Brands must adapt with evolving social trends in order to thrive, but the most powerful brands are themselves leaders. Finch Brands’ own Mary Hanna speaks about her tenures at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Toys”R”Us through the lens of women’s empowerment, an important cultural movement. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea. This week’s topic we’ve entitled Changing the Game. We’ve talked a lot on this podcast about how commerce in someways is down streamed from culture. What I mean by that is, the things that are evolving in our culture in the way that we interact with one another, the way that we put forth our values, and the things that we care deeply about, ultimately, sometimes quickly, but sometimes gradually manifest itself in the products that we sell and what the work environment is like.
We have a special guest today to speak about that. Particularly, related to an issue that is of great importance to her personally and has also reoccurred as she’s built an amazing career. That is the topic of empowering women in the business world within company cultures as well as nurturing a leadership profile in girls as they think bout their own future. Our special guest is Mary Hanna. Mary is the Director of Brand and Marketing Strategy at Finch Brands. We’re really glad to have you. Would you tell our dear listeners a bit about what’s lead you up to this point on our fine team?
Mary Hanna: Yes and I’m happy to be here. I started my career actually while I was still in college with an incredible opportunity to intern at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. I was obsessed with Martha Stewart for years before that. I only prepared her recipes, I only did her crafts – I got my dream internship, so I worked so hard to make sure that when I graduated I was going to get a job there, and I did.
It was the most incredible, but also taxing job I think I could have ever experienced. It started in the ad sales team on the, well, it was called the integrated solutions team, which was their marketing, their ad sales marketing team. I supported a department of about forty people. I did their projects, and I would run out in the middle of blizzards and snowstorms to buy gallons and gallons of candy, and whatever it is that they needed. After a couple years doing that, I switched over to the merchandising team where I was a project manager. I still have my Martha Stewart notebook with me, which I use all the time.
Bill: Encouraged me to use one too. I now have it. It’s awesome. It’s the best.
Mary: I did some time there working on the Home Depot account and all of the Home Depot products that Martha Stewart had. After that, I really fell in love with retail and I decided that I wanted to do it full time and on the retail side, so I found a job at Toys“R”Us, where I worked on the brand marketing team for about two and a half years. I learned everything from what a Skylander is, to how to really make sure that you have the best Black Friday that you could possibly have, which is every retailers bread and butter.
That was a wonderful experience, but I wasn’t making the ads, an agency was. Then I said, ‘Well, I want to go and do that.’ That’s how I ended up at Finch. Now I’m making the ads. I’m telling the companies what the right thing that I think that they should do and it’s a ton of fun.
Bill: Well, we’re having fun too. We’re so glad you’re here. Mary’s role at Finch is making the ads, in part, but also as a really strong manager of projects. Really strong intellectual contributor to all of this work, whether the scope be research driven brand strategy, or marketing planning, or creative execution. Whatever it is, Mary’s a great asset.
I know that something that’s been important to you, and when we look at your career it’s an interesting topic. One of the reasons we invited you on is, we think about the role of women in our commercial life in the US and how that extends into how they regard themselves and their own development and everything else. A lot of ink about this, a lot of people care deeply, I know you do, about this.
When we look across your career, I mean, Martha Stewart as noted, what an amazing environment and opportunity it sounds like. The interesting paradox perhaps there, is that Martha herself and the company she’s built is a really strong symbol of breakthrough leadership on the part of women and female leadership and building great companies. At the same time, the product offering in some ways is geared for a more traditional sense of femininity. I mean, you may not agree entirely, but it seems it’s about making homes. It’s about meals. It’s about the overall aesthetic that one can bring to that.
Then at Toys“R”Us, there’s a lot happening in the toy category related to women and girls. We’ve obviously seen the emergence of brands. I know you love GoldieBlox that turn gender stereotypes on their head a little bit for girls. We’ve seen even old star works like Barbie are doing some new things with regards to body image, etc. As you think about this sort of topic or set of topics that are really important to you and reflect on the things you’ve done, how do you see the world at this point?
Mary: I think what really shaped my view of women empowerment in the workplace and empowering girls to reach their fullest potential and not think that there’s limitations or a glass ceiling, or whatever the case is, was my time at Martha because I was surrounded by incredibly powerful women. The company was run by women, and it was for women, and it was an incredible experience to see that combination of we’re business women, but we also make a product that can be deemed as ‘women are only homemakers,’ which I think is not accurate. I think what Martha Stewart does is, it enables women, no matter if they’re stay at home moms, working full time, working part time, students, whatever the case is, to be able to live the life that they want to enjoy. Part of that is I like to cook. That doesn’t make me a less powerful woman because I like to cook and I have a craft closet that’s ginormous and it’s filled with Martha Stewart things.
Bill: Nice. Very loyal till the end, right?
Mary: Yes I am, but what I also learned is that Martha Stewart is genuinely an exceptional homemaker. It’s an art and she’s true to it, but I also have seen her in meetings where she comes up with a brilliant idea that could be a multi-million-dollar idea for a product, and she says, ‘Somebody write that down.’ Next thing I know it’s in the product line, but she also knows the Japanese way of making fileted fish right off the top of her head. I think that there is some tension between is she a homemaker and a business woman, or is her business homemaking? I see that there’s some of that tension.
Then, when I went to toys, I think I went at a very important time because it was when things like GoldieBlox were really taking off, where it wasn’t okay to just give girls dolls and then have them sit in a room and play pretend. It was when Doc McStuffins came out and girls knew that they could be doctors and vets and this is what they were play pretending to do.
Bill: Big hit in my household.
Mary: Yes. It is a hit everywhere and I loved it. Same thing with GoldieBlox. Lego, I think is an incredible brand, but it’s definitely boy centric. Turning the bricks pink just wasn’t working the same way as what GoldieBlox has done, which said, okay girls like to build, but they like to build in a different way. They like to read while they build and build something that corresponds with a story. They modified the toy for the girl, instead of having the girl modify what she’s interested in for the toy.
I spent a lot of time there really trying to make sure that what we were positioning wasn’t demeaning and that it was empowering to girls. A lot of the toys are. You mentioned Barbie. Barbie just put out a commercial that was all about girl empowerment. This little girl is standing in front of a huge auditorium of students and she’s pretending to be a professor. That’s the things that I think that we should be encouraging girls to do. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by very powerful women, but I think that had my career started out any other way, perhaps I wouldn’t be as confident as I am that because I’m a woman I can’t do certain things. That’s not anything that’s ever crossed my mind.
Bill: There’s obviously so much happening across the companies you reference, but generally speaking around inclusion. Around helping folks achieve their full potential. Around helping women at all ages understand that their options are not constrained, that their lives and careers can go as far as they want, in whatever direction they want it to go. Society has gotten far more progressive on issues like that. It’s all to the good. We have tremendous respect for our colleagues, male and female at Finch Brands. We find many of our clients have elevated female leaders. It’s a great time, seemingly, with more work to do of course, of progress and opportunity.
I guess the sort of One Big Idea piece here, is two levels of this. One is just the specific issue of female empowerment and the activation of potential being an important, almost dominant cultural theme, and the degree to which that impacts the way our clients can think about brand development, and creative, and communications. Having a progressive perspective on this and being in step with where the marketplace is going.
The other piece is a more general idea, which I think we’ve talked about before, which is brands that can capture or drive, but at the very least capture the zeitgeist – this evolving dialogue that we have in our culture around all sorts of issues that may be related to diversity and inclusion, that may be related to achieving potential and thinking about life cycles, and career paths and everything in a very broad way. Whatever the cultural norms, practices, and trends are that agree to which brands can wrap them from a product development, from a communications perspective, wrap their arms around these types of things, helps brands go farther.
We spoke earlier in this podcast about examples of brands that have done this effectively, that we’ve had the chance to work on. ThinkGeek is an example. Not about women as much as about this notion of the ‘geek’ stereotype changing in a material way in a company that seeks to represent that and be of, by, and for geeks. That community needs to be contemporary related to how the notion of a geek changes. We’ve talked about Conair as referencing, as well as reflecting feminine confidence and the way in which that confidence is forged. Then, through Mary’s career and all the other things that we’re doing, the ways in which brands and clients of ours can wrap their arms around, not only what’s right, but the movements that we’ve had in our culture.
So glad to have you. Any closing thoughts as we adjourn this week?
Mary: I appreciate being invited here and being able to speak about a cause that I know that I talk about in the office all the time. To finally have a microphone to talk about it with, I appreciate the opportunity.
Bill: Absolutely. That’s One Big Idea for this week. Grateful as always for the participation of our listeners across the many platforms in which that participation is invited, from Twitter, to Facebook, to app store review, to everything else. We’ll be back in a week. Hopefully it’ll be dry, it’ll be warm, but signing off none the less, from the Cradle of Liberty.
It is often said that good marketing is based on storytelling. With his background working with brands like AND1, Converse, Timberland, and Under Armour, and his current role as the VP of Marketing and Communications at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, Ed Harris shares his insight into the parallels in branding across the for profit and non-profits space and the role of storytelling in elevating a brand. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Ed Harris: Every brand I’ve worked at along my journey has had something very unique or special about it. That’s really what separates the better companies out from the rest, is they do things in a unique way.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us. Today’s guest is Ed Harris. Ed is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, where he has been for several years, taking a very progressive approach to marketing a diverse and really compelling suite of attractions in Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Not only is that significant and interesting but Ed’s background across consumer product companies starting at AND1, the upstart at the time, basketball brand extending into Converse under the auspices of Nike when the brand was re-launched in the middle of last decade, then on to Timberland, then on to Under Armour, then on to Destination Maternity and eBay, etc.
Ed has a really interesting perspective on the for-profit and the not-for-profit sector, on the power of brand storytelling across these really rich, deep, and textured brands on which he has been tasked with growth, marketing, market expansion, and product line development, etc., all the way up into his current role in the tourism marketplace. Enjoy. Ed Harris.
We are so excited to have Ed Harris here on Real-World Branding. Ed, thanks for joining us.
Ed: Thanks for having me.
Bill: You are a patient man because, full disclosure, we taped this once already. You were fabulous.
Ed: Thanks, I’ll try to be good this time.
Bill: You’ll be good. You can’t help but be good, but we butchered it on the audio side of this. So anyway, this is a take two but thank you for your patience with us. To start, if you wouldn’t mind, you’ve had a fascinating career. Could you take us through that journey a little bit in terms of what’s led to today?
Ed: Sure, I’d be happy to. First off, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with a group of just amazing, creative, analytical designers, marketers, strategists so far in my career path. For me it really started with the first internship I did as a college student. I worked for this upstart, renegade apparel (which ultimately became an apparel and footwear) brand called AND1 Basketball. For anybody who is familiar with AND1 it’s a term used on basketball courts when you’re fouled taking a shot.
I was lucky to be in a startup environment with a lot of energy, dogs being brought to work on a daily basis, playing basketball at lunchtime with the founders, and seeing a company, as a college student and then later as a full-time employee, really grow in the six years that I was with AND1 before the acquisition. Before they sold the company I had a chance to get my hands into a lot of different, cool projects, everything from marketing research to being on set with NBA athletes to all kinds of fun marketing stuff. That was my first chapter in the marketing world.
When the company was going through being sold to a group in California, being an East Coast guy at heart, I didn’t want to make that move. Fortunately at the same time Nike, Inc. had purchased the Converse brand out of bankruptcy. They were looking for some marketers, were interested in people who had some specific background in basketball marketing. I jumped at that opportunity. I relocated to New England and worked for this new Converse brand under the Nike, Inc. umbrella, which was a whole new galaxy for me at the time, having worked in a startup, small, entrepreneurial company that was definitely gaining market share but nowhere near the sheer size of a Nike, Inc. Just being a manager of one of the budgets at Converse was much different than at AND1 in the sense that we were trying to reinvigorate an iconic brand with young people which meant doing some pretty substantial partnerships with partners like MTV, partners that were on a much bigger scale than anything I’d been used to up to that point.
I spent two years with Converse. It was one of the most creative chapters, just being around amazing designers in the Nike, Inc. family, many of whom left Nike to come East to work at Converse and be part of bringing it out of the graveyard as a brand. Had no reason to leave Converse but an opportunity arose to try international marketing and go to a brand like Timberland, which was my next stop. I kept going north as I-
Bill: Almost to Nova Scotia at this point, yes.
Ed: Yeah, exactly, to take new opportunities. I was working at the Stratham, New Hampshire headquarters for Timberland. What a special place that was. A lot of people don’t realize the heart that Timberland has. It’s an outdoor brand but everybody at the company has this ‘give back’ mindset. They have 40 hours a year to give back to the community, which everybody takes advantage of. They win awards for the most environmentally responsible shoe box in the footwear industry. They really care about the triple bottom line of business which, for those who may not know, it’s not only about bottom line profits but how are you giving back in terms of social and environmental things. Timberland was a four-year chapter for me.
I have a soft spot for them just because Timberland helped fund my MBA over at Boston College at night, which took me three years. It was time for me to accept a new challenge beyond Timberland, which became Under Armour. I was, again, very fortunate to work under a gentleman named Gene McCarthy who was a Co-President at Timberland at the time. He had left to start up footwear at Under Armour. Almost a year later I joined Gene in Baltimore and entered a completely new culture again. If anything I’ve been really lucky to work behind the scenes of these big brands and just see how the culture impacts the tonality and the creativity of the brand.
At Under Armour it was total adrenaline, very youthful. Being in my late 30s … when I was at Under Armour in my mid-30s I felt very old. The culture there, if you’ve never been inside the walls of Under Armour, is very young. I would say the majority of employees are probably in their mid to late 20s, very active, wearing the product every day to work. It wasn’t uncommon for me to wear an Under Armour t-shirt to the office in the Spring and Summer months.
Bill: You don’t want to intimidate anybody with your guns, but-
Ed: Yeah, right, with my physique.
Bill: -this is what happens.
Ed: Yeah, exactly. They’ve got a great cafeteria there and everything is very healthy, just very modern. Every brand I’ve worked at along my journey has had something very unique or special about it. That’s really what separates the better companies out from the rest, is they do things in a unique way.
I know this is sort of a long story but after Under Armour I had an opportunity to come back to Philadelphia, which is where I’m originally from, and accept my first director position in the marketing world. I’d been a brand manager with Under Armour, Timberland, Converse, etc., and I was finally going to direct a team of marketers. That was really appealing to me at the time. My wife was also very interested in coming back to the area.
Bill: Sure, family around and everything else.
Ed: Yeah, we just had our son at the time. I jumped at the opportunity to join Destination Maternity Corporation, which is now actually in New Jersey but at the time they were in Philadelphia. They gave me a shot. It was a wonderful financial opportunity. Unfortunately, from a brand development and brand building standpoint it was probably, at the time in my career, the most outside of my comfort zone based on my path to that point.
Really, Destination Maternity as well as A Pea in the Pod, which is their high-end brand, it’s all about, how can we make the woman feel beautiful while they’re pregnant? It encompasses lots of different products so I went from marketing at Under Armour to hardcore jocks who don’t want to sweat as much in their t-shirt to advertising nursing bras, which, I don’t know if you can get much different in terms of jobs.
In a way I’m glad I did that because I needed to stretch a little bit. I needed a new challenge. I think as marketers – you can appreciate this – at heart we’re great storytellers, is what I like to tell people when we talk about marketing. If you can tell a great story that’s half the battle. There’s a lot of other things, of course: great creativity, strategy, all that stuff. At heart I think good marketers can tell great stories. Being able to tell that story to a pregnant woman, as a male marketing director, was the biggest challenge I’ve had, to date, in my career. I did that for just under a year. It wasn’t for me but I’m glad I did it.
The last stop before coming to my current role, which I’ll briefly tell you about, is eBay Enterprise. Many people out there don’t realize that eBay Enterprise is hired by a lot of pretty big companies to do all of the website and digital marketing functions. When I joined eBay Enterprise as a director of marketing I was back in my wheelhouse in the sense that the clients that I had to work with on a weekly basis included the NFL.com, MajorLeagueBaseball.com, CalvinKlein.com, CharlotteRusse.com. I was in this sports/fashion/apparel world again but in a totally different platform in terms of digital marketing.
I did two years at eBay Enterprise. I learned more about big data and analytics and forecasting and spreadsheets than in any other marketing role I had had to date. I feel like I’ve picked up some interesting skills along the way, having worked around these various creative or analytical minds.
Then the opportunity to come here and be Vice President of Marketing Communications for an entire county, Montgomery County, here at the Valley Forge Tourism Board, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up because not only was it a new challenge but I’m from the region. It was an opportunity to do brand building again where we have a lot of segments that we target to come to this region and experience a lot of the attractions we have here. It’s also a non-profit so that was appealing. It was something I’d never done before.
Every two to three years I tend to get an itch but I feel like I’m going to be here a while because it’s got so much variety. One day we’re marketing the family-friendly Elmwood Park Zoo. The next couple months we’re talking about Spring Mountain skiing, that we have here, or the casino, or the King of Prussia Mall, which is one of the largest malls in the United States, or some of our award-winning breweries. There’s just so much variety as a marketer, a storyteller, to be able to tell lots of different stories in a 12-month calendar year. I could talk about the Pope Francis visit last Fall or the DNC Convention coming this July. There’s just so much variety to get my hands into.
I’ve found that in previous roles or brand manager positions you tell the same story year after year. You may get some new product twists and things like that but, for me, I’m always looking for the next big, juicy story to bring to life in an ad campaign or social media campaign or whatever it is. I hope that answers your question.
Bill: No, it does, fabulous. I have hundreds of questions and I’ll restrain myself because we promised to get you out at a decent hour. We’ll get to the current role in a minute but, to your point, it seems like in some ways it, on its face, may look like a turn off of the highway that you’ve been traveling but in other ways, in terms of the toolkit, in terms of fundamental storytelling, in terms of your roots geographically, it seems like the most linear thing in the world.
We’ll definitely get to that but couple questions about just the journey that you’ve taken. AND1, as noted, certainly in the early days and when you were there in the early days of your own career, was very different, likely, than these established brands – Timberland and Under Armour, even, at that point was established. Converse was coming back from the graveyard but it was a Nike, Inc. initiative. AND1 took a very different path than your Nike’s and your Adidas’s, that it wasn’t about athlete endorsements. It was selling very outspoken t-shirts out of the back of the car and by the court in the neighborhood.
Bill: It was very much an upstart brand, if I remember correctly. Any compare/contrast thoughts about what AND1 was like versus entering into territories that may have been a bit more established?
Ed: Absolutely. At its core AND1 – it still exists today, I should point out – is exclusively sold at Walmart, which is very different from when I was there. We were sold in retail stores, not only in the United States but internationally as well. Some of our biggest clients included Footlocker, Champs, Footaction, the heavy hitters in the mall.
The way we were able to carve out some market share in the very, very competitive basketball footwear and apparel market was we took the approach – this was shortly after Michael Jordan was winding down his career, we’re talking mid to late ’90s – we wanted to take a radical approach. We looked at street basketball that grows out of New York City and some of the other cities around the United States and we wanted to have a different conversation. We wanted to test the limits, push the envelope, whatever phrase you want to throw in there. We came up with these t-shirt slogans that really resonated with people. A lot of them were tongue-in-cheek and silly.
Some of them included, ‘I’m the bus driver because I take everyone to school,’ and, ‘Your game is as ugly as your girl.’ Really, things that Nike, Inc. wouldn’t put on a t-shirt, or Reebok or Adidas at the time, but you know what? Kids on the court playing outside in the summertime said, ‘You know what? I like that. That’s got an edge to it.’
Bill: It’s real, too. It’s the way we talk.
Ed: Right. To your point, we were selling t-shirts out of a van at playgrounds in New York City for the first year and made a million dollars and that led to, ‘Well, we should make mesh game shorts. We should make tank tops and t-shirts and hoodies.’ Next thing you know we’re going to Asia and we’re making our first AND1 sneaker and having conversations with the number three pick, I believe, that year in the NBA draft, a guy named Stephon Marbury, who came onto the scene and wore our footwear for the first time.
There’s an interesting side story about that. There’s a phrase that’s used on basketball courts called ‘breaking ankles’. Basically that phrase is used to describe people who have great dribbling skills, who can shake their opponent and get them, sometimes, to fall down. We did a marketing campaign called Breaking Ankles. Stephon Marbury was the star, wearing our new shoes. Wouldn’t you know that on opening night of his rookie season he gets injured in our shoes. He fractures his ankle. We had this witty, what we thought, marketing campaign called Breaking Ankles that backfired on us.
To make a long story short, they wound up selling quite a few basketball shoes. I believe they sold the company for just under 100 million dollars, almost exactly 10 years after they started the company upon graduation from the Wharton Business School. What a great environment to start my career. I think that the culture that they put together and encouraged, in terms of the best idea wins no matter if it comes from this marketing team or the janitor here. We’re going to test ideas and we’re going to get aggressive and do things that the big dogs may not risk. I think that’s a lesson anybody can take, is study the competition. Be brave enough to take a chance.
Bill: Right. That’s great. You talk about another brand. I’ve long wondered this. This is a brand that veers in the direction as you described, Timberland does, of more established, yet some things were happening in the ’90s in the culture where the hip-hop community and urban fashion was really excited about and highlighting the Timberland brand. It seemed, given all that you’ve talked about, the environmental focus and this New England outdoorsy thing, for this brand to all of a sudden have so much oxygen and energy in urban markets, what I’ve always wondered is how that felt on the inside at Timberland because this was a brand that, again, had tremendous credibility in the environmental and outdoors community.
You couldn’t run 60 miles an hour to just embrace this financial opportunity because in many ways it was very unlike the core market but at the same time to completely ignore it probably is a bit of malpractice when it comes to growth opportunity. On the inside, how did it feel when all that was happening? I remember just as a consumer saying, ‘This is really interesting. These are things I don’t necessarily put together.’ How do you nurture it while maintaining the integrity of what you’re doing? How did it feel from your perspective and that of your colleagues at Timberland as all this was taking place?
Ed: Yeah, it’s a great question because when I walked into Timberland I had an image of what Timberland represented to myself, having worked at a basketball company, being around urban youth in some other projects that I had done. I was curious, as a new employee going in, to understand that.
What I found was that no matter who the consumer is they appreciate quality products. During the hip-hop craze of the ’90s that you mentioned the brand was certainly adopted by the urban community. That catapulted Timberland into an international brand. It made them a ton of money. When that happened a decision strategically was made to create an entire division, actually, within Timberland. It was called Authentic Youth, but it really focused on this new, emerging urban consumer base. I think, looking back on it, the intent was right. I think that they went a little bit too far with it. You see now, in Timberland’s marketing, it’s more about its core.
Bill: Yeah, it’s back to it.
Ed: It’s more about being built to last. Their key colors, they have a boot that’s referred to as beef and broccoli, which is brown and green. It’s a very popular shoe. They also have the six-inch wheat boot which is really the most popular, rugged, expensive boot. What happened was they started to think they understood that consumer. I think they, in some ways, made too much of an effort to try to connect with that consumer. You started seeing a lot of metallic logos on boots. You started seeing even that on the apparel front. It worked for a little while but ultimately that consumer was a fan of the brand. You don’t have to necessarily change.
The reasons that we found that they adopted the brand, so to speak, was not only was it premium but it was built to last. That premium price point was a status symbol, whereas the other people who had bought Timberland to that point were buying it more for its performance attributes, its waterproof nature, of literally holding up while you’re camping in New England or wherever you camp, whereas the Urban Consumer valued that ruggedness and that premium price point of status. A lot of marketing research had to be done to sort that out but I think Timberland today is a great brand.
They’ve gone through ups and downs but at its core the tree is their logo. You would hear their former CEO talk about that a lot. They’re very environmentally responsible. If you go to their factories, whether it’s in the Dominican or in Asia, it’s important to Timberland that solar panels are on top of the buildings. Anywhere they can lessen their footprint Timberland does that. That’s why I have so much respect for that brand, because they always think about that triple bottom line. If they’re not trying to put recycled cotton shoelaces in their boots then they’re having their employees out in the community doing community service to make a difference, just an all-around feel-good brand. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Bill: No, it does. It’s a fascinating case study about how one creates and/or seizes opportunities and deals with the environment around them even when there are seemingly some tough choices. They’re about keeping the core, embracing the new, etc. Fascinating, for a brand, as you say, that had been very well established and had a strong value system to, that far into their life cycle, be confronted with something of the sort that they likely never expected, fascinating stuff.
Here we are in Valley Forge and you can see, if you’re watching this, which most will not be, but on the wall behind us is an incredible map of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, highlighting, obviously, the incredible destination that Valley Forge Historical Park is.
You talked about some of the similarities in terms the progressive nature of how you think about this current role compared to, in many ways, being a culmination of some of the things that you’ve learned and perfected along the way as well as an opportunity to do some different things. How would you compare or contrast the work on the consumer-facing athletic or footwear side to what you’re dealing with currently? Let me just preface this by saying that it seems that, seeing the tourism marketplace as we have and as we do, you’ve taken a really progressive approach to thinking through the master brand and sub-brands and how a very diverse set of attractions can work within a cohesive story and experience. Maybe you’ll tell us a bit about that. How does the new role feel, given all the things that you’ve done leading up to it?
Ed: It feels great. I can’t tell you how energized I am to come to work every day. No two days are exactly the same. We’re developing brands here, for a brand storyteller, I couldn’t be in a better place. That’s why I’m so happy to be here. Basically, in this brand development phase we had to do some research and figure out, who really wants to come to this area and why? For us as a non-profit we’re partially funded by the hotel tax. We need people to stay in our hotels. We need people to make a weekend out of coming to the Montgomery County, PA, Valley Forge area. We thought about, what are some brands that we could develop that could speak to various segments and convince them they have to come here?
In the past year we launched Destination Montgomery County Weddings. We have tons of beautiful spaces where you can have your wedding. We’ve got people calling us now, asking us to help them. We consider ourselves almost a wedding concierge. That’s one brand that’s taking on a life of its own as we travel around the bridal shows. We have Montgomery County sports. More specifically we’re calling it Valley Forge Sports because as we go outside the region we found that because there’s several Montgomery counties, the words ‘Valley Forge’ resonate with people who are outside our region. Sports, if you look at places like Lancaster in Pennsylvania or even Atlantic City, New Jersey, big investment is being made into developing big sports facilities because it’s big business. These days if your daughter plays in a lacrosse tournament in the next state over, you’re taking grandma with you, you’re taking junior, the whole family is going.
Bill: Staying overnight, yeah, doing all this.
Ed: You’re staying overnight. You’re going to the restaurants. That’s what our organization does, is we stimulate the economy here in Montgomery County by reminding and educating people on all of the assets, everything from our great hotels, we’ve got over 70 of them. We’ve got over 500 restaurants. I mentioned at the top we’ve got, arguably, the best mall in the country in terms of premium brands. We’ve got go-kart facilities for kids, family friendly. We have something for everybody. I could go on and on about our 60 miles of trails, our wineries. There’s lots to do in Montgomery County. I, as a brand marketer, have to package those up and get them in front of the right people.
As I was leaving eBay to accept this opportunity, the trend I kept hearing about was video. I kept hearing about how video, if you have one on your website, keeps people on your site for a minimum of an additional three minutes because it just really draws them in. I’m happy to say I’m here almost two years in April and we’ve got over 20 videos we’ve done. Some are longer form, some are short form, but we use them not only on our website but in social media. We’re finding that it’s true, this engagement with video is just a mind-boggling trend. People are really into it. If you were to go to ESPN.com you could probably count 20 videos on their home page.
Bill: They’ve reorganized their home page around video content at least on the mobile experience, it seems.
Ed: Exactly. As a marketer, having worked at eBay at my last stop, it became more clear than ever about this convergence between technology and marketing. You have to have an understanding of both. It’s no longer, ‘For our marketing plan this year we’re going to put up a billboard, do a couple print ads, and maybe, if we’re lucky, do a television commercial.’ Now, as you know, you have to be familiar with all the social media channels from Snapchat to Pinterest and everything in between, YouTube, you name it. Everything is moving so much faster.
Then you look at people who are in a relationship with their phone. They can’t be in a room without their phone because they’re all texting somebody. Now maybe they’re not texting as much. They’re using emojis. We’re seeing the communication of our culture really changing. People want to watch videos. They don’t want to read a long story. If they want to communicate with someone sometimes a full sentence now is too much. Let me just give you an emoji. I’ll tell you everything you need to know.
If we’re there now in 2016, where are we going to be at in 2026? If there is anything I’d like to think I’ve brought to this organization, in the first almost two years, it’s that we’re looking at tourism now more through a digital marketing lens and understanding that that’s where everybody is so that’s where we need to be. We need to have great videos. We’ve got to be on all the social media channels, have them come to our website which we can refresh every day because we have so many things happening here and we have such a wide geography to cover. I think we’re the third largest destination marketing organization in Pennsylvania, only behind Philadelphia and, I believe, it’s Allegheny where Pittsburgh is. We certainly have lots of stories we can tell. As a chief storyteller, which is how I like to describe my job, it’s fantastic.
Bill: To your point, the number and just expanse of different attraction types in Montgomery County, you can’t market them all equally. You can’t make them all part of the headline but you can, from a content perspective, provide as much depth as possible. You get people through the gateway and then offer all the depth that they can find.
This 360 product is amazing. It’s really appealing. It’s an example of, whether it’s brides looking at venues or whatever the case may be, folks being able to really immerse themselves in an experience and use video to tour some of these sites and to feel what it’s like to be there and to make decisions from wherever they happen to be clicking that heretofore weren’t feasible, weren’t possible, certainly not efficiently. There is a marked – just speaking as a consumer and someone who lives in the region – difference that is obvious in the energy level and texture of how this destination and its series of attractions is expressing itself.
Ed: Yeah, there’s one thing that I know you mentioned, MontCo360. I’d love for people to check that out.
Bill: That’s really cool, yeah.
Ed: If there’s one plug I can give, that’s our latest innovative project we’ve worked on to date. We partnered with Google. Google comes down from New York with their sophisticated cameras and drones. We go out to our attractions and we create a virtual tour. With MontCo360.net you can walk through, literally, 50 different attractions right now within Montgomery County and get a sense for it before actually making the trip to come here. We’re planning to add at least another 50. We want to get over 100 virtual tours on the MontCo360.net site by July when we’ve got delegates coming from all over the country to stay here, so that they can have that experience where they can look for things to do on their phone or laptop, tablet, whatever you want, and really navigate the area. That’s the most exciting, tech-y, innovative project that we launched almost 90 days ago now.
Bill: Yeah, it’s great. There’s a handful of innovations here and you’re a modest guy but I’ll underline a few. The decision-making around how the overall brand is expressed in terms of Valley Forge and Montgomery County, understanding the strength and sense of place of Valley Forge as an attraction. Then the creation, as you mentioned, of attraction bundles that are more special interest and lifestyle-driven beneath, whether it’s golf, whether it’s bridal, as you noted the junior sports events that can be accomplished here, the trails, all these different things. Then, just the richness with which you are delivering this experience in terms of multimedia across social, across the web. There’s a ton of content here. I know that you and your team are consistently and continually creating more. There’s so much richness in how this attraction feels when one interacts with it at this point.
Ed: Yeah, I appreciate that. I feel like the luckiest guy in Montgomery County because I have this job.
Bill: Yes, the king of Montgomery County, the prince.
Ed: Yeah, it’s just amazing the wide variety of just interesting people that I’ve had a chance to collaborate with in this role, everyone from the superintendent of a national park, to a zookeeper, to somebody running a casino, or one of the largest malls, or entrepreneurs who are cutting the ribbon on their new restaurant. I’m just working with such a wide variety of leaders, which makes it fun, too.
Bill: To that end, in addition to the fun, some of the things about this organization, you mentioned the hotel tax, I know another important organizing principle is that of membership. As an organization that has some – and feels, obviously, very deeply – accountability to its members, how do you balance the desire, as we’ve mentioned, to craft compelling marketing angles with the need for some degree of member inclusion and equitability, if that’s a word, in terms of folks who have made investments in supporting this organization feeling like it’s paying off? Do you see that as an area that you need to continually think about as you’re building that balance?
Ed: Yeah, we do. I’m glad you brought it up because it’s a very hot topic in the tourism marketing world. No matter what executive you talk to they’re going to say either they’re for membership, the model, or they’re not. It works for us. A year ago we had just over 300 member organizations. Today we have 405.
Bill: Wow, that’s huge.
Ed: We’ve seen a lot of growth in membership although, to get back to your question, some people look at membership as handcuffing your content from a marketing standpoint in a sense that if you’re only highlighting members you’re probably missing so much more. We actually flip that around and look at it as an opportunity. We started a new newspaper last summer that we publish quarterly where we feature our members, of course, but then to make it a legitimate newspaper and to share the pulse of what’s going on in the region we do other stories on some of the other key potential members or key attractions that we can use as a recruiting tool and show the value of becoming a member.
We also do, every other month, a speaker series which we just started last month where we take a topic for an hour from four to five and we educate our members and we ask them to bring some new potential members. Then we network with them for an hour after. It’s four to six. Four to five you get some great education on a key topic to help your business. Then from five to six you’re drinking cocktails and meeting other leaders. We had our first event last month at the Sheraton here in Valley Forge. We had booked a room to accommodate about 50 people. We didn’t really know how many people would ultimately RSVP. We had 115 come. It was standing room only. People crowded in the room. People see a value.
The topic happened to be social media. My team did an excellent job presenting that topic, to not only a novice who is just getting started to someone who is looking to really use analytics behind social media. We covered it all in an hour. It was key for us to have a good first showing, so to speak. Just getting back to your question about membership in general, I think it depends on how you approach it. For us, we’re not going to eliminate membership by any means in the near future. We really believe in it and we’re signing up a lot of new members, too. I think they’re starting to see the value of our following on social media, where they can be a part of that ongoing story.
Bill: We mentioned a bunch, but are there any other exciting things coming down the pike here in Valley Forge or Montgomery County that you want to underline before we begin to wrap here? We’ve been so grateful for your time.
Ed: Yeah, sure. There’s always great stuff baking in the oven, but one thing that’s going to be very interesting come May of 2016 is we’re launching MontCo Golf. Destination MontCo Golf, I should say, more specifically. Really that’s just going to be a celebration of the 54 golf courses we have spread throughout Montgomery County. We think when people understand that we’ve got 27 public courses and lots of high-end, premium country clubs that you can play at, we’re going to get more visitation from that. Just like weddings or just like our history trails, none of them may fill up an entire hotel, but collectively as we pull those different marketing levers throughout the year we think more and more people will stay overnight for the weekend.
With golf you could come and play a round on Saturday, go out to a great restaurant, go shopping at one of our awesome malls, breweries, whatever you want to do, spend the night, wake up, play another course, and have a great golf weekend. We have a basic site set up right now that we’re going to be developing more as we get closer to May, but if you’re more interested in seeing more about MontCo Golf, it’s MontCoGolf.com.
Bill: That’s great.
Ed: We have big plans for it starting as the weather starts to turn, and an official launch in May.
Bill: Terrific. We’ll certainly be watching for that. This has been wonderful. All the things you’ve accomplished, the things you’ve learned, the amazing experiences that you’ve had, different brands, different stages of growth, what would you tell those listeners that are inspired by your career path as they think about their own growth and development? Have there been a couple of important ideas that have been central to how you’ve thought about your own career?
Ed: Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, personally, I mentioned at the top that marketing as a craft is really about storytelling. My advice would just be if you have the itch to stretch yourself, challenge yourself, whatever word you want to throw in there, just do it. Not to steal from Nike, but it’s a great message.
Bill: You were part of that family for a time.
Ed: At one point, yeah, right, exactly. It’s true. For me, every couple of years, at least to date, I’ve had the itch to expand on my marketing experience, if you will. Having said that, I know lots of friends and family who have been at one place for their whole career and have had tremendous careers so I’m not going to tell everyone to quit their job tomorrow, by any means.
Bill: You heard it here, quit! Go do something else.
Ed: If there’s an opportunity to grow, and maybe it’s even within your own organization, take a chance. It’s definitely worked for me. Also, on the plus side, I’ve had a chance by taking on roles with bigger responsibility and moving on to work with just a collection of people, up and down the East Coast, who are just brilliant marketers. Just being in those different environments has been really fun. Having taken on these different roles at these different brands has just been an awesome experience. I would tell people to be open to new experiences. If there’s any message I would leave with potential people considering a marketing career its that it’s okay to try new things. I’ll leave one more point, the network.
Bill: Yeah, I can imagine.
Ed: When you talk about the explosive growth of sites like LinkedIn, at each one of my stops along the way, because I’ve worked in some large organizations, I’ve built up a pretty decent-sized network on LinkedIn. Fortunately for me along my career path that LinkedIn network has led to two job opportunities for me. That’s the other advice I’d give, is get on LinkedIn today. Start up a profile. Start connecting if you haven’t yet.
Bill: You’re sharing wisdom. I guess you’re continuing to teach in an adjunct way?
Bill: At your alma mater, yes? Up on Hawk Hill.
Bill: The Hawk will never die, right?
Ed: Yes, that’s correct. I do teach principles of marketing one night a week, Thursday nights. I teach sophomore students. I love it because I get to share not only the principles of marketing from the textbook but to illustrate a lot of the text through some of my stories of my real world travels, which they haven’t kicked me out yet. I’ve been doing it since 2013.
Bill: That’s great.
Ed: It’s very rewarding for me.
Bill: That’s great, and a great opportunity for those students who are lucky enough to find themselves in Professor Harris’s class. Ed, thank you for your time and your insight. Can’t wait to watch what happens next in your career as well as here in Valley Forge and in Montgomery County. Ed Harris, the Vice President of marketing communications for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. That’s a mouthful. Thank you so much for your time.
Ed: Thanks, Bill, appreciate it.
Bill: Many, many thanks to Ed Harris for his time and his insight. What an interesting career. Ed is a fascinating guy, isn’t he? What he’s done in his career, the stories that he’s able to tell about brands that he’s worked with and helped to grow and diversify and expand geographically in terms of product, everything else, at only under 40. What Ed will do in his career as it continues will be a fascinating thing to watch. We’re really grateful for his insight today and also his friendship and relationship with us.
Three ways, as always, to support what we’re doing at Real-World Branding. The first is to subscribe, making sure that via the app store of your choice you do not miss a single episode of what we’re doing. Every other week typically Wednesday – every now and then it bleeds into Thursday – an interview with a business and a brand builder. In the intervening weeks we do what we call One Big Idea, which is focused on a particular idea or story. Mostly it’s a particular topic of note in the branding and business building world where we stretch out for eight, nine, 10 minutes or slightly more, slightly less, and then these interviews that are longer form that are focused on career development. They’re focused on the enduring questions related to the brand development, brand management, and marketing toolkit, designed to be practical, designed to be inspiring. We’d really be grateful if you subscribe. That way you’d make sure that every time something new comes out from us it will flow down to you through iTunes or however you access podcasts.
Second way to support what we’re doing is, if we’ve earned it, to give us a rating. We are told that the level as well as the quantity of ratings results in others being able to find us if they are interested in business building, brand building, and everything else of the sort that we describe here. If we’ve earned four stars, five stars, we’d love to see it reflected on our pages. We’re always grateful for those who take that extra step to support what we’re doing.
The third way is, this dialogue is so much fun, whether it’s via email, or perhaps the easiest way is Twitter: @BillGullan or @FinchBrands. We have so enjoyed the ability to go back and forth with those who have kind words or criticism. It doesn’t matter. Skin is thick here. We really love to hear how we’re doing and how it can be more valuable. We also love feedback. We appreciate input and ideas for future guests, future topics. Part of the joy of doing this is knowing that those out there are finding value in it as well as that we can make sure that each time we set out to create new content that we have in mind the desires of those who have become frequent and loyal listeners. Please keep that dialogue going. Don’t feel in any way that we don’t want to engage. We absolutely, absolutely do. Let’s sign off on that note. From the Cradle of Liberty, have a terrific week, everybody.
The post The Pursuit of Happiness: Ed Harris, VP Marketing at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board appeared first on Finch Brands.
Mergers and acquisitions lead to a host of integration questions — including a set of important branding decisions. With many contributing factors to consider, there are four general strategies for brand architecture in these situations. In this episode, Bill looks at M&A branding strategies and details the process for determining the best path for specific scenarios. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Bill Gullan: Greetings, one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency and this is One Big Idea. If you listen to us, over the last year or so that we’ve been doing this, often these One Big Idea or focused soliloquies, if you will, have revolved around topics that are fairly elemental when it comes to brand development, things like brand architecture, how to do naming, and how to think about messaging. We’ve focused also, often, on brand creation, starting up or thinking about brands for the first time, or in a different way. This week I think we wanted to get a little bit deeper into topics that arise in fairly sophisticated branding environments, and so we’re calling this Branding M&A.
The reason for that is that oftentimes, a corporate level re-branding or major brand architecture project arises from the fact that there has been a change to the formation of the company – often through a merger or acquisition or being on the receiving end, being acquired or a strategic alliance. Often there is something happening at the ownership level that creates an obvious need to think through topics related to the brand. So we’re going to spend today, the next few minutes, talking about some strategies that companies use, and the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies, when it comes to thinking through what a brand looks like, sounds like, and means, on the heels of a merger or an acquisition.
First of all, it is important to know that as you approach choices around brand strategy or brand architecture on the heels of something like that, a merger or an acquisition, there are signals that are sent based upon how these choices are managed, and what is ultimately decided. You send a signal to your customers about where the firm is headed, what’s changing, what’s staying the same, who you’re going to be working with, etc. If you’re talking about a services company, what’s the process, the prevailing way in which services are delivered?
Based on the choices that you make in terms of the go-to-market brand after an M&A type of situation, you’re sending a signal to your existing customer base. That includes the customer base of the acquirer and also the acquired. I think in some ways it may be most important for the customer base of the acquired, because they’ve chosen specifically to work with a company that has now been acquired by a larger or a different entity, and they naturally want to know whether the reasons on which they’ve made their choices are still true and valid.
In some cases, if we’re dealing with companies in the same industry that have been competitors for a long time, you may have a customer of an acquired brand who has chosen specifically not to work with the acquirer brand at some point along the line, and thus it is very important to think about the signal that your brand architecture choice on the heels of M&A sends to the customer base of both the acquired and the acquirer.
It sends a really strong signal as well to the team, to the employee base. Again, perhaps most especially, to the team of the company that is being acquired, where often the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, as Churchill would have said. That is often misquoted, but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, have gone into building the brand and building the business, and competing, and winning, and earning the right to be thought of as an acquisition target, but now, all of a sudden, this other entity has come in, and they’ve written a check or whatever it is, and they now have dominion over decisions related to the brand. Obviously there’s a lot of cultural considerations here, but one of the signals that can be sent in a situation like that, that it’s very important to consider, is to the employee base, and also to investors and owners and other key stakeholders.
Ultimately the signal that is sent through choices around M&A is about the future vision for the company, where it’s headed, what the thesis is related to the acquisition. Again, what’s changing, what’s staying the same beyond the name or the logo, although that heralds a bit of, specifically what will or will not remain. Then ultimately the value. From a customer, an employee, an investor perspective, will this new entity value me/my interest – is it organized to serve someone like me on the basis that I’ve chosen this company in the past? Really important to think about the merger and acquisition branding strategy and choice as a signal to these key audiences.
Now, when it comes to the approaches to brand architecture, I’m just quickly going to summarize the 4 different types of post M&A brand architectures. There’s a lot of depth here. There’s a lot of study around which is right for which type of situation and also what the historical financial returns have been a few years removed. There’s a lot of thinking around this, but we will focus here just on defining those 4 types of brand architecture approaches and each of these have sub-types, which we’ll go through quickly.
Type number one is called what we would say, the ‘Stronger Horse.’ This is where the company, often the one who was initiating the acquisition, or is the slightly larger or more dominant partner in a merger – they may not be larger, but they may have been the ones who brought the dollars to the table – the upper hand merger partner chooses to elevate one brand or the other, on whatever basis they consider one brand to be stronger. It may be size, it may be reputational qualities, but the Stronger Horse brand architecture strategy is to pick one of the brands and run with it.
Within Stronger Horse, there are 4 different sub-types of brand architecture decisions here for M&A. The ‘Stronger Horse Forward’ type is where you take the visual identity and the nomenclature of the larger or lead company in the deal, and the acquisition is absorbed and that name or logo goes away.
Another way to do this, and you don’t see this as frequently, is the ‘Reverse Stronger Horse,’ which is where the visual identity or the name of the acquired company, which often is much smaller, at least at a brand level, absorbs the lead company.
I remember when I was in Charlotte, this happened a couple of times in the banking industry. First Union, for example, had had a ton of challenges on the customer service side of the house, and thus some reputational damage, made an acquisition of Wachovia. Wachovia was a Winston-Salem based bank that was about 1/6 of the size of First Union, but the re-branding put the Wachovia name and image in the lead position, in part because they used the Reverse Stronger Horse. They considered the acquired brand, though much smaller, to be stronger – or at least also having none of that baggage and an opportunity to define itself.
The third type of Stronger Horse is the ‘Phased Stronger Horse,’ which is where you go with a temporary combination and immigration strategy that ultimately ends up with a Stronger Horse brand situation, where one name is ultimately elevated.
Then ‘Stronger Horse Refreshed,’ or the Refreshed Stronger Horse, is where you adopt the name of the lead company, but you develop a new logo, a new symbol, or a new color scheme to reflect the fact that there is some newness and some change.
The second prevailing brand architecture type in an M&A situation is what we would call ‘Fusion.’ Fusion involves selecting some identity assets from both partners in a merger or an acquisition and integrating them into the corporate identity.
’Straight Fusion’ would be just a combination of names, and an example of this would be ExxonMobil, where Exxon acquires Mobil, and I actually don’t know who the larger partner was, but it’s a merger and the new company becomes just a mash-up. It’s ExxonMobil, so that’s a Straight Fusion.
A ‘Refreshed Fusion’ example is ConocoPhillips, we’re sticking with petroleum here, would be where the names are combined, but there’s a new graphic identity, symbol, icon, or topography, that indicates that there’s newness here, but that you still don’t want to sacrifice the equity of either of the major merger partners.
A ‘Hybrid Fusion’ might be when you combine the mix of names or visual elements. An example of this would be when Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas, the brand identity consisted of the Boeing name, but the McDonnell Douglas logo. It really was a mash-up of brand assets, but retained elements of all merger partners here.
Then last would be ‘Endorsed Fusion,’ where the lead company endorses the acquisition in terms of brand architecture. An example of this would be when Gannett acquired CareerBuilder, CareerBuilder became careerbuilder.com, a Gannett company. These are ‘powered by’ types of brand architecture strategies within the Fusion realm. These I think are the most predominant, you see these pretty frequently. There’s 4 options within each of them.
Then the third brand architecture directive is a New Brand. There’s a lot of famous ones of these. Lucid Technology, or when Bell Atlantic and GTE merged they created a new name that’s called Verizon. They could have chosen one name of the two, they could have gone Bell Atlantic-GTE and just ‘Fusionized’ it, but they wanted to communicate a shared future. They wanted all members of the team to feel valued, and they wanted to signal that there was something new and exciting happening, and certainly the telecom world was changing a lot, so Verizon is an example of a New Brand.
Then, in some cases, there is no change at all. The acquiring company leaves the brand of the acquired company alone and just collects the checks. There are reasons to do this, too. One reason is that it maintains all brand equity. Team members do not feel slighted, that signals to stakeholders a ton of continuity. The con is that how these things integrate may be unclear. There isn’t any transfer of positive equity. Synergies may be unrealized. The rationale behind the merger or the acquisition likely included some degree of efficiency, and that may not ultimately be delivered to the marketplace or to stakeholders.
We would call those scenarios, the New Brand or the No Change, the bookends. These are the extreme examples of total change or no change when it comes to brand architecture post M&A.
In summary, and we’ll stop here, even though there’s a lot that lies beneath each of these. Four predominant M&A brand architecture strategies. There’s the Stronger Horse, there’s Fusion, there’s a New Brand, or there’s No Change. The specific situation in which the right brand architecture approach is defined is absolutely situational. It is based upon category. It is based upon history. It’s based upon relative brand equity. It’s based upon go-forward plan and objective. It’s based upon the operating and growth thesis that led to the merger or the acquisition.
Oftentimes, Finch Brands is called upon to help untangle, in the case of a situation like this, what the right approach is. Often, one of the examples that we cited, unfolds over a period of time, that would be the Phased Stronger Horse.
Well there’s all sorts of migration strategies here that are middle grounds within brand architecture, and often, given the heat of the acquisition and the pace and the rhythm, and the required workflow to fully acquire an organization, and for large organizations this could take years, it makes sense to pursue a migration strategy, to select the approach here to be done for a fixed increment of time and for it to evolve into its more steady state. Blathering here a bit about philosophical concepts, but suffice it to say brand architecture is super important, it is complicated, and it’s something that we spend a lot of time on here at Finch, and it’s also very stimulating. There’s a bunch of different approaches here and, as noted, the situational differences are what ultimately carries the day in terms of what the correct approach is for the companies in question.
That’s One Big Idea. Appreciate your time. As always, we’d love some dialogue around these topics, or others that are related to the world of brand and business building. Please feel free to communicate with us via Twitter, @BillGullan or @FinchBrands. Love ideas for future guests, love comments on what we’re doing, topics you’d like to see us get into. As always we appreciate you subscribing to this podcast to make sure you don’t miss an episode. We appreciate you giving us a ranking in the App Store of your choice if we have earned it. On that note, and in that spirit, we will sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.
When Keira Krausz became Chief Marketing Officer of Nutrisystem in 2013, the company was in a ’turnaround’ situation. Fast forward to today—Keira and her marketing team have contributed to an incredible rebirth, including seven straight quarters of growth. In this episode of Real-World Branding, Keira walks us through the twists and turns of her career and the story behind Nutrisystem’s recent success and its future plans. If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a review!Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS
Keira Krausz: A lot of people will say, ‘are you a brand marketer or a direct marketer,’ as if they’re two sides of a spectrum and they have nothing to do with each other. That’s really not how we see it. Definitely brand and direct marketing are friends, not total strangers.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all this is Real-World Branding, I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us today. Here’s what happened. We put in the can a really, I think, fascinating interview with a brand and business builder whose journey and insight has many lessons in it about brand story telling and about balancing master brands with sub brands. When the editing process began and transpired it became clear there were some serious audio issues here. Unfortunately, they are ultimately fatal, in our opinion, to the quality of this for our listeners, being at the level that we want it to be.
We are going to go back tail between legs, hat in hand to this interview subject and ask him to participate once again and we will bring it to you just as soon as we are able to. With the gap in the schedule that that created we looked back through the podcasts that we’ve conducted over the past little less than a year. We certainly had favorites, we loved them all or we wouldn’t bring them forth, but there was one in particular that we thought would be appropriate for this week to re-broadcast and that’s Keira Krausz, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Nutrisystem.
There are a couple reasons for that. One, Nutrisystem’s performance and Keira’s wisdom is a story that is exciting, evergreen, and invaluable. The podcast was recorded in our very early days, I think, before our listenership gained some degree of momentum. Some of you folks may not have heard it at all. Secondly, Keira was recently honored by the Direct Marketing News with a slot in the coveted Marketing Hall of Femme. Which is reserved for the leaders, female, women leaders in the direct marketing industry. They chose to enshrine Keira in their 2016 marketing Hall of Femme. Which is a great honor very richly deserved given all that she’s accomplished in her career. Particularly the turnaround that she and CEO, Dawn Zier have engineered in their couple of years at Nutrisystem, makes her very deserving of this, so enjoy this re-broadcast of our podcast interview with Keira Krausz from Nutrisystem. Stay tuned as we can get this back on track in the coming weeks.
We’re here with Keira Krausz, CMO of Nutrisystem. Keira thank you for joining us on Real-World Branding.
Keira: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
Bill: All right, so to start could you take us through a bit of your background? The twists and turns that have led you here and some of the notable things from your career.
Keira: How I meandered to this point in time, okay.
Bill: It was more linear than that maybe but …
Keira: Or maybe not but that’s okay. I don’t recommend being totally linear, but there are some common themes I will say. The first is that most of my career I’ve been in direct marketing. I started my career way back when in continuity and subscription models for MacMillan. Then I have many great years, too many to name at Reader’s Digest, marketing everything from books and music, to financial services and membership clubs.
Even though I worked at a publishing company, per se, I was used to selling all numbers of categories. Then, what I found is the direct marketing fundamentals. Stuff like speaking directly, selling the benefits, offering something of special value, driving for immediate action and urgent action. Those are very highly transferable skills, so that’s a lucky thing that I had those skills from Readers Digest.
The second thing is that over the years, whether I liked it or not, I started getting asked, or sometimes told, to come into a business or a division to assess the situation. It was usually not as good as I would have liked and I had to fix it fast, to return that particular division or business to growth. I developed turnaround skills. It wasn’t really a plan, that’s the meandering part. That became sort of a necessity. That’s lucky as it has served me well. At the beginning of time at Nutrisystem. We’re not in turnaround at the moment, but when I first got here we were.
Third, after those businesses were healthy I had to pivot from a turnaround mentality and shift to a growth mentality and that’s like what we’re doing here [at Nutrisystem]. That all made sense, all those things made sense when I came to Nutrisystem. That’s how I sort of landed my way here.
Bill: Reader’s Digest, those who haven’t followed it at the corporate level, may think of it as something that they found at their grandparents’ house or whatever, but their were a lot of businesses that it was involved in.
Keira: Sure I mean Reader’s Digest, at one time at least, was basically one of the largest database marketing companies in the country and, in fact, the world. Very global business. Yes, the brand of the company is also the brand of it’s flagship magazine. For most of it’s history the business model was to attract as many people as we could with that magazine. It was at 20 million, I think, at one time. Then with that database of names, learn as much as we could about those customers by asking them questions and making different offers. Then actually launching different businesses to that list, so it was very profitable.
Now database marketing and using data, big data, these are all kind of buzzwords in the marketing industry. Way back when in the 60s, 1960s, Reader’s Digest was actually already doing that, so that’s cool.
Bill: Right, absolutely. You did undergrad at Cornell?
Keira: I did.
Bill: You’re second consecutive Big Red, are they the Big Red? I think they are.
Keira: I will confess they are Big Red, but I have to confess I would not be the one to ask because I’m not exactly a sports person.
Bill: Fair enough. Second consecutive guest from Cornell. Where ae you from?
Keira: I’m originally from Illinois. From the flat-lands of the Midwest. My dad’s family is Chicago born and bred so if you ask me a question about the Black Hawks or the sad Cubs I might be able to answer a few things but not too much about Big Red.
Bill: We’ll see how the Cubs improve.
Keira: I’m hoping.
Bill: Yeah, a lot of optimism there. You mentioned the turnaround condition. When you and CEO Dawn Zier came, I think, a little over 2 years ago at Nutrisystem, it was labeled appropriately as a turnaround. This is a company with incredible ups and downs. Somebody should write a book about Nutrisystem, all the ups and downs.
Keira: That could be you.
Bill: It could be me. I’m not sure anyone would read it but it would be fun to write.
Keira: I’ll read it.
Bill: Thank you Keira. So you and Dawn come here a little over 2 years ago and since then there has been a tremendous resurgence and obviously Wall Street, I think, is registering their pleasure with it. Given this upswing and these really strong results what do you attribute that to? In terms of what you’ve been doing?
Keira: First of all the question makes it sound like we rode in on white horses and in fact that could be the farthest from the truth. We did come in. We didn’t have white horses. It’s not a 2 man band. I think that’s the most important thing, we don’t necessarily believe in grandiose, charismatic, one person saves the day. We have a great team that’s probably the first and the foremost thing. It’s a team, it’s a combination of the people who were here. We have people who’ve been here for 25 plus years.
You mentioned that Nutrisystem has a fascinating and long history. Some of those people have lived that history and are really amazing at knowing the weight loss business in and out and forever – having a much longer term view than somebody who just walked in the door. We also brought in people who were functional specialists or really champions at some specific skill. Brought in a new creative director, a new CFO, etc. it’s a combination of people who were here and new ones. I have to say that of anywhere I’ve ever worked we really have trust in each other. We have passion. We definitely work hard and we’re nice, on most days.
Bill: So it’s fun for both of you?
Keira: It’s a team that has a diversity of skillsets and on any given day somebody … I mean you’ve spent time with us in our business.
Keira: We have strong opinions. I guess we differ constructively, hopefully, mainly. There are some basics and the basics are essentially we exist to serve and help customers lose weight. They’re first, so as you know we try to understand what those customers need and want all the time. The second fundamental is that we try to be as fact based as possible. Dawn Zier, the CEO, has a saying. I don’t think she invented the saying but she always says, ‘I will always listen to facts, but if it’s a matter of opinion, I’ll just use my own, thanks.’ That kind of encourages us to use facts to make most of our decisions and to guide our constructive debates.
We execute with excellence. It’s not that hard to come up with a strategy. Many failed companies, and successful companies, have come up with strategies and decks to say where they’re going. You need a strategy, but the thing is, you have to actually execute on that strategy. I think one thing that we’re good at is that we focus and then we do what we say we’re going to do and then we do more later.
We’re not all over the place. Just that focus and we really try to just get the basics right. Then, we definitely are direct marketers. I know we’re going to talk a little bit about that. We definitely focus on the direct marketing fundamentals.
Then we do have a great brand. A brand that proved to be much stronger than we thought. That could travel to new channels and really carry. Just the brand alone communicates benefits to customers which is a very helpful thing.
Bill: Right, indeed. In this sort of upswing, there certainly has been, and it is palpable, a focus on execution and delivering the fundamentals of the branding business anew. With new energy or asserted energy. There’s also then, as you mentioned, some channel expansion. There’s been some product and concept expansion.
To the degree that you are able, or want to, to say a word about some of the things that have come to market in the past couple years. The retail business for example. That’s been augmented, it seems, considerably. Some a la carte products and services have been offered. Is it a combination of back to basic and highly energetic execution-focused leadership, plus some of these new strategies that you all put together?
Keira: Definitely, definitely. I mean, the first year was more about fixing things. Fixing things fast, true turnaround stuff and returning back to basics. At that time we planted the seeds for retail. Retail is now a sizable and significant part of the business, and growing quickly. It’s really helped us bring the brand and products to retailers. Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, and meet people that we were not going to meet otherwise.
We are able to vary the products and the pricing of those products so that we have a way of introducing ourselves to customers that we just weren’t meeting. I think that’s really valuable. Some of them come to our direct business, most of them will not. It’s a different relationship, but we’re happy with that expansion. So yes, now we’re growing retail and we’re focused on digital expansion, social marketing expansion. It’s a lot of channel expansion for the businesses that we’re in, and then as you look too, we’re also trying to expand by moving into new businesses or new business segments within weight loss.
Bill: Right. We talked about retail but as we know, as you said earlier, the core of this business is the direct business. A lot in your background, as you noted, has been about direct response and creating direct relationships with consumers. With a traditional marketing model that has been heavy on this PR approach, what would you say the role is? You mentioned the strength of the brand. PR is about tactics and transactions but also relationships and continuity. How would those two things live together to help really strengthen the company?
Keira: A lot of people will say, ‘are you a brand marketer or a direct marketer,’ as if they’re two sides of a spectrum and they have nothing to do with each other. That’s really not how we see it. Definitely brand and direct marketing are friends, not total strangers.
The brand helps people chose us rather than another option. It keeps us top of mind. We have attribution models that measure how many of our orders we can attribute to each dollar that we spend in each channel. We know that there’s some that we can’t attribute. That is because that’s from the brand. That’s the equity that we have in the brand.
It also helps us set our voice and have some consistency across all of our communications with our customers. Which then leads to, hopefully, building a relationship with customers so that we are not all burn and churn and try to get another batch of new customers in next year, but we have an ongoing relationship. I mean weight loss is a thing that hopefully when you succeed with us and you won’t need to be on a full program forever. As anybody who’s ever lost weight knows you are going to gain a few pounds back come Christmas time. Or Halloween, or what have you. We hope that our customers now will remember that they had a positive experience with us in all ways. Then when it comes time that they might just need a tune up that they come back to us. That’s what we’re going for. I think the brand helps do that.
Bill: Right well the retail business, in particular, to jump start it, is a great place for someone that has reached the point that they really want to do some things. p>
Keira: That’s right and when they see the brand, you know, when they’re walking down the isle and they see Nutrisystem versus the other brands on the shelf I think one reason that we’re able to grow quickly was because they knew and trusted that brand. We didn’t have to explain a lot on a little box. They were willing to stop and pick up that box and take a chance with us and for that we’re grateful.
Bill: As the brand increases at retail and as the distribution model becomes increasingly diverse how, if at all, does that empower you and the marketing team to think a little bit differently about what the success factors are? For example, at retail versus at the direct business, you mentioned there is continuity in terms of how we execute and so the cultural touch stone is this continuity in terms of what the brand stands for, visual style, brand personality, everything else. You know, vast differences across channels verses some of the …
Keira: Right, the business model is completely different.
Bill: For a brand named Nutrisystem to be successful at retail in addition to relying on the things that it’s created over the many, many years, are there a couple of things that make this brand successful? Especially to stand out within a channel that it may not be traditionally focused on.
Keira: Well, you know, we spend many, many millions of dollars on the direct business on TV and while we’re trying to get you to call, or to more likely go online or your mobile phone and check us out. Even having all that advertising does support the retail business, basically telling our story millions and millions of times every day. That in itself does support the retail business. We are different from a traditional retail only brand in that they invest money in many channels that don’t inspire people to respond right there but drive to retail. Some of the things that we do have to be more mindful, we have to have great partnerships and relationships. We have to please those big retailers. It’s really all about understanding their world, innovating for their customers so we’ve done a lot of product innovation for the retail channel.
That we would not have done for the direct channel. It’s about understanding how their marketing requirements and promotional requirements work so it’s just really understanding that world and how it differs from ours. The other thing that we have to do, because we have a direct business, is we don’t want to just trade one for the other. We have to watch very carefully the product variety, product piecing, and product pricing makes sense across the channels. It doesn’t always happen.
We’re pragmatic before anything else, but we spent a lot of time thinking through how things relate across the channels and that they make sense. We try to remember that we might think of things as direct marketing and retail but customers don’t do that. Customers live in the world and so it’s got to make sense. If a product is priced much higher someplace else, it just doesn’t make sense to them and they’re going to go and find the best price for them.
We equally have to remember that we don’t live in a bubble. We’re not just competing with weight loss companies but we live in the world and they see all sorts of marketing messages and customer service standards and delivery standards from everywhere else. We have to keep in mind what’s going on in the consumers world not just in our world.
Bill: Right, and you mentioned gathering strength in areas like creative. Obviously for the retail business, presumably your packaging right?
Bill: You’ve got to get some of the different cadence of how consumers make choices. The brand is progressing in a really positive way in those realms as well. You mentioned consumer needs and they live their one life, and that’s absolutely true. We know, just from looking around that there is a lot of talk, there’s always been, but there’s seemingly a progressive amount of talk amongst consumers in what’s considered about nutritional elements, about freshness and whatever that means.
Keira: That’s definitely true and with the growth of Whole Foods, we don’t necessarily see ourselves as taste setters. We are definitely oriented around what consumers want. We’re not trying to tell them what they want and we’re not trying to change their minds. That definitely is hard to do especially in direct marketing so we go with the flow.
Definitely, you know and I know, that we’re all changing. We look at labels much more. we expect clear labeling. If there’s a weird ingredient in there that we don’t understand because we’re not chemists, we would like to know what it’s doing there. People are looking to see how much sugar is in their food, what percentage of the food is whole grains, how healthy is it? On the other hand, there is a portion of the market that is very health conscious and very nutrition conscious and is willing to give up dessert because they are watching their sugar.
There’s a larger portion of the population right now who wants both. They want health and they want their usual traditional, if you will, American foods. We have to do a good job at doing both and that’s probably challenging. We serve people who like to eat.
We have to be careful not to be too cutting edge and yet very on trend. That’s basically what we seek to do. We have a food development team that everyday is trying to improve the taste, improve the variety, improve the health, improve the labeling, improve the packaging. They’re constantly busy. That’s what makes my job possible. If they don’t do that then I don’t really have anything to sell. We spend a lot of time on that.
Bill: Sure, as someone who’s been on the program before I can attest that it works and the food’s pretty good.
Keira: I paid him everybody.
Bill: Right. There now that I’ve said it. I think, I may be the consumer who loses 30 pounds every year and then gains it back.
Keira: We kind of like you.
Bill: Yeah, I may be good for continuity.
Keira: As long as you don’t go anywhere else.
Bill: Yeah, no. First of all, thank you, this has been terrific and as we wrap anything you can disclose about major priorities, future plans?
Keira: No, I could tell you but then I’ll have to kill you.
Bill: Some people would applaud that.
Keira: They’d hate me. No seriously though we have a number of things. I spoke about how we were in a really ‘fix it fast’ mode and now we’re in a growth mode so we have a number of initiatives to keep that going. Basically they’re centered around reaching new customers for our core offerings, our core business. That centers around channel expansion as particularly in SEO, content marketing, and social. Those are probably our three big focus areas. That doesn’t mean we neglect everything else and shrink that, I mean, it’s an ‘and’.
Then we really want to focus on improving the customer experience and getting to know the customer even better so that we are not a burn and churn business. That’s terrible. We want to make people happy so they’re motivated to stay with us a long time. Then, finally, we’re watching a bunch of new businesses to try to move us into other segments. You spoke about the move towards fresh food so now we have Simply Fresh, which we started in California and will be most likely expanding shortly. That’s a pure fresh business. Now, delivering fresh food is expensive and so that won’t be for everybody, though we wish it were. The economics won’t work for everybody so we’re also really focused on getting products for all sorts of occasions and needs. If you want more flexibility, don’t want to be on five meal occasions a day. You’d like to do your own thing for dinner or you want to do your own thing for weekends we can vary our offerings. To make them more or less flexible depending on what people need.
What we want to do is that which will allow us to offer things at different price points again so that we can attract more customers. Really figure out what different segments need and want and then go for it. That’s basically, I think, sumarizes it.
Bill: This is a company and a brand on the move.
Keira: Thank you, its been fun.
Bill: Keira I think you’ve obviously been one of the primary authors of a really amazing couple of years.
Keira: Thank you.
Bill: We can’t wait to continue to watch and see what happens.
Keira: Check back with us, knock on wood.
Bill: We will. Knock on wood. Formica, or whatever it is. Keira Krausz, Nutrisystem CMO thank you so much for being with us.
Keira: Thanks for listening.
Bill: So there you have it. Thanks to Keira Krausz for being a terrific guest. Nutrisystem is a fascinating business and in it’s several decades of history. Someone should write a book about this company. The twists and turns, peaks and valleys, changes in model, and it would be a book that would be a fascinating series of case studies about how businesses grow and prosper and why they decline. Now, we’re in a prosperous moment certainly with a really bright future for a terrific brand and management team. Thank you again to Keira for your insight and certainly for your time.
One thing that struck me was everyone’s talking about omni-channel, or multi-channel, brands today. Nutrisystem for at least the last little while has really been a direct response driven, telephone or internet brand, with historically one way to be a customer. Since Keira and Dawn have helmed the Nutrisystem brand and business, the explosion of the brand into retail, the many, many different touchpoints and opportunities have reinforced the traditional mold of how these types of products are bought and sold. They have also paved new ground because the consumer always wants things to be convenient and to be compelling, to be served up in the way that he or she finds most interesting and most in step with the way they live. Nutrisystem has been, to their credit, very responsive to the marketplace.
One other thing that was particularly interesting, I think, from my perspective was Keira’s response to how brand and direct response live together. The fact that they really are partners. We couldn’t agree more. It’s wonderful to hear that from a practitioner as Keira is of direct business’.
Terrific, thank you again Keira for your insight and input. As we sign off, again, a couple ways to support what we’re doing here at Real-World Branding. Please subscribe if you are so compelled to receive these types of interviews with brand and business builders at regular intervals. We would obviously love a rating if we’ve earned it of 5 starts, or 4 stars. Whatever you think is appropriate. Then for feedback, for questions, for suggested guests reach out to us on twitter. Either @billgullan, reach out to me or @FinchBrands. Signing off from the Cradle of Liberty have a great day and week.
The post Reinvigorating a Business: Keira Krausz, Nutrisystem EVP & CMO appeared first on Finch Brands.