Interview about Brand Tuned by Alison Jones

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In this episode Alison Jones, director of Practical Inspiration Publishing, the publisher of Brand Tuned, interviews Shireen Smith. As host of the successful podcast, The Extraordinary Business Book Club Alison is an experienced interviewer and draws out some interesting information.

Show Notes

Alison asks questions about the process of writing Brand Tuned, what I found out along the way and the reason I chose to write the book. I also share my hopes and what I want to achieve as I release the book.  This episode covers:

  • My insights on providing holistic advice around branding — understanding the market needs
  • What I want to achieve for Brand Tuned as I release it to the world
  • The number of brand identifiers you should have to stand out
  • IP is about managing competition
  • The important issue with the brand name and considering the brand protection aspects 
  • How proper branding can impact everything that you do in your business
  • The extent to which it's appropriate to change a brand's identifiers
  • The journey of writing Brand Tuned: Why I chose to write the book

LinkedIn: Alison Jones
Twitter: @bookstothesky
Instagram: @pip_talking

Valuable Resources:

Brand Tuned Accelerator 



Shireen Smith: Hi, Alison, it's great to have you here.

Alison Jones: It's great to be here, Shireen and I'm holding my own copy of Brand Tuned I speak. So, it's a beautiful book is it's like, firstly, congratulations.

Shireen Smith: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Alison Jones: The launch?

Shireen Smith: Yes, it's wonderful to hold it in my hands. Yeah.

Alison Jones: It smells peaceful, which is the important thing about books. So, I wanted to ask you a few questions about the process. I always think it's fascinating to hear the author, talk about what they found out along the way. So, we'll start with why, as Simon Sinek would have said, why did you choose to write this book?

Shireen Smith: Well, I wanted to write a book on branding, because having written two books on intellectual property, and studied branding, quite a lot, you know, read books, I realized that intellectual property is an absolutely essential discipline, that is as important as marketing and design when you're creating a brand. And what was happening on the ground was that many branding agencies, designers that I was coming across, were tending not to work with lawyers, when they created brands, and, you know, they had very variable levels of knowledge about IP, often not enough, actually, generally to make really sound decisions as to names and other identifiers. So, you know, I thought, if I could write a book about branding, to explain exactly how IP fits into the brand creation process, then business owners, designers, marketers would be more enlightened about this. And actually, an interesting point that emerged, which I hadn't actually been aware of when I set out to write the book was both designers and marketers receive absolutely no training in intellectual property whatsoever, which I just find really, really surprising. Given how important IP is in brand creation.

Alison Jones: You don't know what you don't know.

Shireen Smith: No, exactly.

Alison Jones: And I'm guessing that you're, well, I know that I hope that this book will save a lot of small business owners, particularly from some very expensive mistakes.

Shireen Smith: Yes, I wrote the book primarily so that business owners could avoid some of the serious mistakes that can happen. You know, the name is one aspect of a choice that businesses make during branding. But it's not always obvious exactly what issues arise around names. So, people realize that it's an important decision, but not exactly why it's important and how intellectual property impacts that decision. So, for example, it's not always the case that if you've chosen the wrong man, there's gonna be a disaster, and you're going to need to rebrand. There are many subtle ways in which the wrong name, for example, a name, that slightly generic or altogether generic, can really seriously impact the bottom line of a business. And there may never be aware that it's actually the reason why they have less success. So, you know, that's why I wanted to write this book so that people could understand the nuances involved. So, for example, a company like Oatly, recently had problems when they tried to stop a competitor using the name, PureOaty. Now, there was a high court decision that actually decided this was not an infringement. And the reason it wasn't an infringement is it just missed out the L. So, Oaty is a generic term, you can't monopolize generic terms under trademark law. So PureOaty is in no way infringing the rights of Oatly, and people were outraged even that Oatly was taking issue with this clean farm over the name. But on the other hand, if you have a name like Hellman's, and a competitor comes along and uses a name like pure Hellman's. There is absolutely no doubt out that that is trademark infringement. So, it's actually understanding brand protection that enables a business to make a sound choice of name. And that's why, you know, missing out the IP dimension during branding can be, you know, can lead to less successful choices of brand elements.

Alison Jones: And I think you're so right. And it's I hadn't understood this until you and I started talking that, that people who set themselves up as branding experts have no background at all, why should they have a background in legal, but what happens is everybody gets obsessed about the details, the color palette, the font.

Shireen Smith: Yes, indeed, actually, the most important issue is the brand name. And considering the brand protection aspects of it is, is really key. As you know, I mentioned just now what, obviously colors and fonts and all that matter, too, but actually, what tends to happen is that over overdo emphasis is placed on color. So, businesses often end up with a logo, and then all the ways in which they're going to stand out, uses color as the essential differentiating visual. But the problem with that is that you can't own a color, you know, or it's very, very difficult to it takes a number of years and really big advertising budgets, and even then, it may not be possible to own a color. So, this emphasis that the branding industry places on color is quite misplaced. And I would say that, you know, you need more identifiers than just a logo. So, when you emerge from branding, you should have several, you know, signals ways of signifying that it's you that it's your brand, so that consumers can identify you. So, for example, I've began to use, you know, these circles that around my book, I thought, this is a good idea. I could use this as one of the identifiers. And of course, I explained in my book, this symbol, how important it was to me to get a visual, and also how difficult it was using the designers, I did engage to actually end up with a symbol like that. So yeah, I can't emphasize enough, the importance of having several identifiers.

Alison Jones: Is the visual language that goes alongside of the people recognize instantly, isn't it, but replacement or having the distinctive name?

Shireen Smith: Yes, that's right, basically, you know, you need strong visual cues, and symbols, you know, Apple has the apple, Nike has for the swoosh, logo, it's just really important to have three to four identifiers, so that consumers who are often actually in system one mode, when they're looking for products and services, they're not really focusing in great detail to see who stands for what and what so and so's name, you know, they're just coasting along, if you like, and you want to have your brand identifiers stand out so that if they've noticed you in one context, they might recognize you again. And that's the role of branding effectively, of having visual identifiers. Because really, IP is about managing competition. It's about knowing what you can stop competitors doing when you're successful and constructing your identifiers. So, they're barriers to entry. And color can never function in that way. So don't put too much emphasis on color, obviously have a color by all means, but don't rely on it.

Alison Jones: Absolutely can't own green. You thought about the fact that you learned during the course of the research the book that in fact by spending people you know don't have any training in intellectual property and so on. Is there anything else that you I mean, I know there is because you would talk about in the epilogue but tell us what else you learned during the process of doing this. Not just about topic but also about yourself and about the process of writing.

Shireen Smith: I haven't realized really how much I gravitate towards evidence-based research and findings. Because there's a lot of folklore and fluff really written about brands, caught, you know, people talk about falling in love with brands. And that just didn't ring true to my own experience of brands. I mean, the reason I buy from the same brands isn't because I love them, it's because it simplifies my life makes it easier saves me time. Given that I know a certain brand produces comfortable, flattering clothing. So, I'll go to that brand first, when I want something new to buy. So, you know, I read a lot of books. And at the same time, I also attended courses, and I was constantly trying to work out what to why I actually think is true. What do I think brand creation should be all about? And when I came across the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute findings that what lasts is distinctiveness and not differentiation. This was just really interesting to me. Because although I couldn't actually make sense of how do you create a brand, if you don't differentiate for a while, I was grappling with that, because it just didn't fit with how brands are generally created. differentiation is such a big part of what everyone talks about. But the distinctiveness bit it's basically about looking like yourself. So essentially, at the end of the day, what lasts is that your name and your signifiers, like your brand identifies your logo may be a color for those that have a color or a piece of music or a distinctive font. These are what lost in the sense that consumers remember them and associate your brand with them. So, what we should be doing, when we're branding is absolutely what intellectual property is all about. Because all these identifiers that distinguish one brand from another, are protectable. Well, color is less protectable. But the thing is, as I've said, don't put emphasis on color. And then like that, you can ensure that the way that you stand out and a recognized is what customers remember and also that competitors can't copy and mimic your brand. If you become very successful. That should be the focus of branding. So, what I learned about myself is that I am actually much more drawn to evidence based stuff than spiritual mumbo jumbo that really didn't ring true.

Alison Jones: Which is interesting in itself, because so much of branding is portrayed as a dark art, isn't it? And given Mystique.

Shireen Smith: Yes, yeah.

Alison Jones: And, and it's very rare to find people getting real scientific evidence for what they're doing.

Shireen Smith: Yes, it is actually quite rare to find people talking about branding in a more scientific way, which is why Byron sharps how brands grow was just so refreshing to read. You know, I wanted to understand everything about branding, because when I wrote my proposal for you, you know, I knew that I would be talking to people interviewing people, and that I would be reading a lot of books. But because branding wasn't something that I had already explored, I wasn't altogether clear what the message of my book was going to be. You know, by the time I'd finished writing the book, so I didn't know where the book was going to go. It was a journey of discovery, if you like. And I'm still grappling with many questions around branding, for example. You know, the visual cues and the name, these are the brand identifiers, they're really important to create because they represent the business. But on the other hand, you know, brand is a huge subject, your vision Values mission, what you stand for, it's just vast, the amount that the brand impacts of business, it impacts, you know, the sort of employees, you choose the approach you have to customer service, how you want your employees to communicate with customers, you know, human resources, every aspect of a business is touched by the brand. So, it can be a big, complex subject. And I'm just wondering, to what extent it's made into a dark art for purposes that are not necessarily appropriate. For example, there's a lot of rebranding that goes on. And I, you know, I, I still need to understand things more, but I've questioned the extent to which it's appropriate to change, things like names and logos and symbols that represent you that are actually important intellectual property assets. You know, I feel that there's got to be really powerful reasons why you would scrap all that the brand equity that a business has built up, in order to start again, I mean, yes, there are instances like a rat nose type experience where you've got to rebrand and no longer be identified by your old name, I get that. But I just think there is too much rebranding that goes on in, in the name of the brand. You know, as people become more clear about what they stand for, then it's assumed that you therefore need to change your identifiers. And I'm not sure that you know, the extent to which these identifiers need to change, even if you're, you take a new direction in the business. So essentially, I think I might have gone on and on, on this journey of discovery, which I'm actually still on now.

Alison Jones: Actually, that point you make about the brand representing the company internally, as well as externally, I thought that was a terrific point that and I don't think I had fully appreciate it before, that when you get your brand, right. It's part of your culture, it's part of your identity, you as you, as you and your team, know how they should respond and know who they are, which is really powerful.

Shireen Smith: Absolutely, it impacts everything that you do in your business, and how you lead it, how you manage it. And you know, what you might emphasize in your communications, as I just mentioned, you know, there's a lot more work I feel that I need to do. And essentially, it's all around this issue of the extent to which it's appropriate to change a brand's identifiers. These should be fixtures, in my view. And I think in the branding industry at the moment, they're rather regarded, like a change of clothes, you know, you just have a little brand refresh and, and yet, from Byron shops research, it's obvious that these cues are what customers recognize, you know, your distinctiveness is how people remember you there in system one mode, they're not going to focus on the fact that, oh, you now have a new logo, a new name, you know, so you effectively could be destroying a lot of value, I think, in rebranding, and I probably, you know, will write another book, I'm not sure. But, you know, I was getting up as it was five in the morning to write the book before the day began, because I had a strict timetable with you that I wanted to meet. It's possible if I'd taken a year longer, I would have written a more profound book. But I think really, ultimately, one has to get on and finish things. And that can always be a book number two.

Alison Jones: It doesn't have to be the last word in it yeah.

Shireen Smith: It wasn’t graphically perfect.

Alison Jones: I think what you said about the journey and that curiosity and that sense of discovery, I, I suspect that part of the reason that you did it so diligently and you didn't flag, and you've got it completed was because actually that self-development, that sort of understanding of mastery of the topic is hugely rewarding in itself, isn't it?

Shireen Smith: It is. It's absolutely fantastic. There was so much I needed to learn in order to write this book. And I love learning and understanding, you know, business brand marketing the whole works. I wasn't sure, as I said, when I set out to write the book exactly what it would be like, by the time it was finished. So, I'm not sure. For people such as yourself, when you set out to write a book, do you have a clear idea of what you're going to write? You know, do you know what, what it's going to be like?

Alison Jones: Personally, no, I think you have a fairly clear idea, and you have lots of expertise, otherwise, you probably shouldn't be starting to write them. But actually, I think one of the best reasons for writing a book is exactly what you're saying there is that sense of mastery, it's going deeper, it's understanding more than more nuance. And what I'd love to ask you, actually Shireen is how it's changed us, and not just what you learned about yourself. But you know, what, now how do you feel that you have changed as a person, but also professionally, and what next.

Shireen Smith: What I'm now focusing on is to really understand the market needs, so that I can decide what to introduce, either it's going to be something for designers and marketers, so that they can use IP as a commercial opportunity in their work, or it's going to be some sort of brand management service, to help small businesses who want to create their brand, so that they can understand the whole subject and make sure they choose the right sort of professionals to work in with. So those are really some ideas I've got, I've gone on to train in brand management marketing, and I'm really looking at design much more closely to understand exactly what goes into creating a visual identity, you know, what considerations there are, you know, I'm, I'm really broadening my expertise as a way of deepening it so that I've got more to offer than just the perspective of an IP lawyer. And this means that I can provide a much more holistic sort of advice, I guess, around branding. And actually, all this work has meant that I've understood IP better, because I'm looking at it from the perspective of somebody who's creating a brand, rather than from the perspective of just protecting your brand.

Alison Jones: And those conversations that you've had mean that you also understand other people's perspectives better, which is always helpful, isn't it when you're trying to get work done in such a complex field?

Shireen Smith: Yes, I hope to understand the markets needs much better, so as to know what sort of offering to develop. For example, if somebody is aiming to create just a lifestyle business, they don't want to have any problems, but they're not creating an enduring business, then the sort of approach they need would be quite different to somebody who hopes to be the next Google or Apple. And so, the more I understand what people want and need around branding, the better placed I'm going to be to decide how I can best sub section of the market.

Alison Jones: Whether it's a brand will have a life beyond you.

Shireen Smith: Yeah, that's right. And the only thing is, sometimes people take off in a much bigger way than they had intended or known. So, there's that to consider to.

Alison Jones: Planning for success is a really helpful way to go about starting a new venture, isn't it? So as this goes out into the world launch today, and people are getting it into their hands. What's your hope for it? What do you want this book to achieve as you sort of release it into the world?

Shireen Smith: Yeah, I hope that it will make change happened. I've had some fantastic support, especially from lawyers who do tend to like the book, but also actually surprisingly to me, because I hadn't expected it. From designers and marketers. I hope that there is some way that I can work within the industry with designers and marketers because I think I'd really enjoy working with them. It's so fantastic industry, really very friendly, very welcoming. I love it.

Alison Jones: I suspect that you might have created a new job role there that whole kind of brand legal experts’ discipline that you mentioned that it just doesn't exist. And that doesn't exist because people aren't aware of the need for it. So, I think you know, you may well have created a quite a shift in the branding landscape.

Shireen Smith: I think increasingly lawyers are having to learn about the disciplines in which they're involved. So, it's, people don't just want a narrow legal perspective. They want somebody who understands if you're doing say it, they want somebody who understands computer science, not just the legal aspects and it's the same with branding, I think, you know, it would be helpful to have lawyers who understand brand management to marketing and not just focus purely on law.

Alison Jones: And that's actually a much more applicable thing as it goes across every sector. Fantastic well I I'm sure it will achieve that I'm sure that it will help individuals so individual business owners or people assess as they set things up I'm sure it will help lawyers as they help other of the helpless people but I think you have put your finger on something that is I think this is one of the greatest gifts that authors can do for the world actually is that they can identify something that you recognize once you're told it but you hadn't seen it before. And it feels to me that you've done that here that you have identified a space that people didn't know they didn't know about. And now that it's given shape and form and there's a book about it, I think it will really grow and become a really important part and in 10 years’ time people will wonder how they ever coped without.

Shireen Smith: Thanks, I really hope so.

Alison Jones: Wonderful well I wish you every success with I hope it achieves you know exactly what you say.

Shireen Smith: Thank you very much thank you for all your help.

Alison Jones: And it's been it's such a delight to publish and you know; I've learned so much from it. So, thank you from me as well.

Shireen Smith: Thank you very much, Alison.