With so many names for somewhat similar things, it can be overwhelming to know what you’re buying into when you invest in your marketing and messaging.
Today, we’ll talk about style guides and what you can expect from the copy perspective and the design perspective so you can ensure the branding you’re investing in meets your high standards (and serves your business into the future!)
Here’s exactly what Michelle and Erin have to say about the difference between a messaging-focused and a design-driven style brand guide:
The various names for brand strategy documents that are either messaging or design-driven
The differences between visual brand strategy and copy brand strategy
Why visual branding specialists still spend time doing brand strategy work before designing any marketing assets
Whether copy informs design or design informs copy
How Pinterest is both helpful — and not — when it coms to visually-driven design
How to get started with visual brand design if you’re DIYing your brand
Michelle and Erin’s advice for when the best time is to invest in your overall branding
When to start reaching out to branding specialists
How to eliminate competitor envy as you’re working on building a brand or rebranding the one you have
You heard it here. Quotes about the importance of a messaging and visual style brand guide from Michelle and Erin
“I think the best way to look at [a style brand guide] is how can we make decisions about our marketing that will influence our audience to either purchase from us or get to know us better.” — Erin Ollila
“We get so distracted by everything around us that we forget to focus on who we are as business owners — and who are our people? Like, who is that target audience that we’re trying to speak to? And the more we can focus on that the less distracting all the other stuff is.” — Michelle Clayton
“You’ve got to start with language. And all my copywriter friends love it when I say that, because yeah, designers think it’s about the colors and the logo and it is but… where do you start? You can’t just start picking colors out of a hat because you like them or they look good with your skin tone. You’ve got to have a better foundation than that.” — Michelle Clayton
“Listening is an underrated skill. That’s what you and I do — we listen. You tell me about your business. You tell me about your clients, you tell me about what lights you up, and then we translate it into other things.” — Michelle Clayton
Learn more about our guest expert, Michelle Clayton
Michelle Clayton is the Brand Strategist and Designer behind Let Her Fly, a studio helping successful women look like the pro they are. She strategically captures their personality and expertise in a clear, cohesive brand that feels just like them and attracts more ideal clients, so they can confidently reach their next level.
With a design degree and 30 years in the industry, Michelle’s experience ranges from non-profits to large advertising agencies. She knows first-hand the insecurity that comes from outgrowing your brand, and the positive impact the right one has on your confidence and your bottom line.
If Michelle could meet anyone, she’d meet:
Other women entrepreneurs for connection and to build out some referral partners. Does that sound like you? Here’s how to reach out to here:
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and went on to co-found Spry, an award-winning online literary journal.
When Erin’s not helping her clients understand their website data or improve their website copy, you can catch her hosting the Talk Copy to Me podcast and guesting on shows such as Profit is a Choice, The Driven Woman Entrepreneur, Go Pitch Yourself, and Counsel Cast.
Stay in touch with Erin Ollila, SEO website copywriter:
Learn more about Erin’s VIP intensives if you want her to do the brand research for you
Reach out her on Instagram, Facebook or on LinkedIn to talk more about how to show up authentically online in a way that resonates for your audience.
Want to know more about a copy and visual style brand guide? Here’s the transcript for episode 023 with Michelle Clayton
NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors.
people, work, brand, clients, business, visuals, messaging, website, rebrand, copywriter, business owner, marketing, style guide, key, logo, aaron, designers, strategy, message, point
Michelle Clayton, Erin Ollila
Erin Ollila 00:04
Hey friends, welcome to the Talk Copy to Me podcast. Here we empower small business owners to step into the spotlight with their marketing and messaging. I’m your host, Erin Ollila. Let’s get started and talk coffee. All right, so today we are here talking to Michelle Clayton. And one thing you may not know about her that I am very envious of, especially because I’ve always wanted to be a person who is multilingual and I can not learn languages, as well as I’d like to I think that Michelle has approached language learning very creatively. What you might not know is that she speaks fluent American and Canadian, and accurately uses the word toboggan in either context. So welcome to the show. Michelle, please tell me what are the different context of the word toboggan? So
Michelle Clayton 01:08
as you probably know, this is so funny toboggan in most contexts, so northern United States, Western United States, and here in Canada to Elkins a sled, we get a lot of snow. We do a lot of tobogganing in the winter. But where I grew up in the southeast United States, the toboggan was actually I think what you guys call a beanie, or we call it a two here in Canada that I don’t speak French. That’s, that’s not my language, but it’s the knit hat that you wear on your head. So I I wear toboggan and they’re like, What you wear a sled
Erin Ollila 01:41
on your head. Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. One thing I always talk about for these humorous intros is that it’s always so odd to me how I can relate them back to the actual conversation at hand. Here we’re going to talk about everything that comes to brand messaging and brand style and how it relates to both copy and design for large projects or just small things that you can do to update your business brand. What makes me laugh about the introduction is right before Michelle and I started to record we talked about how there are different names and sometimes people can mistake what they’re calling the brand messaging Guide or the brand strategy guide for something else. And here we are talking about toboggans as being things when it comes to copy. copywriters can create multiple things, some people will call it a brand strategy guide is what I’ll hear a lot of people say from a copy perspective, you’ll also very often hear brand messaging guides, which I think is probably the most correct approach to how we approach copy and like word choice in our marketing. And then the other one would be a brand voice of customer guide, or something to be effective when we like incorporate the research that we have from our clients how they speak and how we should speak to them. From a marketing and a coffee perspective, brand messaging guides would really lay out a few key facets about the business and how they present themselves in relation to the message and the words. One thing that we’ll cover is stuff like the mission, vision and values and how that gets presented from a messaging standpoint. It will also cover a few different facets, one being the actual business like who is this business from a messaging standpoint, what is the tone of voice that they use? What is the style of word choice, and when I say that, I mean some of the nitty gritty things like grammar, that’s okay, you know, like some brands shy away from exclamation points or ellipses. Other brands will approach a copy with a lot of em dashes. So more of the things that like you wouldn’t consider if you’re thinking marketing message as a whole. But that really does play a key factor in what the message portrays to the people reading it. In addition to that, we also take a look at our audience and a brand messaging guide, who they are what moves them what motivates them to make a purchase their level of awareness. So a lot of people would consider this like an ideal client avatar, but instead of just taking it from the overall standpoint of, you know, Sally lives in New York and drinks a lot of coffee and brings her dog to target with her when she goes shopping. We look at it as like what Sally’s key motivator is for decisions is really having a ton of research or social proof that can help convince her versus another person might be able to make decisions quicker based on a shorter copy. And just more precise language. Sally needs to be nurtured and needs more coffee. So we’re looking at the business we’re looking at the audience. In my style guides we go a little bit further and We look at competitors, not so much to compare ourselves to competitors. But to point out some of the things that they’re doing really well in their messaging, as well as ways that the business can differentiate themselves from the people in the field. Yeah. And then in regard to that, we’ll also do some SEO research, which, depending on the type of project might be an add on, or it might be included. But the key for that is we need to look at SEO research, not just from a point of like, what will perform well for us, but what will match well, with our messaging, like what phrasing would we use naturally, to attract the right people? What phrasing what our clients use naturally, to seek us out? So even though that is the most basic overview of what you’ll generally find in a brand messaging guide, I think the best way to look at it is how can we make decisions about our marketing that will influence our audience to either purchase from us or get to know us better? Or share us with their audiences? And how is that related to the words that we use, so the reflection of your business and how to attract people to your business. But as we all know, copy doesn’t live independently, you know, when it comes to marketing copy also is very importantly, related to design. And I’m thrilled to have you on here today, because I always find it interesting that people will come to me at some points as a first stop, or they will go to their brand strategist or like designer like you as the first point. So while I create brand messaging guides, what is it that you create with your clients? And how does that reflect the marketing message that they’re trying to point out from a visual standpoint, right?
Michelle Clayton 06:47
When I do this whole process with clients, I start with what I say brand strategy, it’s very similar in its intent to what you do, Aaron, it’s just a little different in what it looks like at the end product, right? It depends, too, because sometimes I will work with a copywriter from the beginning. So we’re really in sync, we’ve got the language that we’re working on, and we’ve got the visuals they’re working on. And sometimes they don’t like you said, they’ll start with me. And then it’s interesting, because sometimes they know what the beginning oh, I need to update my whole website. And I don’t want to write it. So now what do I do? Sometimes they’ll get the whole package at the end and go on? How would I do at all with all this? Because now I have to update my website or marketing materials and all those things, from where I’m coming from the strategy is a very condensed version of what someone like you would do. So it still looks at the key things like what’s our big idea? What is our target audience? How are they feeling before they work with this particular client of mine? How do they feel afterwards? What are our brand keywords? What are the emotions that we’re trying to evoke in our clients in our audience? And then that gets all put into a brand strategy guide on my end? My perspective, because of my ad agency background, and I know you and I have similar background in that regard. It’s more like a creative brief. So it’s much more condensed, right? Like yours would be multiple, multiple pages. Mine is like four pages, but it just kind of hits the highlights because my end goal is the visuals. Yeah, right. I can take that from a copywriter, a messaging guide, and we incorporate that into the brand strategy. Or vice versa. If they choose to start with the visuals, then that goes to the copywriter. And they’re able to kind of dovetail all those pieces in together. Yeah. And then the visual pieces all come after that. Because if you don’t have the language, if you and I have talked about this, too, it’s easy to start with scrolling Pinterest, or what are my favorite colors? Or what is my I hate to say competition, but it is kind of your competition or others in your industry. What are they doing? And we get so distracted by everything around us that we forget to focus on? Who are we as business owners? And who are our people? Like who is that target audience that we’re trying to speak to? And the more we can focus on that the less distracting all the other stuff is, is what I absolutely. So you got to start with language and and all my copywriter friends love it when I say that, because yeah, designers think it’s about the colors and the logo and it is but where do you start? You can’t just start picking colors out of a hat because you like them or they look good with your skin tone. You got to have a better foundation than that.
Erin Ollila 09:25
Yeah, no, I love that you said that. And if I could be an emoji I would be the little emoji with all the hearts that are surrounding it. Like when you were explaining that it starts with a messaging. I always find it very interesting. As I mentioned, sometimes I will have clients come to me knowing that they need brand messaging. And I think those clients in particular, are people who have a little bit more marketing savvy, whether it is through their traditional job or that their type of business is somehow marketing aligned. Maybe for example, they’re like public speakers. So sure they’re not doing actual marketing, but you know they have to that PR type of work that they’ve done, or they’re very familiar with the fact that they are a personal brand. So there is a marketing relation. But I’d say everyone else that is not necessarily coming from a marketing background of sorts, I find they always start with brand designers or website designers, which I do understand. I think the reason that happens is because visuals move us. So as business owners, or even just consumers, we see something that’s beautiful, and it’s easy for us to be able to make the decision that we’d like it. As a complete aside, one way that I can explain this that I think people will understand is, I have a whole house needs to be redecorated. Right. And we have various levels of decoration. And one of the places that is I would say a hot mess is my dining room, right? I need to finish the walls, because we just got the sheet wrapped, so they don’t have a color. So I look at my dining room. And I think to myself, I do want to go on Pinterest and get inspiration. When I go on Pinterest, I see a chair and I’m like, Oh, that’s a beautiful chair. I see like, I don’t know, like something to store wine. And I’m like, Oh, that’s beautiful. So I see all these pieces. And they are easy to attract to me. But what I think people forget when it comes to something as small as interior design is, there is strategy involved, right? Like if I bought a record table because it was vintage and cool. And I tried to place that on the side of Victorian furniture, it’s not going to work together. And I think that while that example seems small, and just like a practical day to day example, people will understand. I think what happens is when people know that they want to uplevel their brand, they assume that by going to someone for a logo or a visual representation, or someone who can create a website, they will get a rebrand. But what they’re not realizing is that influence that needs to create the design, which would be messaging, just like in my house, it would be knowing like what type of style Am I looking for? You know, is it Beachy? Because I can’t do BG. And then like I said also retro, right? So it’s like understanding what motivates the project to know how to make those great choices. So to hear you say that, like messaging is what would be the motivator for you as a designer, is just wonderful. Like it’s a it is just so nice to hear that. And I think that some designers, I would say like you and I have spoken about this, you have the skill to know the questions to ask. So that way, if someone is not coming to you from a copywriter, you can get that great information from them to be able to elicit the visual design figure out like what colors and color psychology would work well with their clientele, depending on their level of readiness and all those things. But some designers don’t do that. And that’s not a negative thing. That’s just not where their interest lies. So I think for people considering whether they will get a rebrand or start from scratch, it’s really good to know who you’re working with. And what it is that they want to do, what they can do, and if they have a preference for how people work together, because like you’re mentioning, if someone’s going to give you a messaging guide, you’ll have all of that information, and you can really run with that. And then if someone is going to hire a brand designer that does not do the strategy, they’re gonna want to find someone that can help them from a strategic standpoint, before they go that route and get the brand strategy
Michelle Clayton 13:26
done. Right. Yeah, cuz if you don’t have the strategy piece, where do you start? Right? So you go to Pinterest, which is just a disaster, because unless you’ve got that experience in marketing, or InDesign, or in copywriting, you really become at the mercy of the algorithm because Pinterest is a search engine, just like everything else, right? Yeah. So when you start searching, it’s going to start feeding you more of the same information that you’ve already gotten. So instead of opening you up to okay, what are some other possibilities? Or how else could I represent this? What other dining room tables would fit in my dining room besides the one that my grandmother gave me, right? It kind of sends you down a very narrow rabbit hole of the same type of stuff. And that’s the real danger of it is that it’s not opening you up to better possibilities. It’s funneling you down a channel that you might not want to be down, right, that might not resonate with you, it might not resonate with your audience. And then to get out of that track is tricky.
Erin Ollila 14:19
Yeah. And I mean, that’s a very key point. And one thing I wasn’t even considering talking about is we need to recognize that when we do research, you know, the internet itself, and how we approach research cookies and things that the internet is remembering about you. It is going to suggest to you what it thinks that you want. So one if you want to have at least a better starting place, use the mode of being incognito or potentially try to like clear your cache before you start doing searching. But again, I think the key is really just listening to Michelle here and not making your search your first stop. Consider the message in the strategy. First and Then allow yourself to just play with visuals later when you have an idea of what you’re looking for. Here’s a tricky question for you, I know that it’s kind of opening a can of worms. But when you have someone like if someone’s listening right now that hasn’t worked with anyone before, or doesn’t even have a contractor in mind to work with, but like, they’re just beginning to think they might want to do a rebrand or they’re just starting out their business. And they hear us say, stay off of Pinterest for a little while, like, where do they start? If they’re not actually working with someone right now to get inspiration,
Michelle Clayton 15:33
I would say if they’re not considering working with someone, right now, the best place to start would be to try to find some clarity around that language that they want to convey. So often, I call it you can word vomit, you can brain down, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be categorized. But getting clear on what are you trying to communicate to people either about who you are as a business owner, or how you help them or the transformation that you create for them from, you know, where they are now to where they want to go after working with you, it really does come back to that language. And once you can get a little bit of clarity, if you’re going to work with someone else, as a contractor, you don’t have to have all the answers to that. But that will help you start to see, okay, this is what I’m wanting to communicate like, this is how clients come to me, I brand used to feel like this, this doesn’t feel like me anymore, right? This doesn’t fit me anymore. This isn’t what I’m trying to communicate about who I am and who I work with. So once they can see the difference between okay, this is what my current logo looks like, or my current messaging says on my website, but this is how I want it to feel this is what I want to be known for. That’s when the clarity comes up. Okay, I think I need to get some outside help for this. And then consider, you know, who do I hire? Who should I work with finding the right people that are going to jive with you?
Erin Ollila 16:53
Yeah, that’s such a valid point. Because even when it comes to copywriting, I feel like a very slippery slope that I walk with my clients through is I try to explain to people, I can’t make brand decisions for you, I can definitely guide you and adjust the approach that we make, I might have a certain type of knowledge from working in people in similar fields, or what I’ve learned from the research, where I will push back and say like, that’s not exactly the route we want to go. Or here’s what your clients need to hear, even though you think they’re looking for this, they’re actually looking for that. So you can still sell the this so long as you meet them in the that, right? So yes, there’s a lot that a copywriter can do to guide the messaging and to encourage the business owner to give them like give a great information that they need. But I really do think that it’s important what you said about starting with yourself before the contractor, because while I can help, I still need the business owner to give me that information, right? I mean, I need to learn why they’re doing what they’re doing, what makes them stand out, you know, like what type of people they like to work with. So I think that’s a great idea is really just taking that time yourself to get to know the business that you either have or you would like. And then from that point, working with someone who can help you create a vision out of those ideas that you have, right?
Michelle Clayton 18:21
Yeah, I have a quite extensive questionnaire at the beginning. And I would imagine yours is the same. And if they can’t answer those questions, then, you know, like, where do you go from there? Where do I go from there? If they don’t have that basic information, people will
Erin Ollila 18:33
ask me like, Who do you work with Aaron and I very much enjoy working with entrepreneurs and small business owners that come from various fields. I think it keeps me fresh as a copywriter to not be niched into one specific type of client. And you know, there are clients I’ve worked with a lot more than others. I’ve worked with a handful of interior designers, a handful of photographers, quite a few handfuls of coaches. But what I mean is like, it’s not so much the industry or profession that I work best with, because I like starting fresh for every client. But I will say the one way that I differentiate who I should or should not work with, is I can get a very clear understanding of how well the people know their own business when we have our discovery calls. And if I don’t feel like the client knows their business well enough to move forward, I would say that that’s the key to know that I am not the right copywriter. And I don’t think that’s a negative thing. Because well, the way that I pointed out is I don’t think brand new businesses need to spend you know, $5,000 on a copy project immediately. And for design, right? That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have good copy and they shouldn’t have good design. You know, I do a lot of work with people who DIY their business. But what I mean is I think that you have to grow into your business to have a solid brand, right? And that takes just learning it takes some mistakes. It takes adjusting a few times and there’s not a timeline for that either. You know so for one person It could be like they did a solid six months of work. And they finally found their groove. They know exactly what they want to say to whom what type of offerings they have, or, you know, it could be like, for me, I think it was a good solid few years into business that I felt like I was finally ready to craft my little niche for myself. And again, that’s okay. I’ve also worked from people who transitioned right out of corporate jobs into being self employed. Some of them were absolutely ready for a brand, like they weren’t clear on who their clients were and what they were offering. And that I think, not for everyone. But at least for me, as a business owner, I think that’s the better differentiator on whether or not I will work with a client is if I think they’re ready to. And like you said, if you can’t complete the brand questionnaires, that’s just a key that you’re not ready to. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think use all the questions that someone would ask you, like a designer or copywriter on a discovery call, use that as your jumping off place to get started,
Michelle Clayton 21:01
I could not agree more I’d like and I’m sitting here nodding as you’re talking, because I find that the same thing, if I had to put a time measure on it, I often tell people two to three years in business, but only because I find that is kind of a baseline starting point for most people anyway, I mean, I did the same thing I renamed and rebranded my business two years into it, because I just had so much more clarity on who I wanted to work with, and how I wanted to show up and what I wanted to be known for, and all of those kinds of things that you just don’t know, at the very beginning, unless you’re coming out of corporate or out of some where else where you know, they’re translating what they did in a corporate environment into a one on one environment, I would agree that that often is an easier jumping off point. But without that history, it just takes time. And like you said, there’s nothing wrong like that. Often, I think most of my clients who I’ve worked with, started out with a DIY logo or a fiver logo or something like that. And I tell them, that’s great. That is a totally appropriate way to start your business. But once you’ve got more information, and you’re really in this for the long haul, then it’s time to hire a professional and get clear on your copywriting and get clear on your visual brand and all those things. But it does take some time. And there’s nothing wrong with that I have console calls all the time and like not yet. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not closing shop circle back around in a year or two. And let’s talk and see where you are then.
Erin Ollila 22:27
Yeah, I mean, I think you answered part of this question with what you just said. But if someone came to you, and you just knew that they weren’t necessarily ready for an entire brand at this point, where would you suggest that they start off besides looking for a place like Fiverr for a logo? Because I know again, I hear that as a pain point of my clients, they’re very worried about the visual look of their brand. And you know, there’s more than just a logo. So like when they’re seeking out stock photos, when they’re trying to consider how like the colors play on their social media? Is there any sheets or like easy DIY things to keep top of mind if someone’s not ready for an entire brand at this point?
Michelle Clayton 23:06
There’s a couple of things I do, I often send them resources, sometimes mine sometimes from other people that kind of help with that clarity. So resources like that are helpful. And honestly, Aaron, a lot of what I tell them is as hard as it is don’t spend your time right now obsessing over the visual pieces, get some more clients, get some money coming in, talk to your clients, like Yeah, have intake forms from them, because they’ll tell you what you need to say, right as a copywriter, you know this, right? Yeah, their language is the language that you kind of need to be mirroring back. So the more content that you can collect that way, the more helpful that’s going to be for you, when it does come time to hire someone to write it for you or design it for you. That’s often when I tell people, it’s really hard for them not to start tweaking colors and picking a different font and trying something different. And at that point in business, it’s usually just a big time suck that we don’t have a lot of extra time as entrepreneurs and small business owners, and that’s just not a valuable place to spend it right now. Good enough is good enough. Get the revenue coming in, get the client language coming in. The more people you work with and are serving, that’s going to be the best use of your time at that stage of the game.
Erin Ollila 24:18
And that can help in massive amounts of ways right? You learn that audience information you can learn about the things you like to do. You can adjust how your client experience works, you can adjust your systems doing the work is harder to do and is why it’s easy to avoid doing the work by obsessing over things that feel important, but I think we all know deep down are not as important. It’s more we’re avoiding the actual process of learning. I have always said one of the biggest things that frustrates me in this online business world is the myth that you can fall asleep at a specific time blink twice and then wake up and you’ll be a millionaire I really think like the key to growing any business, whether it is an online business or a local business anywhere, is strategic baby steps, like, get that beginner website up, put an open sign on your door, if it’s a storefront, right, like, I know, that seems so very silly. But these tiny things are what grows a business over time. And just in regard to what you’d say, if I had to answer that same question, I would tell people like, I don’t think you know how lucky you are in 2022 to be having this problem. Even five to 10 years ago, if you wanted to have a website, you really had to do it yourself design wise, or pay someone to do it for you because their templates are abound these days for any type of a website as an example. You know, you can buy a template, maybe for under $200. So you find a template, it looks visual, get that $200 template uploaded onto like WordPress or SquareSpace wherever you have, type those words in and go on with your life. In addition, I think it was episode 13 When we had Kristen McIntyre on one thing I loved about our conversation is I mentioned that I purchased from Kristen, who is a fellow copywriter, she had a program that she literally did a lazy launch, she just threw it out there. And her sales page was a Google document with a couple gifts on it a GIFs. I guess you would say? Like, that’s another word. I mean, this is your skills of being multilingual, that you’re actually able to say these words, and I am not. Language just isn’t my thing. Guys, words are language isn’t? Yes, she created a program, she knew the content. But she just wanted to put it out there in the timeframe that she did. And it was a Google Doc. And I bought it because it didn’t matter that it wasn’t like a fancy design webpage. I didn’t care that she didn’t have social graphics for days. And she wasn’t spamming me with paid ads, what made a difference was just the key message of what she was offering me. And I love that in the sense for these DIY errs that are listening, because it’s like, you don’t even need that $200 website, if you have something that you’re offering, get the clients in the door and learn from them about what you want to sell, who you want to work with, who you want to be as a business owner, and what type of message you want to portray. As the business. That information leads you to the point of being able to make the decisions when it comes to the brand’s right. I totally agree with you as well when it comes to that.
Michelle Clayton 27:28
Yeah, I think listening is a underrated skill. Like that’s what you and I do we listen, you tell me about your business. You tell me about your clients, you tell me about what lights you up, and then we translate it into other things. So for every other business owner, the more you listen, the better you listen, the more information you have, the better information you have, the better decisions you can make moving forward.
Erin Ollila 27:50
Yeah, I love that. All right, so we’ve handled the DIY errs. What about the people who are actively looking to rebrand their business? Do you have any suggestions on when to know that you’re ready to jump into the rebrand? Like, is there a certain I know we’ve talked about potential timelines? But is there a transitionary period that would kind of like alert someone, maybe this is the right time to make a rebrand?
Michelle Clayton 28:13
The best answer I can give to that is what my people tell me. And that would be that this is just what they say it doesn’t fit me anymore. Like they go to their website, it doesn’t feel like me. I’ve outgrown it, when they’re embarrassed to send people to their website, not because it’s not the trendy color palette or whatever. But it’s not saying the right thing anymore, or it’s not giving off the right vibe anymore. That’s really the key for when it’s time to start looking. And keeping in mind too, that creatives book out often months in advance. So if you think well I need now I need to do this now. And you might find out you have to wait two or three or four months or longer. And that can be really disappointing for people when they start to feel that I think that’s the best time to start reaching out and at least look for people you know, interview a couple people book a few consult calls, those are usually free. I know mine certainly are anyone can book a call with me. And I’ll spend 30 minutes with them and ask some key questions and help them get clarity on what’s the next right step for them. I mean, I’d love to say there’s a scientific answer and check these four boxes. And then you know, but really, it’s a gut check. Yeah. And you know, are you holding back because of what your website says? Or your logo looks like? Or how your social media is just kind of fallen off the map? Or is it just a distraction? Right? Are you just wanting to spend time picking colors because you don’t want to do the more challenging work of networking or getting out there or talking to people? I don’t know. That’s kind of a roundabout way to answer the question, but that would be the best way I can answer it.
Erin Ollila 29:44
Yeah, I think that’s valid from a copy standpoint. I hear the exact same things. I’m embarrassed to send my website to my clients like, I try so hard to sell them the DM so I never have to give them to link to my site. And I’m like, you know, they’re finding it there. No matter what. And in two ways like One, it’s fine that they find it. And two, yeah, you need to update it like I know that’s a weird, like nonspecific answer as well. But if you present yourself well enough, whether it’s networking, your social media presence emails, like any type of podcasts, like any type of content that you’re creating, you’re offering a chance to build a relationship with someone to get that trust factor, you know, when they see people also communicate with you, that shows some social proof as well. So there are things that are not website specific that can start that like nurture sequence with a potential lead. In some ways, your lead doesn’t care too much about the exact status of your site, they just want to know that you are the person who can help them. But then again, on the flip side, in other ways, if you’re not sharing your website, which really should be that center, strategic marketing hub that you have, if you’re not sharing it, because your message doesn’t align, you’re not attracting the right clients, I can tell you that for sure, right? Like the people who you’re attracting could be an ideal leads are not necessarily as motivated to buy, like, there’s so much that gets factored into it that I’d say that, like, if you’re hiding your website, that is definitely a key that change needs to come. As well as if you are constantly jealous of your competitors sites. I hear that a lot from my copy clients. It’s not so much the design that they’re frustrated with, it’s the fact that what I hear a lot of is like, we do the same thing. But why do they say it’s so much better than me, it’s not that the business owner can’t say it just as well. One, we are trained to hold many hats as business owners, but we do not have all the same skills as business owners, like I can’t do visuals in any way as good as Michelle can do visuals because that’s not a skill that I have. I’m skilled with words where some other business owners are not. Sometimes you really just need to pass that off to someone else. Sure. You might know in your head, what you want your brand to be about, you might have the ideas of like, this is the specific services that I have. And here’s how I’d like to present myself online. But that does not mean you can take that information, and you can put it on the page. Well, honestly, I think we should all give ourselves a little bit more wiggle room as business owners to not feel that pressure of having to do it all on our own. You know, it’s the reason why we’re advised as business owners to create profit funds or to save our money for investments, because we shouldn’t be pulling people in who have specific skills that we don’t to get maximum efficiency for our business. And one way you can do that is by turning your branding over to a professional who really can get that maximum result for you. Absolutely. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Okay, so now we’ve kind of covered like, what should the DIY errs, do as they prep? What should people be considering as they approach a rebrand? And one thing I didn’t say, but I do really want to agree with your point about planning in advance, get on calls with people, because even if you don’t necessarily want to work with them, you don’t know their timeline. And I’m pretty sure no service provider is going to say like, oh, you’re talking to me in April, but you don’t want to work with me until July like your band, right? Like, even if they don’t have a waitlist at that point. I think it’s great, because there’s so many pieces of the puzzle. You know, if someone goes to you first and you’re like, Sure, I can ask you some strategy for your brand. But have you done messaging? Have you started with a copywriter, not only have they spent their time with you that they have to now prepare for but you’re directing them to someone else that they’ll have to prepare for. So there are a lot of puzzle pieces that go together. And I think the most successful rebrand is a strategic rebrand. And it’s coming from a place of having space to do so and not the anxiety and rushing of it.
Michelle Clayton 33:54
Exactly. There are so many pieces, like we talked about website and design. But there’s also photography, like most people, once they’ve gone through this process of their messaging and their brand style. It’s like, Oh, I really need new photos. A they’re probably at least two years old, because everything was then restricted and locked down for the last couple of years for us. But you know, they were wearing corporate suits before and they’re like, Yeah, that’s not the kind of coach I want to be or what I want to be known for. And so Okay, now we do new photos, well, you can’t even do the web redesign until you’ve got all of those pieces. And everyone’s on a different schedule. Everyone’s working on a different timeline. And it does take some strategy to slot everybody in at the right time. And you start adding up all that time from multiple pieces. And you know, even if you have to wait a couple of months to start, you got to figure you’re going to be easily two or three months down the road after that where you’re actually going to be launched right? Yeah, everything is gonna be new and updated. It takes time
Erin Ollila 34:52
and not to be a complete pain on this but I think it all goes back to messaging too. You know, when I was fortunate to do a photography rebrand At the end of last year, I think even though I am confident on like, the way I would like to present myself online, there’s so much mindset that goes into preparing for a photo shoot. And a lot of that, I think, like the pressure can be taken off if you’re clear on the message, right? This sounds ridiculously silly, but I am kind of a corny person, if we all haven’t figured that out yet. And in my rebrand, I wanted to wear these shoes that I had that were pencil shoes, because like in Aaron’s mind, I just thought it was like so corny, and cute and funny. Like, here, I am a writer, and I’m wearing pencil shoes. Now my husband and my best friend were like, oh, gosh, Aaron, like, rain yourself. And don’t wear pencil shoes on a rebrand, like you’re being so silly. But I was like, Well, I think that’s Aaron. Like, I think that’s me and my business. I’m a little corny. And if I’m getting excited about pencil shoes, then that feels right, because like, there are so many other little ways that that corniness will come out in my brand. And if I had a client that saw my pencil shoe photo and was like, this is weird, we just wouldn’t work well together, right. And again, there’s only a handful of pencil shoe shots, I changed different clothing throughout the photoshoot. But again, it was just something that felt good for me. But I knew that my messaging was that I am a professional who is okay to poke fun at herself and who would likes puns and you know, funny jokes and your joke, for example, about being linked bilingual in American and Canadian, right? Like, those are the things that make Aaron giggle and that’s how I like to present myself. Now, other business owners when they go into their photoshoot, I think, knowing the message you want your clients to get from the images is important. Do you work with people who really do expect that you will be buttoned up and like, you know, a suit like a full suit outfit? Or like, are you working with creatives that would be interested in seeing you as a creative or an artist yourself, maybe with some funky jewelry, or pencil shows? Right? Those are decisions get made by knowing the message that you want your audience to receive when they see those images, not to you know, harp on message being the most important factor, it is not the most important factor. It is the kickoff point, right? Yes, it is totally the kickoff point, because visuals sometimes can influence people more when it comes to decision making and all of those things. But knowing what you want to have in the visuals comes from the message. So it’s really just the starting place. And I think it’s really key to get clear on that. So that way you can make successful decisions based on all of those message key points that you have.
Michelle Clayton 37:41
Exactly. Yes, it is the starting point for sure. For all.
Erin Ollila 37:45
Yeah, right. We started this episode talking about the different ways that we approach brands, strategy, messaging, and visuals. And you know, one thing you had said earlier, when we had talked before we started recording that I love to hear was how like, in a sense, you kind of have two deliverables. As a designer, you have that strategy standpoint, that kicks off really the whole project and influences everything. But then at the end of working with your clients, there’s more of what I think people would assume in their mind is the traditional style guide, can you talk on either the process of going from one to another, or maybe what would be included in the type of style guide that you have?
Michelle Clayton 38:24
Yeah, the style guide that comes at the end. So we’ve got the strategy, the strategy informs all the design pieces. So the stuff people expect with branding, the logo, the sub logos, colors, fonts, marketing materials, social media templates, all of that, then the style guide really is what it says it is the guide, so the client can then take all of those pieces, not feel like they’re a hot mess, and know exactly what goes where like it shows do’s and don’ts, like don’t do this to your logo. Don’t do that. Here’s an example of how you can lay out your fonts on your website. So colors are legible. And fonts are legible, all of those kinds of things. It’s kind of the roadmap, because they get a lot of stuff at the end. And if you’re not already marketing minded or design minded, and some of my clients are, they’re quite creative on their own. And they don’t need as much hand holding but others are like, so what do I do with all this stuff, and it’s just kind of a step by step of, here’s where you find everything. Here’s what everything is called. This is the actual name of the logo that you’re looking for. Because even that can be really confusing for people. So it’s just a step by step guide of these are all the pieces this is how you use them. This is where your stuff is in Canva and this is how you edit it. All of those kinds of pieces. That’s what I would consider a style guide from my perspective on my end, yeah,
Erin Ollila 39:43
no, I agree. And I think that’s how I would also like people to see them. I love the idea of designers and copywriters working together because I think like the truest form of a style guide, especially when we look at it from like the ad world agency world or even corporate is a style guide is the dirt directions, right? So like, all the work that gets done before that is strategy and messaging and planning, and analyzing and research. And then that style guide should really just be kind of like the rules. I mean, if we think actually even like a grammar style guide, and there’s many of them, it’s just the rules, right? So when designers and copywriters actually get a chance to work together, what could be the end result could be a style guide that shows both visuals and messaging and how to use those in your business. I love that. I swear, we’re almost done. But the one thing I wanted to bring up that you had mentioned before, was the competitors and how they influence branding from a visual and a design standpoint, is there any suggestions that you have on like how to eliminate the brand envy that someone might be feeling or to like separate your business from those that you’re seeing visually of your competitors?
Michelle Clayton 40:57
What I tell people is as selfish as it sounds, the more you focus on yourself, and your own people, the less the competition or others in your industry will matter to you. I don’t even ask clients a whole lot. I know you do more because of the language you need to know industry terminology and Google search terms and all of that. I don’t even ask a whole lot of my clients on Who’s your competition like who are you looking at out there, I do ask kind of lightly. And sometimes they’re more focused on that. So they will share that information anyway. And I sort of look at it as a cursory guide, but I really don’t obsess on it a whole lot. Because I found when women come to me, especially they’re like, I want to stand out, right? They want to stand out from everybody else. We all feel like we’re in an oversaturated market. There’s a lot of people on this planet. So there’s a lot of people doing what we do. And the more you can sort of quiet those voices and go, Okay, who am I? What do I want to be known for? How do I want to show up? Who are my people that are going to resonate with me and my pencil shoes, and not be upset that I’m not wearing a blazer, you know, with, with my buttons done all the way up. That’s when you get that standout factor. Because nobody’s you, right? Nobody does business, the way you do it. Nobody works with people the way you work with them. And as difficult as it might be, the more you focus on that, the easier it is to not be so envious of everybody else. And you just don’t have to look sideways, so much, right? You really can focus in on what you’re great at. And just do more of that. And that’s what resonates with people like, as you were saying before it when people say Oh, but this competitor says this so much better on her website, probably she’s just saying it the way she would say it. Right? Exactly. And stick to who she is. And that resonates with people, even your competition. So the more you tap into that, you then become the other person right where other people start to see you and go, Oh, I love the way she says this. And she’s so relatable and all that. Well, that’s because she’s been who she is. That’s because she’s wearing her pencil shoes. It’s all of those things that come into play. And so you just don’t have to worry so much about the other things is what
Erin Ollila 43:10
I found, I think that’s so valuable. It’s also what I hear from my clients, like I just really want to stand out. But one thing I find so interesting being on the sidelines is as much as my clients want to stand out, they really push hard against that, because they also want to blend in, especially visually, right? They see beautiful brands. And while they think that by having similar brands is going to allow them to stand out, really what they’re doing is they’re just blending themselves back end. Which is why like I have a web designer friend who will be on the podcast shortly. And we always talk about the fact that brands that you’re seeing or like styles that you’re seeing can be fashionable for certain parts of time. You know, like right now for websites, for example, it’s the whole show it look of things being all over the page, and you know, like multi layered images, and there’s nothing wrong with them. I am not knocking on show it type websites, I think they’re beautiful. But not every business needs one, right? Some businesses, especially creative businesses might do really well with a very visually heavy brand, right? But it’s not the design, it’s not the fashion. It’s how its reflected on you as the business owner and your audience. So when standing out is the major factor in a rebrand which I’d say it should be right like Once you’re clear on your business, that’s when you can stand out. I would say knowing what is visually appealing to you may be helpful. But then that needs to take a backseat and you need to trust your brand, strategist and designer because they will be able to take that information, but synthesize how the brand is going to show up. Not what you think is visually appealing. Hang on the moment, because what will happen is, and I’m sure you’ve seen this many times is people will cycle through rebrands every two years, which is financially, not a great idea, you know, it loses that consistent appeal that your clients are seeking, they don’t care that you’re now using tan, but prior to that you were using gray. And prior to that you were using like bright colors, that’s not important to them. It’s just the message that visually they’re giving in words that they’re getting. The key is if standing out is important to you, you do that by being the most authentic version of yourself or your business, depending on the type of business you have. And I think again, you get that from messaging, and then that informs the visual standpoint that you have.
Michelle Clayton 45:42
Exactly. And to go back to what you said to I tell people when they rebrand, whether that is copy and or brand design and or website and or photos, maybe not so much the photos, but it should last them at least five years. Yeah, that’s sort of my benchmark, and ideally, much longer than that. Sure, we’re always updating sales pages and bits of copy here. And you might get new photos in three years or something like that. But it’s expensive. And it’s really time consuming. Like it’s a huge investment of time, energy, money. All of those things that we said earlier, like we don’t have an exorbitant amount of right. Yeah. So let’s make the most of it and make it last for the long haul. So that, like you said, you’re building brand consistency, people start to recognize you and they just know, oh, this is Aaron stuff, because it’s got these colors in it. They don’t even have to see a logo necessarily, yes. And so that it frees you up to do things that you’re really meant to do. Like not picking colors and picking fonts. You see it on the show at sites, and I totally can exactly picture what you’re saying when you say that. I see it in fonts. There’s these trends and fonts. Like I could just point to a dozen of them right now that
Erin Ollila 46:51
you could probably figure out what year they came from as well. Yep. Yeah, I can even think of some like the you know, like, what is it like, I think playscript or something was like super circa like 2017. Like that one lasted for a while. Yes,
Michelle Clayton 47:05
do it for the long haul, make the investment of time, energy money, when it’s the right time. And then you basically set it and forget it, for the most part, right. That’s where the brilliance is in hiring professionals to do it so that you don’t have to mess around with it.
Erin Ollila 47:19
I love that. Thank you so much for all the time you took with me today to talk about both the messaging and the visuals play together and are separate from each other. Let’s jump into our connection questions. So the first one I always like to ask everyone is if you could meet anyone right now, who would it be? And why?
Michelle Clayton 47:37
My thought when you ask that initially is like somebody famous that I want to meet. And I can’t think of anyone in that department. What I do love doing on the key regular weekly basis is meeting with other entrepreneurs, especially other women entrepreneurs. I like men, I’ve got great men in my life. I’m not you know, I can’t bash the guys. But there’s something unique about connecting with other women in business. I love finding those connection points and being able to refer other people out to Oh, hey, you need a copywriter. I know someone Oh, I’m looking for a VA? How do I find you know, who do you use? All of those things? That’s the fun part in this of meeting new people and helping other women grow their business, whatever that business is. Those are the entrepreneurs I love to connect with.
Erin Ollila 48:25
Yeah, I love that. Okay, so one thing I know you mentioned before, and I would say it’s also something that has been felt in many different areas of the world is being stuck in place for the past few years with the pandemic and everything. So the second question that I have is if you could travel anywhere, like at this moment in time, like the podcast interview ends, and you have to leave your house, no bags packed. Where are you going?
Michelle Clayton 48:49
The easy answer, not the glamorous answer for that would be my family is in the US. Yeah, I’m in Canada. And I would hop on a plane and go to Virginia. Oh, I mean, Virginia, the selfish part of me would pick like Tahiti or Central America or something. But yeah, we’ve had very limited family contact throughout the pandemic. And that’s yeah, that’s where I’d go. I packed the whole family up. And
Erin Ollila 49:12
yeah, I love that answer. And if you want to make it glamorous, so you could go to Virginia with your family, and visit and then go to Tahiti before coming back to Canada, right. I mean, like we can make anything glamorous out of this
Michelle Clayton 49:24
around the world trip and get on a plane and keep going.
Erin Ollila 49:27
I love that. Okay, thank you so much, Michelle.
Michelle Clayton 49:29
Thank you, Aaron. It’s been great talking with you.
Erin Ollila 49:35
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Top copy to me. If you enjoyed spending your time with me today. I would be so honored if you could subscribe to the show and leave a review. Want to continue the conversation. Head on over to Instagram and follow me at Erin Ollila. Until next time friends
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