How to Create a Big Brand (Even On a Small Budget)

Interview with Don Schneider

Episode Description

In marketing, you communicate clearly what your offer is and why it will benefit someone.

But that’s not the only way to create value. That’s when branding comes in.

Branding is the way you make people feel when they engage with you. There’s extreme value in this.

No one understands this better than Don Schneider.

You probably haven’t heard of him, but he’s impacted you. We’ve all bought something because of Don.

He served as the Executive Creator Director of BBDO New York where he created campaigns for powerhouse brands like Pepsi, GE, Visa, and HBO. His work in advertising has won every major award, including an Emmy and a Grammy. When USA Today listed their Top 10 Super Bowl Ads of All Time, six of them were Don’s.

And today he joins us on the Building a Story Brand podcast to take these branding concepts from huge corporations and help us apply them to our small businesses

Listen now and discover a wealth of wisdom from this legend in the advertising and branding world, or keep reading for a recap of three key takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Create a shared affinity with your customers

Check out this commercial Don and his team created for Pepsi. You might remember it; it aired in 2004 during Super Bowl XXXVIII:

In this obviously made-up story, a young Jimi Hendrix chooses Pepsi over Coke and therefore finds his way to his first guitar. So while this spot is, in Don’s words, “total bull,” that’s not the point.

Don realized that our choice among sodas in a convenience store isn’t really about the actual taste. We think it is, but our emotions are driving that choice. As Don told me:

The idea is to make viewers think, “I like those guys telling that story.” When they’re at the cooler [choosing a soda], they actually feel an affinity for the brand. They don’t know why, but they’re reaching for it. That’s what we try to do.

By showing people we share their sense of humor, or their taste in popular culture, or what they’re struggling with, we make people feel understood. And that creates the kind of trust you need in order to motivate people to buy.

Takeaway #2: Know the “North Star” of what you stand for.

There’s a brand called Gerber knives out of Portland, Oregon. They sell pocket knives for a lot more than the average pocket knife. Their ad shows stunning images of cowboys cutting their bloody pant legs off and guys cutting rope from a propeller under a boat. The narration says, “Hello, trouble.”

Now, I own one of these $50 knives. I think I’ve probably used it once to open a bag of grass seed. So did I get ripped off? No, because they knife delivers more value than its function. By carrying it, it makes you feel like you’re a part of the wild west, like you’re the kind of person who’s ready for any adventure.

How can we create that kind of aspirational identity for our customers and offer it to them in a compelling, authentic way? Here’s Don Schneider’s advice:

My 30,000 foot answer would be this, to come up with that north star for what we stand for. Make sure that every aspect of who we are is loyal to that and is informed by that.

Now, discovering that North Star for your business is no easy feat. But if you’ve been through the StoryBrand process of clarifying your message, you’ve already simplified your offer and clarified how you help customers. From there, you’ve got to distill that down to one guiding concept. It’s got to be big enough to encompass all the moving parts of your business but specific enough to inspire customers.

Let’s take the women’s apparel store Anthropologie as an example. As a married man, I’ve had a decent amount of time to observe what’s going on there from the comfort of their sitting areas.

Their brand promise is all about discovery. The store layouts meander and merchandise is almost hidden away for shoppers to find. They create unique art installations as store decor. They sell clothing with nuances and fine detail. And what all that adds up to is a feeling that what you bought is distinctive and unique to you. There may be 20,000 other people with the same pair of trousers, but they make you feel like you’re the only one who’s discovered them.

Remember, your customers are human beings. On the surface, we’re shopping for specific solutions to surface-level problems, like getting new trousers or fixing a dented car or buying a cup of coffee. But what motivates us to buy goes deeper. We’re striving for a certain kind of identity, to feel a particular way. Tie your “north star” to what that internal desire is for your customer, and you’ll have a very powerful brand.

Takeaway #3: Find unexpected ways to entertain

Now, a lot of hard-nosed marketers hear all this vague talk about making customers feel a certain way and scoff. Because at the end of the day, we’ve got to create sales.

So I asked Don how we craft a great brand experience without shying away from selling.

Here is Don’s advice for small businesses:

What you’re doing in any kind of messaging is asking for a little bit of people’s time. The most wonderful thing you can do [as a brand] is reward them for that by giving them something. You’ve got to give. Give them something, and they will respond.

An easy way to do that is to entertain them in some way. Make them smile. Create that shared affinity we talked about earlier.

A great example of this is Social Print Studio, a small company that creates prints and other products from your photos.

Here’s the kind of emails they send. They convey all the features of their products while being plenty entertaining.


They’re asking for a moment of our time and repay us with a laugh, even in their shipping confirmation emails.


Yes, these little moments of personality go a long way toward creating that sense of affinity with the brand. But these brand touches don’t diminish the sales message. They work together to draw you into the email and, if anything, pay more attention to the features.

Humor isn’t the only way to entertain and give something away. You can tell a beautiful story about the people your nonprofit serves. You can inspire with great writing. You can inform with helpful information. Find a way to give back to your customers that reinforces that “north star” of your brand, and you’ll find more and more people have a positive association with you.

There’s too much wisdom from Don Schneider here to distill it all into neat points. So if you want to get inspired to master your company’s brand, listen to the entire episode. And leave a comment with your best brand advice for small businesses!

Answer a few short questions on our downloadable worksheet and apply this episode to your life and business. You’ll remember more of what you learned and have clarity for how to put it to use right away.

Executive producer: Tim Schurrer
Additional production and editing: Chad Snavely

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