Open Mic Series features expert advice from experienced women business owners.

The Story Exchange, Ida Cheinman, Substance151Ida Cheinman is the Founder and Creative Director of Substance151, a strategic brand communications firm.

Have a question for Ida? Submit it here.

The Story Exchange (TSE): What advice and tips can you offer for small business owners who are looking to build up their brand?

Ida Cheinman (IC): Building brand engagement is one of the most challenging aspects of developing a successful marketing program. People tend to engage with things they care about and so in order to be engaging, your brand must stand for something, it must move and inspire its audiences.

Tip 1: Define your company’s “why”

My first tip for building and maintaining brand engagement is actually more than a suggestion — It’s imperative. It begins with defining your company’s “why” – its larger purpose, the reason it exists beyond selling products and services. Developing a purpose-driven brand is the foundational step in generating engagement, because it takes your audience’s connection with your brand from transactional to relational, giving you a meaningful platform for fostering Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence – the four cornerstones of brand engagement (as established by Forrester Research). [pullquote]Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence – the four cornerstones of brand engagement. [/pullquote]

Here’s a little more about what each of these cornerstones refers to:

Involvement refers to the number of people who visit brand touch points (e.g. number of website visits; amount of time spent on a web page; or a number of visits to a physical location).

Interaction refers to the actions people take while visiting brand touch points (e.g. subscriptions to an eNewsletter; downloads of a white paper; purchase of a product or service).

Intimacy refers to the affection or aversion a person holds for a brand and is measured by assessing the general sentiment of the audience (e.g. blog post comments; customer service calls).

Influence refers to the likelihood a person is to advocate on behalf of the brand (e.g. satisfaction ratings; forwarded content; repurchases).

Tip 2: Develop a content marketing strategy

Once you’ve defined your company’s purpose, you’ll need to communicate it to your audiences across all customer touchpoints in a meaningful, thoughtful and relevant way. There is an overwhelming number of communication channels available today and there are several phases to building brand engagement: from awareness to long-term involvement. One tool that gives you superpowers to do it all is content marketing. Therefore, my second tip is developing a robust and relevant content marketing strategy.

Tip 3: Listen up and keep testing your tactics

My final tip is to listen and analyze. If you carefully listen to your audiences’ needs and aspirations, you will be able to address them in a way that will not only create repeat clients and happy employees, but life-long brand champions. Also remember: it not only takes time to build relationships and trust with your audiences, but also requires testing different types of content, communications and tactics to learn what really works for your business.

Read about why Ida started her business in her 1,000 Stories submission. 

TSE: How do you make sure that your brand is communicating effectively to your audience?

IC: When developing our brand, we went through a formal exercise for developing a brand platform that sets the foundation for all verbal, written and visual communications for our firm. This ensures that everything we create is always “on-brand” and that our brand doesn’t deteriorate over time.  [pullquote]It takes time to get to know the people and companies you want to engage with your brand. [/pullquote] We track and analyze the levels of engagement for everything we do in order to find our sweet spot, and this actually points to another important tip: patience. It takes time to get to know the people and companies you want to engage with your brand. The more you research, explore and analyze, the sooner you’ll have the insight you need to truly engage.

TSE: You set up Substance 151 as a benefit corporation, which is a new corporate business model for companies that consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process. Why did you decide to start a benefit corporation?

IC: Since its inception, Substance151 has made a commitment to create a positive impact on society and the environment through its design, practice, education and community involvement. When the “green” marketplace became very crowded, we had to make sure that our audiences could see that sustainability is a part of our corporate DNA, not just a part of our green marketing campaign. One of the best tools for adding credibility to a company’s “green” claims is green certifications and trustmarks, and in 2009 Substance151 became a Green America Certified Business. (If you are looking to become a certified green business, I would recommend two certifying entities: Green America’s Green Business certification or B Lab’s B Corp certification.) [pullquote]One of the best tools for adding credibility to a company’s “green” claims is green certifications and trustmarks.[/pullquote]

To further demonstrate our commitment to creating a positive impact on society and the environment, we became one of the first three Benefit LLCs in the United States in June 2011. While becoming a benefit LLC did not fundamentally change our work, product, or operations – we were already a Green America certified business – it created a greater level of accountability and an objective framework for measuring our progress. For example, one of the benefit corporation requirements is publishing an annual benefit report.

For other entrepreneurs considering organizing as a benefit corporation the process is very similar to filing for any other corporate charter: you need to file articles of incorporation with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT for a new business) or you need to file an article of amendment with SDAT (existing corporation). To find out if your state has passed benefit corporation legislation, use this link: Additional information and resources are also available at



Ida Cheinman is the Founder and Creative Director of Substance151. She has over 15 years of design and management experience with a primary focus on brand strategy and design across print and interactive media. Under her leadership, Substance151 has built a solid reputation for its strategy and design work and its passion for advocating environmentally and socially responsible business practices. Recently, Ida has been recognized by Bmore Media as one of Baltimore’s Green Masterminds and named an Eco CEO by Baltimore SmartCEO. Follow Substance 151 @substance151 for more tips and connect with her @idacheinman.