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Kent Lewis on Crafting a Unique Identity in Crowded Markets

Kent Lewis on Crafting a Unique Identity in Crowded Markets

Kent Lewis, Founder of pdxMindShare

Could you tell us about your business and its brand identity?

In 1999, I founded pdxMindShare, which has been bringing professionals in Portland, OR together for career education, networking, and connecting employers and employees ever since. The core focus of MindShare in the early years was to provide a quality networking experience for those interested in growing their personal and professional careers through meaningful connections. Since 2001, free networking events have occurred at local establishments on the third Wednesday of every month. I shifted pdxMindShare from monthly networking events to monthly webinars due to the changing needs of our constituents. After a six year hiatus from physical networking, MindShare returned to Paddy's, a local bar, for monthly events, while continuing to grow the LinkedIn Group (Oregon's largest), website and newsletter. For over 20 years, pdxMindShare has successfully connected Greater Portland employers with top level talent and continues to do so.

How has your unique brand identity contributed to the success and recognition of your business in the market?

pdxMindShare lives in a unique space between professional trade associations, non-profits and recruiting firms. We created a place where area professionals that see the value of networking have a safe place to go each month. By adding job listings and an event calendar, the website created additional value for employees and employers. The MindShare LinkedIn Group expanded MindShare's reach and impact globally, while monthly seminars and webinars help educate local professionals. While MindShare has never had a formal business model, it did capture the attention of marketing guru Seth Godin: In summary, pdxMindShare's unique brand positioning is one of serving the local community while creating value for it's supporters.

Can you share the journey of how you developed and refined your brand over time?

Once pdxMindShare transitioned to monthly networking events in late 2001, I felt the need to create a brand identity. I turned to a local designer most famous for creating the Tiger Woods logo for Nike. We worked out a deal and he created one of the most iconic logos I've ever been a part of, the orange and black reciprocal faces. It perfectly embodied our mission and benefit and helped build instant credibility in the Portland market. It took another year to build a website with the functionality we needed to play in the market, however. We created coasters with the logo on one side and space to write notes on the other, ideal for our networking events. While the brand identity has remained virtually unchanged for more than 20 years, the website, events and content evolved with the market. The brand evolved from pure networking to education, and our identity maintained relevance throughout.

Branding in crowded markets can be challenging. What obstacles did you face in establishing a strong brand, and how did you overcome them?

Since pdxMindShare gained notoriety in the Portland market more than 20 years ago, we've had the benefit of filling a need that wasn't being met for many years and by that time, we had an established position. We did face two brand challenges, the first from a competitor that copied our content and value proposition whole cloth a decade ago, after a failed attempt to sell MindShare to the competitor. We continued to move forward, despite the increased noise and competition after that point. The second challenge was in 2016, when our beloved venue burned down and wasn't rebuilt. We elected to go completely online at that point, which gave us a few years to perfect online networking and educational events before COVID hit, although it was a challenge to maintain interest and engagement in the early transitional years. Now, it's been somewhat challenging to get people back into a venue for physical networking, which has been surprising.

How do you ensure that every customer interaction reflects your brand identity, and why is this consistency important?

From day one,  my goal was to be a connector via my own event, pdxMindShare. With a service mindset, it's been quite easy to deliver delight via networking. We added education in the early 2010s and expanded our value proposition with our offline and online communities. However, I noticed that the event grew in popularity during the recession. Our events quadrupled in size in 2009, which put undue stress on event attendees, a small percentage of whom communicated frustration with me regarding an inability to have engaging conversations in such large crowds. I learned from that and designed the events for a 20-30 person size, which I found ideal in terms of balancing quality and quantity.

In practical terms, how do you measure the impact and success of your branding efforts?

Historically, I measured brand success via  few core key performance indicators (KPIs): organic rankings and associated website traffic, newsletter subscribers, event attendees and activity on our website. As we moved online, I started measuring LinkedIn Group attendance and engagement rates as well as webinar attendees and blog readership. While pdxMindShare retains high brand recognition and recall in the Greater Portland market, there are so many different ways people network, learn and spend time that it's be a challenge to maintain brand recognition.

Can you share an example of a branding misstep, what you learned from it, and how it influenced your approach going forward?

My biggest branding misstep was being too open about how MindShare operated with a potential buyer. Months later, they copied every aspect of our website content and functionality and even repositioned to create more brand confusion in the marketplace, at our expense. At the time, I thought it made sense to merge/sell MindShare, but I was taken advantage of and lose market share and momentum as a result. From that point forward, I decided to stay true to the brand, simplify our offering and continue to deliver value through educational content and networking opportunities. That focus helped us regain momentum and credibility in the marketplace.

What key pieces of advice would you give to new businesses trying to establish a strong brand in a competitive market?

My advice to new businesses trying to establish a strong brand is to make sure the identity is unique, memorable and relevant to your target audience. Leverage strategic partnerships to get the word out, as that has worked exceptionally well for MindShare, as we've always had limited budget and resources. For example, we promote industry events and conferences to our network in exchange for in-kind sponsorship visibility.


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