Branding Fundamentals

Episode 7: Branding Fundamentals, with Karley Cunningham

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Branding fundamentals is a way to infuse values into your brand and attract ideal clients. Learn about branding fundamentals here.

Karley Cunningham, a Brand Strategist & Business Growth Accelerator, applies branding fundamentals principles to take businesses from overcrowded, competitive spaces out into blue ocean territory where they can confidently stand out and thrive as brand leaders in their sector.

Companies that want to be distinct in their marketplace retain Karley to sharpen their positioning and differentiation strategies to cut through the noise. Karley’s international client-base benefits from accelerated growth, increased profit, and stability as her innovative Surefire Method™ provides them with a strategy and toolkit.

Having built three successful businesses, Karley knows what it takes to start, develop, and lead a company that delivers results. Her entrepreneurial success story is featured in the awarded book: The Widest Net by Pamela Slim. In addition, she’s a sought-after mentor and speaker for national and international business organizations and the host of The Made Possible Podcast.

Believing deeply in the practice of givers gain, she is well-known and networked, and rarely goes a day without making a referral or connection. As a former pro athlete, Karley is performance-driven. An avid mountain biker, she is a two-time finisher of the BC Bike Race, a seven-day, 325 km mountain bike stage race, and is always looking out for her next trail running adventure. When not focusing on the business or expanding her network, she can be found somewhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest with her wife and dog in their 4×4.


What you will learn in this episode about branding fundamentals:

  • How to infuse your branding fundamentals,  values, truths, and beliefs into your brand — and why you want to
  • What “blue ocean territory” is, and how to find yours
  • Why Karley says that branding is NOT marketing
  • What you can do to move away from the RFP process — and why Karley believes that it shouldn’t even exist
  • How to avoid the “comparison trap” by focusing on your clients instead of your competitors
  • Why you want to be fully-aligned with your clients — and what happens when you’re not
  • How attracting right-fit clients by adapting branding fundamentals will naturally help you repel wrong-fits



Branding Fundamentals: Full Episode Transcript


Branding fundamentals in today’s competitive market is about establishing a solid brand identity is paramount for businesses seeking to stand out and connect with their target audience.


Welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast. I’m Stephen Woessner, CEO of Predictive ROI. And my team and I, we created this podcast specifically for you. So if you’re an agency owner, a business coach, or a strategic consultant and looking to grow a thriving, profitable business that can weather the constant change that unfortunately seems to be our world’s reality, then you’re in the right spot.


You want to learn branding fundamentals and proven strategies for attracting a steady stream of well-prepared, right-fit prospects into your sales pipeline. Yup, we’re going to cover that. You want to learn how to step away from the sea of competitors so you actually stand out and own the ground you’re standing on. Yeah, we’re going to cover that, too. You want to futureproof your business so you can navigate the next challenges that come your way.


Absolutely. We’re going to help you there, too. I promise you, that each episode of this podcast will contain valuable insights and tangible examples of best practices, not theory. From thought leaders, experts, and owners who’ve done exactly what you’re working hard to do. So, I want you to think practical and tactical. No fluff. Each of our guests has built a position of authority and then monetized that position by claiming their ground, growing an audience, nurturing leads, and, yeah, converting sales.


But they’ve done all of that by being helpful. So every time someone from their audience turns around there, they are with a helpful answer to an important question. So their prospects never, ever felt like they were a prospect. I promise you that every strategy we discuss and every tool we recommend will be shared in full transparency so you can take and apply.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Karley Cunningham’s Introduction


An expert in branding fundamentals and business growth. I am super excited for you to meet our very special guest expert today, Karley Cunningham. If you’re meeting Karley for the very first time, she’s the founder of Big Bold Brand Inc., and she’s an expert in the areas of business growth and brand strategy. So Karley and I, are going to talk through how to stand out, but it’s more than just looking and sounding different.


We’re going to dig into how to move out of competitive spaces, and how to begin to swim into the blue ocean territory so that you own your niche. Karley has also built a methodology that she calls the SureFire method, and I’m sure we’ll touch on that too, because here’s what Karley and I want for you, as a result of listening to this conversation.


We want you to have the courage to make the necessary changes and decisions inside your business that will give you what you need to attract. Yes. Private clients. Awesome. And then have the confidence to charge a premium price. Amazing. And then by doing both of those, you outpace your competitors because you did it. So without further ado, my friend. Welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast. Karley. 


Thank you, Stephen. That is the first time I have heard the intro to this because I know it’s still in the can and getting ready to be released and I am even more amped after listening to what you’re doing with Sell with Authority. Well, thank you for saying yes, and thank you to our mutual friend Susan, if you happen to be listening.


Thank you very much for introducing Karley and me so that we could have this conversation in front of our listeners. And Karley, thank you for your generosity, for sharing your time, expertise, and smarts. So, before we dive in with what I’m sure is going to feel like being peppered with a whole bunch of questions, take us behind the curtain and give us a little bit more context beyond the bio.


Tell us a little bit more about your past and journey, and then we’ll dive in. Where to start on this? Can I pick a point and say, “I’ve been an athlete my whole life,” and you’re thinking, “Well, okay, what does an athlete have to do with talking to our clients? Because you’re in branding and business strategy, and I’m performance-driven.”


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Branding Fundamentals: Being Performance-Driven


When talking about branding fundamentals, I don’t want to take on things that aren’t going to drive results for our clients, that is, that aren’t going to serve them. And in so doing that, I’m always looking at the bigger picture and the ripple effect of if we do this in a business, whether it’s change a strategy, change a tactic, change the court messaging, crack something open to get deeper into it, how is that going to affect the rest of the business?


I keep in mind branding fundamentals and take a strategic approach. It’s the big picture approach that I take, and because I naturally think that way, it’s led me into some really interesting places in business. So, you know, I guess you could say I’m an extra expert in branding because I love it. I was really challenged by and am often challenged by clients who ask me, “Does this fluffy stuff really work?”


And for a long time I had to say, “Well, I’ve been doing this for X number of years. And, you know, Stephen referred me and he’s seen results, so let’s just trust.” But it annoyed me so much that I started to dig into, well, how do you quantify the results? The brand and strategy have? Because they’re complex and they’re nuanced.


And so I get really just to and it’s funny because I’m bad at math, but figure out the multi-part equations of if we do this in our business, you know, simply get clear on our messaging, how do we evaluate the value that has? As an example, well, if you get clear in your messaging and the whole team has access to it, then everybody starts telling the same story, and everybody knows who they’re looking for in their business.


So if everybody knows who their ideal clients are and everybody’s telling the same story, then guess what? You start resonating with your clients, and you see more of them come in the door. So it’s not really my bio, but it’ll give you an essence of the nerdy stuff I like to get up to. Well, you had me at Multipart Equation, so love any sort of calculus or statistics reference.


But all joking aside, when you talked about being performance-driven, the ripple effect and being consciously aware of one thing here equals two things down the path in a sort of however you want to describe that metaphor, everything from economics to marketing, that’s a reality. And then when you mentioned cracking something open, I’m like, okay, so there’s a bit of a mad scientist in there which I love, right?


You want to be able to split it open, deal with the mess, and figure that out. Sometimes, that requires experimentation. Sometimes, it’s great, and sometimes, it’s not. But even if the result outcome is not, it is still a good result outcome to get to where you want to go so fast.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Showing People the Value That You Offer


Discussing branding fundamentals is going to be a great conversation. Okay, so let’s go to the high level first, and then we’ll break this down through the conversation. So when we think about the blue ocean, why do you believe that there’s this linkage between, as I was thinking about, like how to frame up sort of the strategic side of our conversation? It became apparent to me.


It’s like, okay, she believes that there’s this linkage, at least I hope I got this right. There’s this linkage between if you’re in the blue ocean, you’re going to attract your clients, you’re going to outpace your competitors, and you’re going to, and by doing that, you’re also going to be able to charge a premium price, which also probably creates some distance between the competitors.


So am I getting sort of your point of view in all of that linkage? Correct. Yeah, absolutely. You know, when you don’t have to you know, the metaphor of blue ocean is to touch on that in case there’s some folks diving in. There we go cruise play with the whole ocean metaphor, it’s diving in who hasn’t read the book “Do you want to swim where everybody else is swimming, where the sharks are likely to show up?”


And that’s the red ocean. You know, everybody’s swimming to get away from someone else or they’re getting eaten, they’re getting eaten for lunch and the oceans red. I can’t say why it’s red because it’s kind of gross. But you figure out where is your unique space away from those competitive waters. When you do that, you can start having more authentic conversations.


You can start saying to folks, “Hey, we’re over here. Do you want to come swim with us? Because over here looks like this.” You know, people go, and then all of a sudden, because you’re out in the blue ocean and you’re the only one floating out there, then they’re unlikely or less likely to be in conversation with others who could be serving them.


And then they’re not comparing your price to their price, they’re comparing your value and the relationship. And hopefully, if you’re someone who offers packages, it’s not a choice between us or them. It’s a choice between “Is this a better fit for you or is that a better fit for you?” And you figure out that fit because you have the time to talk to them.


You know you’re moving out of that RFP space or the, hey, we’re going out to 3 to 3 people because they just resonate with who you are. Okay, So let’s let’s talk about that for a second because I suspect you just had a pain point for some people in our audience who are in that RFP space. And I have never, ever, ever met an agency owner, a business coach, an owner of a consultancy who said, I love the RFP process, I wish I could do more of it, said no one ever.


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Branding Fundamentals: RFPs Aren’t Always for Everyone


Right. So let’s go through that a little bit more about branding fundamentals. So it sounds like if you’re saying, let’s find the blue ocean, let’s work hard on attracting private clients, because when we do, we will either attract a business that no longer requires an RFP, maybe we bypass the RFP, or we’ve attracted so many, right, say, clients that the RFP process becomes irrelevant.


We don’t even have to pay attention to it. Am I tracking with you? You’re absolutely tracking with me. Or the other option is to take a bold stance that we did several years ago and just refuse to do our piece. Now, I know that reality doesn’t exist for some agencies. However, if everybody’s agreeing to do RFP, you’re allowing yourself to swim back into that red ocean.


You’re consciously choosing to return to where everybody else is. And I have a real beef. If I had all the money in the world, I would probably go off on why RFP should fail to exist like an open letter and develop a whole website to teach people, in particular our prospective clients. Why is RFP not good for them?


They could be better for everybody. Think about this. How long does it take you to write an RFP? The very last one took us about 10 to 20 hours, and we had some canned content. So you think about how you’ve got to create all the content. Then the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to write great RFPs, so there’s no guide, and nobody teaches anybody.


So they’re asking questions about branding fundamentals that may not even apply to their project, which might send you off in a different direction. And then how are they evaluating them? You don’t know. There’s all this guesswork that goes in, and the closest unless you disrupt the cycle and can get in or are an incumbent, the best you’re going to get is getting on a call with all the other agencies to hear what they have to say and maybe get to ask a couple of questions so that you’re investing time, energy, resources.


And I know because I’m reading your book right now, wouldn’t it be better to create content that attracts those ideal clients and say, “Hey, wouldn’t you rather be in conversation with an agency or a firm or a coach who gets you versus reading hours of RFP content? Because that’s going to take your people at least up to 10 to 20 hours and think about you’re going to choose one of ten companies that apply.”


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Know What Sets You Apart from Your Competitors


How many hours have you wasted for everyone? But okay, I’m done with my rant. Well, okay, but well, let’s take that. Let’s say it using your words. Let’s crack something open because I think we just did on this topic when you mentioned the content piece, right? Would you like to find a partner who, instead of trying to sell you something through the RFP process, takes an entirely different point of view and wants to teach and they want to share, and they want to educate?


They’re never going to ask you for anything with any expectation of return. But every time you have a question, there they are. Karley, is with something big, something bold, something helpful that makes you better every single day because you paid attention to what she had to say. That sets you apart right now. And the one thing that I find so many people hate selling is when you do what you just described, you don’t have to sell anymore because you’re being of service.


That is such a better position of strength, authority, and ease. Yeah, 100%. You and I are clearly on the same page there. So then how does somebody who’s listening to you right now and is like, okay, I get the blue ocean thing that she’s talking about? I understand the difference between the red ocean. I don’t want to be there and the benefit of being the blue one.


I get it. It makes sense conceptually. How does an owner who’s listening to you right now decide which ocean is the proper ocean? And let’s not talk about getting there yet, but how did they decide that, it’s not an ocean? There are so many things that you can consider. Is it a certain part of your industry or sector?


Is it a geographic area? I mean, COVID opened up the whole world to my business typically. I mean, I’ve served clients all over the globe, but typically, you know, West Coast, Vancouver area, and people who refer us. So it spreads. But all of a sudden, through podcasting, through taking this position of authority, I acquired a client in New Zealand and I acquired a client in Japan.


So that kind of blew my expectation out of, well, great, now I can reach anywhere. Digital operations, right? But the ocean is about where you want to play. There are so many business owners, and I think we will go down this path. So I’m just going to dive right in again when you’re seeking to push yourself out away from where you’ve been competing, the red ocean, if you’re funding your competing, you’re bumping into the same people, or are you just having to sell a lot and you know, you’re being compared.


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Branding Fundamentals: Comparison Is the Thief of Joy


Understanding branding fundamentals, people often look at what’s going on externally in their organization. You know, I call it the comparison trap. We’re going to go and look at our closest competitors, do market research or find the brands that are the best within our agency, and look at their websites. I will pull this information down and pick two or three to focus on.


That’s a big trap because if those folks have done their job well, then you might just find yourself compelled by what they’re saying, especially if they hired an excellent writer. Yep. But the thing is, how do you know that their ideal clients are your ideal clients? I know someone who’s a consultant who loves jumping into a situation when the.


You know what’s on fire. Sure, that’s not a place I like to play. Right? Right. So what you can’t see behind the curtain is dangerous and worse. How do you know that that agency didn’t tell their part of their team to say, “Hey, you go position us? How do you know that those folks didn’t go and look at everybody else’s website and just use it as a pushing-off point?”


Then everybody comes back to sounding a lot of like again. So as opposed to looking at the external things of what’s going on, take a look at inside. Who are you? What do you stand for? Who are your ideal clients? And a lot of your listeners, based on who you’ve told me, are already in business, they already know who the clients are they love working with.


So wouldn’t it be great? I’m going to use a dated metaphor here, but wouldn’t it be great if we just poured water on them like gremlins and duplicated them? But they were the good gremlins. All our clients were moguls, and all we wanted to do was work with them all day long. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?


That can actually happen. When you look internally and say, Who are people? Who believes what we believe? Who’s going to resonate with what we stand for? Because we’re for this and against that? Okay, there are a few things to break down. Is there actually more than that? This is really awesome. I love the fact that you brought up the comparison trap while understanding the branding fundamentals.


I totally agree. And you know, immediately—I mean, literally immediately—Karley, when you said that, I thought of Eleanor Roosevelt when she said comparison is the thief of all joy now. And I know that you’re sharing it from a business context. And because now we’re starting to compare, we don’t have all the apples to apples, all of that. But it is the thief of all joy.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: The Teeter-Totter Analogy


You may do something awesome and well, but when you start measuring yourself against competitors who have something completely different and maybe are focusing to your point on completely different prospects, and their definition of an ideal client is not yours, then you allow yourself to fall into that trap. I am so glad that you said that because it’s more destructive than it is beneficial.


And that’s what you’re saying, right? Yeah. And the person telling you this is someone who’s who’s suffered that trap before when I was younger. And now people tell you, go look at your competition, see what they’re doing right. Coach, that hurt. Yeah, right. And, and because, you know, we all have our own gifts and talents and, you know, when people have asked me that before, like about Predictive, and I say I don’t pay attention to our competition and I think someone who doesn’t know me well may say, well, that’s an arrogant thing.


And I’m like that. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is what I care about is what our audience needs and how we can be, like, super helpful to our audience and how we can every time they turn around there, we are being helpful, like, how can we be better at helping them be better every day? That’s what I care about, right in it. Our point of view is on them.


At least that’s where it should be. What do you think? I 100% agree. And that brings up another analogy about branding fundamentals that I talk about quite often, and that’s the teeter-totter analogy. And, you know, when we have our ideal clients, the people we align with, the people that I always say for my clients and how I vet in the first few meetings is if I can’t imagine inviting you to my family dinner table for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, you will not be one of my clients.


That is awesome. There’s just a sense to that. And also, if you think about it, when things get tense because, you know, sometimes we can disagree with our clients, sometimes we can. They’re not seeing what we’re seeing, and, you know, as Brené Brown says, sometimes you say something that was taken the wrong way, and someone tells themselves a story.


But when you get to call that elephant in the room, or someone’s going to have a hard conversation, don’t you want to be having that hard conversation with someone who you think you can have it with, who you respect, who there’s a sense of trust because not everything we do is easy. But back to the teeter totter is when we’re working with the clients who are like us.


There is this nice fine balance when you understand branding fundamentals. But if we build our positioning and our brand solely by saying, well, what is it that our clients want? And we’re not deep on an understanding of who the ideal client is, there’s this risk of all of a sudden the teeter-totter drops. If this is the client side and they know it’s on video.


So if you can imagine the client, the teeter-totter drops audio, and video, it’s a little bit of a difference there. But, you know, the waiting drops to the client side. And if you’re you remember when you were a kid, you used to play the game and if someone got you down or their mother came on and they sat on the teeter-totter, all of a sudden you’re just sitting there going, Charlie Brown, let me down in.


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Branding Fundamentals: Keeping The Balance in Alignment


This one goes, “What will you give me?” This puts your client in a powerful position of negotiation, and you’re probably not going to like what they’re negotiating for if you’re not aligned with them or they’re not aligned or they expect more than you are conditioned or willing to give. So you are choices. You’re going to get bounced off that teeter-totter.


Are you going to slide down to their side? That’s their territory. So you want to keep that balance in alignment to continuously negotiate and work together to make it fun. Otherwise, you get out later, and you’re like, “Well, this is boring. I’m just hanging out here with my toes dangling around.” Okay, I love this analogy for several different reasons, but I’ll push on this.


One is that, you know, most business owners will aimlessly wander through the wilderness when they need to learn about branding fundamentals. You mentioned don’t like to sell, right? They don’t. They actually need to find out where their next claim is going to come from. They take whatever swims into the net, as Drew and I like to talk about. Sometimes that’s the salmon Drew McClellan Agents or Agency Management Institute.


Sorry for the lack of context there, Karley. We’re talking about Drew in the green room there. But sometimes you’ll catch a salmon. Sometimes it’s a boot, right? When we’re not really specific about what you just described, Karley, in, you know, getting the balance right, whatever metaphor you want to use. But when we’re not specific about what is right for a client or your words, an ideal client looks like sometimes reading salmon for dinner, and other times it’s we’re not on some leather, and that doesn’t feel awesome right now.


Okay. Let’s say that our listeners are thinking, “Okay, I’m so convinced I need to find my ocean and I need to take Karley’s advice in doing that.” And they identify the ocean like, is there is there anything to it or is there a process? Is there some sort of magic formula? You know, you mentioned the multipart equation before, like how they move from where they are today and actually get into the ocean.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Developing Consistent Core Messaging


Learning branding fundamentals, what are some of the things that you have seen that they’re going to have to traverse or get over obstacles, whatever if anything? Well, you’ve done well with the Segway where we specialize. So thank you for that. Okay. So I couldn’t have set up the volley better myself, but I have spent the last ten years looking at this and going, how does one truly, from a brand perspective differentiate?


And in that, branding fundamentals tell how they also develop clear and consistent core messaging positioning. And what it comes down to is getting clear on their fundamental beliefs and truths. So, if you remember, I said we need to go internal and look inside, okay? Who are we like? How do we show up in the world? How do we want to make people feel any time, not just in the sales process, but any time that they interact with us? What are those feelings? 


Okay, what does our tone of voice need to be as a collective whole? What is it that we do? But that comes later. There was a specific order to develop what’s within the SureFire toolkit that can help you develop great brand positioning. It has aspects of business strategy as well.


It can help you attract the people you need. So the staff, the clients, the top talent, we look at your target audience profiles, what’s the vision for where you want to head? There are some other tools that I’m sure you and I will touch on, but it’s getting clear on who we are, what we do, the value we deliver, for whom and what differentiates us, and then how we wrap that into our unique value proposition?


Because in branding fundamentals, the value prop is what we do. But, well, what makes you unique? Why would I choose you over the competition, our brand story, and our brand promise? Okay, this is awesome. You’re here. We’re cracking open something else, and I’m really intrigued by these three words. I guess there are four words in the statement, but the three words in particular, fundamental love, that fundamental foundational kind of have its fundamental beliefs and truths.


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Branding Fundamentals: Setting The Foundation for The Agency’s Beliefs


Let’s crack that open more. Why do you believe so strongly that there are fundamental beliefs and truths, like that was the first thing that you mentioned in this process? So why do you put that first? Branding fundamentals is a tricky word, and a lot of our business owners listening to this are going to be, well, why did the fundamentals? I’ve done the 1 to 1, and I know what my brand is.


Here’s the nuance and I’ll ask you this. Okay, great. That you know what your fundamental beliefs and truth are. And I know we’re going to tie that together. Are they out of your head and down on paper? Does your leadership team or, you know, if you have a small team, does everyone touching anyone that your business touches, know what those are, or are they just following you around asking you what our vision is?


Again, Karley, you want our guiding principles because I don’t know how to make effective decisions for our business because I’ve only been here three months, right? So the branding fundamentals are key and critically important. And so often, they’re locked in the business owners’ or the partners’ heads, and everybody’s just expecting them to learn by osmosis. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work.


So, branding fundamentals are setting the foundation for who we are as an organization and what we believe. So beliefs. There are things that you and I would probably do if we sat down over. I call it an after-work drink because not everybody partakes, and hey, you want to go for a beer? I thought you were going to say Thanksgiving.


You are still thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. We’re not Thanksgiving. We’re okay. We’re doing something. But I’m coming to your place for Thanksgiving, ’cause okay, y’all do it better than we do up here. So, just so you know, alright? The expectation is we will have a table setting for you, but I’m willing to believe that you and I have because we get along so well and have from it.


We got on, like, know, a house on fire the minute we met. And so we knew because we were introduced to it by like people that we would share some of the same values. But I’m sure you and I would also find things that we don’t agree on, sure and that’s okay. We can challenge each other positively because we have that overlap.


But the beliefs are really about, well, what we as an organization and typically, the clients we work with are small to midsize businesses. So it could be one leader who is growing and getting ready to scale, and they’re like, okay, what do I want to attract to my business? Where do I know we’re going? Or it could be a leadership team.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Don’t Become Something That You’re Not


Could they find that dialog to go, What do we what do we setting up the organization as as its own body and its own character? But what do we believe in? One of my beliefs is that branding is not marketing. Understanding branding fundamentals is actually a business strategy. It’s not tactical; it’s not marketing action. But I guarantee you there are some marketers out there who would disagree with me.


So if you’re spending all your time trying to pull your clients and your suppliers and your team members over to your belief system, well, that’s a whole lot of wasted energy. Okay. So what’s so important, let’s think about that for just a second, because when you said the polling, I was like, I wonder if that’s a signal then that they’re not the right fit.


Absolutely. Okay. Or convincing. Yeah. So like, if you are feeling like you have to cajole, persuade, convince, pull whatever action word you want to use. So it should it, right? It shouldn’t be that way, right? Absolutely. Okay. Yeah. So yeah, let’s talk about truth. True. So the things that we stand for, our guiding principles, they’re also the things that, and they’re the deal breakers, and they’re just simple truth of who we are that we can’t or won’t change about ourselves.


I mean, we were talking about Susan Baier. She’s been one of my key influencers as well. Thank you, Susan. And so when she was helping me evolve my business a few years ago and really hone in on this work that we do in the SureFire method and effectively helping a business build its core set of fundamental beliefs and truth and the tools they need to drive their business powered and thrive.


I said, okay, Susan, that’s great, but what about all these other things that I’ve done? Because we’ve acquired so many skills over the years. What if a client asks us to do that? She goes, I have a few words for you. Yeah, we don’t do that. I too. Susan, if you’re listening, I want you to know that I love that about her.


I love that about you. My gosh. This is awesome. Yeah. One of the other truths, and this will be key to your audience, is that Susan and I get on like a house on fire because we’re both pretty unapologetic for who we are. You know, I am. I’ve spent my early twenties and thirties being a chameleon to fit into certain circles, to have to feel it, to sell my business, to sell my services, to feel accepted.


I mean, there’s some underlying stuff there for sure on a personal side, but I’ve just gotten to a point where it’s like, I know what I like, I know who I like working with, I know what I’m good at. Yeah, and this is the way I show up. And if you’re not comfortable with someone who shoots from the hip and tells it like it is, sometimes, for a fact, I will drop a four-letter word if that makes you uncomfortable.


I’m not for you, and that’s okay because I’m willing to help you if I know someone who could be great. So I’m willing to help you find them. But let’s just not fool ourselves into thinking that you’re going to enjoy working with me. Okay, this is another instance where you and I think might be on the same page.


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Branding Fundamentals: Don’t Feel Bad About a Client Who Isn’t the Right Fit


Understanding branding fundamentals if you’re if you’re if you’re doing it well to attract the ideal clients, then by doing it well, you’re also repelling the wrong fit clients, right? Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing because you’re repelling cost, you’re saving time, and you’re potentially creating time, space, and freedom for your team. You’re giving them the opportunity to work with clients that are the right fit instead of like, you know, going back to what you said, the selling, the cajoling, the convincing, the whatever, and that just day after day after day, that just feels yucky.


You’re saving your team a whole lot. Everyone in your organization is a whole lot frustrated about that one client who isn’t a right fit, I think. They’re not bad people. Well, most of them are not bad people. They don’t intentionally do things to irritate you, but they do these things that drive you crazy. Or they ask for this extra work because they don’t know better, or they aren’t educated, or X-Y-Z.


It’s just everybody at the table goes when that person’s name comes, or that company’s name comes up. Well, here’s the reality, everyone that every client is the right fit client for someone, but that doesn’t mean that the right fit client for you. Right. And that’s what I love about what you are walking us through. A few minutes ago is a great litmus test to figure out who is the right fit client for you and then say thank you, but no, and then they can go find somebody else where they are right. For a client for that team, right?


So let’s think about the SureFire method for a few minutes. And so what I’m curious about with that is like, is part of that and part of finding the blue ocean, part of outpacing competitors, part of finding or attracting the the ideal client. Like, is that work ever done, or is it there’s always something to do?


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Take The Time to Build Your Tools


There are always ways to improve. There’s always incremental, there’s always ways to get better. Incrementally, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. I would love to get your point of view on that. Definitely, And it is always evolving. But here’s the thing: If you never take the time to build the foundation, the house will always stand on something shaky.


So, you know, be at the next if we’re using the House analogy, be it the next tornado comes along, why are we still building it on wood sticks as opposed to a solid foundation? So taking the time to get clear and build those tools, then instead of having to constantly adjust and remember well, who is it that we are and what did they say our guiding principles were?


And things evolve over time. And the danger here is that telephone game one of our clients right now is we’re helping them rebuild their customer experience. I mean, COVID blew that out of the water. It took them digital, they’re retail, and now they’re relying on two of their key people who used to train their retail staff have left and they’re like, okay, so how did we train them?


What is our fundamental process? The same goes for your beliefs in truth. So, getting them down on paper, then it’s simply an exercise of looking at the 11 tools in that tool kit and going, okay, it’s in place, it’s down on paper. That’s the first two criteria. Does it exist? Is it down on paper for everyone to use?


The next step is it activate and integrate into our processes. But the piece in the middle of that, one of the evaluators, is whether it is still relevant. Is it current and relevant? You may have added a new service line, so you have to solve a different customer problem. So now you have a new target audience. Okay, so instead of redoing all our audiences, we add, maybe we take one away because we don’t want to continue serving them because we’ve decided that service is a real pain in the butt to deliver or nobody else is buying it.


So you have a tool kit, and when a tool wears out, you replace it, right? You could buy a whole new tool kit unless, of course, you’ve decided you’re completely shifting from fixing cars to fixing Mack trucks. That’s where a rebrand takes place. That’s where a repositioning takes place. But when you’ve got those tools, then you can look at and if you’re doing a rebrand, you can look at the tool kit that you had and say, “Well, what carries forward?”


There are truths coming with us as people because we’re not going to throw away our values, we’re not going to change and be modern. Now, all of a sudden, we don’t value people who care anymore. If caring is a big aspect of your family, I love how you blended in this really powerful litmus test and what you just shared.


And here’s here’s what I mean by that. You said, “Is it activated?” And I literally wrote it in my notes. Karley, I highlighted it right there. It’s so huge because my guess is you’ve met many who are like, yeah, we know that already. Yeah, but are you doing it? If you actually activated it, if you actually rinsed and repeated it over and over and over again so that your team knows what your beliefs and truths are repetitive so that if you set them just one more time, you’d get sick to your stomach because you repeated them so many times and then say them one more time because then they’re probably going to actually start to digest it or take it inside, right? So like when you said, “Is it activated?”, I’m like, “Wow, that’s a powerful litmus test.” That is, if somebody asked me why I do brands, and when I say brands, I’m not talking about a product brand because I deal in company brands; I deal with people. So, brand and business are synonymous if we just go to the definition of brand for a second.


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Branding Fundamentals: Your Company Defines Who You Are


In branding fundamentals, a brand equals reputation multiplied by exposure. Okay, so your brand is an output, a result of your company’s reputation. Or if you’re a culture consultant, what is your reputation as your personal brand as you show up in business? And then reputation is the marketing part, the exposure part, the building, my widest net part, leveraging off Pam Slim’s work.


How are we getting out to the world? What comes back to you is your brand. What people say about you is what your company is. And I believe, coming back to that question of business owners going to this fluffy stuff, it really works. Yes. If you take it off the page and believe these things, then let them drive your business.


Yeah. And so one of the things we teach our clients is just what integration and activation means. Activation means your team is starting to use them and experiment with ways of how they deliver customer service, how they support each other and just their daily actions. Integration means we’re going to take our brand promise and ensure that our core processes, no matter what department, are delivering on our promise.


So, I’ll give you an example. One of our clients, Whistler Immigration, is coming back to us. I think I mentioned them earlier. Their brand promise is unlocking opportunities that create an exponential positive impact for our clients, our community, and our country. So their people should be asking themselves, “Am I creating a positive impact? Is there going to be a positive ripple effect of this?”


And not just when I’m serving our clients, but it’s about our community. And, you know, if we’re going to work with this partner who is at a national level, is it going to do better for our country? So you’re teaching people that too, to analyze their actions and behaviors critically and you’re teaching them to build it into their processes.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Becoming An Expert in What You Do Takes Times


One of the things that I’ve learned is that a lot of agencies—sorry, agency folks who are listening—you might not like me—one of the things that I recognized is that agencies tend to hand over the guide, either the strategy, the business strategy, or the brand guide, and they’re like, “There you go. Are we done?” Yeah. And the clients love going, but what we’re like, it’s really exciting.


I can see that the core messaging is here, but what do I do with it outside of that? That’s the activate and integrate part. That’s where the rubber hits the road, and that’s why when our darling clients, the motivated clients who are really looking to create change and do good and chase their dreams, when they integrate those men, they take off because everybody for the cheesy metaphor of everybody’s in the same in the rowboat, face in the right direction, moving to the same beat, rowing at the same cadence.


That’s undeniable. You’re not going to row in a circle. You’re not going to look to your left or your right. You’re all going to be looking ahead. Well, actually, sorry, you are that analogy. I just realized that everybody’s looking backward, but you know where you’re going. Somebody is looking in the right direction. No, actually, they’re not. But I digress.


Well, okay. When I was at the beginning of this conversation, I knew that we were getting close to the end of our time together, but you mentioned athletics. Nobody becomes a good athlete just by lacing up the shoes or whatever or getting onto the track or getting into the gym for the first time, and all of a sudden they’re ready for the Olympics.


That’s not how biology and physiology work. It takes over and over and over and over again, doing it over and over and over again to build that muscle memory. Like like we understand that is a fundamental truth for athletics or for somebody to perform at a high level. But I think it’s fascinating using the business examples that you just walked us through in creating this thing and then assessing somebody is asking, we think that they’re just going to absorb it through osmosis and we don’t continue to train on it over and over and over again to actually get better practice, right?


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Branding Fundamentals: Just Keep on Practicing


Just practice the practice, that’s the activation piece. This has been so good. Really, really great. And I am so grateful for your time. Before we close out and say goodbye, I want to make sure that our audience knows the best way to connect with you and also any final recommendations that you might have. So any final recommendations?


The best way to connect with you, Karley, is to take the time to do it. Let’s start with the final recommendations because this is all about your audience avoiding the comparison trap. Don’t just scratch the surface. Be brave, go deep, and be bold. You have to have the guts to go deep and ask who we are and take the time to do it.


I guarantee you it will pay off. And when you’re clear on who we are, what we do, what makes us different, practice it and shout it from the rooftops. Because your people are going to hear you. I’m into that where you can find me. Best channels LinkedIn, Karley Cunningham, KKR, Lee Cunningham. I’m just like in Happy Days. For those of you, I just dated myself and you’re like the right show.


My website is And also if you’re cool with me offering something. Sure, of course. All right. So if you go to and I’ll send Stephen a link we’ll drop it in the notes. Okay I’ve created an audit, a guide that tells you what those 11 tools you’ve heard me talk about are And the audit.


Remember I was talking about does it exist? Is it developed? Is it current and relevant? Is it activated and is it complete? There’s an audit in there. So a lot of the folks listening are going to have some of those tools. But one last tip, get it out of your head and onto paper. Give it to your team.


Teach them how to use it. That guide will help you out. Try reaching out to me. That sounds awesome. And as Karley said, everyone, it’ll be in our show notes. And so this episode is airing on May 18th, just a few days before Karley and our team and many others, hundreds of others, are going to be at the Build a Better Agency summit in Chicago.


Learn more about Karley and her take on branding fundamentals by visiting her website


Branding Fundamentals: Closing Remarks


So if you happen to be going to Chicago in just a few short days as you’re listening to this, Karley will be there. So that would be a great opportunity if you’d like to meet her in person, she’ll be there. It’s just been so amazingly awesome, Karley. So no matter how many notes you took or how often you go back and relisten to Karley’s words of wisdom, and I sure hope that you do.


The key is you have to take what she shared with you and you have to activate it. You have to take it, apply it, put it into your business, and activate it over and over and over again. So with that, my friend, I am grateful that you said yes and came on to the show to be our mentor and guide and help us do all of these things with greater excellence.


Thank you so much, Karley. Thank you, Stephen. It’s always a pleasure to be in the same sandbox box with you.


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The Sell with Authority Podcast is for agency owners, business coaches, and strategic consultants who are looking to grow a thriving, profitable business that can weather the constant change that seems to be our world’s reality.

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