Derek: Nice. And I think when you, when you think about it and Karen also, what I heard from, from you was it’s branding, it’s still a direct line to the end game, right. And so even when you’re creating the brand and you’re thinking about, you know, the people that you’re going to bring on your team and what you want to, you know, how you want to create the feel, the look, what people think about you when you’re leaving the room, it still needs to be the end in mind when you’re even creating that beginning thought, that way it connects.
Karen: Absolutely. And you mentioned that when you’re thinking about brand, as you’re bringing on team members, you know, the other thing is the opportunity that you have to bring value to your brand from the people that you bring on your team. I can tell you in my career, I have been so blessed to work with so many great people and all the agencies that I worked with, a lot of them, they brought real value to our brand.
You know, they, I mean, people would say, hey, I see you hired fill in the blank. And I could, I could start now and we would not finish. I would not be finished listing them all when we finished this podcast because so many people, particularly in professional services firms, that brings value to your brand.
And, and so, you know, that is the flip side. Brand should influence all of the decisions that you make, it should be your north star. It influences what kind of products you offer, what kind of services you offer, it influences you know, the partnerships, the strategic alliances that you make and it improves, it influences what your experience is going to be for your customer.
Don: I think that the thing I would add to that piece when, and I just thought in my mind, right. Brand strategy, business impact, right. If we had to really kind of synthesize some of the points that Karen was making, and when we think about business impact. It starts at the board, or it starts with your frontline professionals, wherever you start, you have to be top to bottom or bottom to top.
It has to be at every touch point that you have, right, with people in your community, people that you’re trying to influence. And one of the things that we do sometimes as business leaders is we try to make things so simple and clear that we don’t actually look at the full holistic value prop that we can make.
And that’s something I’ve had to work on as a, as a business leader, we start a conversation thinking about our digital presence, but then we forget what are the things about our brand that are helping our sales professionals in the field, better articulate the value of our business, right? What are we doing for our HR professionals inside the business, that our brand is better articulating how we integrate work-life balance as a company for our new employers? And so when we think about all the functions of the business and we think about them tactically, we also have to raise and elevate that, thinking to think about how the brand impacts the everyday work of the people that we employ and the clients that we’re going after.
Karen: There’s one other thing I want to touch on. I want to make sure we talk about this is the role of brand as it relates to your vision for the business. And I’ve seen this, I think we’ve all seen this where we have companies that, their vision actually moves beyond their original brand. And so you’re a CEO and you’re chugging along and you, you know, your market perhaps is disrupted. You decide you’re going to move from maybe being in one market segment to multiple market segments, or maybe you’re moving from providing a certain type of service to you’re going to be a tech company and all of a sudden, that brand that you started with that sweet spot that you occupy in the market that promise that you’ve made, it’s not big enough to subsume all you’re going to be.
You see that out in the world around you, most brands need to evolve as their, as their business model and their market evolves, I think. and in fact one that I’m familiar with in North Carolina, they’re in the logistics space, is a company that has been, any 5,000 company, many times over. they were originally branded as Transportation Impact. And they started out in one part of the logistics space around, around shipping, around freight and shipping.
Well, they have evolved now. They are an end-to-end technology solutions company, and in the logistic space and they’re working all the way from shipping and delivery technologies for, for shippers to, demand and forecasting for inventory. And so they’re doing all of these different things.
Well, their original brand doesn’t, doesn’t cover all of that. So they rebranded their, now, if you look them up, they’re Trans Impact. it’s a shortening of the brand, but it conveys that there across the whole transportation spectrum, the whole, the whole logistics spectrum, and they make an impact on business.
So they kept those things and they rebranded. I’d say we work with a lot of, a lot of businesses that are saying does my brand today really reflect the vision that I have for the business?
Don: I was jotting some notes as Karen was talking and I thought about brands that influenced me over the years, and depending on our audience, some will remember this and some won’t, but there were these commercials that Spike Lee used to do with Michael Jordan and the tagline was must be the shoes, right. And it would showed Michael Jordan doing all these things and it was, must be the shoes.
And I thought about right Nike and the things that they’ve done well from a branding construct, but they created it environment that you felt, right, if you wore these shoes, you too could be like Mike. And we all knew it wasn’t true, right? Like, come on. Like every, but, but, but brands are about a feeling and authenticity in different things. And so what are the things you want to kind of measure as a CEO when you’re thinking about your brands impact?
And I jotted down a couple notes, number one, you want to be in business with experts in your field, right. Somebody that is at the top of their game, so to speak. Everybody wants to be in business with an expert or wear the clothing right, of that top entertainer or that top thought leader in a space. Right. The second thing is that third-party validation. Who agrees with you, that that brand is amazing, right? And that’s where awards and recognition and content that you put out about your brand to reinforce what your brand is.
And then the final, the most important thing is if I engage with this brand, am I going to have a successful outcome that matters? And so those are the things when I’m thinking about how do you take this big thought brand and then put it into some framework, right? Or a couple of layers, right, that can make really functional sense if that makes sense. And those are brands that I tend to purchase as a consumer or brands that I want to build as a leader.
And so when we think about the diversity equity inclusion space, we want people to think about The Diversity Movement, that if you work with us, you have a better chance of winning with your goals around DEI. It doesn’t mean we have all the answers, it just means we’re going to give you a better chance of success. We want to create expertise, but it’s not the expertise that we have, it’s expertise we find together.
And so now bringing it back to marketing what’s most important. And then Karen I’ll, I’ll pivot back to you. Who do you need to help you work on your brand? Is it something that you do in house? Is it something that you hire an expert? Is it a combination of both? I’d love Karen. Some of your thoughts on, on, how do you think about who helps you get not just what it is.
Karen: Yeah, exactly. And so that for me starts with the role of marketing, what does that role within your business? And for that to happen the business leader has to say, what are my expectations? And, and there is this myth about being able to evaluate and measure marketing, that it can’t be measured.
There’s the old David Ogilvy. I know half of it’s wasted. And, but the reality is, is there are marketing formulas just like there are formulas for corporate finance. And I would say that for the business executive to really understand that connection between marketing and marketing strategy and brand investments and marketing investments, understand what the role is, and then learn the formulas.
Learn that if I am, you know, if this is about driving education, if I am creating a new category, you know, what, what if that’s the process I’ve got to take, what level of education do I have to have? How many people do I have to reach and educate before I can get behavior changed, before I can have business impact?
What are those formulas from that to how many people do I have educated about my brand to then move to how many of them are going to consider it? You know, how many people am I going to be able to consider it? What is my, what, what is my addressable market that I can, that I can hope to win in.
And then once I get to consideration, what is my win rate going to be? You know, if I’ve got somebody evaluating me, what are the real barriers? What is my win rate going to be, and what do I have to do to push them over the edge? Understand what goes into it. So, you know, understand, okay, well, at that point, they’re going to want, they’re going to want to trust, they’re going to want some of those brand proxies that Donald was talking about.
They’re going to want testimonials from other customers. They’re going to want some sort of ROI calculator that they can have on what you’re bringing value to them. Understand those numbers and then you can evaluate them, and then once you do that and you understand that, then you go to the, well, how am I going to deliver all of the things that I need to do in marketing to just to do the things I need to do to, to drive it, to do the role that I expected. Not everything.
I think that’s one of the, the big mistakes that companies make is they think of marketing as just promotion or they think of it as just creative and materials and brochures. And so they want to make all that they can, but you just, you know, figure out exactly how much do you absolutely need to deliver on those different steps and then focus your resources there. To your point about, about resources Donald, one of the things that, that a lot of clients wrestle with is, is how much shit can I do on my own versus where do I need outside expertise.
Karen: And the, the question of outside expertise versus in-house. You know, there’s a lot of analysis about that. What, what I believe, and they coming from an agency that is in a long agency background, all built on helping clients with their marketing. You know, I, I think that clients, the best solution is a mix. I do not think that clients should go to agencies for everything that may be heresy. And, and my board chair is here on the podcast. didn’t think that through Derek, well, you’re going to have to help me on that.
But I really think that there are certain things that, that should reside. There should be some basic marketing capabilities in house. I do think that and, and how she should have people on your team who really understand the discipline of marketing and who can help connect the business strategy to the marketing strategy inside the client organization.
Now, and they need to be that liaison with outside partners. I think there are certain core fundamental things like particularly when you get in that consideration, in that purchase phase of developing your presentations, your business development decks, your, your tools and resources that you’re constantly having to change and in this environment, you need to do more, that you need basic graphics and copy. And, and, you know, we do a lot of social media at Walk West, but I think a good mix between people who are in house and on the agency side can help with some of those, those channels as well. But there is definitely a value for, for outside perspective.
Don: I would add to that in the way that I typically think about it and advise folks to think about it is don’t try to make that choice in a vacuum, right? You’re looking for agency partners that are going to help you do what’s best for your business. And that agency partner is going to help you do what’s best for your business is going to help you thoughtfully decide what are the best things to keep in-house? Because there is direct alignment with product education and knowledge, for example, right? There’s direct alignment and time to market and dedication with the resources. And then balancing that as Karen alluded to with that quest and that thirst for innovation.
The biggest value to look outside of yourself for new insights is because your agency partners start talking to hundreds of businesses. So they’re looking at what’s working. What’s not what’s new, what trends, which is a new brand facade where a tech brand, tech companies trying to sell something versus really new innovation. And then the other thing I think you can get from your agency partners is capacity building. I think you’re right; agency partner is going to teach you new things that you can use an agency for initially, and then over time can be brought in-house when it becomes more operationalized.
And so when you have a partner, which, which Karen and I are both big fans of developing, our goal, right, is to build a better business for our clients. And in doing that then there’s enough work, there’s enough revenue, there’s enough growth. And so a telltale sign that you might not quite have the right partner is somebody on that agency side that thinks everything needs to come to the agency, versus having a thoughtful dialogue about what’s best for your business and how to help you win in the market with the resources that you have and using those smartly.
Karen: One other question. I think that clients often have to wrestle with is, do I hire a full-service agency or do I go out and look for best of breed? You know, go look out for a best of breed video, somebody just as video or somebody who just does social media or somebody who just does brand strategy, and You know, I think that there may have been a time where it was really hard for an agency to do more than one thing, but because there has been really for the last two or three decades, there’s been this emphasis on integrated marketing and on things tying together, That that I, I’m not sure that that best of breed is necessarily as relevant as it might’ve been once before.
You know, I think with digital, with technology, it is very easy for agency to, to have a full-service approach. The thing about that is it makes it easier for a client. If you can find an agency partner, maybe they don’t do everything that you’re going to need, but if they do a handful of those things, it isn’t, it is easier to build that relationship, that knowledge and understanding of not only your industry and your business, but also how you like to work.
They can build that understanding of your brand. You’re not continuously retraining different partners on your brand and on your business and on your marketing approach and how you need to present things to your leadership team, for example. You can be more efficient in how you manage that. You know, I think there are certainly some areas where I’m going to best-in-breed or going to somebody new for something a specialist, you know, I think to me, The Diversity Movement is an example of that. I think another example of that is a partner of ours called Ablr 360, that does digital accessibility, you know?
And so every agency has some automated digital accessibility tool. We’re seeing that that’s not enough. And so you need a specialist in some of those areas for a period of time. So, you know, that is part of where I think having that in-house person on your marketing director, a CMO that you trust, who knows how to manage agency relationships and get the right team set up both inside and out is so vital for an executive.
Don: Hmm. I love that. You know, one thing I would say, I would add to that is when you’re thinking about how agencies provide in corporate communicators, provide value. Right. To leaders, right? And that’s whether you’re agency outside in whether you’re inside the business, working through your existing team is how well do you understand the business?
Because creative without understanding how the cash machine works, how the company makes money, doesn’t really tightly aligned the brand with its promise to, to shareholders, right, which is a growing organization, a profitable organization. And so I do think that a lot of times the best creative work are folks that have a brilliant idea, but can connect those ideas to how we’re trying to move a consumer segment.
Movement, right, we’re trying to move people right. And organizations to an action in a, in a specific direction. And it’s really important for those of us in the creative space to be able to speak in the language of the leadership and the language of the leadership does have a financial and a measurement component.
And that’s where the CMOs of today are more data-driven than ever before, because more dollars are spent in the marketing domain, the justification of those dollars is now higher.
Karen: Absolutely. And, you know, we, we do see that CMOs are more data-driven than ever, and that, that actually, you know, we’re, we’re delivering a lot of data to leadership from marketing. And its incumbent upon those of us in marketing to deliver the numbers that actually matter to the bottom line, you know, to, to not get tripped up in those vanity metrics. And to say, okay, these are your vanity metrics. This is how they translate into metrics that are going to really matter on your, on, on your cashflow or your sales or your ability to recruit. This is what we’re looking at.
Don: One thing that I’ll throw out there that I think is important for all leaders to think about and building their brand, and Karen alluded to it earlier. When we were talking about the people within your business, being your powerful brand advocates, companies that are doing things in an innovative way seeing extreme results in a positive way right. Are shouting from the rooftops about the accomplishments of their people. They’re outwardly and authentically proud of the folks that have decided to be a part of their organization and the things they’re doing to win in the marketplace. And so that’s number one.
And then the second thing is that they’re doing a really good job of promoting their leaders as experts in their field. And those are things that intertwine and inner lock, right? Those brand promises that we’re trying to make, because you don’t really know when someone’s doing research on you as a leader or on you as a company.
And so that means you have to proactively put a stake in the ground of who you are, what you stand for and what success looks like and feels like as an organization so that when people are doing their homework, it’s not reactionary. You’ve already made those statements in the market. And I’ll tell a very quick story. And, and I won’t name drop because I’m under some pretty aggressive NDAs on this. And it’s really cool. Like this is like, I’m doing some work with a client that literally, I’ve not told a lot of people internally of my own company. Like it’s, it’s a, it’s a stealth project, the billion-dollar firm.
And I was like, well, how did you find me. Like, I, like, I literally I’m like, you know, I’m like, I’m a pretty confident individual, but I’m like, you know, and they said, well, we did our research. We were, we were looking for some very specific things to work on this programming. And you all had a lot of good information that we could vet you even before we met.
And this was real like this happened, like literally I got the green light for this a week ago that we were able to vet you without even meeting. So scary version, is what if we didn’t put our best foot forward. Right in the things that we shared about our brand, about our company, about what we do and how we do it.
And so a lot of times companies and individuals were very good at presenting when we have that opportunity to do so, agency pitch, an interview for an employee, all of these different things, but a lot of us are being evaluated because of the digital space and we don’t know it. So what is our brand doing for us while we’re sleeping?
What is our brand doing for us when we’re not able to be in the room, and that’s the thing I encourage executives to think about is your brand working for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in a way that you’re proud of? And if you can answer that, yes, then good to go. I applaud you. You’re probably one of the top brands in the world. If it’s no, and like me, it I’m happy, but it can be better. Right. That’s the way I kind of kind of think about it as, as we go through.
Karen: I love that. That’s, that’s fantastic. and Donald I think you’re being modest because your brand definitely works and for you a lot. I would say I knew your brand and your reputation before you and I ever met. And so, I, I agree with you though, if an executive can say that their brand is working for them all the time, that is a pretty rare, rare trait.
I would also say though, I think that it can sometimes feel daunting when you look at that and, it doesn’t have to be. There are certainly ways again, if you get really focused about your, your, your market and where it has to work, and if you get really focused about what are the key things that you need to do, and set priorities, that is one of the main things that an executive can do for their, their brand team, for their marketing team, for their sales team, understand what do I need marketing to do?
And that’s not just the promotional piece in terms of branding and other things. That’s also you know, my product, how do I need, they may need some help to find it, better defining my product. What is the most important thing for, for marketing to do? It may be price. It may be the customer experience or, or distribution that needs work.
And so get clear about those things and then what’s going to happen there what’s versus what’s going to happen in product development or business development, which is for me. That sort of middle space between marketing and sales what’s happening there. You know, you may be expecting too much of one piece of the marketing pie.
Don: That’s good stuff. The thing that I want to amplify, what I just heard that gives me hope too, as a leader. Right. Cause we’re learning from each other, and I learned from Karen all the time. There’s some simple things you can start with and that’s just important to remember because a lot of times we’re dealing with clients that right, that first $50,000 on brand, or that first a hundred thousand dollars or that first $10,000, right, is a big decision in moving in a direction to where you’re not the subject matter expert.
And so like anything else where you may or may not be the subject matter expert, you can test things. You can get a blueprint to try things and frame them out in a certain area and then build momentum as you go. And so, again, I am a little leery of folks that tell me I’ve got to be all in on something, right.
When somebody’s trying to sell me something, or you’re just not committed. I usually flip it. Right. If you can’t tell me how to stair-step it, Then you’re not very good at your job, right? Like, you know what I mean? Like, but people are, you know, we all have these angles we’re running on folks, but I love that that Karen described that, right?
There’s some fundamental things that you can do of all levels in your, in your business. The key is getting started and building that momentum over time.
Karen: Exactly. And I would say it starts with you did this early and I’m going to, at Walk West, you know, our, our, why our mission, our value to clients is really simple. It is to create growth together. And that speaks to the main value that we have, which is helping companies drive growth, tangible measurable results in growth. But it comes from, from creating something that wasn’t there and then it’s up the together as a, is how we do it. And for no matter what your why is or what your value proposition and where you started, it’s making sure that everybody on your leadership team knows that and is saying it at every chance that they get.
And then it’s making sure that all of your, all your employees know that and are saying that. And if you think that’s simple and that, that is being done, I promise you. We’ve done research. Most companies do not have that. And most, most teams are not saying that over and over. And so start there and then you can begin to amplify from just that very simple foundation with your internal audiences.
Don: I got nothing to add to that. That was great.
Karen: Well, this has been fun. This is, this is a lot of fun.
Don: I think. You know, when I reflect on this podcast and I had a great time just getting ready, just kind of, cause you, you put your ideas together and you want to give folks something that is valuable, right. For them listening and spending those 30 minutes with us. Learning is fun. The last thing that I would say, and then Karen, I’ll give you kind of the last word, is that anytime something’s new to you or you, you you’re working with a team that they may have more subject matter expertise.
The thing I encourage people to do is just ask questions. Couple of things are true. The talented folks on your team will love to teach you something, so if you just give them the space to ask a few more questions, not so much in that quarterly business review mindset, right. Or that review mindset. But tell me what you’re learning about our brand. That could be, tell me what our competitors are doing brand wise in the marketplace that we need to step up to the plate.
There’s an amazing amount of knowledge within your current team, but as leaders, we’ve got to give them the space, to speak a little bit more openly, a little bit more clearly, and candidly about what they’re seeing and understanding. And when I’ve done that, I’ve certainly heard some things that I didn’t want to hear. I’ve heard some investments I might not have wanted to make, but need to, but the learning was super valuable, and it allowed us to grow in different ways and help clients better.
Karen: I think that I think that’s great. and I would say also, most of the executives, most of the, the, the C-level people that I have worked with in my career did not come up through more., I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of CMOs, a lot of directors of markings, but if you look at a lot of CEOs, they come from finance, you know, in this market, they are there, they were a CTO.
They started, they were a tech entrepreneur or healthcare, life sciences. There are scientists and they say, Karen, I, you know, I’m a scientist. I don’t understand marketing. And I, and I want to say to them, you, you, you understand so much more than that, and that the discipline that you bring to science or finance or any other part of the business operations, the process thinking that you bring, the organizational thinking that you bring the questioning, the, the analysis and synthesis that you bring, the, the data, that approach that you bring in all of those.
Are very transferable to marketing is just simply, spending the time with the team to understand it and to get really clear about what marketing can accomplish for your organization and what maybe it shouldn’t be asked to do. So that’s how I would wrap.
Derek: Wow. Mango. What a, what a powerful conversation like I’m sitting here and I’m trying to take notes and pay attention at the same time. And I think this has been, you know, a lot of times we have to recognize the gems that are in our space right in our network where we can learn from and glean from. And I’m honored to say that, you know, Donald and Karen are in my, my circle of influence that I’m excited to learn from as well.
Mango: Yeah. I mean, I feel the same way. I remember meeting Donald over two years ago, you know, and having that initial conversation. The reason I joined Walk West was for him and his, you know, his mindset and just kind of his background and experience and being that kind of mentor and the ability to really kind of help people when needed. And I agreed with both of you guys you’re talking about, and I always talk to my people about, if you’re not asking questions, you’re not learning, right. Cause we all don’t know everything. And I always have a feeling that if somebody goes silent and doesn’t know what they’re doing or just isn’t vocal about stuff, I always get worried about that.
So I have a whole other theory you could push, could be another podcast. About the what if wave of work, of being creative, you know, continue to ask what, if you do this, we’re looking to do that, but continue to question and learn. So all, all great points between Donald and Karen.
Don: stuff. Karen, thank you, my friend.
Karen: Thank you. Thank you. It was great spending time with you.