Episode 136:

Branding has always been a cornerstone of my own agency. We’ve spent a ton of time and effort building brands for clients. We have, like all of you, created what we think of as a proprietary process around brand, and it’s a topic that I have a great passion around.

Many of you are either too polite to ask or have point-blank asked me, “Drew, what is the deal with you at Disney.” Brand is part of why I love them so much. One of the aspects of Disney that I really admire and connect to the most is that I think they’re just about as good as it gets in terms of understanding their brand, building their brand, and evolving their brand over time.

One of the guys in the agency space who I think is really brilliant at branding is an Iowa based agency owner named Nick Westergaard. His new book, Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World, just came out and it is a brilliant blueprint for how to create a memorable, meaningful brand in today’s chaotic time and space.

Nick and I talked about are how building a brand has changed in this digital crazy, crowded, distracted time, and what are some of the elements that we as agencies can really spotlight and offer as a huge value to our clients. How do we use brand as an agency offering to stay sticky with our clients rather than a one and done project?

Nick is a strategist, speaker, author, and educator. As Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, he helps build better brands at organizations of all sizes — from small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to President Obama’s Jobs Council. In addition to his new book, Nick is also the author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small.

Nick is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. He teaches at the University of Iowa where he sits on the Advisory Council of the Marketing Institute at the Tippie College of Business and the Professional Advisory Board for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also a mentor at the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Working with brands in a distracted, digital age
  • How the world changed our views about how we should be looking at branding
  • Why simplicity in branding is more critical than ever
  • How agencies can help their clients understand what storytelling really is and how to help them construct better brand stories
  • Why “Story” is a buzzword and how we can rescue it
  • Why the main character in the story shouldn’t be the brand and why it should be the client’s end user
  • Why making sure employees understand the brand is so important for your agency culture and the work that they do for clients
  • The role agencies play in building brands and moving the brand forward
  • How to provide real value to clients in this era of distraction and rapid change
  • The opportunities agency owners are missing out on during the brand discovery process
  • Why a brand is everything a company does – and why that doesn’t have to be overwhelming
  • Why it’s important for you to plant your flag for your brand
  • How Nick’s book can help agencies work together on their own brand
  • The value of getting outside perspective on your own agency

The Golden Nuggets:

“We often think that our agency is the main character of our story but it really the client needs to be the hero and we build the story around that.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Employees are your most important brand ambassadors.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Treating your best customers well – treating them differently – is something that’s hard to do. When it’s done well, you stand out.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “If they say, ‘no, no – we just need a logo’ they might not be the right client for you.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Clients who understand the value that your outside perspective brings in terms of their brand – those clients are golden.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “I love quoting you, Drew. You said this on my podcast. ‘A brand is not a checklist. A brand is a flag you plant in the ground.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Brand is everything we do, day in and day out. It sounds scary, but it’s about knowing who we are and what we’re always striving towards.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Teaching and helping are the crux of what I’m trying to do in all my work.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet “Ask questions, and then ask questions behind those questions. And then more with the questions. That’s how you help clients (and your own agency) develop a brand.” – @NickWestergaard Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow, with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line.

Bringing his 25+ years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Today, we’re going to talk about one of my all-time favorite topics. So if we ever are in an airport together or you’re stuck with me for a few hours, raise the issue of brand and I promise you we will not run out of things to talk about.

So branding has always been a cornerstone of my own agency. We’ve spent a ton of time and effort building brands for clients. We have, like all of you, what we think of as a proprietary process around brand. So it’s a topic that I have a great passion around. It’s one of the reasons many of you are either too polite to ask, or some of you have point-blank asked me, “Drew, what is the deal with you at Disney?”

And one of the aspects of Disney that I really love the most, is I think they’re just about as good as it gets in terms of understanding their brand and building their brand and evolving their brand over time. As many of you know, I’ve been to Walt Disney World at least once a year since it opened in 1971. And I have spent many, many days there. In fact, one of my goals … which I am happy to say I am able to accomplish … is to spend at least a month a year on Disney property. So I really feel like I have immersed myself, over the years, in the Disney brand. And it’s really a master’s degree in how to build brand every time I’m there. And so it’s one of the things I love about it, is just it really feeds my curiosity and hunger around brand.

So one of the guys who I think, in the agency space, is really brilliant at branding, is a agency owner named Nick Westergaard. And Nick was actually my guest on episode number 27. And what we talked about on that episode was … Nick actually came into the agency that he now runs, his dad started it. And his dad started it, as you might imagine, as a very traditional shop. And Nick really brought the agency into the digital age and has completely evolved … with his dad’s support and help … really evolved the agency into what it is today. But it’s always been very brand-centric.

And so Nick’s been a brand guy for a long time. He happens to actually have an agency here in Iowa, so we know each other because we share a physical space in the state. And he also puts on one of the best events, I believe, for any brand or agency, every fall. So, his first episode, we talked a lot about brand. We talked a lot about how to move an agency. How do we evolve an agency that was rooted in traditional marketing, into digital?

And so the reason why I invited him back, is that Nick has written his second book. And it comes out very shortly. And it’s called Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World. It’s a brilliant book. It really attacks the ideas of brand and how to bring a brand to life. And because he’s an agency owner, if you read the book, I think you’re going to see threads of how to think about it from an agency’s perspective.

So some of the things I want to talk to Nick about are: how has building a brand changed in this digital, crazy, crowded, distracted time? And what are some of the elements that we, as agencies, can really lean into and offer as a huge value to our clients? And how to we use brand to stay sticky with our clients, rather than a one and done? How do we really evolve brand into an ongoing work? Because I really do believe it’s foundational in everything we do. And I don’t care if you’re an SEO shop, I don’t care if you’re a PPC shop, I don’t care if you’re a PR shop, I don’t care if you’re a traditional marketing agency, some aspect of brand, and the foundational reality of that product or company differentiation, influences the work we do. So I think every agency has to be brand-centric. And Nick’s book, I think, is a nice blueprint for how to do that in today’s time and space.

So I’m excited to introduce you to him. If you have not listened to episode 27, I highly recommend you go back and do that. But we’re really going to be talking very differently than we did in that episode. So even if you did listen to that one, I promise you, listening to Nick again and hearing more about the core tenets of his book will be fodder for you, good, good practical fodder for you to put into action.

So, without any further ado, I want to jump right into the episode and get into the conversation. Because I have about three hours worth of questions and I know we only have an hour. So let’s jump into it.

So, without further ado, Nick, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us again.

Nick Westergaard:

Drew, I am so happy to be back. Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet.

So your book is out this month, in May. And it is a book about brand. And as you and I both know, perhaps not the first book on that topic out. Yeah.

So what made you say, “You know what? There’s room for another book and I’m going to do this a little differently”?

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. Well, that is a great question, because there are quite a few books. And there’s a lot of thoughts about this branding thing. And the way I realized that was in writing my first book, Get Scrappy, which is all about doing more with less when it comes to marketing. A lot of short, concise, scrappy chapters. And my first chapter in that book was why it’s important to have a brand behind all of your marketing in this digital world that we find ourselves in.

And that chapter bloated very fast. I showed our mutual friend, Ann Handley, an early draft. And she, in that very polite Ann Handley way, said, “You have a lot of stuff about branding up there at the beginning.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

And she was right. It was easily twice as long as all the other chapters, which just makes for a lumpy book. So I set that draft aside and recast a scrappy way of talking about branding for that chapter. But took some of these bigger ideas and I’ve let those marinate, obviously, with an agency myself, and working with brands and building brands that those thoughts crystallize.

And then one of big proving grounds for some of the branding systems that ended up making it into the book, are teaching in the MBA program at the University of Iowa. So that was where I reworked all of that stuff that was in the first chapter into something that really, I think, looks at how it is different building brands in this distracted digital world that we find ourselves in.

Drew McLellan:

When I think about the history of our shared industry, of agencies, really, back in the day, back in the Ogilvy days and Bernbach and all those guys, it was all about brand. It was really storytelling and brand.

So how, from your perspective, has the world change … all of the changes that we’re all struggling with as agency owners every day, how has that changed the way we should be looking at branding?

Nick Westergaard:

Well, I think you’d look at a few different things. I mean, first of all, obviously the elephant in the room, you see social media. You see that the tools, the media channels that we’re using to build brands are very different. Instead of from those Ogilvy, Bernbach days, where you’re interrupting people to get them to look at something, now we have people actively connecting with brands and looking for messaging, communication, from brands. At the same time, you see data that shows that people understand brands less than ever before.

So we have better tools for communicating, but the messages still aren’t getting through. And I think that that’s to a couple of different points. I think that, because of these tools, everyone’s using them and it is more crowded, more noisy, than ever before. And I also think that, in looking at all of these tools and thinking about how to employ them, we aren’t thinking as proactively as we should about what our ideas are behind our brand and what that looks like across all of these different channels as well. We no longer are in control of what order people experience our brands as well.

So it’s like someone’s taken the messy closet apart and you’re looking at all the contents on the ground. And you have to think about how you can organize it in a way that, regardless of where someone encounters it, they’re getting a cohesive message about who you are and what you stand for.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the key takeaways that I took from the book was this idea that because a) we have less control over the communication of the brand, that a lot of that is happening outside of our controlled environment, and b) because of the speed and the attention span of the average human being, that just the volume of content that is barraging us and all that, that simplicity around brand becomes even more critical.

And as I was reading your book, I was thinking about … I saw a meme somewhere where it said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the marketplace it is, it’s what the marketplace tells each other it is.” And I thought, “That’s really true, that we have to give people a much simpler message because we are now counting on them to be the carriers of that message.” True?

Nick Westergaard:

Absolutely. And I think that that’s the right way of looking at the importance of simplicity too. I think that, especially as we try to think and create more decisive strategies, sometimes that gets us into this more is better thinking, where we’re trying to layer more messages and supporting messages and all these other things, instead of thinking about one core idea that we’re reinforcing a lot of different ways.

Drew McLellan:

So the book’s structure is interesting. After reading the book, I think about it in two parts. One is: here are the mechanics of branding, here’s some of the key elements of branding. And then the second part you call the toolbox. And it literally is: here are the tools that you can use to communicate the brand.

But one of the parts … and I think this is the part about branding that a) we both love, as agency people, but b) I think we struggle with helping clients understand it, is this idea of storytelling. So I think there’s something romantic about the notion that we’re going to tell these stories and people are going to be engaged in them. And let’s face it, most brand stories aren’t really stories, they’re just, “You’re telling me what you want me to know. And you might be starting with a once upon a time or something else, but it’s not really a story.”

So how do we, as agencies, help our clients understand what storytelling really is? And how do we help them construct better brand stories?

Nick Westergaard:

Yes. And I’d say this with the full awareness of someone who’s written a book, over the whole chapter, about story. Stories is a buzz word. I think there’s a lot of questionable work in the world of business being done around story. But I think it’s important, because at the end of the day, as brand builders, as marketers, we are about communicating a message to an audience and getting that audience to remember that message and to share it with others.

And if you look at story and the science behind story, stories stand out, stories are how we make sense of the world around us. So if you think of a story that you’re able to tell and can cast your brand as a character in that story, it stands out in a way.

One of my favorite examples … and I talk about this in the book … for us frequent travelers, we see a lot of random ads in the airport. And talk about crowded, distracted marketplace. Which is why I think it’s a great example. But I was in Boston, and there was a wall sized ad with a big Oreo splashing into a glass of milk. And at first I glanced at it and I thought, “Ha, Oreo ad.” And then I looked and it was an ad for Accenture. And it had one headline above it, I think in a drippy milk font, that said, “We helped Mondelez International save millions, billions … lots of money.”

So it was an ad for Accenture. And I think that that’s a great example, a very visual example. But there’s a story. There is a main character: Mondelez International. There is a supporting character: that is the brand. And there was a conflict in the world of business, because always being effective and efficient is key. And Accenture was able to help Mondelez do that. So I think that’s story at its most basic.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And I think people struggle with … and I think we blame it on the clients, that the clients are trying to shove five pounds of story into a one pound story bag, right?

Nick Westergaard:

Right. That’s a very nice, PG way of saying that phrase.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, that’s right.

Nick Westergaard:

I think I’ll keep using that.

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:15:23].

Nick Westergaard:

I usually use that other four letter s word.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Right. Yes.

So I think one of the challenges for us is to help clients understand that the story isn’t the only story. I think one of the shifts in brand is that now we have to tell these little mini stories, because people will pay attention to us for about 60 seconds at best.

Nick Westergaard:

Well, and story has also gotten somewhat complicated to define in a marketing and media context, because now we have these features called stories in most of the more popular platforms, on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. So stories … as if it wasn’t hard enough to get our arms around, there’s another added layer there too.

But I also think, to your point, that a lot of times, “Oh, what’s our story?” we go to the about page. “We were founded in 1930-whatever, by the founder’s grandfather. He did this, this and this.” And that may be a part of your story, but really that core story of what you’re helping people do is key. That’s why I point out that, so often, in telling brand stories, we think that we, as the organization, as the brand, is the main character. And many times, it needs to be the client and what their challenges are and how you help them address those.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think that’s a key point. I think, so often, our clients translate story into: our story, or our history, or our why, or whatever variation of that you want, as opposed to, let’s face it, the reality is, our clients’ customers only care about our client in the context of how they help them. So the story really, we have to help the clients take one step deeper into the story I think, and remember that the featured character, the hero of the story, in many cases, should be the end user not the agency’s client. Right?

Nick Westergaard:

Absolutely. Yeah. No, I agree. I mean, that’s really, I think, the difference between a company’s story and history message, versus a brand’s story that you can take to market that means something to the customer.

Drew McLellan:

Well, when you think about the social aspect or the influencer aspect, the stories they’re telling are basically how they intersected with the brand and what the brand did to save them, help them, grow them, celebrate them; whatever it is.

And I don’t see a lot of people on social media saying, “You know? Nestle’s was founded in 1892 by the Nestle brothers,” or whatever their history actually is, right?

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. No, I think that that’s key. But again, it’s an added layer of confusion when it comes to unpacking what story is and how it can help.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah.

So your agency background, for folks who aren’t as familiar with you. I mean, you are now running an agency that your dad started many, many years ago. And so, think about the history of your agency. And you guys have always been centric in brand. And then I know when you took over the agency, really added the digital element in. And that certainly was the topic of the first time you were on the podcast, we talked about how you evolved a traditional agency into a digital one.

But how has your approach to brand changed? How do you interact with clients differently around brand? What are the different, either techniques or tools that you use that reflect what your book is teaching?

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. Well, I think there’s two dynamics in the book. There’s seven of those dynamics that are in the first part, that I think speak directly to how that’s changed on the agency side of things. And that the different touch points that we’re looking at. I think that too used to be more linear, easy to understand. And-

Drew McLellan:

And in our control.

Nick Westergaard:

Oh, absolutely. Oh, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nick Westergaard:

I mean, that’s the biggest thing.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

And then the ones that we have that are no longer in our control too. But, I mean, I think it’s the other, something of a buzz word, of experience. Really, you look at all of the different fractals that are part of our overall brand experience, and all of a sudden it’s not hard, as someone that used to think of being an agency professional as, “I’m coming in to address this one specific need. And we will deliver a campaign using a couple of select channels.” And that’s it, that’s our entry into this business.

And I think that these agency-client relationships, some are still like that. But I think that some, especially when you are focusing on things from a brand-centric manner, those conversations have gotten a lot bigger and into areas of the business where you might not have found the agency guy or gal in the past.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. I think we are finding ourselves in all kinds of aspects of the business that our forefathers would not have stepped into those departments, perhaps.

Nick Westergaard:

Right. Looking at employee training, looking at culture, looking at these things that are … I think that’s really the big difference too, you look at branding on the org chart, I think it’s … I don’t know if I want to say worst, but I feel like most confined is when it has to sit inside marketing somewhere, beyond a bigger, more horizontal look, organizationally.

I had a fascinating conversation with Denise Lee Yohn, for the book, who wrote What Great Brands Do, and a new book called Fusion, that is about the role of brand and culture. And it’s an interesting parallel, because she was noting that culture isn’t really well-served when it’s locked up in the HR department either.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Nick Westergaard:

So you’ve got these two big things, brand and culture, which really have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas in the organization, and with both your internal group and external partners, like your agency, as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. We’ve been doing brand stuff for a long time in my shop. And one of the things that always confused clients is, we have an element in our brand process that we call seeding the brand. Which is basically we go into the organization and we spend a year infusing the brand into every aspect of their internal culture and all of that. And our deal is: if you don’t buy that part, then we won’t sell you the rest.

And people were always struck by that. They were like, “I don’t get that, we just want a logo.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s why we can’t work with you.”

Nick Westergaard:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right? That was our stand 20 years ago. And it was important then. But now I think about, “Oh my gosh, can you imagine creating a brand and a point of view for a client and then not helping their employees understand it, given how influential they are not only with the customers, but in social media and all those other things?”

So talk a little bit about, from the book’s perspective, from the dynamics that you talk about on the front end, the tools you talk about on the back end, where does the employee of the client play into all of this?

Nick Westergaard:

That’s great. I feel like you’re tossing me questions that I can easily pivot into the book’s dynamics. But I talk about community. And I kind of alluded to it in the last point. And there’s so many people around our brands too. And I think thinking about those, I think too often … especially when we come at it from: we have a marketing challenge … we focus on these people that aren’t connected to the business at all.

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:23:44] prospects.

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. And what I talk about are the concentric circles of community. That your most important group are those internally, are your employees, are your team members, who are making the products, who are delivering the services, who are working face-to-face with customers. And in this day and age, especially how connected we are, that has to sync up with everything else that marketing’s saying and doing, that agencies are helping them say and do. So I think making sure that those employees understand the brand, understand the culture, and are active brand ambassadors, is key.

I’ve got a lot of great examples in the book, from Zappos, the work they do with their culture book. Spiceworks, which is an online IT support company, they have a brand camp that their employees go to. Maker’s Mark has a really cool story with their founder. But they distilled, basically, the speeches, the words of the founder, into a presentation that everybody gets. So now the son of the founder, Bill Samuels Jr., says that everybody gets a big dose of culture right away, from day one.

So the next circle out from your employees would be those vendors, those strategic partners, agency professionals would certainly be in there as well; people that you’re doing business with, who it’s important for them to be a part of your brand as well. And that’s a circle I think many skip.

From there, you look at the concentric outer circles. And before you jump all the way out to the prospects, really looking at those best customers and how you can actually treat them differently. Which is, I think, something that we talk about a lot, but is hard to do. But it really stands out when you can.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

So the topic I want to jump into next is one of the things that I found most interesting in your book, and most applicable to agencies and how we are reinventing what we sell to our clients, is the idea that agencies or brands need to build their brand but they also need to move their brand forward.

So I want to talk about that and agencies role in both pieces of that in just a second. But first, let’s take a quick break.

One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AE’s in our AE bootcamps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies, from 30 years in the business, and all the best practices that we teach.

If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything, from Money Matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency, to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to AE bootcamps, and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com\livetraining.

Okay, let’s get back to the show.

Okay, we are back with Nick Westergaard. And we’re talking about his new book, and the whole idea of how agencies and what our role is in building brands. And one of the things that I loved about Nick’s book, and I found myself nodding and agreeing vigorously, was this idea that in today’s market or in today’s environment, building a brand is one thing but you also have to move your brand forward.

So, Nick, can you speak to that a little bit? And specifically, what agencies roles can and should be in both aspects of that?

Nick Westergaard:

Well, and talking about moving brands forwards, I think you look at this tool that’s given us probably the greatest catalyst for word of mouth marketing; which is one of the most effective channels ever. But in doing that, we have to create a brand that can move online, from person to person, community to community. Which is what I set these seven dynamics up as tools for doing. And I think what agencies can do, is really thinking beyond the campaign, beyond the deliverable, into some of these bigger areas where we can embed ourselves as a business.

I loved your point earlier, when you talked about … I forget what you called the feature … but of seeding the brand everywhere.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Nick Westergaard:

I mean, I loved that for a lot of different reasons. One, I think it’s a great tool. Has to be a great tool for fit. Because I would think if anybody starts kicking the tires on that, they’re probably might not be the best kind of client anyways if you’re having to explain why that’s important. But I think looking for ways that you can embed yourselves in the experience.

And more often than not, I find, on the client’s side, when you bring up some of those out of the box questions like, “Can we look at your on-hold scripts? Let’s talk about the trucks that are driving around,” and all of these other things. They might seem stumped by the question at first. But a lot of the times these are things that they haven’t had the time, in trying to run their business and do everything else to keep the doors open, to get their arms around as well. So I think that that is a vantage point, a perspective that is very much appreciated. So I think that’s where we belong as agency professionals now, that’s where that perspective is important and valued.

To come back to your story, your scenario where someone says, “No, no, no, we just need a logo.” And I think, ultimately, as agencies, there’s all kinds of other places, if they just need a logo, where they can go get one.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

And what a marketing agency professional does differently, what that can be … which I think is very much something, that as we look at everything changing we’re looking at our own roles changing as well, I think that’s where that comes into play also. And we have to be thinking about what we can do to provide that real value in this very distracted, rapidly changing era.

Drew McLellan:

I hear a lot of agency owners talk about the fact that they can sell a client a brand discovery process or a brand development process. But then they, in essence, have burned through a lot of the client’s budget and the client doesn’t have anything to advance the brand forward.

And, for me, that feels like such a missed opportunity. The creation of the brand is the start of the process, not the end of the process. And now we have to figure out: how do we seed it? How do we bring it to life? How do we make it real for audiences, for those communities that you talk about in the book?

And that’s actually, I think, where an agency can play such a critical role. Because I do think the outside perspective is helpful in that, because sometimes it’s hard for the clients to even see what aspects of their brand actually are valued, or important, or unique, or make them distinct. And we can bring that perspective in a way that their internal departments can’t.

Nick Westergaard:

Absolutely. And as you’re saying that, I do think that when we talk about agencies and we talk about brand, that feels like it’s a pretty accurate assessment of a challenge, in terms of selling branding work, that, “Oh, I can sell the big brand development job, the rebrand of something new, these major inflection points of a brand.”

But you’re absolutely right, those are usually big expensive projects. Then there is this, “Okay, so now what?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

But there’s all kinds of work to be done. And I think that, like you said, it’s a missed opportunity and one that is important. I think some of the best compliments that I’ve had from clients, has been when there’s a meeting and they’re introducing us to others that might be a part of some new venture.

Story I’m thinking of very specifically, a long-time client, we knew them very well. But that was how we were introduced, was they know us but they’re also from the outside so they could see these things. Those are the relationships to cultivate, where you know the business well, you know all of the different touch points, but you also still have that outside perspective too, that you can point out some of those opportunities and challenges as well.

Drew McLellan:

Now that the book is written and now that it’s out and you’ve gone through the whole process that is writing a book today, what surprised you? At the end of the book, what realization about brand or what realization about how brand has changed, or how, as you call it, this distracted, crazy world that we live in today, how has that changed branding in a way that caught you off guard?

Nick Westergaard:

There’s just so much. I mean, I end with experience in the dynamics sections. And you start to unpack that, and there is everything, in some way, that an organization does can contribute to brands. So it’s easy, it’s not hard to realize how this can get overwhelming.

But I think … and you ask about realizations … And when we chatted, I think when you were on my podcast and I mentioned this, it’s a very nice closing piece in the book, and I also used it when I teach at the university here too. But I think your perspective on that, that I really like, is this idea of: a brand is a flag that you plant in the ground.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nick Westergaard:

And I think that we also, both agencies and clients, can get very checklisty about brands, and we want to check all the stuff off. I think that’s why there’s that manifestation of the brand equals the logo, because the logo is an easy thing to design. It’s done, branding complete.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah, send the bill.

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. But it’s not everything that we do, day in and day out, and it’s scary. But I think if you think of it as that flag, that, “We know who we are and that’s always what we’re striving towards. We might not make it there, but that is directionally where we’re trying to go.”

And I think you told a story on my podcast about Disney.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

And an experience where a room not being ready. And they even had a plan for that.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

And I think that that says something very big, that even a brand of that size, that is that good at what they do, knows what to do on a day when they stumble on their way to that flag.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It is all encompassing. And it’s one of the things I love about brand, is that it really is work that’s never done. And so, from an agency perspective, it’s rich opportunity for us to help our clients keep getting better and better and better. Because the reality is … I think, anyway … we never actually get to the flag, right?

Nick Westergaard:

No.

Drew McLellan:

We get closer and closer and closer, but we’re never completely 110% always delivering on the brand in a way that delights every person who comes in through interaction with the brand. And so it’s a constant source of opportunity for an agency, improvement for a client. And that is interesting intellectually, interesting and challenging. So that’s part of what I love about brands.

So, yeah, you’re right. Now, that, I think, is true. Your point is, we’re in this crowded, distracted space. And so it’s so much easier to lose sight of the flag. Right?

Nick Westergaard:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Because there’s so much stuff in front of us and running back and forth, I think it’s even harder to keep your eye on the prize. Which, again, I think is where an agency’s outside perspective can be so helpful to a client, if we can help them understand. That’s our role.

Nick Westergaard:

Well, and I think you say it’s everything. And I think the brand is everything. And I think when both agency and client reframe things that way, like you said, from the agency’s side that is very big opportunity, but from the client’s side … and I don’t even see that as mustache twirling opportunity, [inaudible 00:36:53]-

Drew McLellan:

Right. No. Right. Right.

Nick Westergaard:

… is that that is creating real value for the client as well. Because I think what you have at the end of the day, is your brand. And that’s also why I talked about the digital focus of things before. And as much as social media, digital marketing, have been a very big part of the past decade, never been 100% comfortable thinking of, “We are you digital agency.” I would like to be your brand agency, for helping you negotiate whatever’s next. Recently, that’s been a lot of new media channels and content creation. But brands are bigger than that, and will be bigger than that tomorrow as well.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think brand is one of the very few things that can be a constant for a company. So the channels are going to change, the products are going to change, the pricing strategy’s going to change, the competition’s going to change. But who you are and why you matter in the life of a customer, that can be the constant for you.

Nick Westergaard:

Yeah. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So one of the things as I was reading your book, I’m a huge proponent of lunch and learns and agencies recognizing they need to keep educating the employees.

And I am sure that a lot of the creation of the book came out of the MBA course that you teach. So now, looking at both the book and the course, and you being an agency owner, if you were going to create a learning opportunity around the book, for the people who are listening and saying, “Okay, I got to get a copy of this book and I want my people to understand the concepts in the book.” How would you design a learning course, opportunity, lunch and learn, whatever it might be, around the book for an agency?

Nick Westergaard:

That’s a interesting question. I think, in general, as you talk about all the different plates that I spin, could sound corny, but what I try to do in all of them is really teaching and helping; whether it’s writing books, speaking, working with clients, or literally teaching in the classroom. So I think all of that is always the top of mind for me. Which is why, in both of my books, I’ve put together discussion questions at the end, so you can work through this.

I love reading. I just finished another fiction book right before we’re chatting here. And it’s funny, because I finished it and it had discussion questions at the end. And you often see those with fiction books, and you see them sometimes in business books.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

But I think that if you want to start those conversations, if you want to fuel those lunch and learns, I think putting those discussion guides are key. And it comes naturally to me because, with being a teacher, a speaker, a workshop facilitator, my mind works in questions anyways.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

So I have discussion questions at the end. But I also have, the end of each of those chapters about dynamics, I have what I call building blocks that work through putting those dynamics into play, and really the questions to start to think about when it comes to things that we’ve talked about, like community, like how you can think through those concentric circles, what story and voice means for your brand as well.

Drew McLellan:

So as I was thinking about it, I was thinking that a great way for an agency to infuse the content of your book into the agency’s knowledge base would be to actually walk through those building block sections and to talk about their own agency. So, to practice on themselves. Because, quite honestly, a lot of agency brands are not where they need to be.

So I think it would be a great way to exercise the muscle, by walking through the book as a team and using their own agency as the example that they work through the questions around. Because I think after they do it for themselves, they’d be better at it for their clients.

Nick Westergaard:

That’s a great idea. You hit the nail on the head, and I’m sure that’s ringing true for many listening, is that we help others with this. But it’s challenging, we’re busy, we’re wanting to … the cobbler’s son, and all that good stuff.

Drew McLellan:

No. “The cobblers children have no shoes,” I hate that expression.

Nick Westergaard:

I know. I know.

Drew McLellan:

Just buy some damn shoes, people.

Nick Westergaard:

You’ve got money from all the shoes you’re fixing, just send them out …

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. That’s right. That’s right.

Nick Westergaard:

Well, I also think it’s worthwhile … and you’ve talked on episodes of the podcast that I’ve listened to, with others that talk about finding that same outside perspective.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Nick Westergaard:

I was catching up on your show over the holidays, I remember. And listened to several that I’d missed over the fall and winter. And there was one where you basically talk about some of the same stuff we’ve been talking about here, about community, about finding your people. And that sometimes, as agency owners, that can be lonely. But it can be valuable if you find those groups that can give you some of that same outside perspective that we’ve been talking about that agencies offer others. We have to work a little bit more, but finding our own can be valuable too.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

As you know, I love this topic, so we could talk for another seven hours. But in wrapping up our conversations, if there’s a takeaway for agencies out of the book, what do you think the biggest takeaway is, a shift in the way they think about or approach brand for themselves and for their clients? Where do they need to recognize that a shift needs to happen?

Nick Westergaard:

I think really, as early as you can … we’ve talked a lot about questions … but asking why. Even if it’s at the campaign level, “We have this new product, we have this new initiative,” asking a few questions behind something. Because even that, even if this is a smaller project, understanding how that ladders up to the bigger question of brand, I think is good practice for getting there and getting into those bigger conversations that we need to be at as agency professionals so we don’t end up as implementers of tactics, so that we can stay strategically positioned as really partners in the brand as well.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s so critical.

So, without a doubt, one of the most common things I hear agency owners say is, “I want to stay at the C-suite table. I want to stay at the discussion of the strategy table. I’m tired of being shoved down the food chain and just making stuff.” And I think brand is one of the places where we really can earn our place at the table, because we do have a unique perspective and they need our outside perspective.

So I think you’re right, I think the more we can ask better questions that help clients understand how we can uniquely help them develop and build and move their brand, the more we earn the right to stay there.

Nick Westergaard:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Hey, this has been awesome, as I knew it would be. Thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it.

Nick Westergaard:

Thank you. I’m happy to be here and happy to keep listening to the episodes of the show to help me connect with my community of agency owners.

Drew McLellan:

So, Nick, if folks want to track you down, if they want to keep an eye on you, you created a lot of content, you talk about a lot of things that agency owners need to be paying attention to, what’s the best way for them to follow you and find you?

Nick Westergaard:

I would say, nickwestergaard.com … that’s Westergaard with two a’s … is best, because that is where you’ll find a lot of the teaching, speaking resources. The agency site, of course, is branddrivendigital.com as well.

Drew McLellan:

And the book, they will be able to find everywhere and anywhere, right?

Nick Westergaard:

Everywhere books are sold.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Right. Okay. Awesome.

Thank you very much my friend, I appreciate it. Always great to chat with you. And I’m super excited about the book, congratulations.

You know what? I will say this. You’ve been a brand guy for a long time, and when you told me you were writing a new book I thought, “Ugh, another brand book.” But you know what? This is a different kind of brand book, and it is really looking at brand from a very current, fresh perspective. I can’t even imagine how many hours of research you did, because the examples are extensive and vast and from every industry known to man. So it’s really brilliantly done, and it’s a great one for everybody to have on their bookshelf. So I appreciate you adding to the discussion in such a meaningful way.

Nick Westergaard:

Thank you, Drew. And thank you for keeping the discussion going on this podcast.

Drew McLellan:

You bet.

All right. That wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. Can’t tell you how much I love spending this time with you. Thanks so much for listening.

Hey, speaking of thanks, another way we want to give thanks is we built a new tool that I would love you to check out. We’re calling it the Agency Health Assessment. And basically, you’re going to answer a series of questions. And based on those answers, the tool is going to tell you in which aspect of your business maybe you need to spend a little extra time and attention to take your agency to the next level. We’ve identified five key areas that really indicate an agency’s health. And we’re going to help you figure out where you need to spend a little more time.

To get that free assessment, all you have to do is text the word ASSESSMENT to 38470. Again, text the word ASSESSMENT to 38470, and we will send you a link so you can do that at your leisure. And hopefully that will give you some new insights and some direction, in terms of your time and attention in the agency.

In the meantime, as always, I’m around if I can be helpful, [email protected] And I will be back next week with another great guest and more things for you to ponder. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

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