Brand Consistency vs. Coherence with Barbara Apple Sullivan

barbara apple sullivan on brand

“Digital has democratized marketing … Consumers are playing an active role in defining our brands.” Barbara Apple Sullivan would know. As the founder and managing partner at Sullivan, she’s helped complex regulated brands like American Express and Merrill Lynch build and socialize strong brand architectures. I couldn’t wait to discuss all of this with Barbara this week on the On Brand podcast.

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About Barbara Apple Sullivan

Barbara Apple Sullivan founded Sullivan in 1990 after spending more than a dozen years on the client side in the financial services industry. Recognizing a gap in how she was being serviced, Barbara understood that there was a need for agencies dedicated to helping complex businesses reach customers and prospects through the sales funnel rather than simply focusing on high level brand and awareness building. With this in mind, she launched Sullivan & Company and has grown the agency into a highly strategic group of nearly 60 employees serving clients across the financial and professional services, technology, higher education, industrial, and lifestyle industries.

Current clients include American Express, Merrill Lynch, Cornell Tech, Duke University, and Crown Castle, among others. Prior to founding Sullivan, Barbara held senior level marketing positions at Chemical Bank and American Express. Barbara received her MBA from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School with a B.S. in Marketing and Management of Entrepreneurship.

Episode Highlights

Is branding harder in complex regulated industries like financial services? “It’s not harder but it’s often overlooked.” Sullivan and her team stress an approach that focuses on understanding your audience.

So how do personas really work? “It’s about the qualitative as much as the demographics. You have to know who your audience is to be able to design a brand it.” Sometimes personas take the form of a video while other times they are written up in more of a traditional format. Frontline employees can use this information. And those team members matter when it comes to the brand experience.

“We have to focus on how to bring the brand to life at the ‘6-Foot Level’ as well.” With a solid strategy serving as a foundation, every step of the experience ladders up from there — ultimately ending with frontline employee-customer interactions. Sullivan helps teams understand and communicate this value internally.

“Digital has democratized marketing.” As a result, businesses and brands of all shapes and sizes have to be more dynamic. We also need to come to terms with the fact that the consumer is playing a more active role in defining the brand.

“Content is the brand. And content is not static.” Content is nothing new. As a marketer serving complex industries, Sullivan has seen the impact of content for a long time. That’s also behind Sullivan’s new content lab Imprint.

Big data vs. intuition. “Big data is great for sizing up something that already exists — like your competition or a market. The brand is the inspiration.” Barbara discussed the role that intuition plays at Sullivan and how they hire their strategists for creativity and intuition.

Brand consistency vs. brand coherence. While many stress consistency and being “on brand,” Sullivan points out that what’s more important is coherence. Communicating the same idea rather than repeating canned scripts.

What brand has made Barbara smile lately? Google with their fun logo doodles. “Their active interpretations of their logos are active and alive.” Talk about consistency and coherence!

To learn more about Barbara Apple Sullivan and her work, check out the Sullivan website and their content lab, Imprint. You can also follow both Barbara and Sullivan on Twitter.

As We Wrap Up …

Recently, the On Brand podcast came up during a recent #BrandChat on Twitter. Big thanks to Danielle Rogers and Laura Kinnard for the shout out! This great community gets together every Wednesday at 10 AM Central on Twitter. Check it out.

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