Lessons Learned Along the Way - Sussner Design Company

Lessons Learned Along the Way - Sussner Design Company

Featuring Derek Sussner, Founder of Sussner Design Company

I recently sat with Derek Sussner - Founder of Sussner Design Company (SDCo.) – to have him share some lessons, that all of us can learn from, when it comes to our own branding efforts. 

Derek and his team help organizations grow and prosper by helping them clarify their message and create stunning visual brand identities that match the quality of the work they do and the services they provide.  Sussner Design Co is celebrating its 20th year in business currently, and Derek has been an Allied Executives peer group member for 18 months.

Kurt Theriault:  What are your clients ultimately seeking?

Derek Sussner:  To grow their business. They want to increase sales, attract new clients, and create a competitive edge that will help their business. We help them achieve those things through better brand and message identity work.

Lesson #1 – Don’t Get Lost in the Crowd.

Kurt Theriault:  What is usually getting in the way of your client’s business growth?

Derek Sussner: They get lost in the crowd.  The client may have the best products, services, and/or leading-edge technology however they are their industry’s best-kept secret. 

No matter how great they are at doing whatever they do there is something about their brand that is either preventing them from being found, standing out, or preventing them from looking any different than everyone else in their space. 

There is a lack of visible differentiation.

Lesson #2 – Change Your Perspective.

Kurt Theriault:  Why do you think company’s struggle to communicate about their business?

Derek Sussner: People are too close to their own company.  One of the things we are all guilty of - including our firm - is listing the things that we do (services and capabilities) and thinking that is sufficient.  We do this, we do that, here’s how we do it, here’s what we’re experts in…we, we, we. 

We end up listing a bunch of facts instead of engaging prospects in a conversation that helps determine what it is that the prospect actually needs or wants - what their real problem is.  

We all need to better communicate our company’s expertise in a way that helps a prospect quickly relate and understand clearly how we can help.

Lesson #3 – Clarify your message.

Derek Sussner: I was introduced to a book - and an organizing framework - in my Allied Executives peer group that we have incorporated into our business.  The book is written by Donald Miller and is called, “Building a Story Brand”. 

The book helps you identify what your company really does and how to simply and more clearly communicate that to potential clients.

We’ve begun to pose a simple question to clients.  If I were to poll five different people within your organization - and ask them to tell me what the company does - will they all answer it the same way and in a way that effectively communicates what you do with your potential clients from a sales standpoint?

We implemented the framework into our own business and experienced instant results. I was inspired and impressed by the paradigm shift that happened within our firm.  I ended up going on to become a certified Story Brand Guide so that the messaging component of the brand identities that we help create for businesses will help them stand out much stronger.

Lesson #4 – Take Charge of Your Brand.

Derek Sussner: A brand is NOT your logo.  A brand is a promise that you are making to your clients.  A brand is your reputation and how people think of you.  Three components make up a brand:

  1. Messaging – the words that allow you to quickly and honestly connect with your clients and audience.
  2. Visuals – your logo, colors, graphics, images, and photography.
  3. Brand Experience – the website, interior environment, graphics, your product packaging.

At any point where your client comes in touch with you or your product, you have an opportunity to control that experience.  The messaging component is arguably the most critical.  If people don’t understand what you do and how you can help, then you’ve lost the opportunity.

On your website, you need to be intentional and take charge.  You have an opportunity to control how people perceive you.  You want to create how you want to be perceived and not just let your audience create that for you.

If you are perceived as irrelevant, stodgy, tired, boring, technical, and expensive - but you really want to be perceived as fun, whimsical, welcoming and approachable - you have the ability to control that with your messaging, visuals and brand experience. If you don’t create your own perception, the client will label you by how they perceive you.


Derek Sussner: On your website, be sure to have a clear call-to-action that tells me exactly what it is you want me to do.   Make sure it is active and direct (Call Now, Schedule a Meeting, Apply Here) and not passive (Learn More).

Get professional help with your visual identity to make sure you are son-trend and representing the level of sophistication, professionalism or innovation that you want your business to show. 

Make sure the images you use represents what your business does solves your client’s problem.  How it makes their lives easier and better.  The outcome of working with you.

Quickly and clearly communicate what it is your business does and how you do it.  On your home page, or any marketing piece, it should be readily apparent what you do, who you do it for, and to what end (the outcomes).

Be sure you are positioning your customer as the hero in the story and your company as their guide.  Not the other way around.  Listing your services and capabilities, then you are positioning yourself as the Hero in the story. Your brand needs to be the Guide. The Guide is simply there to help the client get what they want.  So, all the authority that you list needs to be repositioned so that we can make sure that what we are telling your client is how what you do solves their problem.

Whether it’s on your walls, your website, or printed marketing materials…the first thing I should understand is what do you do and how does it solve what I need.  The most successful way to start is with the messaging…allow the client to see themselves in your story.


Derek Sussner:  To run a “grunt test”, take a look at the top area of your website.  It should accomplish three things:

  1. it has to tell exactly what it is you do,
  2. it has to tell how what you do helps me,
  3. and it has to call me to action. 

An active, call-to-action (i.e., Buy Now, Schedule an Appointment) button needs to be clear and visible.  It needs to tell me how I should engage with you at the highest level.  Below that is all the supportive information.

There is a cadence to how to properly go through that to best continue that conversation with the visitor on your website.  You have three to four seconds to capture someone’s attention on your website.  Be intentional.  You want the prospect to relate to you and see themselves needing what you have to offer.

Kurt Theriault:  If someone is interested in……….

Derek Sussner: The first place to start is to have a conversation about your challenges or your opportunities so that we understand what may be most helpful to you.  Then we’ll walk you through a handful of very brief case studies that take real-life examples of real clients and show you a glimpse of what each of the five steps were like for them and the successes they experienced.

Derek Sussner is the founder and owner of Sussner Design Company.  You can find out more about Sussner Design Company’s work at www.sussner.com.  Recommended read is Building a Story Brand written by Donald Miller

Kurt Theriault is the President of Allied Executives.  Allied Executives provides business owners with confidential, "right-fit" peer groups and educational workshops so they can learn from each other, make better decisions, avoid costly mistakes, productively network, and shorten the time frame to growing their business.  To learn more visit www.alliedexecutives.com

Lessons Learned Along the Way is a short video series that features real experts with practical street-smart guidance and advice for business owners all with the idea to shorten their timeframe to success.