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Ben Franklin Technology Partners – Finding Simplicity in a Complex World

December 4, 2014

We’ve used a lot of pixels in this space emphasizing clarity and differentiation as key brand development fundamentals. This is sometimes easier written than executed. Crowded categories, multi-faceted business models, the wide use of buzzwords to the point they lose meaning – these conditions challenge our perpetual desire to communicate simply and powerfully.

A perfect example of this – and how we work to overcome it – is the recent case of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Finch Brands commenced work with a mandate to answer a simple question – how can Ben Franklin succinctly explain what it does and why it matters?

The reason this is difficult is that Ben Franklin is both structurally non-traditional and incredibly active. At the model level, it is a smartly conceived non-profit initiative built to nurture early stage technology companies. It possesses many of the characteristics of seed stage venture capital – rigorous due diligence, support for management teams and smart investment choices, with one of the most active portfolios in the nation. Yet its scorecard is more public-spirited than simple investor ROI – Ben Franklin is measured by its impact on the overall regional economy.

Given that charge, the organization does far more than a traditional VC to nurture the regional tech ecosystem – with initiatives, partnerships, and publications that help connect people, accelerate the commercialization of new technologies, and enhance Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial profile.

Alas, this better be a long elevator ride if that’s the pitch. Yet not only is it muddled, these complexities are consequential. As Ben Franklin is an initiative of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, our research showed that emphasizing Ben Franklin’s public sector origins provoked concerns about bureaucracy. Focusing on their larger program diluted perceptions of their investor core. Yet communicating like a VC led people to think they were only that – which concealed Ben Franklin’s mission.

In situations like this – where a simple message is elusive – there are two ways brand strategists can reframe their thinking and find positioning breakthroughs. First, take things a level up. It’s easy to get into the weeds with the scope and structure of Ben Franklin – Finch Brands uses ‘benefit laddering’ to ensure the level of the brand message is not too low (functional and muddled) or too high (fuzzy and meaningless).

Second, check the balance between the emotional and rational aspects of the brand – in my experience, a complicated message is almost always too functional. Ben Franklin stakeholders may be rational actors to some degree, but the substance of what the organization does lends itself toward an emotional mode of storytelling. Remember, they are dealing with dreams, scientific breakthroughs, a region we all love.

Using these two techniques got us there with Ben Franklin. Ultimately and most importantly, they blend the best practices of early stage investing with a mission to support the region. They have the wisdom and track record of the best capital partners, but a larger purpose than just ROI for personal enrichment. This is where the line we developed – ‘Partners with a Purpose’ – comes from.

We have worked with Ben Franklin Technology Partners to take this message across communication touch points, most recently their website. The net effect is a much cleaner, more balanced mode of brand presentation. ‘Partners with a Purpose’ neither answers every question nor describes every program – but it captures the energy of Ben Franklin and provides that first level of brand definition.

Bill Gullan, President

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