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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Strategy Based Branding

with Kesha Lien, Founder, Brand Strategist Brickhouse

Strategy and branding are not the same and one naturally needs to come before the other. Are you putting the right one first? Kesha Lien is the founder and brand strategist at Brickhouse where she helps companies develop strategies to correctly position their brand. She shares her refreshing views on branding and marketing, differentiation, and some good tips for building trust in the age of cynicism.

Notes from the Show

New businesses are often excited to brand their company with fancy logos, websites, and the works. However, Kesha Lien, founder and brand strategist at Brickhouse, has a refreshing objection to this tired “strategy”.

A well-designed logo and expensive webpage are not strategies. These are pieces of branding that without a strategy can be mishmash and waste, especially for new companies who are destined to shift and change in their first two years of business. Kesha doesn’t even take on companies as clients in their first 1 to 2 years of business because she believes successful strategy planning and marketing should come later. Instead of focusing on branding and marketing early in your company, Kesha encourages businesses to focus on these four steps:

Networking. Money is going to come through word of mouth up to the first three years before you exhaust your network.

Experiment. Figure out what you like to do and who you want to do it for.

Validate your effort. Wait for a few sales, you don’t want to spend money on promoting a brand and service you can’t deliver on as intended.

Refine systems and processes. Build consistent operations for payments, contracts, proposals, onboarding, etc.

When it comes to differentiation in marketing, branding, services, etc., we are all pretty overly optimistic when we think about what we are offering. In reality, we are all offering different versions of the same thing. But you can work on intentionally creating differentiation. Kesha’s key is researching your competitors, the needs in your industry, and creating the difference. It’s not just going to happen on its own. Additionally, who are you as a person? Your individuality and personality can be your biggest asset when it comes to differentiation.

Looking at the last few years, a lot has happened in the world, building an age of cynicism. It is a big risk to not recognize what's going on in the world around you. But it is an opportunity. Honest brands build trust. Kesha recommends a few key components that businesses can do to create trust:

  • Take a stand, share your beliefs.

  • Enrich people’s lives.

  • Asking for feedback and responding to it.

  • Above and beyond with customer service.

  • Networking and building connections

If you’d like to find out more about Kesha Lien, you can sign up for her mailing list on her website or reach her via LinkedIn.

What's Inside:

  • What does brand really mean & how skipping strategy costs you money.

  • Why it’s a mistake to invest in marketing too soon.

  • Creating differentiation.

  • Building trust in the age of cynicism.

  • How to know your brand is solid.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:37

Welcome back. I'm Susan Tatum and today I'm talking with Kesha Lien, who is the founder and brand strategist at BrickHouse creative resources. Welcome Keisha.

Kesha Lien 0:46

Thank you for having me, Susan,

Susan Tatum 0:48

it's a really great to talk to you again. And I'm looking forward to what we're going to talk about today with brand and strategy and differentiation, and all these things that are dear to my heart. But what does take a few minutes here and just tell us about who you are and what you do?

Kesha Lien 1:05

Sure. So I kind of came up on the corporate side, I spent 16 years working in professional marketing and creative roles. I've started several marketing departments. So I've got a pretty good grasp on what you need to get the marketing ready, right. And so when I left my corporate position in 2018, to start my business, I initially was going to do what everyone was asking me for, which was logos, websites, branded content, social media support, you know, kind of the sexier side of marketing, right? So I did that for approximately four months. And then I realized, okay, I'm never going to be able to deliver my best work because no one has a plan. I wasn't being set up for success, and neither were they. So I completely scrapped my initial plan. And I decided to focus really just on strategy driven brand solutions. And that covers the gamut from, you know, brand positioning, differentiation, messaging, and then those kinds of essential creative elements that you need to communicate your brand, like your logo, and obviously, your website.

Susan Tatum 2:12

So the the things that that people tend to jump into wanting to do, are the tactics that deliver on the strategy. And if you don't have a strategy, then you're just going to have a mishmash of a bunch of stuff, right?

Kesha Lien 2:26

Absolutely. I mean, if you don't have a plan, you're guessing, right? Kind of leaving those outcomes up to chance or leaving them up to whomever you're working with. I actually just spoke to a woman the other day, who was telling me that, oh, I don't want to do I don't want to do a strategy, because I've had somebody else did the strategy. And then when I contacted another marketing person, they wanted to redo the strategy. And I was like, pause strategies do not fluctuate like that, right? Tactics change sometimes rapidly, but your strategy should always kind of stay the same. That's how you make decisions based on what that strategy is.

Susan Tatum 3:05

So do you think with that, so that's interesting, what you're saying about the strategy remaining the same? It would seem that there's at some point in time, you have to revisit the strategy.

Kesha Lien 3:15

Yes. Absolutely

Susan Tatum 3:16

And we certainly I see that with pipeline programs so that the market shifts, the demand shifts you you're we're almost constantly but you're right, when I now that I'm I'm talking myself around in circles, but it is the tactics most often that we're making changes to, modifying

Kesha Lien 3:33

there are in the thing that I see most often is one, no strategy at all. And two, they have a phenomenal strategy, but they haven't given it time to work. Things like a brand position, take a little bit of time to really, you know, grab on, right? You have to give your strategy time to actually unfold and manifest itself in the real world before you decide, oh, no, it's not working, I'm going to do something else. Right. But those tactics, the way you communicate that strategy, you know, that could change that change off changes, often. I mean, if you look at all the options, we have to market our business, there's, I've seen a slide and I think there's like 8000 different options in terms of like technology and marketing, communication, that is just incredibly overwhelming. But having a strategy could really help you hone in on, you know, which 10 of those 8000 It makes sense for you.

Susan Tatum 4:27

And which ones to the that you can ignore. That's for sure. Do you do you find though that it is, it can be difficult to get a client to actually want to pay for strategy?

Kesha Lien 4:38

Oh, yeah, strategy is like the furthest thing from most people's minds, because especially when we're talking about professional services, small teams, even solopreneurs. They're like, yeah, strategy that sounds great. But I have a business to run, I have things to do, right? But the reality is, is that it actually costs you more time, money and effort to try to operate and promote your your service without a strategy.

Susan Tatum 5:04

Because you're going to be making mistakes.

Kesha Lien 5:06

So there's a well, a bunch of mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. I don't think mistake is a bad word. But there are a couple of words that I don't like one being inconsistent, right? Those inconsistencies so when you don't have a strategy, you're just kind of like cobbling things together, right? You're trying things on the fly. And you're kind of creating you never know who's seeing these messages, right? So if they see one message one day, and then they have an interaction with your brand, maybe on social media or an email a different day and it's different. It's super confusing. So you could be turning people off, right or losing them along the way, by confusing them, we hear that a lot. If you confuse you lose, right. The other thing is, you could be wasting time with the wrong people. That costs money. If you are not working with people that really get what you're doing and get the value that you bring, you're not going to deliver your best work. And they might not refer you to somebody else. Like all of these things work together, reinventing the wheel costs money. And time, time is actually more of a valuable asset. I think these days and money because we're all just, you know, we're strapped for time. Outsourcing without any type of guidelines, brand guidelines are part of a brand strategy. And I if I had $1, for every time someone said, Oh, I outsource this, and I got it back. And it was not right at all. And they're really unhappy with it, or they end up not using it at all. That's wasted money. Right? And then the other big one is, if you don't position your brand, your audience and your competition are going to do it for you. And so that your bet, I mean, taking control of your narrative is so powerful and doing that as soon as you can, it's, you know, positioning yourself.

Susan Tatum 6:54

Well, okay, so So you're talking about as soon as you can, and I get that, and that should be the first thing you do. But I recall when we were talking in a previous conversation, and I remember this, because I've told a bunch of people this, that your, your feeling is that you shouldn't start worrying too much about marketing until you've been in business for years So...

Kesha Lien 7:17

yeah, I um, I actually do not work with anyone that's in that first year of business. And sometimes it depends on, you know, the team or the individual, maybe not even the first two years, because those first that first year, especially, I mean, you heard my story, I already I changed my business completely within four months. But um, you know, within those first couple of years, I think the best thing that you can do is take a deep breath for one, like most people are like, Oh, I'm so excited, I want to name my business, I want to get a logo, I want to build a website, they want to do all of these things, right? I tell people just deep breath. Even if you can do all of those things at once, it doesn't mean that you should think that it's even necessary. I think starting with networking is really good, especially if you are, you know, going after a different industry, or you don't have all the contacts already that you need to make networking is super powerful. I think that most of the businesses that I've worked with in professional services, they get their money, word of mouth, you know, for the first year, maybe up to three years. For me, it was up to three years. And that's really common. And at that point, that's when you start to exhaust your networks. So the the, the art of it is figuring out when you don't want to do it too soon. And you don't want to do it too late. So there is kind of that sweet spot in there. So networking, and then also, you know, not being afraid to experiment, take some time to figure out what you want to do what you like to do, and who you like to do it for. The other big one is validate your offer before you spend money trying to promote your services. Because if you haven't made a sale, you don't know that, that it's actually something that people want, right. And so to invest in it, it's kind of risky, risky business. So I say make a sale, make another sale, and then make one more, because the worst thing you can do for your brand is to promote and create demand for a service that you might not be able to deliver in the way that you intended. Right? That's, um, that's, that's bad for your brand. It's bad for your reputation. And then that third component is somewhat related, or the fourth one is somewhat related. But talking about systems and processes, right, making sure that you have the basic systems and processes in place to deliver a quality and kind of frictionless experience. Right? So I think that I'm thinking in terms of like contracts, proposals, payments, onboarding, things like that, just to make it you know, run smoothly.

Susan Tatum 9:56

So Kesha, what do you think somebody what is like the basic minimum, things that I would call marketing that somebody needs to see it needs to have when they start off? And I would say that in the business to business world, one of those is a presence on LinkedIn, at least a good LinkedIn profile.

Kesha Lien 10:17

Absolutely. And for a lot of, for a lot of consultants and a lot of people in professional services, that LinkedIn page is their website for a decent amount of time. I don't suggest that to be a long term solution. But yeah, LinkedIn. I mean, that's the profesional networking spot, right? So absolutely being on LinkedIn networking, and if you feel like you absolutely, sometimes people want to have a website, because they want that validation piece, they want to establish a little bit more credibility, your it's impossible to be 100% certain about what you're offering in your messaging initially, it really is. And so to just play it smart, and maybe just create like a, a nice, clean, professional looking landing page that says, you know, coming soon or a link to your LinkedIn page, or, or if you feel like you really need to have that that website. But if not, I would, you know, take some time until you can really get those details kind of ironed out.

Susan Tatum 11:18

You know, you could even do somebody mentioned to me the other day that said, I mean, she had had her business for I think 10 years now. But she said, looking back on things she would have done differently is that she just would have put up a web page with her name on it. Here's what I'm doing, and then refine it. Because she she she made a number of changes as well and what she was doing, I think that's pretty common.

Kesha Lien 11:43

Yeah, I mean, and then if you think about it, if, you know, we all know how much it costs to build a website, right? Especially if you're paying someone else to do it. It's not a small investment in it, it's not something you want to do multiple times unnecessarily. Like at some point, every business reaches a point where they want to rebrand and they want to, you know, change their website and do that, but you shouldn't be doing it because it was done prematurely. Right. So doing a website, you're one and then learning all these lessons. And then year two, doing another one. Well, now that's, that's double the investment. And so really just playing it smart, and just waiting a little while and, and working your networks.

Susan Tatum 12:25

So it's really refreshing to hear you saying this, because I see a lot of so I work with a lot of consultants, and I've talked to a lot of consultants. And what I am seeing is that it is it is right around year three, where the the pipeline dries up, the referrals run out, then the network here, you work through your network sometimes too. But there is somebody out there, and it's probably multiple people that are telling these folks that all they have to do is publish content and put it you know, write a blog, put it on LinkedIn, and your prospects are going to come flocking to you. And there's so many things wrong with that. I mean, there are people that I know of that can build a solid pipeline with the with their marketing is bringing in but they've been doing it for years. It doesn't just happen. And then now you put an even more interesting spin to it, which is and it's absolutely true is that early on, you don't even really know what you want to be talking about. You could use LinkedIn for testing some of that stuff, but that you're still in the learning the learning mode. So I want everybody listening to hear what you said, about talking to people first.

Kesha Lien 13:50

Yeah. And I mean, it's probably pretty controversial what I'm saying I'm sure there's a lot of marketing folks, I would disagree with it. But I'm not speaking just from a marketing perspective. I'm a consultant, I'm a solopreneur. I'm a one woman show, right. And I only have a certain amount of resources. And that means that I need to act very strategically to make sure that when I actually spend those resources, whether it's time, money or energy, that it's smart, right? I don't want to be I don't want to do things over I hate doing the same thing over and over and over again. And I think most people do, too. You can only write the same paragraph so many times, right? Why are we doing this. But it's really just, you know, give yourself a break, and realize that this pressure that we feel like we're under to produce all of these things. It might be more of our perception than reality. It might be people trying to sell you something like sell content development services, you need to create more content, right? Well hire us, we can do it for you. There's a lot of contributing factors. But I think most people that have started a business and lived and survived through those first five years, they always say, you know, that five year mark is a lot of people don't make it there. They'll tell you that that sense of urgency that they felt initially kind of waned a little bit over time, and they realized how much they had to learn before they really dove in.

Susan Tatum 15:14

Right, right. So let's talk about you. We talked about how skipping strategy can cost you money. There, but I want to go in a little bit more into the point about differentiation and how important that is and how easy it is to skip that.

Kesha Lien 15:32

Yeah. I mean, I think A lot of us are a little, what's the word I'm looking for? overly optimistic when we think about what we're offering, right? It's very, very rare that I come across anyone that's offering something truly different from their competitors, right? We're all kind of doing versions of the same thing. However, the way we do it is different, right? Because we're all different individuals. And then the other thing is that you can create differentiation. I always tell people, differentiation isn't just like, magically found, like, oh, here, I am doing this different awesome. No, what you have to do is really research your competition. And look for those opportunities, look for the gaps, look for the things that they're not doing, or the things that they're doing really poorly, and fill them create that differentiation. And once once you have that, to me, most of the issues that I deal with, especially when it comes to rebrands, has to do with a real lack of differentiation, I actually just read, I believe it was a Gartner study that said they surveyed a bunch of people, and only one out of four could tell the difference between any given brand in a competitive set. That's, um, that's alarming. Right? It is, it's very alarming. And so you know, creating that differentiation, and also just focusing on you and your identity, not your logo, not that brand identity, but your identity, your personality, if you're an individual or your culture, if you're an organization, these are the things that really separate us from everybody else, they can't be duplicated.

Susan Tatum 17:16

Well, uh, you know, you are a good example, where you set your opinion is you don't invest a lot in marketing in the first year or so of a business. That is somewhat the polar opposite of what a lot of marketing people would be saying, Oh, you gotta get gotta get your marketing laid out first. I think that's a great example of differentiation. You're ultimately headed towards the same goal. But I have a different approach.

Kesha Lien 17:43

And I did I take a stand on that. And I think there's a couple of different ways to look at it. One, I always think about who's telling me to do all these things really quickly, and really fast. Have they ever worked inside their own business? Have they started it from nothing? Have they learned all those hard lessons? I'm more inclined to, to listen to the folks that could answer yes to those questions, because we have an understanding. But if you've never started a business from nothing, then you just wouldn't you simply wouldn't know those things. Right?

Susan Tatum 18:13

Right. Yeah. You know, I think another point about the importance of differentiation is that, you know, neuroscience, or whatever the buzzword is for it now, psychology has proven that buyers can't make a decision, if you don't give them a way to decide,

Kesha Lien 18:33


Susan Tatum 18:34

have to have, you have to have something that says, I want this one versus this one. And if you look like everybody else, they're either not going to decide on anything, or they're going to go with the lowest price, because they can't tell the difference.

Kesha Lien 18:46

Absolutely. Yeah. And when they're when there is a lack of competitive difference, the lowest common denominator, which is price is always going to be the driving factor. I see this, I worked in the construction industry for many, many years. And that was the one thing you know, it's very competitive, very low fees. And one thing that we were constantly doing is how do we add more value? How do we add more value so that we're not getting constantly beat up? Oh, well, you need to lower your fee. Right? And yeah, when there is a lack of difference, that price becomes the lowest common denominator.

Susan Tatum 19:22

So we also wanted to go into building trust. And we talked about this before, too. And you had you were talking about it being the the age of cynicism.

Kesha Lien 19:36

Yes, it's certainly true. Well, I can't take credit for that. But technically, you know, when you read new marketing studies, we've moved from the age of disruption to the age of cynicism. And, you know, the definition of being a cynic is simply not trusting someone's sincerity or integrity, right. And when you look at all the turbulence in the last two years, I mean, we've had COVID We've had economic insecurity, financial and health inequities, political instability, systemic racism, misinformation, disinformation, like the reason why none of us believe anything, it shouldn't be a shock. And what people are perceiving as these empty and broken promises, right at all levels of society has really spilled over onto brands. But I think, you know, it definitely poses a risk. It's a risk if you fail to recognize what's going on around you right now and you're not heeding that call to action, but it's an opportunity if you answer the call, there is something called the ED Edelman Trust Barometer. And they said that highly trusted brands are seven times more likely to be purchased. Like that's an Impressive, impressive statistic. But there are some ways I think right now, in this time that brands can build trust, the biggest one is just being honest and transparent. Like, don't try to fool anyone don't share half truths, especially if something does happen within your organization, you need to address it, and just, you know, be honest and forward with it. Keep your promises, taking a stand and sharing your beliefs, people are really afraid to share their beliefs, because everyone won't agree, right? But the right people will and that that's what you're trying to do. You're trying to attract the people that already believe what you believe. I have to assign that quote to Simon Sinek. But um, you know, and looking for ways to enrich people's lives is important. asking for feedback, and then acting on it. That second part is really huge. It's not enough to just ask, but you also want to respond, going above and beyond when it comes to customer service, and then again, talking to people networking, building those authentic connections.

Susan Tatum 21:53

Yeah, you know, you mentioned the Edelman study, and I was was looking at the 2022 one, but the latest one the other day, and one of their, their 10 main points that they got, that they pulled out of this research was that seven out of 10 people said that their default emotion is to not trust somebody or something. So until you prove that you're trustworthy, they're, they're not going to trust you and brand can certainly help that. I think I see that consultants and service providers, sometimes they're in such a hurry to get to the sale, that they don't allow the trust to evolve, they don't allow it to happen. And that can really be a problem nobody's going to buy from someone they don't trust,

Kesha Lien 22:46

right. And that's it's, you know, building those authentic connections showing up in person when maybe an email might have done or, you know, face to face on Zoom instead of a phone call. Having the CEO go himself or herself instead of sending you know, someone else, like really focusing on those authentic connections.

Susan Tatum 23:07

So what can we do? Or what can can business owners do to ensure that their brand and their positioning is good, and we hit on the new strategy? But what what should at any point in their, in the history of their company? What should they be doing to make sure they're, they're on the right track?

Kesha Lien 23:30

Yeah. So there's a couple of things, you know, again, if your business is brand new, take this with a grain of salt. But if you've been in business a while, there's a few indicators to let you know whether your brand is like solid, or if you're a little bit vulnerable to you know, things going awry. One is, if your audience understands what you do, that's a huge one, that means that you are, what you're doing is in line with how they think about you. So them understanding what you do them understanding what you do differently from your competitors, right? If you're not having to justify your pricing, if you feel like you're working with your people, that's a good indicator that you're in the right position. If you're getting referrals, and they're referring you to other people that are your people, that's good. And they also have strong brands, they say no, sometimes, right? On the other hand, if you are not in the right position, things are they feel a little bit painful, right? You feel stuck, frustrated, people don't get what you do, you might have a hard time explaining it. They don't see the difference between you and your competition. They're asking you to lower your price. You know, you're struggling with clients that aren't the right fit. Maybe you have a longer list of clients that you don't want versus you know, the list of clients that you do want. And then you just again, you might find yourself saying yes to everything. And when you have a really strong position, right? When you know the types of people that you want to work with, you know, what you offer, you know what value you're bringing to the table, you can identify when someone is not on the same page as you and that happens. And I've had to say no, oh my goodness, the first time I had to say no, this was like a huge emotional thing for me. I didn't want to do it. But then afterwards, I felt like I think that was the right choice. I might have dodged a bullet because we've all you know, anybody that's been in business for a few years is probably had a client that just wasn't the right fit, right? We want to avoid that. Right. So by talking about the things is that we do in what we believe they kind of, we kind of smoke those people out, right using that, that technique.

Susan Tatum 25:41

They filter themselves, yeah.

Kesha Lien 25:44

right. But it can be it can be scary saying no, it absolutely can be.

Susan Tatum 25:49

It can be scary. And be we know you, especially if it's coming from a referral, you feel like you don't want to let your connection down the person that referred, but you're not going to do your best work if they're not a good fit. So I thought what I, what I did was just to find a network of people that I could refer them to, if if it's not a good fit with me, unless they're just total jerks. In which case, I wouldn't do that to anybody. Well, maybe. Yeah, I mean, I think I think there's a way to, to not feel bad about saying no. And I think it's a really good feeling when you get to the point where you can say no, you don't feel like you have to take work that comes in.

Kesha Lien 26:37

Absolutely. And like I said, it can be scary, but it can also be really everything scary the first time you do it, right. But it can also be really liberating. I would consider that first time you say no, to be a huge, like, achievement in just the growth of your business, right? Because in the beginning, let's face it, a lot of us are, you know, we're trying to we're experimenting, we're trying to make some sales like no strategy. Like, no, we're trying to figure out if this is going to work for us, right? So we take a lot of work. And, you know, the work that we take in years one and two is probably not exactly the same type of work we're gonna take on in years. Three and up, right.

Susan Tatum 27:16

Yeah, could be. Well, Kesha, this has been a breath of fresh air. It's really been a good conversation and very enlightening and a bit of a different approach. And I like it.

Kesha Lien 27:28

Thank you.

Susan Tatum 27:29

Thank you for stopping by. For for people that want to follow up with you. What is the best way to get in touch with you?

Kesha Lien 27:36

Well, I'm absolutely on LinkedIn. So you can look me up there. I also have a website, which is Check me out. Sign up for my mailing list. Yeah, I'm on LinkedIn. I'm active on LinkedIn. So you can find me there for sure.

Susan Tatum 27:53

So for people that are listening, I will put all of this in the show notes, but your your name is spelled KESHA LIEN,

Kesha Lien 28:02


Susan Tatum 28:02

All right. Well, thanks again. And I look forward to keeping in touch with you.

Kesha Lien 28:08

All right. Thank you for having me.


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