Jeremy isn’t a typical strategist and fell into branding as a necessity after watching his family business nearly hit rock bottom. He realized that they weren’t failing because of their salespeople or marketing processes but because of their brand.
He embarked on a decade-long study of how companies grow recognizable and memorable brands profiling and interviewing hundreds of companies across dozens of industries.
Jeremy only speaks about branding and marketing ideas that have been tested and applied in the real world, throwing out any ideas that failed to move the needle.
I really enjoyed my chat with Jeremy…
Apart from the fact that he’s an authoritative speaker who knows his sh*t…
We dug into his unique perspective and processes including
His brand strategy client coaching philosophy
The 3M’s messaging strategy
And his reverse, sales, marketing, brand approach
So if you want to learn from a top strategist and author, who made his way by following what worked and throwing out the rest…
Then stick around for this
6 Ways To Sticky Branding,
Marketing & Sales (W/ Jeremy Miller)
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Jeremy Miller Journey
For those who don’t know who you are or who haven’t picked up your books, which I definitely recommend.
Can you give us a bit of a background as to how you arrived at where you are today and what you’re up to at the moment?
Sticky Branding is a strategy consulting or growth strategy consulting firm based out of Toronto, Canada.
We work with companies around the world on how do you grow your business and brand at the next level, and where Sticky Branding was born was actually out of a family business.
I don’t have a traditional path into branding and marketing. I actually fell into it out of necessity.
I joined my family’s business when I was in my 20’s or around 2004 and that first year on the job was just a nightmare, and I thought I was gonna take over the world and show my parents a thing or two, and it turns into my ass handed to me.
I remember sitting down with my parents at the end of that first year and saying,
This is what it’s like to be in a family business and this what it’s like to be doing this kind of sales and marketing, then I can’t do it.
I’m gonna go back to the software industry. Life was easier there.
I got the advice for my career at that moment. My dad said to me
It’s not about the business you’ve built, it’s about the business we’re building.
What are we gonna build next?
That gave me permission to look at our customers, look at our market, look at the business and I discovered I didn’t have a sales problem.
Like I originally thought I had a branding problem where our business looked like everybody else aand we see chatGPT coming online right now.
Well, at that moment Google was what was transforming our business. The way people found companies in the early two thousand was shifting, and our business got hit early.
Fast forward a little bit, I sold the family business in 2013 and I asked myself, what’s the book I wish I had when I went through that experience?
I wanted to tell the story of how do mid-size privately held businesses, companies like yours in mind, that challenge giants of our industry.
Just wanna do a great job and have great brands and great customers.
How do we do this?
And what that ultimately led to was creating Sticky Branding.
Sticky Branding with 12 and a half principles, not only of my company story but pulling around 250 stories from around the world of successful mid-market companies and the lessons they’ve learned.
Importance Of Brand Strategy
I really like that story and especially since you’ve come from a completely different industry with no traditional education background.
I think a lot of people can relate to that because so many people have shifted their careers at some stage and I’m certainly someone who did that.
I was in the finance industry and that was my traditional background and I kind of fell into the industry as well.
I really like the fact that what you built sticky branding from, first of all the principles, then the consultancy was the lessons that you learned along the way not because somebody taught you in a book or a lecture hall. It was through your own trial and error that brought that about and you I really love that.
How did you stumble upon the importance of brand strategy?
Obviously, in looking at your business, you had to ask some serious questions, right?
My career trajectory, like all careers is quickly and I started out in sales which my family that what we’re passionate about is sales.
So when the, the Super Bowl happens, or Thanksgiving or Christmas, when you talk about football and sports, my family talked about sales.So that’s what I’ve grown up on and know that’s, that’s my comfort zone.
I started out in sales then I joined Leap Job, my family’s business, and that was a sales and marketing recruiting agency.
I went from CRM to HR to say,
How do I affect sales performance?
In that, I kept pushing, so I created a Salesforce design consulting practice.
How do you find the best people?
How do you organize them?
Brand strategy was essentially the natural element to create effective sales performance that in order to drive an organization you have to know
Where you play
How you win
What’s the infrastructure
What’s the value proposition
All of the strategic elements are actually what moves the sales needle.
So at the core of what sets sticky branding apart from other thought leaders and branding goos and experts, and I don’t wanna call myself a goo, but
If we think of what our philosophy is, it’s branding principles that drive sales performance.
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I like that because branding’s fuzzy concept because it’s up in the air. It’s all about feelings and connections and perceptions.
When you speak to pure breed marketers who live and die by the metrics and entrepreneurs who live and die by the ROI and that’s right.
Branding becomes a difficult conversation because those metrics are harder to measure.
It’s less clear as to exactly how brand influences first the marketing message then of course the sales, it is more difficult to track it back.
You’ve built a consultancy, guiding business owners and entrepreneurs to build a brand based on strategy, and you actually see yourself as a coach to those clients.
Tell me about your consultancy structure and how you see your role in that structure?
There’s this BCAC moment or before and after Covid 19. COVID was the true awakening for sticky branding where we leveled up in a way that has been transformational for us.
What happened was I grew up in a family business. It was in the recruiting sector. We would go up and down with the economy.
When Covid hit, I realized very quickly that we’d been thrown into recession.
When I say quickly, the first Monday after the travel advisory bands, we went to our customers and said, look, we’ve been thrown into recession.
We could be seeing revenue to clients of 30 to 50%, and here’s what you need to do.
The recession hit the recruiting business, when the rest of our industry tanked, leap job actually grew.
We did that through a rapid process of finding and replacing revenue streams in markets and so we essentially took that playbook and started with that.
This became a period of just rapid iterations.
One of the big ones was strategic planning before the pandemic was very aspirational. So you have a two-day offsite workshop, maybe quarterly retreats, leadership coaching that wasn’t gonna cut it when jobs were on the line.
So we implemented what we call a strategy huddle.
So every week we meet our clients at the same time for the same amount of time. So an hour on every Tuesday or whatever their time slot is, and we meet with ’em in between those points.
But the whole thought here was it was treating strategy as a process and moving fast, and by putting that constant external pressure onto the business with a very clear methodology.
We were able to affect sales performance very quickly.
So that’s the guiding light that has shaped sticky branding to this day, is that we work with our clients on a continuum. We have a very broad suite of services and topics that we get into but the mandate is always the same.
How do you dramatically grow your business by clearly positioning the business?
Getting a clear sense of where your next customers are gonna come from, and then putting in the infrastructure to grow.
One of our slogans is
Nothing releases pressure like sales
We have sales KPIs, those sales focuses through the lens of strategy and brand and what that does is it provides the structure to invest in the rest of the business.
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Brand Strategy Execution Process
Brilliant because at the end of the day sales is what speaks to clients.
if you are able to have focus on sales through the lens of brand strategy first, then marketing strategy, then sales, it kind of all clicks in.
The sales bit really is the carrot for the client because at the end of the day that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.
Brand strategy, it can be a fluffy topic, especially when it comes to providing a strategy as a roadmap and then providing that to your client to then go off and execute themselves but you actually take your clients through the execution as well.
How do you separate the two?
Because you refer to sticky branding as a consultancy, which traditionally a consultancy is that you provide advice rather than execute for the client, but you do have a focus on strategy execution.
Can you talk to me about how you separate the two?
So we bake the two.
The first thing, why is STR so to your point on branding is fluffy, a hundred percent agree.
I think branding has an identity crisis. If you were to go and ask anyone about the brand, whatever their lens is, if you’re identity and design, you’re gonna talk about brand through the lens of identity and design.
I’m talking through the lens of strategy to me. I take two definitions cause I think brand and branding are separate.
A brand is a, just take Jeff Bezos example.
That a brand is what people say when you’re not in the room.
Well, that’s a past looking. It’s what you’ve done type of definition.
Branding’s that strategy of where are you going and why. Taking that lens of sales becomes a clarifying element to that.
The execution though I think it’s everything actually because
Strategy without execution is just dreaming.
So if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, then it’s useless.
I think that’s so much of what the consulting world is, consultants will run workshops, they will run, speak keynotes, workshops, write a beautiful plan, and you come back a year later and nothing gets done.
If that’s the case, I think that’s a failure. The way we treat execution is one, is the continuum that I mentioned before.
Work with the client hand in glove every single week so that we’re doing what we say we’re doing.
The other is to put in process for tracking execution.
You can do lots of different programs. One of my favorite books is The Four Disciplines of Execution by Franklin Covey and that is have a clear goal, have clear KPIs, weekly huddles It’s a process.
Execution really is two parts.
One, it’s defining where you’re going and doing the work.
And the other part of execution is not doing the things you said you weren’t going to do.
I think this is where that, so the execution side of it isn’t sticky branding or myself creating websites or logo or doing the work for the client.
It’s working with them to put in the plan, put in accountability, blocking and tackling to make sure the things you’re saying get done.
3M’s Messging Strategy
Now you have a few different very specific philosophies, and I really like that because it makes things easy to understand for the client and where there’s clarity that leads to sales as well.
You talk about the messaging strategy. In the form of your 3M’s, can you talk to us about the 3M’s philosophy?
So we did an analysis several years ago to find out what was the secret sauce. Cause we had these clients that would do were looking at ROI that they were doing 20 times on our annual fee and year and we’re like, that’s insane.
We would look at what they would make multimillion returns.
We started saying why were they so successful?
And what it was actually a positioning question that they got really clear about what the next stage of growth was.
It was that asking the question.
Who and where are the customers that will drive our next stage of growth?
And when they chose and they got really specific and really focused on that, it led to exponential growth. As we did this analysis and looked at our customers, we found that, there was really three interlocking questions that shape a strategy.
The 3M’s market message and method.
So market, who and where are the customers that will drive your next stage of growth?
What is the brand messaging and strategy that will provoke a customer to buy?
And finally, method. How do you get the right message in front of the right person at with the right call to action?
So you’re driving the business that you need and when you start to align these, that really drives exponential growth, but they’re hard.
So choosing your positioning, who and where are the customers that will drive your growth is a difficult exercise.
It takes research, it takes analysis, and it takes making choices of who you are gonna go after and who you’re going to abandon.
It also means turning, saying no to sales in order to get the growth you want and he piece that becomes so challenging in that.
Customer salespeople especially, they hate to say NO. We had a client that went through this whole process, and the challenge was the salespeople would come back and say, I found a customer.
They would have to go to the owner every single time and hear, no that’s not a fit. They’re too small, they’re not in this industry and turn ’em down.
The salespeople were on the verge of revolting and quitting, but it took real strong intestinal fortitude from the perspective of the owner in order to get them to adopt that change.
When they did it, they grew the business by about 25% in two years. So fairly substantive change.
Then you get into your messaging questions again very difficult.
So how do you clarify your messaging so everyone gets it?
How do one of the sales models that we prescribe to is provocative selling?
The old sales model was win-win or solution selling. What we wanna do is punch a customer.
How do you hit a burning need and speak directly to their challenges with the messaging that we’re provoked from to buy?
Again, not an easy thing to do, but once you get that with the right market, It’s fire.
You can close deals. Our holy grail is the two call close, being able to close a complex sale in two calls over two weeks. If your brand is that well positioned, it will do that.
Then it’s scaling.
So how do you grow that marketing engine to feed you?
And when you get those three M’S aligned, this actually starts feeding the organization tthat’s actually the gate to opening up the strategy converse.
Most business owners can’t get wrapped their head wrapped around true deep strategy work. If they’re afraid of not getting the customer’s revenue and profit to feed the whole organization.
It’s one that flywheel’s spinning and they’re getting success that allows them to look five and 10 years into the future and start making strategic decisions on the infrastructure they need for.
So when it comes to the method
It changes by business, so you have to hve really good marketing strategy starts.
With really understanding your customer and their buyer journey and, but you can short-circuit a little bit.
So if you were to start in your business, I would look at a set of KPIs in a sales funnel to start, one of the great ones would be what is the first step that a customer goes through?
That is a behavioral step to validate intent in software that might be the. So you get them in, you give ’em product, demo, and now they’re in the sales process.
You’re gonna kick them in or outta the funnel based on how they respond to it. If you’re in manufacturing, it might be giving pricing, so a price estimate or a quote from there, you probably have the demo, the proposal.
Negotiating close will be those steps afterwards, but that pivotal first step that quote the demo, what are the steps that lead up to that?
You start working backwards incrementally.
The reason I do that, when you start from the behavior they’re trying to influence is it keeps you away from bandwagon marketing.
So a lot of organizations get into social media and search marketing and all these things, and they start putting out there. It’s very easy to find an agency will gladly sell you a program and do the work for you.
If you don’t actually know how the customer got to that behavior you’re trying to influence then it’s kind of like throwing darts at the wall.
It’s that old adage that 50% of my marketing works.
So understanding your customer and how they found you is remarkable. We had one client that was spending $20,000 a month in paid performance marketing and with a terrible customer acquisition cost.
They went and they looked at all of their customers and where their best clients were coming from, and a hundred percent of those came through referrals from three major distributor.
It went dawned on them that they could redirect a hundred percent of their ad budget into those three accounts and they would drive their costs down, but they would increase and get better quality customers out of the people that are sending ’em their best customers.
So you to simplify it, just because I always think of it this way, clarity allows you to make better choices.
If you don’t have clarity then you’re probably spinning.
There’s something there you need to dig on a little bit further.
Marketing Strategy Accelerators (Sales, Marketing, Brand)
Now when it comes to the marketing strategy side of things, because we’ve got a brand strategy and I like to think of brand and marketing as the method and the mode.
When it comes to marketing strategy, you have a specific approach. You work with accelerators, you work with a brand accelerators, a marketing accelerators, and a sales accelerators.
Can you tell me how those accelerators work and how that forms the structure of what you do for your clients?
One of the things we found through Covid was you didn’t have time for planning and thinking you had to act. We had to get cash, we had to get revenue when people’s jobs were on the line.
The discipline of executing smart aggressively fast was essential and so what happened was we flipped the process.
Normally you would start out at that brand strategy of mission, vision, values, positioning, competitive advantage, all that kind of stuff. If you need sales now, then that’s the last thing you’re actually gonna do.
So sales accelerator is a validation idea.
So it is validating
Do your customers buy?
Do you have the right offer for the right customers?
Is the messaging work when you get in front of ’em?
Does a salesperson or yourself able to navigate that and push it forward?
If you can go out and pitch, pitch, pitch and go nowhere, there’s no point in doing marketing.
What we wanna do in a sales accelerator is rapidly validate the brand messaging and storyworks. If it doesn’t sell, we don’t move forward. If it sells, then it becomes a leveling up.
The marketing accelerator really focuses on building a demand generation strategy.
What are the tactics or what is the methods by which customers buy?
Then choosing how you’re either gonna put yourself in the path of search, whether that’s through paid or organic, or whatever tactic you choose or is it through referral?
So what are your centers of influence and how are they gonna move? Or finally, you might look at it through other modes like brand awareness, sponsorship.
But when you understand the sales process and how the customer’s buying, it gives you a foundation to choose the marketing tactics.
I think that’s really a key point to the mode is in a world of so many choices and not all of them work, being deliberate on your marketing budget and how you’re going to affect sales performance is really choosing.
Which tactics within your budget are you gonna pull in order to drive to get to those customers?
The measure of success is gonna be inquiries.
Then obviously you’ve got your brand accelerator, so brand strategy is the last piece.
Often in a small business a 5 to 10 person company, you might not ever actually get the true brand strategy. The reason for that is you’re just focusing on the incremental growth of sales.
Branding is a topic really isn’t super relevant until you start crossing around 10 million.
You’re scaling your reputation, your awareness down, not only across your employees and team, but into the market.
The idea that you need to have a Nike brand as a solopreneur doesn’t make any sense. Your personal brand is probably going to carry you quite far.
The reason that brand strategy starts coming last is this is the communication of where you’re going and organizing your teams.
What a brand strategy starts to do is look across horizons, and I think this is actually the real reason why strategy gets complex.
There’s the stuff you need to do right now, but strategy is about planning.
So if you imagine this, you’ve got a two-ton boulder that you wanna move from here to there, and in that, you have to choose the tactic.
So you could get a bunch of guys and put your shoulder on. Or you could devise a pulley system, you get on a flat bat and you move it.
Well, the method by which you move the rock to the destination is your strategy.
You chose an outcome, you chose how you’re gonna do it, and then you did it and so what strategy gets complicated on is there are three time horizons.
You have your 10 year vision.
Where are you going and why?
What’s that big, hairy, audacious goal or everything came together. What would your business look like in 10 years?
You have an investment horizon, say three to five years. So what does your business need to invest in in order to have the infrastructure to get there?
Then finally, it’s the in-year plan.
What do you need to do right now to advance the business?
The problem with that, if you don’t have the midterm plan your in your planning can be very, Frenetic, you’re just doing stuff, but you don’t know which choices to make.
In the moment, you might make the right choice, but without that plan of how you’re going to affect it, it’s literally like being the group of guys just putting your shoulder into the rock and brute force and learning along the way.
Sales Validation Approach
It’s an interesting point that, you put brand at the end and it’s kind of an inverse approach to the way a lot of people approach it.
I’ve actually heard Don Miller the author of Storybrand have that perspective as well.
That brand and brand strategy is not something that many brands should look at before a certain revenue point
In terms of your sales validation, because I find that’s super interesting as well because obviously if you’re able to validate sales and you get the ball rolling in terms of revenue.
You also confirm to the client that you know what you’re doing because you’re helping them to generate sales.
What does that look like in terms of that sales validation that kind of guerilla low-budget approach to validating those?
So you see a worksheet on our website, sticky branding.com called the Offer Messaging Stack, and it’s a free tool that anyone could download.
In the oms, what we’re really looking at is the burning need.
So what is a customer’s burning need, either a known or unknown need that they are trying to solve and in provocative selling.
What we’re trying to do is find a way to provoke a customer decree budget especially if you’re in a downturn or covid, you don’t have time to be building a a three year relationship to to sell.
So when you get to a burning need, you can then create what we call an offer messaging stack, which is your sales pitch.
We break it down into the building blocks.
So a hypothesis.
What is that catch that you wanted to get someone to hook on?
What is the thing that you are offering in terms of your solution value delivered?
We break it up into left brain, right brain, and a call to and when you break it down, you can start tweaking it in very deliberate ways, which then can be put into a campaign, whether it’s an email letter a Facebook ad, whatever you choose to be the delivery mode at that point.
But by breaking it down, you get to something that might work.
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