How Branding Can Help You Take Control – Suzanne Tulien

Our guest this week is Suzanne Tulien. Suzanne is a brand clarity expert who helps businesses and solopreneurs find their competitive advantage by discovering who they really are and what they really want. She is also an author and international speaker. According to one of her books, Personal Brand Clarity; Identify, Define & Align to What You Want to Be Known For, all of us have a brand and we’re not just conscious of it. As solopreneurs, it is important that we take control of our business, and we can only do that when we have a clear understanding of what our core is.

Learn more about the importance of brand clarity and how this helps in gaining control of your business.

Suzanne’s website:


Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hi friends. I’m Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs, realtors and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to Rocky Mountain marketing. My guest today is Suzanne to lien she is a brand clarity expert and has noticed a variety of creative ways that people are branding themselves both consciously and unconsciously. With over two and a half decades of strategic communication, employee brand engagement and internal brand development. Suzanne’s Inside Out brand building strategy creates the clarity and actions necessary for her clients to drive consistency, distinction and advocacy long term. Because her brand DNA approach is radically different. She is paving the way for companies and personal brands to elevate their value position and actually reduce marketing costs while growing market share. Suzanne, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Suzanne Tulien 1:09

Oh, this is a blast, Katie, I love it that you’re in the same state as me.

Katie Brinkley 1:14

I know, I know. It’s, I love this part about the podcast that you know, we’re able to connect with one another here in Colorado, and then bring in experts like yourself. And so the opportunity to have you on the show really is great, because if people can be right here and be local with you, and still grain, some great marketing and branding strategies. So thank you again, so much for coming on the show today. I’m excited to have

Suzanne Tulien 1:38

you. I am so excited to be here. Let’s have a great conversation about this.

Katie Brinkley 1:42

So you know, I want to talk a little bit about just your your personal journey, I like to get to know my guest a little bit. And just hear about where you grew up and what life was like growing up for you.

Suzanne Tulien 1:54

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, believe it or not, and I fell in love with a I had a boyfriend in high school, we became highschool sweethearts, and we married and moved down to Mobile, Alabama. But he was in the military. So I was a Navy wife for a long time, even before I moved down to Alabama. So that was interesting. You know, I didn’t think that when I got married, I would be separated so much from my boss. So that was pretty interesting. We both ended up going to school down there at the University of South Alabama. And that was a lot of fun. I was in communications. And he was I think he was actually in history. When he started now then he was in something else. But so i i got educated in communications and my minor was graphic design and OSI I also had a double minor graphic design in psychology.

Katie Brinkley 2:46

See, you know, I think it’s so interesting to Well, I have to ask, first of all, are you a Jose Buckeyes? Or Alabama fan or no, just no college football, because I’m, I’m a really big Michigan Wolverines fan,

Suzanne Tulien 3:00

are you You know, I never really took up I was a volleyball player. So I was never really a football or a basketball fan. But

Katie Brinkley 3:09

yeah, I always have to double check. Because if you said you’re a Buckeye fan, then I’d have to end the interview now. But we’re good, we’re good. So you know, I want to talk a little bit about your career journey. Because you know, in your introduction, you’ve done a lot of things and branding strategy has been around for a long time. But personal branding strategy is kind of something that a lot of people are just getting more and more familiar with. So tell us a little bit about your career journey. And then let’s dive into brand strategy.

Suzanne Tulien 3:39

Oh, awesome. So I always wanted to be what my brother was, you know, I looked up to him, and he was in design, he went to the University of Cincinnati. And so I actually enrolled in some design courses. And so that kind of is what led me into the communication side of the world through design. And then I had a lot of PR, but work behind me, marketing did a lot of marketing and marketing training work behind me. And being in that world. It was so fascinating, just to know and see how many wit different ways you could actually disseminate information about a brand or about an event or about something, right. So I got into I was in a marketing firm, and we grew through acquisition, we bought 13 companies in just two years. And it was nuts. Right. So here we are trying to inculcate all of these other companies into this major brand, right. And so, I learned a lot about brand internal work, the internal development piece, and developing culture, vernacular vocabulary within the company. It’s so different than what you think about in what you express externally in the marketing realm, right? How do we want to be internally as a brand and show up and deliver on our promise. So that’s what fascinated me. And I started really gravitating towards the psychology, from the internal communications and the leadership styles. And how do we develop this brand and get everybody in listed equipped and engaged into formulating this all at once, right exponentially within the company. So I decided a lot, it is a lot it really, you know, I was creative director at the time. So realizing that we were taking on these other companies is what really intrigued me and then I just one year decided to leave because it became a mess, it became so chaotic that I think we we lost our way a little bit. And I wanted to go off on my own and start my own business. And that’s when I started a company called ID by design. And that’s really about corporate identity design and collateral pieces that would go with that, right. And three years into that I grew it about 30% every year. And then I had this major BFO. I call it a BFI. It’s a blinding flash of the obvious, my clients were realizing that they were a little anticipatory, of stepping into a new look and feel because it felt way above what they currently were, you know, we ended design a new logo, and you get this fresh look and feel. It’s like they were like, we’ve got to live up to this now. And that kind of shocked me that they they had that anticipation. And I thought, well, you know what, maybe we just don’t quite understand who you are yet as a brand. So that several of those opportunities happened as I was designing logos and realizing that all I was really doing for these clients was putting lipstick on the pig. And what I mean by that is just putting a new coat of paint right on something that they’ve been used to do and, and they think that it’s going to improve their business, when in fact, all it’s doing is that this just new coat of paint, but they’re acting the same, they still don’t have a vision or mission or brand promise or they don’t have core values that they’ve set and lived up to. So I felt like I was doing them a disservice and decided that I was going to stop designing. And I’m going to help you identify, define and align to a brand value position first. And that’s what kind of brought me into this whole internal work.

Katie Brinkley 7:31

I love that. And I think it’s, it’s so true, because well, we’ll just talk about you have the first brand, like you said, with, you know, having a logo and everything. But then if you decide to rebrand, then there’s a lot of work that goes into a rebrand. But again, if you’re not aligning everything and figuring out like you just said, your core values, and so much more. There’s so much more behind a brand than just a logo. And I know about that, I was gonna say I know that as a as a solopreneur. Myself, it was hard for me to get in front of the camera. And because I was like, Well, I want I want my logo to be out there, I want my business to be out there. I want people to do business with me, if they just see a picture of me on their on my Instagram profile. They’re just gonna think that it’s a personal page or that I’m not serious. But really, when I took a step back, and I started showing up more in front of my audience, as Katie Brinkley, I changed out my avatar, that’s when so much changed for me. And I, I would love for you just to talk to us a little bit about that about how stepping away from the logo can really be best for your brand.

Suzanne Tulien 8:42

Well, let’s talk about what is a brand. And the difference between branding and marketing. This is like the biggest misconception I see out there. Because it’s used in the same sentence a lot. And when people sometimes when I’m introduced as a brand, clarity expert, someone will come up to me and say, Oh, you’re in marketing. It’s like, No, I’m not. I’m in brand development, right? So the difference real quick is that you market a brand. So the verb of marketing is really about disseminating and communicating the information, the message about the brand. So what I do is help people understand the brand, right in order to go out and message it with relevancy and alignment. So the book, the personal brand, clarity for solopreneurs is really about fleshing out what are those attributes that you espouse at the authentic level that you can then leverage and really begin to show up and become what you want to be known for, which is who you already are. But naming it is something that’s so magical that happens when my clients you really narrow down into those attributes and then I get them to define it. What those attributes mean? In a way that they are showing up, you know, very tangibly, then all of a sudden Pandora’s box pops open. And you have all these great ideas as to how to create more differentiation, how to really leverage in their actions and behaviors, who they are. So if we have, we’re marketing a brand, and a brand is just a perception. That’s it. So branding is the assignment of meaning to that perception. And that’s where a lot of people get hung up, right? Because they’re like, where do I get started? What do I do? I don’t even know the first thing to do, right. So that’s why I pioneered this process called Brand DNA. And it’s in the personal brand clarity book, where it’s just step by step, we’re going to just unlock and unpack all of the pieces to your brand puzzle, so that you can be conscious, strategic, and just deliberate in how you show up.

Katie Brinkley 11:04

You’re saying so much here. And I think that if someone well, and I mean, I think that a lot of there’s so much involved with being a business owner, and if someone’s listening, right now, they’re like, Well, wait a second now. Now you’re saying I have to, you know, I have a logo? Like, what do you mean? Like, I have to figure out the whole branding strategy? Like, how do I even start with that? Well, one would be to by checking out your book, but if you if you could take a step back here, and I want you, as you’re listening here to think of these three things. For this will help you start your branding journey. What are like three ideas that you could give someone to just kind of start working with to start figuring out what their brand is?

Suzanne Tulien 11:49

Well, first, I want to address your logo, your logo discussion about you know, so many of us solopreneurs think that once we’re done with the logo and the website, we’ve got business cards, we’re branded, we’re branded, right? But that’s untrue. So the brand, the logo is really just a visual icon that only represents the brand. So what is that visual icon supposed to represent? And once I see that icon, and then I meet you, and I get to know you, right, I start applying perceptions to the visual icon based on what I know to be true about my experience with you as the solopreneur. So you literally become the representation of that brand. Does that make sense? So anytime I see those colors, or that font, or that particular graphic image, I’m going to feel what I felt when I met you in when I did work with you, right? So that’s we’ve got to really understand that if I can control take control of the brand, and really understand how I want to be perceived, then I’m, I can do so many cool things and create differentiation. That means I stopped chasing the clients, I start creating a magnet and pulling them in the right clients that really appreciate what I do, who I am what I stand for, because they do too, right. It’s the same thing. So everybody has a brand already. So you don’t have to go out to Walmart or Target or anywhere to go get a brand so to speak, right? You don’t have to go shopping for a brand. You have to uncover the brand. And when we uncover it, we get in control of it. Who

Katie Brinkley 13:32

Yeah, this is I love this conversation because I’m getting all these ideas and like Yeah, yeah, you’re right, everything. Well, it’s something that a social media strategist, when someone has taken the steps that you’re talking about, it makes my job 10 million times easier, really it does. And that’s where I think a lot of people try and kind of put the carriage before the horse is still asked me to come in and start creating social media posts. But if until I have the branding strategy that guidelines you know, the brand book, I’m just kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall and hope and I can target the right people that will accept this message. Whereas if someone goes and works with someone you know read your book and kind of takes the steps that you are talking about. Then they have a strategy for me to implement and it makes it so that you are getting in touch with the exact right person with every single post that you put out there.

Suzanne Tulien 14:33

Absolutely. You know your insight is really spot on. And I have a lot of partnerships with marketers because when the client finishes with me they know exactly who they are and they get to tell people like you what they want. And you get to produce this beautiful stuff that is so on brand that it you know marketing work smarter when it’s on brand right and not harder. So it’s super smart, you spend less money in marketing, because it’s so relevant. So right on, it’s just a powerful thing. But the resistance, I think, is when the solopreneur has to realize that they have to really go inward. And think about what is it about them, that is that snowflake that is so unique and different, and then bring that to the forefront? And be more of that to create competitive advantage? Because when you think about your clients, go ahead, oh, no, I

Katie Brinkley 15:35

want you to finish, I want you to finish,

Suzanne Tulien 15:37

I want my solar printer prospects or clients to think about your perfect client, or those people that are already ready to buy what you have there already. You don’t have to convince them or anything, what you’re trying to convince them of in terms of not the product, but why should they buy from you? Right? So they have 15 people they’re interviewing that provides the same product. So find that one that you connect with you can you know the chemistry with that, that gets you rice that has some relevancy with you.

Katie Brinkley 16:13

Oh, Susanna, you are speaking my language right now. So I work with a lot of realtors and real estate agents. And so I think that it’s there, I think it was four years ago, or six years ago, people could say that they knew an average of four realtors. And now it’s an average of 10. So there’s, it is definitely an oversaturated market for somebody that is a real estate agent. And so I think that what people what I try and tell all my clients is like what makes you different from all the other realtors out there. It’s you. And the second that you realize that that is when you are going to see your business increase. I mean, they can work with just about anyone to buy a house, but why did they choose to work with you? And so what’s one of the hardest things I have to get out of my clients is what makes them different? Because I don’t know, I really don’t want to be on camera. I don’t I don’t really know what makes me different. And now what’s sort of your advice for them if they’re listening right now.

Suzanne Tulien 17:11

So everyone has a brand already, right? I think I mentioned that. The good news is everybody already has a brand. So they’re already living their brand, they they’re just not that conscious of it right? In the bad news is, is that everybody has a brand. So if you’re not conscious of it, and you’re you find that in your current environment, you’re not getting the business or you’re not getting the loyal clients or you’re not getting the positive feedback that you’re wanting, you’ve got to really take a look at how you think you’re being and how you’re actually showing up. Right, there’s that incongruency there. And I do a ton of workshops for realtors, right. And I in fact did one just last week and we talked about the internal awareness of who you are as a brand you’ve been in your body for all these years, you think you know who you are. But then there’s this external piece that’s your audience right out there. And they are seeing something probably a little bit different generally, especially if we haven’t done the work really to get it conscious in our minds. The goal is to get them overlapping or to get your internal even in the center, right center ball of the external environment so that you are you are the one in control of what you’re expressing outward in your reel. Just like I like to use Disney a lot. You know, Disney has created very thoughtfully and it’s called brand management this environment they’ve controlled from the moment you park right because you’ve got all these characters the park in these character lots right? You get on the bus you start hearing the music. I mean everything is controlled they’ve got music coming from rocks in the park, correct me just everywhere. So when you think about how can I really absorb or or exude even absorb who I am and then exude it in a way that’s highly conscious, then you could start really showing up and it doesn’t mean you have to be on TV. It doesn’t mean you have to be on a video. It’s whatever medium you feel most comfortable in, even though you know we know that we’re a internet environment, right and a lot of sales come that way. But you could also do a lot of great networking. If you’re a one on one kind of person. You can emails are very popular, very powerful still these days. Tell your story. Talk to your audiences about who you are and with when do you’re doing the work right the personal brand work you have so much content because you get a lot of details that flesh out of this process and that’s what you go to market with.

Katie Brinkley 19:45

It’s so true and I think that that that’s one thing that a lot of people struggle with is just what makes someone wants to do business with you is most the time you and especially as as a as a real real estate agent that is one of the hardest to kind of get used to as like, it’s you that they want to do business with. And so stepping out and showing your face and showcasing more of who you are, is going to help you with your your whole brand. And you are the brand, like you’ve been saying it’s something that, I think is, you know, we’ve, as we’ve grown up, we’ve seen Nike, we’ve seen, you know, Disney. And we’ve always thought about the corporate side of a brand, but this whole personal side of a brand. I feel like it’s new. And it’s mostly just because of social media. But tell us a little bit how a solopreneur uses branding versus someone in the corporate world?

Suzanne Tulien 20:41

Well, because the decisions that are made by your solopreneur clients, your buyers, right are really based on you, versus a perception of a larger entity in an expectation of a certain product quality, right, the product is more of the brand. But when you think about like Apple, there are Apple lovers that will buy anything Apple puts out, I don’t care what it is, I don’t care what product it is, they trust the brand, because the brand is about innovation. It’s about movement forward, it’s about simplicity, it’s about. And those are things that that market stands for, right. So the personal brand is really about your delivery of who you are, and walking your talk and delivering on your promise. And until you understand that fully, I would beg to differ that you can produce that consistently, right, because we we become chameleons, and we’re really good at it as human beings we like to fit in, we like to just wear whatever everybody else is wearing. So we fit in. But until we understand who we are, we don’t know what our own distinctions are. And I call that being impacted at the external level, so much so that we are no longer internally driven. And we become vulnerable, right? We become robots out there, and everything becomes a transaction instead of this personal, visceral relationship. In this chemistry we can build, the more we know my ourselves, the more we can know others. Does that make sense?

Katie Brinkley 22:20

That makes perfect sense. And, you know, let’s say someone has figured out their personal brand, they have it in their mind, they’re going forward with all the strategies that you teach, what do you keep them from falling off the wagon, what is a bit of advice that you have for keeping their personal brand going strong?

Suzanne Tulien 22:39

You know, I always have my students keep their brand’s DNA, I have my one sheet right here. And so this is something that I can really just look at and review on a regular basis, especially when you know, every once in a while we get in a funk. You know, we’re like feeling down and things aren’t going our way. And we just we lose sight. And we get out of alignment. So the it’s the tools that you get through the process that help you to remember who you really are. And what happens is you fall back in love with who you are, and you get regenerated and it sounds a little woowoo but it’s so true, we we get lost in this mesh and this just group of social media out there. And we feel like we’re not living up to some things. But, but if the more we know who we are, the more confident we are and the less ups and downs we have and the more steady trajectories we have.

Katie Brinkley 23:38

It’s so true social media, it’s it’s a two edged sword, like you can’t live with it without it sometimes. And it’s hard because as a solopreneur mindset is everything and it can be really hard not to look at where someone is that you admire, and see where they’re at now. And think that that’s where you’re supposed to be because you haven’t seen the past four or five, six years that they’ve been working to get to where they are right now and it’s hard you have to just kind of focus in on your own path and and where you are with with your business and not compare Kanika put on the blinders you can’t compare you know everyone you’re where you are in your journey as to where someone else’s further down along the road and where they are with theirs. And it’s I’m so glad you brought that up because it can be hard to keep those those blinders on and stay true to where you are with your own business.

Suzanne Tulien 24:32

Yeah, I think consistency is a big is one of the three most powerful characteristics of a successful brand is consistency and, and I get my clients to take consistency audits, but it’s after they’ve identified and defined this isn’t the Align side of it the line piece because they can only align to what they know. Right if they haven’t crafted really named their brand yet identified and defined it then they can’t begin insistent to something that they don’t know about. So when we take a consistency audit, we really look at all of their actions and behaviors within the business. And just so you know, and your audience knows that personal branding isn’t just about your work, it’s about who you are, how you show up with your family, your community, right? How you manage your own well being is a part of your personal brand. Again, it’s just a perception. It’s what others perceive. But ideally, it’s what you perceive of yourself first.

Katie Brinkley 25:30

I love that. It’s so true. And I, you know, whole time you’re talking, I was doing my own little mental audit of who am I, what is my brand isn’t in alignment with my business and everything. So, to Suzy, and this has been such a great conversation, I feel like I could talk with you for hours. If there’s anything that I haven’t asked you about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share? Is there anything that I might have missed?

Suzanne Tulien 25:55

Well, I want to make sure that your audiences really understand that marketing might get prospects in the door. But it truly is your brand that keeps them coming back into work on the brand is valuable, it is it’ll change and rock your world with clarity. Clarity is the basis for action. So if you’re stuck, and you feel like you’re spending a lot of money in marketing right now, and you’re not going anywhere in the direction you want to go, then stop for a minute, I’ve got a workshop called stop marketing for now start branding. And once you do, you’ve got that content, then to really push it forward and out there in very consistent deliberate ways. And it just explodes.

Katie Brinkley 26:38

I love it, you know, and like I said, as a marketer, when a client comes to me, and they have the tools in place that you’re talking about me, and I gotta tell you, it moves the needle and things, it’s much easier to do the sort of business for them that they need to have to move the needle. So it’s so true. And sometimes if something’s not working with your marketing, take a step back and take a look at where you are with your brand. So this has been such a great conversation. Thank you again, so much for joining me. Where can we learn more about you and your business online? Where can we find your book?

Suzanne Tulien 27:14

The book is on Amazon personal brand clarity is on Amazon as long along with my first book brand DNA, but that’s really for businesses with employees. But the personal brand clarity is a solopreneur focused process. I have an online course to call it. It’s the same that thing that’s in the book, but it’s more interactive, and that is personal brand And I have a free Kickstarter toolkit for personal brands. And it’s right on my website, go right to the Kickstarter toolkit tab, and you can get enrolled in that and get four amazing resources to kick start starting to flesh out your core personal brand.

Katie Brinkley 27:54

Thank you again so much for coming on the show today.

Suzanne Tulien 27:57

Thanks so much, Katie, it was great to talk to you.

Katie Brinkley 28:02

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at Connect with me on LinkedIn or check me out on Instagram. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.