Book Review – Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide

I’m going to start this book review with a confession: I know nothing about branding. In fact, I initially thought branding was just another word for marketing and that branding was mostly or all fluff and no substance. Boy, was I wrong!

This book (Forging An Ironclad Brand) gave me an unexpected and very much appreciated lesson about branding and helped me understand that having a brand strategy is a business advantage. Pedersen explains on her website: “I want to demystify brand strategy because I know that leaders are at once intimidated by and scornful of it, because they view it as soft, amorphous, unmeasurable. Yet it can be their unassailable competitive advantage.”

In her own words, Pedersen summarizes how the book is structured:

“The book divides in thirds. The first third of the book demystifies brand so you understand what it really is, how empowering it is as a leadership tool. I “de-squish” brand, taking it apart to show what it really means.

“And since the other barrier to harnessing brand is its seeming intimidation, the second third of the book unveils my Ironclad Method. This eight-step process shows you how to build a robust and hard-working brand strategy. By following each of the eight steps, you will articulate your brand strategy in an empowered, proactive way, rather than waiting for creative lightning to strike.

“Lastly, once you grasp a firm understanding of and articulate your brand’s value, you must bring your brand to life. So in the final third of the book, I reveal the three major levers for activating a brand that will build a beloved business.

“It’s the why, what, and how of brand strategy. You will come away knowing what brand is, why you should care, and how to build one. When you finish the book, you will be equipped with the ultimate tool for what you care most about – leading a business that ever increases in value and meaning.”

The publication of Forging An Ironclad Brand is especially timely given that, in my own organization, I am tasked with helping business leaders be more effective business owners. In our Leadership Academy (a week-long leadership development intensive which is part of a 14-week program), I have the privilege of interacting with and listening to managers, directors, and Vice Presidents talk about how important and how meaningful the company is to them. Time and time again this idea of what our company stands for has come up! Out of the five core values (integrity, family, service, quality, and growth), the two that have been mentioned over and over again in all the stories shared are family and integrity!

This part superbly captures what I did not know about branding:

“Articulating your brand is not about creating something out of thin air. It’s about discovering something latent. It’s identifying what customers want that you are uniquely able to satisfy, and then building your promise around that” (Pedersen, 2019, p. 153).

Pedersen writes (2019, p. 92): “[A]ll companies are product companies, at least loosely described (a service is an intangible product). That product is the mechanism through which customers experience your brand promise. So, all companies have a product and all companies have a brand. The leaders who recognizes the role of both the product and the brand set the conditions to prosper.”

“An ironclad brand differentiates your business in an enduring way. Product can be copied. Patents expire. Features obsolesce. What cannot be copied is a relationship. What does not expire is the trust you earn by particularly and consistently solving a customer need. What never gets old is delight. Loyal customers will not only stay with you—they will follow you as you evolve. They will love you—and encourage others to engage with you, too” (Pedersen, 2019, p. 93).

“Great brands garner enormous value to a business. They help a customer to see your business, like it, and be loyal to it. What’s more, great brands help leaders to know what to prioritize and what to deprioritize as they develop content, innovate their offering, and scale their businesses. While it may seem that great brands emerged into culture fully realized, truly great brands come from an intentional defining of the brand strategy.” -Description of Lindsay Pedersen’s “Create a Brand Strategy” Lynda.com course

What’s the difference between brand and marketing?

Pedersen says:

“Brand is the meaning that you stand for in the mind of your audience, your customer. Marketing is the set of activities of messaging and delivering that meaning. So, brand is the meaning you stand for, and marketing is the activation of that meaning.”

In Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide, Pedersen shares her eight-step process for crafting a brand strategy.

The Ironclad Method:

  • Step 1: Orient – set the starting point: who do you serve, and what are their current alternatives for the problem you solve?
  • Step 2: Listen – glean insights about the real human beings behind the concept of “target customer” by listening directly to your customers
  • Step 3: Examine – inventory the insights you have about your customers, your competitors, and your company, so you can spot the overlap that’s already there and start to passionately cultivate it.
  • Step 4: Ladder – distill your business’s value proposition into an argument that’s aspirational and grounded. The ladder represents the levels that your business benefits your customer, from functional and grounded to the emotional and transcendent. Your brand’s benefit ladder serves as the core of your brand strategy.
  • Step 5: Characterize – People connect better with other human beings than with abstract entities. Define the character of your brand and inject it with personality and tonality. Articulate the qualities of the business as though it were a person.
  • Step 6: Stage – define each stage of your customer’s journey with your brand. Sequence the customer journey; Grasp each distinctive mindset; Tailor the message by stage and mindset.
  • Step 7: Activate Creative – put to use your ironclad brand strategy. The creative and messaging you create–company name, logo, About Us page, packaging, photos for your website, ads on social media, and everything you do to communicate your brand to your audience–occur in this step.
  • Step 8: Zoom Out – once everything is in place, zoom out and look at your business as a first of trees in which your brand lives.

Pedersen writes based on her years of experience working to help “businesses of all shapes and sizes, from solo-owned to publicly traded; from B2B to B2C; from stodgy, old-economy categories to disruptive, new-to-the-world innovations” (p. 118). For instance, she has advised companies such as Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar and IMDb. Prior to this from 2001 to 2007, she worked for over 5 years as a Brand Manager at Clorox, where she led billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita.

Here’s a great example. In Chapter 8 (Step 2: Listen), Pedersen painstakingly walks the readers through preparing your own listening mindset, and staying open as you conduct one-on-one phone interviews with your customers. Pedersen details how to compose your discussion guide (preparing your questions in three parts) and how to conduct your research (don’t jump too soon to the “low altitude” set of questions; using silence; not correcting/informing/teaching; and not being shallow). She illustrates this with sample questions she might prepare if she were doing the brand strategy for United Airlines First-Class Lounge (for those who often travel for work and who flies business class). Interestingly, the customer interview (pp. 150-151) sounds almost like a coaching session because of the open questions that Pedersen asks and her advice (p. 149) about using silence, listening between the lines, and not chiming in to correct or offer suggestions or advice.

Takeaway:

Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide isn’t fluff. It’s not written by someone who came up with a catchy method and then jazzed it up. Pedersen is a seasoned professional and reading her book and learning from her is incredibly illuminating. It’s like having a branding expert in the palm of your hand, doling out spot on, sage advice!

“A brand is a promise delivered. It is not merely what you say you do – it is what you actually do. It is the set of functional and emotional benefits and attributes that you bring to your customer. It is what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. Once you realize that your brand is not the colors, words or graphics you use to promote your business, but instead the content of your promise to your customer, you quickly understand how inappropriate it is to think of brand as a superficial gloss. Instead you see that your brand should be built into your product or service from beginning to end.” -Lindsay Pedersen (2016)

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Pedersen, L. (2019). Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Austin, TX: Lioncrest Publishing.

Pedersen, L. (2016, March). Unleash Your Brand as a Force Multiplier. https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/pdfs/whitepapers/IroncladBrandStrategy_WhitePaper_UnleashYourBrand.pdf

Pedersen, L. (2019, Feb 25). What is the difference between brand and marketing? https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/ask-lindsay/can-i-have-a-brand-without-marketing-or-marketing-without-brand

Pedersen, L. (2019, Feb 25). Why I Wrote a Book About Brand. https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/ask-lindsay/why-i-wrote-a-book-about-brand

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.