“How to Create a Trusted, Believable and Lovable Brand”, with Paige Arnof-Fenn
Be creative. How do you want people to think & feel after interacting with you vs. your competition? Brands like Apple and Virgin transcend the products they sell, it is about a lifestyle and way of life when you consider purchasing from them.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Paige Arnof-Fenn. Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as nonprofit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
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?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to breakfast the next morning to lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a handwritten thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our name really sets us apart it think For my company when I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case, I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Current projects include market research for a B2B tech company, new websites for several B2B and B2C companies, creative development for a nonprofit, public relations and marketing communications for several tech startups. We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of the industry so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers, we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team and spend their money the way they do, not as a vendor so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations regardless of size or budget deserve great marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tag line and everything we do.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
I have spent much of my marketing career working for world-class brands including Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola. A brand is a promise in the hearts & minds of your customer of a consistent experience. You know when you walk into a Starbucks or McDonald’s and you order a Frappuccino or Big Mac exactly what you are getting whether you are in Omaha, Santa Fe, London or Boston. It will be the same everywhere and that is comforting and reassuring. Brands deliver promises, they will be there as promised. We have come to expect that and it makes us happy. It is important for a company to own specific real estate in its customers’ brains so that when they need that specific product or service they know exactly where to go to find it. Brands help you stand out from your competition. Without a brand you are a commodity so have to compete on price. A brand is what makes you visible and considered by customers. Your brand is how other people feel about your company, not how you feel about it. What great brands understand is that their brand is not the hero. The brand is the guide, and the hero is always the customer.
Branding is the systematic process to develop the strategy and Advertising is a piece of the marketing pie, one of the tools in the marketing toolkit to reach your target audience and help persuade them to purchase your product or service. Ads change regularly with new messages and content but the brand values remain consistent over time.
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?
I believe branding is very important to growing your business because if you do not brand yourself then the market will brand you instead. Having a brand is what helps you stand out from all the noise and competition. The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand is authenticity. It has to be and feel real for it to work I think. Whether your brand is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. If your brand is not memorable customers may end up buying a competitive product which happened when Energizer ran their advertising Duracell battery sales increased instead so their marketing budget was wasted. Brands cannot be built in a vacuum they must be tested with their target audience to make sure they resonate. Building strong brands with unique value propositions has helped me grow my clients and my business over time.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
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?
Here are a few tips from my experience to help establish an authentic brand without having to spend a lot of money:
- Be original. What makes you unique or special? Think about brands like Chic-Fil-A, they do not try to compete with other fast-food brands on menu items, they are all about chicken, they have amazing customer service and they are closed on Sundays as corporate policy and yet they continue to grow.
- Be creative. How do you want people to think & feel after interacting with you vs. your competition? Brands like Apple and Virgin transcend the products they sell, it is about a lifestyle and way of life when you consider purchasing from them.
- Be honest. Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source. Any woman can relate to the Spanx and Dove brands for example, they show real women and bodies in their ads with problems their audience can relate to easily.
- Be relevant. Brands aren’t created in a vacuum. Nike does a great job of signing athletes across multiple sports to reach their audiences from Serena Williams to Tiger Woods to Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James for example. So whether you are young or old, male or female, it is winter or summer, Nike has someone on their roster you can relate to.
- Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day. Coca-Cola has been around for more than a century and you do not need to see the logo to know it is a Coke ad, they always have the familiar bottle/can, colors and images that build on their past and leverage the nostalgia for the brand.
- Be passionate. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting. This is the bonus strategy where brands can really stand out. It is hard to fake passion when your employees love their jobs the customers feel it too and brands that create evangelists have a huge competitive advantage in the market. Apple and Chic-Fil-A understand this and it shows.
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?
You know when you get the branding right if it accelerates the sales cycle and creates buzz. Building a successful brand it about filling the pipeline with qualified leads and helping convert them to customers quickly. When you have more customers at the top of the funnel that helps improve the odds of selling a lot. Market research can also track and measure how people feel about your brand over time and whether they refer customers or come back for the repeat ; purchases.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. For example, Content Marketing and Thought Leadership are great ways to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers. Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well-trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of like-minded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts. Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Start small and build as you go. For me I started speaking at local events and then submitted proposals to speak at industry conferences and trade shows nationally and eventually global events too. The same advice goes for writing start with small publications then move up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or Rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
It might sound counterintuitive but my favorite hack is to disconnect from technology and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships. Meeting for coffee or lunch not only allows you to refuel and recharge but it also can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships are what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
I also try to find creative ways to multi-task that incorporates work and exercise. When I worked at large companies they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after, the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share. It works with customers too, I have clients who play golf so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things especially when you are trying to think outside the box. A change in venue is always nice and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk. The other tips I like to incorporate are taking public transportation when possible, parking at the far end of the lot and walking as well as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it adds up to a lot of extra steps and movement if you do it every day. I think that respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either.
Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), getting a massage, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually the time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. What I have come to appreciate and realize in my 50s is that “me time” is not a luxury or pampering like it was in my youth, now it is maintenance!
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d try to start a kindness movement to counterbalance what we see in Washington and all over the media today. I grew up in the South and people were generally nice, respectful, kind, and friendly. I do not believe life or business is a zero-sum game. We do not have to divide up the pie we can work together to bake more pies so there is enough to go around. I think the people around the world in the center want peace and we need to find ways to bring the extremists back into the fold but it is going to take people from all walks of life to band together to make it happen. There really is more in common across cultures when you realize everyone wants the best for their family and community so we should all be putting our energy into building stronger foundations and ecosystems that will help us all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote really resonates with me:
I am strong because I have been weak
I am fearless because I have been scared
I am wise because I have been foolish
It is an important reminder that stumbling is part of the journey to success. As an entrepreneur, you just have to keep going and pick yourself up and be smarter every time you get up and try again. It was true for Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely and it is true for me too!
Another one I really like is “you have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t.” Again, making mistakes is just part of the process. Brilliant.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are so many people I could pick for this — Richard Branson, Sarah Blakely, Tina Fey, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Donna Karan, Arianna Huffington, etc. but I would pick Reese Witherspoon right now. She is killing it. Like Reese, I am from Tennessee and went to Stanford for college. Reese has become more of a force in Hollywood in her 40s than she ever was when she started her career. She is not only the leading lady now but she also produces shows, buys and negotiates scripts, is a successful entrepreneur, activist, mother, etc. She is a force to be reckoned with and has stayed relevant for decades in a tough industry. I am sure she could teach me a few things and has some great stories to share!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.