Be in it For the Long Game. Building a brand takes time, patience and hard work. Don’t trivialize the importance of brand building, the value of each step, and the resources needed to do this. While it’s not an insurmountable challenge, the reality is that you’ll need relationship resources throughout the process and to align on a long term plan that demonstrates commitment and success.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete Herrnreiter. Pete is the Vice President of Strategy and Planning at The Motion Agency, Chicago’s largest independent, female-owned marketing agency. A Chicago native and graduate of St. Norbert College, Pete ignited his career at the agency with a focus on content marketing, SEO, inbound marketing and analytics. In his current role, Pete directs the planning team in experience strategy development and brand research. He has proudly played a hand in the successful campaigns of top clients across a multitude of verticals, including retail, education, B2B, consumer goods and non-profits, and knows what it takes to market a trusted brand to consumers. With over a decade of industry experience, Pete previously held digital and marketing roles at Symmetri Marketing Group and Imagination where he developed digital and content marketing strategies for clients across multiple industries.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I feel that, especially today, career paths tend to take a very unconventional direction, and mine is no different. I landed at The Motion Agency after a chance meeting with our CEO, Kimberly Eberl. At the time, I was working for an IT startup leading their digital team, but on the search for a PR firm role. My company also happened to be looking for a PR representative at the same time, which is when I met Kim. Additionally, she happened to be working with my former colleagues, so there were a few coincidences that luckily intertwined. We kept in touch, and shortly after, Kim hired me to introduce a digital arm to her PR firm. Two years later, I now lead and build the strategy and planning team at Motion as a fully integrated marketing agency.
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?
One of my first jobs out of college was working as a marketing analyst for an automotive company that was headquartered in Germany. At the time, I was 24 years old and the youngest on the marketing team by at least 15 years — So I had a lot to learn, and fast. One of my responsibilities was to ensure uniformity of product specs in our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Between the lack of product and data and a dissonance between the company’s USA and German office, I had entered the wrong dims in our system and had to spend an entire week in our Atlanta warehouse in the middle of July literally measuring products, boxes (even the width of the cardboard) to input the stock keeping units (SKUs) correctly. Spending time in an Atlanta warehouse during the summer is about as pleasant as you can imagine.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Many clients struggle with understanding how to properly leverage an agency due to several factors, such as value obtain for the contract cost, how the agency aligns with and understands the brand’s strategic direction, the delivery of tactics and outputs, etc. At Motion, we excel at developing a strong, collaborative and proactive relationship with our clients — one that is built on more than our Statement of Work. Many agencies say that they are an extension of the marketing team or that they understand their client’s business, but very few can say they are trusted by their clients to lead and drive their business — for decades.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My role is new to the agency, so building out our redefined strategy department is currently a project. While strategy development isn’t necessarily a new service at Motion, we’re re-working its meaning to encompass more than branding and allow for a more research-driven, consumer-focused approach.
Internally, I think this role will help the agency grow and help team members better understand the proper way to leverage insights. Externally, it will help clients make better, more informed decisions based on data and reflect smarter thinking in our work that drives consumer behavior and perception change.
In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
In simpler terms, branding is used to convey the value of a specific brand or company, while advertising tends to focus more on a direct response of some sort. For example, you might launch a campaign that positions a brand as a “trusted authority on ‘X’ subject”. This builds brand awareness over time and strives to mold a consumer’s perception. However, later, you may leverage advertising tactics to target specific consumers with an offering that’s related to their newly formed perception.
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?
Brand building is critical, just as building your personal brand is important in your daily relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Over time, if you’re seen as unreliable or untrustworthy, your reputation begins to suffer and so does any benefit you received as a result of those relationships. On the other hand, if you work to communicate, directly or indirectly, that you are reliable and can be trusted, you gain credibility. Building a brand really is no different. Trust and value must be established to elicit some type of response.
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.
What’s key is that you lean on effective brand development and understand the context in which your customers leverage your services. That said, here are five strategies for building brand trust and credibility:
1. Identify Your Business Strategy
Defining your brand strategy expectations is key. Questions you may ask include: What does success look like? What are you willing to forego in the pursuit of success? Are you looking to expand into new markets? Do you want to develop a new product? Is there a competitor that is stealing market share? Knowing how a brand strategy will help tackle business challenges is vital but knowing how these challenges relate to where you want to go is critical.
For example, Chicago’s National Louis University (NLU) asked for Motion’s help to reposition themselves in the marketplace since it was perceived that NLU was a low-cost commuter school, and therefore limited potential student interest. In order to grow the university’s student body, and do so profitably, NLU was tasked with rethinking how the brand was perceived in the market.
Pro Tip: Use a business plan and forecasting to give insights into challenges. Ask questions like: “How can I achieve these goals in the current environment?” or “What will keep me from achieving these goals?”
2. Know Your Audience: Research Their Needs and Perceptions
You can’t build or reposition a brand if you don’t know what your audience wants or expects from companies in your category. Taking the time to understand who is buying your product, why they purchase it, how they make their purchase decision, what influences the decision process, and their perception of your brand (and others) is probably the most important part of a brand exercise. Afterall, a brand is only relevant if it speaks (and has value) to those it’s intended to help. In this stage, you should conduct consumer research, whether with surveys, focus groups, interviews, or all the above. From there, you can then develop the key insights you need to better align your brand to the marketplace.
Continuing the example of NLU, Motion interviewed current students, faculty and staff to help understand what made an NLU education valuable, why students truly wanted to attend, and what made them stay. The agency found that these students wanted to graduate with a degree that would help them make a difference in their community — whether as a teacher, social worker or business professional. The students agreed that a degree didn’t necessarily equate to a six-figure career right away but did enable them to give back to the communities they grew up.
Pro Tip: Don’t only rely on a small survey. Develop a plan that targets the right audience, asks the right questions and obtains multiple (even conflicting!) viewpoints. This is your one shot to really get in front of your customers — make the most of it.
3. Know Your Competition: Understand How Your Brand and Services Compare
This step may seem more obvious, but you’d be surprised how many brands have little to no competitive data on their competition. Developing a simple SWOT analysis, product gap analysis, a feature or benefits audit, or even a simple messaging audit, will better help understand the competitive landscape, and your brand’s place within it. The reality is that you can theorize why your brand may be superior, but until you know what the rest of the market is doing, it’s all guesswork.
For NLU, Motion conducted a messaging audit for several Chicago-area colleges and universities. We found that messaging was not only inconsistent within each college, but largely relied on a handful of generalities that were indistinguishable from one another. For example, many used generic language such as “advance yourself” or “get a quality education” and covered up the true value of the brand. This helped us better understand how we could truly differentiate NLU messaging.
Pro Tip: Not everyone is a competitor. Redefining who your true competitors are will help narrow down your focus. For example, students that may be considering a Big Ten school may not even have a smaller university on their radar, so by refining your true competitive set, you can focus on defining your messaging (and audience).
4. Develop a Robust Messaging Plan
Now that you’ve completed the three essential elements above (defining your goals, audience, and market), it’s time to start developing your brand. When looking at data, try to complete this sentence: I make/sell ____ for/to ____ who want/need ____ and believe____.
For example: I make widgets for small business owners who want/need an alternative to old widgets and believe that old widgets are too slow.
By identifying the salient elements of your research, you can start to build an Idea Brief, or an outline of why your audience would want your product. From there, begin developing a robust hierarchy of messaging that can be used in marketing and advertising materials.
Looking at our NLU data, Motion understood that students generally want to make the most of their careers, most schools market themselves generically, and NLU has affordable and career-oriented programs. Therefore, we developed a robust and powerful positioning statement that reflected NLU’s mission and student values: “Degrees of Difference.”
Pro Tip: You can try to do this step yourself, but sometimes you’re too close to the work. Hiring an agency may be expensive, but there is value in having outside creatives and strategists develop and test your messaging, and determine distribution strategies, such as traditional and digital media, content and collateral.
5. Be in it For the Long Game
Building a brand takes time, patience and hard work. Don’t trivialize the importance of brand building, the value of each step, and the resources needed to do this. While it’s not an insurmountable challenge, the reality is that you’ll need relationship resources throughout the process and to align on a long term plan that demonstrates commitment and success.
Pro Tip: Before jumping in, start by building a business case for a brand strategy and reposition. Take time to identify the need, challenge and resources required. By taking the time up front, you’ll be in a better position to lead a program and keep reactive criticism from derailing your plan.
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?
Dollar Shave Club is a popular example, but it’s for good reason. The direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand understood the challenge their target customers had — the market offered expensive razors that were questionable in quality and lacked variety. By developing a product, delivery system and brand that resonated with their target of male consumers, Dollar Shave Club has seen incredible growth. The vital point here is not as much about the brand itself, but how the brand’s product/service intimately aligned with the needs of their key demographics.
It’s hard to replicate success like this, but the Dollar Shave Club case study teaches us to rethink all elements of a brand strategy, including your product. If a product sucks, no brand repositioning can help. Elevate a brand strategy by really questioning what you’re delivering and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.
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?
It’s different. Measuring the success of a branding effort is rooted in how the consumer perception and sentiment of a brand shifts as a result. This means that, prior to any brand strategy rollout, you should measure current perception to establish a benchmark. Once the strategy plan takes effect in the market, measure again after some time has elapsed to see how perceptions have changed (or if it’s awareness you’re aiming for, what is the aided or unaided brand awareness in a given category). Sales may result, but the key is to reposition the brand in the minds of the consumer to help develop longer term recall.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
A critical role. As consumers become more reliant on social media to communicate, identify products/services, seek assistance, etc., understanding their expectations of social media and how they interact with your brand across all mediums is an essential part to this. Social media is playing an increasingly important role as consumers expect brands to not only have channels, but to also be active participants. This might mean posting valuable content to responding to consumer complaints and questions in near real time. Since consumers see social media as a growing method for interaction, having an active social extension of your brand is a must.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is a reality we all face and avoiding it can be hard. It’s important to do your best at managing the everyday things you can control and to not sweat those you can’t. Start by identifying what you can control, like your own priorities and others’ expectations of your role. When you define and communicate your priorities, you can put yourself in a better position to fend off reactive asks.
Then be realistic about what is within your realm of control and what isn’t. Understand what those are, manage them to your best, and move on if they cannot be changed.
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?
My political and social beliefs aside, I think spending more time with your loved ones is something we take for granted. However, just as important is giving others time to spend with their own family. Many companies struggle with respecting their employees’ work/life balance, and I’m fortunate to work for one that does. There are measurable business benefits to giving employees time to relax and spend outside of work. At the end of the day, what is all of this for if we can’t build our personal lives outside of work too?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have known, worked with and learned from several smart and caring people. Ultimately, of all the life lessons I’ve learned, the most important is knowing what you want and setting a plan to go after it. By setting your sights on a goal (whether that be a job, lifestyle, etc.), it’s far easier to orient yourself in a positive way and harder for negativity to impact your state of mind. It might take years and some tough decisions to take a certain path, but once you do, stick with it.
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?
There are many. But one person whose view I highly respect is Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy UK. His interviews, presentation and book have really inspired me to think of the world differently and not be afraid to ask “stupid questions”, take a contradictory viewpoint and be confident. If you haven’t already, listen to his TED Talk.
Rory, if you’re reading this, you’ve got an invite for a drink the next time you’re in Chicago!
How can our readers follow you on social media? (Optional to include personal social media channels, or we can include Motion channels).
Follow me on our agency’s social media channels!
Thank you for all of these great insights!