Branding on a shoestring - Deb Gabor at General Assembly ATX

When starting your business, there's a lot to think about -- your product/service, your team, your employees. But there's also your brand. You want to make a big splash, but you don't have a big budget. So where to you start?Learn from Deb Gabor, founder of Sol Marketing, noted brand dominatrix and author of "Branding is Sex: Get Your Customer Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything." Register today for

Branding on a Shoestring General Assembly 600 Congress, 14th Floor Monday, August 8

Free social media is a good place to start, but there are strategic things you can do up front to dial in your strategy to ensure you maximize the use of your limited funds and unexpected low-cost opportunities to build your brand's visual and verbal assets. This class is highly interactive, so expect to roll up your sleeves and begin the process of defining your brand's core DNA and go-to-market strategy.
This session about branding for early stage companies will expose you to the following ideas:

  • Basics of branding -- what it is and what it isn't
  • Why and when to brand your early stage company
  • Using DIY techniques to define your brand's core DNA and story
  • Building a visual and verbal identity on the cheap
  • Growth hacking your go-to-market strategy
  • Getting in market without going out of business
  • Using your resources wisely

Get tickets now: Sixty seconds to Success

Get your tickets now! Deb Gabor's session at General Assembly will sell out fast. Sixty Seconds to Success: Hacking the Elevator Pitch at General Assembly on February 1, 2016. Deb is the founder and president of Sol Marketing and is known as the Investor Pitch Whisperer. This is a must-attend event. Register now

"What do you do for a living?"

"What is your company about?"

This is the perfect opportunity to tell your story. The infamous "Elevator Pitch" was created for just such an occasion.

An elevator pitch is a conversation starter. You typically have just 60 seconds to make an exciting, impactful and meaningful impression on whomever you come in contact with. So make them count.


  • Be exposed to the Anti-Elevator Pitch and how it serves as an invitation for further conversation
  • Start to think of yourself as a “brand” and leverage that to your advantage
  • Learn everything that needs to be in your elevator pitch and everything that doesn’t
  • Create the building blocks of your own pitch – starting with communicating from a place of “WHY” and culminating in the unique qualities that can make you stand out
  • “Hack” the elevator pitch at critical points to create a cohesive story about you and how you make a client or a hiring manager the hero in his or her own story.

Building a kick-ass brand that wins

Sol Marketing was proud to participate in Austin Startup Week last week and share our brand love with a room full of startup founders and entrepreneurs! Our interactive session detailed the importance of branding for startups and guided them through practical tips for defining their company's core brand DNA. If you missed out, check out the slides and highlights from attendees! In this session you'll:

  • Learn what a brand is and why it's important for startups
  • Understand how a brand informs future business strategies
  • Know when startups should start building their brand
  • Learn practical "hacks" to accelerate the process of defining your brand and articulating it to customers
See the slides on SlideShare: Building a kick-ass brand that wins from Deb Gabor



The shoe fetish continues


That’s not what I owe in payments on my car.  Nor is that my Central Austin property tax bill. That’s how much money I’ve spent on shoes at Zappos.com in the past 10 years.

About a year ago, I did a blog post about my love for Zappos. Since some time has passed, and my taste in shoes has become decidedly more selective and expensive, I felt it was time for me to give you an update.

Check out this year's Zappos order chart below.  You can see, while my 2013 average order size went down, my total number of orders went up. Apparently, during 2013, I was buying LOTS of cheap shoes.  I have no explanation for this other than perhaps I went on a flip-flop binge. I do live in Austin, so it’s possible.


Looking back on 2014, the total number of orders remained the same (16), but the average order size when up by more than $30!  What I have to show for that is a couple of pair of “couture” shoes (ask me to show you the blue suede Ted Baker stilettos; they’re fabulous) and a handful of athletics, trendy open-toed booties and a variety of more sensible styles.

To be fancy, I added a trend line so you can see how my lifetime value as a customer is trending over time: it’s increasing at a pretty good rate (I think the Zappos team loves me).

So, besides the obvious fact that I love shoes, what else can you take away from this?

As I wrote in last year’s blog post, there are lots of places online to buy shoes – many of them less expensive than Zappos.  And, believe it or don’t, there are dozens of convenient brick-and-mortar places at which I can buy shoes and even wear them home the same day.  However, I still choose to buy most of my shoes at Zappos because I love what they stand for.  I love how they deliver service.  I love how I experience their brand.

You could say that I love WOW, and that’s what bonds me to them year after year, even when there are less expensive, more convenient choices.

Here’s something that comes directly from Zappos’ website:

At Zappos, Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing With WOW.
WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that's above and beyond what's expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don't want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.  Whether internally with co-workers or externally with our customers and partners, delivering WOW results in word of mouth. Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation (for example, we don't offer blanket discounts or promotions to customers). We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.

Delivering WOW through service is a core tenet of Zappos’ culture. And Zappos culture – not shoes – is their brand.  In fact, since last year’s blog post, Zappos has launched several additional retail categories on their austere e-commerce site, and that’s got my attention.  With the addition of beauty, sporting goods and home products, Zappos is my first go-to place when shopping online for anything.  With free overnight shipping (both ways) and no-questions-asked returns up to 1-year later, how could I ever pass up an opportunity to check with Zappos first?  I’d say that I’m irrationally loyal to Zappos.  That means that I’d check there first for product availability before shopping anywhere else.  Zappos and I, we have a tight bond.

There are many companies with core values, but most read the same.  Can you guess which company belongs to these?

  • Customer Service
  • Quality
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Teamwork

Of course you can’t – because they’re too generic; they aren’t memorable or ownable; they aren’t part of a company’s very culture; they aren’t this company’s brand. The best core values are ones that are remarkable and define how customers experience a company’s brand.  They have the following characteristics:

  • They are actionable
  • They describe how you act as a company
  • They are visibly integrated with how a company does business
  • They are aligned with what’s important to customers
  • They are used to attract and retain the best talent
  • They have support from all levels of the company

…and most importantly, they aren’t platitudes.  They are unique to a company’s beliefs.

Many companies have core values, but don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release or on a plaque in a company’s lobby.  Your core values are part of the DNA – or the story – of your brand.

So what core values are you willing to commit to?

Brand Storytelling isn’t Telling the Story of Your Brand – It IS Your Brand

Storytelling is the latest buzzword kicking around ad and brand strategy agencies all over the world.  People often misuse the term brand storytelling to describe stories about a brand. Actually, a true brand story originates from its story platform – the emotional core, the DNA of the brand. The brand story is the very essence of the brand – something you need to convey in order to connect your ideas with your audience. We rarely evaluate companies based upon their products alone.  We’re in a world where a brand’s values and the emotions they evoke are narrative material. The most powerful way to persuade someone of your idea is to unite that idea with an emotion.  The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story.  Your brand’s story isn’t a tagline or a headline. It isn’t the logo or visual representation. Your brand’s story creates an experience and defines the emotional relationship your customers have with you.  Ultimately, the best brand stories are those that intrigue, engage and connect with users on a level that transcends the products or services themselves.

Your brand story is like the glue that will hold all your brand’s actions and words together for a long period of time.  Your audience may not see it, but without it, your brand is nothing.   Sol is doing a series of brand storytelling workshops next week, so it’s timely for me to write about how to create the story of your brand.  Perhaps attend one of our workshops (link to reserve your place is here), or it give it a try on your own with the following tips:

How to write your brand’s story:

1. Define your brand promise:  Your brand promise is a single statement that is the articulation of your brand’s values, the primary benefit you provide and your unique relevance to your brand’s users.  Your brand promise lies in the answers to the three questions below:

  • What does it say about a person that they use your brand?
  • What is the singular thing your brand offers that your customer can’t get anywhere else?
  • How do you make your customer a hero in his/her OWN story?

2. Define your ideal customer:  There is an archetype of the “perfect” customer for your brand.  This is almost a caricature of the singular customer who would be MOST predictive of your brand success – the customer for whom your brand is specifically tailored.  Sure, there are probably multiple use-cases for your brand and even a variety of target audiences who might use your brand, but the archetype is exactly that – an archetype, which serves as a prototype for customer behavior and attitudes.  Understanding who this person is empowers you to understand at a very emotional level the CONFLICT in the brand story.  As I said in this previous post about Brand Swagger, great brands solve acknowledged problems and address real customer needs.  Knowing your ideal customer intimately will help you ensure that your brand addresses significant and real pain and anchors the concepts and language your brand uses to create a vision for what the world looks like when you’ve solved customers’ challenges.  To create your ideal customer archetype, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the person for whom my brand is absolutely perfect?
  • Describe them demographically/firmographically…if you’re a B2B brand, that means focusing on to the very person within an organization who is buying your brand: job title, what level she is within the organization, what that person’s work day is typically like. Also focus on what type of business she’s in -- what’s her workplace like?  What’s the competitive environment?

Then, focus on attitudes, behaviors and other descriptors that help you bring fine focus to the picture of who that person is:

  • Where does she live/shop/learn/play/work?
  • What does she care about most in her life?
  • What are her problems relative to what you’re selling? How significant are those problems?  How is she currently solving those problems?
  • On what metrics do they measure themselves? How does she know she’s living the life she feels she’s designed for?
  • Finally, how does she view herself vis a vis her world, other people, her job, her family, etc.?

3. Explore and define your brand’s personality and character: The best brands in the world have a distinctive point of view and a unique voice that translate into verbal and visual articulation of the brand. The language you use, the colors, images, even the photographic style you use should reflect your brand’s personality and character. The brand personality makes your brand feel human.  To understand your brand’s character and personality, ask the following questions:

If your brand were human, where would it:

  • Go to dinner?
  • Go on vacation?
  • Who would it go with?
  • What would it wear?
  • What would it eat?
  • What would it drive?
  • Where does it shop?
  • Which brand of athletic shoes does it wear?
  • Would it live on a street, an avenue or a road?
  • How old is it?
  • Male or female?
  • What are its personality traits?

You get the picture, right?

4. Create the story arc:  The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change. This change or transformation often takes the form of either tragic fall from grace or a reversal of that pattern. We often find this form of reversal in stories in which a character goes from a situation of weakness to one of strength. For example, a poor woman goes on adventures and in the end makes a fortune for herself, or a lonely man falls in love and marries.  Or a tragic hero falls from grace and then redeems himself in the end or transforms himself.

Great brands have a story arc too.  What’s the story of your brand?  How do you reverse your customers’ fortunes?  How do you transform people’s lives?

Chief Creative Officer of Momentum Worldwide, Jon Hamm (no relation!), recently wrote a piece in AdWeek which sums it up nicely:

“The truly great storytellers have long embraced the fact that the most powerful stories happen in the mind of the audience, making each and every story unique and personal for the individual. They also understand that stories are important because they are inherent to the human experience. Stories are how we pass on our accumulated wisdom, beliefs and values. They are the process through which we describe and explain the world around us, and our role and purpose in it. Audiences have always known this and asked for stories.”

So what’s your brand’s story?  How will you bond emotionally with your audience?