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Branding workshop helps find right message

Mitch Anthony of Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Mitch Anthony of Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

“Clarity-First,” the domain name for Greenfield veteran marketing specialist Mitchell Anthony’s firm, Clarity, gets to the heart of what Anthony has learned in his 30-year career.

It’s a career that began as a “hippie” designing products including Greenfield’s own Tomsun Tofu, New England Country Dairy kefir, Lightlife Foods tempeh and New England Natural Bakers granola — but has also included Reebok, ESPN, Bloomberg Television, Avid Technology and Microsoft among his clients.

The 60-year-old master communicator is presenting a second two-day “DIY Brand Camp” Sept. 9 and 10 at Smith College Conference Center for business people and those from nonprofit organizations “with big ideas, and not-so-big budgets” to get to the heart of what they’re really trying to do.

In the 1980s, one of Anthony’s prior firms was beginning to attract a lot of business from this country and abroad — Church World Service, Burton Snowboards, Hannah Andersson and more.

But when he started probing why his award-winning firm was being turned down by other potential clients, it dawned on him: some clients were having a hard time telling their own story because they didn’t really understand their own story — the core “branding” position that people perceive about your product or service in their mind.

So when “literally out of self-defense” he developed a focus on helping clients get clear on who they are, what they offer and who their target audience is, the result was extraordinary.

A senior vice president of Avid Technologies — a client that had invented digital coding for editing video — told him after one such seminar, in the ’90s, “This is amazing, we’ve never done this before,” even though the business had been around for a decade.

“How does anyone write an ad, do a video, or a website, if they don’t know who they are?” Anthony said. “I realized there’s an opportunity here.”

So began Anthony’s “core sample” work, in which he and his team would ask clients about the basics, which most of them had never thought about in depth. “Suddenly our billings began going up and up, because clients were getting so much value out of it.”

But working with a staff of 15, Anthony found this essential work too expensive, and “Most of the clients I wanted to work with couldn’t afford it. I’ve always had it in mind that I could teach people to be their own brand consultant, but it was just a theory.”

When times got tough during the recession, Anthony, with a shock of curly white hair and black-rimmed glasses, began selling the workshop as a standalone service.

Then, in June, he thought he’d try offering his first do-it-yourself branding camp as a two-day workshop to people on his contact list. It filled up with 30 people from as far away as Washington, D.C., Boston and Burlington, Vt.

“Lo and behold, it worked, and people at the end said, ‘I can’t believe how valuable this is!’”

In addition to clarifying for people the essence of the service they’re trying to offer, he says, it gets the organization working together. That’s a point Stoneleigh Burnham School Head Sally Mixsell emphasizes about Anthony’s work with the private Greenfield boarding school.

“He helped us find a language to describe how we were living (our) mission, and that ultimately became really effective in how we help other people understand what we’re about,” she says. “He was enormously helpful in that. We all brought that into several faculty meetings, so that everybody was on the same page.”

At Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, where Anthony helped do a branding study just before the arrival of Executive Director Jennifer Marrapese, she recalls, “He really helped us distill what we excel at and use that much more clearly in our messaging, and that in our communications we need to zero in on that bull’s-eye.”

In addition to making clearer NESEA’s mission as an organization for renewable energy and energy efficiency professionals, Anthony’s work has also helped the organization decide which programs to launch.

“It’s been incredibly helpful,” she says.

What’s discovered in Anthony’s deep-dive branding explorations, he says, “becomes this mother lode of content and information you can always go back to,” whether it’s to devise a new campaign or to get new team members up to speed on what they’re working toward.

“Know thyself” might seem like an obvious adage, but Anthony says that often, “Most people just want to get where they want to be,” skipping the question of whether they really need to be there, or even where they are in relation to how others see them.

“Instead of just running to a solution, we do a deep dive. We listen to as many stakeholders as possible,” says Anthony. Once everyone arrives at the bottom-line truth together, have seen it and heard it together, they can apply a common vision, mission and values and filter everything through those, so that their decisions about next steps tend to be much better informed.

For Anthony, who arrived in Greenfield in 1982 as the first editor of the “new-age” magazine, “New Roots,” funded by a grant from the National Center for Appropriate Technology, with a second-floor office on Federal Street, marketing was an outgrowth of his work for New England Soy Dairy.

“I came of age when being a hippie was still a career option, and I chose that,” he says. “I wanted to make the world a better place. I said, ‘People respond to advertising, let’s use advertising.’”

Starting off with an ad for a tempeh burger that said, “All of the sizzle, none of the steak,” Anthony found his way through a career that’s included local clients like Greenfield Savings Bank, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Hardigg Industries and Smith and Amherst colleges’ art museums, but also the law firm of Ropes & Gray, Harvard Business School, ESPN, Polaroid, New England Power Pool, Lotus Development and FX Networks.

“The world is changed by ideas,” says the resident of Chestnut Hill in Greenfield, whose Northampton-based lean firm has four members who can collaborate with other professionals.

“To the extent I can help people better articulate their ideas, that’s the common link. I’ve kissed a lot of toads to learn my skills, but I consider that an apprenticeship.”

When it comes to helping people clarify their “brand,” he says, “I practice it as a tool for transformation.”

On the Web: www.clarity-first.com http://diybrandcamp.com You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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