One More Move and Brand Strategy Blog by Stephan Mardyks with Lindsay Pedersen

brand strategy Sep 01, 2022

Welcome to the One More Move Blog. We believe that in every situation, there's always one more move. The context of the One More Move Blog is based on a painting entitled Checkmate by Moritz Retzsch. Two opponents are facing each other across the chessboard. On one side of the painting is the enemy, and on the other side is a young man. The young man thought that he was losing and his soul was at stake. An angel watches over the young man. One day a Chess Master studies the painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris. He studies the arrangement of the pieces left on the chess board.
Suddenly, he realizes that the King has one more move, the young man will win and be Saved.
Visit The Story page for the full story about the painting.

Our guest is Lindsay Pedersen, founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy™. Lindsay is a brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented discipline to brand building. She is author of the best-selling book, Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Duolingo and IMDb.

Stephan Mardyks:
What do you see in this painting Checkmate by Moritz Retzsch?

Lindsay Pedersen:
So, there's a protagonist, an antagonist, and an angel. The protagonist and the antagonist are playing chess. The protagonist is looking really forlorn, bummed, and listless, and the antagonist looks like an evil storybook character.  Maybe he's the devil, and he is looking really cocky and arrogant as he watches the protagonist trying to decide what to do with his next move on the chessboard. And what comes up for me as I see this, (I'm channeling the antagonist) is it's like the hero's journey. The protagonist is stumped about what he is going to do next in this game. And he's trying to summon some wisdom, some inspiration, to not lose the chess game. And so, to me, it just feels like this overarching stable of being a human being of the hero's journey.

Stephan Mardyks:
What is your take on the angel?

Lindsay Pedersen:
The angel looks beneficently onto the protagonist. So, this is so intuitive. For me, this is just an intuition, the protagonist is playing versus whatever, this could be the devil, this could be his enemy, his arch-rival. And the angel... there could probably be a Christian interpretation of the angel smiling on the protagonist. For me personally, I think of the angel as being part of the protagonist, part of the hero in this depiction. It's like the inner resources of the hero in this work of art. It's almost like the angel is the inspiration or the source of the inspiration.

Stephan Mardyks:
From a brand strategy standpoint, how do you see this young man's brand?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Well, it might be useful for me to define how I talk about "brand" and what I mean by brand, because brand is one of these words that's problematic. People use it in different ways. And to me, the brand is the "North Star" of a business, it's the statement of purpose. It's why this company, this organization, deserves to exist. The brand strategy is the deliberate articulation of what you want that to be, of what you stand for. As a person, a business, an organization, a team, or a corporation, what's the North Star? What are the guiding principles that enable you to make decisions as a business leader, so that you can grow with intention? So, what is the young man's brand? I suppose you could look at this painting and say, "Okay, he is having a lot of angst right now as he tries to discern 'what's the right thing to do?', what's the right next step that will keep him in the game.

And one could say that a brand strategy is a decision-making tool, it's a filtering mechanism that helps you to make choices against what matters most to you. So, it's a source of inspiration. But it's also a source of clarity, it takes things off the table and shines the light on what is going to create the most value, the most impact. So, I think an art historian might cringe as I say this, but one could say that a brand is part of his toolkit as he navigates the decision of how to stay in the game. I think it's a little bit of a stretch, but ultimately, when it comes down to it, whether we're a leader, a person in our ordinary life, a parent,  a friend, we're making decisions, according to what matters most to us, to our values, and what we perceive to be our purpose.

When you make that explicit, when you know what that purpose is, and what your values are, it makes it less angsty to make decisions. So, that's how I would tie this to brand.

Stephan Mardyks:
This young man is obviously very vulnerable right now. We can see that he's losing the game. But being vulnerable, is that bad for a brand?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Oh, no. This is so interesting because...
Okay, let me say something else about brand. For a company or any organization that's building a relationship with its audience, the brand is the relationship between the company and the audience. It's all of the associations, all of the feelings evoked when a person thinks of a given company, brand, or organization. And part of what makes a brand easy to bond with for a customer is that it feels human and feels like a person. Because it's more fulfilling to bond with a human (or something human-like) than to bond with a corporation. So, vulnerability is that thing that makes us appealing to bond with humans.

I think that vulnerability is the foundation of human relationships. And in so far as a brand can accomplish that bond, that feeling, it's almost like your friend or your mentor. It's going to be more human if it's more vulnerable. As long as the vulnerability is real... you can't manufacture vulnerability in order to seem more human or more-

Stephan Mardyks:
It has to be authentic.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Exactly. People are smart. That's actually going to erode trust if it isn't. But yeah, he's vulnerable.

Stephan Mardyks:
What would you say about empathy?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Yes. I think that empathy is the reaction to vulnerability. So, when somebody is vulnerable, we all have this innate empathy that we can draw on, and that part of us might get called out when we perceive somebody else being brave enough to be vulnerable. And empathy and vulnerability go hand in hand. They're working on the same system. And yeah, for a business, again, a business's brand is the nature of the relationship that it has with its audience. I personally don't want to be in a relationship with another person who lacks empathy. In so far as they're empathetic to me, I am going to let myself shine as my best self only if that empathy is present. So, it's interesting that you say that, Stephan, because right as soon as you said empathy, I thought, "I think that might be the feeling I have when I..."
.... just if I zero in on his face, there's suffering.

Stephan Mardyks:
His story is at stake here.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Yeah. This is big.

Stephan Mardyks:
There's a beautiful quote from you which says "Brand is what you stand for in the mind of your customer."

Lindsay Pedersen:
Yeah. Our customer is busy. They have a lot of things that they can be attending to with their time and with their emotional energy. And when you, as a business, have a brand that creates a huge amount of clarity, that's really specific in what it stands for, it makes it easier and more enjoyable for the audience to let you in. By choosing *what* you stand for, it makes it more palatable and frictionless for the audience to take it in. So, it's choosing what you stand for as a business. Just like you don't really want to be around a person who flip-flops, is rudderless, or seems to lack values, people feel the same way about a business. So, when you choose to stand for something, it really strengthens your magnetism.

Stephan Mardyks:
So, if this young man was a brand, which one do you think it would be? Give me an example of a brand that comes into your mind.

Lindsay Pedersen:
I have the easiest time imagining a brand that is actually very forthright about vulnerability. So, in the world of brands, there's this idea of the brand archetype. It uses the Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung storybook archetype: types of characters that show up in all of our stories. And one of the archetypes that Jung identified when he was studying stories is "the innocent", or some people call it "the child". Most stories, any world-class story, a story that you love and that you remember, has somebody or some thing that is "the innocent" character. And there are brands that show up like they are "the innocent" character. So, an example of that would be Dove. Dove soap, where there is this rawness about it. They really lean into the vulnerability and the unadorned human being: low visually, very light on the makeup, very unfinished, unpolished to look closer to nature. And so, that's what I get when I see him, just this really unadulterated skin tone, and the look on his face, it's almost childlike in its curiosity and lack of pretense.

Stephan Mardyks:
And purity, I guess, right?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Yes, that's exactly it.

Stephan Mardyks:
I love this example. So, let's move to the enemy. If the enemy was a brand, what would be it be?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Well, I can answer this in a couple of ways. The first thing that comes up with respect to what we were just talking about with "the innocent", the Dove soap persona, the other Carl Jung archetype, Joseph Campbell archetype, is "the outlaw". And so, in Star Wars, that would be Darth Vader, for example.

Stephan Mardyks:
That's exactly it.

Lindsay Pedersen:
That's the unfettered, "the outlaw" archetype. And the outlaw is there, certainly, to stir things up. There's a lot of utility to the outlaw in the story. Luke would not have become a Jedi were it not for Darth Vader and the tension created between the protagonist and the antagonist in that story. Harley Davidson would be an outlaw brand, Red Bull, the energy drink. Red Bull is an outlaw brand. And they just show up, not afraid to be polarizing. Maybe a little bit harsh, a little bit daredevil. So, there's that aspect to it that feels very in line with our storytelling traditions, that there would be an outlaw, a Darth Vader, a Voldemort, in any story. In any story that we bother telling, there is one of these characters, and it's the same here.

Lindsay Pedersen:
This certainly gets away from brand, but I think in much the way that the angel is an internal part of the protagonist, of the hero, the devil in this piece of art could also be an internal force. So, to me personally, this is my inner critic. I've got the voices in my head that are mean, challenging, and sometimes nasty. And then I've got the kinder voice, the more angelic voice. I can almost feel that tension.

Stephan Mardyks:
I like this tension.

Lindsay Pedersen:
So, I think sometimes, it actually is literally an enemy or an antagonist. And sometimes, it's more internal... The older I get, the more it seems that's where the real value comes in. It's seeing what part of you internalizes some mean voice or some harsh character in whatever your story is.

Stephan Mardyks:
Are there some brands in your mind that you would qualify as being arrogant?

Lindsay Pedersen:
That's so interesting. We human beings, are a hyper-social species, and we're meaning-seeking machines, and we're creating meaning through our relationships. And the reason that brand is so value-creating for businesses is it leverages that instinct that we as humans have, to love things that feel like human beings. And just like human beings are complicated and are imperfect and deeply flawed, businesses are too, at least the ones that are run by human beings.

I actually think that you could think of any business that you, as a human being, if it strikes you as arrogant, something that they're saying or doing, or not saying or not doing, then that could evoke something like this arrogant devil in this painting. I could buy that. I could see that. I think the reason I'm hesitating though is, in some ways, the most utility that a brand has is that it makes its audience aware of them. It makes an impression on an audience, so the audience remembers them. And it's good if there's some affiliation, some warm, fuzzy association. But the hardest thing to do in business, from where I'm standing, is to create a customer, and the way that you create a customer is to make somebody who's unaware aware. You help them see what you can bring to their journey.

That's a really hard thing to do. So, a brand that has accomplished that but is perceived as arrogant, in some ways, I'm thinking, I think there are businesses that I don't really like, that bug me, that I find arrogant or overbearing, but the fact of the matter is? I'm aware of them. I probably spend money on them, I spend time thinking about them. So, even if they are using these principles of brand, maybe not in the way that I like as a person, it's working on some cognitive level.

Stephan Mardyks:
Can you give us an example?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Facebook right now is just so profoundly arrogant. I think what they're doing or what they're not taking on... I'm a parent of teenagers. One of my teenagers is a teenage girl. And if you want to tick me off and really evoke my inner lioness about the protectiveness of my kids... I haven't been on Facebook in a couple of years now, and it became almost like a moral decision. I'm not trying to tell people that they should not be on Facebook, there's so much utility to Facebook for a lot of businesses. I'm not preaching, but I, as a consumer (so not me as a brand expert, but me as a consumer and as a mom) -- I hate their guts.
So, there's sort of this electric charge in me thinking about that, but does Facebook care about me?

Trader Joe's is probably my favorite brand. I would evangelize Trader Joe's for free, happily. If they had price increases, I would gladly pay them because I trust them. I know they wouldn't do that if it weren't necessary, which is the opposite of the heart sense that I have from Facebook.

Stephan Mardyks:
Why do you like them so much?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Do you shop there, Stephan?

Stephan Mardyks:
I do.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Do you like it?

Stephan Mardyks:
I do.

Lindsay Pedersen:
I just love it. I make up excuses to go there. I just noticed on our grocery list on our refrigerator this morning, somebody put "Trader Joe's oatmeal". And I'm thinking, "Gosh, it's a lot to go to Trader Joe's just for one thing, but I really would love to go." And they just gave me an excuse to go because it's on the refrigerator. It's fun. It's rewarding. It feels lighthearted and joyful. I can get the things that I need to get. I need to get eggs, I need to get milk, yogurt, but then they also have prepared potstickers and chili lime Thai cashews. And it just makes me smile. I love the feeling that they evoke. And it's very human. It's very vulnerable. It feels like you can't fake the kind of happiness that comes from the employees, by and large.

Stephan Mardyks:
Those are great points. Now, let's discuss the angel's brand,

Lindsay Pedersen:
So, using the story archetype idea, just like we did for the protagonist, who's the innocent, and the devil, who's the Outlaw, I think the angel in this would be "the caregiver" archetype. So, "the caregiver", sometimes it's called "the mother", all stories have a caregiver archetype. Sometimes they're more prominent than others. And so, in Harry Potter, it would be Mrs. Weasley. So, I think that the angel is a caregiver archetype. So those brands... Volvo would be a an example because it's all about protection, preserving and protecting those that are the most important to you. So, I could see that beneficent energy coming from a caregiver brand such as Volvo.

Stephan Mardyks:
If the young man asks you, "How can I rebrand myself?" What would you recommend?

Lindsay Pedersen:
So, it's interesting, because there are times to do brand strategy that are less optimal than others. When you're in the heat of a crisis is actually a bad time to do brand strategy because you don't have psychological safety. You're not using all of your wiles to build it. So, this would be a poor time for him to do it because-
for example, at the beginning of the pandemic, companies that really had a strong brand going into the pandemic did not take a long time to pivot to start growing again, and sometimes, even in a different direction, because their North Star was already visible. Really, you build a brand strategy so that when you get into a situation like this and decision-making is more clear... There's the famous example of the Tylenol poison cyanide scare during the early '80s. When that happened, all they had to do was look at the Johnson & Johnson mission statement, which is a stand-in for brand. And do you know how long it took them to decide to pull all Tylenol off all shelves in the United States?

Stephan Mardyks:
No. How long?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Minutes. They didn't have to have a PR agency in the room with them to help them decide. It was just the leaders and their mission statement. So, when you have that, you actually can react really quickly. If you do find yourself in the unhappy position of not having a brand strategy when you're in a crisis, I don't recommend it. If you're not going to come up with a very big idea because your body is not going to feel very safe, so you're not going to stretch very far, then I think it's okay. He pauses, and he thinks about what matters the most. That's the question that brand answers.

Stephan Mardyks:
You talk about aligning your brand with your values and strength, right?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Exactly. So, those are all components of this gestalt of brand. So, ask yourself that most matters to you. Okay. Protagonist in this painting, why are you alive? What are you here to do as a human? What are the words or guides that you have found clarifying in the past and now align to them here and now with this move? Ultimately, you could boil a brand strategy down to "what matters most", what are the elements that connect you to yourself, your audience, and the rest of the world. I like to think that this protagonist would be able to make the next move and it would be more... just like the Tylenol scare, it would not be a long decision.

Stephan Mardyks:
We all know he wins at the end of the game.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Yes. We do.

Stephan Mardyks:
I believe that many brands have one more move moment, or a defining moment, just before breakthroughs. I'm thinking about your example of the espresso moment at Starbucks, where they closed all the stores.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Where they closed all of the 12,000 stores in the United States.

Stephan Mardyks:
Is it one more move moment?

Lindsay Pedersen:
What an amazing example. Yes. It's all of the elements of the one more move... of this painting. So, for those not familiar, this was in 2008, when Howard Schultz had become CEO of Starbucks again. The Starbucks stock was tanking, and there were real concerns about the ongoing viability of the company. And what Howard decided to do is really go deep on the first principles. Again, this is back to the brand like, "What is it that we bring?" And the answer was, it's this connecting beautiful moment in the Starbucks Cafe, the connection between humans over a cup of coffee. And what he discerned had happened is that the coffee was no longer good, that he found that baristas, in their haste, were reheating espresso, leaving the steamer pipe in too long, which would water down the milk, and the product was really suffering.

So, Howard Schultz made the enormous, expensive decision to retrain all of baristas employed by Starbucks in North America and closed all of the Starbucks-owned stores for half a day. The estimated loss was $6 million. So, it was a $6 million decision in order to bring back the soul of the company, to bring back why people will happily shell out high dollars for a mixture of milk and coffee, and to make it this lovely experience. And I don't know, I'm sure there were so many other things that Starbucks was doing at the time, I don't think one could only point to that activity, but it was certainly a brave moment and a dramatic moment.

The cool thing is that it did resolidify the quality of the coffee experience. But, think of the psychological signaling of doing that. "We care so much, Starbucks community, about this gorgeous cup of coffee, that we're going to close the stores and retrain everybody for half a day." So, it had this enormous brand-building effect that... I think that symbolism might be the most important thing about that decision. Just, what it signaled from the leader.

Stephan Mardyks:
Would you mind sharing an example of one more move moment in your personal life?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Sure. I feel like I could come up with an infinite number of one more move moments because it scales from the dramatic to the really mundane. What am I going to do when my kids aren't in school, while I'm a busy working mom? That hurdle. All the way to the hurdle that first came to mind when you mentioned this, which was when my family moved from Oakland, California to Seattle. That was a huge deal in my life and really changed the trajectory of, certainly, both my personal and my professional life to live in Seattle. And that came from we had a two-year-old who was eating us alive and we had no help. We had no family nearby. We didn't have a very strong village, and my husband and I are both invested in our careers.

Our one more move was "Let's move to Seattle and have more community with... because that's where my family is"... You never know, maybe my life would've been better if I hadn't done that, but it's hard to even imagine. That was now 15 years ago...So, I don't know what it would've been like if I hadn't, but it's informed so much of the way that I live my life now.

Stephan Mardyks:
One move in your professional life?

Lindsay Pedersen:
The decision to write a book. And I kicked and screamed about this for at least a couple of years, where several people, clients, past clients, gave me feedback that "this belongs in a book." I'm a small business owner. I only work with a handful of businesses, so it doesn't make sense for this information to be tied up in Lindsay's head. And it just seemed so daunting to me to write a book. And the reason is I love books. I am a book fanatic, and I place them on a pedestal.

I couldn't think of a larger hurdle, a larger obstacle. And finally, I suppose, what pushed me over the edge was it became more painful not to do it than to do it. It became almost like I was expending psychic energy to repress the idea of writing the book. So, I wrote it... It was as bad as I thought it would be. It's really, really arduous to write a book.

Stephan Mardyks:
Knowing you as a perfectionist...

Lindsay Pedersen:
Boy, that really brought out my perfectionism demons. If you want to fight your perfectionism demons, writing a book is a great platform for those wrestling matches. So, I think that was my one more move, and it really did shift my business. It shifts the way that I think about my business and lead my business. It feels more like a business now rather than "the thing that Lindsay does."

Stephan Mardyks:
What is your next one more move?

Lindsay Pedersen:
Oh, well, as you know, Stephan, I'm launching a certification program for the Ironclad Method of brand building.

Lindsay Pedersen:
It has been a joyful labor of love to build this. The idea is that the same instinct prompted me to write my book-  this method of building a brand strategy, is not something magical that you hope will happen upon you. The Muses visit you, and you come up with this wonderful brand strategy. It's a technique, and it's a trainable technique. Anybody can learn to build a brand strategy. And so, the certification is to use the Ironclad Method to build a brand strategy within an organization. And that has been just a really thrilling product to create and to imagine out in the wild. (Learn more)

Stephan Mardyks:
Thank you so much, Lindsay. It has been a privilege to have you at on our One More Move Blog.

Lindsay Pedersen:
Oh, thank you for interviewing me. This has been so fun, and I think what you're doing here is really... refreshing, it's original. I've never had a conversation like this before. So, thanks for having me.

Connect with Lindsay Pedersen on LinkedIn 

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