There are millions of companies in this world and many competing products. Without a strong brand, what you’re offering may be short lived. And, today’s customers are savvy, with archives of information at their fingertips. As a business, you must invest resources into building a trustworthy brand — one that clearly communicates its offering and image and provides a clear advantage over its competition. This will not only help break through the clutter, but also build a connection with your brand over others. And that connection (and continued communication with your customer) will keep the customer coming back time and time again. Sure, there are overnight sensations out there, and digital tools enable anyone to gain awareness at any time. But even if that happens, it is not sustainable without a credible brand.
Anna Crowe is founder and CEO of Crowe PR, an Amazon best-selling author and speaker, and an adjunct marketing professor. Anna has spent nearly 20 years working for iconic brands in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego, pivoting from a Big 4 CPA track, to scaling and leading a bi-coastal public relations and marketing agency. In addition to running her business and teaching at the university for the past nine years, Anna spearheads the local chapter of a female focused Changemaker Chats organization and sits on the board of the San Diego Chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization, overseeing the Accelerator Program. She is a recent finalist of San Diego Business Journal’s ’40 Under 40’ and ‘Most Admired CEO’ awards and is the 2019 finalist for San Diego Magazine’s ‘Woman of the Year: Industry Leader’ recognition. Anna holds an undergraduate degree in Accounting from Rutgers University and an International MBA from University of San Diego. A former Moscovite and long-time New Yorker, Anna lives in San Diego with her husband and two young children. She is happiest when she positively impacts another human being, grows as an individual and a leader, travels the world with her family, and catches a coastal sunset with a glass of Pinot Noir.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Anna! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career in public accounting and was heading down the CPA track for the first few years before realizing I craved a different profession. At the time, I was working at Coty Inc, a major beauty company in New York City. The leadership team there was supportive and moved me into a marketing role within the global brands division, which I loved. I spent a few years learning how to build iconic brands and decided to pursue my MBA and perfect my marketing skills.
My first job after graduation led me to Los Angeles, where I served as a marketing and sales executive at EMI Music Marketing, whose catalog encapsulated some of the most recognizable brands in the world, from the Beatles and Pink Floyd, to Coldplay and Norah Jones, and everything in between. Getting to work on (and with) these incredible brands further taught me on what it takes to build and keep an iconic brand, and I was able to take that experience to my career at AT&T and, later, to the PR agency world. After a few years at the agency level, I founded Crowe PR and the rest is history.
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?
It’s funny now because three years have passed and we can laugh about it, but we made a big mistake in 2016, taking on a pro-bono client. An organization came to us for PR support and we thought it would be good to give back and gain some experience working in a new vertical. We saw a few red flags during the sourcing call, but decided to move forward anyway, chalking it off to the non-profit nature of the organization. The red flags only got worse — until we realized that nothing the organization planned to do was taking place and their team was disjointed. In the end, we ended up spending significantly more time on this account than budgeted, losing way more than anticipated and had to part ways. It stung for a few months, but it was a great learning opportunity around due diligence. We have not made the same mistake since then.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My team and I put a lot of thought into the branding of this business. In addition to all the pieces that represent the brand image — logo, website, social channels, etc. — we’re always refining and elevating the standards to ensure we stand out from the competition. Our core values define who we are as a brand. For instance, one our core values is authenticity. That means that we embrace who we are as individuals and understand and develop our unique strengths. That not only translates to our relationships within the organization, but to our clients, journalists, influencers and partners. It also translates to our culture of transparency, which attributes to our success as a business.
Another one of our core values is the focus on results. That means the bottom line of our clients’ business is an important barometer of our success. If they’re growing and accomplishing on their business goals, as a result of our efforts, that’s a great result. If they aren’t, then we need to work together to understand what may have changed and how to best refine the strategy to align with their goals. Being nimble and forward-looking are a few other competitive advantages we find useful for our clients in today’s fast-past world.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently published my first book, which was exciting. The book, titled Get Real: The Power of Genuine Leadership, a Transparent Culture and an Authentic You, discusses the importance of authenticity in various life scenarios. I’ve met a lot of people and experienced various corporate environments during my 20+ year career. And it still amazes me how most people, especially leaders don’t lead with authenticity and believe fear is a good tactic. The book speaks to leadership, but also ways for building a transparent culture and figuring out the right career and personal path. I also dive into branding in the book and spotlight a few brands I find do this well.
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?
The branding piece represents the heart and soul of the company, product, service or organization. It’s the reason the company came to be, and its offerings exist. When creating a brand, we focus on the why, the how and the what, and we identify competitive advantages, brand persona and everything else that goes with creating a strong brand. And while the word brand is quite different from product, brand marketing falls into the ‘Product’ piece of the marketing mix.
Product marketing, on the other hand, falls under the ‘Promotion’ piece of the marketing mix. And, the promotional piece comes after the product/brand has been set. During this stage, companies identify the best way to communicate the product, brand promise, etc. It’s a great way to raise awareness for your brand and engage customers.
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?
There are millions of companies in this world and many competing products. Without a strong brand, what you’re offering may be short lived. And, today’s customers are savvy, with archives of information at their fingertips.
As a business, you must invest resources into building a trustworthy brand — one that clearly communicates its offering and image and provides a clear advantage over its competition. This will not only help break through the clutter, but also build a connection with your brand over others. And that connection (and continued communication with your customer) will keep the customer coming back time and time again.
Sure, there are overnight sensations out there, and digital tools enable anyone to gain awareness at any time. But even if that happens, it is not sustainable without a credible brand.
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.
- Be authentic. Build your core values and stay true to them; make decisions based on core values — that’s anything from product/service offering, hiring, social media strategy, etc.
- Be clear, compelling and consistent. It doesn’t take much to confuse your customer and have them swayed by competition. Spend time on compiling and refining your messaging to ensure it clearly communicates who you are as a brand and what makes you different. Be clear in your communication, ensure you have a compelling offering and be consistent with your message and brand.
- Understand your WHY. Have a clear sense of what problem you are solving for your customers. And, ensure everyone in the company understands your purpose and is moving in the same direction. When you have an engaged team, you have brand ambassadors to help support growth and tell the world about your company.
- Ensure your actions support your brand image. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many businesses are disjointed, where marketing and operations don’t speak to one another often enough. If you tell the world your sustainable, for instance, but your manufacturing practices are not utilizing sustainable practices, your customers may lose faith in you and won’t believe what you’re saying.
- Design a marketing program that builds and maintains brand credibility. There are several key elements to a marketing program. Naturally, as a business, you have to understand your customer and speak in a way that will relate to them and help build a connection. And you have to build credibility. Ensure public relations is incorporated into your marketing plan as that’s the best way to build a strong reputation and protect it.
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?
One of the brands I personally love that has done a great job at this is Zara. While the name may not be as commonplace in the U.S. as Disney or Apple, Zara is a huge company, with a strong and loyal brand following across the globe. Since the beginning, the Spanish company has done a great job listening to its customers and offering products they want vs. pushing their own agenda. And, it is fast to respond to trends and has a great strategy of offering limited edition items/lines, which sell out quickly. I believe listening to your customers is key — what is their need? What problems can you solve, etc.?
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?
There are numerous ways to measure success of a brand building campaign, keeping in mind that building a credible brand takes time. While a new business needs to create a brand to go to market, many companies also re-brand to increase sales, enter into new markets or grow through additional avenues. The KPIs vary depending on the goal, but it’s important to set the KPIs as an organization ahead of time.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media plays a vital role in branding efforts because it serves as a dynamic customer touch point — for better or for worse. In fact, several consumer demographics, including millennial, will look at a brand’s social pages before they visit the website. That means, all social channels need to represent the brand well — from content creation and design to brand voice in public-facing and private customer communication. It doesn’t take much to tarnish a brand and the risk of doing so via social media is high. And, remember — you don’t have to play on every social network. But if you do have a presence on any, ensure it’s a strong one.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
There’s usually no shortage of ideas when it comes to this profession and we always want to do more, which is fantastic from a results standpoint. And typically, there isn’t anyone pushing you to slow down — it’s the opposite. So, taking time to step back periodically is important. That means different things to people, but the idea is to allow yourself some time and space to focus on yourself and take a break from the work will only contribute to your success.
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. 🙂
As I discussed in my book, as a society, we are all about putting on a show these days — influencers have contributed to this trend. So, I go back to being authentic — it’s OK to not have all the answers, it’s OK to not be perfect. There is no one out there with the same exact offering you bring as an individual and you should own that and bring yourself to the table — be genuine and consistent in no matter what you do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know if this is a ‘life lesson’ quote, but I live by a simple quote — “dream big, work hard and surround yourself with good people.” I think it’s important to have passion and goals and ensure those goals are more than you can ever imagine so you have something to strive for. I also believe there is no benefit in cutting corners in the long run and you have to commit and do things well — whether its big or small things. You can’t be too big for a job –show strong work ethic no matter the task. And, finally I do believe we are the average of the five people closest to us, so be sure to surround yourself with good people that will push you forward, not backwards, and support you when needed. And, there’s not room in life for negativity — that won’t get you far, so ensure people around you have a positive mindset and see the glass half full, no matter the challenge.
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. 🙂
Yes, Sir. Richard Branson –any day of the week!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
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