How To Build An Authentic Brand With A Compelling Online Story
I’m joined by Paige, who runs Mavens & Moguls. Paige, tell the audience a little bit about your position.
Greg, thanks for having me. I started Mavens & Moguls many years ago, which is hard to believe. I joke that I’m like the accidental entrepreneur. I never thought I would be starting a company and working for myself longer than I worked for anybody else ever in my entire career. I don’t know what I will do if I get sick of my boss this time. I will be dead in the water. I started my marketing career in consumer products and packaged goods marketing at Proctor & Gamble. I had a very traditional CPG, worked at Coca-Cola, and ran marketing at three successful startups that all had good exits.
When 9/11-hit, the marketing jobs dried up, and a lot of people came out of the woodwork, venture capitalists and private equity guys who had backed those startups I worked for and asked me to help them out. Here I am. We basically are a virtual marketing department for organizations that need access to marketing talent in as-needed outsourced spaces.
What we focus on in this show is the digital challenges that either your business or your client faces, and maybe you could tell us a little bit about the one challenge that predominates what you are focused on or a good story. I will ask you a few questions about it.
We’ve all learned a lot of important lessons in the last few years through the pandemic. One of the biggest lessons is you don’t exist now unless you can be found online. The biggest challenge I’m dealing with a lot of my clients is how to put their best face forward in a virtual, hybrid environment. A lot of people come and find us because they want to have the right words and pictures to tell a compelling story and to find the audience to help them thrive.
Whether they are B2C, B2B, nonprofit, or technology, we are industry agnostic. We work across all different categories but the unifying theme or the common denominator is everybody needs to have a very strong online presence or you don’t exist. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy. Unless you can break through the noise and own real estate in your customer’s mind, you don’t exist.
“You don’t exist today unless you can be found online.”
The challenge that we are wrestling with is to help our clients tell a very consistent and compelling story at every touch point. You have to know what your strengths are basically and what your value proposition is, and pick 1 or 2, at most, 3 things you want to stand and be known for. Where people get into trouble is they try and spread themselves too thin and want to be known for a million different things. That’s not possible. People can’t remember that much.
They might be better off with a single-minded idea. How do you help them discover that single-minded idea? I understand the framework but you’ve got to get them to be realistic. What do you do to get them there?
I started my marketing career at Procter & Gamble. P&G is probably the most data-driven consumer products company in the world. Everything starts and ends with the research. That is my bias and how I was trained. I don’t care what you think, your mom, your best friend or your neighbor. I cringe when people come to me and say, “I have the greatest product or service. Everyone loves it. I don’t understand why we are not selling more.”
I’m like, “Tell me a little bit more about that.” They say, “Everybody says it’s great, and they love it.” I’m like, “Tell me who everybody is? Who are you talking to?” If you are not talking to the decision-maker, the target audience, and the gatekeeper of who is in that buying process, it doesn’t matter. I work with my clients to try and do actual market research. If you are not asking the right audience the right questions, it’s like garbage in, garbage out.
You get the right answer to the wrong question. Are you building personas? Are you doing primary research with startups?
Compelling Online Story: You have to know what your strengths are, what your value proposition is, and just pick one or two at most three things you want to stand for and be known for.
If they’ve collected the research, we may be doing secondary research. We may do some Zoomerang or Surveymonkey to keep costs low. You have to ask questions in an objective way. The challenge is that if you are leading the witness and asking questions like, “Tell me all the things you love about our products.”
It’s like me asking my mother if she loves me.
That is not helpful. That is not market research. That’s garbage. We have to work hard to ask the right audience the right question in the right way and extrapolate those insights. Companies are overwhelmed with data. We collect so much data, and you can get buried in the numbers. How do you find those insights? How do you own real estate in your customer’s brain? When they have a problem that you can help them solve, they think of you first.
That must be a huge challenge to let go of this broad. I’ve seen it on Shark Tank, “I’m going to get 1% of the market.” They get slaughtered. What do you do to get a senior leadership team to give up what they think is a market or a customer opportunity to get deep and single-minded? What’s the process or cultural things you have to get them to go through?
People make decisions emotionally even though they think they’re being data-driven.
It can be hard. Sometimes, you have to ask a lot of questions and keep digging and asking why. Sometimes 3, 4, and 5 times in a row because they are on the surface. They are not letting themselves break out of the mold of they think they have all the answers and they know. I always tell people if you are looking for a consulting firm or an agency to put together a PowerPoint to support the idea that you have, we are not that firm. Don’t call us. There are plenty of companies out there that are happy to cash your check and tell you exactly what you think you already know. That is not our sweet spot.
You can get them to a place where they usually make some hard strategic choices of what they are not going to do.
It’s learning how to say no. It’s not learning how to say yes. Putting together a marketing plan and a strategy is like, “How do you have that single-minded focus of what are you going to say yes to? More importantly, what are you going to say no to?” The companies that are the most successful learn how to say no to anything that’s a distraction. They end up putting a lot of money behind something that dilutes the brand, waters down their message or spreads them too thin.
You’ve got them to yes and no. They are living in your yes world. They walk in, and let’s say they had no digital identity. What do they do? How do you get them to have a digital expression, build it up, and craft a solution? What’s that look like?
My bias is I was trained at P&G, which is the Mecca of marketing. They have a process for everything. They are category leaders in every category they compete in. A lot of categories are number 1 and number 2. They have pampers and loves. You want to get to a point where you are solving the biggest number of problems with the biggest audience.
Compelling Online Story: The companies that are the most successful learn how to say no to anything that’s a distraction.
Is it like they have to follow the money? Is there a lifetime value group that’s 60% of the market, and they have to organize the things for that? Is it thinking through brand architecture, guidelines, and standards?
You are basically trying to slice and dice who the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences are, what the core messages are for each of those audiences, and who are the gatekeepers that help you make those decisions. They get to those decision-makers to pull the trigger to say yes. It’s a big chess board. You are dealing with the audience, the message, the timing, and the hierarchy of the messages.
You’ve got to have the support points. What are the headlines? What are the support points? People make decisions emotionally, even though they think they are being data-driven. What are those warm and fuzzy feelings? You can encourage people to buy into your value proposition that reinforces the emotional reasons why they want to buy your product and service.
You are ending up with them canceling out some ideas, going deep in others, message hierarchy, reasons to believe, proof points, and enabling benefits. They take that to their creative execution or into the product teams. That is their roadmap or work plan on how to build their digital identity.
There are a million touch points. People are on a lot of different social media platforms. They’ve got their websites. A lot of them have brochures. They have downloadable stuff. They do thought leadership online. There are a million different messages that are out there. Where people tend to go astray is they try to do everything, and you can’t be everywhere all the time.
I always encourage my clients to be brutally honest with themselves about where they are strong and weak. You need to stick to the things that are authentically best showcasing your strengths. Me personally, I’m not on all social media platforms. Running a professional service firm, LinkedIn is my go-to. I was a very early user of LinkedIn. That is my main social media platform.
It’s a great tool for thought leadership. LinkedIn is a core way to build relationships and trust in a digital world. It’s not a resume or a Rolodex. It’s how we check each other out and know that we know people in common and live in the same world. You can do a lot of backchannel investigations of people you are going to be talking to or meeting with.
You are highlighting your strength, and the brands need to live in their strength. It might be Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
My clients are not looking for me on Facebook. That is not an area that I spend any time on. That is not a priority for me. If it is for you, make that your number one but you don’t need to be there because your friends, neighbors, and competitors are there. If that’s not playing to your strengths, let it go.
One final question, when you think about digital branding and the challenges in front of us, can you give us a one-word feeling about how you feel about it and why? That will be our closing comment for this episode.
The one word is consistency. You need to have a consistent brand across digital platforms. Where people make mistakes is they think they can be real buttoned up and professional on LinkedIn. On Facebook, they want to look cool. They want to show the spring break shots and are partying on the beach. They want to be real snarky on Twitter. The problem with being a different person on a different platform is when you show up, people don’t know which version of you is going to be there. You are not building trust and an authentic brand. You are giving people a reason to question or not know like, “Who is this person? Can I believe that they are funny or are they being funny because they want to get a tweet that goes viral?”
I feel like the name of the game is to build an authentic brand consistently everywhere. When you show up, people know you are going to deliver. It’s the same for people that want to blog. They say, “Blogs are important. I need to start one.” If you like blogging and you are going to do it consistently, it’s a great idea. If you start a blog and in the first week, you blog 3 or 4 times. The next week, it’s down to twice. You forget the 3rd week, and on the 4th week, you are like, “I’m only going to have time for a quick blog.” That is the loser brand. It’s sending a signal that you are flaky and people can’t trust you. They can’t count on you. My word is consistency and authenticity.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, thanks for being with us, with Mavens & Moguls. This is Digitally Enabled, signing off. Thanks, everyone, for reading.
About Paige Arnof-Fenn
Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige serves on several Boards, is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.