How They Do It: Brand Strategy with ZEESMAN CEO Bonnie Nijst

Bonnie Nijst, President and CEO of ZeesmanCan you grow your business by putting your marketing on hold?

Most MBAs would tell you no. But the strategy worked for a client of ZEESMAN, a highly regarded Los Angeles-based brand strategy and marketing firm.

While conducting a brand assessment in advance of the development of a marketing program, ZEESMAN president and CEO Bonnie Nijst found major internal problems at the company. Without correcting them, a new marketing effort would certainly fail. She recommended that they hold off on investing in the marketing until these issues could be addressed.

The client considered, took her advice and focused first on improving the business.

Several years passed. With the problems fixed, the client returned.

“Since then, we’ve re-branded the company, created brand and messaging platforms, developed a product branding hierarchy, established an in-store marketing program, launched new divisions — and watched them win industry and client awards while also more than doubling their business,” says Bonnie.

A long-term approach to business and putting her customers’ success first makes Bonnie an ideal source for information about developing a winning brand strategy.

She generously responded to several questions, sharing her expertise on why creating a brand strategy is a priority for a business of any size.

If you have other questions, you can reach Bonnie via email. Her address is

The interview

Q. Bonnie, we often hear the term branding. What does it really mean?

A. At its most basic, branding is everything you do that creates an impression or perception of your company, from how you answer the phone, to your message, to your marketing collateral, advertising and trade show presence. The mastery of branding is doing it in a deliberate way — conscious branding — that aligns with who you are and where you want to be positioned in the market.

Q. What can a strong brand do for a business?

A. It essentially gives you the “deed” to the most valuable piece of real estate there is — a place in the consumer’s mind. And not just any consumer.  For example, you don’t have to be Coke or Apple or Nike. Your deed is for YOUR consumer, YOUR target audience.

Q. Many people confuse branding with the process of developing a logo and signage. What is an effective way for a small business that might not have lots of resources to approach brand strategy? Is there a good sequence of steps such as solidifying the company’s mission, vision and values?

A. First of all, know who are. Mission, vision and values are great, but sometimes they’re hard to do, they don’t always connect to the business at hand, which is marketing/branding your company, and they often end up framed on the wall. To get to the heart of things, I like to start with three key questions from both the individual and company standpoint:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do? And,
  3. Why does it matter?

Q. When you start working with a company, what are some signs you see that a brand is off track? Do you do an audit?

A. Some signs include disconnects between:

  • The reputation and their branding/marketing.
  • What they say they do and what they deliver.
  • Their mission/values and how they conduct themselves.
  • What senior management says and what typical employees say.
  • How they see themselves and how their customers perceive them.
  • What they want and what they’re willing to invest in time, money and commitment.

All of these issues are addressed in what we call a Brand Assessment. The next step is to develop a Brand Roadmap to show clients how we feel we can get them from Point A — where they are now — to Point B — where they need to be.

Q. What signs indicate the brand is on the right track?

A. When it feels like nearly everything they do is in alignment with who they say they are — they’re true to their brand. They also care about it and treat it as a living business asset to be nurtured and strengthened over time. They understand that everything they say and do sends a message that is cumulative. Most importantly, they are inspired by their own brand and it actually unleashes their potential as a business and as individuals.

Q. What can a business owner with some longevity in his or her industry do to spot signs that some help with branding might be needed?

A. First, ask yourself the three questions — Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?

Second, talk to others — customers, employees, past customers, past employees, people in your same industry that you respect, etc. Ask them what they think about you — your pluses, your minuses, what opportunities you’re missing, what you could do better.

And don’t talk to them yourself. Have a neutral third party do it so that they won’t feel self conscious about saying something that might hurt your feelings. And make sure they know their responses will be used anonymously so they’ll feel free to tell you the truth about your business.

Now it’s your turn. What brands have engaged you? How do they do this? On the other hand, have you spotted brands with a disconnect between what they say and what they do?

You might also enjoy How Following a Simple Pattern Can Make You a More Inspired Leader

About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at
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2 Responses to How They Do It: Brand Strategy with ZEESMAN CEO Bonnie Nijst

  1. Bonnie does great work — attentive to every detail to ensure successful outcomes. Creates great looks and brands. Professional and caring in all that she does.

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