“Making an effort to maintain a “student mindset” with openness and a desire to always learn is key to moving a company forward” with Karyn Abrahamson and Chaya Weiner
Be Curious. The pace of business and marketing, which is “always on,” is exhausting. Making an effort to maintain a “student mindset” with openness and a desire to always learn is key to moving the company, the team and the work forward — avoiding staleness and being out of touch. Invest in growing yourself and your team (not “one and done” but keeping it constant); this is what will keep you tapped into progressive thinking, new technologies, hot topics with your consumers, and allow you to be open to new ideas.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karyn Abrahamson, Chief Marketing Officer at Essentia Water. In this role, she oversees all of the brand’s marketing efforts as a key member of Essentia’s executive leadership team. Since joining the company in 2015 (with more than 30 years of experience with Fortune 200 brands including Microsoft, T-Mobile USA, Starbucks Corporation and Adidas America), Karyn has been instrumental to Essentia’s growth. She has developed and continues to lead Essentia’s evolved brand strategy and marketing efforts across PR, advertising, social media, influencer marketing, experiential, retail and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
At a young age, I recognized that creativity is key to who I am, always excelling in classes like art and writing. When I first started college, I majored in fine arts at a smaller liberal arts school. However, I realized that I wanted a bigger university experience, so I transferred to the University of Washington and started exploring different paths to major in. With my love of art and interest in people (psychology, specifically), I searched for a field that would allow me to be creative and focus on people, while also utilizing my knack for business. This led me to change my major to advertising, bringing me to this specific career path!
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?
While more of a funny learning lesson than a mistake, in my copywriting class in college I was tasked with writing a radio script for Zippo Lighters, a portable lighter device company. My idea and associated script was a man in a trench coat asking, “Hey, do you want to see my lighter?,” and then opening his coat to reveal a host of Zippo lighters inside. While the instructor thought it was hilarious, he told me that no client would ever buy off on that script because it was too risqué… As a student, it was a necessary lesson in what can be too far! I can’t help but laugh and shake my head at the idea now, though this is something we’d likely see today given how over the top entertainment and marketing can be.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Essentia Water stand out first and foremost is its product. Our product is a supercharged ionized alkaline water that truly does good for people by providing them better rehydration*. Our promise is to improve people’s lives through better hydration and this belief is authentic to our brand. We are passionate about helping people be the best versions of themselves and achieve their dreams, and we also want people to feel like they are a part of the brand. This inclusivity has created a community of like-minded individuals — the Essentia Nation — who make up an incredibly loyal and passionate customer base. It’s been amazing to see.
*Results of a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study with Essentia Water vs. a leading bottled water in healthy subjects over two hours following moderate aerobic exercise. Published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN).
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always! I am in full-on planning-mode for 2020, along with my marketing team. We are expanding our current “It Might As Well Be You” campaign — Essentia’s call to Overachievers to get up, get out and go do that thing they really want to do — by layering in new elements and experiences that continue to motivate, inspire and empower people. Our continuation of the campaign will help people focus on what they are trying to accomplish, not only in the new year but also the years to come. We are building relationships with our target audience of millennials and serving as their advocate, with motivational content across platforms (from national TV commercials to open forums on social media).
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?
Honestly, there have been many pivotal moments throughout my career, and I think it’s important to recognize the significance of being focused and putting in the hard work. You can’t get to your “North Star” in five minutes, let alone in a few years, it’s a building process that takes time. For me, I set clear goals and targeted companies that I was passionate about working for and in roles I really wanted to be in, where I could make a big impact.
That said, my time at Adidas was big. I joined the company during a time where sales were dramatically down and the brand had lost its way as the original performance sports brand, striving to be the best for all athletes around the world. I actually took a step down role-wise to join the team because I was so determined and passionate about rebuilding the company and making a difference there, and it paid off. The principal of Leagas Delaney (Adidas’ long-time global advertising agency) recognized the impact I was making and recommended to Adidas’ senior leadership that I run brand marketing. This resulted in a promotion to drive all brand marketing efforts and help get the company back to where it is today. It gave me the opportunity to step up and lead, and that was huge for my career.
I pushed myself to always be grounded in strategy, to bring big creative ideas into the mix and get outside of my comfort zone, leading a large team of marketers and creatives along the journey with me. The key takeaways and lessons from that for others are to be focused, push yourself and keep a learning frame-of-mind because things constantly change. To succeed in marketing, you must be resilient in your journey and always focused on driving results.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
First and foremost, make sure you really understand what you’re signing up for in marketing and determine if you are really passionate about it. It’s not a career for those who want to “coast.” You have to be passionate and committed to the job, and you have to be “all in.” If you are, the number of hours won’t matter. Outside of that, having other things that bring you joy in life is key to avoid burnout. I love renovating homes and I’m a huge University of Washington football fan and fantasy football fan, so I get a lot of personal reward from those things.
How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?
I define marketing as making people aware of brands that fit their values and passions, and offer products or services that are meaningful or helpful to them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had a number of advocates in my career, but I do think it’s important to note that I have always been my no. 1 coach. I was tenacious in my journey to get to the role I have today and I want others to know that they have the power to be their own greatest cheerleaders to excel in their careers. It is, of course, important to honor people who have challenged and supported me along the way. Several leaders at Adidas and our then advertising agency (Leagas Delaney) come to mind — former Adidas Creative Director, Peter Moore; former Adidas Marketing Director, Wade Siegel; former Adidas President and CEO, Steve Wynne; and Leagas Delaney Co-Founder and Chairman, Tim Delaney. They were paramount in my promotion at Adidas.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?
In general, there are four key things, along with tools and technology, that I think can dramatically help any business leader be successful:
1. Invest in developing a strong, differentiated brand strategy and brand identity.
2. Deeply understand your consumers through research and data, which can involve a multitude of tools or research partners.
3. Hire the right people who have expertise in the various parts of business, whether it’s in-house resources, consultants or agency partners.
4. Focus and invest in digital — search, digital advertising, social media, the corporate website, etc. Each play a huge role in reaching your consumers, no matter who they are.
What are your “5 Non-Intuitive Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses”?
1. A Leader Makes The Things That Matter Happen. To be successful, you need to have vision and clarity on what success looks like. I call this setting “The North Star.” People within the company need to understand: “Where are we going?,” “How do we get there?” and “What is my role in it?”. Clear direction allows the team as a whole to focus on priorities and land the results that drive long term success.
2. You Don’t Need To Be The Smartest Person In The Room. Leaders often think they need to know more than everyone else and have all the answers. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Amazing leaders are the ones who know how to hire, challenge and grow top talent — smart people who bring subject matter expertise into the mix, push for big ideas, drive results and strive for innovation. A powerful company is comprised of smart, passionate people who together create one unified powerful team.
3. Be Curious. The pace of business and marketing, which is “always on,” is exhausting. Making an effort to maintain a “student mindset” with openness and a desire to always learn is key to moving the company, the team and the work forward — avoiding staleness and being out of touch. Invest in growing yourself and your team (not “one and done” but keeping it constant); this is what will keep you tapped into progressive thinking, new technologies, hot topics with your consumers, and allow you to be open to new ideas.
4. Be Human. Powerful, meaningful marketing is all about building authentic personal relationships with your consumers and adding value to their lives. Defining what you stand for as a Brand, what makes you unique, why that’s different and what role you play in people’s lives will allow your consumers to be part of something bigger… part of a greater good. People want to be part of brands who stand for something more, who get them and who provide quality products that exceed their expectations.
5. Treat Everyone The Way You Want To Be Treated. To be a loved brand, anyone inside or outside the company deserves to feel respected and appreciated. The end result of living this value day-in and day-out is having a brand (along with the people within it) who have a reputation for genuinely caring for others, delivering against commitments and producing results. What consumer or employee doesn’t want to have a relationship with a company and its team members who truly value their opinions, ideas and time?
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.
A movement centered around positivity, empowerment and accomplishment, about getting out and doing that thing you really want to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to start that movement here at Essentia through our “It Might As Well Be You” campaign, which brings to light that there’s greatness in each one of us. There is so much negativity in our world today and people too often want to focus on what’s wrong vs. what’s right and what each of us can do to achieve our dreams. It’s more important now than ever that we focus on positivity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite life quotes is from sports legacy and retired no. 1 tennis player Jimmy Connors: “I think my greatest victory was every time I walked out there, I gave it everything I had. I left everything out there. That’s what I’m most proud of.” I relate to this quote because the same work ethic is in my DNA. Every single day, I make a conscious decision to be “all in,” both in my professional and personal life. At the end of the day, I go to sleep knowing that I did my best work, and like Jimmy, that’s my greatest victory.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.