercial brands, always, excuse me, big larger brands always consider their competition. They're, they're following their tweets. They're walking by them at trade shows they're buying their products. And what that what that does for you is it really helps ensure that you don't sound the same. So that's one quick action that I would take as a start up. And the second quick action that I would take as a start up is, well, who is your audience? Who is your buyer? And how are they thinking, behaving, learning, getting informed, etc. Because again, no matter how powerful your capabilities, if one, you don't communicate them, then your audience is not going to receive them. But two, if you don't communicate them in a way that's contextually relevant to that audience, it doesn't matter how innovative your solution, it's not going to break through and change their life. And so my ask is, not only consider who your competition is, but consider who that consumer is, consider what situation they might be in, consider what language they use to describe that situation. And that will help even the smallest of startup get their brand, right.

Mike Gelb 9:48 I really appreciate that. I mean, it seems like a lot of what you said is really about looking at the actual competitive analysis and, you know, how are you communicating versus the versus the rest of the competition and how you can actually differentiate yourself on that front.

Sasha Strauss 10:02 Yeah, exactly like I see a lot of I see a lot of really inspired entrepreneurs, they come out with a blast, you know, they're tweeting and instagramming. They're building their web page. They're so excited about what they're releasing. And then what they realized is, for example, they might be using non industry terminology, you know, there entrepreneur who's moved between categories. And so they're using non specific language to describe their capabilities. And when you're a technical buyer, or you're a consumer who's trying to decide whether to give this to your child, like if it doesn't fit within your psyche, within the space of your consciousness as you're going about your purchase, then you're, then it feels a little weird, it feels like something strange. And so that's why this is such an imperative. And by the way, in the internet era, most of this is free. For example, when it comes to evaluating competition, you can surf the internet to the enth degree and you will find a lot about what your competition is doing. Same thing with your consumers. You can do social listening, you can join social media channels and pay deep attention to what consumers are saying within those channels. So these are not beyond the grasp of a startup with, you know, low income if you're a startup building

Mike Gelb 11:12 How do you think about first mover advantage when it comes to brand?

Sasha Strauss 11:18 It's a really interesting question. Because first mover advantage before the internet was gold, because if a consumer didn't necessarily know that a solution existed, and you were the first to introduce it to them, you got this kind of first in line, you know, priority. It's interesting in the internet era, because everyone can talk and discuss and share and respond. Being first may be that you are the first to start the conversation. But that doesn't give you ownership over the entire idea. Just because you suggest making a sandwich in a certain way doesn't mean that for the rest of time that that idea is yours. And so first mover advantage, believe it or not, unless you're working on it. patented or trademark process, first mover advantage has kind of lost its significance in the internet era. We're all using applications like you and I are on zoom right now. Zoom is not the first, you know, web meeting tool. It's totally not and we don't even remember who the first one was. So that's the point is that what matters now is who's best communicated? Who's most consistently communicated? Who's most relevantly communicated? Everything else after that is nice to have. Or it's really interesting to say you were the original, but it doesn't seem to matter like it used to. Do you believe that building a brand is the most expensive asset that you can build and also the hardest asset you can build? Well, I'm not I'm not one to speak about what it costs to invent something. You know, you're inventing a new pharmaceutical or a new kind of automobile. I don't. I don't have the right to pontificate on what the cost of that is. The reason why though I think branding by nature is expensive, is because it doesn't work doing it. Why It's not the kind of thing when you buy an office chair, you've got it and you can use it. Branding is the kind of thing that once you once you start doing it, you can't stop doing it, it becomes a daily responsibility. And whether you're the CEO giving a speech or you're the social media Community Manager, and you're posting a tweet, in a brand doesn't stop. And so I would say over the long term brand is one of the most expensive things that you will invest in.

Mike Gelb 13:25 Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And thinking about brand today, consumers now have more choice. There's more disruptive companies than ever, how do you think about the value of brand because it seems like starting a company, you're you're able to do it now so easily. There's not this like high threshold anymore in order to enter. So how do you how do you think about starting a brand and as well as Do you think this is the hardest time to build a brand, considering there's so much competition?

Sasha Strauss 13:52 Yeah, I really appreciate what you say the word I use in class is that there's never been such a cacophony of noise you know, so many brands encroaching into our daily daily life. You know, 15 years ago before the mobile phone was so prominent, you know, you would only be exposed to so much media, you know, you might have listened to the radio might have watched a TV commercial. That was it. And now, every hour of every day, including when you're sleeping, and your phone is buzzing, you know, you're being outreached too. And so breaking through that clutter, like showing up emits that cacophony of noise. Yes, that that I have to say it's never been as hard to break through. Now one caveat, which is that it used to be that when you would, outreach as a brand, you kind of had to just yell to the masses, you know, you would, let's just say that you're an employer and you're trying to recruit new graduate students from USC, you kind of have to advertise across the campus or in the campus newsletter, etc. But now because you can target audience so specifically based on where they hang out in social media, based on their social media identity, Now you don't have to worry about the wide broadcast. Now you can focus on the targeted broadcast. And that's something that is actually quite empowering today.

Mike Gelb 15:09 Yeah, I actually loved your example as well in one of your YouTube videos about the superbowl commercial about how before the superbowl commercial was this big thing now it's not you know, people are on their phones or you know, there's, you know, in the bathroom during it, you know, it's not it's not as big of a deal they could always watch it later if they wanted to. I also wanted to know because you know, on the show, we talk a bit about brands that have social missions or social values, you know, eco friendly, sustainable supply chains because it's brand is an emotion if consumer has a deeper connection to brands, do you think that these bad brands will be able to charge and be successful at charging like a larger premium?

Sasha Strauss 15:48 I really appreciate your question, Mike. Because for the longest time, being kind to the world or kind to people with a nice to have right it was like, Oh, this company also has an eco friendly component to its right. I'm actually what's so interesting now and I see this a lot with my graduate students at all the universities I teach up is that now it's like one of the top two reasons people choose something is how is that organization behaving? Now, let's just pretend that you know, you're not an environmentalist. So that doesn't intrigue you. But what if you care about children? Or what if you care about power efficiency? Well, fine, but each of those things is kind of a cause beyond product function that gets you to care like a little bit more. And like we were discussing, describing earlier, like, you know, consumers need buyers need a relationship with what they're buying. And if if product feature and function is not enough to have a relationship around it, well, then fine. Maybe you can talk about the people that make it. Okay, that's interesting. Maybe you could talk about the origin of it. Okay, that's really interesting. But one thing that you can definitely also talk about is, what is what good happens to the world because we're doing this or how do we use this to to create Good in the world. And the interesting thing about the answer to that question is, people will listen, they'll kind of be intrigued by it, even if the product isn't like built for them, they'll kind of be like, Alright, well, I see how that company is doing things that's really, really interesting. In fact, in this time of COVID-19, you know, we're seeing a lot of organizations who are getting out of their core manufacturing capability, and they're getting their manufacturing things like gowns and masks and such. And you save yourself like, Well, why are they doing it? You know, there's clearly no margin. And not only that, but they're kind of like most of their workforce is not working. But these companies are putting some workforce into risk, you know, to try and manufacture these products. And even though I really, really appreciate that they're doing it, why are they doing it, they're doing it because it looks and feels good internally and externally. That's why they're doing it. And so you have to acknowledge that that means that consumers are so engaged and how an organization is behaving that if you are not doing that, CSR are you're not doing some cause related activity attached to your business, you're going to be written off, you're going to be ignorable. And your competition is going to smarten up, get on top of it and do things that are good for the world while they make a profit.

Mike Gelb 18:15 excellent examples, as always, Sasha cow I think about it is, you know, brand is, of course, an emotion. And if you're, if you're having, you know, CSR or you know, a social impact mission, then that emotion just gets deeper, or it could get deeper and so more powerful. Now, do you think that this would that for these types of brands that then there's higher switching costs for consumers?

Sasha Strauss 18:37 Oh, beautifully said that is exactly. The point is that, in fact, switching costs are quite low. Now, if you know, for example, you see the movement moving from one bank to the next was so hard people never did it, but the switching costs now because everything is a digital account, it's so much easier to move between A and B, you're right. When I care about what an organization is doing, when I believe in what they're doing the most. switching costs is higher. And that's the key.

Mike Gelb 19:02 How do you measure the impact of brand? On a consumers purchase decision?

Sasha Strauss 19:09 Yeah, my first answer is you can't, but you can try. Okay, so let me tell you why I say I can't. Okay. So let's just pretend that you and I are working on a we're the brand strategist and we're working on a product that shows up in grocery retail, okay. And we have convinced ourselves that we thought the packaging, right, we got the name, it's so good. And we're doing all these great activities that are going to make people care about this product. And then let's say the product sells really, really well. Mike and I are high five and we're like, dude, we totally got this right. We got the packaging. It was perfect. The name was correct. Look, what competitors did or didn't do that month. Also probably mattered and, and how the retailer puts your product on the shelf also mattered and what the market pricing was at the time also mattered. So for making it take credit for the brand success for the product success being tied to the brand specifically would be unfair. So that's the challenge is that the brand cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. You can't say product new because brand, but what you can acknowledge is that the brand makes everything a little bit better. So, okay, we're thinking about what we're going to name the product a brand strategist would evaluate, well, what are the other products on the shelf called? How do we not name ourselves the same way? Okay, well, there you go. That's how the brand might help the brand might help minimize confusion. Okay, check next. Okay, we also made sure that the brand's voice is unique enough that when you look it up online, when you look up our message online and how no one else is also using that message. That makes it much easier to find. Okay, point for the brand team. The business is easier to find and learn about because of the decisions that you make. And so long answer to your question about how can you use, you know, how can you measure a brand impact? Theoretically, you can't measure it in a vacuum, but you can acknowledge its contribution across an organization across a product offering. I'll end by suggesting, for example, you know, when you say, can you measure a brand? Well, you know, you and I have both worked for companies that did not have a strong brand. And then we work for a company that did have a strong brand. And you know, when a company has a strong brand, you might work a little harder, you might work for less money, you might not look for another job as fast because that brand looks really good next year identity. So I am how do I how do I quantify what that's worth? employee retention employees work 10% harder 10% longer and look for jobs 10% less because their brand is strong? I don't know. I don't know what the measure is. But I it's kind of like you know what, when you see it on to your last point, even when it comes to hiring right and you're trying and you're a founder you're looking to recruit it might come back Taking a smaller paycheck because it more identifies with your brand. So, you know, I had on a couple investors that talked about the importance of distribution, one investor said, starting out a company, they believe that 80% of your time should be devoted towards distribution and unique and you and your own unique discipline strategy 20% just everything else.

Mike Gelb 22:19 Why don't I hear how you think about distribution as it relates to brand.

Sasha Strauss 22:24 I, you know, I appreciate what those folks said, because, again, no matter how original or interesting your product capabilities, no matter how passionate you are, as a founder, if your product can't get to the consumer, then who cares? So stop getting so excited about your innovation. And so I agree, you know, if you can't figure out how to get the product on shelf, you can't figure out how to get the product to the consumer, then there's no point in doing any brand building. And that's why we see such a boom in direct consumer behavior, even for very large expensive products going direct to consumer. like think about airlines. airlines for the longest time were using these aggregators. You know, for decades, were using these website aggregators that would pull all of their flights into the same list. And then Southwest Airlines was like, No, like, I'm not, I'm not going to be a part of this, this sort of erratic distribution behavior, we're going to create our own distribution platform, and they pulled back all flights, you can only book a Southwest Airlines flight from a Southwest comm website. And everyone looked at that, like, oh, Southwest, you're gonna screw yourself. But what Southwest realized was that getting direct to the consumer, getting the pricing as accurate and specific as possible direct to consumer that was more important than the cacophony of choices from every single flight that possibly could be offered. And so interestingly enough, Southwest has quickly climbed from one of the leading airlines to like top two most productive airline in North America, and their entire approach has been direct to consumer. So to rewind back to your question about, you know, distribute Yes, distribution is everything. And then once you've got distribution, I'd argue that brand becomes everything. Because all of that work to get it into that retail channel was significant. But if you show but the retail channel non differentiated, non engaging, none not relevant, not contextually applicable, then it doesn't matter that you have distribution, the product isn't going to sell. So everyone's asking about like, Alright, well, what are the best ways to market these days? Because you know, everyone's blasting on social and it's so confusing. This is absolutely the case. I've heard this a lot over the last six months email is now back at the top. And it's like one of the best ways to engage your target on email and all of us are like screw email, I hate email. I want to be on slack and what don't you tweet me etc. Well, it turns out because email is really about opting in you, you you kind of find a site you put your name in it, you join a club, you're part of a society. That email opting in basically says, tell me engage me, you know, encroach on my consciousness. It's a permission, it's a really interesting key to permit people to come into your private spaces email. And it turns out that the click through rates on email, through the roof, especially because we now can block so much better because we can kind of control who gets into our inbox. But you know, this, let's just say that there's a sports team that you love, or you know, you're an alumni of a school, you opt in and you're getting extremely targeted, highly relevant sets of information. And it turns out that you do open them, you do read them, you do not just us, push them to spam or junk. And so it's just really interesting to see these days that you kind of almost have to return to old ways of engagement because there's so much frivolous, you know, of noxious, sporadic marketing outreach, hitting us on all channels that sometimes the opt in channel is actually as powerful or more powerful than it's ever been.

Mike Gelb 25:59 Yeah, no I mean, that's a great point. Because because there's so many ways now to communicate, I mean, I feel like I use five or six different apps, if not more, just to communicate to, you know, my family. So it's a just, you know, only like 1010 or so individuals. So it's, it's, it's crazy. And then you have like, like I was in China last year part of the program. And then, you know, I kind of learned a bit more about WeChat. And about how it's really just they have this block, really, of just the entire, like communication vertical. People aren't, you know, giving out their emails, it's just connecting on WeChat. It's quite quite, it really made me think it was just quite remarkable.

Sasha Strauss 26:39 Oh, my gosh, man in the Middle East. If you don't have WhatsApp, you don't exist. You're not a real person. I don't care if you have a Facebook page, you got some corporate profile on your website. Like that doesn't matter if you're not in WhatsApp. You're not real. You can't. And I've been dealing with clients in Middle East for a long time when you're messaging on WhatsApp. It's it's not a chat. It's not like a youth chat thing, you know, it's not like oh, you know, message. It's like literally you're brokering multi million dollar deals in WhatsApp, that's just to show you how targeted that kind of communication is that invite in communication gives the brand permission to have a much more robust dialogue.

Mike Gelb 27:15 And it's, I think, to your point as well, that, you know, it really also depends on the on the geographic areas, right, like email in the US is unruly is, as you say, kind of back on the top in terms of how people want to be communicated. But

Sasha Strauss 27:28 what I liked about it, you know, we're living in a really dynamic time, no question,

Mike Gelb 27:32 what is one thing that you would change when it came to the perception of brand,

Sasha Strauss 27:37 I guess I work really hard to convince nonprofits that branding is a priority. So I guess I would change their disbelief. They really kind of like it's so interesting. I'll be having a meeting with a nonprofit and blast them a question like, so who do you think your competitors are? And they'll have like this. We don't have competitors. You know, we're saving lives here. And So we say in response like, Oh, well, so your donors only donate to you, you know, are those grants that you're applying for. You're the only organization applying for those grants. And of course, that the donor is donating to lots of different institutions. And the grant making institution is giving grants a lot. So you have to consider who you're quote, fine, call them, your peers, call them, your friend said if you want, but please, for goodness sake, nonprofits need to understand that branding is as important as their strategic plan. And I'll tell you an example. I've never been a part of a nonprofit and I've been a part of so many nonprofits. it's astounding, just through the work I do have never been part of a nonprofit that doesn't have quote, a strategic planning process, you know, they they hunker down and and get their board together. And it's a strategic planning retreat. And so interesting because they talk about all their revenue intentions and their service delivery intentions. And then you ask them, Okay, great, so you got this big plan. Is this plan, market relevant? like is this how The donors want to see you behaving or is this how the and the applications for the fundraising channel here for your grants channels? Are these the questions they asked in the grant application? Because it's not that I really appreciate your strategic plan, but it's something for you. It's something for you to feel good about yourself. Brand help audiences feel good about you. And you have to take that into consideration when building a nonprofit institution. So that would be my answer of your question. One thing I would change about the perception of brand was that it's not just for commercial application, in fact, as powerful or more powerful in community service state level, you know, school level programming as well. Yeah, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. Well, think about like, let's just pretend that you you're a nonprofit and you you, you know, that this, the thing that you're doing is you're creating, like, life saving solutions, okay? You're, you're aggregating data, you've got all these volunteers and these scientists and you're creating these life saving solutions. And, and, and it turns out that the best way to to fund your program is to get the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund you. Okay, because what you what you're producing or whatever service you're offering, it fits right within their social mission, you and everyone else also believes that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation should be funding them. So if you're not thinking about how you articulate your value, and package that capability in a manner that fits right in, I mean, I wish your listeners can see my hands I'm making, like two sets of fingers coming together seamlessly. Because if you don't apply for that grant to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the right way with the right tone with the right sort of identity, then you're just going to be looked at like not structured well enough or you don't have a clear vision, and so they're not going to fund you. And so that's where nonprofit brand programming is so so important is that you might not say to yourself, well, we're not trying to get all these consumers like Amazon, okay, I get that. But there are buyers decision makers and builders on the receiving end If your brand is not well built, strong, articulate and intentional, they're going to look like you're a risk. You know, giving you money is potentially a loss situation,

Mike Gelb 31:10 not a net contribution. It's i think it's it's part of your point that brand is everywhere. It needs to be taken everywhere, like religion, for example, the first brand so

Sasha Strauss 31:18 I have a, you know, your your fun like this. I'll point out I have two books. I have a lot of books around me right now. But I have two books sitting on my desk right now. One of them is from the Masons. And it's actually like a ceremonial facilitation guide. It's from my grandfather. He was amazing. And it's just so interesting to read the protocol and process and purpose. But let me tell you, this is a brand book, this is a brand book, How to facilitate Sonic ritual and why is it Why does it matter? And how do you communicate it and I have another book on my desk, which is my work with the Catholic Church, which is this is basically called the intellectual life. It's just so interesting. And it talks about how to wake up in the morning how to go to bed at night, how to gauge your family. etc. Now listen, this is this is Catholicism, I'm telling you it's like it's like the ritual the practice of Catholicism. But what is it really, it's really about an identity of how you feel your place in the world, your relationship with the people around you. And that's what branding is branding. Again, it takes the actual regiment of a faith and it says, Well, wait a minute, let me make it a little bit more relatable to you. Let me make it a little bit more engaging and emotional to you. And that will you'll follow the ritual. This is my take on the situation. I thought you'd get a kick out of these books.

Mike Gelb 32:29 That's great. Thanks so much for those examples before I took your course ever thought about religion in terms of the brand and the actual and everything so that was that was pretty eye opening for me.

Sasha Strauss 32:38 Once you see it, you can never look away.

Mike Gelb 32:40 What's speaking of books. What's one book that inspired you personally, and one book that inspired you professionally?

Sasha Strauss 32:46 I'll tell you about a book that inspired me professionally. I'll grab the book here while I'm speaking with you. And it's actually a go to price. It's been a go to resource in the branding business for over 40 Yours. Um, it's called positioning the battle for your mind. And it's a very easy to find book, it's probably on the desk of any marketer you ever met. And it basically introduced Originally, it really introduced the notion that the best thing that you can do for your business for your brand, is to consider the the marketplace of offerings, and figure out where you fit in the marketplace of offerings, and make sure that there's a space for you in that arena. And it's just such a simple notion. I almost do not work on a branding project ever, without saying to myself, okay, great. Here's the lay of the land of all the offerings, all the competition, is there, a space that we can claim all our own and build our messaging and tone around that unique space. So this is called positioning the battle for your mind by Al Reese, and jack trout. That's the one that's probably influenced me the most professionally the books that have probably helped influence me the most personally are by Joseph Campbell, he's an author of world religions. He's dead now. But he was a great he had this reverence for World faith. It didn't matter if we're talking about first American religions, or we're talking about, you know, the Viking sagas. And what he basically did is he spent his lifetime studying them all and understanding the wisdom tradition, the the wisdom that came from each of them without judgment on one versus the other. And that's really helped me as a brand builder, build brands, for organizations that make things or do things that I don't necessarily relate to. Like that I don't like, for example, I'm not a sports enthusiast. So like, if I'm working for a hockey brand, I could say, well, that's not my religion, so I can't respect and appreciate it. Or I can take the Joseph Campbell view, which is, there's something beautiful and interesting and inspiring in every religion, go find that and that's the duty I put on myself. If I'm working on a hockey brand, I will put on that responsibility and say Sasha, doesn't matter whether or not you're a hockey fan or not. What matters is the There are things that are true about hockey that drive people connect people unite people, and you need to go find those things. So that's my answer to the second question about the content that's probably influenced me the most personally, socially, professionally, books by Joseph Campbell. I have questions about each of those.

Mike Gelb 35:17 First of all on positioning, when do you might have like found that wedge in the market? Right? Like you're you maybe found that product market fit, as they say, how do you think about like expansion?

Sasha Strauss 35:27 I really appreciate your point, because a lot of times founders really want to be many things to their core audience. And you know, and ultimately, I think we've all heard this in our lives, you know, you can't be all things to all people. A brand is supposed to be something very specific to a narrow view. And we got to remind ourselves that there's only so much space for Amazon and apples in the world. The truth is, is that most of the businesses in the world are not of that scale. 99% of all businesses in North America are small to medium sized businesses. So we kind of have to remind ourselves that it's not it's not our job to necessarily become The next Amazon or Apple. But back to your question about, Alright, fine, you've carved out a niche for yourself. Is that dangerous? Is that limiting? Because you can't expand from there? Actually, no. Let's go back to the Southwest Airlines example. So if you recognize the Southwest Airlines colors are like purple and yellow and red, it's almost like the southwest of the United States, kind of like Arizona, the sunset, you know, that desert kind of color set. Right, okay. And Southwest literally refers to the southwestern region of the United States. That's where they fly because there used to be Northwest that used to be, you know, all these different regional airlines. And so you say to yourself off Southwest like little dangerous you know, why would you want to position yourself you're going to pitch in your hotel, pigeonhole yourself into just a regional supplier. And what you realize is that Southwest was visionary enough to think through that and get it get into their head that Southwest is, is a it's a lifestyle. It's like it's a warm, engaging, happy lifestyle, and it's a way of thinking not necessarily a region. Now, Southwest flight all over North America, they fly to Mexico, things that are not in the southwest. And you say, Oh, no, not gonna buy tickets from Southwest Airlines because it's Mexico. And that feels weird. You say, Well, no, I'm going to take into account how they behave, how they think and how that manifests in their products and services. And I'm going to use that as the filter for how I choose my flight. And so it's interesting is that even though you can position your product, your brand around a certain position, as we described, it doesn't mean that that position can't expand over time. But with key is owning that position. Once you own that position, then usually your market will not be distracted by your expansion. They'll they'll not be offended by you offering them more things. For example, Nike, first and foremost went after shoes, right? That was it, the shoes that enable you to just do it, that was that was the product. Okay? Then once they kind of delivered on that unique position. Now they've been able to scale up and do it. Virtually everything from apps to training regimens and things of that effect and you realize you're not offended, you're not offended by them because they've expanded beyond their core position. That core position is what initially built their trust your trust in them to begin with, and that's why you're willing to try additional things from them. First of

Mike Gelb 38:20 all, thanks so much for explaining that and you know, coming from the east coast, totally understand how Southwest is a mind like, I can totally relate to that just because I actually it actually wasn't my intention to move out to LA but a lot of my peers like LA and like the Southwest, it was utopia. You know, where you didn't have seasons, you didn't have snow. I mean, I actually love snow. But you know, I very much understand that point. And then on your second point about the hockey example, it just reminded me of a conversation I had with with a venture capitalists who invested in this company called Sunday and what they what Sunday produces his lawn products and he was trying to he invested And he was, you know, trying to get other investors on board for Sunday. And he said that this one investor like he's like it was really hard to actually get investors on board in New York City, because none of the investors had lawns, they could relate to it. But then there was one investor who I actually also had the show and is really excited about it. And he was like, sat down with him. He's like, all right, like, help me try to understand I don't own a lot, but try to like, just help me understand what it is. And he ended up investing in the companies on really well. And so it just goes back to a bit of your example about the hockey

Sasha Strauss 39:32 Yeah, and that's my that's the point is that, you know, once you figure out what that core need is for a core audience, now what let's just take this Sunday lawncare I don't know anything about it. First, I heard about it was what you just said. So your listeners and I are on the same level, okay. Right. So I suspect that once Sunday owns the contemporary practice of lawn care, they're probably also going to be able to sell other things. For example, Maybe like lawn decor, maybe also maybe things that you might use to recreate on your lawn like lawn furniture. Oh, you know, because it all fits within the perimeter of these guys care about lawn. And so you see that just because you initially positioned yourself for the lawn care giver doesn't mean that once you've proved that, that you can't expand into adjacent things, we tend to call that brand extension. And what's key about brand extension is that you intentionally only offer things that are just just outside the realm enough to be like, Oh, yes, I get why Sunday offers that. But oh, that's not lawn mowing that lawn enjoying. But no, that's still fit. Why do you mow your lawn to enjoy your lawn? Okay, great. And it kind of gives you kind of give yourself over to it, you're more willing to trust it. So I actually think that that's the best way to build a brand is to hunker down and focus on what core lifestyle product arena you can really, truly own. And then from there, from there, you can extend out and offer an array of things that complete the solution.

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