Uncover your brand promise and align the organization around it. What is compelling, differentiating and true about the solution or service your company provides? What are you promising to deliver to your customers every time they interact with you? You need to be able to articulate this and deliver on it at every customer touchpoint. This is the hard work of brand-building, and it’s an organizational exercise, not just a department exercise.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Slager. Before founding Raken, Kyle Slager was a research associate in the investments group of Brandes Investment Partners, a leading global value-based investment management firm. While at Brandes, Kyle was responsible for making investment recommendations to Brandes’ portfolio committees, which was responsible for investing more than $120 billion in assets under management. Kyle grew up working in various trades with residential subcontractors, and that experience was the inspiration behind Raken. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University and was captain of the varsity football team. He also completed the Tuck Business School Bridge Program at Dartmouth College.
Thank you for joining us, Kyle! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up in Ohio doing construction work during summers in high school and college and my dad was a developer so I spent some time on jobsites growing up. It was both challenging and gratifying work. After college, I went into finance until I walked a job where one of my best friends was the project manager and saw an opportunity to solve a giant problem. Over the following eight months, I interviewed over 120 companies to learn their greatest pain points and built out a prototype.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Before we had a marketing team we allowed anyone from customer support to send out emails to our customers. One day, someone from our team came to me white in the face like they were about the throw up and told me they just accidentally sent an email that was supposed to go to ‘Michael’ to every customer we had at the time. We immediately sent an email apologizing for the mishap and explaining that we’d be more diligent in our outreach going forward. We ended up getting a great response from our customer base and we’ve tried to weave transparency and owning mistakes into our culture ever since. We hated to add another email to everyone’s inbox, but it’s mistakes like those in the early days that make you a better company in the long run.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Historically, construction technology has focused on workflows handled in the back office. However, structures are built and 80% of the people are in the field. We set out to build the fastest, easiest solutions for what the field needs to do on a daily basis so they can go home when everyone’s leaving the jobsite and people overseeing the projects are better informed. We believe with a field first mentality, everyone wins. We’re not trying to be all things to all people; we’re the very best at what we do and we integrate with the other tools our customers use. Quick story: One of our first customers is a mid-sized general contractor here in Southern California. He told us it was a no-brainer for the office to have their superintendents use Raken but his challenge was getting his field workers to adopt technology. By this time, we’d heard that same story over 100 times. He told us that he gave Raken to one of his superintendents that he described as the least likely to adopt a new technology in his company. This guy ended up figuring Raken out in under a minute and came back to the office at the end up the day the most fired up he’d ever seen him. He couldn’t believe that he could do everything he needed to do on the go throughout the day and finish with this professional, company branded report to share with other project stakeholders. In addition, Raken automated the collection of reporting from all his subcontractors. Fast-forward to today and Raken’s been on over 350,000 projects in all 50 states and 92 countries around the world. Again, this has been challenging, but very gratifying work.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve got an amazing product development team out here that are always working on the new features our customers are requesting. We started out with construction daily reports because that was the workflow that hurt the most, or took the most time, for both the guys in the field and in the office. We then launched time cards for self-perform general contractors and subcontractors, task management, safety management, and we’re getting close to launching production tracking. These are workflows that the field are expected to complete every single day, and the goal is that eventually, we’ll bring the same intuitive, fast process to every field workflow that we brought to daily reports, time cards and the others. Ultimately it will help the field get their job done faster so they can go home on time while simultaneously giving the office the visibility they want on a consistent basis.
In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Branding is bigger than marketing, and it’s not just what you say about yourself — it’s what everyone else is saying about you. That’s why I think of brand-building as an organizational exercise and strictly a marketing exercise. Every experience that a customer or prospect has with our organization is going to build the brand, so we think about creating delightful experiences at every touch point. And then, yes, we tell the brand story through our marketing programs and explain why the Raken experience is so unique and special. Product marketing is how we position our product and its unique, compelling and differentiating reasons to buy against alternatives in the marketplace. How we package, price and position Raken to sell — and then convince people to keep using it, and to refer it to their friends — is the function of product marketing. When we market Raken both as a brand and as a product, we like to focus on the “why” behind our existence. We are designed for the hard-working men and women in the field. We exist for them. We have spent years talking to them, figuring out their pain points, and designing tools that they will not only use, but love.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
People are loyal to brands they love, and loyalty grows the business. Loyalty reduces churn, increases referrals and word of mouth, improves online presence with positive reviews, and builds trust that makes customers feel invested in a company. Building a brand is absolutely crucial because it solidifies your organization’s personality: you want your customers to know and like the organization that they are choosing to work with, and relate to you on some personal level. It’s just like people: If they don’t know you, who you are, and they don’t trust you, why would they do business with you? And besides, if you don’t take the time to develop and own your brand then someone else will surely own it for you, and that’s not good. You want to own that story.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Uncover your brand promise and align the organization around it. What is compelling, differentiating and true about the solution or service your company provides? What are you promising to deliver to your customers every time they interact with you? You need to be able to articulate this and deliver on it at every customer touchpoint. This is the hard work of brand-building, and it’s an organizational exercise, not just a department exercise.
- Put the focus on your customers, not you. Make sure your strategies are driven by customer insight and that you understand them deeply and are solving their biggest problems daily. If you want to show that you can be trusted to solve a customer’s problems you’d do well to start with the actual customers, writing about their problems and how you solved them. You’ll demonstrate immediate authenticity because it shows you’ve put in the work.
- Create valuable content. As you’re building your brand don’t just write blogs and make webpages all about your product. Offer a solution to a problem you know your clients have that isn’t necessarily directly related to what your business does. They’ll appreciate the fact that you took the time to research and provide an answer to this problem they’ve been having. It’s an unselfish way to show that you care about their problems, whether it benefits you or not.
- Share your success stories and growth. If you’re a small company the whole point is to grow, so share that with your customers. They’ll feel good that you’re growing because you’ll be giving them the feeling that they got in on the ground floor of something that is going to be big. That kind of growth and excitement is contagious. Just don’t forget what made you special in the first place as you grow.
- Share your company culture. Young companies are great places to be because there’s this feeling of camaraderie and doing something new and different. So take videos around your office and post them on your social channels. Your customers will immediately feel connected and you’ll be showing a little personality that makes you more relatable.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I’ve always been impressed with the work that Slack has done in this area. They’re just fantastic. If you haven’t yet, take the time to read their release notes whenever they have an update. Their tone of voice is so warm, funny and friendly that you can’t help but like them and want to be a part of whatever they’re doing. Yes, they’re working in business communication tools but the way they approach it really highlights the fact that they care about making their tool easy and fun for the people who use it. That’s what you can do to replicate what they’ve done: instead of focusing on what your product is and what it can do focus on the people that it helps. Tell their stories and connect with them, either through what you write or what your product is, and you’ll be on the same path that Slack is.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Well, it’s similar in some ways. Yes, you can measure the amount of organic website traffic or the duration of the sales cycle before and after a brand-building campaign and do some analytical wizardry to find out how effective it was, but you’ll be getting a rough idea at best. Really the only way to measure the success of a brand-building campaign is to keep your ear to the ground and do some research. There are a lot of listening posts for brand sentiment: social media, app store reviews and review websites, and an NPS tool all give us a lot of insight. A Brand Awareness & Sentiment Survey twice a year will also tell you how much you’re moving the needle in this area. If you’ve done your job and created a believable, relatable and trusted brand voice then the sales process should start off a lot smoother than if you hadn’t been successful because they’ll be coming in with a modicum of trust in your product already, and that’s a huge benefit. So yes, having those leads come in from a place of trust will likely lead to shorter sales cycles or a bump in traffic but the only real way to know how effective you’ve been is to listen.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media plays a huge role in carving out and maintaining a brand. Right now social media is how a lot of our users are introduced to the content that we produce — it’s where they get a glimpse of our company culture, and it’s even where some of them ask questions and get support. Either way, social media is often the first impression that someone will have of who we are as a company so it’s important to get that right. That means we’re posting high-quality, valuable content that shows we know what our customer’s pain points are, that we care about solving their problems and have created novel solutions for them.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
The best piece of advice here would be to hire very, very carefully! The success we’ve had in this area has come from a team of truly creative and dedicated people. They chose to work with us because we provide a culture that allows them to do what they do best. We hire well and trust our employees to do their jobs without a lot of micromanagement. That’s what attracts the top talent we’ve been able to recruit and what has kept them here. Brands wither and die when there’s too much bureaucratic red tape muddying up the message or watering it down. Teams burn out when there are too many managers looking over their shoulders, nitpicking everything they do. So hire well and then trust your teams to do what they do best.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to see a larger movement around creating a healthy work/life balance. I think that’s done by providing better health and maternity/paternity benefits, by giving people the opportunity to work a flexible schedule, and creating a company culture that focuses on the physical, mental and emotional health of its employees. I think if more people were convinced that their employers cared about them, not just at work but at home, that we would see a huge improvement in the overall mood of the working world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Benjamin Franklin once wrote “Well done is better than well said.” I think that’s the best way to express the sentiment behind “put your money where your mouth is.” You can say that you’ll create something that will help thousands of people and create hundreds of jobs that will change lives. You can say that your company will have this amazing culture where people want to come and work. You can say all these things but in the end doing them is the most important thing and where you’ll actually make an impact in the lives of those around you. So start today and think about how you can put all those good words into action. Then you’ll really start to change things.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I’d share a meal with Bob Chapek, the head of Disney Parks. I think what he and his teams have done with creating experiences and translating brand ideas into tangible reality is nothing short of miraculous.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find us at the following handles:
Thank you for all of these great insights!