Bob Freytag, CEO of Introworks Branding and Marketing Communications, developed BrandFAQs, a Web-based survey to measure a client’s brand awareness and to use the information to help the business improve its performance and profitability.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

A new brand approach

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 18, 2009 - 10:36 PM

The ad headline -- "The beans can't touch the meatloaf" -- doesn't sound like it has much to do with banking.

That's why Fidelity Bank was so happy with the ad, part of a new print campaign from Introworks, a Minnetonka-based branding and marketing communications firm.

Fidelity, a privately owned business bank in Edina, was looking to stand out among dozens of competitors in a fragmented industry. Introworks responded with ads illustrating the personality traits of typical Fidelity customers.

The beans and meatloaf ad portrays the meticulous client. Another, headlined "Feet always face the headboard," depicts the client who prefers the unconventional. The ads helped differentiate the bank and inspired employees to have beans and meatloaf luncheons.

The campaign also could be seen as revealing traits of Introworks itself: The firm conducts in-depth research to assess a client's brand perception, recommends actions to help it improve and takes a "feet-to-the-headboard" approach creatively when it suits.

The underlying aim, said Introworks President and founding partner Bob Freytag, is to help clients align their brand strategy with their business strategy, and to encourage them to apply that branding across their entire organization.

"Our core strength ... is figuring out what that nugget is and bringing it to the marketplace. We tell the story of who you are, and through an integrated marketing communications process, we're very good at telling the market."

The company, which has 12 employees, specializes in working with med-tech, high-tech and financial companies.

Revenue dropped to $2.1 million in 2008 from $2.3 million the year before, as the economy soured and the company completed an acquisition. Introworks has pursued controlled growth in recent years, making the INC. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies the past two years.

Introworks projects revenue of $2.8 million to $3 million this year. Freytag said the firm hoped to expand services to existing clients and to attract new clients; Introworks added a trio of companies in December alone.

Perception and reality

Introworks also is counting on additional revenue from BrandFAQs Brand Perception Study, a proprietary tool it uses to identify and quantify a company's strengths and weaknesses. The Web-based survey and reporting tool that enables Introworks' clients to measure, compare and assess the perceptions of their customers and partners. It also includes open-ended questions that allow customers to offer compliments or complaints in their own words.

BrandFAQs also provides a snapshot of the health of a client's brand in the form of what Introworks calls a Net Champion Score. Any score approaching 150 is considered exceptional; the maximum score is 200 (meaning 100 percent of those surveyed have a very favorable impression of the client and 100 percent would recommend that client).

Introworks, which also performs BrandFAQs on itself, held the highest score, 135, until 2007, when Fidelity Bank topped it with 146.

Steve Stoup, vice president of marketing for Fidelity Bank, said BrandFAQs was appealing because it uses methods similar to those to analyze a loan portfolio.

"The hardest part when you're talking to marketing firms, unless you're a marketing person, is there seems to be some 'hocus pocus, let us do our magic,'" Stoup said. The BrandFAQs "shows there's a process and a method behind the madness. It's not cute to be cute, which is what a lot of marketing firms do. It's a neat way to show at a strategic level that there's a method here to gather information and use it."

PeopleNet, a mobile communications and onboard computing provider for long-haul trucking companies, has found BrandFAQs to be a powerful business tool, according to Brian McLaughlin, chief operating officer. Introworks repositioned and rebranded PeopleNet in 2002, which helped it become one of the fastest-growing companies in its industry.

"It allows you to understand why your customer selects you, what attributes they like and dislike about you, where you should focus your messages going forward and where to make fundamental business enhancements based on that information," McLaughlin said.

PeopleNet, for example, learned that its customers thought the company was innovative and flexible, messages it emphasized in its marketing, McLaughlin said. Customers, however, also complained about the company's billing process, which led to a plan to address that problem.

The expanded services Introworks has to offer this year include public relations, lead generation and online marketing, Freytag said. Those come with the acquisition last month of former competitor McKay Strategic Advisors, a Minneapolis consulting and marketing firm. Introworks named John McKay to the position of senior account director.

Freytag started the firm nearly 17 years ago, in 1992, with partner and chief creative officer Mike McMillan. The former Minnetonka High School and Iowa State University classmates each put $100 into the bank to start the company, then known as Freytag McMillan.

The company has never been in debt, which may have contributed to its longevity and stability. The ownership team -- Freytag and McMillan plus partners Nancy Chesser, director of account services, and Matt Fahrner, director of studio services -- have been together for 16 years.

The experts says

Avinash Malshe, assistant marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Introworks' holistic approach to branding is the right way to go.

"Many times companies think about a logo or tag line, and that's a superficial approach," Malshe said. "When you think about a holistic approach you want to think about what this brand means to customers and employees."

Including a client's employees in its BrandFAQs survey is critically important. "In a services context, like a bank, a brand is as much related to employees as it is to your advertising or marketing. Ultimately it is your employees that deliver your brand."

Malshe said he liked Introworks' focus on measurement but cautioned that competitors also will offer clients other brand measurement tools.

"The real crux will be proving how effective it is and how it differentiates itself from other brand perception tools," Malshe said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is

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