Branding: It’s Personal

Branding: It’s Personal

When I was writing a branding column for Creative Retailer Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview a person known for her brand, a brand that is recognized by many, including those outside her ‘ideal customer’ base.

This is a brand that started small and has grown into a multi-faceted, financially successful business with reach across a variety of offerings, including a foray into the non-profit world.

What’s the brand?


Rachel Ray

Branding: It's Personal - Rachel Ray (Source: Stephanie Hackney) (image)

Branding: It’s Personal – Rachel Ray (Source: Stephanie Hackney)


Now, you might say, “Rachel’s not a brand, she’s a person.”

And my answer would be, “Yes, she’s a person, but she – Rachel Ray – is also a brand, a well-known brand that has found success because the owner of the brand, Rachel herself, is laser-focused and knows what matters.

She knows what she wants to accomplish and what she wants to bring to market, but most importantly she knows who her ideal customers are, and what she needs to deliver to maintain the loyalty of those customers and create new fans (all areas of business on which every business needs to expend energy).

We can all learn from this dynamo of energy!

Following are my interview questions (SH) and Rachel’s responses (RR)*, followed by steps you can take to develop, maintain, protect and grow your brands – your personal and business brands – and your business.

*Content was transcribed from my recorded interview with Rachel Ray

SH: “When you think back to the very beginning, to the time before you had a brand, was this brand you now have a vision or did it just sort of evolve?”

RR: “The vision I had was for an oval spaghetti pot because spaghetti is long. So I drew it on a piece of paper and I went around and asked somebody to make it. Actually, my husband went to the housewares show and went up to the Meyer booth and said “Would you make this pot for my wife?” Ah, that’s how the brand started. Anything that’s in our brand has a practical purpose. I don’t license my name, I design my products. I use it in my home, I use it at work…it’s literally my brand…”

SH: “What do you think are the keys to branding, to building a brand?”

RR: “Value. Value. Have the best value for the dollar. And, problem-solving. Figure out what the problem is and then come up with a solution. Um, an oval spaghetti pot because spaghetti is long…The Lazy Ladle® or the Lazy Spoon started as a wooden gift that I got from a very small company and I asked the man if we could collaborate so we could make dishwasher-safe products for people and they could still be “lazy” and hang off the pot or the bowl. I am constantly losing the lids or the bottoms of all my plastic storage ware so we came up with these lids that seal every bowl which turns every dish into storage ware. You know, it’s figuring out how to solve a problem for your customer and making sure that you’re making a value proposition. I don’t think you have to be the cheapest, but I do think you have to be the best value for the dollar.”

SH: “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?”

RR: “Remain humble. You work for someone. There’s no such thing as being the boss. I’m very much a waitress, you know, today as I was when I was a little kid. Your consumer, your customer, they are your boss and you have to answer to them. That’s why I like to be in brick-and-mortar, but I also appreciate an opportunity like QVC where you can talk to the customer, we can see customer ratings, we can get immediate feedback. That’s why I go on book tours, so I can hear what people like and don’t like about the books, and what’s going on with the show. I think you have to remain humble. You also have to work very, very hard – you have to work harder than everyone else, and not complain about it.”

SH: “If you could share one piece of advice with somebody looking to build a personal brand, from scratch, what would you advise them, for their beginning?”

RR: “Think about what your promise is. That’s the most important thing. For our brand it’s accessibility: can do, can use, can be part of, and that problem-solving factor. Whether it’s 30-Minute Meals…the Lazy Ladle® – these things all problem-solve and say anybody can do this. And, that’s our pact. I think you have to figure out what your promise is first…and then stick to that. You know, it’s great to grow, but you have to pick your lane on the highway – that’s the only way you’re going to get to where you’re going is to pick a direction. You can’t be all things to all people.”

SH: “For young women who are interested in having a career in the food industry, what advice would you give them?”

RR: “Well, it’s a great industry. It’s about sharing and you’ll always have work because people are always hungry, you know? (laughs) You know it really goes back to the basics…be humble, your customer is always right and they come first. I think, you know, my mom worked in restaurants for almost 60 years, and I think she loved it as much 60 years in as she did day-one. If you can’t go to work every day and love where you’re at, then don’t do that, especially since it’s a very physically hard job. And, long, long hours and you won’t always have your holidays off, often you won’t, but make sure it’s really what you love – if you love it, it will always treat you right. It’s one of those very unforgiving professions if you don’t love it – you gotta love it.”

SH: “What inspires you creatively?”

RR: “Everything! Getting’ up in the morning! (smiles big) You know I keep little notebooks with me everywhere – you never know where you’re going to get the next great idea, whether for a book or a recipe or a product, so I’m always with… you know it’s really funny, when I was a little girl, even if I’d draw a giraffe, it would always have a bag. My mother said ‘Why do all your pictures have purses?’  I said, ‘Mom, that’s for pencil and paper – they need to be able to write down their ideas.’ And, I am literally that person today. I never go anywhere without my little notebook and my little flat pen.” (laughs)

SH: “Do you have a preference, Moleskines or…?”

RR: “No, I have every size, shape…they’re all, they’re next to my bed, they’re in my office, they’re in my bathroom…I have a pull-down one on my refrigerator…this is my travel one…I’ve got notebooks everywhere!”

So, how’s that for a focused brand and business owner?!

Let’s recap the branding advice Rachel shared:

  1. Design for practical purposes, solve problems.
  2. Provide value.
  3. Remain humble.
  4. Know who your customer is and what they want and need – then deliver it.
  5. Work hard and don’t complain about it.
  6. Decide on your brand “promise” and then deliver on it.
  7. Pick a direction – you can’t be all things to all people.
  8. Choose something you love – you’ll work hard and you gotta love it for it to treat you right.
  9. Look for inspiration everywhere.
  10. Be prepared, for opportunity…and with pen and paper!

Let’s expand on how this branding advice applies to you, and the brand YOU want to build and grow:

  1. Solve problems, first and foremost. It’s always a much easier sell when you are providing a solution to a problem. When money is tight, needs come before wants be a need, not just a want.
  2. Provide Value. As Rachel said, you don’t have to be the cheapest. In fact, I advise clients against competing on price as there will always be someone who can beat you on price. Compete on valuewhat do you provide that is unique, that sets you apart, that might possibly mean customers spending their money with you vs. your competition? Remember, it’s all a matter of perception – how do customers perceive what you offer in terms of value for their hard-earned dollars?
  3. Remain humble. Imagine how easy it would be for Rachel to be full of herself (btw, she wasn’t when I met her) – after all, she has gained celebrity status and is adored by fans. As your business succeeds and you achieve success, never forget where you started…and most importantly, never forget the people (staff, customers, vendors, etc.) who helped you succeed. Those who supported you at the beginning, when you likely had little to offer in return other than a promise (your vision) of what might someday be are likely your biggest fans and supporters. Enlist your early supporters as brand ambassadors and empower and reward them to continue supporting you in your vision.
  4. Know your customers! This is perhaps the toughest challenge when you’re just starting out, but it shouldn’t be once you have a customer base. You might be surprised how often I receive a blank stare when I ask clients about their ideal customers, their demographics and psychographics (behaviors), and most importantly, what their likes, dislikes, wants and needs are. Many business owners never bother asking their customers what they want and/or what they need. Yes, you’re busy, but this should be a priority. After all, how can you provide what your customers – your ideal customers – want and need if you don’t ask them? Never assume anything – ASK! Trust me, your customers love having the opportunity to tell you how they feel, what they want and need, like and dislike – people love to give their opinion!
  5. Work hard. There’s certainly time for play, but succeeding in business is hard work. Make a commitment to it and it pays off! One thing to keep in mind though is that most people don’t want to hear about how hard you’re working. It seems to have become a badge of honor to espouse how busy we are, how much we have to do, how hard we are working. Truth be told, most customers don’t really care – they only care about “What’s in it for me (them)?Keep your business challenges to yourself and remind staff and partners of this – let customers think of you as their “happy place” rather than the place where they’ll have to hear all about your business (and personal) woes…and how busy you are.
  6. Define your brand’s promise. Your “brand promise” is actually a bit redundant as a brand really is a promise – it’s a promise to the customer about what they can expect from you, from your staff and from your business at every touchpoint. I define branding as “The art of effectively aligning every touch point of your business with what you want people to think, feel and say about you. What does your brand stand for – what’s your promise? If you aren’t sure, then step back and give it due consideration. Your promise really is the most critical aspect of your brand it should be dictating your messaging (marketing, PR, social media outreach, etc.), the behavior of your staff, your HR and customer service policies, how your store looks and feels, what you stock and sell, the services you offer, who you partner with, etc.
  7. Pick ‘a’ horse and ride it…and only it! When I first start working with clients, one of the first questions I ask them is this: Who’s your ideal customer?” Can you guess what the answer is almost every single time? Everyone! Sorry, but everyone is not your ideal customer!  Unless you have bottomless pockets, you can’t possibly reach and service everyone. And, why would you want to? It’s much too hard to be all things to all people – impossible, actually! Perhaps this question is so tough to answer because it can be hard work narrowing it down, and because we are confident that our offering is so great that everyone should want it.
    1. Here’s a start at narrowing down the everyone to the ideal: Think about the total market (e.g., all people who need your offering); now focus on your reachable market (e.g., people who need what you offer, who are reachable by your business, and to whom you can afford to market your business); and, last but not least, zero in on your serviceable market (e.g., people who need what you offer, who have money to spend on what you offer, and to whom you are able to provide products and/or services given your available resources – capital, staff, physical location). See how the everyone pie just became much smaller?
    2. Now you might say, but wait, I just lost revenue opportunities! Right? Yes, but you also gained control over how you dedicate your resources – it is now much easier to spend your marketing dollars (and other resources) wisely, without wasting them on prospects who are not ideally suited for your offering, people who would just be a drain on your precious resources. And that means less money out! Keep in mind that another reason many businesses find it hard to narrow down their customer pool to just the ideal customers is that they haven’t determined what their brand’s “promise” is. Again, dedicate energy to defining your promise so you can further narrow down your ideal customer base, making it easier for you to target, reach and service these people, the people who are much more likely to become long-term, loyal customers.
  8. Do what you love and the money will follow. Have you ever heard that expression? While not everyone is lucky enough to do what they love doing, if you’re planning to go into business, you are much more likely to find success if you are doing something you love, something for which you have passion. When things are tough and you’re stretched thin (both of which happen when you own your own business!), being passionate about your business can mean the difference between pushing through and succeeding and giving up and failing. Ask any business owner and they will tell you, business demands a lot of its owner(s) and the more you love the business (not just the idea of being in business for yourself, but the actual day-to-day running of the business), the better your chances of success.
  9. Inspiration – it’s everywhere! And, I have found that it’s especially valuable when it comes from “outside.” What do I mean by outside? I mean outside your business, outside your neighborhood (or offline if you’re an online business) and outside your industry. Some of my best ideas have come from attending an event outside of my industry, or visiting a business that’s different from mine and/or in another location. Why? Because they often do things differently. Just being in a new and different environment can lead to you thinking differently and viewing your own environment and business (and customers!) in new ways. Try it!
  10. Be prepared! Luck = opportunity + preparation. If you prepare for success you are much more likely to ‘get lucky’ when an opportunity presents itself. How do you prepare? Keep an open mind and get “outside.” Endeavor to learn every day. Network (especially outside your business, neighborhood and industry). Be smart about resource dedication – know what your promise is and who your ideal customer is and focus your efforts only on delivering the former to the latter. And finally, carry a notebook and pen with you…always. You never know when that million-dollar idea will pop into your head or fall in your lap!

Hopefully you enjoyed my interview with Rachel Ray and the peek into how her brand was not only built, but has evolved and succeeded.

No, branding isn’t easy and it doesn’t guarantee success.

But when it’s done ‘right,’ it gets you one step closer!

Now, take what you learned from Rachel Ray, put to use the tips I shared above, and stay focused on the overall goal (delivering your promise to your ideal customers) and it’s highly likely you, too, will experience branding and business success.

Want to discuss your particular business,
your current or future brand?

Reach out to me via email:
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com

Or, ring me up! 760.504.8563

I’d love to work with you on YOUR brand!


The Show’s Over – Now What? Part I: Time to Reflect

Please Note: This article was requested by and submitted to Scrapbook Business Magazine for their January 2011 issue. However, due to a change in the publication’s management, some articles were not published. Because I believe in honoring my commitments, and I committed to the Scrapbook Business Magazine readers that I would write an article covering tradeshow/event follow-up, I am adding this article to my blog roll. I hope their readers, and you, find it of value.

In addition, I created a Post-Event Checklist for you:
Post Event Checklist

Thanks, Stephanie

The Show’s Over – Now What? Part I: Time to Reflect

When we last left our marketing heroes and heroines they were wrapping up activities at their latest tradeshow. Now they’re back home and ready to capitalize on all they’ve done, created, learned, collected and committed to. So, where does one begin?


Let’s start with the primary mission of any marketing effort: building one’s brand. By setting goals around one’s branding efforts prior to participating in events, it’s possible to track the effectiveness of one’s efforts, to see what worked and what didn’t. So, what were your branding goals? Did you set up metrics by which you would be able to measure success or failure? How did you do? What could you have done better and what will you attempt to do next time? How did your event efforts tie into your overall marketing strategy?

Perhaps you announced a contest prior to the event. If so, what was the impact? How many participants did you have? How many of them are new followers or customers vs. previously loyal followers or customers? How many people did the newbies or loyalists tell, and how many of those became followers or customers? Were you able to convert the new followers into buyers as a result of the contest? What have you put in place to track the new leads and their sources from future programs? What’s your process for welcoming additional newbies and converting them? What’s your process for staying in touch with your current and future followers and/or customers, those you worked so diligently to attract? How will you encourage and assist them in spreading the word about your amazing offering? How will you track the success of such efforts?

Read More…

The Evolution of Marketing – A Lot Like Photography

The Evolution of Marketing – A Lot Like Photography

I was explaining to a network contact how the evolution of marketing is a bit like the evolution of photography when it dawned on me that this might be of value to my readers.

So, here goes.

There was a time when only someone who really understood the fundamentals of photography (lighting, F-stop, shutter speed, exposure, ISO, etc.) could create a great picture AND get it published.

Then, along came cameras outfitted with “automatic” mode and soon digital cameras that enabled one to see, immediately, whether or not the shot they had just taken was any good. No good? Make adjustments and take it again.

This new offering was followed by a proliferation of online photo sites where most anyone can now publish any, and every, shot they take.

How is this like marketing?

I’m glad you asked.

There was a time when one had to have a strong understanding of the principles of marketing in order to effectively market a brand. After all, the costs were high and marketing professionals had to get it right the first time out or risk losing lots of money, and perhaps, even their job! There was also little to no way of measuring “branding” effectiveness, and the chances that a customer would share your business or its products and services with more than a few of their closest relatives or friends was unlikely.

Simply trying whatever was available was not an option. Every dollar counted. Create and send a costly direct mail piece and have it fail? Not an option.

Now, with the availability of “free” marketing tools and accompanying measurement tools, and the ability to provide a platform for your fans to share your offering with others, most anyone can try their hand at marketing, whether or not they know anything about the fundamentals. It’s as easy as crafting an email and hitting send. Or is it?

Just as with photography, most of the time you get what you pay for – free is worth what you paid.

Just as a shot taken by a professional photographer is worth what it took to get the best expression, lighting and/or action, a campaign created by a marketing pro with the knowledge of how marketing works (and doesn’t) is worth the investment. Yes, one can certainly throw darts at the wall in the hopes one sticks, but it’s not ‘free’ as is so often touted. It costs you and your business resources and time. And, it can cost you something much more valuable if you do it badly: your brand and reputation.

Looking to break through the noise and make a good impression? Go back to the fundamentals. Just as a professional photographer knows what to do in situations where the lighting is poor, the environment is a factor or the talent is not exactly photogenic, a marketing pro knows how to help you portray your offering in the best light, to stand out and rise above the ‘noise,’ and make you look amazing.

It all starts with knowing the fundamentals, whether it be the fundamentals of how a camera works or how to use available light to get the best shot, or whether or not a platform like Facebook or LinkedIn are a good fit for your type of business and for reaching your ideal customer.

In the end, you get what you pay for.


As always, I welcome your comments, questions, calls and email.

I can be reached via email at
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
and by phone at 760.504.8563

The Show’s Over – Now What? Part II: A Post-Event Checklist

As promised to my readers at Scrapbook Business Magazine, I created a post-event checklist.

I hope you find the list helpful in learning as much as possible from your last event, and making future events the best they can be.

Care to share it with others? Please feel free to do so by providing a link to this page.

Please remember, this content is copyrighted. Thanks.

Note: The companion article published previous to this checklist is included here:
The Show’s Over – Now What? Part I: Time to Reflect


Post-Event Checklist:

Overall Event Goals-Did we reach, exceed or miss our goals?


Yes-final numbers:

What contributed to the success?

What else can we do to further improve our numbers at future events?

No-final numbers:

What contributed to the shortcoming*?

How will we make improvements before our next event?




What contributed to the success?

Are there any new opportunities as a result of our efforts?

What action is required, by whom and by when?


What contributed to the shortcoming*?

How will we make improvements before our next event?

What action is required, by whom and by when?

  Read More…

Latest Articles Added

I’ve just updated the Press Articles section with my latest articles, the Sept/Oct issue and the Nov/Dec issue of Scrapbook Business Magazine.

Please check them out here:
Articles in The Press – I

Thanks for checking them out – I’d love to hear what you think!


As always, I welcome your comments, questions, calls and email.

I can be reached via email at
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
and by phone at 760.504.8563

This Just In!

Please check out my latest articles for Scrapbook Business Magazine.

They can be found in the Press section of this site, under Published Articles, or by clicking this link:
Press Articles – II

Thanks for checking them out – I’d love to hear your feedback!


As always, I welcome your comments, questions, calls and email.

I can be reached via email at
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
and by phone at 760.504.8563

Wreaking Havoc On Your Own Brand

Wreaking Havoc On Your Own Brand

It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m in rush-hour traffic heading into downtown.

As the traffic slows ahead, I notice a magnetic sign on the tailgate of a truck that’s right in front of me. I can barely make out the image: it’s a drawing of a woman in shorts and a sexy top and whose knees are adorned with knee pads.

Getting an image?

As the truck slows and I get a better look, I realize it’s a sign advertising a business called Grout Girl Designs.

OK, change of perception. Cool, I think to myself. Perhaps it’s a woman-owned business? I like supporting other females in their entrepreneurial ventures. I need to learn more.

I get a bit closer and discover that they specialize in small tile projects, repairs and glass tile. Again, cool.

Then, just as I snapped a photo of the sign (yes, I am prone to doing that as long as it can be done safely and not at high speed!), I realize there is a smaller sign in the rear windshield (actually, it’s a bumper sticker).

It says, “Did you eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast?” OK, initial perception likely correct.

Or, at the very least, this is someone I no longer care to do business with.
How do your employees and other aspects of your business operations represent your brand?

It’s worth considering…

As always, I welcome your comments, questions, calls and email.

I can be reached via email at
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
and by phone at 760.504.8563

Social Ineptitude in Real Life?

Social Ineptitude in Real Life?

With all the hype around social marketing, one would think success is all but guaranteed once a business creates a Facebook fan page, launches a Twitter account and/or posts amazing videos on YouTube, right?

But, what if you are “socially inept” in real life? And what do I mean by socially inept? I mean that when customers engage with you in real-life, they find you inept.

How many companies out there do the whole social marketing thing really well, but then fail miserably with the real-world customer experience?

Let me offer an example:

I recently signed up for the mailing list of a well-known retail chain. By signing up I was enabling them to market to me. My reward for providing my contact information was that I would receive coupons which could be used on merchandise in their stores. Since I have always liked their stores, I felt this was a fair trade – my information in exchange for discounts.

Now, it’s important to note that a retailer’s hope is that I will spend enough to cover not only the cost of the discount they offer by providing me with a coupon, but that they’ll easily encourage me to spend more and on items I might otherwise try. Smart, right?

Well, a few days ago I visited one of their locations, coupon in hand. I was all set to buy something I had had my eye on for some time, but could not justify buying at full price. And, I intended to look for accompanying accessories even though the discount would not be applied to those. So far their strategy was working.

Now, imagine my disappointment when I found the item I coveted was not where I had seen it last, and no one in the store seemed to know where it had been moved. Even worse was the made-up response I received from an employee who was too busy chatting with several other employees to ask someone in the know about this mysterious disappearance.

She confidently announced, “Those items were sent back. We no longer carry them.”

Really? A brand new and very popular item was sent back? Sent to where?

Now, since I know a thing or two about this chain, and how their merchandise comes and goes, I knew she made up her response!
So what do you think happened?

That’s right, I left…empty-handed.

And, it’s not likely that I’ll return anytime soon just because I have a coupon, something I might have been likely to do in the past.

The moral of our branding tale?

In the end, it does not matter how amazingly well you manage your social marketing strategy if the basics of customer service at the store level are completely lacking.

Yes, social marketing can be an important part of an overall branding strategy.

But, it cannot replace great customer service.

Your brand depends on customers feeling valued. My example did not leave me feeling valued. And, it certainly did nothing for my impression of this well-known brand.


As always, I welcome your comments, questions, calls and email.

I can be reached via email at
shackney (at) brandingmasters (dot) com
and by phone at 760.504.8563

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