3 Levels of Communication to Differentiate Your Agency Brand

By Jason Swenk on February 6, 2022

Can you effectively communicate what your business is about? With a 30-year background in marketing, Chris West noticed businesses normally handled their visual identity very well but need help when it comes to using their language. He started his agency, Verbal Identity, and has helped clients create a distinctive and impactful tone of voice for their brand. He is a big believer in the power of language and in this interview, Chris discusses the three levels of communication he teaches his clients, why humanity wins over corporate in social media, and his new book.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. 3 levels of communication. As a digital agency, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. When looking at how the world’s biggest brands communicate, Chris identifies three levels of communication. At the 10,000 feet level, we have a vision of the world you want to create. What do you stand for? And even more powerful, what do you stand against? At 1,000 feet, we have the personality, which is a very important piece because customers buy into the personality of a business. Finally, at ground level, it’s all about the details, especially when it comes to the language. Establish the language your business will use and identify with and communicate it to your team.
  2. Humanity wins. Even when it comes to some of the world’s biggest brands, like Microsoft, people would rather follow Bill Gates on social media than his company. That is because they want to follow a person, someone they can relate to. It’s important to be more than a corporate blank face that only speaks in business terminology and communicates merely in announcements. Dare to get personal, to share your likes and dislikes and you will attract like-minded individuals. And, perhaps more important, identify the ones that will reject you and cannot relate to you.
  3. Writing advice. When it comes to writing, some of the best advice Chris has ever gotten is “write like they’re walking away”. Be very intentional about your message and try not to rely on context and details to get your point across. Write like you don’t have time to warm up your reader because you’re already losing their interest.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


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These 3 Levels of Communication Will Help You Differentiate Your Brand From The Rest

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swenk and I have another amazing show for you and guest. We’re gonna talk about the three levels of communication or language that you can actually check out in order to position your agency to be the choice. So let’s go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, Chris. Welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:25] Hey, Jason, how you doing?

Jason: [00:00:27] Hey, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Chris: [00:00:29] Certainly. I run a business called Verbal Identity and it came about because I have a 30-year background in marketing. And what I noticed was a lot of clients, business owners were really sweating their visual identity, but they were forgetting about their language.

So really what we do is we help businesses use language better.

Jason: [00:00:48] Awesome. Well, in pre-show we were talking about kind of the three different levels that you need to kind of really kind of position your agency. So let’s kind of jump into it and talk about it.

Chris: [00:00:59] Yeah, thank you very much. So I think the thing that really kills and bogs down agency growth is how are you different from every other agency?

So you’re a digital agency, so are a hundred other digital agencies. So how on earth can you stand out and be differentiated? And I think that when we look at how the best brands in the world and the best businesses in the world communicate, whether it’s a small, you know, super fast grain startup, whether it’s a big brand, like we’ve worked with like an Alphabet over in Silicon Valley, their communication really works on three levels.

So if you’re like at 10,000 feet, they’re very clear and consistent always in their narrative. This is the world we believe in. So this is what we’re going to stand for. And even better, this is what we’re going to stand against.

So if you’re a digital agency owner, you can’t just be a digital agency owner. You can’t just believe that the world needs kind of better digital, whatever, whatever, you know, everyone’s saying that, right? You got to say that we do it fast. We do it better. We understand our clients better, or we, you know, what is the truth about you, about the world that you were trying to create when you set up this agency? What was it…?

How precise and personal can you be about, and when you find that, what is it you stand for and what is it you’re going to start against? Cause we see people, elected president selected being very clear on what they stand against. And really you’re fighting for election when clients are looking for which agency to take on.

So that’s like in the 10,000 feet. Now, of course, you’ve also got to find the personality, my belief, and, you know, working with agencies here in the UK, is that what we find is clients buy people and then they buy the agency that those people represent. So what they buy into is the personality. And what you want to do is make sure that there’s a thousand feet, there’s a personality which is true to you, which kind of expresses this worldview. Are you as an agency, quite confrontational? Do you think the world is stupid and everything has changed or are you as a bunch of people actually much softer, more considered, more insightful, maybe more intellectual?

Whatever it is, if you can take your worldview and then represent that in your personality, then you really strongly differentiated. And of course the other thing that bogs us all down as agency owners, business owners is we’re trying to do everything and we want to move faster and I’ve got six people writing content for me. I want all events sound the same and I want them all to sound like us.

So down at the ground level, there are some ground-level details and people often overlook this, but are the words and phrases we use and the words and phrases we don’t use to describe ourselves? From the consumer world we had a wonderful client, Fred Perry, Fred Perry Clothing, the CEO kept on saying we don’t use the word store. When we’re writing our content because we’re British and stories and Americanism, we have to use shop, right?

When you put that in the guidelines, he saved his frustration in these weekly content review meetings, just because these are the words and phrases we use and don’t use. Also some things around grammar so a couple of other things. And then once you’ve got all those aligned, you’re differentiated and you’ve got your team pointing in the right direction.

Jason: [00:04:08] I love it. What are some other areas where you see people going wrong with positioning, you know, their agency?

Chris: [00:04:17] I think agency owners are usually hyper-intelligent people and hyper passionate, hyper purposeful driven people. And actually they want to get all of that across in the first communication. So, you know, but I don’t have time for it, Jason. I don’t know how much time you’ve got for it. I mean, you know, I see 20 people writing to me each day, say, hey, Chris, we can do this we can do that, right? You know, I, my phone is going, WhatsApp is going three more emails have come in just as I’ve been thinking about what I should do about the other emails.

And actually, can you say something simple, just enough to open the door? More to the point, if you dare to do this, can you say something that 99% of the vault of the world will reject? Cause we don’t want the whole world. What you want is the 1% of the clients that really get you. So what is it that you’re going to say that 99% will reject?

That’s one of the biggest tips. Be prepared to lose the people that are just going to waste your time in meetings anyway, and never love you. Focus on the ones, you know, the thing that will appeal to the 1% and then keep it simple. Keep it short. Unlike me, who tends to talk for too long.

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I love that you talk about talking about what you stand against or stand with. You know, I think that’s very important when you’re positioning your agency, because I find too many times agency owners try to appeal to everyone and they’re going to appeal to a lot less rather than saying, hey, you know…

Like what we do with our agency mastermind, we’re saying, hey, if you’re an asshole, right? Or if you’re all about yourself, do not apply. There’s other places that you can go for that. And like, that’s our stance. Or if you’re not about sharing or, you know, helping other people out or being transparent, you know, hey, it’s probably not right for you. And then that’s our stance. And that’s enabled us in order to really create an amazing place, you know, in the same thing at the agency, like we used to say the same thing about our clients.

Like if you think, you know it all, we can’t help you.

Chris: [00:07:28] Yeah, definitely got to help me. And I think, can I add something to this? Cause this is exactly what I believe as well. I mean, there are places for ourselves, right? But here’s the thing I, I see that works really well when people are using language: humanity wins. So, if you look at the number of followers, I think Apple has on LinkedIn is… I don’t know how many million it is, but Tim, who runs Apple, has twice as many followers.

If you look at how many followers Microsoft has is however many millions, right? But can you believe Bill Gates? I suddenly forgot his name, but Bill Gates has two and a half times as many followers. Why? Because humanity wins. People want humans to talk like humans to a human. Soon as we slip into the corporate stuff, people switch off.

Jason: [00:08:13] Exactly. Yeah. You know, I mean, that’s what I love about social media. It gives you an idea of what’s every day in the life of Bill Gates or, you know, Tim Cook or whoever, you know, rather than, you know… I always hate when people just share out or communicate just business and brand stuff. I’m like…

Chris: [00:08:34] Oh, and there’s nothing. There’s nothing. So what I’m for you for going to work this morning? Sometimes, I mean, that sincerely what happened going to work, but right… We’re delighted. We’ve appeared at this. Yeah. Good for you. Nothing for me in that, right? But tell me how you have to fix the wheel on your car on your way there and you turned up and your pants were soggy because of the rain and you had to borrow some pants… Right, now I’ve got you. Rather than now, you’ve got me, I’m walking up onto the stage with you and man, I want you to succeed.

The human stuff wins.

Jason: [00:09:04] Yeah. And you know, I, my team fought me for a long time on this, you know, on social. I was like, hey, look, we live in the mountains. I want to share my life in the mountains on social. And it’s been amazing where it’s attracted people that have the same interest as well.

And then it’s so much more enjoyable that we’ve attracted people that believe in the same things.

Chris: [00:09:29] And that’s your differentiation. So 99% of the world might look at that and go, why do I want to talk to some guy that’s stuck in the mountains? My life is four story, high glass fronted, lobbies and stretch love, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right?

1% are going to go. I found the man, right? He gets what it is. It’s not all about that. So immediately you’re streets ahead of the competition. And also, yeah, so you say, when you open up personally on social media, you really big, right? So don’t want to phone this guy. He sounds like a corporate blank face. Or do I want to find this guy? Because he’s honest, like you had, excuse me, crap day cause he missed all his night’s sleep because his kids were up or whatever it was. Okay. That’s like, that was me yesterday as well. So I can talk to this guy like an honest person.

Jason: [00:10:16] Yeah, I love it. Well, this has all been amazing, Chris, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:10:23] Ah, writers tips, maybe, you know, sometimes people say Chris, you know, you’re an award-winning writer. They never say that. I always try and get them to say that, but they never say you’re an award-winning writer. They say, Chris, you know, you’re a writer and you’re in the room. So let me ask you a question. Best writers tip ever?

So I would say right like that already walking away. It was this piece of advice I heard three years ago and it’s like, that’s great, right? And you don’t have time to warm up the reader. You don’t have time to explain the context or anything else. They are already walking away. So what is it you want to say? Get it upfront and start back.

So for me, it’s a, it’s a lovely piece of advice walk, write like they’re already walking away because they are.

Jason: [00:11:06] I really liked that. And I’m probably the person always walking away because my attention span is about this big, a lot, like everyone else. So, you know, get to the point really pretty quick. Tell us a little bit about the book and where people can check it out.

Chris: [00:11:21] Do you mean this book? Thank you very much. Yeah. So. I’ve been running this business for 10 years. Love language, love what it can do. I think it’s a sneaky, amazing thing, language. Uh, people said, Chris, can you put it, can you stop talking to me and just write a book so I can read the book and stop listening to you?

So the book came out in September. I’m delighted to say it hit number one in its category on Amazon straight away. And really it talks about this framework that everyone can use this simple framework, 10,000 feet worldview, thousand feet personally, ground-level details, how you make sure they will reinforce each other.

And then there’s a little bit about how do you build ROI because we all, we all need to worry about, there’s 20 things I could do right now to help my agency, is it going to be ROI for this? Is this the most important? And then it talks a little bit about quick wins and a few other writers’ tips in there as well.

Jason: [00:12:14] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on the show. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you would like to know the strategies that are currently working and literally have access to them every month, if that sounds of interest to you, I’d love for you guys to check out the digital agency elite.

This is where we have members and guests come in once a month to really go over strategies that they’re crushing it on as well as be surrounded by amazing agency owners.

So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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