Most people who know me know that I’m a huge fan of personal development and self-improvement (and there is always a lot to improve). If you want to be the best you need to learn from the best.
In November I had the privileged of being part of the first set of 40+ brand professionals to become a Certified Brand Specialist and complete the second tier LEVEL-C masterclass led by Marty Neumeier.
I often get asked about my experience with LEVEL C and so here is my review which I hope you find helpful.
A bit of background.
Marty Neumeier is a branding legend. He’s written some of the best brand books on the subject (like The Brand Gap, The Brand Flip, Zag and Scramble) and inspired thousands of people with his radical thinking and foresight for business around the subject of brand.
Anyone who’s been following me for a while will know I was one of the first people to have the honour of completing Marty Neumeier's first-tier brand masterclass in London in March 2019. (Here's my review of the course here and an overview of my experience where I became a certified Brand Specialist). I'm a big Marty fan.
This Masterclasses are designed across five levels:
Level 1 - Certified Brand Specialist
Level 2 - Certified Brand Strategist
Level 3 - Certified Brand Advisor
Level 4 - Certified Brand Instructor
Level 5 - Certified Brand Master
You can only progress to the next level after you have passed the previous one. Marty and his business partner Andy Starr will be designing and rolling these out all over the world over the next few years.
Since completing the first course I’ve been privileged to be involved with a few LEVEL C initiatives. I was invited to help them in the autumn of 2019 when they came to London as part of a global tour where they were delivering the Level 1 course to a number of audiences across a few weeks.
One of the key questions I would ask Andy was “why don’t you do this online?” - “that’s not us” Andy would say, “it’s all about the in-person experience”. And it is and was. It felt like being online would never live up to that.
I was thrilled to hear that the Level 2 course was planned to be delivered in London in the Spring of 2020 and I was signed up and ready to go!
But when the Covid-19 crisis hit Level C was forced to rethink it's in person first experiences. Initially, the Spring courses were all cancelled. But then two things happened which I was honoured to be involved with:
LEVEL C ran 4 “fireside chats” which I was privileged to host alongside Andy Starr. These were set up to help the LEVEL C tribe of professionals connect, share stories and support each other in the dark early months of the pandemic. Our main theme was of humanity. These were attended well. Marty gave a few talks to us and folks responded positively. They also showed that LEVEL C folks were open to connecting digitally.
LEVEL C decided to run Marty’s Metaskills Challenge which I participated in (see my review here). This was hugely successful and a brilliant online collaborative learning experience.
The above two events it seems, and the restrictions on travel, seem to have led to a rethink by LEVEL C and I was excited to hear they had opened up their LEVEL 1 Masterclass to being digital. I heard good things from those who attended and so when Master Class 2 was also opened up to being digital, I jumped at the chance. But did it live up to Masterclass one?
About the Course format
The course took a similar format as the first Masterclass. Sessions were hosted on Zoom by the brilliant Andy Starr, Marty would then deliver lecture-style learning, sharing his screen to show illustrations which helped explain key concepts and models. Next delegates were split into small teams to run through exercises based on the learnings. These were then presented to the group for Marty to review and to receive peer to peer feedback. There were also opportunities for Q and A with Marty.
Rather than the course being over 2 days (as was the in-person version of MAsterclass 1) the course ran over a whole week. Each day there was 3 hours of time spent on Zoom for the sessions. Around 1-2 hours per day were also required for the completion of the group exercises. These were to be co-ordinated amongst team members.
Delegates meeting to listen to Marty
Delegates were made up of around fifty professionals of all spectrums of the 'branding' community. There were people there from agencies, solo consultants (like me) and in-house teams from large and small businesses. Disciplines spanned from graphic design, strategy, customer experience to marketing. Delegates were all highly motivated individuals who were all highly skilled practising professionals. They had obviously already completed the Level 1 Masterclass and so were committed to the cause and hungry for more.
My team of global brand experts
Teams were grouped by time zone. My team consisted of people from Hungry, the UK, Ireland and Saudi Arabia and we met most mornings (UK time) to complete exercises before the main sessions which were in the afternoon.
A workbook was supplied for the course which we worked through together. This was sent in stages during the week and then the full workbook provided at the end. The course ended with an online exam and a physical (really well designed) certificate was issued and posted out once this was passed.
Course Content - Brand Strategist
As you might expect the content took the concepts of the first Masterclass and dived in deeper to principles of brand building - and in particular around Marty's thinking on Differentiation. Differentiation is the process of establishing a strategic market position and is arguably the pinnacle of brand building.
Marty takes this up a notch with the concept of 'radical differentiation' - and if you want to build a brand that stand out for all the right reasons this course will show you how.
The content was based around ideas, methods and tools outlined in Marty's books Zag and The Brand Gap and particularly centred on Marty's Brand Commitment Matrix. A tool that boils down the basic elements of brand building into a nice simple 3x2 grid. The key modules were presented with educational examples and then exercises were outlined to work on.
The course covered the following key modules:
The interactive exercises completed with my teams allowed us to put into practice the principles we were learning.
Marty in full flow!
These exercises were based around an existing brand which the team selected at the beginning of the processes. It was fun to work through the processes and evolve a brand so it was positioned in a new and compelling way. We chose to work on PG-Tips and evolve their positioning - a fantastic way to ensure you saw the principles in practice.
So was the course worth the effort, time and money - 100% it was. This second-level course went deeper into the principles of the brand-building than the first Masterclass did - and it gave some really helpful and useful tools and processes for brand building.
I felt the content flowed even better than Masterclass 1 - which was touching on a wide array of high-level ideas. This course followed and taught a logical and clear process to bring about a radical differentiation brand strategy.
A lot of the information was already in Marty's books and as a practitioner, I work with the principles of brand building on a daily basis. If you had not read the books though or were not using Marty's ideas in your work regularly it would be a huge learning opportunity.
Having said this, I did learn some new things - especially 'category mapping' tools and I have used these in my work since. I also learnt some new methodologies ('Judo Strategy' comes to mind!). I especially appreciated hearing Marty explain some of the more complicated aspects. For example, he used a phrase at one point which I have used since - that of the brand ideas being a kind of "contract" with the customer. It's clarity and nuances like this and the language Marty uses where huge value can be found.
Also, I found the questions of my peers were interesting to read and think about. These could be entered in the Chat which allowed everyone to see them - something that in the physical events might not have been seen.
Like the first course, other areas of value were found in the 'camaraderie' you receive from working with other top global brand strategists, being personally mentored by Marty and having the ability to ask questions of him, the practical experience of running through exercises with peers and having your thinking validated with a certificate and accolade at the end of it all.
The experience was indeed brilliant and I enjoyed it immensely - but did it live up to the live experience? Well, it was different. It had the same energy and excitement that the live classes do but obviously, some social elements were lacking. Content-wise and the ability to connect globally with Marty personally and other fellow practitioners filled the gaps though - don't let this being digital put you off.
I'm already signed up for the 3rd Masterclass so that says a lot about how much I enjoyed and appreciated the time spent on this course. Maybe I'll see you there?!