In this episode, Barbara and Susan Meier discuss:

  • How to refresh and reinvent your brand
  • Key steps in brand strategy
  • Signature colors
  • The right icon for you

Key Takeaways:

“Think outside of your own product or service and how that impacts your audience. Start really with an understanding of who that person or organization is, what their day-to-day life is like, what their aspirations might be, what their challenges might be all across their personal and professional world and then think about how you and your brand play into their world. ” —  Susan Meier


 Connect with Susan Meier:  

Twitter: @susanhmeier


Connect with Barbara Hales: 

Twitter:   @DrBarbaraHales



Show website:



YouTube: TheMedicalStrategist



Barbara:     Welcome to another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors. I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to have with us, Susan Meier. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is a brand strategist and the founder of Susan Meier Studio. She helps Fortune 500 healthcare companies grow their brands and has recently launched a branding toolkit for physicians and other independent professionals which in my opinion is so important.

At the Boston Consulting Group where Susan began her career as a strategist, Susan became fascinated by the deep emotional connections that brands can build with their customers. She now helps her clients gain insight into their customers and develop strategies and messaging to best serve those clients. Susan has had the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading corporations. Get this because this list is pretty impressive. She’s worked with Aetna, Genentech, Gilead, Novartis, WebMD, and Doximity.

Welcome to the show, Susan.


Susan:            Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.


Barbara:         Susan, where do you recommend people start as they begin to refresh and reinvent their brands?


Susan:            I think it always helps to think about your audience, right? Like you think about who’s on the other end of the conversation that you’re having and what position they’re in, what their needs are, what their life is all about. And I really encourage people to think outside of just their own product or service and how that impacts their audience but start really with an understanding of who that person or organization is, what their day-to-day life is like, what their aspirations might be, what their challenges might be all across their personal and professional world and then think about how you and your brand play into their world.

You know, it’s an empathetic approach, right? You really understand and listen to — And so I actually do recommend having conversations, getting feedback from clients. Asking for testimonials is an easy way to do that, right? Or you know, for larger organizations, to do more of a formal survey or interview process with both existing and potential customers to understand, you know, their landscape and what part you can play in that.


Barbara:         It’s so good. But what if somebody is first starting out? What are the key steps in developing a brand vision that will grow their business if they don’t really know who they are or what colors represent them or what their taglines should be? You know, like who am I? So how would you help them find themselves?

Who am I?

Susan:            So, the “who am I?” part is actually the other big piece. I still in that case even if you’re just starting out, I think the first thing you want to do is define who your target audience is and, you know, what population you are going to be serving with as much specificity as possible. You can always evolve it. You can always grow it. But it helps for people to connect with you if you’re very specific about, you know, I serve moms in the northwest or I work with, you know, people who have children with special needs, just to get like a foothold into what it is that you’re doing so that — Because it’s so tempting for all of us to say, well, you know, I could be for anyone, you know, or this product is for everyone. And it may well be. But in order to communicate your message, you need to start somewhere.


And then in terms of that, you know, “who am I?” question, so I work with clients. I have a bunch of different exercises I do to tap into, you know, what are my values, right? What are the, I call them, precious elements of your brand? And this is true even if you don’t have a brand yet if you’re starting out, if you just think about what are your bits and pieces, right, that makes you. They can be your hobbies. They can be your particular skill set, your experiences, your personality, right? Like what do you bring to the table that’s different from other people? And that’s another place I often recommend people to get feedback on. You know, ask your friends and family if you don’t have clients and build a little portrait of yourself in words and pictures.

Branding Exercise

Another exercise that I recommend is going through and swiping photographs. It can be printing stuff off the internet. It can be going through magazines. But do an old-fashioned collage where you just grab pictures that go, like this really feels like me or this is something that’s important to me. And then you have this kind of landscape of who you are and then you can put it into the context of what you do so that you’re building a brand, you’re building a business that’s really genuinely got your DNA in it and you’re thinking about — You know, there are 50 people who sell coffee, just to use a silly example. But what do I bring to the table that’s different? And it’s easier to think about that if you come in through the lens of who you are and what you’re all about than if you come in through the lens of like, hmmm, coffee, what can I do with coffee that’s different?


Barbara:         Well, I’ll tell you one thing for everybody listening out there. If you could make a peppermint mocha latte at zero calories, I’m in.


Susan:            That’s a call to action if I ever heard one. Yes, right. So of course, you’re going to do product development. Of course, you’re going to think about the technology or the science behind what you’re creating or the food science in the case of the example you just gave. But I feel that has to be combined with kind of the heart and soul of what’s behind it in order to come up with the answers to things like you just said, what should my brand colors be? You know, what should the tone of voice be that I use on the website? What templates should I use when I’m designing my website? Should it be, you know, active and vibrant and have lots of buttons? Or should it be really clean and simple and, you know, light-colored photography? You know, those things will fall out of the exercise of knowing yourself better and reflecting on who you are and who your customers are.


Barbara:         What are the most favorite colors for brands?

Brand Colors

Susan:            You know, different industries have different colors that sort of signal the industry. So you know, of course, in healthcare, you have a lot of blues and greens. The whole color spectrum gets used of course across industries. But if you think about it and it’s a little subconscious but playful bright colors will often indicate it’s a children’s product, right? And we’re maybe not thinking that as we’re looking at it or — I used to do a lot of work in food. And sort of more healthful products, organic, natural always had a green component to them. Likewise, green for sustainability.

Finance, you see a lot of stronger blues. So it really depends on what mood you’re trying to convey. And I think that before you get to that creative brief if you’ve done that work to say, here are the three adjectives that really embody our brand, it’s much easier for you or a creative team or a designer, whatever that you work with to turn that into what I’ll call a visual language.

Typefaces also have subtle signaling. You know, something as simple as serif versus sans serif font can say different things about the type of organization that you’re trying to be. So you know, are you serious or are you playful? Are you for a more mature audience or for a younger audience? Are you trying to convey that you’re really effective and have a lot of credibilities or that you’re fluid and free? You know, these are different choices that you’re going to make that have implications visually.


Barbara:         There are several companies that playoff an imaginary or real figure like an animal, a stuffed animal. You have the gecko for insurance. This time of year, my favorite is the polar bear for Coca-Cola. Who doesn’t love him? And so on. So that when you see an image you just ordinarily think of that company which is I think very strong for branding. Other than for large corporations, do you ever recommend that the smaller business also have some animal or object that ties into them?

Mascot or Brand Mark

Susan:            Yeah, like a mascot. I think that if it comes from a genuine place. You know, if your brand is — You know, if your dog, for example, is something that’s really special to you, that dog is always by your side, that dog could be your mascot no matter what your product is. But if you just decide, oh, I think I need a mascot, let me slap a picture of a black lab on there, you’re going to have a hard time making that feel kind of genuine and relevant. I think that you know before you even get into that additional sort of animal or mascot idea, the brand mark itself definitely plays that role. And every brand needs a brand mark.

Occasionally, you’ll see a brand mark that is actually just the word and the mark is sort of in the typeface or the colors that are chosen. But usually, you have a visual object that goes along with the name and the visual treatment of that name that can even stand alone. And the decision of what that mark is going to look like plays that role. And it is important to think about what it is you want to say with that whether — You know, is it an abstract shape? Or does it actually represent something? Is it a sailboat? Okay. So why are you choosing a sailboat? What are you trying to say about your company?

As long as the story makes sense, anything can work. You just have to put the work in to figure out what story it is that you want to tell that connects you. Now, I’m talking about small businesses. You as an individual who’s starting or running a small business with — It has to sort of make sense at least somewhat with the product or service that you got and then you run with it and make it into the kind of coolest, freshest version of that design that you can.


Barbara:         Well, that makes a lot of sense. And it actually goes both ways because if people see the icon, they ask themselves, well, what does that mean? Like why did they choose that? So, it creates a curiosity for a particular or specific client to then go into your site to find out more about you.


Susan:            Yeah, yeah. Exactly. You know, I had a client in the healthcare space who ran a small business, a medium-sized business actually but she just loved the color purple. It was her signature color. It was just very core to her identity and the company was really her baby. She had built it from just herself to 20 employees over the course of a number of years. And she said, you know, I know that purple isn’t what most of the people in my space — They were medical writing and consulting company. That’s not the color most people choose but because it’s so cored to me, that’s the color I want for my branding. And I think that can also be, you know — It’s also okay to throw all the rules away as long as you have a good reason for doing it. And it was something that was deeply connected to her.


Barbara:         Well and as you would agree, I think the biggest or most important aspect of it is how not only you can express yourself but how you could be unique and stand out from your other competitors.


Susan:            Definitely, definitely.


Barbara:         So if nobody else uses purple, then as soon as people see purple, they automatically think of her.


Susan:            That’s right.


Barbara:         What are some of the tools you use with clients to help them define their brand vision?

What Makes You Different?

Susan:            I mentioned a couple of them. I have a series of about 10 exercises that I do with small businesses which are modeled on the sort of larger team style versions that I’ve been using with corporations for years. And they’ve bucketed around ones that deal with understanding your customer, ones that deal with understanding yourself and expressing yourself. And then the third bucket is sort of tying it all together. And you just touched on this.

What is it that really makes you different? So, there are different versions. There are collages. There are some writing exercises. And there are some interviewing and feedback exercises. And then ultimately, the most important exercise comes at the end where you have to write your promise. I’m very passionate about the notion of the brand promise because I feel like when you’re putting a brand out into the world, you’re making a promise to the people that you’re going to serve and that that promise should be the same as if you were making that promise to a friend or a family member, right? It has to be something that you know you can deliver on and that you are going to stand by to the very best of your ability.


And I think sometimes there’s a temptation especially with a new business to make a big promise because you really, really want to be able to do that but you’re not quite sure how you’re going to do it. And I just encourage people to really think it through. What is the kind of proof points that you can offer to yourself as well as to other people to say, this is something I can deliver on, this is something I know how to do?

Not to say that of course we should all take chances and stretch ourselves and start before we’re ready and all of those good things. But in terms of branding, you want to be able to articulate something that’s very true to who you are and what you know you can deliver on, and then that’s going to be your promise. And the unique take which is what’s going to make you stand out is how are you the one and the only person who’s going to deliver on this in exactly the way that you do? And that’s a very hard question to answer especially if you’re very close to it. You know, the expression you can’t read the label of the jar that you’re in. It can be like that.


Barbara:         I like that.


Susan:            It’s a good one. It can be very, very hard to do as a new entrepreneur when you haven’t had a lot of feedback. And so that’s where I work with people to sort of be that sounding board and thought partner because sometimes it’s easier even for a stranger to be able to see you and say, oh, well, it’s clear to me what’s special about you and that’s going to be special about you in the context of your business or your offering.


Barbara:         How does the promise that you discussed differ from a mission statement?

  Mission Statement

Susan:            So, a mission statement is more of a one that’s more based on the values. A mission statement can often turn into a manifesto of sorts. And it’s sort of a higher level like here’s what we aspire to be in the world. Here’s the kind of force for good that we’re going to be in the world. And it’s less about how we’re going to actually deliver on that. And the brand promise should be pretty much like here’s the core idea. Like this is specifically what we’re going to do, who we’re going to do it for, and the way we’re going to do it. And then the mission is like, you know, the promise and then so that we can fulfill the mission.


Barbara:         Okay. That’s great. Now, you mentioned that you have created a toolkit. Is that something that is comprised of the various exercises that we were talking about?


Susan:            Yeah. So I put together a workbook with all those exercises in it really designed especially for small businesses or new startups because I’ve helped, you know, friends and stuff over the years with their small businesses and also with my own business. You know, I’m an independent consultant and I had to do my own branding when I started that business and continued to refresh it over the years. And I know how hard that is. But I also know that the tools and the principles and everything is exactly the same no matter what size your business is. And so for years, I was thinking, how can I do this in a way that, you know, is accessible for a small business budget, both in terms of money and time?

You know you want to do something kind of quickly. You don’t have a six-month consulting budget to spend on it like a large corporation. And so I’ve kind of compressed all the exercises in a way that can be used in a DIY like you can just work through the workbook and out the end of it comes a set of messages that you can use on your website and on your profiles. And the thinking that goes into it is that it starts to become the brief for your creative work.


And so I created that just as a standalone for people who really just want a kind of quick, shoestring version. And then I also offer, you know, a couple of hours or — I have two different packages whether you want just sort of a couple of hours of thought partnership for me to help you work through those exercises. Or sometimes, I mean, often people will come back to me at the end. So I created it as a package where at the end of that I can capture all of that into a brand book that you can then take away and say, okay, this is the brand bible. It’s nicely designed. All the words are thought through and wordsmithed. I can use the words in there for lots of content wherever I’m going to be communicating with my audience and I can share that with, you know, as I hire people or if I’m fundraising or if I’m, you know, taking on creative partners or what have you. I have like a little document that I can say, this is my brand, this is what we do.


Barbara:         Well, that is really so helpful moving forward. Are there any tips that you could leave our listeners with today? Maybe something they hadn’t thought about that you could say, you know, this is really something that I would recommend.


Susan:            Gosh, I’ve been talking about all the good ones. Like be true to yourself and make sure that you stand out. But I think that the biggest tip is more one of self-confidence to get the process started and to follow through with it of course which goes back to that, you know, it’s hard to see what makes you special when you’re inside of it. And I think a lot of people get stumbled up when they’re trying to do their own brand or look at their own brand because they get very focused on the product or the service and like what’s great about that and, you know, how many calories it has or how many hours it takes, you know, like those functional benefits of whatever it is that you’re doing when in fact what your customer really cares about is much more — Like we’re human, right?

So really, what we care about is the emotional impact that those functional benefits give us. And so if we can step back a little bit and say, how am I actually bringing my unique special self to bear on those human beings that are at the other end of my sales process — And that’s true even if I’m a business-to-business business. Like human beings making that decision even if they’re making that decision on behalf of the company and, you know, thinking about how do I connect with them on that emotional level and so not discounting things like oh, of course, I’m a friendly person and I’m good to work with. Well, you know, not everybody is. That’s important. So really thinking about things that aren’t necessarily just on your resume or that are like features of your product but thinking about the softer side of things because those are the things that really will build the love for your brand.

It Comes Down to Emotion

Barbara:         I think that’s a great tip. You know, I think you’re right that it really just comes down to emotion. But also you know, having a mentor or seeking a mentor to help you out is really key. I mean, when Tiger Woods was the #1 golfer, he still had like seven mentors that worked with him every day whether it be the psychologist to talk about the attitude or his swing coach or his putting coach. If you want to stay on top, you still need somebody to help keep you there or if you aspire to advance to the next level. You know, it helps to have someone that could give you that helpful advice even if it might seem obvious to you. It’s not really all that obvious or what works.


Susan:            I think so. I think that’s absolutely true. And speaking as somebody who is not a particularly good delegator, for example, I have to always remind myself how important it is to surround myself with a team of people and how much when I do have that team around me or each individual interaction with a collaborator or whatnot, I get so much value from that. And you can’t just do it alone. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs have that entrepreneurial spirit and they have this motivation and a self-directed nature. And so they often, not all of them but a lot of them are a little bit in danger of having that like “I can do everything by myself” feeling and you just can’t. As you said, Tiger Woods, that’s a great example. There’s a team of people who each are specialists in different things advising him. And yeah, we all need that. I think that couldn’t be more true.


Barbara:         So for those people interested in pursuing your services, how can they get in touch with you?


Susan:            So, the easy-to-remember landing page is called


Barbara:         Oh, I like that.


Susan:            It’s fun to say. And I really believe it. I think you should have fun at work and make your work great. And that will take you to my company’s website which is called Susan Meier Studio. And all the resources are there for both large and small businesses and a little bit of my writing and thinking about topics including branding and design.


Barbara:         That’s great. Now, for people who are not that familiar yet with Susan Meier, I just wanted to point out how you spell your last name which is M-E-I-E-R because Meier could be spelled a lot of different ways.


Susan:            Very true.


Barbara:         But this valuable person who you need to get a hold of is M-E-I-E-R. Well, it’s been a real treat to speak with you today. We’ve been speaking with Susan Meier who is the founder of Susan Meier Studio and her specialty is on branding. This has been another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors with your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Till next time.