Emily Lyman of Branch & Bramble: “Success teaches us nothing”

It’s okay to operate at 80%. This is a great reminder for me that, as a company, we do not need to be billing 100% of our hours. And I should caveat this with, by no means, do I mean 80% of the effort. But I do not want my time, or my team’s time, […]

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It’s okay to operate at 80%. This is a great reminder for me that, as a company, we do not need to be billing 100% of our hours. And I should caveat this with, by no means, do I mean 80% of the effort. But I do not want my time, or my team’s time, completely scheduled and booked. We leave breathing room for creativity, experimenting with new services, giving our clients some extra love.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewingEmily Lyman.

Emily is the CEO & Founder of Branch & Bramble, a digital marketing agency focused on connecting service-oriented brands with their ideal audiences. She has worked with top global companies for well over a decade and champions the kind of digital marketing that is backed by data and valuable to both the brand and customer. As an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University, Emily is helping shape the young digital marketers of the future.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

With a double major in finance and investing, I was set to enter the venture-capital world straight out of college. It wasn’t until a year after I graduated that I realized…I hated what I was doing. An early career switch landed me in marketing and PR (although I still had a fondness for data and spreadsheets). The creativity, the campaign excitement, the experimentation kept me there.

But after working with top global companies on both the agency and brand side for more than a decade, I found myself frustrated by the mentality of accumulation over solid strategic thinking that looks at the data and the why behind the brand. I was swimming with sharks who wanted nothing more than to prove ROI and increase the bottom line in the short term. My days were spent trying to create content that made everyone happy, but never actually said anything.

So, I left, and Branch & Bramble was born.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Too often we see marketing agencies shy away from the truth. They pay lip service to clients without actually listening to their needs and aspirations. I’m building an agency focused on helping brands stand up for what they believe in and finding others to stand with them.

We encourage our clients to move away from the “passive and positive” mentality that has plagued individuals and brands for decades, and instead, be frank and truthful with their audience. People have been throwing around the phrase “brand purpose” for years. But few fully embrace it. Fashion and anti-racism go together. You can sell products and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. We’re giving brands the permission to have an actual voice. Now is the time to say goodbye to the middle ground.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Our approach is data-backed. The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that more and more people are punishing brands who put profit before people. Time and time again the most popular content meets a controversial issue head on. Stop trying to please everybody.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My funniest mistakes all revolve around networking and interacting with people. Which is hilarious in and of itself given what I do for a living. I’m a spaz. And sometimes overly concerned with offending people. In college, I had to talk to a new professor about my courses. I went to close the door because it was, to me, a private conversation. He asked to keep it open and I realized, of course, Emily, this one on one situation is not a time when you close the door. I became so flustered that I swung around to hurriedly open the door and my backpack knocked a decorative mug off his shelf. It broke. It was from his one and only trip to Germany. Go me.

These things still happen to me. Knocking over drinks (while I’m 100% sober), tripping over curbs, running into doors. Now I embrace it and use it as an icebreaker. I’d rather spend the time and energy connecting with the people in my life, instead of worrying about how awkward I am.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I would definitely not be where I am today without the support of many amazing individuals in my life. From my mother to my husband to former colleagues and bosses. They generously share their experiences, bring a fresh perspective, and constantly challenge me to think beyond my current trajectory.

A particular turning point in my life came when I was on a career path that was very clearly not right for me. I was giving my all to a company that demanded mandatory 9PM department meetings. They wanted to break down work/life boundaries and it was hard on the soul. The best advice a friend gave to me was to remind me that, no matter what, I had to be true to myself. If it’s not right, it’s not right. And when you put your beliefs out into the world, that is when you will create true connections and forge strong ties. I found this to be so powerful, that I went out on my own and created Branch & Bramble on the basis of being true to oneself. This is why we work with our clients to amplify their truths and create the markets for them to drive real change.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I love watching direct-to-consumer brands innovate. The whole move to DTC was a disruption itself that everyone thought would be the death knell of brick and mortar. But now, these exciting new partnerships between legacy and DTC brands are emerging.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence disruption is just truly terrifying. Our world is already consumed by fake news and disinformation. But then you go and add deepfakes to the downward spiral–-the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to manipulate audio and visual content.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. It’s okay to operate at 80%. This is a great reminder for me that, as a company, we do not need to be billing 100% of our hours. And I should caveat this with, by no means, do I mean 80% of the effort. But I do not want my time, or my team’s time, completely scheduled and booked. We leave breathing room for creativity, experimenting with new services, giving our clients some extra love.
  2. Your people are more important than your product. Your people are everything. Our company culture thrives on nurturing each team member and remembering that personal growth is not one-size fits all. We’ve each had experiences in our past careers where we were so focused on the product, we neglected our own personal and professional development. Ultimately, the product suffered as a result.
  3. Success teaches us nothing. I will never say no to success. But throughout my career, I’ve learned the most when I’ve tried something and missed the mark. Going big on a campaign, experimenting with new channels, trying to reach a new audience. We’ve always been able to apply those learnings to make future endeavors more effective.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

By flipping the script on agency burnout. The majority of agencies prioritize client relationships to the detriment of their own employees. High turnover, volatile account dynamics, and lack of project consistency happen because people are overworked and underappreciated. Scopes take precedence over everything. We’re working hard to build a diverse and equal culture that values, respects, and empowers every single member of our team.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Unconscious inherent bias. I find myself having to set more boundaries to remind others that I am a businessperson who is a woman, not a woman in business. Which identity comes first is flipped for women. I’ve had male clients address me as “Hey Girl” and often have to field questions that, if I were male, I would not get asked.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The dog requires quite a bit of walking time so podcasts are my jam. Marketing, politics, news, comedy, the list is varied and helps me stay up to date. Code Switch and Modern Love are always in my regular rotation. Diversity, equality, and inclusion in companies start at the top, and I work to stay cognizant that my life experiences are not universal. 90% of my day is about relationship management. Modern Love always provides a unique and refreshing look at all the myriad of relationships that exist and the difficulty and joy in being involved with each other on every level. And it’s good for a laugh, too.

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. 🙂

The Don’t Be A Jerk movement. Business, personal, all aspects of your life. Let’s switch from zero-sum to win-win.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ve found that imposter syndrome and comparing yourself to others goes hand in hand, and all too often, entrepreneurs especially, fall into this double trap. Myself very much included. We worry that we’re not doing it right. That another brand is growing faster than we are.

For some, and on occasion, comparison is motivation and encourages them to stay sharp. For me, most of the time, it shifts my focus away from the things that I should be excited about within myself.

When I start going down that road, I look at Roosevelt’s words. And I’m reminded that we’re all on our own journey.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Branch & Bramble, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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