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“Be where your audience is.”, with Mike Maleszyk

The most useful measure of success for brand building activities is engagement, which can come in a few different forms in and of itself. Social follows and interactions, newsletter/blog signups, and product reviews are all great examples of how customers can engage with a brand invaluable, measurable ways to indicate that a brand building campaign […]

The most useful measure of success for brand building activities is engagement, which can come in a few different forms in and of itself. Social follows and interactions, newsletter/blog signups, and product reviews are all great examples of how customers can engage with a brand invaluable, measurable ways to indicate that a brand building campaign is delivering results.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Mike Maleszyk. Mike is the VP of Growth and Marketing at Smile.io, which provides easy-to-use loyalty programs to help businesses transform one-time sales into repeat, loyal customers. Previous to joining Smile, Mike was Head of Growth at semi-permanent tattoo brand inkbox, where he helped shape and lead the company from its earliest stages into the VC funded success story it is today.


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

Ialways loved technology. I started my first big corporate job out of school selling IT software and hardware. I loved it.

But it wasn’t until I met the marketing team and discovered the intersect between marketing and technology that my passion for digital marketing was truly discovered. The fact that my job as a sales rep could be made easier by marketing automation (which was fairly new at the time), and warm leads could be passed to me pre-qualified was extremely exciting. I had this thirst to know more.

The company I came to work for thereafter was focused on marketing automation and quickly acquired by Oracle. After spending a few years with the big guys, I learned about every product suite that was acquired and all their competitors. I knew the opportunity in this movement was huge, and those that could harness the power of digital marketing early on had an advantage.

When the opportunity to join a scrappy startup arose with the potential to apply these lessons, I enthusiastically embarked.

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?

I wanted to put on the old sales hat for a time. I’m not sure why — it was an inexplicable and compelling itch I needed to scratch. We started a wholesale model to sell directly to influential boutiques (is that even a thing?). It was dumb.

We went to this really gawdy and awful trade show in Vegas for some reason. About 2 days in, baking under the Vegas sun and hauling our booth materials to the convention we just sort of stopped and gave up.

It was a fruitless venture and we weren’t going to do it again. D2C was our bread and butter. Wholesalers were just too greedy, needy, and annoying to work with. Tradeshows were draining and the future of commerce was digital. Why were we playing in a space that we weren’t passionate about?

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

Our goal of helping our users make their customers Smile spills over into everything we do as a company. We want our own merchants smile, but we also want our employees, industry colleagues, and local community to Smile too.

One of the best examples of that in action is actually my own journey to Smile — the scrappy startup I was at previously was a Smile customer, but also part of the Toronto-Waterloo Region tech corridor that Smile is an active part of. Through the numerous times I got to interact with the Smile team, it was clear that they were building a brand that was recognizable even outside ecommerce, and I wanted to be part of it.

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 thing that we’ve been saying to all the brands we work with is that while you need to advertise, the brands that make it in the long term aren’t stopping there. In a nutshell, advertising is acquisition and branding is everything that gets customers engaged and keeps them retained. Not knowing that difference is why you see so many household names filing for bankruptcy lately — too many of them put all their budget and focus on telling customers they should buy from them without taking the time to foster the emotional connections (with brand marketing and everything else that isn’t advertising) that create long term brand loyalty.

I would challenge existing D2C brands to really map out what advocacy looks like to them. From there, you can create measurable goals and move the needle with your brand equity.

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?

Who your brand is and the values and ideas you represent is what will stick with your customers. You can throw out big discounts and make social ads that get clicks, but if your brand isn’t memorable your customers are going to jump ship as soon as a better deal comes along. Branding is often the process of humanizing your brand, so that customers and fans think about the people that work for and represent your brand, and not just an ambiguous business they like.

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. Simplify who you are and what you do: The brands that make it for the long haul are the ones you can quickly recognize what they represent and what it exists to achieve. While brand backstories can be fun to share, if customers need to read an entire blog series to understand why your brand is worth believing in, its never going to stick with them because they won’t bother sticking around to find out in the first place.
  2. Be where your audience is, and don’t be where it isn’t: Trying to be everything to everyone means you’re waste valuable time and resources marketing in ways that will never pay off. Just like that time I tried to sell D2C products at a big Vegas trade show, taking the time to realize where your customers aren’t can be more important than knowing where they are. If customers see you marketing in all the wrong places, they will question whether you really know them at all. Building trust is important, but keeping it is even more valuable.
  3. Let authenticity come from transparency: Just like people, the most trustworthy brands aren’t the ones who tell you “trust us”. Rather, it’s the ones who show you how trustworthy they are by their actions. Publish a transparency report, let customers see behind the curtain on social media, give your brand a face. If you show that you’re believable, you won’t have to ever say “please, believe us.”
  4. Don’t let size dictate impact: There’s no quicker way to doom your brand than by limiting what you’re capable of. Hopefully, you got into the business you’re in because you’re passionate about the mission of your company, so let that passion propel you to take the (calculated) risks that can pay off exponentially — even if your brand is still in its infancy. Every household brand started somewhere, and its the on-fire-with-passion ones that were so believable that they could blaze the trails to become who they are today.
  5. Make your customers smile: Customers (and potential customers) are always watching, so creating opportunities to delight them can make or break your ability to connect with them and turn casual shoppers into brand advocates. A customer who is simply satisfied with your brand experience will never tell anyone about it, but if your brand can, as Marie Kondo says, “spark joy”, they’ll share the valuable social proof that builds widespread trust in your brand again and again.

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 is one of those brands who is incredibly polarizing — you either love them or you hate them. The special thing about apple though is that if you don’t like them its because of a taste in ecosystem — not their actual brand. Everyone knows exactly what they stand for and the kind of customer they appeal to. Even if you aren’t a fan, they’re still incredibly believable.

To replicate the same sort of brand community, the key is to connect with your customers on an emotional level. Apple’s classic “Think Different” slogan defined who they would become as a brand, and it worked because it appealed to their audience on a level deeper than simply asking them to buy a product — it invited them to join a way of thinking about the world and who they are in it.

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?

The most useful measure of success for brand building activities is engagement, which can come in a few different forms in and of itself. Social follows and interactions, newsletter/blog signups, and product reviews are all great examples of how customers can engage with a brand invaluable, measurable ways to indicate that a brand building campaign is delivering results.

If you have a loyalty program in place it becomes even easier to measure when you can track engagement with the interface and their reward earning and redeeming apart from sales alone.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a big part of where any brand “puts their money where their mouth is” and shows that they can do more than make a pretty website. At Smile, we use Instagram as a more culture-focused social channel to showcase the Smile team members, behind-the-scenes shots, and what we’re doing in our community, and reserve the usual Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter as more traditional content marketing channels. That lets our audience know what kind of content they are going to see on whatever platform they’re on, while its all still tied back to the larger Smile brand.

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

Hit something.

The gym, the dojo, the pavement. This doesn’t work for everyone. Different people recharge differently. For myself, I find when I’m feeling burnt out and out of energy, that extra push helps my mind reset and gives me a second wind.

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. 🙂

Sustainable practices for the developing world.

Plastics in the ocean, climate crises, reliance on fossil fuels — our biggest threats to the future stem from the developing world. That’s not to say that the economically developed countries are off the hook. If anything they need to set the example and develop the right technology to export. But with explosive population growth and economic development happening at breakneck speeds, we see developing countries pursue wealth with such an aggressive pace, that without the right protections, conditions and institutions to regulate this growth, you see a lot of destruction caused along the way.

Here is an example of a handful of rivers in the world causing 90% of the plastics in the Ocean:

8/10 of them are in Asia.

Developing nations don’t need to make the same mistakes western countries did/currently do pursuing economic development. There are alternatives now, and they have the opportunity to build in the right way, and create examples that get shared back to first-world communities.

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

“No-one cares as much about your career as you do. If you don’t have a plan for you, someone has a plan for you.”

A senior sales exec told me this once. It stuck with me for two reasons:

1) If I don’t articulate my career goals to the right people and make a plan for myself, then I’m stuck living someone else’s plan.

2) Everyone has an interest in getting something from you, and it doesn’t always align with what your interests are. You have to learn to say no.

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. 🙂

Brian Balfour.

We’ve met online, had some conversations, some back and forth, etc.

We just haven’t met in person yet.

Brian is a mentor of mine on Growth. I took his Reforge program and it really reshaped the way I thought about product growth. It also gave me the right foundations and frameworks to iterate on and made me a better leader b enabling me to lead by example.

Lunch would be on me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Ironically, I don’t do social media.

I’ve cultivated millions of followers across numerous channels for the brands I work with. I’ve focused so heavily on that that I just don’t make enough time for myself.

My twitter account was also hacked and I only recently started using it again.

If you must use a channel, that’s probably the one. https://twitter.com/Maleszyk

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

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