A branding case study

By Sue Horner
Writer and principal of Get It Write and Co-Director of Communications for PIC.

The branding journey title slide with photos of Sharon and Nathalie

A PIC seminar in November 2016 ignited a spark that led to Sharon Aschaiek’s rebranding. Today, feedback from clients confirms that Higher Ed Communications clearly reflects her specialty, which has led to more inquiries, referrals and opportunities. At the PIC webinar on June 10, 2020 Sharon talked about the branding journey guided by strategy and brand coach Nathalie Noël.

What makes a strong brand?

Your brand isn’t just random adjectives. Nathalie said a strong brand is:

  • Authentic. Your brand represents you and your unique personality.
  • Intentional. You’ve done the work to know who you are and where you’re going so your actions are deliberate and consistent.
  • Emotive. You’re not afraid of your feelings. What do you take pride in? Being open leads to relationships, not just transactions.

A strong brand makes you more credible, so clients feel more comfortable with you and colleagues are more likely to refer you. You find it easier to get in the door and it takes less time to explain your value. And this leads to more opportunities and more money.

Screen of Nathalie and Sharon giving a presentation via Zoom

What does the branding journey involve?

You need to start a branding journey when you keep taking on work you don’t really want, find potential clients misunderstand what you offer, find it hard to describe what you do, or feel your brand doesn’t reflect you. Sharon knew it was time to change after going through two brands – Summit Media Group with her now ex-husband in 2004, and Cocoa Media in 2008 – that were no longer right.

Nathalie coaches clients through steps to build your brand foundation, including:

  1. Know your purpose
    Clients fill out a questionnaire that asks questions such as: What drives you, beyond money? What difference do you want to make in the world? What experiences made you feel comfortable or jazzed? “Write it down and come back to it later,” Nathalie said. “If it feels true, move on. If not, dig deeper until it does.”
    “It’s like therapy,” Sharon said. “The questions make you think and feel and you don’t really want to do it!” But the process reminded her that she enjoys helping schools, and writing stories that are clear, compelling and have heart.
  2. Know your ideal client
    “When a client feels you’re reading their mind, you’re gold,” Nathalie said.
    Time for more therapy. Who do you like to work with? What values do they have, and what’s their working style? Do you target a particular sector like healthcare or finance, or maybe an audience, like B2B or internal communication? Think about clients’ day-to-day challenges and how you can help.
    “I had been reluctant to fully dedicate myself to one sector, but Nathalie got me thinking about my work with higher ed and why I enjoy it,” Sharon said.
  3. Know your unique value
    “Your combination of skills and experiences makes you special,” Nathalie told listeners. “Know why you’re awesome.”
    What are your strengths? What do clients and colleagues say? Ask. The top three to six responses that keep coming up will be your differentiators. Write a short summary for each and build this into your bio, RFP responses and profiles.
    “Working with Nathalie was the first time I deeply thought about this,” Sharon said. “It helped me better understand what I can bring to clients and I spell this out in quotes as good reasons for them to consider me.”

Nathalie combined the results of the questionnaire with multiple conversations with Sharon and information gathered from searches of Sharon’s online presence and her competitors into a brand platform document. This included a suggested vision, mission, personality, brand promise and differentiators. She also created a simple communications plan to guide Sharon’s next steps.

Living the brand

Sharon found one of most useful aspects of working with Nathalie was landing on a brand name. Nathalie suggested shortening Sharon’s original thought, the somewhat clunky “Higher Education Communications,” to “Higher Ed Communications.” That simple change made the brand more relaxed but also fit the industry terminology. “That got me excited about putting the rest of the brand pieces in place,” Sharon said.

Hello My Name Is nametag with Higher Ed Communications logo

For help, Sharon turned to connections made through PIC. Graphic designer Deana De Ciccio of ImageStudio Creative Communications created a colour palette, logo and tagline, along with templates for a business card, letterhead and PowerPoint slides. Design studio 12Thirteen created the website. And photographer Suzanne Merrett of Amara Studios took Sharon’s first professional headshots.

Sharon launched Higher Ed Communications in April 2018, using Nathalie’s plan to strategically market herself. She hasn’t looked back.
“I have confidence and a clear path to steer my business going forward,” she said. “Having clarity in how I position and market myself makes it easy for organizations to say yes to working with me.”

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