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Bringing Messages to Life Through Strategic Branding

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Eyes often glaze over when one talks about “marketing.” It encompasses a large arena of concepts and strategies to be considered and, with social media and other technological advances, more are presenting themselves every day. When you add “selling the invisible” to the mix, it seems daunting. But that is just what the Ellicott City-based firm Insight180 Brand Consulting & Design specializes in — “helping to message and market those that sell the ‘invisible’ services — consulting, technology, ideology and training, for example,” said Insight180 President Wendy Baird.

Insight180 is a branding and design firm that believes “marketing success stems from good positioning strategy, which means that in order to successfully market an advisory business, you have to uncover what makes you different from your competitors,” according to its web site. “You have to know where you stand within your marketplace and how you compare to your competitors in your customer’s mind. Once a business’s unique difference is defined, building a marketing platform that addresses the ways in which you are different becomes not only possible, but powerful and effective.”

This process is where Insight180 excels with its clients. It takes an in-depth look at a company, its message and brand, and develops the steps to move it in a direction in which that company wants to head. “While our sweet spot is forward-thinking b2b [business-to-business] advisory firms in the $1 million to $20 million range, we have done branding, naming and design work for companies of all sizes: small, mid-sized and as large as The World Bank,” said Baird.

“Setting a company apart is more than just design of a web site or brochures,” she said. Even when Insight180 is hired for a specific design project, “it is hard not to think of it from a strategic brand process perspective. We have it [the branding review] down to a science that is repeatable and proven.”

“I think what stood out most in working with Insight180 was that they put in so much work on the front end,” said Renee Bagshaw, with Continental Contractor’s Inc. “Rebranding our company, and the brand refresh we’re working on now, have not been about coming up with a new logo and snappy catch phrase, slapping them on a business card and calling it a day.

“Wendy and her colleagues spent hours with us, trying to drill down on what made us tick as a company — our ‘why we do it.’ They gathered input from our clients on what we do well so we can capitalize on that, and what we don’t so we can fix it. Their branding process was a combination of both external focus group and market research, internal group therapy and direction on how to move forward.”

What’s in a Name?

Baird has been a designer and marketing specialist for more than 30 years, first working for other companies and organizations, including the Delaware Theatre Company and Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, and then starting her own company about 24 years ago. After having her own design and communications company for several years, she joined forces with another small firm in November 1999 to form Insight180 which established itself on Main Street in Ellicott City.

They are still working out of that Main Street office “two floods later,” said Baird. But they are now prepared, due to flood mitigation protocols that include moveable furniture on casters, stamped concrete floors and a stash of sandbags near the door. “We love our location,” said Baird. “Many of our clients and friends come by and enjoy the historic city. Often, they will come at the end of the day and then go out for happy hour.”

The origin of the company’s name was inspired by a colleague who said they “offered clear, deep and thoughtful insights in their work.” The 180 represents 180 geometrical degrees — examining a project from all angles with the help of several of the proprietary tools that they have developed, some of which include the trademarked 180 Position Process, the BrandBuild brand audit, and the Small Business Startup package.

When working on a rebranding project, “We work with a company two to four months with desk research, interviews and facilitated brainstorming to come up with the right name, look and message,” said Baird.

Baird and her staff have found that one of the benefits of a rebrand is not only clarity, but also a “huge moral boost internally.” When employees are involved in the branding review, “they understand their opinions matter, they appreciate being able to answer questions with a consistent message, and they better understand [their own company’s brand],” said Baird.

“Wendy was able to ask deeper questions about what was unique about the services I offered, what the competitive landscape looked like and what sets me apart from other leadership coaches,” said Wendy Moomaw, executive and team coach with the company Wendy Moomaw. “Her incisive and thoughtful questions provided the framework for me to fill in on my own.

“Wendy and her team are technically astute, conscientious in working with their clients and create a high quality and professional product. They were able to help me with keywords and phrases to raise my visibility in Google and to assist me in doing this for myself through the blog posts I write. Over a period of four months, we went from our initial conversations to a web site that melds and messages who I am as an entrepreneur, coach, leader and person. It was a magnificent transformation from my previous web site and also for me as a business owner.

“I am grateful to Insight180 for helping me to stand up, stand out and to mentally prepare for the larger opportunities that are now emerging for my business.”

Community Involvement

Insight180 staff members serve on a number of boards and particularly like working with “conscious companies that give back” to the community, said Baird, who is a member of the board of advisers for Conscious Capitalism of Central Maryland. In addition, Baird and her staff regularly take on a “feel-good project” once a quarter to help organizations that may not have a large budget but need help with their brand and messaging.

Additionally, Baird is a Leadership Howard County graduate, class of 2015, and also serves on the board of the National Family Resiliency Center; last year, she completed a two-year term on the Howard Tech Council Advisory Board. She also is often seen on stage in singing and acting roles in theaters around the region, including the Red Branch Theater and the Kensington Arts Theatre. Currently, she is the music director for “The Secret Garden” being performed by The Colonial Players of Annapolis, which will run April 8–May 8.

Looking Ahead

Helping companies and organizations to stand out is why Insight180 enjoys long-term relationships. “I had a fundraising consulting business, and Insight180 created my logo and business card,” said Beth Sandbower Harbinson, executive director of Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore. “Now, many years later, I run a nonprofit, and the team there [at Insight180] has worked with us to problem solve and keep our web site content, digital marketing and social media linked to our mission and helped create a visual ‘brand.’”

“We were just recognized at our national conference for having an impressive and broad-based approach to marketing and branding. This has helped us raise awareness of who we are, what we do, and most importantly, to raise more money so we can serve more students in need.”

Looking inward on a regular basis is something that Insight180 recommends, and the company is currently practicing its own policy. “We just had a retreat,” said Baird, “to look at our strengths and what we need to do moving forward.” She is optimistic about 2016 and what they need to do, including some new ideas that may involve marketing gatherings and workshops such as “French Roast Fridays, podcasts and presentations — more to come on that soon.”

“I have a fabulous staff who wants to strengthen how we problem solve, how we create and inspire and how we help our clients,” said Baird. One such move includes creating different areas in the open space office so they can “be even more collaborative on all projects, large and small. We look forward to regrouping but are enthusiastically up to the task.”