Interview with Lynn Altman, founder, Brand Now
With Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon of Food Startup Help
Jeff: Hi Lynn. Can you tell us about how you began in Branding?
Lynn: My Branding career started early—and somewhat accidentally. I had originally thought I wanted to get into advertising and be a copywriter, but in my job search I stumbled upon the world of Branding and pretty quickly knew I had found my place. And it’s really no surprise: successful advertising and Branding both revolve around finding creative ways to sell a product or service. What drew me to Branding over advertising is my personal preference for strategy and problem solving over execution and accolades.
Lynn: I think it’s important first and foremost to mention that I am not a designer. Most people when they think of “Branding” go right to “what is my logo going to look like?” I come in a few steps before that in order to inform design direction. As a Branding specialist (and not a ‘guru’—that would imply that all of the brilliance is in my head and that Branding is not a collaborative, iterative process), my job is to be able to look at a product or service and have the ability to see many different possibilities for how to present it in the marketplace.
Kathryn: Is Branding just for large corporations or also for the little guys?
Lynn: Big companies have learned how important this step is. They spend millions of dollars fine-tuning their brands, their messaging and their packaging in order to stay likeable and current. And I think it’s just as crucial—if not more—for small businesses and start ups to make sure they have a strong brand since many do not have large advertising or PR budgets to help tell their stories. Also, and I’ll talk more into this later, your brand is your first and lasting impression on your audience and it’s important to get it right.
Jeff: How would you advise a startup company about finding the right Branding specialist for them?
Lynn: The question becomes, “Who do I work with and how do I find them?” Like anything else, there are a million different consultants with an equal number of Branding approaches and philosophies. There are good ones and bad ones, but my key criteria would be that they tailor their process to the business owner’s need and not the other way around. The consultants who do not are automatically making the assumption that their one process fits all, and that’s simply not the case. To me, that’s all ego and this kind of non-collaborative thinking will rear its head throughout one’s entire Branding process.
Kathryn: Is the Branding process expensive?
Lynn: The second major question for choosing a Branding specialist is cost. As valuable as this step is for small businesses and startups, it should never be more than you can afford. It goes back to finding the right match for you—and that includes budget. Processes with higher price tags usually involve more upfront strategy, competitive analysis, charting and reports. These things can be helpful, but many entrepreneurs already have some strong senses of where they want to take their product and really need help in getting to that next step of how that actually comes to life. For someone who doesn’t need the numbers and the hard facts and is willing to trust in someone else’s intuition and experience, the lower priced consultants will probably be a better fit.
Jeff: Are their other options to hiring a Branding specialist?
Lynn: Some decide to go it on their own, or hire a student, relative or super-cheap designer they’ve found on the Internet, and the results usually show. Packages, logos and websites look amateurish and home grown, and if you’re looking to make a good first impression, this is going to really hurt you. You could have the best product on Earth inside the package, but if the outside looks unappealing, no one will try it. The 17th century French Philosopher, La Rochefoucauld probably said it best: “In order to be successful, you must first appear so.”
Kathryn: How would you advise someone to prioritize a limited budget?
Lynn: Then the conundrum: with a limited budget combined with the importance of a polished brand, where do you spend your money? I’ll draw a parallel to my closet. I have investment pieces that are the staples of my wardrobe and then some less expensive things that help me give those key elements the variety I want. I say choose the initial Branding and logo design as your investment pieces because they are the foundation of your communication. Web design, business cards and marketing materials can be created by less experienced freelancers by applying the design directions established in the brand guidelines. The key is to make sure that they stick to the rules and don’t feel the need to add in their own flair to your brand.
Jeff: Any general words of advice for our readers?
Lynn: Thinking about Branding can become overwhelming, especially when it there are so many different opinions about the best way to approach it. The one thing I would tell people is to trust their instincts. That goes for the consultant they choose, the name they select, the design they like best—because if they don’t truly love what they are putting out there, chances are it will show.