You can transform a commodity into a beloved brand by selling an emotional impact. Nike doesn’t just sell shoes and apparel. They sell the belief that when you don their gear you become an athlete. What are you willing to pay more for?
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Anne Candido.
Annie is the co-founder of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency for Small and Mid-Size Businesses. Anne grew up at P&G — but don’t let that fool you — her path was anything but traditional. Splitting her 20 years between PR/Communications/Marketing and R&D, Anne learned (sometimes the hard way) the imperative role brand building plays to cultivate successful individuals and businesses. Until the world is run by robots, there will always be a person on the other side of the sale. Which means a brand’s ability to transform life in order to create an authentic relationship that they alone own will continue to be paramount for growth. That’s Brand-Love. She co-founded Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency to help small and mid-size businesses and the individuals within them realize their Brand-Love potential. Because it doesn’t matter the size of your business, how long you have been around, the number of people you have or the amount of money you make, forming Brand-Love connections is possible and should be a focus at EVERY STEP on the business journey. It is how commodities become brands and brands become franchises. She dives into this more in her new book available on Amazon: The Super-Highway of Relevancy. Getting More People to Choose Your Brand, More Often, Indefinitely.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entrepreneurial journey started when I was in elementary school. Leg-warmers were all the rage, so my mom taught me how to knit my own. Wanting my Cabbage Patch Kid doll to also be in-trend, I scaled down the pattern to make matching ones for her too. When my friends saw them, they wanted ones for their doll as well. And so began my business of making Cabbage Patch Kid leg-warmers. While my parents bowled in their league, I would be working on my orders. The entrepreneurial spirit stayed with me, even through 20 years in a corporate world where I grew-up in product development, branding and marketing. I was never quite satisfied with accepting the status-quo. I was always motivated by finding unexpected ways to connect the dots that opened up new opportunities. And now that I have returned to the entrepreneurial world, I am helping small and mid-size businesses do the same. But I can still do Cabbage Patch Kid leg-warmers if anyone is so inclined.
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?
When I would do PR media days, I often times used humor in an effort to put talent at ease and make them more comfortable. You can say I made a “rookie mistake” when I tried such an approach with NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. He was our spokesperson for a Super Bowl campaign, and he was to pass the ball with one of the Good Morning America correspondents for a tv segment. I asked him in prepping if he needed a ball to practice since he has been out of the game for awhile. Now mind you, my tone was anything but serious, and I am a BIG NFL fan (#CowboysNation). But I learned very quickly that though a very easy-going guy, there is one thing Jerry Rice takes very seriously — his skills. And honestly, he could probably still put pads on and play. I was the source of inside jokes for quite awhile amongst my team. What I learned is some things just aren’t funny no matter your intent. So, err on the side of caution and understand a joke isn’t a joke if the other person doesn’t think it is funny.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Forthright People is an On-Demand Marketing and Branding Agency for small and mid-size businesses. My partner, April Martini, grew up in the agency world while I grew up in the corporate world. With our combined 35 years of experience, we have seen and addressed just about every business challenge. Many times, agency-corporate relationships can be contentious, but we embrace the reality that we come from opposite sides of the proverbial marketing tracks. It challenges us to look at our clients’ business needs from multiple angles and deliver work that really moves the needle. As an aside, we met through mutual business acquaintances 4x removed from our initial contacts. It is a testimony to networking and embracing every connection as an opportunity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are finalizing a new workshop/coaching program aimed at helping people cultivate their Personal Brand. Each of us is our own brand. Just like a product you see in retail, the way we show-up determines how society will interact and engage with us both personally and professionally and ultimately whether they will buy what we are selling. But often times in pursuit of marketing our brand, we default to being what society says we should be rather than developing the best version of ourselves to present to society. What results is a frustrated feeling of “chasing the dream” which generally ends in disappointment when outcomes don’t meet expectations. Only by intentionally cultivating our personal brand can we create a reliable compass for directing our personal and professional lives.
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?
Your branding is the strategy that informs your marketing. Many businesses try to do it the other way and only end up burning through a lot of money and time with nothing to show for it. A brand must be able to answer three questions: 1) Who am I? 2) How am I different? 3) Why do you (the consumer) want me?. This establishes a foundation from which to build marketing vehicles that can quickly and efficiently reach your consumer. Without it, there is to just too much too choose from. It is like playing darts in the dark.
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?
These aren’t mutually exclusive. Your brand strategy should inform your marketing efforts. What successful brands embrace that others overlook is that 90% of decisions are emotionally led. They get that even though you put a price tag on a product or service, what they are really selling is the emotional benefit that product or service delivers. When you authentically tap into this, you create tangible value that allows you to command higher prices, get more customers, scale more quickly and generate more impact.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
Because it is relevant albeit somewhat controversial in the current climate and culture, I want to offer this from the perspective of Gen-Z and Millennials. Specifically, what we can learn from their actions, principles and beliefs to build trusted and believable brands and business that can sustain crisis. My hope is that maybe it grants us all a new perspective:
- We peg Millennials and Gen-Zers as consumers who prefer purpose driven brands. What businesses are we actively trying to support now amidst this pandemic? Small, local businesses. Not just because they are the most vulnerable, but because we KNOW them. We know their story. They are part of our story. Strategy: Have a brand-story that means something to your consumers.
- They are known for having side-hustles. Perpetual entrepreneurs even with a corporate job. Side-hustles diversify revenue. It enables you to be more resilient, especially in uncertain times. Strategy: Diversify revenue streams by creating a strong brand foundation that can unify the offerings.
- They communicate virtually and find satisfaction in it. Often times this is our biggest criticism of Gen-Z & Millennials. But they aren’t struggling to connect despite the “Stay-at-home” mandate. In fact, we have all had to become more like Gen-Z and Millennials in this fashion. And guess what? Many of us kind-of like it! It is more convenient, cheaper, saves transportation time and you can include people virtually who aren’t just within driving distance. Strategy: It is a virtual world. Stop judging it and just embrace it by creating a strong social/digital presence for your brand.
- They consume content through multiple channels. It isn’t unusual for Gen-Zers and Millennials to engage in multiple channels of content from the same source. They may listen to business moguls, like one of my favorites Ed Mylett on his podcast Max Out but also follow him on social, read his book, listen to him speak and buy into his business products. In this pandemic, only one of these channels has been compromised…speaking. Meaning, Ed can still do business. Strategy: Create an ecosystem around your consumer.
- They are flexible, adaptable and can pivot. Again, Gen-Z & Millennials are often times criticized for job-jumping or being pleasure seekers with an abundance of interests. What this means is they are always living outside their comfort zone. Which also means they don’t get complacent and “safe”. So, when there is a shift in the status-quo, they don’t freak out. Instead, they view it as opportunity. Two examples are FUSIAN’s efforts to deliver fresh produce and groceries and MadTree Brewing’s efforts to delivery beer and pizza ice-cream truck style, all staples of the pandemic. Strategy: Ask “What if?” and “What must be true?” when challenges present themselves. If you are intimately connected with your consumer and authentic to your brand, you can find ways to weather any storm.
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?
Nike. Every entrepreneur as part of their unofficial schooling should read the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Not only will you be relieved to find out that the brutal nature of starting and growing a business is universal, but you get real insight into a mind wired for brand building. He exemplifies three key points essential for growing brand love:
- Brand building must start at the beginning as it clarifies why someone should choose you…for funding, manufacturing, purchase, retailing…all of it.
- You can transform a commodity into a beloved brand by selling an emotional impact. Nike doesn’t just sell shoes and apparel. They sell the belief that when you don their gear you become an athlete. What are you willing to pay more for?
- He embraced influencer marketing from the beginning as he hustled his shoes to track teams all throughout Oregon. The first of note, Steve Prefontaine. This continued to be a primary strategy to systemically build and extend the brand’s equity as it expanded into other sports. Case-in-point, Nike’s Jordan brand continues to be the basketball shoe of choice even though many ballers weren’t even born when Jordan played.
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?
All branding and marketing efforts should be measured by KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that either directly or indirectly tie to sales. For example, you want to launch a new social media campaign to generate customer acquisition amongst a new target. Customer acquisition is a direct KPI of sales. But before you can launch a social media campaign, you must outline copy and content that is going to appeal to this new customer, right? The choices you make here stem from your branding. You may choose to test a few different social media ads with different brand positionings to identify which generates the most appeal. This is your indirect KPI as it is helping you make a choice that will ultimately set-up your social media campaign. Many businesses will gloss over the importance of defining indirect KPI’s citing lack of time, money, expertise, and resources. These poor businesses learn the hard way when their uninformed campaigns fail.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
This is a digital world. You need to embrace it. The first step is to identify when and where your customer is the most receptive to communications about you and your category. Then develop a social strategy defining the messages and story-tellers which will deliver these messages. Keep in mind, your customer has an ecosystem that surrounds them which influences the choices they make. For example, in order to establish your credibility as a brand, your customer may seek out a trusted influencer or publication for an endorsement or recommendation. But in wanting to get a feel for the brand’s vibe, the customer may go to the brand’s social handles to see what they post and how people react. So, it is imperative to understand how your customer consumes your brand and cultivate the channels accordingly.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
You can’t work in your business and on your business at the same time. As entrepreneurs launch their business, it is common to grit it out by trying to do both. And in those early stages when you are trying to learn, define and be frugal, that makes a ton of sense. But once you have a proof-of-concept, it is to your own personal benefit as well as that of your businesses to put infrastructure and processes in place to clearly delineate who is working ON the business and who is working IN the business. This is the key to sales growth, scale and sanity.
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. 🙂
Me and my husband also happen to be real-estate investors. We have 5 buildings (17 units) of low-income housing. Our mission is to create living environments that our tenants feel safe in and proud to call home. With this, they can have a stable place from which to build the rest of their lives. I believe low-income housing is often times misunderstood as a result of the stereo-types (i.e. slum lords, trouble makers, etc). And unfortunately, sometimes these stereo-types still play out. But I am proud to say that I would live in any of the units we own. I can also tell you most of my tenants strive to be good people despite the struggles they have gone through in their lives. Struggles I can’t even fathom. So, at times I offer direction, structure, and firm reminders with clear consequences so they understand what is expected. And at times I just listen, offer suggestions if I have anything to offer, and help them find solutions. At the end of the day, they are just people trying to make it work with the tools they were given. Isn’t that what all of us are doing? I wish more real-estate investors, landlords and property managers would align with this mission to bring more humanity and integrity to low-income housing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction” ~Cynthia Occelli
I think this speaks to the pain and discomfort that comes with transformation. But at the same time provides comfort in knowing it is in fact part of the process to achieve one’s fullest potential. As I have started my new businesses, I will frequently say “I am planting seeds”. This quote reminds me planting is just the beginning of the journey. But what is possible if I just have the courage and perseverance can be life-changing.
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. 🙂
In addition to Ed Mylett whom I already mentioned, without a doubt Marcus Lemonis. I refer to him in my book, The Super-Highway of Relevancy. Getting More People to Choose Your Brand, More Often, Indefinitely, as the “Dr. Ruth of companies” for the way he transforms businesses by helping them cultivate Brand-Love. I have seen every episode of The Profit at least once as I find it very valuable insight not just for what he gets right but for what he gets wrong as well.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is where I engage the most frequently. You can find me by my name, Anne Candido.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.