Brand Strategy Basics with Philip Van Dusen

Watch This Episode of MwahTV About Brand Strategy Basics

I'm thrilled to have mentor and friend Philip Van Dusen on the show this time as a Cocktail correspondent. As well as debuting our FIRST EVER Mocktail in this segment, it only felt right that we talk about Brand Strategy Basics.

Brand Strategy Basics

PHILIP: Hey, everybody. In this episode of MwahTV, it's me Philip VanDusen from Brand Design Masters and Verhaal Brand Design. Laura has asked me to be her guest Cocktail Correspondent this week and we're going to do a fully virtual episode recorded from here in New Jersey, USA.

LAURA: To here in the Northeast of the UK.

PHILIP: Stick around to see me sharing some advice on brand strategy basics.

Meet Philip Van Dusen

LAURA: Let's begin with a quick introduction then Philip, to anybody watching this who doesn't know who you are yet.

PHILIP: If you've always wondered about what offering brand strategy can do for your business, then I want you to stick around. By the end of this episode, you'll know how I educate creative pros around the world on how to deliver brand strategy as a service to their clients, through my Brand Strategy 101 course, my Brand Design Masters community, and my private coaching practice.

Over 25 Years

PHILIP: I've been in business for 25 years now and in the last seven years, I've really niched down my business to working with entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized businesses, as well as creative professionals. And I also share my experience and expertise in brand strategy, graphic design, and the agency business with creative pros and entrepreneurs around the world through video,

through podcasting,

through my newsletter, my courses, my private Facebook communities, and through paid mastermind groups.

How We Met

LAURA: And can you remember how we met Philip? I want to hear your side of this story.

PHILIP: So Laura and I met at the Youpreneur Conference in London in 2017. We were both in Chris Ducker's community and there was a cocktail mixer the first day. And I noticed this woman who was very vibrant and dressed like a vintage pin-up with amazing hair across the room and I just thought, this is a woman that I have to meet. So we started talking, we totally hit it off and it was the beginning of an incredible relationship.

LAURA: Oh, thanks, Philip. I do always aim to please when it comes to the coiffeur of the hairdo. So that is truly lovely for me to hear.

I seem to remember us talking about mailing luxurious things to prospects, and we geeked out about that in quite a big way in that first chat that we had. And as a result of that, I just knew that you were my kind of person. I want to start by asking you some questions before we begin on the usual Cocktail Correspondence festivities today, and let's begin with a little bit more detail about your truly impressive career.

This was one of the things that I remember hearing about at that conference, and I thought, wow, I need to know this guy. So please go ahead and share your whistlestop background with us

More on Philip's Career

PHILIP: I actually started off my career as a painter. It began with my master's degree in painting. I was never actually trained in graphic design. Actually, I learned my entire graphic design and strategy knowledge from working on the job.

My positions as the VP of design at:

  • PepsiCo,
  • Old Navy,

I've also been the executive creative director of the global branding agency, Landor Associates. Worked with over 50 the Fortune 500 clients, including:

  • P&G,
  • Kraft Foods,
  • Coca-Cola,
  • Merck,
  • PetSmart,
  • Pepsi,
  • Safeway,
  • Chevron,
  • Microsoft,
  • Campbell's,
  • Johnson and Johnson, the list goes on and on.

and into His Own Business

But now I have my own agency.

It's a brand consultancy called Verhaal Brand Design. Verhaal is a Dutch word. My heritage is Dutch. Verhaal means story and story goes right along with branding. It's so integral in terms of building brands.

And as I mentioned earlier, now I share my experience in marketing and design and entrepreneurship with my over 240,000 subscribers on YouTube through my brand muse newsletter that comes out about every two weeks. I also have a podcast called the Brand Design Masters podcast and a private Facebook group, community, called the Brand Design Masters Facebook group. I also run paid mastermind groups called the Brand Design Masters Guild of which Laura is an alumnus. And that's where I really get deep into coaching and helping and building community and networking through, and with creative entrepreneurs.

More on Brand Strategy Basics 101 Course

LAURA: I've recently been on your podcast, Philip, talking about this very same subject, but I think we should talk about it now as well. In that episode, we talked about how I felt that your Brand Strategy 101 course was really like a serendipitous moment for me in my business and in my career so far.

Then, naturally, I went straight ahead and progressed into the mastermind as well. And both of these things came at such a perfect time for me because I was trying to navigate how I was going to transition, changing my established brand photography business into something bigger, something that was going to be pandemic-proof.

But I'm curious to know, why did you start the Brand Strategy 101 course?

and the Creative Economy

PHILIP: The creative economy is exploding and it's an amazing time to be a creative professional. Every company is essentially a media company now. All companies need incredible amounts of creativity to run their businesses for social networking, for marketing, et cetera.

But design has really become in the global economy, a commodity, and there's been an incredible downward pricing pressure on design services. Designers in the developed world really have to learn how to offer more, more than just design.

T-Shaped & V-Shaped Skillsets

They have to develop what I like to call a V-shaped skillset. I'm sure you've heard about T-shaped skill sets, where you have a very shallow knowledge in most things, but a very deep knowledge in one.

Skills Shapes 1

I encourage a V-shaped skillset, which is deep knowledge in one particular thing but then varying degrees of knowledge across other specialities. And brand strategy is one of those things that elevates you, elevates creative pros is being able to be true partners with their clients.

It enables them to talk about business and interact with their clients on a much deeper level. They become more than just a mouse pusher. And learning brand strategy, to me, and what it's done in my career and what I've seen it done in, what I've seen it do in dozens of other creative professionals careers, is it acts as a level of career insurance.

Paid for Thinking and not Doing

You start to get paid for thinking rather than just doing design. And so that's why I started the Brand Strategy 101 course focused on brand strategy basics. I wanted to teach people basic aspects of the tools and the processes of brand strategy so they could really start to move up the spear, what I like to call the spear of corporate influence. This is at the tip of the spear where the CEOs and the C-suite decisions are made and execution and design really happen more back on the tail end of the shaft of the spear.

And so in order to become that deeper business partner, you really have to move up to the tip of the spear and that's what brand strategy helps you do. So by starting Brand Strategy 101, I'm equipping creative professionals to really start to take that journey up to the tip of the spear.

Skills Shapes 2

Moving Up The Spear

LAURA: Yes. Moving up the spear. This is a permanent visual in my mind's eye when I'm having a tough day or I'm trying to do something that feels a little bit new and scary.

This is such a great visual way that you've pointed out Philip, to think about progressing your creative professional career. I haven't actually ever heard of T-shaped skills, but based on what you've just said there, yeah, the V-shape makes a lot more sense, and I think that's probably more true in the creative sphere, especially in today's economy.

The Commitments

Thinking then about a famous quote from one of my favourite films, The Commitments, and I think this is something that a lot of creatives bear in mind, whether that's subconscious or not when they're trying to size each other up. So I want to ask you, and here we go, in my best Dubliner accent, Philip, who are your influences?

And I'm talking specifically about your own brand ecosystem.

Philip's Brand Eco-System Influences

PHILIP: I actually started off my career as a painter, and I'm also a musician, I play the guitar, the piano, I record, write songs and I sing.

Sing not very well by the way.

Pablo Picasso

One of my influences, when I was a painter, was Picasso. Picasso was an incredible master when he was very young and that's why he moved into exploring other modes of more modern art like cubism. So in him, I see this level of mastery, but also this openness and willingness to change over time. And so he, to me, is a real influence on my career.

Pablo Picasso by Robert Doisneau - 1952
Pablo Picasso by Robert Doisneau - 1952

Jimi Hendrix

As a musician, one of my biggest influences is Jimmy Hendrix, and there's an analogy for the way Jimmy worked his creative career, was that he was full of energy and he experimented and he broke boundaries and he really pushed the envelope of the creative world that he was living in, and so he also acts as an inspiration to me.

Steve Jobs

And then in the modern world of business, Steve Jobs stands out to me as an influence, and that is because he was really, his mission in life, was to innovate. It was to elevate design and form and function operating together to deliver incredible experiences. Steve jobs, to me, has been a really deep influence in terms of building my creative professional career and also through my design aesthetics.

Steve Jobs Portrait by Norman Seeff for Time Magazine
Steve Jobs Portrait by Norman Seeff for Time Magazine

Philip's Father

Finally, my father has been an incredible influence. He's passed now, but he was a newspaper editor and also an English teacher. And through him, I've learned how to be curious and to teach everything you know and to never give up and be open to the process. Because as creative entrepreneurs, everything that we do is a bit of a step of a process, a leap of faith, experimentation, a learning something new. And so in terms of my brand and my creative career, my dad has really been an amazing big influence.

Talking More About Philip's Influences

One of my favourite artists' photographs is that quite famous shot of Picasso sitting with a beret and a French Breton top on and he has his hands carefully positioned like this on a table, and then instead of his real fingers, he has baguettes. I always refer to that in any presentation I do, specifically at creatives, about adding their own creative sensibility and aesthetic into the way that they create brand photography. So I love that you've just shared about your love of Picasso there as well.

I didn't know that about your dad, that's so fascinating. I love that you've taken those skills and interpreted them in your own way, on your own creative and career quest. And I think actually being open to teaching and sharing everything you know, is something that a lot of creatives feel an initial resistance about when they contemplate doing it for themselves.

And actually, on reflection, this is definitely something I think I took away from being part of your mastermind, having that safe space where we could share our knowledge and give each other critique and advice in a safe way was something that really changed my mindset on it. So I think you're already doing it in a big way.

Our First Mocktail!

LAURA: Now, I'm really excited to debut our first-ever mocktail to this segment. And technically speaking, a cocktail or mocktail is just a beverage that's been made up of three or more ingredients. One of them doesn't have to be alcohol, so this is absolutely allowed and I welcome it with open arms. So Philip, please tell us what you've mixed today.

A Jersey Special

PHILIP: Today, what I've mixed is what I like to call a Jersey special. And for this, you need:

  • Pepsi,
  • black coffee,
  • optionally, half and half or cream
  • and vanilla extract,

You serve it cold in a glass with ice. And in my case, I have my favourite dog graphic tumbler glass.

With Manhattan Roots

And I love drinking a Jersey special because it reminds me of a drink that I grew up in New York City. You used to be able to get it in Bodegas, I think you still might be able to.

It's a drink called the Manhattan Special and it's basically, essentially Coke and coffee. So I've made my own New Jersey version, but with Pepsi, having been a VP of design at Pepsi, I personally believe that Pepsi is better, way better, in fact.

This is half Pepsi, half black coffee. In my case, I went with the creamer half and half and a little bit of vanilla extract. It's got style, it's got class and it's got a little bit, in fact, a big, caffeine and sugar jolt.


Laura's Reaction

LAURA: Woohoo, that sounds like rocket fuel. I've mixed my own here as well. I've never had this before. Yep. That'll get you on a sluggish morning. I can absolutely see why New York is famously the city that never sleeps, but I think it's fair to say that we can now add the entire state of New Jersey into that, Philip, cheers.

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To The Cards!

PHILIP: Yes. Cheers. Now, Laura, I've got this envelope of cards that came from you, is this the right time for me to open this?

LAURA: That's right. Absolutely. Go ahead and open them. Let's see what your cards say.

Card One: Working for free when building up your brand strategy skills

PHILIP: All right. Let's see here. Nice design, Laura, and I think I know how this goes from looking at other Cocktail Correspondents on your show. So I'm going to read the first one out from the pile, and it is, working for free when building up your brand strategy skills.

LAURA: Ah, good card. And what'd you think about that? What's your view on this?

Philip Recommends...

PHILIP: So to tell you the truth, I never really advocate for people to work for free in any way, unless it's a pro bono job, and there's one exception to that.

And the exception is when you're adding on capabilities to your skillset or to what you offer in your agency, like brand strategy, which is the focus of our conversation here today. Are you doing a creative project?

Could you offer brand strategy as part of that project? And if you're just starting off with brand strategy, a great way to do that is to offer something for free. It could be a competitive audit, it could be a brand positioning statement, it could be a brand strategy workshop or developing a customer avatar.

It's a great practice and it really engages your clients to offer them something of additional value to your creative project for free, and the added benefit is that it also gives you the opportunity to practise brand strategy in a real context, and your clients are going to love it because they're getting something for free, and it's really going to add the possibility of another great piece of a case study to your portfolio.

Portfolio Working

LAURA: Yeah. I agree with you here. I've done this myself with the introduction of my brand strategy services. And Lord knows I have earned my stripes when it comes to working for free with the photography side of my business and also with the creative direction element in my business too.

But I think what's key to point out there, and what I've liked that you said is giving the clients that feeling of an extra special high-value bonus, but one that's baked into money still changing hands. There's absolutely a lot of power in the dynamic of respect when money is on the table, as opposed to doing the whole thing completely for free. Okay, what's your next card?

Card Two: building your brand strategy team

PHILIP: The next card says, building your brand strategy team. Well, when you really first start off with brand strategy, you pretty much do it solo, but you have to get some education in it.

You have to either use mentors or teachers or take some courses in brand strategy to really get the basics under your belt. And my brand strategy 101 course is a great place to start.

But you want to get a basic level of education and then start practising. As I said, the last answer to the question is that you could start offering it for free to your clients just to get some experience under your belt.

But then over time, you might want to start including colleagues in the projects that you do to either brainstorm or partner with in an invisible way with your clients, just to get an additional perspective on the strategy.

And then down the line, you might want to start bringing in, actually, a brand strategy team, that might be a larger number of subject matter experts who do things that you don't do, or you want to expand on and do even better. These could be capabilities like copywriters or consumer research experts or data and analytics people.

The Scary Bit

So brand strategy is a really scary step sometimes for people to step into, especially as creative professionals who are just used to designing, brand strategy can be very intimidating, but it really doesn't have to be, and it can really transform your career. It gives you this level of career insurance that can really, really help galvanise you in the profession and protect you as we go forward in the creative economy. And as I said, my course Brand Strategy 101 is a really great place to start.

LAURA: This is exactly what I loved about your intensive 101 course. It helped me to rapidly scale and get a much clearer understanding of how to implement brand strategy as a service into a business that already existed.

And I know fine well that if I had tried to do that whole thing on my own, it would have taken at least twice as long and I would have had a lot of mistakes and hiccups and a lot of errors on the way.

I love that idea of having different experts on a growing team though, so you can bring in people who can really do the nitty-gritty detail in a specific area of brand strategy. That sounds amazing to me.

Card Three: Breaking Free of the man

PHILIP: Okay. So let's see what the next card says. All right. This one says breaking free of the man.

LAURA: The man!

In-House First?

PHILIP: Well, actually I suggest starting off with the man.

I really think that it's more advantageous to work inside in-house in a corporation or in an agency for a number of years early in your career. And the reason why I say that, because you really have to learn how these things work, and if you start off completely independently, you don't have any idea of best practices or how the larger agency/client world operates.

My superpower is that I've actually spent significant time in my career, both on the global branding agency side and on the global corporate side. So I understand the perspective of branding and design relationships and marketing from both sides of the street, so to speak. And I actually recommend that to people in their careers when they're starting off to try to get some experience on both sides of the street, because it really, really bolsters your experience level and your understanding of what that dynamic is.

Personal Brand Right Away

I also recommend that you eventually start, even when you're employed, start building your personal brand. Building out some sort of presence outside of your business card or your title at the company that you work for, building a website, some sort of content or social media presence, because when you choose to break out when you choose to break free of the man and go solo, you need to have established already some sort of foothold, some sort of brand ecosystem outside of your job, or else there's going to be a big gulf of time where you're going to have to be developing that.

I encourage people to develop that as they are in their careers so there's not so much pressure to do it so quickly. And going solo and working for yourself as a freelancer and having your own agency is certainly not for everybody. So I'm not saying everybody has to do this, but because of the ageism in the industry, when you hit about 50, you've got a timestamp on your back in the creative industry. And it is just a fact, you can look it up, age-ism is rife in the creative industry.

Personal Brand Strategy Basics for Career Longevity

You don't want to get caught later in your career with your pants down, so to speak. You want to really prepare for that eventuality of you being made redundant or being pushed out in some sort of a reorganisation of some sort, and then in having to catch up on building a personal brand. So, and that by the way, is exactly what happened to me. I spent a 25 plus year career in a corporate and big agency and when I went off on my own, I was completely unprepared for, essentially completely working on my own. And so I had to get up to speed really quickly. My advantage was that I'd had that long career on both sides of the fence, and I really understood what was going to be required of me to get going.

But I encourage creative pros to be planful about that when they think about going independent and breaking free of the man.

39 Jobs First?

LAURA: Wow. That is such good advice. And particularly I like what you're saying there about building your personal brand. I too felt that same pressure that you experienced when I decided, right, okay, I'm just going to go for it. And I was like, wow, all the things. I need to have a reputation online. To learn what Twitter is and on and on and on and on that list seemed to go.

So really, thinking about it, I think whether you plan to go alone or not, based on what you're talking about there with the age-ism factor, really, there's no sooner time for you to start building your personal brand, even if right now, all you want to do is carry on work in corporate.

It's like a new professional insurance, isn't it? And actually, I wonder when is the worm going to turn on this? When is the creative industry going to realise that keeping the older, wiser minds around, even if it's just in an advisory capacity, is actually incredibly valuable for business because they've been there, they've done it, they've had the mistakes, they know how to advise. Even though the world is changing rapidly, they probably know a few things that we should listen to as the younger level of stuff working their way up. I'm just going to put that out into cyberspace. Maybe some big consultant at a big agency is seeing this, who knows, I think it's time for this to change.

Okay, Philip, next card.

39 Jobs - The Episode

Card Four: just going for it as an independent creative professional

PHILIP: Sure, the next card says, just going for it as an independent creative professional. And I'm going to roll straight into this. So independent freelancing, as I said, my answer to the last question, isn't for everyone.

  1. It's definitely less stable and it can be much more work. You can have more freedom and more flexibility in your life, but it has a requirement of a much larger skillset.
  2. It requires constant learning because essentially when you're freelancing and you're independent, the buck stops with you on every single level. So I would recommend leveraging mastermind groups and networking heavily, getting a mentor or engaging in some sort of coaching, and by the way, I offer coaching!
  3. Take courses about design, about business, about finance, about running an agency, about marketing. You want to, as I said before, develop that V-shaped skillset because when you are an independent creative, you wear all the hats, right? You're the designer, you're the finance person, you're the client services person, you're production, you're also IT, you're everything. So you really have to be prepared with a much broader skillset when you go independent.

LAURA: That's great advice there, Philip. I really liked that. And yeah, you're right. Learning all the time, as well as being the cleaning lady of the business, all in one go.

And that is a really strange mix and a new set of hats to try on when you've been in a very specifically defined role in a corporate environment for a long time. It works so well for me though and having tried 39 different jobs in different types of corporate before setting up my own business, I can absolutely say that that mixed up strange set of working expectations is definitely the best thing that I've found over the years.

Have we got another card there, Philip? What does it say?

Card Five: the art of pricing brand strategy

PHILIP: Okay, the next card says, the art of pricing brand strategy. Pricing brand strategy depends on a whole host of things, just like pricing graphic design or creative projects has a lot of variables.

  • Some of it is the size of the client and the complexity of the project or the impact it's going to have on that client's business.
  • How many strategic processes or tools are you going to be developing for the client?
  • How many phases of work are there in the project?
  • Are you going to do this strategy project as done for you, meaning you do all the work and present it back to the client after gathering all the information?
  • Are you going to do it as guided, meaning, teaching them how to do it and giving them feedback as they go through the process?
  • Will you do it in a workshop or some group setting?

Your level of experience also figures into it.

  • How much experience have you had actually delivering brand strategy?
  • Also, the number of participants or stakeholders or the complexity of the project really figures into how you price brand strategy.
  • Are you doing brand strategy as an add on to other creative projects? In which case it might be baked into the entire project.
  • Are you doing brand strategy as a completely standalone offering? In which case it might be higher priced.

There are tonnes of variables that go into pricing brand strategy.

Well, you just summed that up really well. That was super concise. I tried to explain that in my words would have taken me a whole episode to do.

Timestamps for this Episode of #MwahTV

00:00 - Episode Begins

08:44 - Philip's Influences

11:59 - The Jersey Special Cocktail

13:45 - My 1st Question

14:00 - CARD 2

15:52 - My 3rd Question

18:19 - CARD 4

22:50 - My 4th Question

How Much Does Brand Strategy Cost?

I've been your host, Laura Pearman.

PHILIP: And I've been your Cocktail Correspondent, Philip VanDusen. So if you've enjoyed learning about brand strategy basics with me today and learning how to rock it as a creative professional, I encourage you to check out these other great videos on MwahTV that Laura's put together. Check them out.

And don't forget to come over and see me on my YouTube channel.

And thank you so much, Laura, for having me on MwahTV. I'll see you soon, Mwah!

LAURA: Thank you, Philip, Mwah!

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