001: How to Powerfully Define Your Brand with Michael Liebowitz





Ronda Nelson: Welcome to The Clinical Entrepreneur Podcast. I’m so excited that you’re here. And as the very first podcast that we have done, I am so honored and proud to invite and have on with me my friend, Michael Liebowitz. Hi, Michael.


Michael Liebowitz: Hello, everybody.


Ronda Nelson: I’m so happy that he’s here with me! I’ll give you all a little bit of a backstory. Michael and I met through a mutual friend and she pointed me to Michael and said, “Look, if you’re going to do a re-brand or you want a fresher look of your brand, you need to work with Michael.” And honestly I’m thinking, “Okay, whatever. Like who is this guy and what is his dumb brand thing?” Honestly, that’s what I was thinking. I don’t want to spend money on a brand. And you all can’t see him, but we’re on video and Michael’s actually laughing at me right now. And I really did. I thought, “Well, I don’t need that. What the heck? I’m good. I’m me, and I got my thing going and whatever.” But my friend said, “No, I really want you to talk to him.” So, I got on the phone with Michael and he pretty much rocked my whole world, like, completely changed the way that I looked at business and the way that I thought about the message that I am conveying to the world.


And, you know, all of us as healthcare practitioners, we know what we do. We work with hormones or we help people with chronic pain, or we help athletes that have sports injuries, or we have an obstetrics gynecology [practice], or whatever it is. That’s what we do. But we don’t realize that there’s a lot that can get messed up in the translation between what we think and say we do, and how the public perceives what it is that we do. And this is where Michael’s genius comes in. So, I could say a whole bunch of things, but I’m not going to. I’m just going to let him tell us about who he is and why he’s the best at what he does. So, go my friend go.


Michael Liebowitz: Wow, Ronda. Okay, that’s quite a long setup. Thank you so much.


Ronda Nelson: You’re welcome.


Michael Liebowitz: So, yeah, so really the fundamental thing I do is combine brand strategy and behavioral neurology. So, a couple of things you need to know is that for most people, there’s a perception of a brand that is graphic design. It’s the way that your business looks on a website or something like that.


Ronda Nelson: Like a logo. Yeah.


Michael Liebowitz: Yes, like the logo. That’s actually brand communication. That’s not your brand. So, your brand is one thing and one thing only. It’s what your customer thinks you are. So, the second you have a customer, you have a brand because they have a mental picture of who and what your business is. Your brand lives in your customer’s head. That’s the only place it really exists. Now, it’s made up of the thoughts and pictures they make up in their head that represent your business. And we can map that [neurologic] pathway with functional MRIs where they can actually see the neurons. But what I’m talking about is understanding how someone comes to that conclusion. I want to stay away from very technical terms in this talk to make it more accessible but basically, our entire experience of life is made up of five things. It’s the five senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, which is not just movement, but also touch, feelings, and then olfactory, and taste, right? Just as a computer is coded in ones and zeros, every thought, every single human being has ever had is coded in those five senses.


Now, what we do as human beings is when someone sees your business or thinks of your business, they instantly populate in the brain certain visual pictures or sounds that represent your business to them. I know it sounds weird, but it’s just what we do. Now, here’s the thing about understanding how brand and behavioral neurology connect. First of all, everything you do as a business is communication. So, your customer takes in whatever you are communicating and interprets that in a very specific way to make what I call a like-kind match. Are you like me or are you not like me?


Ronda Nelson: Wow.


Michael Liebowitz: And that structure of the brain I call the critter brain. The reason why the critter brain is so important is that the human brain does rational thought and the critter brain does survival. And given the choice between a rational decision and a survival decision, human beings do survival decisions every single time. I give this in a TED Talk around the country and I always say to my audience, “Now, everyone here is the descendant of some long-ago ancestor who did not say these words, “I wonder if that lion is hungry?” We don’t ask that question. Instead, we run away. We survive.

So, what the critter brain is looking for to maintain survival is like, “Hi. Are you like me? Are you not like me?” Like me equals safe. Not like me equals danger. So, we take in whatever is being communicated and we’re making a like-kind match. I’ll tell you more about how that works in a moment. And whichever way that decision goes, yes equals “I’m open to a sale.” No means “there’s no way you’re ever going to sell to me.”


Ronda Nelson: And more simply, yes is “I perceive that you and I are alike.”


Michael Liebowitz: Yes.


Ronda Nelson: Okay. So, I’m really at that basic level. I’m saying either you and I are alike or you and I are different. Or saidt a different way, I feel safe here or I feel unsafe here. Lion, no lion, right?


Michael Liebowitz: Exactly.


Ronda Nelson: So, when we’re selling, we’re obviously not trying to like poke somebody in the eye with a stick but we’re still looking for a like-kind match, right?


Michael Liebowitz: It’s always there. You went through this neurology when you bought a spatula. I guarantee, if you think about the spatula in your drawer right now, you definitely chose the spatula that your critter brain said, “Oh, this one’s not going to kill me.”


Ronda Nelson: Come on.


Michael Liebowitz: I’m serious. It’s just how we work. There is no way around this neurology. It is hardwired in us. I know it sounds improbable but here’s how. The thing that we are looking for to make this lifetime match is our own identity.


Ronda Nelson: Help me understand that.


Michael Liebowitz: Okay. So, imagine a bunch of gazelles on the savanna. They grew up in a herd because they recognize, okay, you got the antlers and the stripes and that’s the safe thing, right? So, we stayed safe and that thing over there with the spots that crouches, well, that’s not like-kind. That’s definitely a potential threat to survival. That’s the basic neurology of the critter brain.


So, we no longer have the horns and the stripes and the whatever to know like kind. We human beings use our identity, our sense of who we are, and just as importantly, who we are not. So, when we go out there in the world and choose what we like and don’t like, we are actually making identity matches. So, that spatula it translates out to “is this the kind of spatula that matches my identity or not?”


Ronda Nelson: Okay. I don’t think I like you talking about this right now because I just bought spatulas about six months ago, and I’m remembering where I was in the store when I bought the spatulas. And I remember now what I was feeling and what I was thinking when I was buying them and I don’t think I like this conversation because you’re telling me that I bought a spatula because of how I felt about it. But you’re absolutely right!


Michael Liebowitz: Oh, yes. I’m sure you and your listeners have heard the saying that all sales are emotional, right?


Ronda Nelson: Yeah, they are. Yeah, we know that.


Michael Liebowitz: And no one ever said what that means or what emotion they were talking about.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah.


Michael Liebowitz: This is exactly what I am laying out is how the structure of that actually works. The emotion we’re talking about is the emotion that comes up of noticing like-kind, of noticing an identity match between yourself and the thing or the service you want to buy.


Ronda Nelson: So, when I’m interacting with a business and I need to be able to identify pretty quickly, whether I think that this is either safe or danger, or if this is something I like or don’t like.


Michael Liebowitz: It’s the same thing.


Ronda Nelson: So, you’re saying those two things are the same – safe vs. danger, like vs. don’t like, in the brain?


Michael Liebowitz: Yes, in the brain. So, the critter brain just is safe or not safe, but the critter brain has no access to language. It just does emotions. And so, we feel safe or we feel unsafe and depending on the context, we will interpret that feeling as like or don’t like, but your critter brain is trying to find out which one is the identity match and which one isn’t the identity match. And we interpret that as feelings of” I like this one” or “I don’t like this one.”


Ronda Nelson: That’s exactly what happens. Yeah, I get it.


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. And it’s a very simple pathway but it operates not specifically unconsciously. It just operates just outside of consciousness. What your customer is looking for in your business to make this match is another identity. Your business is not a “what.” It is a who. Your business is not a thing that exists in the world. Your customers’ critter brain sees your business as if your business is an actual other person.


Ronda Nelson: Which means then that it has a voice.


Michael Liebowitz: It has a voice.


Ronda Nelson: And it has to have a voice if it’s a person. Then back to what you said earlier, it has to have all of those five senses to some degree, right? Because that’s how we interact with and perceive the world.


Michael Liebowitz: Yes. So, the more you can project out or communicate to the world, what’s the personality, what’s the voice, what are the beliefs [of your business], the better. The more you do that, the stronger your brand is, and the more customers you’ll get. Because here’s what happens, we need both the human brain and the critter brain to make this decision. The critter brain makes the like-kind, yes or no decision. The human brain literally just justifies that decision. It wraps a story around it to make it make sense.


Ronda Nelson: Right. We make stories about everything. Everything makes a story. Yeah.


Michael Liebowitz: Yes. We need both. So, the critter brain makes the real decision in about half a second and the human brain justifies it using your features and benefits. So, most business owners do a really good job of feeding the human brain what it needs to justify a decision with their features and benefits.


Ronda Nelson: Tell me about that.


Michael Liebowitz: So, a lot of businesses communicate based on their benefits. Here’s what you get from them. Benefit, benefit, benefit, maybe some features here and there.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah, I always say this is like “The Me Show.” I do this, I do that, I can provide you with this, I help with this. I help with these 27 different conditions. I, I, I, I. Okay.


Michael Liebowitz: Right. And whether it’s phrased as, “I do this or you will get that,” it doesn’t matter. These are all logical arguments and only the human brain hears, because the critter brain can’t do logic. It just does emotion and survival. So, we do a great job of giving our customer all it needs to justify a decision but we tend to do a very poor job of giving the critter brain what it needs to actually make the decision in the first place.


And if you rely only on your features and benefits to communicate and try to make the sale, you’re only talking to the human brain and not the part making a decision. But also, you’re in direct competition with every other business that offers the exact same or similar features and benefits that you do. So, how does someone make a choice to say I want to work with you, and not the other 20, 30, 50 people that do the same thing as you? You have to communicate to the critter brain first.


Ronda Nelson: So, we have like a half a second you said.


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. It takes very little time for the critter brain to decide. And communicating to the critter brain is actually very easy. You’ve experienced this. I asked you a series of questions when we worked together.


Ronda Nelson: Yes.


Michael Liebowitz: The questions themselves, there are only four parts. The belief, the meaning, the belonging traits, and the experience. Those are the four parts of a well-communicated brand identity. Your identity, or a business identity, is simply just a belief that starts with the words I am. That’s it. And so, the first thing I do when working on a brand is to identify what is the main brand belief that underpins the entire reason this business exists. There’s a lot of different names for this like, what’s your why? What’s your core value? These are all just beliefs. And your brand has a belief.


When you communicate the brand belief to your customer very clearly, the critter brain just goes crazy! It is desperate for a belief. When it notices that  you believe the same thing I do, game on! But when you make the customer guess at your belief because you’re only communicating features and benefits, the critter brain has to go through this neurology, trying to make that like-kind match.


And so, when you make the critter brain work to try and find it, this is where the maybe’s come from. There’s something in there that could be a like-kind match but it’s so unclear. I just don’t know. So, the critter brain is in there going, “Maybe…., but, oh boy, what if it’s a leopard? It could be a leopard.


Ronda Nelson: Yep. So, I’m out. I’m gone.


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. And the yes’s that come from a maybe, something happened [in the brain] that made the critter brain go, “Okay, I’m open to this.”


Ronda Nelson: But on that note, patients have choices. It’s not like managed care where they have to go to a certain doctor, but they’ve got choices. So, they make the choice based on whether they feel safe or not. They say, “Um, maybe. I don’t think you’re a leopard but I’m not sure you’re safe or like-kind either. But I’m going to swing with you because I think you might be my tribe.” But I would imagine that those people, because they don’t feel that instant [sense of] safety, they don’t feel that belonging, that the sticky factor may not be there.


Michael Liebowitz: Oh, yes. This points directly at loyalty. And this is what companies like Apple have done so well. Once you are focused on the brand belief, and the people who said, “That’s who I am,” they’re 100% in. They’re Apple people and they stay there. Meanwhile, Samsung and Motorola and so on and so forth, they’re out there saying, “Hey, we’re the fastest. We’re the best. Our product goes underwater. It does this. It does that.”


Ronda Nelson: Feature and benefits.


Michael Liebowitz: Features and benefits. And fine. So I want those features. So yay for Samsung. And then Motorola comes out with some other features that you want. Then it’s time to get a new phone. I want Motorola now. But meanwhile, Apple people stuck with Apple because it wasn’t about the features.


Ronda Nelson: Because of the belonging.


Michael Liebowitz: It was about belonging.


Ronda Nelson: How do you capture that belief and belonging? You know, we want to believe. We want to know that we’re safe. We want to have a safe place and we want to belong. How do you capture that?


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. So, I’m going to give your audience the magic question right now.


Ronda Nelson: Okay, here we go. I’m ready. I’m writing it down.


Michael Liebowitz: So, here’s the question. First, I want your audience to write down what you do. And don’t say, “I’m a healthcare practitioner” or “I’m a chiropractor” or “I’m an acupuncturist” or whatever. That’s not what you do. Write down what do you do.


Let’s say you’re the acupuncturist that specializes in pain. Say “I’m an acupuncturist. I get my clients out of acute pain so that they can do XY&Z.”  Whatever that is for you.


Ronda Nelson: So, yeah, I help _____ do _____. I empower _____ so they can _____. Something along that line.


Michael Liebowitz: Right. Exactly. And whatever that is, there’s no wrong answer. Just whatever comes out of your mind, that’s what you write down. Now, here’s the most important question. What’s important to me about that? When you ask what’s important, it’s just what’s important to you. Not to anyone else. Just to you.


Usually, people will say something like, “Well, I want my customers to…” But I go,” No, timeout, timeout. No, no, no, this isn’t about your customers. This is about you.” Your brand comes from you, not your customer. This is who I am in the world, as if your business is speaking. This is who I am in the world. In fact, my primary brand belief that came out of all of this is that people don’t buy your thing. They buy what your thing means to them.


I once worked with a company that made cooking gadgets, sous vide machines, and some other machines. They were having trouble competing because they were no different than anyone else in their communication. We discovered that the brand belief underpinning this whole business was literally this: It’s fun to show off.


Ronda Nelson: What?


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah, it’s fun to show off. Finally, I did the same exercises with the CEO as I did with you and he said, “You know what, I noticed it’s going to make me sound shallow but I just love hosting a dinner party. I love the looks and the attention I get when everyone tastes what I made and says, “Holy crap, you made this?” The two other VPs in the room just went, “Yes, that. That’s it.”


Ronda Nelson: Really?


Michael Liebowitz: Yes. This wasn’t a brand about cooking or our cooking gadget. It was about showing off. It’s fun to show off. Now, we go a little bit deeper and say, “Well, okay, what’s important about showing off and whatever feeling that gives you?”


Basically, the question is, what do you get to have when you get to show off? And what came out of that was, because everyone deserves to feel valued. That’s the meaning. The belief is it’s just…


Ronda Nelson: Fun to show off.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah. Beliefs do not have to be profound. They just have to be true. Right?


Ronda Nelson: Right.


Michael Liebowitz: I believe it’s fun. This brand, “We believe it’s fun to show off because we all deserve to feel valued.” Okay. Now [the critter brain says], I know who you are. Your business is a person, it has personhood and either I’m like-kind or not like-kind.


This ended up being translated into a communication that said, hey, instead of, “Do you want to cook a good meal? Do you want it faster, better, blah, blah?” Do you want all these functional things like certain features? Instead, the brand belief was “Hey, do you want to be the star of the dinner party?”


Ronda Nelson: Exactly. Completely different logic.


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. Basically, yes or no question.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah, right.


Michael Liebowitz: Hell, yeah, I want to be the star of a dinner party. Well, we got some cool stuff that’s going to get you there.


Ronda Nelson: Wow. So, that’s how they were able to change their brand identity to connect with people that wanted to be the star of the dinner party. The norm is to always say, “I do this. I went to school here. I graduated here. I have these awards. I have these skills.


Michael Liebowitz: The credentials.


Ronda Nelson: And you just end up blending in with the rest of the herd of striped animals.


Michael Liebowitz: Yep, exactly.


Ronda Nelson: So how do you position your business, which is really an extension of you and your core beliefs as a human, and then find a way to articulate that extension of who you are, as it has to do with your skills and training?


Michael Liebowitz: Oh my God, that was the most concise explanation or understanding of the complexity of everything we went through I’ve ever heard. I love it. I’m glad you recorded it.


Ronda Nelson: So, by having that clear voice of who I am in my business, it’s ok that my business is like me. It’s me.


Michael Liebowitz: Yes. All businesses are a reflection or they are an aspect of self. They are a reflection of people who own them. They are not the full view. You are far more than just the belief, the meaning, the belonging, and the experience. But those four things are enough for you or anyone to create a business identity. And yes, it is going to be an aspect of you. And isn’t that great? Because it’s now going to be attracting people who are like you and guess what? You usually get along with people who are like you. Don’t you?


Ronda Nelson: Exactly. Because they have the same identity and you’re aligning in the same direction with the same belief, the same trajectory, the same goals, the same end outcome. If I want to get out of pain, I have a whole herd of zebras that I could go see for pain. But I want to find that one that really “gets me” because why I’m in pain is important –  I can’t go play at the playground with my kids. So, when I go to a website and that website says, “I believe that X,” i.e., you need to be able to play with your kids in a playground in whatever version that looks like, that’s the person I’m going to connect with because that’s my critter brain going, “Like, same, safe. I’m in.”


Michael Liebowitz: Right. And let’s contrast that to say a different acupuncturist. The reason why they got into acupuncture, or what was meaningful to them or what’s important to them, is that their brain might be more technical oriented. They love the idea of the interconnectedness of the body. If I put a needle here, it affects something over there. You’re a very in the body sort of person, seeing it as this wonderful beautifully organized system that is a little out of balance, and you help get it back into balance, right?


And now we need to have a conversation about what being balanced means to you. So, now it’s about balancing the interior functionings of the body. When that person comes out with that kind of brand expression, they’re going to be attracting a ton of people who have a similar idea about the body. Like, “Oh my God, this person is absolutely right. My body IS this interconnected clockwork of energies and this person gets it.”


But someone else is looking at another acupuncturist, saying, “Hey, you deserve a full experience of life but it’s not as much the interconnectedness of clockwork, it’s about the experience, right?


So, now those two acupuncturists can live in the same marketplace and have full and thriving businesse,s attracting from this pool over here and that pool over there instead of trying to think like, “Well, everyone could be my client and if they got one, I feel bad because I didn’t get that one and whatever.” And plus, they’re building practices of highly loyal customers who love them.


And here’s the beautiful part; because the critter brain makes us hang out with like-kind, guess what? The person who finds you and resonates with your brand belief and says, “You get me. I want to work with you,” they have friends who are probably very much like they are. This is the core and the source of referrals.


Ronda Nelson: But you have to identify your belief first. You’ve got to find that voice or that message, that belonging, that meaning, that belief.


Michael Liebowitz: Yes, it all starts there.


Ronda Nelson: I so get that. And as I said, we’ve already worked together but I think I have an even deeper understanding of what this looks like. And you and I have already gone through this whole process together. So, I love having you on. I learn so much and I love, love, love having you on.


Michael Liebowitz: This was so much fun. Thank you for just riding this along with me. We kind of went on a roller coaster here, didn’t we?


Ronda Nelson: We kind of did but it was good.


Michael Liebowitz: We had a plan at the beginning. I’m going to ask you about this or that. That we just like started and we just went whatever.


Ronda Nelson: We just went all over. I know. I love it. It was great. So, I want to let everyone know that Michael is such a generous person. And one of the things that he loves to do, and we were talking about this before we hit the record button, and that is that he is always so willing to hop on the phone with someone at no charge just to give you a ton of value about your brand and what that looks like and to kind of put you through a little bit of what we just did. I’m guessing, yes?


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah.


Ronda Nelson: Okay.


Michael Liebowitz: We don’t go too deep at all. So, here’s what it looks like. A call with me, it’s 45 minutes and 95% of it is all focused on your business. I won’t tell you anything about my business. I’m not trying to feature and benefit you.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah. Right.


Michael Liebowitz: So, basically, I just get super curious about what’s going on in your business. I’m exploring. I’m asking you questions. I guarantee every single person who calls me comes away with a new insight about their business.


Ronda Nelson: I love that.


Michael Liebowitz: It’s done and done. I mean, at the end, if we like each other and things are working out, I’ll say “Hey, would you like to work together?” And you can say yes or no. Either one. Fine with me. Some say yes. Some say no.


Ronda Nelson: I think that it’s worth the 45-minute phone call. There’s no pressure, but after having worked with you, I can completely 100% vouch for just the amount of value that you give every single time and I really appreciate that. So, if you want to learn more about Michael and what he does, his website is and it’s in the show notes. That will be linked there. And on social, where can we find you?


Michael Liebowitz: You know what, I’m super not very active on social.


Ronda Nelson: You’re not a social guy? Okay good. So, it’s just the website?


Michael Liebowitz: Yeah. My whole business funnel is just going out there into the world and talking with people and having conversations and they end up just meeting wonderful people.


Ronda Nelson: Yeah. So, And again, I’ll make sure that it’s in the show notes so you’ll be able to see that. Michael, I cannot say thank you enough. I learned so much more than all the hours that we spent together on the phone already and I even have a better understanding and a better appreciation for what you do. So, thank you so much for all the value that you gave us today.


Michael Liebowitz: Thank you, Ronda, and I always love working with you. You are brilliant and the work you do for and on behalf of your audience is unbelievable. I recommend you all the time whenever I come across a practitioner.


Ronda Nelson: Thanks. That’s so nice. Well, see, we have a mutually adoring relationship here. The value goes both ways. So, again, thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining me today.


Michael Liebowitz: Thanks, Ronda




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