This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Brent Niemuth of J.Schmid joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how home builders can start building an authentic, well-defined brand story that resonates with customers and is recognized in the industry.
There is often a misperception of what a brand is. Having a brand goes much deeper than just creating a catchy company slogan and symbol. Brent says, “…when you think brand, you think logo, maybe a color palette, a tagline perhaps, and that's about it, and that's just not accurate. It's not true. That is the outward representation of a brand. It's what people interact with and see. However, a brand simply is the impression of what someone has of you and your company. It's the idea in their head. It's what they think of when they hear your name.”
Every home builder has a brand whether they have established one themselves or not. Brent explains, “So, an important thing to note here, you can do nothing, literally nothing, and you will have a brand. Because people will make up their own minds of who you are, wherever they interact with you, again, website, a phone call, a social media post, whatever it is. If you're doing nothing, no effort at all to build your brand, there's still going to be an image that they're going to have in their head. It's not going to be a very good one, but they will form an impression. We can't prevent that. So, you will have a brand. The point is that you should try to control it the best you can, put your best foot forward.”
Brent provides five guiding questions that home builders can utilize when constructing a brand story, but the most important aspect of a brand story starts with authenticity. Brent says, “When we craft the answers to these questions or when we decide what our brand is going to be about, we shouldn't fabricate something that isn't real. We shouldn't make something up that we're trying to become. It can't be too aspirational. Ooh, I want to be perceived as this, I want to deliver a brand experience at this level. But if it's not true and authentic to who we really are, we're going to be faking it. So, don't fake it. Don't create something that's not attainable. Just be who you are. Just identify what those attributes are and then just be yourself. It's much easier.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about building an effective and genuine home builder brand.
About the Guest:
Brent Niemuth is President & Chief Creative Officer at J.Schmid in Kansas City, a leading creative and branding agency specializing in direct-to-consumer marketing. Brent has gained a national reputation for challenging industry norms and is known for his strong belief that brands need to be “more human.” He is an award-winning designer and highly sought-after speaker on the topics of creativity, design and branding and has been helping build brands such as Disney, House of Blues, Reebok, Jockey, Orvis, Microsoft and multiple Las Vegas resorts for over 35 years. And he still claims to be the fifth Beatle.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with Zonda and Livabl.
Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have joining us on the show, Brent Niemuth. Brent is the President and Chief Creative Officer at J.Schmid. Welcome, Brent. Thanks for being with us today.
Brent Niemuth: Greg, Kevin. Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Greg Bray: Well, Brent, why don't we start off and just help people get to know a little bit about you? Give us that quick introduction.
Brent Niemuth: Sure. As you mentioned, I'm President and Chief Creative Officer at J.Schmid. We're a direct marketing agency [00:01:00] based in Kansas City. I'm a designer by trade, a creative guy, but have been helping build brands of all sizes in all industries for about 35 years.
Kevin Weitzel: That's a long past, but I got a question for you.
Brent Niemuth: Hit me.
Kevin Weitzel: Something that we have to know. We have to get it out of the way. We need to know something personal about you, not work-related that people will learn about on our podcast.
Brent Niemuth: Oh gosh. You know what? This is not a secret to anyone that knows me, but I'll share it with the audience. I am a fanatical Beatles fan. So, not just their music, but the four gentlemen, the four lads, and how they were able to affect culture through their creative process and their music product. Everything in life can be linked back to the Beatles in my mind.
Kevin Weitzel: I agree. All right, so follow up question, follow up two questions. Number one, and there is a correct answer. The best Beatles album?
Brent Niemuth: Oh, dude, that's not even fair.
Kevin Weitzel: You only get to take one album to [00:02:00] play on your KLR system. What do you got?
Brent Niemuth: Okay. So, I'm going to go with a wild card here. The easy answer for me would be Revolver. Sometimes that alters with Rubber Sole. Of course, Sergeant Peppers is golden. However.
Greg Bray: He said one, he said one.
Kevin Weitzel: Just one. Yep.
Brent Niemuth: However, I'm going to go with, my final choice is Magical Mystery Tour.
Kevin Weitzel: Really?
Brent Niemuth: I'm sticking with it. Yep. Magical Mystery Tour.
Kevin Weitzel: Alright.
Brent Niemuth: Unexpected. I know.
Kevin Weitzel: It is very unexpected. Yeah. The usual answer is Rubber Soul, of course.
Brent Niemuth: Right.
Kevin Weitzel: And then the follow-up question is, do you have a cover band that you enjoy listening to? Because I have one that I love, and it's called Fab Foe. They're some New York musicians that get together that play in various professional bands and television gigs. Their specialty is the non-live Beatles music. So, the stuff that was done in studio, that they replicate the sounds on stage.
Brent Niemuth: Interesting. You know, I struggle with cover bands who do Beatles songs because, to me, it always falls short. [00:03:00] However, there is a local cover band here in Kansas City called Liverpool who does a pretty remarkable job of replicating the sound.
Kevin Weitzel: All right.
Greg Bray: Thank you for that trip down Beatles lane. That's awesome. Well, Brent, give us a little bit more background about J.Schmid and the kinds of services you guys do at the agency.
Brent Niemuth: You bet. We are a creative and branding agency, a marketing agency. We're focused on direct marketing. So, any company or brand that sells direct to consumers, we tend to focus on that. By a creative agency, I mean, we are staffed and built to tell brand stories. So, every brand, every company has a story to tell. Some tell it better than others. Some need help actually defining what that story is. So, we are built, meaning we have copywriters, designers, art directors, strategists, on staff that help craft those stories. And so, we do a lot of writing, [00:04:00] design, content creation.
And then, branding, again, brands need help in all capacities. So, some folks come to us just to help tell their story out in the world. They might not have an in-house creative department, for instance. And some folks need help with heavy lifting of the strategy. Hey, how do we differentiate ourselves from the competition? How do we stand out from the crowd? How do we get people to choose us and not our competitors? So, we do a lot of that upfront strategy, consumer insight gathering, research, et cetera.
Greg Bray: Well, and one of the reasons, Kevin, that I invited Brent on today is because I think builders don't always pay attention to some of this. The big ones do, but I think there's a lot of the medium size, smaller builders that brand is just kind of like a logo, and that's the extent of what they think of when they think of brand. Maybe it's some colors. So, I thought, all right, Brent, you know brand, you deal with brand at large companies of various sizes and focuses. What is brand really? I think it's a lot more than a logo. So, tell me I'm [00:05:00] right, and then we can talk about, talk about what you think it is.
Brent Niemuth: Greg, you are right. You were spot on in an accurate assessment too of a lot of folks presuming that when you think brand, you think logo, maybe a color palette, a tagline perhaps, and that's about it, and that's just not accurate. It's not true. That is the outward representation of a brand. It's what people interact with and see. However, a brand simply is the impression of what someone has of you and your company. It's the idea in their head. It's what they think of when they hear your name.
It is no different than how we think of another human being. You'll hear me talk about this a lot, comparing brands to other human beings because neuroscience has proven that in our minds, there is no difference. We think of people exactly the way we think of brands. We tend to describe them [00:06:00] in the same terms. We apply human characteristics to brands. So, just like if I were to mention a family member of yours or a good friend. If I say their name, you're going to instantly have an impression in your mind. You're going to think either fondly of them or not. Same with brands. When I say a brand name, it's what people think of, the image they have in their heads of that company or brand.
Kevin Weitzel: Can that ever backfire in the fact that like, if I think of Gilbert Gottfried, all I can think of is that duck commercial? You know, did Lincoln make a misstep putting that surfer in their car ads? Because now whenever people think of Lincoln, all they can think of is, making fun of his dream sequence while he's driving.
Brent Niemuth: Good example. Yeah, I mean, branding is a tricky business, right? Sometimes decisions can backfire, depending on decisions you make in your marketing or advertising where you put a message out into the world. Once it's out there, it's out there. Oftentimes, when people interact with a [00:07:00] brand, especially for the very first time, when I see a brand for the first time, I'm going to have an immediate impression of that brand, good, bad, or otherwise. Whatever that immediate impression, that first impression is, will likely last in my head forever until the brand does something dramatic to change it.
The lesson there is first impressions matter. Again, just like human beings, when we meet someone, we want to make a good first impression because whatever that impression is, we get one chance to do it. They will probably remember us for that moment. The same goes for brands.
Greg Bray: So, Brent, there's a real interesting implication on what you just said there. How often is that first impression with a company online with their website, as opposed to some other type of interaction? Especially, I think, in the home building world where people start this search online for a new home and they may not be familiar with the area because they're moving or whatever, and they [00:08:00] say, okay, I'm searching for new homes in Kansas City. And Google then shows them this list of builders.
And the first impression they really get of this builder is the website. And we see a lot of websites that do not accurately reflect the quality of the homes that this builder does, or the beauty of the homes because they just haven't put the work in there. What are your thoughts on that first impression connection and how that impacts from a digital standpoint like that?
Brent Niemuth: That's a great observation, Greg. And in fact, it's true that more often than not these days, the first impression of a brand is experienced on a website or online in some fashion. Maybe social media, if a builder is involved in social media, someone might come across them there, but ultimately they're going to drive them to the website. At some point, people are going to land on that website and oftentimes it's the first thing that they do.
To your point, maybe through a Google search, but they're going to find you and they're going to land on your website and whatever they see in those first few seconds, [00:09:00] and I have to emphasize, it's that quick. That impression happens immediately. As soon as I see that homepage come up or whatever the landing page is, what I see right then in the first three seconds is the first impression. It's good or it's bad. That means your website is critical, vital to how you portray yourself and how you want to make that first impression.
Here's the good news. We can control that. Our website is 100 percent in our control. It's as good or it's as weak as we want it to be. I would emphasize that maybe more than anything is you better make sure your website's buttoned up and portrays the image that you want to communicate. Because if it's not people aren't going to forgive you. They're not going to catch any slack and say, well, they probably haven't had time to get to it, or they didn't have the budget to upgrade photography or whatever it is. They don't care. They're going to judge you based on what they see.
Greg Bray: It's amazing how quick that happens too. [00:10:00] Just amazing how quick.
Kevin Weitzel: It's more about storyline recognition or value proposition more so than just brand recognition. Like, we don't want to associate a Clydesdale with Budweiser, we want to associate it with a delicious beer or whatever it would be. Correct?
Brent Niemuth: Spot on. Yeah. We call those rand attributes. What do we want people to think of when they think of our brand? So, it's not just name recognition. Ooh, I recognize that name. Here's a good example. When Geico, the insurance company, first came into existence, nobody knew who they were. They were a small player. All of their advertising dollars went to one purpose, name recognition first. We want people to recognize our name first.
So, they got the gecko to represent them. The gecko reminded them of the name Geico. Easy to remember. Oh, that's the company with the gecko. Their name is Geico. I'll remember them. But from that point on, it was much more about just name recognition, it's about building a story around how we're different, how we're special, why you should buy from [00:11:00] us, all of those brand attributes that we want people to remember. It's not just about the Clydesdale, it's about the delicious beer.
Greg Bray: So, Brent, you've got a company that says, okay, we need a brand. Where do they even begin? Where does that conversation start and what does it look like?
Brent Niemuth: Yep. So, an important thing to note here, you can do nothing, literally nothing, and you will have a brand. Because people will make up their own minds of who you are. Wherever they interact with you, again, website, a phone call, a social media post, whatever it is, if you're doing nothing, no effort at all to build your brand, there's still going to be an image that they're going to have in their head. It's not going to be a very good one, but they will form an impression. We can't prevent that. So, you will have a brand. The point is that you should try to control it the best you can, put your best foot forward.
So, oftentimes, the first thing you should think about when trying to control your brand or craft it in the best way possible is to find something that [00:12:00] you can stand for, a belief, something that goes deeper than just features and benefits. Here are the things we provide, the service that we provide, the products that we sell. You got to move beyond that because likely there's going to be a whole bunch of folks in your competitive set who do very similar things and will likely claim they're just as good, if not better at it than you are.
So, you got to make a connection on an emotional level. How do we get people to like us, essentially, more than the other guys? So, go through an exercise of trying to identify, Hey, what makes us different? What are some things that we're better at that we can own? What do we believe in that maybe our customers might believe the same thing?
And then, another step that's pretty critical is literally defining the personality of the brand. And oftentimes, in the case of a builder, I might suspect that if it's owned by one name, it might be the founder of the business, the builder himself or herself. But if it's a larger conglomeration, and not [00:13:00] just linked to one individual, it's going to be, what does that company now stand for? The personality traits, literally describe it, list it, write out five personality traits. We're the big guys, the competent guys, the leader, you know, reliable, dependable, whatever it might be, or we're the small, friendly, local guys. So, that'll make a difference in how you communicate once you understand those things.
Greg Bray: So, it really gets down to understanding who are we, or who do we want to be? And then, you talk about how do we actually communicate that to people. Which is really interesting. Lots of times, especially with smaller builders who come to us for a website, for example, Brent, they'll say, okay. We're new, can you guys whip up a logo to put on the website for us because we don't have a logo? Right?
And it's like, oh, and we like green, so if you could make it green, that'd be great. Yeah. You know, and we're like, we don't do logos. That's not our thing but often that's kind of where they are at in that whole type of conversation and it feels to me like you're saying, we've got to go a [00:14:00] little deeper here, maybe a lot deeper.
Brent Niemuth: A lot deeper.
Greg Bray: In how we are going to be perceived. And gosh, if we want to be bold and strong, well, that might be a different kind of logo than local and friendly, just because of those kinds of words and how they translate to individuals.
Brent Niemuth: 100%. And again, I'm going to link it back to how we as human beings make decisions for ourselves when we go out into the world. We're going to leave the house every day. We're going to interact with people. How do we want to be perceived? A lot of that is what we choose to put on in the morning, how we dress, how we cut our hair, how we act. Are pretty buttoned up and professional? Are we loose and whimsical? Those are all choices we make. We make those choices.
We have to make the same choices for the brand. How are we going to act and behave? Those definitive words, those characteristics that we come up with, who we are, who we are as a brand, will help determine what does the logo look like. What color will [00:15:00] represent us? What typefaces will we choose? What kind of photos will we use? All of those things come from understanding who you are as a brand.
Greg Bray: Where do sideburns fit in that brand that you were talking about when you walk like you're going?
Kevin Weitzel: They always fit in, Greg. They always, I can answer that question, Brent. They always fit in.
Brent Niemuth: Top three, at least. Of all the considerations sideburns, usually the top two or three.
Greg Bray: I mean, we're talking about walking out in the morning with the impression. I just, I couldn't help but think about that.
Kevin Weitzel: As soon as you said that I was just like, I'm over here. We don't use the cameras, but I was literally grinning.
Brent Niemuth: When well played, Kevin. Impressive.
Greg Bray: Well, Brent, tell us about some big misses that you've seen brands make. Any come to mind where they were trying to go for something and just didn't land with their audience. Any stories to share?
Brent Niemuth: Oh, I can think of maybe some big examples. I'll go to the soft drink category and pick on the big guys, Coke and Pepsi, because everybody can relate, right? One of the biggest flubs ever in the history of [00:16:00] marketing, you guys will remember this, similar age when they came out with new Coke, right? I don't remember when that was. Eighties, sometime in the eighties, maybe where they launched new Coke and they changed the recipe of a product that was perhaps the most loved product on the planet.
If you're a Coca-Cola fan, you love it for a reason and here they come, they're going to change the recipe and launch new Coke, and I don't know why. Maybe they felt the brand was getting stale and old and we need to compete with Pepsi. Pepsi's catching up to us as a challenger brand. So, let's change that. You know, that's a marketing move on their behalf. They made a decision. We need to go capture a larger share of the market. People will think it's cool and exciting and new to have this new recipe, and it absolutely backfired. Likewise, Pepsi has made some flubs over the years as well.
Just going outside of who they are to [00:17:00] try to be something that they're not in order to compete. That's not the path to success. Again, as human beings, if we're competing against someone else for a job or whatever, we shouldn't try to be like them and just be a better version of the competition, the other person up for the job. We should be who we are, just be a better version of ourselves, be true to yourself, and that's what brands should do. And Coke slipped up there.
Greg Bray: Do you have some examples of people that are just really doing it well? The ones that we all recognize just as household names, probably all kind of fall in that category. But any that maybe you've worked with a little more personally that you feel like, gosh, we went through this process and we're just really excited about what came out of it?
Brent Niemuth: Yeah. To me, the gold standard, I'll start at the top and throw out a couple of other examples too. The one that just has nailed it over the years and people look to, to try to replicate is Apple. When Steve Jobs was alive and running the company, he found somehow a way to make a technology [00:18:00] company. Prior to that, we're working with IBM and Microsoft. Companies that didn't feel very warm and friendly, right? They're very cold, very distant, didn't have a face to the brand.
Here comes Steve Jobs with Apple, who's now cool. They make technology cool somehow, and people want to be a part of it. It's fun and driven by design. It actually looks cool. The product, the packaging, the store experience, everything. Just their attention to detail and the way that they've managed to humanize a brand that sells a product that isn't very human by nature. Masterful.
To me, another big one is Disney. I've had the honor and pleasure of working with Disney in the past and had a chance to peek behind the curtain and see how do these guys do this. How do they maintain, year after year, decade after decade, a brand that people just love? We've all grown up with it. We still hold Disney close to our hearts most likely. They are just so disciplined in how they go [00:19:00] about everything. When you get a chance to see how they make decisions, how in-depth they take care of their brand, just again, masterful.
There's a much smaller brand. You might not recognize the name, but it's a brand that I've been following lately. It's near the top of my list of brands who are just doing a superb job today. It's a clothing brand, an apparel brand by the name of Faherty, F A H E R T Y, Faherty. It's the last name of the two founders. They're identical twin brothers who founded this company, so it's a family-owned business.
The clothing and apparel have sort of a West Coast beach vibe, sort of a surfer vibe to it. So, they've defined who they are. You know, they were surfers growing up. We're going to create and launch a brand that sells surf-inspired clothing. Part of our story, how we're going to differentiate ourselves is going to be based on the fact that we're a family-run business, twin brothers, their wives, and their mom are [00:20:00] involved.
Every time you see a piece of communication from these guys, social media, video, website, catalog, their store, wherever you come in contact, you'll see some indication of a family member, one of the two brothers, the mom, etc. They're likable. You know, you wanna root for these guys. It's a small family business. The product is great, great storytellers. It's a great example to me of the fact that a small business, an upstart launched outta their home, can really build a tightly defined loved brand. It can be done on a small scale for small companies, just like a Disney and an Apple can do.
Greg Bray: Those are great examples. Thanks for sharing that. For those who are sitting here going, okay, we've never really thought about this much. We haven't really given it much thought. How do you keep from getting overwhelmed with that sounds like a lot to deal with all of a sudden? Any thoughts there?
Brent Niemuth: Well, fair to acknowledge that it is a lot[00:21:00] if you try to tackle it all at once. Oh my gosh, how are we going to go from zero to 60 and become this super buttoned-up, well-defined, recognized brand out in the market? The answer is you don't go from zero to 60. Start small. Start with some of the things we've already talked about is defining who you are. I'm going to give you five questions right now to answer. If you can answer these five questions clearly and concisely, it is the beginnings and the makings of a great brand story. You can build on it. So, number one.
Kevin Weitzel: Bring it on, Brent.
Brent Niemuth: Here it is here. I'm going to count them down, guys.
Kevin Weitzel: Number one.
Brent Niemuth: Number one, who are we? Meaning the personality of the brand, how are we going to act? How do we want to be perceived? What do we stand for? Again, trying to relate it to a human being. We define who we are as people, do it for your brand. Who are we?
What do we do? It sounds like a simple question, but you'd be surprised at how many brands we ask, so tell me, what do you guys do? And they struggle. Well, we're kind of in this business, but we also dabble in [00:22:00] this over here. You better have a clear, concise, one-sentence answer to what you do. The answer ideally should be customer-focused. Not just about you, but what do you do for other people? What's in it for them? What's the benefit to them? So, who are you? What do you do?
Third, who do you do it for? Again, putting the focus and the emphasis on your customers, your consumers, the people who you want to buy from you. Who's your audience? If you can't clearly describe, in again, one sentence answer who you're selling to, it's going to be a long uphill battle. So, who do you do it for?
Fourth is, how are you different? When people are making buying decisions of any kind, for any product or service homebuilders, no different, chances are, I'm going to probably make a comparison. You're probably not the only person I'm talking to or considering. Your brand is one of two or three that I'm thinking about giving my business to. [00:23:00] So, the very first thing, when I start to compare anything, product, service, whatever, in my mind automatically, we can't help it, it's how we're wired, automatically, we will compare them. What's different? If I can't see a clear difference, I'm immediately going to go to price. I'll just go with the cheapest, I guess because they're all the same. They all look the same to me. So, how am I different, clearly different?
And then lastly, the most important one and the hardest one to answer is why does it matter? We've just described who we are, what we do, who we do it for, how we're different. Now, why does it matter? Why should I care? You might care as the brand. You might think it's great. Me as a consumer, as a potential customer, why should I care? Why does it matter that you're in business? Convince me. Give me a good reason. If you can answer those five questions, you're ready to go. Start building your brand on those five things.
Greg Bray: That was [00:24:00] awesome.
Kevin Weitzel: Way better than the guy that tried to get fired in a movie that I saw. And he came up with the slogan for Volvo. They're boxy, but they're safe. I forget the name of the movie, but it was actually a really funny movie.
Brent Niemuth: Yeah, and actually an accurate statement about Volvo and their strategy.
Greg Bray: Well, and the great news ladies and gentlemen that are listening is this is a podcast you can rewind and listen to Brent go through those five over again if you didn't get it all the first time. That was some powerful stuff right there. Those answers will be very insightful if somebody really puts the time in.
Brent Niemuth: It can be done if you're a business owner by yourself, you're a home builder and you own the company and it's all about you, you can just spend some quiet time jotting answers down in a notebook and you decide. If you've got a team of people around you, put the team in a conference room for a couple of hours and just hammer through it. But write it down. If it's a bigger organization, get more people involved, ask others' opinions. But somehow you got to get it down in writing and then make sure everybody in the company knows what those answers are. It can't [00:25:00] just be the folks at the top.
Greg Bray: Love it. Love it. This idea that brand is just so much about just who you are and how you come out into the world and interact with the world, I think, is missed in a lot of situations.
Brent Niemuth: Greg, I'll emphasize one thing and it's important. When we craft the answers to these questions or when we decide what our brand is going to be about, we shouldn't fabricate something that isn't real. We shouldn't make something up that we're trying to become. It can't be too aspirational. Ooh, I want to be perceived as this, I want to deliver a brand experience at this level. But if it's not true and authentic to who we really are, we're going to be faking it. So, don't fake it. Don't create something that's not attainable. Just be who you are. Just identify what those attributes are and then just be yourself. It's much easier.
Greg Bray: Well, Brent, this has been great. We really appreciate you spending some time with us today. Any kind of last words of advice or thoughts that you wanted to make sure you could share today?
Brent Niemuth: I would just end with this thought because it's[00:26:00] the thread we've been talking about for the past 30 minutes. When it comes to building a brand, just be more human. That's it. By default, just think back. Okay. If this brand were a person, how would it act? How would it treat its customers? How would it want to be perceived as a person? Because again, in our minds, there is no difference. The brand itself needs to be more human. If you do that, you're going to succeed.
Greg Bray: Be human, be yourself. Loud and clear, Kevin, right?
Kevin Weitzel: And the unspoken thing that he said, and I know it because I feel it in my soul, Brent, that the third bullet point is sideburns.
Brent Niemuth: Sideburns. And, Kevin, when in doubt, always default to the Beatles.
Kevin Weitzel: Always. You can't go wrong with the Beatles.
Brent Niemuth: You can't.
Kevin Weitzel: The lessons you can learn from Eleanor Rigby alone.
Brent Niemuth: That song alone, a hundred percent.
Greg Bray: Brent, if somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Brent Niemuth: Shoot me an email. I'm an [00:27:00] email guy. I will respond. My email address is Brent, B R E N T N as in Niemuth. So email@example.com J S C H M I D dot com.
Greg Bray: Awesome. Well, thanks again for being with us, and thank you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
And I'm Kevin Weitzel with Zonda and Livabl. Thank you. [00:28:00]