Start with great messaging. If we’re going to be in the “transferring of emotions” business, then we need to begin things right there — deep, powerful emotion-driven brand messaging. Doing this gives your brand story a place to go…and grow. As an example, one of our b2b clients in the employee benefits space used this technique to create a “superheroes of health insurance” brand and we could tie into not only the biggest thing in pop culture, but also the real fear that business owners had in dealing with the uncertainty of health insurance under Obamacare. We could alleviate some of that fear just by saying, “hey, we’ve got this.” This attracted more businesses to this company and they grew by leaps and bounds you might say.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Robertson. Scott has 30 years of public relations and marketing communications experience with a wide range of consumer and business-to-business organizations including: BandLab Technologies, Taylor Guitars, VocoPro, Playground Sessions, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), the NAMM Foundation, Hewlett Packard, Global Village Communications, Nextel Communications, Warner Music Group and the WG4 DVD-Audio Working Group, The DVD+RW Alliance (including HP, Dell, Philips, Sony, Ricoh, Mitsubishi Chemical and Yamaha) SyQuest Technologies, WorldGate Communications, Cox Communications, Cotelligent, Inc., Webradio.com, Dazzle Multimedia, QSound Labs and Smartship.com. Prior to founding Robertson Communications, he most recently held the position of director of marketing & communications/PR for NAMM. During his 10+ years at NAMM, Robertson is credited with restructuring and strengthening the organization’s branding and member communications, launching its successful national Wanna Play? public awareness/service campaign and helping the 501(c)(6) not-for-profit break its all-time NAMM trade show sales and attendance records in the international music products industry. Before NAMM, Robertson led and grew Copithorne & Bellows/Porter Novelli Orange County office, taking it from a handful of staff and less than $500,000 in revenues to 28 staff and more than $4 million annual revenues in less than three years. Robertson also founded and led a technology practice as a group supervisor for Smith Public Relations in Los Angeles. In this capacity, Robertson developed and managed national consumer and business-to-business technology communications campaigns for the agency’s diverse roster of technology hardware, software and Internet clients. Robertson has also served as an account supervisor for The Bohle Company in Los Angeles, handling product launches, reviews and trade shows. In addition to his agency experience, Robertson also worked for Diagraph Corporation in St. Louis as a technical communications specialist. Robertson is an accredited, active member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and holds a master of science in corporate communications degree from Lindenwood University as well as a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You know, growing up in the late 80’s near St. Louis, Missouri, I always wanted to be a rock star. I had the big hair, the ripped-up jeans and the snakeskin spandex pants (80s), but my parents (darn them) convinced me to get my college degree and go into advertising (“which has music!,” they said excitedly). At Mizzou, I absolutely fell in love with the psychology of communications, specifically public relations — and the rest is rock & roll history…kind of. And I still get to play part-time rock star in an awesome bar band here in Orange County, minus the spandex pants, so I guess it all worked out.
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?
Wow, so many! When I was a young PR account executive, I was brought to a new business pitch meeting. I studied the materials for days — and when it was my turn to talk, I thought I was ready to rock. Turns out, I studied the WRONG product line and knew NOTHING about the one I was supposed to pitch. There is nothing like that feeling. Like a nightmare where you forget your pants, except 100 percent real. I was sweating and knew it was going to go badly. So I tried to BS my way through it, but I eventually just stood up and said, “You know what — I have no idea what anyone here is even talking about…and I’m very sorry.” The agency didn’t win the account and it was pretty much all my fault. So from that, I learned to be REALLY clear about what you’re there to do and make sure you own it every time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At RobertsonComm, we try to be a magnet in a world full of funnels. While the marketing profession is busy cramming prospects into funnels and selling them things, I like to start with exceptional brand messaging and create powerful things like PR, content marketing, even e-mail that attract people in and then you don’t have to worry about who you might be bothering with the coming onslaught of marketing messages. That “empathy for the audience” mindset separates us from 90 percent of the marketing profession who don’t seem to mind beating the prospect to death with marketing at any cost. That is not and has never been my style.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Oh yes — We are helping a new manufacturer of the world’s first interactive tip jar, called “Phil the Tip Jar” launch and sell to musicians, bands and also to retail establishments — pretty much anywhere a regular tip jar might be found. With its cool LED lights and sounds and professional appearance, I think it will help increase the amount of tipping in the world and it gives the tipper a cool appreciation card in exchange. Very cool product! I LOVE stuff like that!
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?
To me, branding is all about transferring emotions. Human beings can feel emotions as they relate to other humans and animals, etc, but is it possible to really feel something about a company, a product? Brands are about the emotions we let ourselves feel about inanimate things — companies, products, services, experiences. They are like the horcruxes in Harry Potter. We choose to attach a part of ourselves to the brand of car we drive, the brand of shoes we wear, the sports teams we like, the restaurants we eat, the causes we support, etc. And when you take all of those things together, they make up…us. We are a composite of the brands we choose to align with because of what they say about us and how they complete us. Product marketing/advertising is more short-term and about selling a particular product. That doesn’t quite become a “horcrux-level event” for humans.
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?
Because a brand is about keeping your audiences on the carousel with you for ride after ride, round and round we go — because they really WANT to be there. Your brand becomes a part…of them. And in branding, EVERYTHING COUNTS so all that you do should support the overall brand goals. That’s the hardest part about it, that everything counts one way or the other.
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.
1. Start with great messaging. If we’re going to be in the “transferring of emotions” business, then we need to begin things right there — deep, powerful emotion-driven brand messaging. Doing this gives your brand story a place to go…and grow. As an example, one of our b2b clients in the employee benefits space used this technique to create a “superheroes of health insurance” brand and we could tie into not only the biggest thing in pop culture, but also the real fear that business owners had in dealing with the uncertainty of health insurance under Obamacare. We could alleviate some of that fear just by saying, “hey, we’ve got this.” This attracted more businesses to this company and they grew by leaps and bounds you might say.
2. Create a messaging document and use it regularly. If your brand messaging isn’t written down somewhere, it doesn’t really exist. Take the time to create a messaging document that includes the emotional core of your company’s brand and why you can “own” that emotion. There are 78 quantifiable human emotions, but in marketing, there are only a few we can really use well. Pick one and own it. For our interactive tip jar client, we chose “Love” and actually “Self-Love/Ego” because to musicians, tips represent appreciation or love. We created the tag line: Just Let ’Em Love You to really get this across.
3. Remember that EVERYTHING counts. From the signs outside the business, to your tweets and social posts, EVERYTHING counts and again, that’s what makes effective branding so difficult. It’s also why people that “do branding” have to be involved in EVERY aspect of the company. It all counts. We’ve seen companies do everything right for 60 years and blow the whole thing in a long weekend.
4. Be real. We live in a world where the President of the United States types in tweets with his own fingers and we can see them without any commas team “help.” Wow. And we’ve never seen this before. It creates an expectation for companies to cut through the usual BS and really talk to people. So instead of using a bunch of marketing sounding language with “robust solutions” and “parallel mobility,” choose to communicate as a human being might and be as real as you can be. I believe that audiences are thirsty for this and you’ll see it more and more.
5. Have fun. If you’re having fun with your brand and your business, they will too. It’s like a band on stage — if everyone is smiling and having a good time up there, it gives the audience permission to do that too — and that is what audiences want. Any business can be as interesting or as boring as the marketer promoting it. Choose to be very interesting, very fun and rock their world!
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?
Apple. They are just so good at making me feel like I’m awesome simply because I own and use their awesome stuff. They don’t even need to talk about their stuff and I’m still hooked because I, like most, people really like thinking that I am awesome. And that is why someone would pay $1,100 for a monitor stand — because it adds to them in some meaningful way. That is the essence of branding. They are just so good at it and of course, they are the most valuable company in history. So clearly, this branding stuff works.
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?
I think you measure the success of the brand by the number of positive relationships you’ve created. This includes customers, vendors, employees, ex-employees, future employees, spouses of employees, etc. Everyone you’ve touched with the message and they’ve responded positively. That’s how you measure it.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media always plays a role, but remember, they are not there (in the social media world they’ve created) just for you. They are there primarily for themselves and your brand MUST surrender the spotlight to them and their very human desire to be validated in front of the virtual world they’ve created. Don’t ever stand in front of your audience members while they are admiring themselves in the mirror. If you do, say — “Wow, you look amazing!” “Seriously, have you lost weight?” …And all will be forgiven. 🙂
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think avoiding burnout is about balance. Just like our diets should be balanced, so should our activities. That’s how you truly live in this world instead of just working in it and that’s how you stay creative. New experiences, new songs, new playlists, new venues to play music, new foods, new places. We were born to explore and we are at our very best when we’re doing just that. Marketers can lead the way!
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. 🙂
We need more empathy in the world and especially in marketing. Somehow, as important as the audience is, they’ve just become data points to us. Conversions, engagements, etc. — Just more numbers to cram into a funnel and see how many we can squeeze to the very bottom without regard for how the ones at the top feel about us. But these are real people out there somewhere feeling real things. Marketing has always been about attraction and building quality relationships one at a time. I hope we can get back there before it’s too late for the marketing profession.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A bend in the road is only the end of the road if you fail to make the turn.” I was Senior VP/GM of a big PR agency just after 9/11 happened and a lot of our budgets dried up and I was laid off in October of that year. Turns out, it was the best thing that happened to me because I got to work in the music industry (for NAMM) and that opportunity took my career in all sorts of exciting new directions, leading to me starting my own firm and working for music clients again. So from that point on, I’ve never been afraid of making a big ol’ hairpin turn.
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. 🙂
Gotta be Seth Godin. That guy is a true genius and a fantastic example for all marketers.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational