Episode 006: What’s Cooking? Identifying your brand’s ingredients

Brilliant Branding Live Show Archives

Originally aired weekly August 2017 - August 2018 With host Phil Davis

Show Description

"Brilliant Branding" shines the spotlight, and provides valuable insights, into the most common, and frustrating company identity issues facing startups, entrepreneurs, consultants, and even established business owners. Topics address timely issues such as effective naming strategies, smart logo design, tips for trademarking, clear brand messaging, engaging social media and reputation management. We take a deep dive to uncover the "pivot point" of an organization, the "why" behind each business to help build a more clear, cohesive and compelling brand image.


Every company brand has a recipe, a list of brand ingredients– a way it serves up its products and services. In today’s episode we explore ways to determine those ingredients, articulate them, and infuse them into your organization. Specifically we will touch on… 1: How to identify your brand ingredients, those special attributes that make you uniquely you. 2: How to prioritize your brand ingredients to make your special dish consistently delicious 3: How to bake your brand recipe into your company so everyone serves it up bright! If you’re looking for some tasty morsels of insight, or have an insatiable appetite for better branding, then tune in for a cook book of satisfying solutions. Be sure to share the show with friends, colleagues and co-workers to help make your company brand the number one choice on your customer’s menu.

Knowing your brand ingredients will help you to shape your thinking about what you are in this marketplace; to formulate, remix and serve up something new. If you know your ingredients, you can remix them and make something fresh and new. Let’s say the ingredients you’re striving for are quality and service. There is always an appetite for great quality and service. It’s just that people may get tired of the modality. People may grow tired of the same ingredients being prepared in the same way over and over again. 

A Current Event and the Lessons Learned

This Podcast was recorded around the time that Toy R’ Us filed for bankruptcy. Let’s unpack what happened to Toys R’ Us. Like Comp USA, radioshack, linens and things… These companies were aligned with a product. They were product-identified brands. Sometimes what we think of as a brand is really just a product life cycle.

One of our clients here at Tungsten is Harmony TurfGrass. If it were product-identified, Harmony would just be what it is at the literal surface levelIt’s really about creating a lifestyle. It’s about harmony. It’s about being with family, playing outside, being out playing with the dogs, etc. So while other companies may offer turfgrass, they’re not aligning themselves with the same brand promise as Harmony is. This gives positions Harmony in such a way that it allows for a solid foundation. 

Toys ‘R’ Us branded themselves around having toys, which probably didn’t help and may have even contributed to their demise. Since their whole deal was about supplying a large volume of toys, Amazon had them beat in no time. In their final days, Toys R’ Us tried desperately to reposition themselves to be more about the experience of playing with toys in a physical toy store. Their CEO pushed aspired to “bring play to kids everywhere and be a best friend to parents”. While this goal may have been very aspirational, it may have missed the mark on fulfilling an even greater need that parents have: saving time and money. 

“Really? They seemed to be doing so well when I was last there 20 years ago.”


“Today’s five-year-olds just don’t have the same purchasing power they used to.”


“Maybe if they turned that ‘R’ around they’d have a little more credibility on Wall Street.”


Courtesy: The Onion News Network

Companies often waste tons of time and energy fighting themselves They spend a ton of time explaining that they “just do blank” or that they do “more than just blank.” or that they “also do blank”. They need to save up their time, energy, and money to fight the big boss (Amazon perhaps?), yet they instead spend most of it trying to explain away their poor branding and to get people to realize what they do. When you’re improperly aligned, you drain valuable energy that could be spent going up against your true enemy. 

Who are you marketing to?

People are so afraid that someone is going to get left out. This is counterintuitive, but you actually need to be exclusive. In fact, exclusivity is considered best practice when it comes to marketing. You can’t be all things to all people. If say you were a restaurant and you wanted to appeal to literally everyone, you could just call yourself “the food place”.  What type of food would you serve? All types, of course. What would be on the menu? Everything! Of course! Obviously, that makes absolutely no sense and there’s a reason why restaurants are segmented into categories. 

If you’re a restaurant owner, you need to define whether you’re a Thai, Chinese, Southern, Mexican, etc. Additionally, you need to decide where you stand in terms of quality. Are you fast food, or are you high end? These are two different experiences with two very different price points and expectations. 

Having 50 percent of a small market s better than having zero percent of a huge market. 

Kentucky Fried chicken appealed to people because Colonel Sanders provided 11 secret herbs and spices. He wasn’t trying to appeal to everyone. He offered one product; one type of chicken cooked in one specific way. 

So, what are your brand ingredients? And how do you find those ingredients? If you think your ingredients are your product, that’s not going to work. Instead, try to find what makes your brand special and different from the rest. Every brand has a way of doing business that makes it special.

How to identify your ingredients

Now for a little exercise. Here we’re going to show you how you can figure out your brand ingredients for yourself. You can do this exercise all by yourself, or feel free to involve other members of your company. Are you ready?

Question 1: What’s going on when you’re doing your best work with your best customer?

What does it look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, etc.? Not just stuff that makes you money. The stuff that you’re proud of. What does that look like? 

Here’s what it’s like for us:

Here at Tungsten, we love it when we help people get on task. We love leading people to that beautiful “aha moment” that allows them to move forward without having to ever look back.

If you’ve ever read the classic children’s book Go Dog Go, that’s exactly the feeling we love to have with our clients. 

 While discovering what makes you feel good is fantastic, it’s also a great idea to find out what your customers think makes you great. Here’s a simple and effective way to do just that:

Identify two or three of your best clients, your best customers and say ”I’d like to take you out for a ‘thank you’ lunch.”. During that lunch ask them “You know… we feel like we’re doing our best to satisfy your needs, but we want to make sure that what we think we’re delivering to you is the same thing as what you think we’re delivering.” You may be surprised to hear what comes next. 

The customer may love your services for reasons you never would have expected. For example, your customer may let you know that they love your service not because it’s the best, but because it’s nearby. You might say,  “I thought you used us because we’re the best in the industry?” To which your customer may reply, “No. Actually, we just use you because you’re reliable and close to us.” Wouldn’t that be a surprise? Absolutely! But how much better off would you be for knowing it? By sitting down with your customer and asking him or her directly why they chose you, you allow yourself to hear directly from them what exactly it is about your company that makes them love you. Imagine how valuable that information would be!

Be sure to pick your best customers for this. Pick your loyal customers that are giving you a lot of business. You want to identify these folks as quickly as possible. This is the classic 80/20 principle: 20 percent of your customers account for 80% of your business. When you identify what these customers like about you, it allows you to continue to focus and deliver on these strengths. 

Whatever you do, don’t try to reach out in desperation to your less-loyal customers. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. If you’re known for being a high-end company, stay high-end. Don’t offer a bargain division of your company to try to appeal to customers with lower budgets. When you do that, you’re essentially killing your brand. Instead, do more of what you’re already doing to attract your most loyal customers. 

Take a moment to do an inventory of the businesses that you’re in. Jot down about 5 or 6 different things. For us here at Tungsten, we’re in the businesses of clarity. We’re also in the business of alignment. We’re also in the business of linguistics, of design, and of logos. See? By writing these things down, you allow yourself to see your ingredients more clearly. This process allows you to see clearly what business you’re really in. 

Was Apple ever really a computer business? Or were they in the business of innovation, design, creative technology…? Those companies who remained computer businesses are now Compaqs and the Packard Bells. Think about it.

Question 2: If your brand could communicate just one idea, what is the main thing the customer is going to get out of you?

If your product was a meal, what would it be? Cheese sauce? Sweet? Sour? Savory? Hearty? Packed with protein? How would you communicate the essence of your company in as few words as possible? Again, it’s as important to consider what you are to your customer as it is to consider what you are not. 

This isn’t going to be an easy process. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to include a multitude of attributes and that you’re going to have to choose between them. If you don’t choose, you lose. Let’s say you choose both quality and speed. Maybe you think you’re both and can’t decide which one is really you. In that case, ask yourself this: If you had to postpone a shipment in order to ensure its quality, would you? 

Would you be willing to disappoint the customer one shipping because of your commitment to quality? Or perhaps it’s the other way around. It’s inevitable that one day you’re gonna have to make a decision like that. If you don’t decide, then your front line employees are going to make that decision for you.   

And guess what? They are going to be very inconsistent. So, make the decision early on and allow it to guide your entire company’s decisions all the way to the front lines. 

Question 3: What attributes or values is your brand really committed to?

For us, it’s being authentic, true, forthright, upfront, etc. 

A lot of times during our branding process, we’ll ask people questions like “In terms of your brand, what hotel chain would you identify with?” And people come up with all sorts of answers for all sorts of reasons. Let’s say the client chooses the DoubleTree. We’ll ask why and they’ll reply something like “Well, they give you a warm cookie, they’re friendly, there’s a restaurant on site so you don’t have to go anywhere, etc.” Great! This helps us to understand the attributes that the client feels aligns with his or her brand. These are certainly different from attributes that would be assigned to say a Holiday Inn Express. They’re also much different from the attributes assigned to say the Ritz Carlton, which may be very luxurious but perhaps not quite as comforting. All of this helps to tease out the attributes behind the brand. 

The same can be done with celebrities: If your brand were a celebrity, which one would it be? Why would it be that particular celebrity and not others? What about a car? What make and model car would your brand be and why? Would it be a fast and sexy Ferrari? Would it be a boxy, yet smooth and safe Volvo? If your brand had to have a spokesperson, who would it be and why?

If you try this exercise with more than one person from your company and come to similar results, great! You’re probably on the right track. However, if you come up with very different results, you may want to start looking into that. It could very well mean that you’re not seeing eye to eye. In that case, you’re probably going to need to have a discussion about the direction of the company before returning to the branding process. However, sometimes people choose what may seem like two very different answers, but that share a similar trait. 

For example, we had a client choose the Pope and Lady Gaga. At first, these two answers sound extremely opposite… That is until you examine what it is that these two figures have in common. For example, they are both extravagant and extravagantly dressed. In this case, realizing the common theme between the two figures helps to even further narrow down the exact attributes behind your brand. 

Figuring out these elements will allow you to identify your brand ingredients. Once you’ve done that, just like cooking, you need to decide what proportion you’ll assign to each ingredient.