The 3 Kill Phrases for a Prospective Entrepreneur

I dreamed about being an entrepreneur for a good part of my adult life, but something always stopped me from moving forward. A promotion at work, the looming threat of my kids’ college bills, fear. Then, one New Year’s Eve my husband and I had a conversation that went something like this.

John: 2015 is going to be a very special year for you.
Sue: Really, why?
John: Because this is the year you are going to start your own business.

That one uttered sentence put me into a tailspin. Was it really time to take this step? Could I just walk away from a lifetime of biweekly checks? Could I say goodbye to an employer that had been kind to me? Would I keep busy enough to feel truly fulfilled in my job?

There were a thousand questions, but only one answer. Yes. It was time.

I can confidently say that I have never once looked back and questioned the decision I made. I have fully embraced entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur is, and always has been, in my blood. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

But, I sometimes ask myself, if John hadn’t pushed me forward, would I have been bold enough to make the move? I’d like to say yes, but I’m not 100% positive. Thus, I have gone out of my way to meet with wannabe entrepreneurs who are asking themselves the very same question. Over the course of my many meetings with these aspiring entrepreneurs, I have detected a pattern that sheds some light on whether a person is setting themselves up for success.

There are three particular phrases that I have heard more often than I would like to admit that appear to set individuals up for failure, or at very minimum, a rocky start to their entrepreneurial career.

So, just what are those phrases?

“I figure if this doesn’t work out, I can always get a job.”

This is the one that I least like to hear because the person is literally throwing the towel in before they even take one single step into their entrepreneurial journey. Not a good strategy. I will typically look this person in the eye and ask them if they really want to be an entrepreneur or if it is just a convenient choice because they happen to be unhappy in their job or currently unemployed. I ask them to really search their soul and to truly understand the direction they want to take with their career. If entrepreneurship is their choice, I encourage them to create a mantra which they recite every single day, in good times and bad. Mine is:


It is amazing when you begin your day with a positive attitude how it affects all the actions you take that day.

“I want to be an entrepreneur so I can do (insert your job) all the time.”

Oh, I wish it was that easy. But, now that you are going out on your own, you are leaving the company accountant, HR person and new business team behind. Guess who’s left standing? Yep, you. Until your company is prosperous enough to hire employees to help, it all falls on your shoulders. New business prospecting, invoicing, bill collection, business strategy, marketing strategy, legal decisions. In my first 12 months of business, I had to deal with a copyright infringement, a client that bounced three checks and a local agency that stole the exact language from my proposal and used it to try to win new business. (Unfortunately for them, I responded to the same RFP. Oops.)

“I don’t really know a lot of people, but I’ll make a lot of cold calls.”

A well-oiled network is a lynchpin to early success. Why? Because these individuals already know you and trust you. That means less personal risk if they invite you to participate in their business. But, it’s not just about giving you their business. If they believe in you, they can also become a strong referral network for you, opening doors that you could never open on your own. Looking back on my first 3-1/2 years in business, at least 80% of my business has come to me through individuals I worked with, worked for or was referred to by someone I know. The remaining 20% came through good old-fashioned hard work. Meeting people for coffee, responding to several page RFPs and sharing my capabilities in-person. In my first year of business, I met with 83 people face-to-face. I’m not saying cold calls don’t work but they are a lot more work and your hit rate is a lot lower.

So, now I’ve left you with some thoughts to muse over. What can you do to pave the way for a successful entrepreneurial career?

– If you want to be an entrepreneur, jump in with both feet and don’t look back.
– Find ways to stay positive – exercise, yoga, meditation, whatever it takes.
– Ask other entrepreneurs what they would have done differently.
– Network, network, network.
– Learn how to think bigger than your craft.
– Create a personal board of directors – people that will always be honest.
– Don’t let obstacles stand in your way – rise above them!


What Can Marketers Learn From Genealogists?

Researching our family roots and tracing our ancestry back centuries has become big business in the United States.

• Genealogy is second only to gardening for American hobbies. (Times, 5.29.14)
• has over 4 million customers in its DNA database. (, 4.27.17)
• The average genealogist spends $1,000 to $18,000 uncovering links to their past. (Fast Company, 7.15.15)
• The British show “Who Do You Think You Are?” has traced the ancestry stories of 90 celebrities, airing 100 episodes over a 10-year period.

What lives behind this insatiable curiosity to understand our family’s heritage is not the numbers, but the rich and interesting stories we uncover. The promise of those stories fuel a genealogist’s willingness to trudge through muddy cemeteries, painstakingly scan and catalog hundreds of old photos and burn the midnight oil well past the bewitching hour, night after night, always with a promise, punctuated with a yawn, I won’t do that again … until the next time, that is.

The six-million-dollar question is why?

Of course, there is the practical side of tracing your roots. Understanding where you came from can help you validate the folklore you grew up with, preserve family traditions, reconnect with relatives and understand medical history, in addition to many other fascinating things.

But, for many, the deep-dive into their family’s lineage is about the stories … the personal heartfelt memories they uncover that make a person from their past take a giant step into their present-day world.

Which of these accounts of my great grandfather Philipp Mohr do you prefer to read?

A. My great grandfather Philippus Mohr was born on June 5, 1837 in Hesse, Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1843, moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, married Dorathea Gross on December 15, 1861 and went on to have nine children.

B. My father, Donald Wiedmann, called his Grandpa Mohr “Grandpa Whiskers” because he had a big, white fluffy beard that begged to be touched. He immigrated to Wisconsin with his family in 1843, where they became one of three families to settle Whitefish Bay. They were pioneers, trading food with Indians, keeping their eyes open for bears that roamed the land and taking their oxen-drawn cart to the big city of Milwaukee to sell the vegetables they grew on their land.

Too many marketers rely on Version A, letting the numbers tell their story. How many units did I sell? Will this marketing program achieve my ROI? Do consumers like this product or this product?

But, truth be told, the power is not in the numbers, but in the words, the stories, the emotions behind the brand you sell.

Despite all the negative backwash that qualitative research has been accosted with in recent years, true storytelling only emerges when you are face-to-face with another human being, when you give them the opportunity to explain how and what they feel. There is absolutely no substitute for people-powered insights.

A face-to-face discussion provides a richness to our understanding that cannot be easily replaced … whether it’s interviewing a family member about their favorite childhood memories or having a spice lover share her cooking insights while creating her version of a culinary masterpiece.

So, perhaps as marketers, we need to look to genealogists for answers on how to better connect with the people that buy our products for it is their stories that will add clarity to the conversation we should be having.

Sue Northey is the Owner / Chief Strategy Officer of Branding Breakthroughs, whose mission is to connect brands and people. She has moderated over 750 focus groups, interviews and brainstorm sessions. Sue is also a passionate genealogist. 


Making Your Brand Irreplaceable

Finding that special ingredient that makes your brand irreplaceable is tough work. If you don’t put yourself in the shoes of your customer, that job turns from tough to impossible.

Job #1 is to turn your brand inside out, understanding that one simple answer that every customer seeks:

What’s in it for me?

Think of your own life. Which brands are such an important part of who you are that there are no brand substitutes?

As I went through this exercise myself, I immediately thought of the 2012 Excedrin recall. That devastating recall in which every single bottle was removed from every single shelf in every single state. Excedrin is my standby. It is the medication I turn to when migraines put my head in a vise and won’t let go. For me, there is just no substitute. I frantically searched through purses, suitcases and drawers stockpiling Excedrin so I could manage to cobble together a cure until that jubilant day when the brand magically reappeared on shelves.

I thought about the other brands in my life that are irreplaceable.

So, here is the $6 million question:

What emotional benefit does your brand promise its customers?


Are You Using an A.C.E. Moderator?

Over the course of my 20+ year marketing career, first as a client, then as an agency planner, I have participated in hundreds of focus groups, brainstorms and interviews from both sides of the glass. Throughout these years, I have learned that you can train someone to be a good moderator, but that the skills required to become an A.C.E. moderator are innate … they are hard-wired into who the person is at their very core.


Selecting the right moderator is the first, and most important, step in truly understanding what customers think and feel. A great moderator is the foundation of a great strategy.


Authentic. Curious. Empathetic.
Three words used to describe Sue Northey’s moderating style.


Sue has spent over 20 years uncovering unexpected insights which inspire communications and build brand affinity. She is a skilled communicator, having moderated over 750 interviews, focus groups and workshops in order to brainstorm new ideas, understand consumer motivations, evaluate new products, assess brand equity and evaluate communications. One of Sue’s specialties is leading branding workshops with multidisciplinary teams, working collaboratively to understand and reposition brands.

Sue has spearheaded efforts for well over 100 consumer, business-to-business and nonprofit brands. Her work experience encompasses the client, agency, academic and entrepreneurial sides of business. Her previous leadership roles at a major CPG company, a notable advertising agency and a D1 university all prepared her to launch her own consulting firm, Branding Breakthroughs, in 2015.


5 Reasons B2B Brands Should Be on Social Media

One of the most common questions I get as a brand strategist is whether a B2B brand should be on social media. There is a common misconception that social media only benefits consumer brands. The truth is … social media can equally benefit both consumer and business-to-business brands if a clearly thought out and well written social media strategy is in place. There are at least five solid strategic reasons why B2B companies should be on social media.


The single most important benefit of social media for B2B marketers is the opportunity to increase awareness of your brand. Consider the following awareness-to-loyalty continuum. Without awareness, a prospect doesn’t even know you exist, so how could they consider purchasing you? Social media is a cost-effective means to increase awareness among individuals you believe are your core prospects.

Awareness – Loyalty Brand Continuum


As a B2B business, you are not reaching out to the 321 million people that live in the United States … a feat that a consumer brand may have to realistically consider. Instead, you are reaching out to a finite group of individuals. The key is to discover which social media channels your prospective target is frequenting. Gone are the days when the number of followers you have on social media is the lynch pin to success. If you have 500 followers but they are exactly the type of individuals you are trying to connect with, that lower number of followers may be a virtual goldmine.


Each channel serves a purpose and, therefore, should be selected on the basis of your specific needs. Many articles talk about the big three for B2B: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. While these channels may represent a good starting point, they may not be the most appropriate channels for your business.

  • LinkedIn provides a perfect forum to connect with other like-minded individuals in your industry. Join a special interest group to talk about industry trends, ask customers to endorse your brand or to write a recommendation, publish original content to establish your company as a thought leader or find young professionals who share your company’s passion to hire for that open position.
  • Twitter is a terrific channel to establish thought leadership by using industry hashtags or a special hashtag you have created to showcase something specific to your company. It is also a great way to remain plugged in to industry news and happenings. Follow industry leaders to understand which issues and topics are top-of-mind and tweet relevant and important topics to individuals that will begin to turn to you for advice.
  • Facebook is a good forum to showcase your corporate culture, engage with customers on a personal level and show a little bit of the fun side of your personality.
  • YouTube is a perfect platform for brand storytelling or how-to videos that help your brand come alive.
  • While the jury may still be out on the overall effectiveness of Google+ as a networking forum, there is one thing that is irrefutably true – it elevates your brand in Google search, providing an easier way for current and prospective customers to find you.
  • If you work on a particularly visual brand, perhaps Instagram or Pinterest will provide you the perfect forum to connect with others looking for infographics, how-to pictures or suggestions on how to use your brand in unexpected ways.


How do you stand out from your competitors? As President Mike Crawford of marketing firm M/C/C points out, “As a B2B business using social media, your goal is to position the company as an industry leader.” If you have a blog on your website and are struggling to get people to read it, social media provides a forum to broadcast your content. So much of what is shared on social media is regurgitated information, so original content can really break through the clutter and establish your brand as a thought leader, helping to build credibility and trust in your overall brand.


But, the most convincing reason to use social media as a B2B company is that, plainly and simply, it works. Research conducted by the Content Marketing Institute shares a number of very impactful statistics.

  • Over four-in-five B2B marketers (86%) use content marketing to reach their targets and social media is a prime way to distribute that content.
  • Over half of B2B marketers use five social media platforms – LinkedIn (91%), Twitter (88%), Facebook (84%), YouTube (72%)  and Google+ (64%) and usage of all these channels is on the rise.
  • While there is certainly room to optimize their usage of social media, B2B marketers believe that LinkedIn (63%), Twitter (55%) and YouTube (48%) have proven to be effective for their businesses.

Should you make a decision to move forward with social media, do not tiptoe into the effort. Making a half-hearted attempt to engage in social media can set you up for greater damage than doing nothing at all. (See: Are You A Drive-By Social Media Marketer)

Drive-by MarketerThroughout this process, please keep in mind that building a loyal social media following takes time. Services that offer you thousands of followers for a small price merely populate your follower count with individuals that are not your core target.

Evaluate. Plan. Provide adequate resources. Take the time to execute properly. You will not regret it.


Branding Breakthroughs Social Media

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7 Life Lessons Learned While Fishing in Alaska

A great deal of research has been conducted in the past few decades on the restorative powers of nature. It has been demonstrated that nature can make us more productive, help us focus, prevent depression and reduce stress.  So, I shouldn’t be terribly surprised that my 10-day fishing trip in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska resulted in such an epiphany of sorts. Not only did I have the adventure of my life, but I achieved mental clarity on so many things that had been on my mind. Perhaps you can take this trip with me vicariously and benefit from some of the powerful lessons I learned.

1. Embrace Risk

Seaplane Condensed

Of the four of us who traveled to Alaska, I was the most inexperienced fisherman … by far. Well, let’s be honest, I had only fished once in my life and that was 30 years ago. I’m not going to lie – I was a bit nervous. Could I fish side-by-side with these more experienced individuals without making a fool of myself? Would I get seasick as we darted along the ocean waves? Would the seaplane be safe? Would I have the wherewithal to pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our 3am wake-up calls? While those questions may have made me a bit hesitant, they certainly didn’t stop me from going on this adventure. Truthfully, the inherent risk was a little bit intoxicating. So, I found myself tugging on chest high waders, climbing on sea planes, wading into rivers and sailing over the choppy Pacific waters with a sense of gusto. Everything I was experiencing was so raw and new. The air felt crisper. Nature was more vibrant. People were more interesting. I saw colorful jelly fish floating in the ocean, a bear sticking its paw in the river, salmon swimming against the strong current, glaciers lining the landscape as far as the eye could see and so much spectacular beauty that I felt small in comparison. As the above articles so eloquently illustrated, my mind was refreshed and energized … and so was my spirit.

2. Trust Your Guides

Dick - condense

I had the fortune of traveling with some very knowledgeable and patient guides. They knew where to go to find the fish and where to avoid stumbling on less-than-friendly grizzlies. They knew when to move up our fly-out time to capitalize on the fish population and when to cut the trip short because we were just wasting our time. They knew how to encourage, instruct, demonstrate and cajole. They taught me how to cast, set the hook and let the salmon think they were winning the battle. I learned to listen and trust the lessons they imparted.

3. Collect Experiences, Not Possessions

Ocean condensed

In preparation for this adventure, I found myself in the business of buying lots of things. Clothing: a wind-resistant jacket, a rain suit and breathable shirts. Fishing: chest high waders, wool socks and an Alaskan fishing license. Travel: hotel, fishing lodge, flight, car and excursions. Accessories: a water bottle that wouldn’t leak and a waterproof camera case. Collecting things for the trip was an adventure unto itself. It involved two trips to Cabela’s, a trip to Gander Mountain and numerous dinners and nights out with our best friends to plan the details of the trip. It was part of the overall experience and it was fun, helping to build our anticipation for the trip that lie ahead. But all that paled in comparison to the experiences we collected in Alaska. Adventures like this fuel stories for years to come. Honestly, the stories had begun before the first day was complete. We talked among ourselves, shared fish stories with others at the lodge, posted on social media and sent texts to our families. The storytelling had begun.

4. Be Prepared to Fall

Bird condensed

While I generally understood the mechanics of casting, my casts were falling short. Short enough that I wasn’t going to catch any fish unless I figured out how to improve my technique. One of our guides told me to ‘put a little more oomph’ into my casts. So, I decided to take a giant step off the sandbar into the water so I could put my whole body into it. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, my left foot found the one and only drop-off so close to shore. Within a matter of a few short seconds, I went from casting to swimming. Once I realized I wasn’t in danger, I have to admit I felt a bit like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality after falling in the Miss United States pageant.

“I mean, I know we all secretly hope the other one will trip and fall on her face, and – wait a minute, I’ve already done that!”

A little known fact about me is that I am not the most graceful creature on the planet. I have had a few face plants in my day. So, truth be known, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be taking a swim at some point during our 10 days exploring the Last Frontier. So, in a way, getting it over with was a bit of a relief. Sometimes planning for the inevitable – or the not-so-inevitable – takes the pressure off and makes a tough thing not so tough.

5. Believe in Yourself

Sue condensed

You already know I’m a novice, so perhaps you won’t be surprised that I had two unsuccessful days on the river. When I say unsuccessful, I mean wildly unsuccessful … not one single fish caught. I had an internal battle with myself on the second day that went something like this:

It’s okay. Really. Look at how beautiful this place is. Soak it all in. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t catching any fish. Just keep practicing. It will pay off eventually; if not today, tomorrow.

This mostly worked, although I had an emotional dip for a few hours. But, then I realized, I am in Alaska and not on some comfy cruise boat, but I’m actually in the wilds of Alaska! How many people have the courage or the resources to make something like this a reality? So, I turned my attention to the ripples in the water, the way the sun reflected through the trees, the snow-topped glaciers in all their splendor and – yes – to the salmon my husband and friends were pulling in. I savored every last minute on the river and figured the next day would be a fresh start. And I was right. As time went on, I figured out how to cast and set the hook without overthinking it. The next time we traveled to the Kenai River, I caught the largest silver salmon on our boat and actually had to throw fish back so I wouldn’t go over my daily limit. Keeping a positive attitude and not giving up paid off.

6. A Kind Word Goes A Long Way

Sunlight condensed

We spent a week at the Gone Fishin Lodge filled to capacity with die-hard fishermen. Now, one might think that these river-hardened gentlemen might be uncomfortable around the likes of inexperienced women attempting to fish the wilds of Alaska, but it is amazing what a smile and a kind word can do … even at 3:30 in the morning. A bright, ‘Good Morning!’ followed by, ‘How was your fishing yesterday?’ brought smiles to everyone’s faces. While we came from all over the United States, we quickly formed a bond. We shared stories (it turned out I wasn’t the only one that went swimming!), talked about our families back home and discussed tasty ways to prepare salmon and halibut. We went on daily adventures with some of our new friends, crossed paths at local restaurants and sat on the deck in the evenings sharing a few drinks after a long day of successful fishing. We truly enjoyed each others company.

7. Respect Nature

Bear Condensed (2)

I had an overwhelming desire to see a bear while in the Alaskan wilds. I saw them as the cute, cuddly, sweet-faced bears I gazed upon at my local zoo. The guides had warned us that we were in bear territory and that we were guests in their land. We needed to respect them and their sense of territoriality. While I took heed, I still wanted to see a bear. And then it happened. We were fishing from a sandbar when he appeared across the river. … just a little more distance than a cast away. He paced back and forth, obviously hungry and on the lookout for dinner. He must have liked what he saw in the river because he toyed with the idea of fishing. As he took a few tentative steps into the river, our guide hurriedly put all the salmon we had caught into an air-tight container, while coaching us to get ready to jump into the boat for a quick getaway. That was when the adorable grizzly turned into a menacing predator. Lucky for us, he stayed on the other side of the river, but it taught me a valuable lesson.

Mountains Trees Condensed


Sometimes You Just Need to Nurture Your Creativity

These days, there seems to be an insatiable desire to link everything we do on social media back to ROI, a statistic or something else that helps move your business forward in a dollars-and-cents kind of way.

  • How many new prospects did you generate on Twitter?
  • Did your LinkedIn article show how knowledgeable you are?
  • Did your Facebook post make people want to work for you?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that there has to be a purpose for it all at the end of the day. Why spend countless hours and brain cells working on something if it doesn’t elevate your business in a quantifiable way?

But lately, I can’t help but wonder if we are missing some of the really important ‘soft’ benefits of engaging in social media.

Like creativity, for example.

Concepts - Creativity

Posting to your social media account can allow you to flex your creative muscle and to solve some of those business problems that have been nagging you for days.

Branding Breakthroughs may be dedicated to advancing our client’s understanding of branding, but let’s be real … creativity is a critically important component of crafting an insightful and inspiring brand strategy.

For us, outlets like Tumblr and Instagram provide the opportunity to go beyond the day-to-day business workings (which can get tedious at times) and express ourselves in a way that brings new clarity and vision to the work at hand.

If you read any of the many articles written on breaking through creative blocks – like this one at Creative Bloq or this one at Fast Company – you see some common threads. Take a stroll around the neighborhood. Snap some photos. Draw a picture. Write aimlessly. Commune with nature. It is through these creative outlets that our brains are allowed to free float and to, sometimes miraculously, come up with a solution to a problem that has stumped us.

Perhaps Jill Davis is on to something when she says, “The waves of the sea help me get back to me.”

The waves of the sea help me get back to me

So, don’t be afraid to use a social media channel like Tumblr, Instagram or Pinterest to feed your intellectual curiosity and to nurture your creativity.

It may pay off for you in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

To see how Branding Breakthroughs nurtures their creativity, check out our Tumbler, Instagram and Pinterest accounts. You will notice each still pays off our brand by delivering consistent imagery in a voice that is in total alignment with who we are.



An Obituary Can Help Your Brand Come Alive

Obituaries Make Us Sad

The word ‘obituary‘ likely conjures up images of lilies, funeral homes and heartbreak. It’s generally not a happy thought … no matter how it is served up.

But perhaps it’s the context in which we think of obituaries.

Consumer-Written Obituaries Add Fresh Insight

A consumer-written obituary can be immensely helpful when it comes to the health of your brand. It can point out vulnerabilities before they become reality and help you understand why your brand is revered by its loyalists.

Doing an obituary exercise in a focus group or as preparation for a brainstorm can be very insightful. Split the group in two and have half write an obituary for your brand and half write one for a key competitor. Ask them to read their obituaries out loud and use their comments as fodder for a group discussion.

Ask These Questions

So, what’s in a good obituary?

Obituary exercise

An Obituary Can Breathe Life Into Your Brand

Sometimes, asking consumers to write an obituary can breathe life into your brand before it becomes a mere epitaph.







Are Snackable Visuals Seductive? You Decide.

According to Socially Sorted, Snackable Visual Content describes “images that are digestible, highly shareable and can easily cross social platforms and drive traffic.”

To illustrate the value of snackable visuals, let’s take a fact and illustrate it in three different ways. Then you judge which is most captivating.

Here is our fact:

When you add a visual to a tweet, you can boost retweets by 35%.


Adding a photo to your tweet can boost retweets by 35%. (HubSpot)


The Power of Visuals



Which Is Most Effective


Is Brand Strategy Just BS?

In my work at Branding Breakthroughs, one thing has become abundantly clear … people think they understand Brand Strategy, but they really don’t.

So, just what is Brand Strategy and why does it matter?

What Brand Strategy Is Not

Perhaps it is best to begin by explaining what Brand Strategy is not.

  • It is not your logo.
  • It is not your website.
  • It is not your product.
  • It is not your brand name.
  • It is not that fancy newsletter you publish.

What Is Brand Strategy?

Think of it as the frame of your house. The 2x4s that make up the walls, the roof, the ceilings, the floors. These important pieces form the foundation of your house. If you use inferior materials or hastily construct it, your house may not withstand normal wear-and-tear; worse yet, it definitely will not hold strong when the high winds of that unexpected storm hit.

Which Questions Do I Need Answer?

Here are some of the questions you should answer in order to create a compelling Brand Strategy.

Brand Strategy Questions

So, now perhaps you understand that BS stands for Brand Strategy and that it is a really important building block for your brand.