Let’s talk about branding, marketing, and innovation.
Many times we start with a problem. Then we move to solutioning, which requires lots of ideas. After lots of failures, we land on a solution to the original problem – which in some cases can be an innovation.
Now the question is: how do you tell anyone about this innovation, let alone sell it? That process begins with the art of storytelling, but with a good story comes the branding to represent it – and marketing, which shares the innovation’s story with your target audience.
Some of us are really good innovating solutionists. Others are really great storytellers, but if you are a founder or small business owner, you are likely wearing all the hats, often at the same time. Where do you start?
We have invited Nora DiNuzzo of Pitcher to join our conversation. Pitcher is a brand consultancy that specializes in helping small businesses (<$25mm ARR) unlock their next phase of growth by employing a combination of diagnostic tools, strategic frameworks and one on one coaching. If you know your business isn’t growing or hitting your goals at the pace you want, but you can’t figure out exactly why, then you might just need a pitcher!
Nora, thanks for joining today. Can you share a little of your background and why you founded Pitcher?
Thanks for inviting me to the conversation, Misha. I started Pitcher in October 2021 after spending the first fifteen years of my career working for independent advertising agencies. In that time, I pitched hundreds of brands, across almost every industry and category. I learned a lot, but what I wasn’t able to do at agencies – even the small ones – was work with small businesses. That was really a passion of mine, but I kept being told no – and to pitch bigger (Fortune 500).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I watched so many of my family’s and my favorite local small businesses – many woman and mom-owned – close their doors for good. These had all been very successful businesses pre-pandemic. I was devastated and wanted to figure out a way to use my skills in brand strategy, marketing and business development to help small businesses survive this time, and thrive – not to help big brands get bigger.
So that was really the impetus for starting Pitcher. I like to call it my Bernie Sanders moment! I opted out of a VP-level job at an agency I’d been at for almost nine years to hang my own shingle – and become a founder that supports the growth of other founders’ businesses.
You work with a lot of founders and entrepreneurs, what is the main struggle that you see and hear on a consistent basis?
Well, growth concerns are the number one reason people call me! Either they aren’t growing as quickly as they’d like, to scale or attract investment – or they are trying to dig themselves out of some kind of hole. The pandemic was good for certain types of businesses – but it created holes for a lot of others.
Everyone is at a different point in their growth journey. The good news is, we can help companies at, basically, any stage – from pre-revenue startups that need to define who they are for the first time, to businesses that have been around for twenty years and need a refresh or jumpstart.
The other big struggle I see with founders and entrepreneurs is that they aren’t creating enough content about their business – nor are they communicating effectively about what they do (or more importantly, WHY they do it).
A lot of times, founders have organized their messaging into a flow of WHAT > HOW > WHY – starting with a list of all of the product’s or service’s capabilities and functionalities (the rational RTBs). In this order, however, they are burying the lead. Your audience actually cares about your WHY the most – the emotional benefit(s) and story behind your brand. So just flip that to WHY > HOW > WHAT. That shift in messaging flow, alone, can make a huge difference.
With regard to content creation — there are a lot of excuses founders make for why they can’t or aren’t doing it. Common ones I hear are: “I don’t have time, I don’t have anything interesting to say, and everyone already knows what I do.” To which I respond:”Yes, you do; yes you do… and no, they don’t!” We give people way too much credit. Believe me when I say that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT YOU DO, and if you want them to know – you have to remind them. A LOT!
I work with my clients on developing a brand strategy first – and then a content strategy and publishing framework that aligns to brand and business goals/KPIs. We then execute and create content against that framework consistently over time. Consistency is key – even more so than exactly what you have to say. Social and SEO algorithms reward consistency.
We also get really caught up in trying to make every piece of content perfect, but really, each piece of content is just one breadcrumb in a much bigger trail that leads people to your brand. You can’t force-feed someone a whole baguette (or your brand!) in one sitting – so instead, think of your content like breadcrumbs. When you do that, you can start to get more confident in creating bite-sized pieces of content that you can ship imperfectly.
Just hit send! Getting something out there is better than wringing your hands for too long and missing the opportunity to put messaging in front of your target audience for reaction. My son recently got a fortune cookie with the message, “He who hesitates is last,” so take this as your sign to stop hesitating – and start creating more content. The world wants to know who you are, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Tell us!
Let’s say I’m a founder that has an innovative product or service, what are some key things you would recommend as the first next step?
As you mentioned at the outset, Misha, you have to brand your product or service next. What are you going to call it? Is the name of your product or service short? Memorable? Specific? Can people spell it? Can they easily repeat it to a friend?
Don’t use any cute alternate spellings if you can trademark the conventional spelling of the word. Don’t make the name long – one word is best; two words is okay. More than three words – you will start to lose people!
Think of every well-known brand on Earth you buy and love. Patagonia. Nike. YETI. Volkswagen. Apple. Google. Sephora. Target. I’m just naming a few of my favorite big brands here, but the point stands. If you want people to be able to remember your brand, and repeat it to friends, do not discount the importance of the name, and invest time and resources into getting that right at the outset. It’s the entire foundation of your brand’s ultimate success and an expensive mistake to have to backtrack and fix later.
Of course, brand/logo design is going to be a close second, but naming is number one and always will be when it comes to branding. Sometimes people are going to talk about your brand, product or service in a room you aren’t in, without a phone or computer in sight to provide a visual aid. Can they easily parrot back your brand name, and what your brand stands for? If they can’t – that’s the very first problem you need to solve.
When we think of branding we think of name, website, and logo. Are there any other components you would recommend we keep in mind? Perhaps components that get forgotten?
Well, as I just mentioned, name is number one! The brand’s visual identity would be the next most important thing.
You want people to have a visual in their mind when they think of your brand. What colors, shapes, patterns, and imagery do you want people to associate with your brand ? More importantly, what feelings do those evoke? Strength? Confidence? Playfulness? Joy?
All of that gets expressed through your visual identity and choices like typography/fonts, palette, logo/logo mark, illustrations and other graphical elements. A great exercise you can do to get started on your visual identity is to create a mood board with inspiration sources to share with your designer. I also love the Pantone Studio app for color palette inspiration.
The thing people forget is it is less about a particular marketing medium or channel and more about the consistency point I raised earlier. You have to show up everywhere your brand is – every time – with a consistent tone of voice, messaging and visual identity.
When you don’t, and your branding is inconsistent from one exposure or touchpoint to the next – it will confuse your customers. What am I buying? Is this the same thing I saw or bought last time from the same company?
One exercise you can use to develop a consistent tone of voice and visual identity for your brand is to explore the twelve brand archetypes, which tap into human psychology and our collective subconscious. The process I do for my clients utilizes the book Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Pott Hartwell, which further outlines the sub-archetypes of the core twelve – for a total of sixty archetypes and sub-archetypes.
Set the foundation through your brand name, visual identity, brand positioning and content strategy, and then start delivering on those consistently in order to build your brand’s equity in the minds of your audience.
Nike is a great example. They have used the same font – Futura Condensed Extra Bold – consistently for over forty years! It’s so effective that when a package shows up on your porch with that font and without the swoosh – you still know who it’s from. That’s the power of a well thought out and consistently executed brand.
Now let’s shift gears and talk about the pitch, to prospective clients, investors, customers or consumers. What are your recommendations for preparing this pitch?
The most important part of pitching is actually the research you do beforehand to prepare for the conversations you’ll have and to develop insights to share with your prospective client or buyer.
You need to tell them something new that they don’t already know, or show them something they don’t already have or can’t easily get. They are hiring you – or your brand – to fulfill a job to be done. Figure out what that job is – solving for the painpoint(s) they have now – and why those needs aren’t being met by the currently available options.
When you do get time with your prospective client or buyer, asking good questions is key. Demonstrate that you did your homework and are looking to qualify certain hypotheses. You need to get their input as someone who is playing an important role in the review and selection process, even if they aren’t the ultimate decision-maker.
While we are socially conditioned to loathe asking for help as a country that puts independent thinkers and rugged individualists on a pedestal (This is especially true of entrepreneurs!), admitting you don’t have all the answers is a crucial step to getting your offer right.
Also, keep this old business development maxim in mind: you are not the target. I repeat: YOU. ARE. NOT. THE. TARGET. 99 out of 100 times! So no “me-search” allowed. Instead, find your target – and ask them!
On one of our last calls you shared some great perspective on pitching versus building relationships. Can you share a little more about that?
Yes – I believe you are referring to my number one piece of pitching advice! People need to KNOW, LIKE and TRUST you – in that order – before they will spend a dime.
Founders (and let’s be real, SDRs) often want to leapfrog from Know directly to Trust in order to accelerate the sales cycle, but that’s just not how human relationships work! Before people can trust you – they need to like you. And they can’t like you if they don’t first get to know you.
It’s really a three-step and often a 3+ touchpoint process to move a prospective client/buyer through the funnel from Know (Top-Funnel: Awareness) to Like (Mid-Funnel: Consideration) to Trust (Bottom-Funnel: Intent).
It seems simple when you lay it out this way, but so many founders are busy being brilliant and solving the world’s problems that they forget about the make-or-break point of being likable!
I like to call that the best part of the Double-Stuffed Oreo. Yes, you have to work on your messaging and marketing (Know/Awareness). Yes, you have to work on your demo, pricing and offer (Trust/Intent), but don’t forget about that yummy and ever-so-important thick middle – the content and communications that help you build relationships and get people to LIKE and consider you.
Thank you so much for your time and input. Any final thoughts?
I want to challenge anyone who is considering leaving the corporate world for more entrepreneurial pursuits to think about how they could use their individual skills and passion to collectively benefit the small business community in the United States?
I say community like it’s small, but if you look at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s data, there are 32.5 million small businesses in our country. That is 99.9% of ALL businesses! This was my market-gap analysis and thesis for Pitcher: “Why are most agencies fighting over the 0.1%, and ignoring the 99.9% that need their support the most?”
We need both large and small businesses to thrive in our country in order for the economy to be healthy and for our society to advance. Big stomping out small is not the answer, and small without big would leave many people unemployed and suffering. However, when the balance of infrastructure and support for small businesses is out of whack, like it was during the pandemic, we need people to step up and fix it.
If you care about small businesses and their founders like I do, I hope you’ll find a way to step up and join me!