Nick Lopez and Gary De Jesus talk about his time playing football and studying at Harvard to mastering brand development at Procter and Gamble. Today, Gary is one of the most influential marketing minds in franchising, as he has helped countless iconic national companies perfect their brand. Gary dives into his brand development exercise called “the Reason to Believe” and how it tailors to the strategic target based on heart and head and what the consumer wants, not what the brand wants – his passion for cognitive science plays an important role here. Gary also shares how the five fundamental human values and brand positioning lay the foundation for the Reason to Believe and create confidence in the brand’s ability to execute against the brand promise. He is a master of disrupting the brain through brand development. As a result, the brands he levels up disrupt entire industries as he creates clarity for how the brand delivers incredible value within the marketplace. You should not miss this episode if you’re looking at national expansion for your brand!
I am absolutely humbled to have our guest on the show. His name is Gary De Jesus. He is a longtime friend and attended Harvard where he played football. He also went to NYU Stern where he received his MBA. He is a Chief Marketing Officer as the brand architect behind many national brands, brands you probably know and has fallen in love with. He also worked at Procter & Gamble for twenty years right there in his backyard in Cincinnati. Gary, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much. It’s great seeing you again. It’s been a little bit, but I always enjoy our conversations.
Everything that you’ve done in terms of brand development with LIME is still alive and thriving, so I’m excited to dive in and help readers level up through your knowledge as a marketing and brand expert. This is a show where we want to help people level up by speaking to thought leaders in business, franchising, and high-performance development. All of those things are right up your alley. You are somebody with a whole breadth of experience. Let’s dive in. Let’s talk about your experience and how you have gotten to where you are now if you wouldn’t mind taking us through your journey and what put you in a position to help brands develop and level up.
I appreciate that. At the end of the day, it comes down to getting to where passion meets focus. You can start to focus on certain things that you’re passionate about. You mentioned a little bit about my background. To tighten it up just a little bit more, when I was a Harvard undergrad, I was OEB, Organismal Evolutionary Biology major. I focused on a lot of ecosystems, behavioral biology, and so on. When I left Harvard, I did a stint head Macy’s in fashion retail for about seven years. I then got my Master’s at Procter. I started to work on a variety of different things. Procter is very much a brand company. We are all about the brand. The brand management system was developed to focus on and make sure that all elements of the brand come together.
It’s not a marketing or finance function, as much as it’s a brand come together with all functions coming together to deliver against the brand. That’s where it started. It came to that point of focus. When we start talking about passion, I started to get into more and more the whole concept of understanding how the brain works, neuropsychology, cognitive sciences, anthropologies, and so on. I was able to work with a lot of folks, because Procter & Gamble believed in it as well, who had a lot of those backgrounds so we can start to learn how you influence the brain and how you influence people to take special actions against a brand. We had a very rigid process of brand development.
When I left Procter, it came down to continuing to focus on that passion. I’m a massive brand believer. I’m a brand geek. At the end of the day, it comes down to I’m constantly reading about new motivational techniques or new ways to influence the brain. I’m constantly reading about different aspects of the brand from other thought leaders, book writers, and so on who go off and create it.
It comes down to the vast experience that I’ve had that has to lend itself to going off and being able to reapply all the fundamental principles of creating a brand. It’s not just from a marketing standpoint. There are operational and financial components that go into it that you look at and you start to say, “Yes. This is what the brand stands for. This is how the brand is going to deliver value that the end user is going to appreciate. This is how the brand is going to cohesively go to market against what the brand needs to stand for.”
It’s all those elements, but a lot of it comes down from my passion for focusing on cognitive science or applications of cognitive science against the brand, and the diligence and focus on the brand itself rather than getting caught up on a lot of marketing bling, as I call it, or shiny bubbles. First, focus on what’s the core of the brand. We can always add a shiny bubble later but focus on the core of the brand.
Focus on what’s the core of the brand. We can always add a shiny bubble later, but focus on the brand’s core.
Focus and passion are two very juxtaposition-type statements there. It’s hard to be passionate but focused as well. I’m sure that’s not easy, especially when this is such a creative process developing a brand. There are so many different avenues. I’m sure there are so many different wants. You have the distinct assignment to work with founders and the leadership team to do just that. Is it hard to get the team or the individual that you’re working with to get them focused? I’m sure they’re full of passion.
How does that look, that creative process in terms of the journey of your career and how you’ve gotten into the position that you’re in now to be looked at as a thought leader in brand development? How has that journey for you been in terms of you leveling up to keep a leadership team focused and passionate in that creative process?
The biggest thing that I had to level up on was my ability to influence the audience in a way that was not manipulative. There are too many times we can go in there and say, “Look at my background. Trust me. We’ll just make this happen.” That doesn’t work well. At the end of the day, you have to be able to work with audiences, particularly highly passionate founders. At least the founders that I’ve come in contact with are highly passionate about their businesses. They have a wonderful long-term vision of where they want their business to go. Sometimes it’s just getting them focused on those things that are going to be the core elements to take them to that longer-term journey.
Also, to open up beyond sometimes some of the details. What I’ve found is that what typically happens is that they have in their head a very specific path to an endpoint. What they don’t realize is that path that they have may not necessarily be the best path to that endpoint. I always start with getting people to understand what they want from an endpoint standpoint. Let’s bring it out. Then let’s start talking about the endpoint. I’m not talking about the endpoint of PE and so on. I’m talking about what they have from a long-term vision standpoint on the brand’s ability to impact lives. If this is the endpoint, let’s focus on it from a standpoint of, “This is what you’re saying. Now, let’s talk about the pieces that are very important in order to get there.”
I worked very closely with founders as opposed to me applying, but to tease out of them what they want to happen. The other component of it is working with founders to say what truly separates you from others in your industry. That’s probably the most difficult component of it. There are too many times we see people go off. They always say that they’re better than the competition. We know that better is never better because everybody says that they’re better. Therefore, if everybody says they’re better, then nobody is better. They rely too many times on what I call points of superiority or they’ll communicate too many times points of parity, things that are common within the industry. They don’t focus early enough on building those things that completely are ownable.
From that standpoint, that’s a key component of it. I remember when you and I went through the exercise. That was a lot of fun going through those ownable points that you’ve now applied to your business, and you continue to apply to your business and leverage in the right ways to be able to look at it and say, “My business is different. My business can do all these wonderful things. My business helps people fall back in love with their homes,” and we do it this way in a very ownable way. It comes down to getting the founder to focus on truly what they want to happen, what the end point is, and then tease out how we can make those pieces get them ownable.
Those are points of superiority. There are so many brands that focus on, “I’m better at this and that.” A lot of features and benefits will get into the emotional piece that all of this builds around versus points of superiority features and benefits all very common, but not that next level of brand development. A lot of what you do is in a process called the Reason to Believe. I was anticipating this process. A lot of folks that had worked directly with you had edified this reason to believe.
I can tell you firsthand as one of the founders that have had the privilege of working with you. On the other side, the reason to believe that process is exciting. I’m looking forward to diving into it and sharing it with the world because it most certainly helped me level up my LIME Painting. Would you mind just sharing a little bit about the approach and what is this reason to believe?
The approach that I take is, first and foremost, we want to make sure that we understand our strategic target and that we understand heart and head. What’s in their heart and head? What do they want to do? It’s not about a media target. It’s about getting to understand who they are. Once we get to understand who they are and know who our target is and what they want, then we can start to look at why and what value we’re providing to them on the terms that they want. Not the terms that we want. There are five fundamental human values. We went through that whole piece.
We then talk about things like positioning and so on, but we start to get to the point where we start to look at, based on everything that we’ve laid out, why we or somebody believe that this brand can go off and execute against this emotional and experiential benefit. It does go back to emotional and experiential benefits. You mentioned it before on features and benefits. Too many times, what we see is this laundry list of things that it can do.
“It slices and dices at Julianne’s fries.” That’s the 1960s to 1990s time marketing. In the ‘90s, you started to see more experience come through, and then emotional connections are what’s driving it now. We build these reasons to believe. What a reason to believe very simply is those components that allow the end user, that person who’s hearing the message, say, “That makes sense. That’s cool. I think they can do it because of that.” That’s a reason to believe.
We take a lot of that. The reason to believe has to be differentiating because otherwise, everybody else can say the same thing, and all we’re doing is lending itself to the category but we focus on those reasons to believe. There are three things that we typically do from a reason-to-believe standpoint. Either there’s something that is completely proprietary when you have some proprietary elements in your business, which was fantastic.
That’s one thing that creates a reason to believe. This is something that only LIME Painting can do. The second thing is what I will call a branding exercise, where we create a name for something or part of the process that gets trademarked and therefore is ownable. You have a special process or, in your case, you have the creators that go off and help to create this vision for folks, and that becomes an ownable proposition.
Now, you have something proprietary, something that is branded and ownable. The third thing is a mashup. A mashup is where you take multiple processes together and multiple aspects. Mash them together. Think of when a Humvee came out and you took a military vehicle with an SUV to create the Humvee. That’s a mashup. You take a mashup. You put a couple of things together and it sounds so unique, but the combination of the two, because they come together so well, even levels up the thinking or what the opportunity is from that brand is delivering.
We look at those three elements. The first element is difficult. Not many people have proprietary components to a more significant IP. The LIME Painting had some strong IP, which was very important. The second one is not easy as far as creating a branded element, but it’s very important, and we were to do it because that branded reason to believe has to fit the brand.
It has to fit that this brand is going to get people to fall in love with their homes again, as in the case of LIME. The third component of the mashup, that’s just a lot of going through in almost tedium, all the processes, all the aspects, and features, and start to look at, “Can we combine in such a way that nobody else is saying it this way and then eventually look to brand it as well?” Those elements are very important to getting and separating the brand from its competitors outside and putting it so it differentiates itself within the category but also lends credence to everything that the brand is saying from its brand promise standpoint.
Why is it called the reason to believe?
It comes down very simply. If you think about the number of marketing messages that an individual is going to receive, that number is massive. Talk about thousands per day. We have a tendency that if it’s not going to disrupt, the brain, then we’re going to ignore it. All the stimulus comes in. Nothing is getting me to stop. In order to get the brain to stop, you have to be disruptive. The brain stops and says, “What’s that?” When it’s a thought process, these are disruptive. However, the biggest issue is either it disrupts or there’s no believability to it. That’s BS, or it disrupts and people are going, “That’s cool. That’s different.” The reasons to believe in the messaging lend themselves to the brain to say, “That’s cool. I believe it. That is credible. I’m now going to remember that.”
I’ll give you a great example. I think everybody’s familiar with the brand Dawn dishwashing soap. Every once in a while, unfortunately, Dawn is used to going off and cleaning up oil spills. There’s a Dawn duck commercial as it’s called, where it goes and shares how it safely cleans up oil spills and you see them washing off ducks. That is a very powerful and disruptive message that it is tough enough to be able to break through crude oil and clean up crude oil, but gentle enough on baby ducks. That’s the reason to believe that this can cut through anything on your pots that you think you can put on there. Don’t worry about your hands. It’s not going to tear them up. That’s a powerful way of communicating with reasons to believe that this is now possible.
In that example, where is it being demonstrated beyond just features and benefits? How could we highlight that example from a brand standpoint and messaging? Where is it different than just features and benefits?
It comes through in actions as well. In service brands, it’s the engagement between the client and the service provider. In brick and mortar brands, a lot of it is the engagement as soon as you walk into the facility. All those things, the interactions all play a role in supporting the reasons to believe or helping drive those reasons to believe. If somebody is claiming that they have the X level of customer service, whatever the branded component is and the special aspect of that customer service, it comes through in the actual service itself, and then it gets regurgitated via a review. Now, all of a sudden, that’s highly supportive of that.
It’s not just a brand saying, “Look at me.” It now comes back from the customer saying, “This brand does this in the way that it claims that it does this.” All the actions and interactions that we have with our customers, all the 1st and 2nd moments of truth. The first moment of truth is when you start to see what the brand is. That’s the first moment of truth. It’s the advertising, packaging, and all those things. If somebody comes on a service brand if their van, truck, or whatever they use to provide the service doesn’t look the part that it’s going to deliver against that reason to believe or support that reason to believe, that’s the first moment of truth.
The second moment of truth is that engagement with the individual who’s providing the service. That third moment of truth is the actual usage of the service. Each of the reasons to believe has to be carried through so that it does get to the point where it is emphasized, reemphasized, and then reinforced by consumer feedback or end user.
It’s multifaceted. You’re carrying that reason to believe from the disruption at the beginning all the way to the customer experience. I’m sure you’re doing your best to capture and tease out that core reason to believe. Multifaceted is more than just features and benefits in order to truly level up with whatever your messaging and your marketing efforts are from a brand standpoint. It’s very neat. You worked at Procter & Gamble for almost twenty years there. How did that time impact and influence your approach to how you developed brands now?
It is about rigor. Procter & Gamble teaches a couple of things. Number one, it is about discipline to market. We had a tremendous amount of resources at our disposal. However, the most important one was us being very rigorous in what we focused on against and delivering with excellence, that element of focus. We go back to the word focus again. It has us go off and say, “This is the plan. These are the elements of the plan. These are the key elements that are going to deliver what we needed to deliver, and that’s where we’re going to focus.”
We didn’t do a whole bunch of shiny bubble marketing and shiny bubble development. This means if this work, we focused on this. We had very small testing budgets compared to, but this is what we planned against. A lot of it comes down to what we call brand equity. It’s what we want the brand to stand for in the heart and mind of our consumer base. Everything we did focus in against that. All our package design focused on against and delivering against that, all our communications, user experiences, and everything. We were very focused on that element. How do we drive our brand equity? How do we drive what we want to do?
What we want the brand to stand for in the heart and mind block consumer base is the brand equity.
We also have to do it in a way that’s going to get people to want to engage. Brand engagement was very important as well. We always measured things or copy our marketing’s ability to engage. Is it delivering against the brand’s equity that we wanted to deliver against? Is it to focus on the brand purpose the way we wanted to?
It’s high diligence and very detail-focused. That’s where I learned to be able to give back to smaller brands and particularly founders for starting out technically as a smaller brand. We teach them that they don’t need to have the budget of a Procter & Gamble as long as they have the diligence of a Procter & Gamble. These are the key areas and focus on only those things that you know are going to be core to delivering against the brand. By focus, there’s a whole thing that says focus drives brilliance, and that’s what we focus in on. It comes down to the diligence of processes that I learned from Procter that I was able to apply to this working with founders on their brands.
You said brand equity. It starts there. Let’s give an example of LIME. Do you remember LIME’s brand equity?
Yes. At the end of the day, it’s what we want to stand for in the heart and mind of our end user base. For our end user base, it was very simple. What we wanted to do is because of LIME painting, “I fell back and I love my home again.” That’s simple. That goes back to the whole piece where you and I sat down, and as we started going through fundamental human values and so on, we started to realize that when somebody comes home and has this home that they wanted to redo, it becomes stale in their mind or there are a lot of things or maybe they bought it and it’s not where they want it to be. All of a sudden, the job is done and they see it. You see many individuals with tears in their eyes, and there are tears of joy or happiness.
It’s not about, “Thank God. It’s done. This is my home. I love this home.” It’s those tears of happiness because they fell in love with their home again. They see their vision come to life, and they fell in love with their home again. Everything that LIME does is about getting folks to fall back in love with their home. Maybe it’s their first time falling in love with their home, but still falling in love with the home. That’s what we want the brand to stand for. We want that brand to stand for falling in love with the home.
Does that have to do with paint selection? Do you know what that has to do with a lot of things from the standpoint of features and benefits? All those features and benefits have to deliver against that piece because our fundamentals are human value. It was about delivering our eliciting joy. This is a happy brand. It’s going to deliver love and joy. Now, all of a sudden, every feature or benefit, is it delivering against people fallen back in love with their homes again?
Our fundamental human value was about delivering our eliciting joy. This is a happy brand. It’s going to deliver love and joy.
If it’s something that is ancillary, don’t communicate. Just because it says something to the tune of our vans are clean, and I know we don’t say that. Let’s say for example we did. Does that help you fall in love with your home again? No. Therefore, that’s not going to be part of the communication messaging that’s outbound to every individual. They want to be able to see a variety of different things that LIME painting can go off and do that helps to fix and help them fall in love with their home again, whether it be from full painting to fixing different components and so on. Again, it all has to go back to falling in love with their home again.
From LIME’s standpoint from that disruptive moment to the end consumer experience, it’s all about capitalizing and creating that experience beyond just, “We use good products and work with artisan.” That experience is about helping that customer fall in love with their home again. There’s no better sales tool than a job site. If you’re in the neighborhood and, for us, specifically high-end homes, and you see your neighbor getting their home transformed and you see that process play out, that is disrupting. That disrupts the mind. It’s being able to capitalize on that and start to invoke those emotions of joy.
It’s giving them that glimmer of, “What’s possible with LIME painting?” It’s more than just a paint job, but it’s an experience of me falling in love with my home. That’s beyond just them showing up, they do a good job, and they answer their phone. Those things are the expectations maybe even decades ago, but how are we at LIME leveling up? Our brand messaging and our marketing approach go back to all facets of the business. In marketing, you can see how it’s bleeding into the operations and so many different aspects of the business. It’s having a clear understanding of your business and the consumer expectation and experience all the way through their interaction with the business.
Thanks, Gary. That is taking an intro understanding of marketing and putting a lot of different elements on it that can take a brand to the next level. Firsthand from my experience, it’s been awesome applying it and seeing it play out over the past couple of years. It’s taken our brand to new heights and helped us level up. I want to shift a little bit and change gears. Right there in your backyard in Cincinnati, you had the privilege of working on a pretty neat project with FC Cincinnati. Would you share with us a little bit about how you were given that project, how it played out, and how you helped them level up from a brand standpoint?
It was a lot of fun. That was a scenario where we were building the plane as we were flying it. I took FC Cincinnati through the process. As a result, there are so many things that came through from it. Number one, everything from the color palette of FC Cincinnati units blue and orange from the tonality of a lot of the way it went to market from a lot of the pieces that were developed from a social standpoint and so on.
Very simply, the President and CEO is Jeff Berding. Jeff and I are friends and Jeff knew my background. He and I worked together in a youth soccer program. At the time I was the President, he was my Vice President and had this opportunity. He was working with the Bengals at the time. While he was doing that, he took this opportunity and asked me to basically develop all the brand aspects of it.
It wasn’t just the aspects of the brand itself of FC Cincinnati, but it also developed a lot of the operational pieces, including the naming of a very special supporter section called the Bailey. Bailey is where folks in the castle kept their armaments. Think of them as secret weapons. They created this more castle motif and delivered it from that component. It was a lot of fun. It was one of those things where every aspect of brand development that I take brands through applied. For me, I kept on going with the idea that the brand process and brand development process can go across every industry, even sports.
A sports franchise is still a franchise. At that time, I was also working on developing CycleBar. CycleBar was the same process as FC Cincinnati. In both cases, we were building the plane as we were flying it. It was a lot of fun, but it’s with the brand development process that you can start to build all the elements. You know what size the wings need to be. You know what size the seats need to be inside the plane and all up because of all the aspects of the process that we went through. It was very exciting to do a sports franchise. I had never done a sports franchise before. It was my first foray incident and realized it was just like any other franchise. It starts with solid fundamentals in a brand and what the brand stands for.
I would’ve not expected that you would’ve said your days at Procter & Gamble shape the discipline. Seeing that carry through on that project, what a neat opportunity to have. Soccer is just coming up more and more. That’s an iconic brand in the soccer world. What was probably your favorite part of that project?
Once we developed the brand-to-brand essence and brand fundamentals, we started to engage in all the social pieces and so on. We started teasing out a lot, so we had a lot of fun. For example, we would tease out on social, we would post something coming big in Cincinnati, and then we’d take it down. We’d put up a lot of things and then take them down, and people would be like, “What’s going on?”
We would go out and have people just the extractable branding unit, the LIME in this case, within the FC Cincinnati logo, the EBU. We would take stencils and do chalk outlines of the stencils in a variety of different places, whether it be downtown, on campuses, and so on without the name at all. It’s just the mark. There was a lot of teasing, but it came to the point when we actually did the media launch and so on, on that one day alone, we had five million impressions from that, including in the UK. It was a very big launch and did well. That was my favorite part leading up to that piece and getting a lot of that fun little teasey stuff going to get to that launch of the brand.
There are not a lot of franchises that can create so much fanfare than sports. It’s all time. That would’ve been so much fun. What a unique opportunity, Gary. You did a great job. We’ve talked so much about marketing or branding. Out of fun, I’ve slipped up around you a few times and said the word branding. Why is that word a no-no?
It’s not that it’s a no-no, but for me, it’s a no-no because at the end of the day, when somebody calls me a branding person, I was like, “Branding is what you do to a cow’s butt to let everybody know you.” It’s that simple. Branding is how you place the brand, where you place the brand, the name, what it looks like, and all those pieces. In some cases, it could be a little bit of what’s behind it. When we talk about brand development, it is building all those pieces that are behind the brand.
Branding and marketing are aspects of brand development. Think of them as offshoots of and results of brand development. What I like to focus on is the very core that lends itself to putting your mark on a cow’s butt or going with whatever promotional or communicative marketing piece that there is. That’s why I always cringe at the word branding because it was invented a long time ago. Put a mark on either a cow or horse’s behind to let everybody know that you owned it. People were strung up and hung because they stole somebody else’s with the mark. It always reminds me of that.
It’s an outdated term. It’s much like a lot of different marketing aspects as we’ve learned now on the show. What do you think is a more appropriate term for branding? What is a new school term for branding?
I don’t know if it’s a new school or whatever, but it’s more comprehensive when I talk about brand development. I talk about it more from a holistic brand development standpoint, where all the aspects come together as we talked about it throughout saying, “How do all the operational pieces lend themselves to delivering against the end user? How do all the marketing communications deliver against the end user? Financially, does everything make sense to deliver against the end user?”
It is about total and holistic brand development as we start to go off and do. What we start to do is it’s always a continuous development piece. There’s never a point in time when a brand is 100% done. At that point in time, then you can go back to the BCG matrix and call it a cash cow. Once you get to cash cow status, that means you’re not enhancing the brand. You’re just milking that brand for everything’s worth. Until that point in time, that takes a long time to get to cash cow status. You’re constantly infusing elements into that brand to make sure that the brand is coming to life in the way that we want that brand to come to life. We’re continuously developing a brand.
It is about holistic brand development as we start to go off and continuously develop. There’s never a point in time where a brand is 100% done at that point in time.
It’s being true to the brand equity and focus and discipline while also having passion. That process is ongoing. It isn’t finite. Gary, I can truly see your passion and focus, but I want to bring up the branding because it brings out some of your personality. Maybe you can shed some light on some other leadership teams and founders and give them some light into what it’s like to work with the oracle as those around you that could come to know you.
You’re a thought leader in business and franchising. You’re a high performer. I hope that those reading now leveled up in terms of their knowledge around brand development and take some things that they can apply. Maybe they would be interested in working with you. I don’t know if that’s a possibility, but thanks for attending now and helping others level up. If anyone’s interested in getting to contact with you, where can they find you?
They can find me or just email me at Gary@GDJBrands.com.
Thanks for helping us level up. If you have taken anything that’s been helpful, please like this show. Drop a comment. Let us hear your thoughts about Gary’s journey, the reason to believe, the brand development, and all the great things that contribute to this conversation. If you are interested in continuing to learn more, please subscribe to the show. As always, level up.
I’m a brand egghead, a brand purist, and a strategically creative brand builder. I love working with passionate founders to help them strategically develop strong growth brands that are built to last.
I’ve spent the last several years either developing franchise brands (I fully developed two brands in very different industries: FC Cincinnati and CycleBar) or working with franchisors to continue to hone and grow their franchises (a fairly long list).
I’ve built and launched brands for over 30 years and am fortunate to have a very diverse marketing and brand-building background. Yes, I am very seasoned. My many years has given me many marketing and brand-building experiences (large and small brand).
Personally, I have a fantastic partner (my wife Patti), two great kids (Matt and Jess), and a passion for sports. I love sarcasm and slapstick humor. I am a child at heart. I am also curious by nature; constantly uncovering why so I can develop a better what and how.