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Dan Visnick: “Build a product that reflects your identity”

Your brand is more than external advertising, it’s the emotional connection that your product makes with your customers (and often with your employees for that matter). It’s the embodiment of what you stand for as a company and whether you know it or not, you’re creating your brand in every action that you take. A […]


Your brand is more than external advertising, it’s the emotional connection that your product makes with your customers (and often with your employees for that matter). It’s the embodiment of what you stand for as a company and whether you know it or not, you’re creating your brand in every action that you take. A strong brand is one that resonates with your target market and building this connection helps inspire loyalty. By being intentional and investing resources to define your brand clearly, you’re much more likely to achieve a successful outcome. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to get started on the right foot. Building brand begins internally, so before you consider investing in big advertising campaigns make sure that your employees are aligned with your company’s mission and vision. That way, they can bring these values directly to your customers through their own work and the advertising investment that comes later, simply helps amplify these efforts.


I had the pleasure to interview Dan Visnick. Dan is the Chief Marketing Officer at HoneyBook, the leading business and financial management platform for solopreneurs and freelancers. Dan has more than 20 years of technology and internet industry experience, from innovative startups to established brands. He joined HoneyBook to make a positive impact on solopreneurs and this fast-growing segment of the economy. Before joining HoneyBook, he led global marketing for Change.org, was head of consumer marketing for Google Shopping, ran marketing at a startup that was acquired by Google, and served in a number of marketing leadership roles at Yahoo!. Dan attended the University of California, Berkeley and currently lives with his wife and two sons in Lafayette, CA.


Thank you Dan for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In some ways, I started my marketing career when I was twelve. I had a paper route, which is like running a small business, and that’s where I ran my first “marketing campaigns.” To grow subscriptions, I created pamphlets and wrote letters that I’d leave in neighbors’ mailboxes. To increase collections and reduce cancellations, I provided people with stamped, self-addressed envelopes making it more convenient to pay.

I also entered an advertising contest for the Sacramento Bee and won a top honor. So, early on I actually got exposure to direct marketing, customer retention and advertising.

Later, during the early commercialization of the internet I was drawn to the instant feedback and measurability of digital media. I love being able to launch an ad or send an email and get immediate feedback on whether it’s making an impact so you continue to learn and improve.

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 worked on Yahoo! Autos, we were launching an environmental car buying section and wanted to come up with something that would generate buzz and press coverage for the launch. We decided that we would go to the El Mirage dry lake bed and try to set the land speed record for a biodiesel-fueled race car.

Prior to setting the record, we would showcase the car at the SEMA Show (one of the world’s largest automotive trade shows) and give visitors french fries cooked in the car’s fuel. It was a great plan, but had a very large dependency… building a Yahoo!-branded biodiesel race car.

We had mocked up a really sleek car that reflected our brand, but unfortunately we ended up with an ugly, off-brand pick-up truck that didn’t go very fast. People at the auto show still loved it (and the fries), we still set the speed record and got some decent press coverage, but it was a poor representation of Yahoo!’s brand and no one really felt proud of it. That experience reinforced the need to identify critical failure points on a project and de-risk them in advance, as well as the importance of vetting and managing partners extremely well.

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

HoneyBook provides solopreneurs and freelancers with the tools they need to streamline all aspects of their business process from first inquiry to final payment. This enables creative entrepreneurs to spend more time doing what they love and less time on the tedious administrative side of running a business. What really makes our company stand out is the genuine passion our employees have for fulfilling this mission and serving our members.

Our passion for helping entrepreneurs succeed is reflected in HoneyBook’s desire to cultivate an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit in our employees. We purposely recruit creative and entrepreneurial people and are fully supportive if they make the decision to take a side-hustle full time. We’ve had around 15 employees to date who’ve moved on from HoneyBook to pursue an entrepreneurial venture.

For example, one of our past employees started the granola company, gr8nola, as a side-hustle while working at HoneyBook. When she left three years later it was to take her once part-time gig full-time. We gifted her a HoneyBook account to manage her business and to this day we stock her granola in our kitchen for employees to enjoy.

HoneyBook’s founders have been very intentional about creating this culture and we’re proud it has been recognized with great rankings in Great Place to Work.

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

We’re always working on new features to ensure that our members can be more successful with their businesses. As their needs change we need to make sure our platform is evolving to support them. Earlier this year we released our Android app in addition to expanding the functionality of our iOS app, so that we can better help members manage their businesses on the go.

Looking ahead, I’m really excited about the work that our product team is doing to enhance scheduling capabilities for our members. We’ve found that projects which begin with an in-person meeting are 34 times more likely to be booked than those which rely on email alone. So we know that developing this area of our product will have a big positive impact for our members.

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?

Before defining differences between brand and product marketing it’s important to recognize that they’re both intimately related and dependent on one another. That being said, to me the brand represents how you want people to feel about your product and company. Product marketing helps communicate how your product and features are solving your customer’s needs or pain points. Advertising should reinforce both the brand and the customer benefit.

We had a saying on the marketing team at Google that’s helpful here: “Know the customer, know the magic, connect the two.” Defining your target audience (the customer) and their needs are key aspects of both brand and product marketing.

Understanding how your product addresses those needs — the magic — is core to product marketing, and “advertising” — connecting the two — is both a brand and product marketing exercise.

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?

Your brand is more than external advertising, it’s the emotional connection that your product makes with your customers (and often with your employees for that matter). It’s the embodiment of what you stand for as a company and whether you know it or not, you’re creating your brand in every action that you take.

A strong brand is one that resonates with your target market and building this connection helps inspire loyalty. By being intentional and investing resources to define your brand clearly, you’re much more likely to achieve a successful outcome.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to get started on the right foot. Building brand begins internally, so before you consider investing in big advertising campaigns make sure that your employees are aligned with your company’s mission and vision. That way, they can bring these values directly to your customers through their own work and the advertising investment that comes later, simply helps amplify these efforts.

Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand?

  1. Listen to your customers and embed it in your culture. Great brands are built on great customer insights. You don’t need to do expensive research to achieve this — use SurveyMonkey to survey your customers, send them post-purchase NPS emails and meet with them in person to find out how you’re delivering on your brand promise. HoneyBook’s CEO, Oz Alon, gets customer satisfaction emails directly sent to him and shares them in meetings throughout the week which helps other employees know it’s something we value.
  2. Define your brand identity. Who are you, what do you stand for, what’s your promise? You need to align on and codify this so everyone is working off the same page and you consistently reinforce those attributes.
  3. Build a product that reflects your identity. People’s biggest and most memorable impression of your brand is going to come through interacting with your product, so make sure it reflects your personality and values.
  4. Leverage social media and PR. These channels are generally cost-efficient and good fits for small companies. Most people considering purchasing from you today are going to check out your social handles so make sure they speak to your target audience. And being mentioned in the press is good 3rd party credibility.
  5. Build a referral program. Your own early customers can be your biggest brand ambassadors. Enable them to help grow your customer base by making it easy to share on social platforms, and give them incentives to recruit other customers. HoneyBook’s referral program has been one of the biggest drivers of our growth the past two years.

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?

Watching the explosive growth of D2C companies has been interesting and there are a lot of emerging companies in that space who have done some smart brand building. One example I like is Casper, the mattress brand. They took a boring product in an uninspiring consumer sector and made it exciting.

They really nailed their brand identity from the start and have communicated that consistently across all consumer touchpoints, both on and offline, and they’ve maintained this consistency as they’ve grown.

And it all started with their core mission: to help people get a better night’s sleep. To do this they had to make mattress shopping approachable and enjoyable for everyone. This brand mentality is reflected in everything from the products they sell to the tone-of-voice they use on social media and the brand experiences they create in-store.

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?

A successful brand-building campaign should eventually lead to some form of action, but there are other ways you can measure effectiveness. For instance, if you have a new product one of your goals would likely be to raise awareness, and you can measure this through surveys. At Change.org, we identified a gap in users’ understanding of the impact they made just by using our platform, so we started a campaign to educate supporters on their impact and then measured their agreement with an attitudinal statement before and after they were exposed to the campaign.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a huge role in our brand. It is one of the first touchpoints in the customer journey where we speak to a broad audience. As such, it’s important that our social media channels communicate not only our product value but our brand personality and company values.

Social media is often where we establish the first emotional connection with our members and begin building trust in our product. We know social is making a big impact by looking at how many new members were introduced to the product after hearing about us on social platforms.

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

Focus on what matters. As a father, it was really my children that have been a forcing function for this mindset. A shortcut for anyone can be to cut 25 percent of your time out of your regular daily schedule and see where you spend the remaining time. That’s the important stuff. Use that extra time to do things that energize and engage you mentally.

Also, hire great people and build great teams. I’m fortunate to serve an incredible marketing team at HoneyBook that I can empower to fully own and execute big projects without me needing to get too involved.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/dvisnick/

Twitter: @dan_visnick

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

A moonshot to solve climate change.

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

“Be the change you want to see.” Although an apocryphal quote, it’s a great guide and can help people realize the agency they have to make change. The co-founder of a startup where I worked, Chandu Thota, gave me this feedback after I had failed to think creatively about a problem we were trying to solve, and it’s stuck with me. It’s especially relevant in leadership roles where you have the ability to make change, but need to seize the opportunity.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with?

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be exposed to some pretty impressive people. What energizes and inspires me today is talking to our HoneyBook customers, so I’d like to buy one of them lunch and listen to their story (I try to do so on a regular basis).

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