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“5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”, with Nicole Hayward of Minim

Don’t outsource your social media and content marketing. Too many small businesses view these as checklist items that they can farm out to any agency or intern, but there can be major hits to their brand image. A single tone-deaf social media interaction or shallow piece of content can turn a prospect away or an […]

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Don’t outsource your social media and content marketing. Too many small businesses view these as checklist items that they can farm out to any agency or intern, but there can be major hits to their brand image. A single tone-deaf social media interaction or shallow piece of content can turn a prospect away or an evangelist sour. This is perhaps most intense in Business-to-Developer marketing.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Nicole Hayward. Nicole is Founder and CMO of Minim, an IoT platform company that enables and secures a better connected home, where she leads both marketing and product. Prior to Minim, Nicole led marketing at software companies Antidote and OnSIP and served as a board member of Alliance of Channel Women, formerly Women in the Channel, a nonprofit that supports women in technology. Nicole holds two bachelor’s degrees in engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. She now resides in Brooklyn, NY.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Nicole! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sure, marketing was a bit of a plot twist. It starts when as materials science engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, I discovered a passion for experimenting with cosmetic products (curiously not the most popular lab activity in the male-dominated space). After college, I was thrilled to pursue a career at L’Oreal in a management training program for engineers.

However, working at the biggest beauty company in the world, I quickly learned that the heart of product ideation was the marketing department: L’Oreal chemists and engineers received assignments and reviews from Marketing, based on fashion trends and competitive positioning. Too impatient to navigate a drastic career change in big corporate, I escaped my life in manufacturing plants and leveraged my technical education to enter the world of software product management and marketing.

I cut my teeth at a software agency, working with a Fortune 500 digital marketing team. There, I played a role in a major rebrand, their first mobile app, and pulling off an interactive billboard in Times Square. I quickly observed that as marketing dollars were increasingly moving to digital campaigns with attribution data to crunch and conversions to optimize, the engineer’s analytical brain was actually a great asset.

Eventually, I convinced the president of a business communications software startup to hire me as their first marketing leader; he became a pivotal mentor who also gave me a lot of rope to hone demand gen experience. Along the way, I completed marketing and management courses at NYU and Wharton Online. About five years later, I had hired a killer team and became the company’s CMO.

I’ve been a software marketing leader ever since, moving onto become a CMO of digital health company and now Founder and CMO at Minim, a WiFi management and IoT security platform for the smart home.

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?

Yes, this is embarrassing but, in the days of GaryVee and Old Spice “man you could smell like” campaigns, my colleagues and I dreamt of “going viral.” We had great demand gen efforts, but had never pulled off a stunt, so to speak. A couple of years later, we launched a B2B product that we thought was our chance.

The product enables instant video calling to a customer service rep with the click of a button on a website. The campaign concept went like this: “Drunk online shopping” has become a significant e-commerce purchase behavior. Likewise, a woman is having a glass of wine in her apartment on a Saturday night. She’s purchased several pairs of jeans online and is calling for help on a return. With a simple click to call, she is surprised to start an instant video chat with a customer service agent she finds handsome. She stammers and launches into questions about her jeans and her body type, when she realizes she can simply show him. Cue awkward moments as the tipsy caller has little regard for the camera placement as she changes pants, and in the end, the customer service rep professionally advises her to keep all the jeans.

The video was syndicated with ad placements on social channels and media outlets, targeting digital marketers who might consider the product for their own websites. It ends with a Call To Action to a microsite where — unbeknownst to the visitor — you can actually click-to-call the actor in the video. The results? A bunch of video views, few shares, and zero calls. It was a dud.

The lessons I learned were plenty, but foremost, don’t anticipate a rocket ship launch for a product without beta customers to indicate product-market fit. One tweet from a viewer tipped me off with something to the effect of, “Very funny, but what is this?”

We hadn’t done enough due diligence to understand the user stories; when would someone want to video chat a business? Certainly, the microsite was not one of those user stories, which was deflating. We could have done a heck of a lot more product and campaign testing before filming our video with professional actors and paying for placement.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Hands down, our founding story — a story of vengeance.

It starts with Jeremy Hitchcock, founder and former CEO of Dyn, on October 21, 2016. What started in a dorm room 15 years prior had grown into a global company that was about to be acquired by Oracle. On that day in October, the Mirai botnet attacked, taking down Dyn’s services and its customers — Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, and a massive swath of the Internet — along with it. It made headlines.

As the company recovered that day, Jeremy soon came to learn that the DDoS attack that took down his life’s work was by an unsophisticated actor who, for fun, took control of hundreds of thousands of insecure webcams in people’s homes. After Dyn, Jeremy set out to exact revenge on cyber attacks like Mirai, helping homes manage and secure their network. The founders, including Jeremy’s wife Liz, began building Minim, an AI-driven WiFi management and IoT security platform. As go-to-market strategies go, we work with Internet Service Providers to deliver our solution to homes around the world.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently at Minim, we’re developing some handy tools for a very real problem: digital parenting in the smart home era.

Pew research shows that 95% of parents have talked with their teenagers about inappropriate content online. Now with mobile phones, tablets, connected toys, and smart TVs, kids are connected more than ever. This increases the likelihood of exposure to inappropriate content, privacy risks, and security breaches. With one in four mothers raising children on their own in the US, surely parents don’t need the added stress of policing all these devices.

I’m pretty excited that Minim is tackling this in our mobile app, allowing parents to create profiles for their family members, assign devices, set homework or bedtime hours, monitor usage, and filter malicious and adult content. It’s total and easy smart home management, in one app.

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?

Product marketing is the science of translating features to benefits for the intended audience, such as a segment of buyers or influencers. The embodiments of product marketing depend on your go-to-market strategy and corresponding marketing mix. Digital ad campaigns, social media marketing, sales decks, white papers, etc. will contain product marketing messaging, ideally crafted to fit the brand, which brings me to branding.

Branding is the art of emotionally connecting with your customers, team, partners, and influencers. The foundation of branding is the definition of a company’s core values and mission. These are the mantras that everyone will rally behind. From there, all visual and language style guides are born. Most decisions, small and large, can be aligned with the brand — from product and web design, to event sponsorship, to spokesperson selection, to customer newsletters, and beyond.

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?

This question is a common tennis match between a marketing leader and a sales-oriented leader. As digital marketing has made Return on Investment (ROI) for most activities measurable, it’s enticing to spend resources only where ROI is crystal clear — How many leads did we get from this campaign? — and branding isn’t one of them.

But, brand neglect is actually a silent killer, inflating customer acquisition costs, decreasing customer retention, and obliterating customer referrals. Here’s why: Today, nearly 95% of online shoppers read reviews before purchasing a product, according to the Spiegal Research Center. In B2B, brand recognition and referrals are just as important. You may have heard the phrase, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” In the enterprise, 84% of C-Level and VP-Level buyers use social media to support purchase decisions (IDC).

These stats beg the question, Who’s going to share rave reviews for a brand they can’t remember? A company with a lackluster brand will not only lose out on word-of-mouth marketing, but also suffer from higher customer acquisition costs as prospects don’t find your evangelists to support their buying decisions.

The effects on customer retention are pretty intuitive. If you haven’t owned several generations of iPhones and Macbooks, you know someone who has. People will stick by brands they love. And back to resource spend, there’s more investment needed now more than ever on branding in the face of “ethics consumerism,” a phenomenon likely related to globalization and always-connected generations.

Take SoulCycle, an indoor cycling company that built a brand around community, diversity, mind, body, and soul. This summer, one of their investors held a fundraiser for President Trump, an inconvenient truth for a company with 86 out of 91 studios in precincts that voted for Hillary Clinton. SoulCycle customers unleashed their fury on social media (#BoycottSoulCycle), and I’ve seen reports of significant reduction (10%) in ridership. In response, the company has since launched a campaign for 300 “charity rides,” a significant spend to improve brand image.

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. Define your 3 pillar brand values and brand proposition. Then, rally the team around them. You don’t need a fancy agency to walk you through this exercise. Just survey your team, partners, and customers; use a word cloud; and hold your founders hostage until they agree. That’s the first thing I did when the Minim team formed. Our pillar values are: simple, trusted, and ahead. Our brand proposition: We believe home networks should be as safe and reliable as drinking water.
  2. Formulate your brand character and distill it in your style guide and culture guide. A good resource for the foundations is the Three Hour Brand Sprint by Google Ventures. As for the guides’ format, you can find inspiration online; several companies have published theirs. It’s also a good idea to invest in a talented logo designer and copywriter for this step. These are foundations that should stand the test of time.
  3. In every department, bake in time spent with customers and your community. This will help ensure your stakeholders’ brand perception is what you intended, uncover areas of improvement, and inspire new ideas to make your brand crescendo. A great example of this the pet store, Chewy.com. Upon resolving a customer issue, their reps ask for a picture of your pet, and Chewy often shares pet photos on social media. Beyond good service, this reinforces to their community that Chewy is passionate about the end customer, the pets!
  4. Don’t outsource your social media and content marketing. Too many small businesses view these as checklist items that they can farm out to any agency or intern, but there can be major hits to their brand image. A single tone-deaf social media interaction or shallow piece of content can turn a prospect away or an evangelist sour. This is perhaps most intense in Business-to-Developer marketing. Just check out Hackernews for the latest marketing flops.
  5. Cultivate a culture where everyone has brand ownership and responsibility. In this paradigm, team members are empowered to speak out when something is off, whether it’s product design, an email subject line, swag, anything. Check out HubSpot. They’ve dubbed their employees and end users “HubSpotters” and created a new language of inbound terminology, effectively pulling their community members into their brand identity.

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?

What’s coming to mind at the moment is The Daily, the podcast by The New York Times. The Daily’s brand has been so incredibly transformative for The Times. The slogan, “This is how the news should sound,” I think speaks to what millions of listeners think as they sip their morning coffee and settle into the pod. The pod’s format is engaging, each one a complete story narrated by Michael Barbara in just 20–30 minutes with a soothingly routine opening and closing.

The success of the brand is obvious in its millions of listeners against the backdrop of journalism under fire. Through The Daily, I believe The New York Times has emerged from a stuffy left-leaning brand perception to an authentic protector of independent journalism.

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?

As previously mentioned, brand building can have lasting effects on important bottom line factors such as cost of customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer referrals. Directly measuring these effects is hard, but relative measurement is doable. Here are a few KPIs:

Month-over-Month Direct Engagements — A growing volume of direct website visits, mobile downloads, and organic social engagements will indicate that your brand awareness is growing. Essentially, sum the unpaid engagements that you can attribute to people seeking out your brand. If you find this daunting, you can simply track direct website visitors.

Benchmark Cost Per Acquisition — It can be hard to get this sort of intel (via analysts, new hires, agencies, friendly competitors), but by benchmarking your average lead CPA versus a competitor’s, you can draw some conclusions on brand effects.

Net Promoter Score — This one is an oldie, but a goodie. Your customers’ brand perceptions will show up in a relatively positive NPS for your industry. Running an NPS survey after a branding campaign that touches customers will help shed light on your efforts.

Survey Results — Surveying prospects and customers on brand association, i.e. asking questions about their perception of your business, after a campaign can help you measure the campaign’s impact. For prospects, this can be done with retargeting; Twitter and Facebook page surveys can help.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

If you visit Minim’s social channels like Twitter (@MinimSecure), you’ll meet Minim the robot. He’s our mascot, a neighborly fellow depicting our belief that we must be able to count on the technology that wakes us up, warms our homes, and entertains our children. You’ll also find that we use social media to educate our community about security best practices, highlight new tools and features, tell customer and partner success stories, connect with nonprofit organizations that support our customers, and tell local news stories from Manchester, NH. Essentially, social media helps us demonstrate our brand values every day.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

As a startup founder with lots to juggle, I think about burnout avoidance a lot. As I believe high achievers are addicted to turning their time into value, my most practical advice is to recognize that recharging is a vital part of value creation. Get lots of sleep and exercise. Be sure to fit in pure relaxation every week, and be honest with yourself if your once relaxing activity has turned intense — e.g. hot yoga challenges or fantasy football late night picks. By recharging, you will apply more creativity, heart, positivity, and clarity to your work. You will see ways to work smarter, not harder.

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. 🙂

My movement would be empathy education. I think it would do a world of good for individuals and society. For the individual, the concept of an emotional IQ has been generally accepted in business; people with higher degrees of empathy make for more successful communicators and leaders. And I know this seems far out, but as AI proliferates across many industry sectors, empathy will be the strength that human workers have.

But can you point to a class in school where you worked on your emotional IQ? What if we made one? How could we improve upon kids’ emotional comprehension as we do reading comprehension?

Now onto society. My family owns Pulse Nightclub, which was subject to a heartbreaking hate crime that took the lives of 49 people. With a lot of reflection and discussion with my aunt who started the onePulse Foundation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the long-term battle against violence and systemic oppression based on class, race, religion, sexual orientation relies on teaching the next generations acceptance and empathy.

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

Grace Hopper said, “If it is a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than to get permission.”

This is one of my favorites because in academia and business, I’ve seen new ideas strangled by organizational structure, slow-moving processes, and resistance to change. Plus, there are the hurdles for women in the workplace — the confidence gap that can lead to excessive permission seeking and the numerous studies that show an assertive female is more apt to be perceived negatively than an assertive male.

The “just do it” mantra is why I’ve gravitated to technology startups, where experimentation and agility are generally encouraged. At Minim, we have “experimentation over slideware” in our culture code, and strive to cultivate status quo challengers. As a leader, I think it’s just as important to commend a proven bad idea just as much as a proven good one!

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. 🙂

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Twitter @nicolechirps and Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleisonline

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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