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“5 things you should do to build a trusted and believable brand”, with Kevin Groome of Pica9

A successful brand will support the pursuit of sales targets, but those effects may be separated sufficiently from specific advertising insertions to make correlation a little unclear. Advertising experts, in lieu of direct correlations, will look to awareness studies, and comparisons of the brand’s “share of voice”. As part of this latter effort, I would […]

A successful brand will support the pursuit of sales targets, but those effects may be separated sufficiently from specific advertising insertions to make correlation a little unclear. Advertising experts, in lieu of direct correlations, will look to awareness studies, and comparisons of the brand’s “share of voice”. As part of this latter effort, I would suggest that social media statistics should figure more and more prominently in an assessment of the brand’s footprint. This is one reason why I am so disheartened by the level of “fake followers” and “false engagement” that we see from so-called “influencers” on the Internet. It’s not simply that these folks are looking to game a fledgling environment (the Internet is a babe-in-the-woods compared to print, radio, and TV), and in the process they’re muddying the very data that we need to address the long-held belief that advertising is simply unaccountable.


I had the pleasure to interview Kevin Groome. Kevin is a serial entrepreneur, award-winning creative director, and enterprise software architect, whose work in marketing and technology has benefited some of the best-known brands in the world. Kevin began his career in San Francisco, where he founded a high-tech marketing communications firm that bore his name, then merged it with an advertising firm and grew the practice until it was ultimately ranked among top 20 in the nation by Marketing Computers Magazine. Responding to a pain point felt by many of his clients, Kevin founded Pica9 (now CampaignDrive by Pica9) in the early 2000s, which today is recognized as a leader in the field of distributed brand management and creative operations platforms.


Thank you so much for joining us KevinCan 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?

Inmy days as the creative director for a high-tech advertising agency, one of my largest clients was a multi-national consulting firm. I was in a meeting with the CMO when the CEO popped in and dropped two copies of ComputerWorld Magazine on the conference table, each opened to a different recruitment ad for the company. The two ads, placed by two different practices within the firm, were inconsistent in really obvious, even embarrassing, ways (fonts, colors, factual details). To make matters worse, neither of them was even close to brand standards. In her exquisite French accent, the CEO said, “You guys fix this, or maybe I have to fix you.” The CMO looked at me, and I said, “I think we can build an app for this.”

Two weeks later, the spec for our first dynamic templating and brand-management system was in the client’s hands. We got budget approval that very day, and Pica9 was born.

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

The attribute that has defined Pica9 from the beginning has been our dedication to creative fidelity — to the finer details of brand voice. We entered the world of software by the creative side door, you might say, and now, a couple decades into this sea change we call the Internet, we find that brands are working hard to differentiate themselves visually.

An example of this would be our work in typography. Not too many years ago, a brand had developed a typeface of its own that it wanted to install on our system. Being non-standard, the typeface had caused serious headaches for every vendor who touched it. But we just knew in our bones that we couldn’t ask the client to compromise on something as close to the heart of the brand’s essence as its typography. So, we rebuilt the typeface using our standardized tools, got the blessing from the designer and installed the font on our system for use by thousands of local marketers affiliated with the brand. To be sure, we had to go the extra mile up front — but that has paid dividends for years, and will continue to do so for years to come.

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

Without a doubt, right now I am most intrigued by the way low-code platforms are inserting themselves into all kinds of business processes, in virtually every industry.

For centuries, people have worried about the ways in which technology destroys existing jobs (that’s what the Luddites were all about). And for centuries, what we’ve found instead is that technology frees us from the mundane to concentrate our minds on bigger problems and opportunities. What excites me most about low-code is the prospect of freeing great thinkers from the mundane (but tremendously important) aspects of software development, so they can, in their own ways, transform their industries by “striking while the iron is hot”.

Take a look at what the folks at Code.org are doing. You’ll find hundreds of thousands of teachers, engaging with the concepts of software developmentand then helping millions of students to gain those same incredibly valuable skills. It’s impossible to watch this effort and not feel hopeful about what we, as a species, can come up with.

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?

Brand marketing is all about a big, encompassing promise to the customer — about what the company aims to do and how it hopes to become a part of the customer’s life. Brand marketing is (or in my mind, should be), more about the “why” the company exists and why that really, honestly matters in the world. Brand marketing is aspirational, emotional, and elevated.

Where brand-marketing makes you feel the “why”, product marketing shows you the “how”. It is tied to, and consistent with, the aspirations of the brand. But it speaks in more pragmatic terms, and favors substance and service, over inspiration and emotion.

Mario Cuomo once said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. That’s an interesting way to see the distinction. Brand marketing is the poetic campaigning, and product marketing is the way the day to day work gets done, in a more prosaic fashion.

Now, this is not to say that product marketing has to be dull, or that brand marketing can’t sell and sell hard. There is a great deal of overlap between the two. But as a way of keeping the functions differentiated, it’s not a bad place to begin.,

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?

In his classic book “On Advertising” David Ogilvy handles this question masterfully. Ogilvy maintains that brand advertising sets the awareness so that the customer is in a position to receive more specific marketing and sales communications. The ad he cites, famously, shows an illustration of a grizzled business person staring at you, saying.

“I don’t know you.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know what you stand for.

I don’t know what you have to sell

“Now, why are you in office?

That about sums it up.

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. A solid, professionally built and diligently maintained website. No excuses for not having one. Don’t care how small your business may be.

2. A steady, positive presence in the web communities that you share in common with your customer. If you don’t know what these are, you should hire a good social media firm to help you figure that out.

3. A simple loyalty program that encourages your customers to opt in for email communications from you. This is your tool for winning business from the customers you already have.

4. A disciplined effort at producing useful and relevant content (think, blog posts at first, and infographics and slide presentations later) that will help your customers solve problems they have commonly and will position your business as a “go-to” resource. Don’t worry about giving your expertise away. Customers will use that knowledge, respect you for providing it, and come to you for help when the time is right.

5. A social media monitoring program that helps you keep tabs on what folks are saying about your business and helps you to leverage those things — even when (actually, especially when) they may be challenging. This is all about being dedicated to your customers and LISTENING, not just TALKING.

All five of these things can be done today with free tools. Using those tools to greatest impact takes some time and experience, and so you may elect to bring in some consultants to help you. But rest assured that none of this is mysterious. It is common sense, a lot of dedication, and a ton of good old-fashioned hard work. If you’re like most self-made businessfolks, you love that.

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?

Although there’s a bit of controversy to this, I would suggest that Chick-fil-A has done a masterful job of brand-building. They have made bold, simple promises to both their customers and their store operators, and they have lived these promises out in ways both large and small. Of course, they benefited from an iconic advertising campaign from the Richards Agency that catapulted them into the top tier of the QSR industry. But they have also done the behind-the-scenes work that’s necessary, and as a result they now enjoy per-store sales levels that outpace every one of their competitors by a mile. I can, and do, take issue with their position on several deeply important social issues. But as a practitioner of branding, I have to acknowledge that they have been nothing short of masterful in that regard.

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?

A successful brand will support the pursuit of sales targets, but those effects may be separated sufficiently from specific advertising insertions to make correlation a little unclear. Advertising experts, in lieu of direct correlations, will look to awareness studies, and comparisons of the brand’s “share of voice”. As part of this latter effort, I would suggest that social media statistics should figure more and more prominently in an assessment of the brand’s footprint. This is one reason why I am so disheartened by the level of “fake followers” and “false engagement” that we see from so-called “influencers” on the Internet. It’s not simply that these folks are looking to game a fledgling environment (the Internet is a babe-in-the-woods compared to print, radio, and TV), and in the process they’re muddying the very data that we need to address the long-held belief that advertising is simply unaccountable.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Nice segue. Social media plays a vital role in promoting the content that smart brands are producing or sourcing to make themselves positive, relevant, and useful presences in their various markets. Social media is also the place where users take hold of — and sometimes take control of — the brand, or at least some very significant part of the brand conversation. Once we sort through the noise and nonsense that I’ve mentioned above, and once brands have truly accepted that they need to look up on themselves as “publishers” in their own rights, I believe we will see a tremendously positive impact on both the effectiveness and the accountability of marketing efforts.

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

Reading. Deep and wide and continuously. Not just business stuff. Literature — emerging and established. History. Political science. Science. Whenever I turn off the talking heads on the damn news (sorry, CNN), and open a book, I feel myself returning to myself. And that makes me a better, more effective team member the next day.

Also, unplug regularly. Your mind is working even when you aren’t. Ideas will percolate better precisely because you turn your conscious mind to other matters (family, love, others), and open yourself up to influences from outside your normal working environment. Trust that. Trust them. Trust yourself.

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. 🙂

Setting aside the immediate and civilization-threatening forces at work in our world today, I would say that we could most benefit from a widespread return to faith in a power greater than us, and a willingness to approach the process of having a relationship with that being through pathways carved over centuries of human experience, yet still open to the immediate, to the here and now. The emptiness that gnaws at billions of people in the developed world saps our ability to address those threats mentioned above.

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

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.”

George Washington

For me, Washington, and after him Churchill, stands tall in history because he stood for so long and so precariously on the brink of failure and catastrophe, and remained resolute nonetheless. There’s many a business-manual or self-help book that will point the way toward nearly instantaneous success. But in my experience, what success I have managed to achieve has come by perseverance and enthusiasm (what I think Washington means by “spirit.”), and not by sudden windfall. When the going sometimes got tough, sentiments like Washington’s and Churchill’s helped me to overcome self-doubt– which is corrosive — and carry on.

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. 🙂

Bill Gates, to get his thoughts on water.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter.com/kevingroome

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinjgroome/

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