5 Questions About Brand Focus

Melissa Hanson from E.A. Sween dives into the means and methods of focusing your brand.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Today we’re talking about brand focus.

With more than 20 year of branding experience in corporate and nonprofit organizations, Melissa Hanson knows a lot about achieving brand focus. In her current role as director of marketing for the E.A. Sween Company, she’s responsible for popular consumer brands including Deli Express and Market Sandwiches. Here’s what she had to say in response to our questions on the topic of focus.

Why is it important to have a focused brand?

Your brand is the heart of your company. It is both an internal and external statement of who your company is and what it stands for. It is challenging to focus but the adage is true, you can’t be everything to everyone. Focusing in on what truly makes your company unique, what good you do for whom, and what need your product or company offers your target audience is paramount to making all your messaging clear, concise, and compelling. You need to focus in on “why?” someone would join your organization or buy your product. This is a deep question and isn’t focused on features and benefits. Once you unlock the true “why?” for your brand, the emotion-laden reason someone should be connected to your brand, you can create truly compelling messaging.

What process or steps do you take to narrow and focus on what you do best?

I find interviewing stakeholders to be one of the first steps. This includes leadership, employees, customers, consumers, and volunteers. Questions should center around why they belong to the organization or purchase/use the product. These can be one-on-ones or small groups, but the goal is to get many individuals talking to look for overlapping statements, themes, and words. Word mapping and theme identification comes next. After that you work to rank the most important themes honing in on the singular theme that is the core of who you are/why someone wants to be associated with or buy your brand.

What challenges should you be prepared to address during a brand refocus?

One common challenge I’ve seen is making something up and/or inferring your personal ideas/beliefs into the brand. #1 rule is that YOU are not the consumer. You need to listen to what others are saying and truly dive into the meaning vs. filtering it by your own viewpoint. You also want to ensure you review past work. Core brand promises don’t change much over time. Don’t be afraid to look at what’s been done in the past but through a new lens. Sometimes a new, objective look at something can help you find the nuances to further focus or slightly shift the core to something new and more relevant without losing heritage.

What’s the best way to bring others along (internally and externally) when your brand is going through a refocus period?

Get internal and external stakeholders involved in sharing their thoughts. Ask questions, get viewpoints, and make them part of the process so that you move as a team to come to a new or refined focus. Ask others to look for marketplace examples of similar organizations or companies so they feel they are helping. Finally, have them help ideate how to best share the new focus with others and let them help deliver the message.

What trends or changes have you seen in the market lately regarding the refocusing of brands?

I see many companies and brands simplifying their brand message and using real-talk. In the past, many looked for verbose or flowery ways to talk about their brands. Social media is now omnipresent and because of it people have come to value succinct messaging. If you can explain the “why?” of your brand in 3-5 words, do it. No need for 3 sentences. And, if you can use real words and examples instead of trying to paint an unrealistic portrait of the product, usage situation, or company, you’re more likely to be deemed authentic and thus worthy of interest.

Did this spark an idea? Let's talk!

The Value of Forced Change in Branding

Change is hard but a forced rebrand could be just what you need to take your organization to the next level.

How to Effectively Use Market Research

We ask Neely Tamminga and Kayla Wesser of DISTILL for their tips.

5 Tips to Navigate the Politics of a Brand Update

Master the politics of rebranding.


3608 Aldrich Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55409


© 2020 5 by 5 Design. All rights reserved.