Find the Branding Hook that Others Sing Back to You

branding hook

By John Espirian, {grow} Community Member

How about this for branding that sucks?

“Helping your ideas grow” (my tagline in 2017).

Yes, my old branding was lame and didn’t say anything about what I did. And I’m a copywriter – the sort of person who ought to get this stuff right!

I knew such a weak tagline was fit for the trashcan after Mark Schaefer told me as much over a coaching call. His honest feedback hurt. But he was right.

Since getting that reality check, I’ve learned a useful marketing lesson: Unless your branding is remembered and echoed, it’s not right.

Making it memorable

In eight years of being in business, not one person had ever echoed my tagline back to me. I’d never thought about that, but in hindsight it was a clear warning sign that the words weren’t wowing anyone.

In February 2017, Mark wrote a 4-page case study on my copywriting business in his personal branding book KNOWN. At the time, I’d only relatively recently learned about using social media and content marketing to find my “place and space.”

I was producing content on a regular basis but it wasn’t yet resonating with many people. Still, I’d seen content marketing work for colleagues in the Content Marketing Academy (CMA) and beyond, so I knew that being persistent and consistent would pay off in the end.

But one of the problems was my lack of a truly memorable brand. This is common for many independent service providers. The harsh truth is that without a good hook, there’s little chance of clients listening to the rest of your song. And they certainly won’t sing it back to you or others.

Sure, you can knock people out with amazing service, but they need to find you, trust you and engage you first. And the way you position yourself is essential to getting that process going.

Being mentioned in KNOWN was a great personal moment for me, but a greater moment was to follow – one I wasn’t quite prepared for.

The flash of branding insight

I was geared up to fly to Edinburgh for a conference sponsored by the CMA. Mark was going to be speaking about his research into personal branding and I was excited to meet him in person for the first time. Quite unexpectedly, he contacted me beforehand to suggest that I join him onstage for a Q&A at the end of his talk, along with fellow KNOWN case study subject Pete Matthew (the author of Meaningful Money).

So there we were, onstage together in Scotland, talking about our journeys to becoming known.

As things drew to a close, Mark came up with a great question:

How are you going to remain superior?

I didn’t realize it in the moment, but this would be the start of the most important 60 seconds in my decade of being in business.

My answer, in brief, was this:

Relentlessly helpful content.

I’m not sure where that expression came from, but as I mouthed the words, they felt right.

As with all CMA Live sessions, this was all being caught on camera. Here’s a clip of the moment in question:

“Relentlessly helpful” – birth of a brand strapline from John Espirian on Vimeo.

While ideas bounced around my head after I got home from Edinburgh, one concept stuck and that was of being “relentlessly helpful.” I felt it summed me up pretty well and that it was different enough to have some branding potential.

Not long afterwards, an envelope dropped through my door. One of my conference table buddies, Karen Reyburn, had been making sketch notes of each session. She’d sent me a printed photo (remember them?) of my words while I was onstage with Mark and Pete.

branding hook

This was it. The phrase was good enough to have an impact on someone. Somebody had actually repeated my words. And I liked it. That was enough to wash away my crappy old branding and freshen up with something more relevant and vibrant.

The relentlessly helpful technical copywriter” (me in 2018)

Things have improved a lot since I made that switch.

I’ve religiously followed the personal branding path Mark provided in his book, building a strong B2B writing presence through my blog and on LinkedIn (if you’re in B2B but not using LinkedIn, we need to talk).

I now have a more engaged social presence, more subscribers, more leads, and more revenue.

I’ve realized that the mechanics of branding need to be consistent, and when you show up online you need to demonstrate “congruence” – that means being the same “shape” everywhere (in emails, social media, articles, you name it). It leads to an important conclusion:

You need to give people a memorable hook.

I had eight years of people saying nothing about my brand. Frustrating perfect silence.

But when I started putting “relentlessly helpful” into my marketing, it was as though a switch was flicked and the mic was on.

The congruent brand

Smart, snappy words alone aren’t enough. You have to live your brand values.

Based on the exercises in KNOWN, I went through a short personal branding exercise to get to the core of what message I wanted to convey in all my content, and the results were:

  • Teacher not preacher
  • Cheeky geek
  • Attitude of gratitude
  • Relentlessly helpful

My aim for congruence means that I try to emphasize these elements in my content. This drip-drip effect of showing up with the same voice every time has helped to build trust with my audience.

So, here’s my advice to you:

Think about what core values sum you up and then see how you can weave those elements into the fabric of your online presence.

It takes time, patience, and consistent work to see a pay-off, but I firmly believe this is a good long-term play if you want your brand identity to be remembered and echoed.

“Relentlessly helpful” wouldn’t mean squat if it applied only on Tuesday afternoons. This has to be stuff that’s in your DNA – it’s there in everything you say and do.

Before I wrap this up, I have to give a shout here to Chris Marr and everyone in the CMA for the support and confidence they’ve shown in me.

The right environment is essential for growth, and that’s what the CMA has given my business over the last couple of years. Without this community, I wouldn’t have met Mark, attended this conference, got up on stage, or had so many other opportunities to be interviewed and featured elsewhere. No wonder, then, that Mark cites CMA Live as one of his favorite conferences (and no, I’m not being paid to say that!).

So, final thoughts: think about what matters to you and your business, and look for the hook that gets your clients to remember your song. When you start hearing echoes, you’re on the right stage.

John Espirian is the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter. A former Microsoft Mac MVP, he writes in-depth B2B web content to help clients explain how their products, services and processes work. John shares writing tips on his blog at

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