Fearless Branding – Interview with Robert Friedman

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Episode Summary

Robert Friedman is the Owner of Fearless Branding, and has five core questions that help narrow down your focus and get more specific with your brand. When you close many doors, you can keep the right doors open! Find out what his five core questions are on this week’s episode and get started developing the right brand image for your company today!

Fearless Branding – Interview with Robert Friedman

Hello. Welcome to The Successful Pitch. I’m thrilled to have today’s guest, Robert Friedman, who has a background as a brand manager of big names like Kraft and Nestle and worked at big New York agencies before starting Fearless Branding Manifesto almost fifteen years ago. Robert, welcome to the show.

Thank you, John. How are you?

I’m great. I’m really excited to have you here because one of the things that’s so important for the listeners to understand is whether you’re pitching yourself to get funded, pitching to get customers or pitching people to others to join your team, branding is everything. You must have a brand that creates a culture, that attracts the right investors and attracts the right people on your team. You are the ideal guest to have on today. Let’s dive into how did you come up with the name Fearless Branding? I love that.

Thanks. As you mentioned, for the early part of my career, I was a brand manager for some big food companies. In my last assignment, I was working at Nestle, I was working on Coffeemate. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. One Saturday afternoon, I was taking a hike and looking at the Pacific Ocean and saying just, “I don’t want to do this anymore because Coffeemate is just artificial powder. That is not a good use of my life. It’s not a good of my talents. What am I going to do?”

When I thought about it carefully, I was thinking, do I need to become a therapist or a history teacher or something that had more meaning? Do I need to get out of marketing? I started looking around at other businesses and I thought, “I may be working on Coffeemate but somebody else is working at Apple. The guy down the hall may be working on Carnation Instant Breakfast, but somebody else is working at Nike.”

There’s other ways to do marketing. It sparked an idea that was based on this insight that consumers love brands that fearlessly express their unique essence. That they’re not just there to sell stuff, that they’re there to sell really great stuff and deliver a meaningful experience. One of the key elements of this insight was that these great brands, what I ultimately started calling fearless brands, weren’t trying to be all things to all people. If you were not in a segment of the audience that appreciated that meaning, that’s okay. But if you are, then you’re going to have deep resonance.

To answer your question, after I did some deep thinking about what I really believed worked in the world of marketing and in the world of brands, I wrote that sentence. I had a naming session with a bunch of friends and colleagues. One of the guys said, “What was that sentence?” I said, “It’s consumer love brands that fearlessly express their unique essence.” He said, “That’s it, Fearless Branding.” Everybody said, “Yes, that’s right,” and walked out the door. It was done.


At first, it was just a name. Over the past fifteen years, it’s become something that I’ve grown into. Everything that I do in my work is built on that fundamental idea about, what does it really mean to be fearless when you are building and developing a brand? What it really means is more precise, more differentiated, narrower rather than broader.

Linda Galindo, who was my client and was on your show a little while ago, said, “The things that you taught me to do are define and limit.” Whether you’re an entrepreneur or whether you’re trying to build and established business, one of the things that is most challenging for leaders to do is to limit. In other words, to close doors.

Usually, when you’re running a business, you want more sales. You’re saying, “All of those people out there, they can be my customers. They can be my investors.” In fact, what I find when you do that, is that you become more generic, you become less relevant to anyone. But when you’re willing to close many doors so that the exact right doors remain open and you know it, “That’s my door. That’s my path. That’s my strategy.”

When you’re willing to do that, and it takes courage to close all those doors, all those opportunities. You say, “That’s not what I’m going to pursue,” but when you focus on that right one, then that’s when you can create the greatest success.

I love that. It’s so helpful.

It takes fearlessness.

Fearlessness, yes. When you said, “Close many doors so you can keep right doors open,” we’re going to tweet that out. That’s great. That really is a visual, you’re painting a picture for people that who you say no to is just as important as who you say yes to.

That’s exactly right. What’s interesting though is, a lot of times clients ask me that question. Do I have to say no? If somebody comes along and they’re not exactly in my ideal target market or the work is not precisely what I say is my absolute best work, do I have to say no?

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Fearless Branding: What’s most important is when you are projecting your message out to the world, that’s when you say no and you are really clear.

The answer to that question is actually no, you don’t have to say no. You can make a tactical decision based on that particular situation. What’s most important is when you are projecting your message out to the world, to the audience, that’s when you say no and you are really clear. Whenever I’m telling you, “Here’s who my ideal client is. Here’s what I do,” I’m very precise.

If somebody else says, “Wow, that sounds great. But I’m not exactly like that, could you possibly help me?” Then you can make a decision, it’s up to you to say yes or no at that moment. I find actually, the clearer you are, the more people resonate. I think, certainly for me, my kind of client, they’re going to resonate with, “Wow, you have the courage to put your stake in the ground and tell me who you are.”

Let’s give listeners an example of that because I couldn’t agree with you more, Robert. For me, I really focus on, I help tech CEO’s craft a compelling pitch to make them irresistible to investors. Now, if someone comes to me and says, “I’m not a tech CEO but I really need help with my pitch and I want to get my startup funded, can you help me?” I will make a decision about whether I think that person is coachable and fundable and if the business is scalable and I can say yes or no. But my real focus is, tech CEOs. Other people sometimes will be attracted to that and commit. Is that what you’re talking about?

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Each one of us has to make the decision on where we draw the line. For me, the heart of my business is working with service firms. Those are high level firms that need to go out and get clients that they’re providing some intellectually based service.

What I do is I help them really define what that service is, where the value is and who it’s for. In my case, that definition of target market works. I’ve decided not to focus only on lawyers or only on management consultants.

Here’s something else you could tweet out. Branding is a tool that supports your business objectives. There’s many different ways to slice it. It can be based on geography, it can be based on psychographics or what that person believes in their world view, it can be based on vertical type.

There’s all sorts of different ways you can slice your market so that you are talking to an audience that is big enough to support your business objectives, whatever they may be, and yet narrow enough that when you’re speaking to them, they really resonate. If you have a national brand, you’re going to need a much wider slice of an audience than if you’re a consultant, like you or me.

For the startups, the more specific they are of who they’re helping or what problem they’re solving and the type of investor they want to join their team, then the investor feels like, “Oh, you don’t just want anybody’s money, you want my money because I’m the perfect fit for your company,” and that makes all the difference.

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Fearless Branding: Who is my market, who am I really serving, how do I define that?

That’s exactly right. You just articulated two very important strategic decisions. It’s easy to say it but it’s hard to make those decisions like. Who is my market, who am I really serving, how do I define that? That’s an important decision. What kind of investor? That’s an important decision. That’s why on the manifesto that I showed to you, that’s why I call it making the tough decisions.

The other thing you have in your manifesto, which we’re certainly going to provide a link in the show notes, is this moment of truth. Now, the moment of truth applies to the startups in, who do I hire, which investor do I decide to work with? Expand on us how you help people prepare to triumph in that moment of truth and how they have to position themselves.

I think you were really nailing it earlier. The moment of truth is that moment when you’re sitting down and you’re pitching a client or you’re pitching an investor and we have to figure out, are we a fit or are we just going to part as friends and go our own ways? The way that I do that is through a brand strategy process that focuses on five key questions.

Those questions are: Who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for? What do they need? Then, what do they get? The first two questions are about you, who are you and what do you do, your brand, your business. The second two questions are about your audience. Who are they and what do they need? Then, the last one, what do they get, is where the connection gets made. That’s basically your benefit.

What I have found over many years of doing this is that most businesses, as simple as those questions are, most businesses answer those questions too generically. You have to put up a filter around what category are you playing in and then who else can answer those questions in the same way or who else is answering those questions in the same way.

One of the exercises that I do when I’m teaching a branding class is I’ll put up an ad, often I use the brand Tiffany. I’ll put my hand over the logo and say, “You have no idea what’s under my hand. You don’t know the name of this business, can you figure it out?” When you use a brand like Tiffany, everybody can figure it out.

That blue.

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Fearless Branding: You have to do something different or make something different that is recognizable.

Exactly. It’s that blue, but it’s also they’re very specific with their imagery. That’s one aspect of branding, which is aesthetic differentiation. But there’s other aspects of branding, which are functional differentiation. You actually have to do something different or make something different that is recognizable. The last aspect of differentiation is emotional differentiation or meaning–based differentiation. All three of those things need to play together.

To get back to that story I was telling you, if you were working with a client and they’re a tech startup and you say, “What we need to do is just take the name of your business out of this. Now, we’re going to look at your nearest competitors and we’re going to substitute their name in that same pitch and we’re going to mock trial it to that investor.” Might it work? Would that investor say, “No, no, no. That’s totally wrong. That doesn’t make sense.” It’s only you that can say that. Or they’re just going to nod their heads when you stick your competitor’s name into your pitch.

A lot of times, what I find is that pitches, whether you’re trying sell a service or pitch an investor, they all sound the same. They use the same buzz words, they use the same phrases. There’s so much generic stuff. It’s challenging to, as we said before, to narrow, define, limit so that you really become the only one who’s telling that story to your specific target market.

I know exactly what you’re talking about Robert, because when I worked at Conde Nast, Conde Nast has multiple fashion magazines. It was so important that people would understand the difference between let’s say Vogue and W. You couldn’t just substitute the images or you couldn’t just substitute the pitch of, “We both cover fashion.”

You need to be so specific that only W would cover fashion from an artistic, edgy point of view and Vogue would not do that because they have a more broader, mass appeal audience. It was very specific as to it’s all fashion, but if you’re talking about your nearest competitor … I love that exercise.

Let’s go back and talk about the five questions because they’re so valuable for the listeners to really grasp. I think the Tiffany example would be great to do, if you don’t mind. Who are you? How would you answer that for Tiffany? I can do it, but I’d love to hear you say it.

I would answer that by, “I am love,” or “I am the lover.”


One of the main concepts that informs my work is the concept of archetype. Archetype is a concept that was developed by Carl Jung, he was one of the foundational psychologists along with Sigmund Freud. He had this idea that there are energies out there that don’t need to be explained to people because we just get them just because we’re human.

The warrior, the scholar, the caregiver, none of those things are confusing. They’re very, very clear. We just have a picture right away when we see a picture or hear those words. When you can be that precise at an emotional level, it’s about who you are, it’s not what you do.

I love that distinction. You did not answer, “Tiffany, who are you?” “We make jewelry.” That was not your answer at all, which is great. It really showed an example of, “Oh, this is something unique to Tiffany. I am love.” That’s great.

That’s right.

Then you go into, what do you do? Then you might say something like, “We make engagement rings.” Would that be the appropriate place to answer that way?

Yes, absolutely. We make jewelry, in particular, engagement rings. Tiffany’s a great example and engagement rings is a great example because did you know that Tiffany’s invented the concept of a diamond solitaire engagement ring?


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Fearless Branding: That’s what I mean by functional differentiation, is that you do something that your competitors are not doing.

Further, they developed this unique “Tiffany setting” that lifts the diamond up instead of putting it deeper into the setting of the ring so that everyone can see the beauty of the diamond. They were the ones that created this. That’s what I mean by functional differentiation, is that you do something that your competitors are not doing.

Nice. Now, the third and fourth question you said was all focused on the audience. The third question is something along the lines of who do you help, was that the question?

Right, exactly. Who do you do it for? Who do you help is a totally good substitute. Who do you do it for and what do they need? When you look at that question, who do you do it for, there’s two ways to answer that. One is demographically. Those are all of the factors that you can actually see and touch. Somebody who makes a certain amount of money, has a certain level of education, lives in a certain zip code, those are all demographic ways to describe an audience.

Psychographic is somebody’s world view. What do they believe? What do they value? For example, we all know that Tiffany is a brand. It’s very successful brand. They built their business based on the strength and uniqueness of their brand.

One of the great things from the brand’s perspective that that enables them to do is to charge a premium. It’s a highly profitable business. One of the key takeaways is that when you have a brand that’s meaningful, that has both functional and emotional advantages, your ideal customer will pay more for that. You’re getting that premium price and that translates into profitability.

If you look at the Tiffany customer, their customer … It’s a mass affluent brand. They’re not sheikhs and princesses of the world, but it’s the lawyers and doctors and top 5% people in the United States. That’s demographically who their audience is likely to be.

When I teach a class and I use Tiffany as an example and we say, “How did you know it’s Tiffany?” A lot of people say, “Oh, it’s that box”. Somebody in the audience will always tell the story of, “I gave my wife that present and she just went, ‘Aww.'” It takes your breath away because you’re getting that cool present in that blue box.

Even before they open the box they’re happy.

Exactly. Now, think about that. That box maybe is worth, whatever, fifty cents or a dollar? It’s not the box, but they have imbued that box with meaning. That meaning, as we were talking about, is love. This represents the fact that the person who is giving me this gift really loves me. They bought it at Tiffany.

They went the extra mile. Nothing’s better and nothing’s higher as far an expression of love. Therefore, if you spent anything, it doesn’t have to be a diamond ring, but anything from Tiffany at all, a key chain, whatever, I still feel the love. That extends to all price points within a premium price product.

That’s exactly right. If we look at the heart of what they’re doing, which as we were talking about is something like an engagement ring. What I mean by segmentation and being willing to limit and define, there are going to be some givers and some receivers who buy into that story. That woman is going to say, “Wow, he really loves me because he gave me that present from Tiffany. That means something.” That giver is going to say, “I made the right decision even though maybe I spent 25% more or 50% more,” or whatever the number is.

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Fearless Branding: A Tiffany customer is somebody who really believes that a certain gift can be a symbol of love.

There will be other people, whether it’d be the giver or the receiver, who would say, “I don’t buy that crap. They have really good stuff at Costco. We’re going to get something really good. We’re going to be so smart because we’re only going to spend half of what we would spend at Tiffany. We can spend that extra money on a lawn mower or whatever.”

To answer those two questions of who are they and what do they need, that Tiffany customer is somebody who really believes that a certain gift can be a symbol of love. What they need or what they really want at a primal level is more love. They want that connection and they want it in that way. If you are not psychologically wired for that, you’re not going to be in their target market. I think that they’re smart enough to be able to be fearless to say, “That’s okay, because we’re not for everyone.”

Exactly. It goes to the last question is, what’s the big benefit? What do they get from buying the ring at Tiffany is they get validation that the person feels it’s way beyond the value of the ring. You can’t put a price on it, when someone feels that you love them that much.

That’s right. You’re absolutely right. One simple way to answer that is what do they get? They get love. It brings it back full circle.

To who you are. Love it. Let’s connect the dots even one step further for the founders out there who are negotiating valuation. I love what you said Robert, about when you connect the functional with the emotional, which is what I’m constantly teaching people the importance of emotional storytelling when you’re pitching, that that commands a premium price like it does for Tiffany.

When you’re negotiating with your investor on what the valuation of your company should be, when you say, “I need a million dollars for X percent equity,” then that translates into, then you’re saying your company is worth more than it looks like on paper.

If you’ve shown to the investor that you have a functional difference from your competitor and an emotional meaning, and sometimes that emotional meaning can just be, “There’s other investors who are interested in this and willing to pay this. There’s a fear of missing out if you don’t jump in on this.” That’s how you increase the valuation of your company from this branding strategy you have for us.

I am so glad you brought that up. The best example of this is Apple. If you think about Apple and you think about the fact that it’s not just an apple, it’s an apple with a bite taken out of it. That is a very specific apple. It’s from the Bible, it’s from the book of Genesis. Genesis is our creation myth. If Tiffany is love, Apple is creation or creativity.

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Fearless Branding: If you think about Apple and you think about the fact that it’s not just an apple, it’s an apple with a bite taken out of it.

If you think about the story of the Apple brand, they have their own Genesis story. Steve Jobs created it but then he went into exile, just like Moses had to go into the desert. They kicked him out. They were almost about to go bankrupt and have to shut the whole thing down. They didn’t want to do it but they brought Steve Jobs back because they had to. They had no other choice, they explored every other strategy. That was the only one left.

He comes back. There’s a video of this on YouTube that you can see, it’s fascinating. The first thing that he does is he focuses on the brand. He hired Chiat\Day and they developed a campaign and it’s the Think Different campaign. It’s this campaign that shows Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Maria Khalis and Einstein.

All of these people are the most creative thinkers of their time. They’re all creating something out of nothing. They’re creating things that have never been seen or heard before. That becomes what the whole brand is about. He leveraged that idea, that emotional connection, to take a company that was basically about to close and being bankrupt to the company that became the most valuable business from a market cap perspective on the planet. He did it in 25 years.

I love this story so much Robert, because when you say, “It’s not just an apple, it’s an apple with the bite, which takes us to the creation myth.” Also for me, part of that whole story of the creation myth was you were breaking the rules in the Garden of Eden when you bite that apple.

Not only does it take it into the Apple branding of creativity, but also we’re going to break the rules and that’s that initial Superbowl commercial against IBM and even this campaign line that you mentioned, Think Different, got a lot of feedback because people said, “That’s not even grammatically correct. It should be think differently.” They’re like, “We don’t care. We’re breaking the rules again. Think different.” It’s all so full circle that you say when a really good brand is in place, there’s so many layers. That’s the big takeaway.

As you said, it’s breaking the rules. What is that? It’s differentiation. It’s being willing. If you think about most people, most people are not fearless, most people do not want to stand out, it makes them profoundly uncomfortable. When you’re right and you’re already successful, then it’s easy.

But in those initial stages, when you have to take that first step and you have to say, “Look at all those people,” whoever they are, whatever your category. If it’s Steve Jobs, “Look at IBM, look at Dell, look at Microsoft, they’re all wrong.” You’re talking to Wall Street and the financial community and you’re basically saying all these companies that are so much bigger than you, they’re all wrong. We have another way to do it.

It takes so much courage in the beginning. Now, we look at it, it’s like, of course, he was right. Then you apply that to a startup entrepreneur and they need to have the same level of courage and the same level of conviction.

Absolutely. Uber, “We can do this. Taxis have been ran a certain way for years and we’ve got a whole new idea.” When people started pitching AirBnb, a lot of investors said, “You’re crazy. No one’s going to rent out a room in their home or apartment to a stranger.” It’s all so valuable. I love everything you’ve said so much. I could talk about branding all day long, and you’re the expert. Is there a book that you want to recommend about branding or being fearless to the listeners?

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll recommend two.


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The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes

One is called The Hero and The Outlaw. It’s about using archetype to build a strong brand. It’s by Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark. That’s a really good primer for starting to think about it. Another one that I love … Whenever I start an engagement, there’s two things that I focus on. One is meaning, which we’ve talking about. The other is money. It’s all about connecting the two in my opinion.

If we have something that’s meaningful but it’s not grounded in your financials, then your success is really going to be limited. I always start my engagements by getting my clients … It’s the same thing, it’s define and limit. If you have a particular revenue objective, we need to get really granular and dig into the details and figure out how is that really going to happen, let’s build that performa client by client, engagement by engagement, and see what it looks like.

The other book that I would recommend is a book called Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa. It’s about selling and it’s about really being up front, talking about money, putting your cards on the table. It’s a great book because a lot of people are afraid to do it.

I’ve never heard of that one. That’s a great, great title, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play. It applies to business. It applies to dating. It applies to lot of things. It’s great.

That’s right.

Robert, how can people best follow you?

If you go to my website, which is FearlessBranding.com. A couple of suggestions, you can download the Fearless Branding manifesto. It’s there on the homepage of my website. You can download that and then I will follow up with periodic updates. You can find me at Robert Friedman on LinkedIn.

There’s one other thing that I’d like to tell you about. I’m giving a webinar in about a month. It’s sponsored by a company called Breakaway Funding. The webinar is called How to Build a Fearless Brand. It’s on May 26th at 11AM. If you go to BreakAwayFunding.com/Events, what I will be doing is making a presentation with some visuals and it will be a deeper dive into many of the ideas that we talked about this afternoon.

Great. How to Build a Fearless Brand is the name of the webinar, is that right?

That’s right.

If people can’t make that one, will you be doing others in the future?

I will.


I can let you know when they’re scheduled.

Perfect. Great. I can’t thank you enough Robert, for being on the show and showing us how to be fearless and how to make our brand stand out by defining and limiting who we want to reach, because that’s everything to be successful.

Thank you, John. It was great to talk to you. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure.

Links Mentioned

J Robinett Enterprises
John Livesay Funding Strategist
Fearless Branding Website
The Hero and the Outlaw. by Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark
Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play, by Mahan Khalsa

Crack The Funding Code!

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