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“Create boundaries and stick to them” With Natalie Henley of Volume Nine

a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Henley. As CEO & co-owner of Volume Nine, one of Denver’s most prominent Digital Marketing agencies, Natalie runs general operations, as well as develops a customized strategy and Digital Marketing campaigns for clients. Natalie Henley is also a […]

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a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Henley.

As CEO & co-owner of Volume Nine, one of Denver’s most prominent Digital Marketing agencies, Natalie runs general operations, as well as develops a customized strategy and Digital Marketing campaigns for clients. Natalie Henley is also a widely acclaimed Digital Marketing speaker and consultant. With an extensive background in market research, digital marketing & P.R. for Fortune 50 companies, Natalie specializes in online brand-development and results-oriented digital campaigns.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, 13 years ago, I graduated into a recession with a super practical Political Science degree. I hit the workforce with three personal values that I still live by today: stay loyal, work hard & family-first. Those values brought opportunities to me early on in my career that really springboarded me into Digital Marketing. My first job out of college was political campaigning — for $200 a week, we would go door to door in the summer in North Carolina, sun-up to sundown, Monday through Saturday. Once the campaign wrapped the campaign Director hired me in his direct mail company, were for minimum wage (a very welcome pay increase), I stuffed envelopes. From there, he gave me an introduction to a friend in DC who worked for a big PR company who paid slightly above minimum wage to work in Market Research.

Having my foot in the door in communications, I got a taste for Marketing fast. Not only watching but getting to craft market research campaigns (surveys, focus groups, etc.), but also seeing first-hand how effective using data to sculpt campaigns really was amazing. Best of all, I started doing things outside my pay grade (another value I added into the stack along the way), and started writing surveys, developing pitches, etc.

When my husband and I decided to make a move to Denver more than 10 years ago, Digital Marketing as a field was very much still emerging. I was brought on to a small Digital agency, started running the sales, then starting up service lines like Social Media. I then started speaking more locally because of my ability to pair data with Marketing strategies & tactics. From there, I was hooked into this industry 😊

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?

Oh my goodness, there’s a lot to choose from! However, I think one of the funniest trends we all rode for a while was setting up proprietary social platforms. For one major brand, I spent a lot of time setting them up a Ning Social Network (back when Ning was free and a lot less pretty). We ended up getting about 200 followers, so we had some fun tossing stuff around an echo chamber, but in the end, the novelty of having a proprietary platform didn’t outweigh the cost.

The significant learning is you don’t need to chase a new trend or idea as a brand; it’s way more important to understand and meet your audience where they are.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

Yes — I would say there were two major tipping points in my career. The first was when I started to work on soft skills like empathy, personal accountability, and leadership. As part of that, I began to care a lot less about how good I was at a particular skill, but instead care a lot more about having the kind of company that allowed others to excel at the skills they were excited about.

The second was having a kid. As a recovering workaholic, I’m not sure that anything short of maternity leave would’ve caused me to gear down out of 60-hour workweeks. However, once I started to achieve a better work-life balance, I couldn’t believe the successes I had in my career and the fulfillment in my personal life.

The big takeaways:

  • If you’ve never spent time on personal development and soft skills, start with the area of personal accountability. That’s a great spring-board into this area.
  • If you work a lot of hours, force yourself to work reasonable hours for a few weeks and prepare to be amazed when the world doesn’t fall apart.

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

We have a pretty unique structure compared to a lot of Digital Marketing agencies. Among a lot of other benefits, that’s given us the ability to be a little more innovative with our clients and, more importantly, structured so that it can be data-driven. One recent example is we recently helped one of our larger eCommerce brands switch to an engagement-focused social strategy. As a result of that strategy, we had a post go viral. It drove so many impressions, engagement & sales for the brand that their internal teams first thought it was a system glitch.

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

One of the things we’ve started doing with more clients is launching brand ambassador programs, to help galvanize brand advocates on social media. I think these campaigns add a layer of authenticity that typical influencer campaigns can’t, and they provide a lot more cost-effective of a way for emerging brands to extend their reach online.

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

This is a big topic in our industry, and one I’ve dedicated a large part of my time and energy to solve at Volume Nine. I honestly think corporate leadership should take a lot of responsibility for the burnout we see in the industry.

However, if you are struggling with burnout, here are some of the things that have served me well over the years:

  1. Be open and honest with your leadership about how you are feeling and bring potential solutions (try to find one solution that isn’t hiring another person)
  2. Create boundaries and stick to them. One of mine is I don’t do work Friday nights — period.
  3. Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, get outside now and then, commit to exercising, eat well.
  4. Work on personal development and stress management. One of the areas I’ve spent considerable time this year is in Shadow Work and understanding how much stress I feel is manufactured inside my head.
  5. Consider some time management tactics like inbox zero, shorter meetings, and blocking out some time in your day when no-one can interrupt you.
  6. Always understand your personal “why” — who are you, what do you want, where do you want to go. Most importantly, what do you believe in? Understanding these areas can be motivating when stressful times hit.
  7. Always understand the why behind your campaigns and the ultimate KPIS you are driving towards. That can help you stay clear on what campaigns or tactics to lean into and which ones to trim.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Hah, this might be the first time this person finds out I say this to people. I’ve had so much help along the way from so many people; I wish I could name them all. However, I’d say only one person who took me under his wing early on was Robert Moran. He’s the first person who started pushing me to get outside the box, was never afraid to give feedback, let me work on projects that were probably outside my pay grade, and when it was time to move on to the next career step he did more than wish me well, he gave me a boost so I could get where I needed to go. I was so lucky to have started my career with him as my boss. I think he’s a pretty big deal now — he’s a partner in a global market research firm and I keep seeing him getting interviewed on major TV networks. 😊

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

The Taco Bell target — it was risky, it was innovative, it was cost-effective, and it was very successful.

In 2001 the space station Mir was de-orbited and scheduled to crash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. This caused a lot of anxiety because no one knew exactly where it would land. So Taco Bell scrambled and built a wooden target that they floated in the pacific ocean — they said if any piece of the shuttle hit the platform, Americans would get free tacos.

The beauty of the plan — there’s very little to cover if you don’t know where it’s going to re-enter, but the public was concerned, so the news had to film something. So, this cheap 12 by 12 target plastered with Taco Bell’s logo became a remarkable story, and they kept flipping back to footage of the darn thing floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Taco Bell got a ton of free press coverage, and people are still talking about that campaign decades later, and all it cost them was some wood, labor and an insurance policy (in case they actually had to give away millions of tacos).

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

The most successful campaign blueprints I’ve seen are a little bit less like a blueprint and a little more like a basic plan. The reason why is if you take the time to get too granular and too detailed in your campaign planning, it takes away your ability to be a little more flexible (especially on the tactics).

The best campaign planning:

  1. Goal: Set a campaign goal. Put plainly, what do we want to see happen when we do all this stuff?
  2. KPIs: Which metrics tell us we are getting closer to achieving that goal? The trick is to narrow this list down to a few.
  3. Audience: Establish your audience(s) — who is this targeting?
  4. Big Idea: What is the big concept or idea here that is going to bring everything together?
  5. Strategies & tactics: Fill in the strategies and a few tactics that fit under that big idea (brainstorms are great ways to come up with these)
  6. Measurement Plan: Finish the blueprint out with the metrics you are going to measure for each of the major strategies and tactics you outlined.

Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

I would agree that companies like Google & Facebook have disrupted marketing (in a significant way). However, I’m not sure I agree that consumers are more jaded and resistant to “salesy” material. I think consumers are resistant to salesy content coming across in the wrong ways. For example, consumers respond very positively to special offers in email, but not on Facebook. What data and technology have done for us is give us a much clearer picture of how our customers want to be marketed to. In that vein, I think the future of marketing is going to be brands that continue that trajectory, listen to their customers and embrace concepts like lifestyle marketing. That will mean a lot less “salesy” content and a lot more authentic, purpose-driven communication.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Done today is better than perfect tomorrow.
  2. Prioritize sleep.
  3. Work smarter, not harder.
  4. Don’t get sucked into the hype on things like silver bullets.
  5. Don’t spend a bunch of time learning and setting up MySpace for brands 😊

I’m not sure I have a great story or example for all of these, this is more a culmination of the things I’ve learned over my career.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

There are so many great marketing tools that we use almost daily. Here’s a few of the ones I find myself recommending the most often:

  1. Google Analytics / Google Search Console — These are wonderful, free tools for brands that’ can’t afford the more expensive analytics suites. If you are a marketers and you do nothing else, learn how to read your own data!
  2. Unsplash & Deposit Photos — Great places to get stock photography & stock footage.
  3. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) — Email list that compiled journalists who need expert quotes or ideas for specific things. This is a quick way to get your brand out there.
  4. Facebook / Instagram Ads + Promo — Running ads on Facebook & Instagram can be extremely powerful for brands, however the best results come from video ads (which can be hard for small businesses to assemble). Promo is a very cost-effective tool that allows you to make ads using a bunch of royalty free b-roll and music.
  5. WordPress / Shopify — These two Content Management platforms have been game changers for small businesses in the last 10 years.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

  • Search Engine Watch
  • Trend Watchers
  • Anything from Seth Godin (blogs, podcasts)
  • I think to follow industry leaders on Twitter & LinkedIn
  • The best resource by far is collaborating with fellow marketers about what they are seeing and trying.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?

My Dad — He has always been infectiously positive, personally accountable, present in conversations, and always sees the best in people.

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.

I realize this is probably doesn’t make a ton of sense since Social Media is one of the platforms we work in most often. I’d like to see us take a step away from social networks & technology as a society. I think our kids shouldn’t be on social media at all until they are 18, and we should all get off our screens a little more.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow Volume Nine by:

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

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