Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 0:16
Once upon a time, there were 10s of 1000s of makers struggling. Every day they built for hours and hours but didn't ship and didn't earn enough income one day, the no code wealth podcast came to help them find a way because of this makers became founders and live the lives they deserve. Because of that, founders live lives of abundance, freedom, and creativity. That's what I'm really all about. Hello, my name is Aziz and from being a poor boy born to a single mother in North Africa, with no opportunities, just sheer hard work to failing multiple startups, yet learning a whole lot to barely escaping alive the war in Ukraine, even living as an illegal immigrant. I've lost everything twice. And now, I'm rebuilding my life one more time, 1% a day sharing the wisdom of luminaries have interviewed on this podcast from Google executives to Amazon, Microsoft, Forbes, Technology Council, Harvard, Goldman Sachs, Financial Times, and even a priest from the Vatican church. Everyone is welcome here. So let's begin. My guest today is Meri Wilson. Meri is the solo founder of Earth found helping small teams to build their golden formula for brand, and marketing. Meri, how are you today?
Meri Wilson 1:56
I'm good. Thank you. Thank you for that lovely introduction.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 2:01
And to begin this conversation by exploring your mind, is there something about branding, whether it's an insight or a problem that you seem to notice people having or anything that is demanding your attention again, and again, and again, that you can share?
Meri Wilson 2:22
Yeah, absolutely. And the biggest thing that I think is often a misconception about branding, is that brand equals logo. And quite often, especially with small teams, I'll come across one of two problems, either, they will, you know, we'll have a conversation, and they'll say, we don't need branding, we have a logo. Or they will come to me and say we've spent six months trying to work out what our logo should be. And to me, both of these problems are missing a slightly bigger picture, which is that your brand is much bigger, and much more fundamental than what your logo is. So I think from from my perspective, as a, as an educator in the online space, in particular, my biggest goal is to try and get people to understand what branding can mean, and how, if you can get it right, it can save you so much time and energy, but it's not about a logo, and it's not about what your color palette is. That's a very small part of a brand language. But it's really, it's quite a different thing to that,
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 3:34
thank you and to risk sounding a bit evil. That's good news. Because if people are succeeding in business or staying in business for six months or more, and they don't even know what branding is. It gives us so much more hope and power as people who understand at least the fundamentals and the foundations of such things. And I heard psychologists once speak about branding. And I think Seth Godin just echoes the sentiment that a brand is simply the emotions that trigger inside a prospect or a customer when they think about you your business and the way you conducted or the cell service that you specifically deliver what or how do you define a brand so that people will think about it within the correct context?
Meri Wilson 4:30
Yeah, so correct is a slightly tricky word. Because as you say, there are lots of different definitions of brand, but in in my perspective and within earthbound and what we do. It's really about what you stand for. So what is your fundamental reason for being and that's outside of making money outside of just the one particular problem that maybe your product is solving right now? You know, What is the reason that your business exists? And the easiest way to kind of drill down into that is to just keep asking, so what, every time you make a decision, you always should have an answer to. So what why is this important? Why should we? Why should we care? And more importantly, why should our customers care? You know, why do you why should your audience care that you exist? And why should they buy from you as opposed to somebody else? There's a really well known kind of brand idiom, which is the idea that your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room, which I agree with. But at the same time, I think it's, I think it's a little bit deeper than that. The example I often use with my clients, when I'm talking to them initially is, no matter where you're from, which grocery store do you go to, and why. And all of the elements that that are added into that why some of that has to do with brand. Some of its not some of its, you know, elements outside of that shops control, but for the most part, it's to do with brand. And that helps us understand all the different elements in it consumers mind about what they care about. And it's different for everybody. And that's where if you don't know exactly who your consumer is, you can't build a relevant brand that's going to engage with them.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 6:25
Or we can go really, really advanced with this even further than that. But first, I want to ask you, how did your fascination with branding begin? What's the story behind all that?
Meri Wilson 6:39
Okay, so as I suspect is the case with quite a lot of creatives in general terms, I did not, I did not grow up going, I want to be a branding professional. I didn't even know it really existed. So when I was at university, I was studying languages, absolutely nothing to do with brand or design. And I kind of fell into graphic design, sort of by accident, which is a longer story for another day. But the organization that I was working for as their kind of in house designer, they didn't have a brand, they didn't have any brand guidelines, they didn't have any kind of core purpose that everybody in the business could get behind. And what I really noticed was that it was causing everything to be so slow making any kind of decision about marketing campaigns, or what kind of messaging we're using, or even internally, just how to engage with certain departments who weren't representing our company very well. And they were very client facing. And kind of by accident, you know, I went about searching for a solution to that problem. I didn't understand at the time that it was branding, but I was really frustrated by how long everything took to make any kind of decision. And then I kind of fell into well, maybe it's branding, maybe, maybe design and brand can actually can actually help here. And and, and being bigger than just visual design. You know, how did how could I get somebody in a department that had nothing to do with marketing or design or brand? How could I get them to care about branding and to represent the company in a cohesive way. So I spent about a year teaching myself effectively, I created the company's first set of brand guidelines they've never had any before. And I then spent a few weeks inducting every single permanent member of staff into this sort of brand guidelines, getting them to talking them through what a brand is, and what brand reputation looks like and how they were actually helping to either improve or make it worse depending on what they were doing and why it was important that they should care. So that was that was kind of my start, I found that I found a problem and unintentionally learned that brand was the solution to that. And then I was very lucky that I had an incredible mentor, who was a new director who'd arrived from a London agency. I was down in the southwest of England at the time. And she essentially said Why Why are you here? You're completely wasted. You should go and work in an agency in London, so So I did. I transitioned away from design for a little while. And I moved into the kind of account management and project management side of things. And I was very, very lucky that I worked with a couple of incredible agencies in London, working on some really high profile projects, and I learnt a few very different styles of design. There's a plane going past policies. And see I learned a few different ways of approaching branding projects. And that was really where I learnt and got fascinated and thought yeah, this is this is my wheelhouse. I love this. And the big part of it for me I think was less about the design and more about seeing the results that could happen from good branding projects. And the impact it can actually have on businesses is so huge when it's done well. But I also got to see some agencies who weren't doing so well, and how you know how much we hear about about bad branding projects that have cost so much money, and they've done a terrible job. And, and it really can have an impact in both directions. And that's, that's important to keep in mind. So, yeah, that was, that's how I got here as such.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 10:32
Thank you. And I love that you use the world, the word inducting, or induction, which is has a hypnotic connotation to it. Because I don't know how you think about this. But let's say behind closed doors for the people who really spend all their time branding themselves, because those tend to be the best brand specialists, those who do it for their own selves. Branding can be thought of either as a narrative, where you're creating a hero's journey where you're a mentor, and there is a belly of the beast, then you are calling to adventure, the prospects to enter that mythical world. And all that which is both related and unrelated to the second way of thinking about branding as an creating archetypes and a religious religion, even in a world where people lost religious values and that connection. So when you create for them, values, ways to perceive the world standard for good versus evil, you feel that narrative void, and that value is void in their life. And therefore, branding is more about values and villains than it is about services and products. But maybe that's a bit too advanced, how does it relate to the way you perceive and approach branding?
Meri Wilson 11:56
Yeah, so I very much believe in in values and having a perspective on the world, both internally and externally. So this is one of the things that I really focus on, is creating a core purpose. Now when I say purpose, you can insert many buzzwords here, we could use Simon Sinek, why we can use Northstar, we can use foundation, we can use purpose, however you would like to describe it doesn't hugely matter. But what I like to focus on with teams is they have a handle on why they exist. Of course they do, because there's a reason that they started their business. But quite often I find that they will have built a business around a specific problem that they were trying to solve. And sometimes it doesn't go any bigger than that. But for a lot of people, they do have that long term vision, you know, where are they trying to get to what kind of team do they want to build eventually? And there's no right or wrong answer. And I think sometimes people get get caught up with the idea of values and purpose and your well, you know, I'm not I'm not like a social good campaign. I don't want to change the world for the better. You know, I'm not trying to be Greenpeace and you say, Yeah, that's fine. But you do need to have a reason to exist, you do need to have something that you can hook your ideas into. So I often will use the example of Nike for this. Because if if you're speaking to somebody who hasn't really considered brand in its bigger context, quite often, if you speak to them and say, Well, what would you say that that Nikes brand purpose is? Sometimes they'll say, Just do it. But a lot of people understand that. That's a marketing strapline. And it's not their brand purpose. But they can't tell you what the brand purposes. But say, for example, that they have misunderstood and they think just do it is the brand purpose. I'm paraphrasing hugely here, if you want to go Google Nikes actual brand purpose statement, you can find it very easily. It's it's public knowledge. It's not a secret, but it's in paraphrase and terms, breaking barriers. And let's say that I was at an HR professional, right, so I'm not sitting in the design or brand and marketing department in Nike I'm in I'm in a very functional administrative role. But you can understand how if I have to make a new hire, and I'm basing that decision on just do it, the person at the end of that journey would be very different from the hire that I might make. If I'm using the the fundamental principle of breaking barriers. And that's where this that's where purpose is really important. That's where purpose can be kind of magic and can save you loads of time and loads of deliberation. If you have a core fundamental driving force, that's very simple and easy to remember. And, you know, out of that, depending on the team and the company, you might have some values you might have a mission statement, you might have a personality and some brand language that goes along with that. But really the only important thing to to nail down at the beginning is that purpose statement that one line that everybody can remember regardless of what they do. And that's the driving force so that everyone is pulling in the same direction, even if they're not actively doing design or brand or marketing work. So I really believe in values. But that purpose statement is kind of the the core thing for me.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 15:20
I love that. And especially nowadays, people are overwhelmed with information. So you cannot really expect to make them remember more than one thing. So having one thing such as the purpose, you're speaking about that you repeat again, and again, and again, like an exercise in memorization, because not only in branding, but in PR as well, they say, when you repeat something 100 times, and you're so bored of saying it, that's when your prospects begin to hear it. So there is no way that you can say it enough. But we're speaking now specifically about people who are considering branding, they're new at it. They're not experts. They're small businesses, often or medium size, and therefore, this is an objection that often comes up, which is, well, what if I'm wrong? Well, what if I'm restricting myself I want to be able to be everything? The same as with niching? Down? It's the same complaint? So what's your answer to people who will say, yes, but if I put that purpose, what if in two years I changed my mind? Or what if I choose wrong? I know you said it's not right or wrong, but they will feel it. So yeah, that's your answer to this.
Meri Wilson 16:39
I love that you mentioned niching down actually, because it's exactly the same argument. If you if you haven't gone and checked out Christo from the future, you definitely shared, he isn't he is the master of talking about this. But effectively speaking, it's all linked together. If you don't choose a tight or narrow enough niche where it feels uncomfortable, you're probably not going to be able to target your customers effectively. And what I mean by that is, unless you have the same kind of marketing budgets as the big players like Google, Facebook, etc, you're not going to be able to get in front of people in a relevant way. You can't just plaster yourself all over the internet. So you have to be smart about who you're targeting. And if you look at any of the big brands that exist now, they all started out with incredibly tight niches. If I go back to Nike for a second, when they first started out, they existed to create running shoes for one high school track team, right? We're talking the smallest niche you can possibly imagine. But that's what they existed to do. And it wasn't until they started becoming trusted and known as experts in that area. Did they start expanding? And I get this argument all the time from my clients, they say, Yeah, but what if a different kind of client comes to me? Or what if another opportunity opens up? Do I have to reject it? Because I've set this thing as my purpose? And of course you don't, especially at the beginning, when the fundamental principle is we need revenue, and we need more customers, you can take on all of the work, but the difference is, what do you then choose to show to the world? Because anything that you put in a testimonial or a portfolio or a set of case studies, you know, whatever you're using as your quote, unquote, proof of what you do that work that goes and gets seen, you will attract more of that work. That's just a basic psychological principle. People see that they've that you've done something that that relates to them, and they go, Oh, okay, I want that too. So if you put out work, or you talk about work, that isn't actually really what you want to pursue long term, then you're going to attract more of that work to you. And it feels risky. Not to talk about absolutely everything you've done, right, because you want to demonstrate I can do everything, I'm a jack of all trades, we can we are a full service. Business, full service is a term I hear so much. But actually, you're much more likely to get really, really good quality customers who stay with you for a specific set of things. If you are, take a pallet have a bit of confidence about being an expert in one or two things rather than trying to be everything to everyone. You cannot be relevant to everybody. So especially while you're small niching down harder will make you much more effective to a small group of people who are more likely to actually buy from you because you mean something to them. So the relevancy argument, and it is hard and I as a sole founder myself, I understand this so well. It's really, really hard to try and pick one specific audience. But when the question comes up about changing your purpose, I had a really good example of this recently, I helped a small teacher on mine. She is a she's a language teacher effectively. So she's bilingual Italian and English and what when COVID hit, she decided to start up a business as a, an online language teacher specifically focusing on adults who needed to learn English as a second language, particularly in kind of a business context.
And she got offered quite a big sum of money at one point by one of the companies that she was working with. And they said, we really love what you do, we'd love for you to create a standardized curriculum for us, for all of our employees. Now, her brand purpose that we have created together is nurturing individual adult learning. That's her core purpose. Now, the reason that individual was very important to her is that she mostly works with adults who have for whatever reason, been let down a little bit by the school system. So maybe they were told they just weren't good at languages, maybe for whatever reason, they had some sort of learning difficulty, and they just weren't learning in a neurotypical way. And so they weren't really, they didn't benefit from the traditional school system. So that was a big part of her business and a big part of her client base. So for her, the individuality and being able to create bespoke lessons is what she's really, really good at. So she came to me and said, Hey, I've had this, I've had this offer come in, and I could do it. But something's jarring about it with me. And I said, Okay, well, let's go back to your purpose statement for a second. What is it that's jarring between this decision and that purpose statement? And she said, Well, if I do this, then my, my services aren't individual anymore. They're not tailored or bespoke now. And I said, Okay, well, is that where you want to take the business? And she thought about it and said, No, I think even if I grow my team, eventually, I always want to be known for having that ability to tailor a learning plan to an individual. I said, well, then you've got your answer. Now, if she'd come to me and said, Yeah, eventually, I'd love to stop having to do individual lesson plans and to just have a set of core things that are standardized, right? It's not a wrong answer. But she didn't want to go in that direction. And the purpose helped her to make that decision. If she decided, yeah, actually, eventually, I think I do want to be more standardized, then we can evolve the purpose, you can always change it and evolve it. But the idea is not that it's, it's forever. I can't remember who said it now. But I had, there was a great quote recently from someone who said, your brand purpose should be on the horizon. So it's not right now, it's not for just now, it's not forever, but it's for, you know, the next five, maybe 10 years, depending on the sort of scale of your business and how you're planning to grow it. But it's long term, but it's not permanent. It's not set in stone, it can change, but if it changes, there's a fundamental reason that it's changing. So yeah, I think it can feel really limiting. But the idea is that you're creating a set of parameters to help you make faster and better decisions, so that you have focus, because if you have focus, you can be more relevant to a specific group of people, and they're much more likely to become repeat customers, loyal fans, etc.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 23:07
Thank you. That's really interesting, especially how it was her and her own drive that created the purpose. And so to ask you, do you believe the most powerful way to create your brand purpose is to look inside you what resonates with you, no matter what is in the market already, or to look in the market and find a gap, as many professionals will say, and then you fill that gap with your own purpose that nobody else is doing? Because what if what resonates with your heart is something that someone else somewhere is saying the same thing? Because after all, there are not like a billion purposes that resonate with human beings. There are a few core ones that resonate with everybody.
Meri Wilson 23:59
And it's a great question. So I think that for the most part, you have to find a balance between these things. So when you're finding a product and you're finding product market fit, then absolutely you have to be pragmatic about what is actually in the audience. Christo also talks about this in it in a quite a specific way where he, he mentions you need to find a balance between what the actual opportunity in the market is but also what's fulfilling and exciting to you because fundamentally, if it's not exciting to you, you're not going to continue to focus on it for years, decades, etc. You know, you need to do you need to have something that gets you excited and and if you want to keep working on it, and this is something I come up against quite a lot is this idea that you there's only one way to achieve success. We know it we obviously know that this isn't true, but especially in marketing terms and brand terms. I often see that people will be selling a course that's The very kind of follow these steps and you will achieve X. The difficulty with that is I think it doesn't take into account that everybody works in different ways. You know, some people are building their business as a side hustle, some people are building it with the intention that they want to sell it, some people are building it with the intention that they want it to become a, you know, an organization for social good. Eventually, once it's raised enough revenue to do that, again, there is no right or wrong answer here. But even just in the day to day of how you work, everybody is different. So when you're finding a purpose, there does have to be a balance between, you know, a core business ambition, that's going to work that you've that you've got enough data that there's actually going to be some opportunity there. But it also has to be something that you're excited about as the founder or as the founding team. If that's the case, you have to be excited about that as a as an ambition and as that big core reason for being. And if you're not, the likelihood is you're not going to stick the business out, you're not going to put the time and energy required into it. So it needs to be a balance between the two. And I personally think that finding your list of products and services, that's more about GAAP, that's more about a place in the market, that you know that there's some opportunity, but the way that you differentiate yourself is to be offering a set of products and services, but with a core purpose that's a little bit different from your competitors. Because we know that nobody is building an original business right now. Yeah, like everyone has an idea for a business. And we all know that there are, there are loads of other competitors out there for whatever you've got in your mind. And that's fine. It doesn't mean you can't succeed. You just need to, to be able to package it up in that in that. So what way you need to have a purpose that sets you apart.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 26:45
Thank you. So then maybe your answer to one of the fundamental questions, I think you answered it a little bit. But some people say, look, follow your heart and your passion, and destiny will unfold to help you succeed with it, even if in the beginning is challenging, just believe and have faith, while others say no, just follow the money. And when you have enough income, you can just hire people to manage whatever business you are, and you have and in your free time, you can just enjoy yourself and follow your dreams and passions. Which school of thought do you espouse? Or what's your perspective on this? Oh.
Meri Wilson 27:31
So I don't believe anybody can achieve anything without hard work. So as much as I love the idea of just finding something you're passionate about and hoping that it will become a business, you need to have some, some data. So one of the things that I that I believe in very strongly is, is tracking and finding evidence to see if things are working. When you're small, the great thing is you can try you can just try stuff and see if it's working. But you need to be really honest about whether it's working or whether it's not. I'm personally never going to be somebody who can build a business just to follow the money. That's again, it's not about a right or wrong thing. It's just I've been in jobs like that before and just found it so unfulfilling. I need to have some kind of personal investment in something bigger than just money. But that's not true of everybody. And it's not necessarily a problem. As long as you're open and honest about that, that being the reason that you're running a business, there's nothing worse than trying to tell to tell your audience that you exist for some greater good, when actually fundamentally you you are there to drive a profit. And that's it. It doesn't necessarily mean you won't get customers. I mean, look at Amazon, we know that the only reason they exist is to turn a profit, but we buy from them anyway. You know, the world has shown them that there is a huge demand for convenience over any kind of you know, bigger moral, ethical standing. But I think that that is starting to change in the sense that you don't need to be ethical. But if you're not if you're not picking a social good again, I'm I'm not building a business that is some big social good enterprise, no, but whatever your purpose is, it needs to be authentic. So it has to be it does have to come from from the core. And sometimes that's about passion, about a specific thing that you love doing every day. But actually, I think I think it's usually something a little bit bigger than that. It's not about the execution necessarily. I mean, there's, there's a school of thought that says, you know, if you want to write lines of code every day, then building a business might not be the best thing, if you just want to, if you just want to execute and make things then it's not that you can't build a business around that. But building a business requires a whole bunch of different skills. So either you need to find other people to help with that or you're gonna have to learn other things and be okay with not spending all of your time just executing or producing. So I don't I don't think means that you can just, you know, have a dream and hope that it will work. Everything requires hard work and perseverance. And even if it's the most exciting thing in the world for you, there are times when it's going to be really hard. And even if it's the, it's the, you know, most amazing product market fit. And then it's a no brainer, there will still be times when it's hard, and it's not going the way that you wanted. Or you've targeted an audience and realize that actually, it's not quite the right thing. And it's fine that it doesn't matter. You just have to be as pragmatic as you possibly can about this learnings and try. Try to decide for you what are the important metrics, you know, what, what are the important things for you and your growth and, and your trajectory as a business.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 30:43
Thank you so much, Mary, for this wonderful conversation and really enriching thoughts. And can you now share more about your business, the services you provide what people can expect, as well as where can they discover more? And I'll make sure to write your Twitter or the website link in the episode description. Thank you.
Meri Wilson 31:07
Yeah, sure. So my company is called Earthbound. We're based in the UK and we are specialists in helping independent, largely creative businesses to grow and scale and achieve success through brand marketing and leadership. So we do quite a lot of work on internal culture as well. So if you're looking to make those first few hires, and you're not sure what how your brand translates to internal culture, we can help with that. So our website is earthbound dot studio, and you can find me on Twitter, which as these will link for you.
Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 31:42
Thank you so much, Mary. This was my privilege, my honor, and I wish you to keep going you're helping a lot of people and thank you again,
Meri Wilson 31:52
thank you so much for having me as always, I really appreciate it.