A ridiculously simple way of learning how your brand is perceived

Ask those you serve who are you to them.

Last week I conducted a workshop called Communicating Impact with Brand Clarity. I set the day up with a warning: The most important people we need to hear from are not in the room. For your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what your audience says it is.*

Think about it. Your audience knows things about your organization that you could never guess. They know how they learned about you. They know why they choose you. They know who else competes for their attention, and how you meet their needs better than those competitors.

Yet in spite of how revealing it is to talk to your audiences, most people overlook this powerful tool.

Introducing Clarity Dialog Interviews

The good news is that not only is it easy to engage your audiences, it’s super simple. There are just four steps.

1. Identify 15 – 20 primary stakeholders. That’s all. You’ll be amazed at the patterns that emerge by talking to somewhere south of two dozen people who know your company. We like to include as broad a spectrum as possible, including happy clients, dissatisfied clients, happy donors, lapsed donors, board members, organizational leaders, administrative employees and people in-between.

2. Use email to schedule a call. Tell them that you’re trying to improve your service and that their voice and opinion is priceless. Promise that the call will take no longer than 30 minutes. It helps if the interviewer is introduced by someone within the company who knows the interviewee.

3. Make the calls. Record the calls. Take notes during the calls. Transcribe the recordings after the calls. Honor the 30 minute promise.

4. Once you’ve talked to 15 – 20 people print out your notes and read them through once. Now read them again and notice emerging themes. Now read them  and cut them into themes. Sort the themes together and notice the two or three primary themes that rise to the top. It’s also interesting to note that outlying opinions tend to be immediately recognizable as just that – outlying.

Typically I take the results and publish them as a PowerPoint deck that can be shared in a group meeting or saved as a PDF for easy distribution.

As for interview questions, remember that this is a dialog, not a survey. While I always jot down leading questions, I try to let the speaker guide the conversation. I listen, use active feedback to make sure that I heard them accurately, then I share what I am taking away.

People love to be listened too. If you really listen, empathetically and honestly, you will be rewarded with insight about who you serve and how you help that you can learn nowhere else.

A word about confidentiality and transparency. Yes, your own people can conduct Dialog Interviews, and you will get value for the experience. But by now I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve heard two refrains: 1) “Just the fact that they’ve hired you to listen to me says so much about why I trust them so much”, and 2) “I’m glad that they’ve hired you to talk with me. I feel safer speaking to someone who is a neutral third party”.

So, call me. I’ll call your people and you’ll get fresh and immediately usable insight.


The photo in the header of this article is of a bumpersticker that sits proudly on my refrigerator. That line was shared with me by a major donor during a Dialog Interview. He said “Well, you know, farmland can’t save itself.”  I told him that I suspected that we’d end up using that line, which we did, more than once. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you just ask.

*Marty Neumeier said this first in his great book The Brand Gap.


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