Start a shared storyline.

The swings of human behavior vary from decade to decade, person to person and sometimes even day-to-day within the same person. This got me thinking about the fine line between free will and oppression. As we walk this line together, I’ll discuss the definition of free will, its counterpoint, qualifiers and potential demise.

Free will defined

According to Collins Dictionary, free will is the belief that people have a choice in what they do and their actions aren’t decided in advance by God or another power. A longstanding topic of study among philosophers, theologians and psychologists, free will underscores our ability to be self-determined.

The counterpoint of determinism

Determinism is the belief that internal or external forces, beyond our control, govern our behavior. Internal forces may involve genetics and neurological and hormonal processes. While external forces may include family, friends, government, God or media.

Free will advocates throughout history

Following the path that free will does exist, let’s sample ancient to modern viewpoints.

Nineteenth century Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard said, “As a truly omnipotent and good being, God could create beings with true freedom over Him. Furthermore, God would voluntarily do so because "the greatest good ... which can be done for a being … is to be truly free.”

Twentieth century humanistic psychologists believed freedom is not only possible but also necessary if we are to become fully functional human beings. They believed that people are basically good, and have an innate need to better themselves and the world around them. The humanistic term for exercising free will is personal agency. We can have low or high personal agency, based upon our use of it.

Modern Christian philosopher Kevin Tempe, of Calvin University, underscores the connection between free will and goodness by quoting Thomas Aquinas, a 13thCentury Italian philosopher and Catholic priest. “Only an agent endowed with an intellect can act with a judgment which is free, in so far as it apprehends the common note of goodness… .” Tempe concludes one of the reasons we should care so much about free will is because it’s so closely related to freedom of action and moral responsibility.

All of this leads me to qualify that it is our moral responsibility to use our intellect, goodness, personal agency and talents toward personal self-actualization and that of our fellow human beings. However, what if we choose to abandon free will?

Surrendering freedom

Erich Fromm, a 20thcentury American democratic socialist stated, “Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

Even if we believe in free will, are we in danger of giving bits of it away in the face of convenience, acceptance, doubt or fear?

Free will and technology

As part of my profession, I spend a lot of time on social media. Recently, I clicked upon one of those auto-fill word bubbles that said, “Gorgeous,” in response to a friend’s landscape photo. Within seconds, I tensed up and realized although it was a lovely landscape, how would the developers at Facebook know that? Do they have a measurement tool for what I deem as quality art? I deleted the auto-fill and scrolled on with two questions in my mind: (1) How often am I presented with pre-designed thoughts about deeper opinions? (2) How prepared am I to recognize them?

If free will depends upon moral responsibility, how might other technological advancements impact our society? Christian List, Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the London School of Economics, was recently quoted to say, “… future complex robots and artificial intelligence systems might well satisfy … requirements for free will. That would raise important questions about responsibility.”

Studies on compromising free will

What could happen if we give up on our free will altogether? According to the Association for Psychological Science, a set of studies in 2008 revealed people with weaker convictions about free will were more apt to cheat when given the opportunity as compared to those whose beliefs in free will were left untouched. These studies revealed participants’ views on free will were in fact quite pliable. It took only brief exposure to counter-messaging to alter participants’ views and consequent actions.

Crossing the line into tyranny or oppression

Tyranny is often defined as power held by one source, whereas oppression is defined as power held by a group. When individual or group free will is taken to an extreme, there's the risk of overriding moral responsibility and law, along with the freedom of action and free will of others.

Protecting freedom

Knowing the delicate nature of liberty (freedom of action), our forefathers addressed it in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Therefore, we could conclude one's liberty — as a right — is designed to be in balance with the individual rights of others and their pursuit of happiness.

Free will, too, should be acknowledged as a right and a gift that is exercised for self-actualization and human goodness. It flourishes by respecting it within others and safeguarding it for future generations. It’s not enough that we believe in free will; we must act upon it wisely.

This is one of my 2020 Toastmasters speeches. While the speeches I write for businesses are often about new construction or new services, I tend to jump into philosophical topics when writing my own speeches. Thanks for exploring with me.

Website design ― at its best — amplifies an excellent customer experience. It also provides an opportunity for a courageous brand story. Why courageous? Because bold storytelling pushes the next layers of excellence to the surface. Or, you could just leave it to chance ... not recommended. Here's why.

Strategic storytelling involves research that includes a competitor analysis. However, time and time again, this process reveals that too many brands within the same industry are saying close to the same thing. It's almost as if content writers took the words from various competing websites, shook them up in a cup and rolled them out into recycled phrases like they were playing a board game.

The truth is, strong differentiation is hard work. Not only in the writing, but in the discovery process. Getting beyond "We care, too" requires teasing out ― or dragging out ― industry expertise that’s waiting below the surface. This expertise is found within the cyclical patterns of organizational team leaders who've threaded their talents through the eye of the cultural needle. This “magic behind the scenes” is unique to each organization. While it's partly steered by culture, it's largely brought to life by the people in leadership and on the front line. Such discovery can result in the most pivotal content within a website design project.

Why strategic storytelling matters in website design

Going behind the scenes with your storytelling discovery process

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Isn't this going overboard? Just write the darn content already.” However, when website design ― the foundation of your marketing promotions ― is done properly, your cascading content also improves. Often, new highlights shake loose for sales decks, brochures and future opportunities.

Your brand is your center, but it only lives as passionately as the people within your organization. Telling their stories and your customers’ stories is the essence of what humanizes your brand. Strong leaders know organizational strength is only as good as the people they hire. They hear them out so the organization can grow.

That takes courage.

Adversity is a fire that refines us as it burns. Despite the heat, you and I sometimes willingly step into it. Why? Because we know many of life’s greatest achievements follow adversity. Unfortunately, there are times we're thrown into the fire — responding based upon habits or, better yet, with foresight and a crisis communication plan.

The 8 Ts

Responses during a crisis can be as varied as the situations and humans involved. However, well-managed crises share commonalities. Keeping a crisis communications plan as manageable, yet as adaptable as possible, here are eight Ts to consider.

1. Time

It's never too late to make time for what's most important to your organization and your customers. It's worth the time to think about how you'll safeguard your brand. In the absence of safeguarding your brand, you leave it to chance. Developing a crisis communications plan that’s manageable and adaptable can guide you when tomorrow’s "what if" moments arrive today.

Gather your planning team every three to six months to talk through potential crises. Do a deep-dive planning session at least once a year.

2. Tension scale

Crises rarely remain static. As they evolve, you must be ready to adapt. Thankfully, many crises are visible from a distance. You'll have some time to assess the building tension and prioritize a response. If you address a tension point before it becomes a full-blown crisis, you have an opportunity to defuse or diminish the tension. If you ignore a tension point, it could devastate your brand and the well-being of those around you.

For an example, review the tension scale below. Then, build your own, based upon your unique brand needs. Dividing the scale into three or five phases lets you organize how you'll adjust your resources for various situations.

Click here to download a sample tension scale.

sample tension scale

3. Types of situations

When categorizing crises, you might work your way from the inside and then outward. For instance, select categories such as organizational, community, industry-related and environmental. Or, come up with your own categories based on the patterns of your brand's unique, potential crises.

Brainstorming specific tensions and crises can take a while. Therefore, it helps to walk through a few layers of thought to capture as many of these as quickly as possible. The first layer of thought should stem from topics within your brand's operational and human resources policies and procedures. The second layer reflects Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The third layer is audience-specific.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs groups our human needs according to these sequential levels:

Round out this step by considering your audience groups' unique responses to elements within these levels.

4. Team

If you value agility, your core crisis communication team should be a small group of key decision makers. However, it's essential to identify an extended crisis communications team for various possible situations. Your brand's thought leaders should be involved in and aware of planning for tensions and potential crises that relate to their specialty area. Furthermore, key external contacts should be well informed and prepared for potential crises impacting their roles.

5. Tools

Plan ahead for the tools and technology you'll need for the various scenarios. Tools could include items such as safety gear or repair supplies. Although a widespread virus was likely on many crisis communications plans, the improbability of it happening, until recent months, likely stunted gathering the necessary supplies in advance. Even if you can't obtain or store the supplies you need right away, generate relationships with experts outside of your organization who can. Prioritize these relationships according to distance, starting with local and regional contacts.

6. Templates

Preparing messaging templates in advance provides a thoughtful starting point that speeds up your response time. By incorporating flexible blanks to fill in later, you can create consistency around how you approach messaging.

After decades of refining crisis communications, I've noticed three messaging elements that resonate strongly with audiences, in this order: empathy, data and empowerment. Empathy acknowledges the emotions arising from the tension or crisis. Data involves sharing relevant information or results regarding the situation that's been cleared through legal protocols. Thirdly, empowerment allows others to join your organization in working through the situation. This could be as simple as encouraging others to contact local legislators about the issue.

As a next step, create fill-in-the-blank messaging templates for each of your primary media (e.g. fact sheet, web page, email update, social media post, media release). Always begin with a confidential, in-house fact sheet before using any other template. Appoint an editorial and approval team that will review future messaging prior to distribution.

Promptly enacting a crisis response, which includes the messaging, is critical. If you're not promptly directing your brand story, someone else will.

Click here to download a starter messaging template.

7. Touch base locations

Select physical and digital spaces where your core crisis communication team will gather in times of crisis. Sometimes it's best to be closer to the scene of a crisis. Other times you may need secondary locations for the team's safety. Think wisely about how you'll securely access your crisis communication plan, potential supplies, up-to-date information and each other within these physical and digital spaces.

8. Testing

Lastly, conduct some scenario tests on paper to gauge process fluidity and response times. More challenging crisis scenarios should be tested through a mock or role-play crisis with full access to resources and outside assistance.

In closing, human beings tend to make decisions based on values, experiences and habits. Having a crisis communication plan in place empowers your team to take a quick step back and frame decisions more thoughtfully. As you dive into this process for your brand, the eight Ts provide a refined framework toward confidence and preparation.

Audience personas move beyond segmenting what's complex and serve as a visual tool for greater understanding. They describe customers who share similar characteristics. They help marketers better understand how to serve fellow human beings. While one-on-one conversations between brand leaders and customers would be ideal, individual conversations won’t fully represent all customers. Human behavior has so many variables, motivators and needs. Therefore, audience personas remain among the most insightful and scalable tools for building empathy, understanding and genuine connection between brands and their customers. Audience personas are instrumental toward humanizing marketing.

Creating authenticity and consistency

Why does marketing need humanizing? Consider a fiction writer’s best practice of building character sketches. The author creates a framework for each character’s personality so they remain somewhat consistent from scene to scene. A character’s authenticity and consistency makes them feel more real to readers.

I recall the first time I saw audience personas while touring a highly respected, national health care organization’s marketing department. As soon as I set eyes on the wall of personas, I was drawn in by the thoughtfulness of marketing insight. Because I enjoy writing fiction on the side, I was encouraged by the detail of each audience description. I scanned the snippets of audience motivators and challenges, proud that industry leaders in my profession would pursue something so artful, so authentic. In that moment, I felt connected to the people that their brand diligently served. With their audience personas outlined, other brand employees — and even outside marketing strategists and creative professionals — could share in that understanding for unified messaging according to each audience group.

Building an audience persona

Most brand organizations have an idea of which audience groups they would like to attract. However, they should be prepared to discover new audience types based upon research.

Whenever possible, gather input for audience personas from multiple sources: customer surveys and other feedback mechanisms, department leaders, social media and CRM data, industry research, and in-depth interviews with either loyal brand ambassadors (from customers to vendors) or leaders from potential audience groups.

When collecting, sorting, and refining data for audience personas, brand marketing leadership should detail the customer’s perspective on these elements:

I recently read an article noting how marketing has long been focused upon esteem, the fourth layer of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Due to Covid-19 challenges, there's a potential we'll all be more focused on the blessings and stewardship of our basic needs, in addition to our social needs of family, friendship and connection.


Get creative when designing audience personas. Combine the necessary data with imagery, color and quotes. I've provided a visual reference here, as well as downloadable files to give you a design head start.

Download the Keynote file.
Download the PowerPoint file.

A manageable number of audience personas

Marketing industry opinions are inconsistent on how many audience personas a brand needs. However, two factors suggest limiting personas to about ten.

After all, audience personas are about maintaining relationships; brands can’t be all things to all people.

So, while “Zoe Green Gen Z” doesn’t reflect every incredibly unique young woman in her audience group, she should be a thoughtful representation that helps a brand get to know her better with each passing day. Zoe doesn’t stay the same over the years either — a brand must stay in touch with her and her persona. Customers can sense when brand representatives and leadership put a customer first. Building audience personas is an essential step forward.

Reaching out to others for marketing purposes should be met with the same care as any other communication goal. As we strive to bring value to one another through our talents, be it products or services, it can be dizzying when deciding how best to connect and which marketing channels to choose. This is true of navigating everyday marketing initiatives, but is especially true during times of crisis.

It may be more important than ever to balance emotion and logic when communicating. If we rush forward to communicate something, but have thought only of ourselves and the image or message we want to project about our brand, the connection may fall flat. But if your purpose is connection through a customer-focused mindset, I’ve created a step-by-step guide for prioritizing your best marketing channels — in times of crisis and beyond.


After decades of crafting marketing strategies and tactics — then watching them take flight — I’ve seen a circular pattern of people-process-people. The research begins with an outward focus on people, moves through a process analysis, but ultimately needs the spark of people on the inside to bring it to life. Maybe this is stating the obvious. However, we can get caught up in reactionary patterns or comfortable patterns and sometimes forget to consider other factors. The thought process below guides you through the people-process-people touchpoints — and gives you a concrete, numerical ranking for determining next steps.

Marketing channels

Start by being aware of your channel options.

Ranking system

On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the strongest, write down an alignment score for a few channels or all of them, as it relates to the factors below. This alignment scoring can be used for an annual or quarterly marketing mix analysis, or toward a single opportunity or challenge.

Download a free spreadsheet template to get started.

People (looking outward)

Audience #1 estimated engagement
Beginning with your primary audience, you’ll focus on their pain points, marketing channel preferences and the content that’s important to them throughout the customer experience. What your audience needs from you will be carried out differently from channel to channel. This aspect alone shouldn’t determine your top channels, but it’s the most important aspect.

Audience #2 estimated engagement
Repeat the step from above if you’re trying to bundle similar audiences together to receive a marketing message. Customizing messages and selecting channels for each unique audience is best, as your resources allow.

Explore what marketing channels are working well within your industry.

Direct competitors
It’s good to note which channels are generating positive and negative outcomes for your competitors. Your outcomes could differ from theirs; but this step is to help you learn from others, rather than mimic them.


Estimated ROI
Here’s where to consider your projected return on investment. Based on available data, how might a particular marketing channel increase awareness, engagement or sales? How significant is this to your current marketing goals?

Previous success
If you’ve gone through a learning curve and are having great success with a particular marketing channel, that’s fantastic. Keep using it. If success has been low for a particular channel, consider why it’s weak and may need to be omitted from your marketing mix.

How cost-effective is a particular marketing channel that looks promising? Perhaps you can use less expensive equipment in a more thorough or creative manner without compromising brand quality, or you might borrow quality equipment. Maybe the truth is, the best marketing channel for you costs more than you expected. However, it could cost you two or three times more in the long run to try your fourth best channel first.

Consider how risky a particular channel might be. Perhaps the risk lies in the execution or the risk is high due to industry regulations. Might there be ways to minimize those risks through utilizing experts or reconfiguring the execution for more predictability?

Using a novel marketing channel, one that’s new or a change of pace from what’s dominant in the marketplace, can draw attention. This one factor shouldn’t stand alone, but should be considered alongside the strength of other factors listed here.

People (looking inward)

In-house strengths and spark
By hiring people with strong talent and character, your capacity for managing various channels should be greater. The spark is the creative intuition that brings an idea into reality. Do your employees have known or unknown talents that can move your organization forward with a particular channel? Do they have opportunities to innovate beyond their silos and carry new ideas to completion?

Creative partner strengths and spark
How strong is your creative agency support? Should you have trusted creative partners with expertise in a promising channel, explore that with clearly defined benchmarks. Their perspective can be very beneficial if your organization traditionally lacks or is newly developing a customer-first mindset, or if your talent base isn’t proficient with a particular channel.

This is the gut-check, so you are less likely to overthink decisions. What is your intuition telling you about a particular channel?

Rank your top marketing channels

Once you’ve assigned an alignment score to each channel, you’ll be able to compare them side-by-side. Now you’ll see where your emotion and logic may be out of sync. Additionally, some of your team members or leadership may have different rankings than you do. This ranking tool provides you with a clear basis for deeper discussions on each marketing channel. If you’re a consultant or agency working with clients, this tool allows you to show them why you’re recommending a certain set of marketing channels.

As you activate and review your top marketing channels, you’ll be able to re-examine the factors and update their scores. This adds depth to your ongoing marketing mix discussions for which channels to keep, drop and introduce next.

Naming your business could occur spontaneously or painstakingly. Either way, your business name carries a lot of responsibility. The name had better align with your key differentiators, audience and culture. It had better be legally available, too. Oh, and eventually someone's bound to ask you about the story behind it. In the interest of success and sanity, here are six steps to naming your business.

Step one: Generate a batch of names after you get your branding in order

Like people can grow into their names, so can businesses. Unfortunately, even a perfectly good name can be sullied by the emotions it conjures. Getting your brand strategy in order from the start goes a long way toward keeping a well-selected business name associated with positive vibes. Write down these brand-positioning aspects:

Determine your name's tone by weighting these factors (1-low priority, 5-high priority):

Draft your initial list of five to ten names based on the brand and tone elements above.

Step two: Constraints checklist

When a name is already trademarked, you cannot use it. If it's not trademarked, but another company already is using the name, seek legal counsel if you really want that name. Depending on how similar your industries and service areas are now, and in the future, you may have flexibility to use the same name.

Step three: Assets checklist

Once you've condensed your list to available names, do a search for the most relevant names you might choose for accompanying promotional assets (e.g. website domain, social media handles)

Step four: Brand alignment checklist

Weight the factors below according to strength of alignment (1-low alignment, 5-high alignment):

Step five: Register your name, domain and social handles

Once you decide upon a final name, activate the items below, but be ready for others to notice. You'll want to have the following step six plans in mind so you can stay in front of your own story and name announcement.

Step six: Name announcement

Making the most of your brand and business name starts and continues with knowing your goals and your audience. Enjoy the adventure.

Developing creativity is directly tied to your time spent in pursuit of this seemingly elusive commodity. Surely, you are familiar with people who embody creativity. Then, there are others who claim no creativity at all. A 2016 global study by Adobe confirms we’re our own worst critics. Less than half of us consider ourselves creative; about one-third of us fulfill our creative potential. As I see it, creativity can be developed and dialed up, if you’re hungry for the extraordinary.

Creativity requires purposefully dwelling among the energy within you and around you as a foundation toward creating something new. It’s a purposeful process comprised of five phases: orientation, reflection, wonder, vulnerability and new creation.

In your pursuit of developing creativity, focus on this accompanying image for a moment, and then continue reading.

creativity inspired by plant life


You are uniquely positioned in relation to the plant image above. You’d need to orient yourself differently or focus on another plant (real or recalled) for additional perspectives of a plant.

Keep in mind, your environment can influence whether you successfully advance to the next stage of reflection. Change your environment and/or orientation if you experience too many distractions.


When you give serious thought or consideration to something, that’s known as reflection.

Developing creativity requires spending time with both a medium or discipline and a stimulus. Your medium could be painting, photography, singing, speech, product development, mathematics or landscaping. Your stimulus could be another person’s face, a style of music, theories or nature — like the plant image.

Briefly pause and reflect upon the plant image again. List one aspect of the plant that stands out. Now, imagine if you spent more time with the plant. You might discover something deeper — something wondrous.


Wonder sparks when you experience something admirable, lovely, unexpected or unfamiliar. The longer you immerse yourself in reflection, the more likely you are to discover wonder or encounter the extraordinary among the ordinary. The more opportunities you have for discovering wonder, the more quickly you can achieve this phase of creativity in the future. It’s like muscle memory.

Consider the time Thomas Edison invested toward the carbon filament light bulb. According to Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, he conducted well over 2,000 experiments toward his successful, patented invention. He went on to invent the phonograph, film and the motion picture camera.

Moving closer to present day creativity, entertainment website Literary Hub verifies “Chicken Soup for the Soul” had 144 rejections before becoming a best-selling book.

As you head into the next phase of creativity, refer back to the significant aspect you listed for the plant. Next to that, write down why you chose that aspect.


Whichever conclusion or emotion you’re experiencing right now requires energy and vulnerability. Creativity brings you face to face with the brokenness and beauty of the world around you — and that of your own soul. Working through your findings can result in a rush of emotions.

Regularly spending time within these emotions requires ongoing vulnerability. You willingly let creativity command your time and attention. You willingly let it filter through you and change you.

New creation

New creation is the final phase of creativity, at least it should be. Sadly, some creations don’t get shared with others. A creator may feel it’s “not ready” or “not their best work.”

The book “Defying the Crowd” by Sternberg and Lubart, includes a widely recognized opinion among those who study creativity, “A product is creative when it is novel and appropriate.” This mindset is both helpful and dangerous when developing creativity. Often, only the most diligent personalities are rewarded. All others must persevere or give up. 

But there’s a hunger that comes along with the creative realm — for both the creator and those encountering the creation. It challenges creators to devote more time to creative pursuits, sharing life-enriching outcomes.

If only for your own development, make the time for creative pursuits. Orient yourself in an environment that encourages creativity. Devote yourself to reflection. Be open to wonder. Work through your vulnerability. Then, share your new creation. Be your own kind of extraordinary.

Brand strategy is vital toward ensuring a brand and its customers are making the most of their shared storylines. After all, it takes constant attention to communicate well. Without proper time and planning devoted toward reflection and differentiation, brands run the risk of being careless, overlooked or ineffective.

Brand strategy defined

Brand strategy reveals your brand’s opportunities and differentiation by exploring industry evolution, audience pain points, brand benefits, culture and purpose. 

Research: Achieving holistic brand awareness

The psychological and emotional closeness we experience with own lives or our own brands can make it challenging to maintain a holistic self-awareness. This is why I recommend a discovery process of viewing a brand from the outside first and then focus inward: industry, competitors, customers and target audiences, employees and brand.

Ideally, your research will combine primary and secondary data — information you collect and information collected by other reputable sources. When devising brand strategy questions, think of your brand’s impact on others, whether you’re using existing data or collecting new data.

By reviewing industry challenges and trends, you’ll be able to see where your brand can jump ahead or where it seriously needs to catch up. Industry challenges that have “always been that way” or seem overwhelming are opportunities to create dialogue and/or change.

Your competitive analysis should always be done with the intent of further differentiating your brand best. Resist chasing after another brand’s success. Your brand path is uniquely yours. Take the high road.

If you aren’t already gathering customer feedback, start now. Use this opportunity to keep engage your customers on a regular basis through surveys, focus groups, contests and social media.

Your employees are treasure troves of information for how your brand meets humanity on day-to-day basis. Are you capturing that data? They’re the ones who can provide a macro view of their unique part of the product or service engagement. They are gold.

Sometimes the challenge is gathering the right kind of data through brand analytics. Using your unique brand strategy questions, gather data from your CRM, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SEMrush, Moz and other performance data.

If you or your team want to cultivate greater self-awareness prior to your next brand strategy session, read this article from Harvard Business Review. It hits branding right at its core with this statement, “Self-awareness isn’t one truth. It’s a delicate balance of two distinct, even competing, viewpoints.” Balancing brand goals and customer needs is vital to brand health. 

Dialogue: Encouraging open communication

Brand strategy research is best discussed with a small team of your brand leadership and highly effective employees. Depending on the size of your organization and sensitivity of information, vendors and customers may be invited into the discussion. All participants should be bound to confidentiality and encouraged to provide constructive feedback, as opposed to airing negativity without potential solutions.

Maintaining a spirit of open communication can be among the most challenging aspects of the brand dialogue phase. If your brand is already accustomed to soliciting and integrating feedback, within a welcoming culture, you have an incredible advantage in creating ongoing brand health. This is the phase to increase open communication and examine your brand from the represented perspectives.

Bring your group discussion around audience personas to define the edges of what target audiences need from your brand now and in the future. Audience personas aren’t static checklists describing your audiences. Rather, they serve as reference tools for ongoing relationship building throughout the customer journey.

Have a little fun with this phase, too. Imagine your brand as a car, an animal or a video game. Let it get your mind functioning on a more conceptual wavelength. Then, imagine where your industry could go in comparison to other industries, or in terms of a higher dimension of service and innovation. Let your brand lead the way, playing to your strengths.

Positioning: Defining brand purpose and consistency

Build brand positioning from your research and dialogue. This includes defining brand objectives and core messaging, which you’ll use for greater consistency in marketing communications. Such messaging includes your positioning statement, emotional and functional benefits, brand traits and tone. Brand guidelines follow along with this consistency by designating parameters for fonts, colors, logo usage and imagery. Reliability and consistency put customers at ease, opening the door for greater engagement and brand loyalty.

Integration: Mapping out measureable steps

Your new brand objectives may involve improving the customer experience within a specific service area or increasing market share among a specific audience. Integrate these measurable steps into your overall efforts — based on their priority and as resources are available. Common brand objectives emphasize brand awareness, image, loyalty, engagement or equity.

Selecting your next brand strategy consultant

Finding a brand consultant goes beyond securing someone with a strategic skill set. You want to work with an expert who’s a good listener, responsive, a solid project manager, clear on aligning expectations, creative and courageous enough to tactfully work shoulder to shoulder with you on challenges and future opportunities. Keep Storybent Creative in mind for your next brand strategy refresh or brand launch.

All in all, brand strategy gives you some purposeful say in how your journey and story continues. Since we as people continue to develop, so do our communities, cultures, industries and businesses. Stay proactive in your brand development by revisiting your brand strategy every two or three years — or when you’re no longer leading your own story.

Brand building is rooted in momentum and purposeful growth. Such growth, if it’s to be holistic, involves more than rushing ahead with the winds of hustle. It develops by looking back in reflection, as well.

What is reflection?

Reflection is defined as the act of casting back light or heat, an image or representation. Additionally, its meaning expands to carefully considering, meditating or observing. Brand building encompasses both definitions.

How reflection shines in brand building

When brands acknowledge audience input and pain points, they cast back a light of human understanding. This isn’t optional idealism. Audiences are keenly aware when they’re left in the dark. Often, they respond by pulling away from brands exhibiting a closed communication style. Secondly, by carefully considering and addressing brand and audience needs, brands are more attuned toward relevant solutions.

Lifehack, Psychology Today and The Center for the Healing Arts & Sciences list other potential reflection benefits:

The layers of reflection

  1. Self-reflection

A dry well can’t refresh anyone. Practice reflection in your own life so you’re bringing the best of who you are to each moment.

Personally, I believe enhanced creativity is a benefit of self-reflection, as well. The more I explore ideas from various angles and depths, the more I achieve boundary-smashing originality and innovation.

  1. Team reflection

Research through the Harvard Business School in 2014 concluded that the art of reflection encourages better job performance. Leadership expert and author, Alaina Love, uses that research alongside her own to demonstrate that leaders who include reflection time in their workweek are better at navigating challenges and leveraging their knowledge.

Love provides four steps for leaders to leverage reflection benefits with their team:

  1. Brand reflection

When your brand development and marketing projects evaluate the brand, competitors, industry and non-industry successes and target audiences, you develop a 360-degree perspective for brand building. Achieving this perspective as a brand comes from seeing your world through the lens of your target audience and mirroring it back through promotions.

There’s power in having a sharp team with all of its productivity lined up for brand-building opportunities when they happen. There’s also power in reflecting upon what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve learned, what your customers need and how you want to grow as a brand. Why hustle for the sake of hustle? Start making time for reflection. Start making time for what matters most.

A 2024 marketing calendar is more than a well-orchestrated to-do list. It’s a lifeline for rescuing your opportunities. You and I constantly strive to align what we want or need with what we get. In this case, aligning how you can serve others through what’s important to them is the very strategy that sets you free.

Shared storylines are where your brand's and customer's shared interests and shared spaces intersect. They have power to further your connections with the world around you. By planning ahead for these intersections, you’ll be better prepared to visualize future opportunities and capture those that arise spontaneously.

Marketing calendar template - free download

Start planning for your opportunities with a 2024 marketing calendar template that's propelled over five years of brand development workshops.

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Prep your 2024 marketing calendar around these six rescue maneuvers

1. Pace and prioritize your efforts for a proactive peace of mind

A marketing calendar is a quick-glance plan that charts your marketing activities over the course of a year. It reveals the pacing for your efforts, but more importantly, it should guide your prioritization of efforts. When you start populating the calendar with your larger brand activities, be ready to think about the volume and timing of supporting activities. This may lead you to modify the timing of lower priority activities during busier months. Or, if they must be completed, you will have a basis for increasing personnel or freelance support.

2. Encourage a holistic awareness between internal and external elements impacting business growth

When you explore the occurrences and trends relevant to your business, industry and customers, you're more likely to discover relevant content opportunities. Media outlets, influencers and your customers may have more awareness for a specific topic during a specific timeframe. If you activate marketing efforts within these popular timeframes, you can benefit from increased visibility.

Think about the increase of pumpkin spice options during autumn or healthy heart initiatives during February. There tends to be more momentum around marketing activities that occur within popular timeframes. However, there's also room to build your own momentum outside of those timeframes. Just be ready to work smarter.

While your overall annual or quarterly content themes should reflect cultural creed words like safety, convenience, and inspirational, your monthly themes can settle in upon products/services and relevant external trends.

3. Inspire usage of marketing channels that are optimal for your business

There's a season for everything and popular marketing channels vary over time. Selecting a popular marketing channel may make sense for your business. After all, you want to meet your customers where they are — using the marketing channels that interest them. However, when you think through all of your channel options, you may discover strengths among your employees or creative team that make an alternative channel more original and engaging.

4. Research best practices and benchmarks for improved alignment of expectations

Once you begin identifying the channels you'll use, the exact tactics, creative direction, frequency and quantity of those activities come into play. Mindfully researching similar tactics, especially those in your specific industry, provides guidelines for reducing roadblocks and defining success. Knowing what a certain channel and tactic might be able to accomplish (or demand) helps you frame more realistic expectations. Additionally, it gives you data that can help you decide whether to invest in a different channel altogether. When those impromptu marketing opportunities come up, your benchmarks and metrics provide a clearer rationale for whether you should integrate that opportunity or turn it down.

Mailchimp provides in-depth benchmark data for email campaigns, by industry. See their recent report.

A leader at Simplus, a global Platinum Salesforce Partner, has done an incredible job of assembling benchmarks across multiple channels. Read the LinkedIn article.

5. Develop greater understanding and control over your investments of money and talent

Comparing your ideal marketing activities setup alongside budgeting options gives you insights on where you could trim expenses and where it may be better to bulk up your resources.

6. Propel your project management

After your marketing calendar is complete, you will have an incredible resource for outlining project management steps. I recommend a management tool like Asana. Map out the tasks in reverse, beginning from the project due date. Add padding for unexpected delays.

Too often, days and months slip by. Make the time to step out in front of your opportunities with a 2024 marketing calendar. Then, make time to celebrate all of the good you create with it.

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