Understanding the psychology behind the brand is what transforms a business
By Mirela Sula
Sammy is first and foremost a fun loving adventure seeking, purpose driven, freedom focused, city girl turned country bumpkin that lives with her partner Greg between London, Manchester, France and Canada. Between his eight grown up children, their four dogs and five cuts life is always full of wonderful surprises for them. In her spare time she is the founder, visionary and CEO behind howtobuildabrand.org, a very valuable brand building resource and community for purpose entrepreneurs of fast growth businesses.
How did you get started in the branding industry?
I come from a long line of artists, inventors, creators, engineers and entrepreneurs, so it was inevitable that I would follow one of these paths. Who knew that I’d become a hybrid of all five of them! My mother is a super creative, entrepreneurial woman, who naturally builds communities and inspired me in so many ways. Whilst she and my father were at work, my grandparents would look after me straight from school until she came home to pick me up. One day at the age of just eight years old, I’m sat there on the floor drawing, whilst my grandad was working at his desk. I showed him what I’d created and he made a comment that I should become a graphic designer. I asked him what that was and he told me, along with saying that I should become the best graphic designer in my industry. I didn’t really know what he meant, but I was so excited that I committed the next 14 years of my life to making that happen.
The biggest problem with having a goal that someone else has given you, is that you get to the destination and you think, ‘Is this it?’
You see, I also come from a long line of tenacious perfectionists, so when we turn our hands to something, we really, really master it! This was great because I was in high demand in my industry. But it wasn’t so great because I could see incompetence all around me at every design agency I worked at. I’m talking big, well known design companies, who were being paid big bucks to work on massive campaigns. But they were going into every project at an entirely cosmetic level. They were basically making lots of money to just make stuff look pretty and that didn’t satisfy me at all. Intuitively I knew that design was about more than just making something that looks ‘pretty’ and I constantly challenged why they were doing what they were doing. But they were all too wrapped up in ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over their own work, that my input into why that design wouldn’t work just fell on deaf ears. Looking back in hindsight, it’s obvious that the engineer and inventor in me just wanted to burst out and pull the whole business model apart before working on the project, to ensure we were creating the right brand for the right business. But they wouldn’t listen to me and as a result, I could see that these agencies were creating identities and marketing campaigns that would suffocate those businesses from growing. It was then that I knew I was more than just a Graphic Designer.
After two redundancies two Christmas’ in a row (due to their incompetence and not listening to advice), I felt totally frustrated and completely out of purpose. There was only one thing for it. So in 2003, I set up my very own design agency on a mission to change the way the world does business by transforming the way business owners could more intelligently build their brands. With my new found freedom, I could now focus on the very thing that really drove me… the psychology behind the brand, rather than just the cosmetic design itself. I read hundreds of books and put myself through lots of courses on buyers psychology, consumer behaviour, compelling language, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), colour psychology, marketing, strategic planning, brand strategy, customer journey mapping and online marketing, to name but a few. Gosh, this opened up a whole new channel of brand creation, where each and every brand I created really brought the business to life. I became increasingly aware that most of the people coming to me for branding had an incredible skill for doing what they do. But even the established business owners really didn’t know their future business model well enough for it to be branded properly. Within just a few questions, we could very quickly establish that their idea and therefore their brand needed to evolve if they wanted to create a legacy business that was branded to last.
Even the established business owners really didn’t know their future business model well enough for it to be branded properly.
So I built a five-step system that helped the customer to create an evolved business strategy (which usually meant them redeveloping the model they already had) and this would go on to help any designer in the world create a brand identity that those customers could expand into. This put a lot of my competitors noses out of joint, because I was helping my customers to create champion brands of first time success. Design agencies didn’t like it because a lot of their income was coming from repeat business that involved their customers coming back to them again and again for rebranding every time their business evolved. But in going through my programme, they were branding it right first time and never having to go back! Their customers started to become my customers and as a result, I’m very proud to say that my B.R.A.N.D. Accelerator Programme is now in 14 countries and transforming businesses all over the world as we speak.
You now teach people how to build a brand – how important is it to learn this from an expert?
Oh, I am constantly fighting this epidemic of design and marketing companies who take people’s money and deliver an end product that has been created from a place of ignorance. How To Build A Brand connects with over 35,000 people every week across our social channels, and a minimum of 100 times per week I hear of more and more companies who have spent a lot of money to end up with something that misrepresents what they do. It breaks my heart. One of the biggest business killers I see is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so often you are relying on advice from the wrong people. Too many consultants from big corporate backgrounds are trying to advise small business owners on how to build a business. Or a friend offers advice that you take, which is not based on any experience of having achieved that thing or been through it personally. It’s a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and more often than not, it’s the blind leading the blind. Unless they’ve built a successful and profitable business themselves and they’re still building it (this is very important!), they cannot possibly know what’s working right here and now.
Make sure you are getting your advice from the people who have already trodden the path you want to be on and have built the business and life you want to master most.
They haven’t been through the pain of getting it wrong at a 7-figure level and they certainly don’t have the historical data to predict the future. Therefore, how can they possibly know what works in the most current way when they are just quoting from what they’ve read somewhere else. Live, real experience is what business owners need most desperately in today’s world and there just aren’t enough genuine people quoting based on the facts and results they’ve achieved for themselves. Make sure you are getting your advice from the people who have already trodden the path you want to be on and have built the business and life you want to master most.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see most people making with their branding?
- You have a great business, but the brand identity you got designed when you first started just doesn’t represent your business anymore and it’s suffocating you from growing. Do not make the mistake of keeping it just because you don’t want to spend more money on fixing the problem. If you cannot afford to do it, you need to change your focus to ‘you cannot afford not to do it.’ For every day your brand is suffocating you from growing, you are selfishly stopping someone who really needs your help from finding and selecting you.
- You are selling the right product/service to the wrong customers, or you are trying to sell the wrong product/service to the right customers! If you are finding that it takes you more than one meeting or online viewing to make your sales, there is a mismatch and you need to solve that if you want to stop haemorrhaging time, money and energy.
- You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make sure that your first, last and lasting impressions are the ones you want people to have.
- Far too often, you are spending time, money and energy promoting yourself in the wrong places at the wrong times and at the wrong time of the day/week/month/year. There are some brilliant strategies and tools that will help you to get this right if you are prepared to take a little bit of time out to master them. Even if you then outsource this job, you are then going into briefing your outsourcers from a place of knowledge, which will dramatically reduce your chances of being overcharged and underserviced.
- The business model you have chosen is not the right fit for the life you want to live. When you are unhappy, it leaks out of everything you do and repels customers rather than attracting them. With a switch in vision and mission, your entire life and business can transform.
You sold your design agency in 2013. What made you come to that decision?
See point number 5 from my last answer! I’d built a brilliant, thriving business that over-achieved its financial targets month on month. It was a great business with an extraordinarily talented team that we’d built up over many years. We had also built another four companies on the side of this one and sold a couple of them. The design agency later acquired the others to bring everything in under one roof before we sold it. There were many hard lessons learned over those years, I can tell you!
From the outside, I looked like I had the perfect life and business. But I was working on average 18-20 hours every day, never saw my family and had no time at all to find the man of my dreams to grow a family of my own. The crunch point came as my business partner Miles had a near death experience when the whole left side of his body collapsed through stress. I had to take on the extra responsibility, which led to me also being admitted to hospital four times in as many months with chest pains. The last time I was in the hospital all wired up to a heart monitor, the doctor blatantly said ‘”Ms Blindell, you have to change what you are doing. The next time you come in, I cannot guarantee to you that the damage you are doing to your body will be reversible.” Something BIG had to happen and after having a very vivid dream that night, where a procession of coffins were being marched by me, of my mum, dad, brothers, my sister and my closest friends – all the people whose lives I was missing out on while I worked myself into the ground, I’d had enough. It was time to move on. Fortunately, our Operations Director loved our business so much that he wanted to buy it from us. He’d been with us for seven years as we built the business from scratch and this made the decision to sell much easier, knowing he would continue to look after all the relationships we’d spent many years building and giving the people we cared about a seamless experience as we moved on.
The day after we signed all the paperwork, I moved out to France to spend three lovely months with my family, who had moved out here sixteen years before. I didn’t realise what an impact all that stress had had on my body and consequently over that three-month period, I slept a lot! It was during all of those sleepy hours that my dream business started to shape in my mind. By the time my three months was up, I was raring to go and made the decision that I loved it so much over here that I would find a beautiful place that I could call home in the heart of the Bretton countryside. Four weeks later, I went over to the UK to deliver an event and met the man of my dreams. It’s funny how the universe conspires to deliver exactly what you want when you have a clear goal and vision that you take action on!
Who has helped you most on your journey to develop your dream career?
Gosh, I realised too late that the real power of growing a successful business is in making sure you have the right team behind you to pack your parachute. I read Napoleon Hill’s book ‘Think And Grow Rich’ around the time that we were selling our last business and it really helped me to understand the power of the team I’d created around me. But I’d built that team by accident more than by design and I had made many mistakes along the way in the people I’d hired. So I had to get clever and put the right team in place to help me build my dream business if I wanted to get it right first time.
I set to work by drawing a circle on a piece of A4 paper as my board table. Then I drew eight chairs around it, writing next to each chair what skill I would need to master in order to build that dream business. Once I knew what skills I needed, I set out to find the best of the best in that industry to help me master those skills. I couldn’t afford to do it financially, but I couldn’t afford not to do it either and I’ve found that it’s when I’ve had the least resources that I’ve become the most resourceful! So I found ways to help them that meant I had them on speed dial if I ever needed their help. And when I outgrew each person because I had all the knowledge I needed in that area, I then replaced that chair around my board table with the next skill and then the next… always making sure that I was the lowest of my peer group.
Once I knew what skills I needed, I set out to find the best of the best in that industry to help me master those skills.
To name all of the names of the people who have inspired me to be where I am today, I would fill your entire magazine! What I can say hand on heart though is that I am so thankful to each and every one of them for the love and support they have shown me on my journey. Most of all, I am eternally grateful to my mother. She has just always been the most amazing inspiration and support throughout this journey. Over the last three years, since I’ve had the time to focus on spending time with my family again, we have become best friends. She now works with the creative team at ‘How To Build A Brand’ and it’s so awesome that we get to spend so much time together whilst on this great mission together.
You meet lots of new people all the time on your travels and have customers all over the world. How important is building relationships with them all?
Trust currency is by far the greatest currency you can build. It will far outweigh financial currency and in fact, trust currency leads to financial currency. So I make a point of building close, quality relationships with all of my customers and personally contact at least six of them every day to find out how they are getting on. Social media has enabled me to communicate with my followers on a daily basis, without cluttering their inboxes with a load of stuff about me. Instead, I serve to deliver content that inspires and motives them to take the right actions. The Brand Breakthroughs live call that I deliver every Wednesday evening at 7pm GMT within our Facebook community works really well in terms of keeping in contact with everyone and supporting them to move forward. Come and join me in the group so you can take part in the next one. The link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HowToBuildABrand
An ever growing number of people are aiming to extend their business to become more global. What are your top three tips for those who want to build a global brand?
- Do your research and be very certain about your name, colours and the typefaces you are going to use as you expand globally, before you go on an all out mission to create your identity. What it means in one language and culture can mean something very different in another and out of the hundreds of designers I have worked with over the last 20+ years, most of them really do not have a clue about this. One wrong move could be a very expensive one, not just financially but for your reputation too.
- Master your message. The meaning of your communication is the response you will get, so if your brand isn’t clear and consistent with whom it serves, how, where, when and why, the results you get will also be very unclear, unstable and inconsistent, sending your cash-flow into meltdown. I run a two-day workshop called Master Your Message to prevent that from happening.
- Protect your brand. Buy all of your domain names and secure your social media names across at least Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. Even purchase names you have an idea about that you don’t know what to do with yet. It will protect you from anyone else buying them while you percolate your idea.
What motivated you to bring your mother into your business and how would you describe your relationship with her?
I needed someone to come in and manage our creative projects that really understood innovation, creativity and excellence to the same super high standard that I hold myself to. Being as I learned all of those things from her in the first place, it made sense that the role was made for her. My mother is creative, inspirational, thought-provoking, powerful and fun!
What is your biggest dream for the future?
On a personal level… to live a completely present and purposeful life, filled with love, sunshine and lots of laughter. To always have fun and continue on new and challenging adventures with Greg and our families together. To help each other become the very best version of ourselves that we have the potential to be. To constantly nurture our creativity and expand our comfort zones as we move through life’s journey into new and expanding territories. To live a life that fully inspires us, and others around us.
On a business level… to break the rules, challenge the status quo and be geographically independent. To create a legacy that continues to live on without me and to have left the world a much better place than when I entered it. To have built the world’s most valuable brand building resource, so I can train over one million purpose driven entrepreneurs to build a fast growth businesses without cutting corners by 2020. And to have challenged the status quo in the marketing industry to step up, stand for something greater than just making stuff look pretty and transform the economy.
On a very purpose driven final note – I do what I do every day because the impact I have on people’s lives and businesses fills my heart, feeds my soul and nurtures my inner creative, innovative child. If you aren’t listening to your inner child, isn’t it about time you did?