Have a Message Backed by Purpose. Branding is about creating future advocates. If what your brand represents will not be important in 10 years, then don’t bother rebranding. Don’t play the short game. If you can’t evolve your brand offerings to be meaningful to the future advocates, then you are simply advertising a product on its way to extinction. We represent many thoughts leaders and influencers that teach and engage their audience in exciting ideas. We turn down potential clients that are talking about the “better mouse trap” idea or product. We are entering a decade where teenagers will have the option to completely change the rights and rituals of the past two decades, including education, politics, and even how currency is used. Brands that speak to the greater need for human connection, inclusion, and evolving conversation will survive the disruption about to happen. One client we represent is focused on making CBD accessible to the masses at all levels. The future conversation is about powering the human capacity and this company tells the story of the future in a very evocative way, not focusing on the taboo nature of CBD — that’s not relevant in the future. Their story is about evolving the mind through plant medicine and creating better community connection as a result. The key to this is purpose. Your brand must have a long-term purpose driven mission in order to compete long term?
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Charlie Fusco.
“You need to talk to that girl, Charlie.” This phrase has been said hundreds of times by founders, authors, celebrities, CEOs, CMOs, influencers, investment brokers, media producers, and manufacturers. For decades, Charlie has been sought out to provide solutions to clients that they didn’t even know existed. Twenty-five years later, That Girl Charlie became the Founder and Creative Visionary of TGC Worldwide. As a young woman in California, she interned with her father in his film distribution company. While attending Boston University, she studied film directing and worked her way through college as a photographer. A wild series of events landed her in Maine as a copywriter for a national radio agency. In what seems prehistoric to describe in 2020, her job was to send out daily faxes to radio stations to get local producers to call up and book one of the agency’s clients — in eighty words or less. The clients interviewed would then give out an 800# pitching their product as the solution to the news topic Charlie had pitched the producer just hours earlier. With the phones ringing, she would write sales scripts in real time to help the phone agents close more incoming sales for products like hand sanitizer, books on tape, and meal-replacement shakes.
With sales booming, Charlie asked her boss why they didn’t put the clients and their products on TV. His response, “We don’t know how to do that and it’s too expensive.” Charlie’s response was “I can do it!”, and the rest is history. With a small budget, she produced her first TV infomercial, which went on to air in countries aroud the world doing millions in sales. She spent the next three years testing products, spokespeople, sales pitches, and helping manufacture new products that would make hit TV infomercials. After producing more than 100 radio commercials and 5 hit TV infomercials, she decided to found her own agency.
Between 2001 and 2011, Charlie was a powerhouse in the product branding and retail world, producing more than 200 commercials and managing the media buying for more than $2 Billion in product sales. She once even accidently put a book on the New York Times Best Seller list. A serial entrepreneur, she was the head of a direct response agency, media buying agency, call center, production house, and a sought-after brand development consultant.
After the market went soft in 2010, brands nationwide were struggling with the impact of economic downturn and the “invasion of online shopping.” Charlie began receiving calls from venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, and celebrity talent managers asking for her to validate the marketability of companies they wanted to buy into or lend their celebrity to. She began consulting for investment firms that backed products like Sunny D and Ghirardelli, as well as CEOs with huge philanthropic initiatives like Singularity University, providing both with a similar goal. “How do we tell this story better to create a committed community?” Today, TGC Worldwide works with some of the most unique CEO, For-Benefit Celebrities, and Cult-Like Brands in the world to evolve their brand in an omni-channel media environment for greater impact and influence.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas tired of helping greedy (and often mean) people sell things to consumers that had no real lasting purpose. This may sound lofty but it’s true. In direct response marketing, it’s all about immediate ROI (return on investment). Marketing decisions are made on how many sales are converted from a specific ad, not necessarily because the product is serving the customer. The first 20 years of my career, there wasn’t a product I couldn’t sell on TV or radio — it was all about the right headline, spokesperson, and price point. Once internet marketing became more than a fad, the direct response field became very cutthroat and litigious because buyers were purchasing products in very different ways, which threw established marketers for a loop. On the other hand, I had several CEOs come to me and say, “Hey, you made me a lot of money selling stuff on TV, now come help me start this other initiative that is about me giving back to society.” I looked at the hours in the day I had, and decided I wanted to spend it helping those specific people with audacious ideas make things happen, rather than just sell more stuff to more people.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days of my TV infomercial agency, I was approached by the biggest brand in hair removal on TV. They had commercials airing all over the place and they were coming out with a new version of their hair removal product. As a new agency, I was floored that such an established brand would come to me to design the ads for their new product line. Of course, I made the rookie mistake of reducing my prices to secure the business, thinking that their brand name would secure my endless future business. Without calling out the company, I can tell you that the product was a 2-step process: a wet wipe with cream on it that you wiped on your “hairy area” of choice and another wipe that you used to remove the cream after a few minutes, revealing perfectly smooth skin. I was asked to get very hairy but beautiful male and female models to do before and after videos on chest hair, leg hair, face hair, and arm hair. As you may know, most models are not very hairy. So, I had to pay the talent agencies to have their models grow hair for two weeks to be prepared for the video shoot. When the time came for the video shoot, we wiped the product on various parts of their bodies and waited — but the hair didn’t “gently wipe away.” In fact, we had to keep reapplying the product and reshoot the application and attempted removal. One male model who was doing the chest before and after wound up with a huge, red, glowing patch on his chest as we continued to reapply the product. That night I was driving home from this seemingly failed shoot and my fingers tips could barely grip the steering wheel because my fingernails had become so thin — I discovered that having my uncovered fingers in hair removal for 16 hours was not a good idea. In the end, I called the company and told him that we just couldn’t get the shots naturally without “faking them”. I thought he would fire us. Instead, he said, “Don’t worry about it, we have footage that we faked and we’ll send it over you to finish the commercial.” Unbelievable!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
I have had major success at different points in my career. For me, the “tipping point” was when I started to really value my time and brain trust. For the first 20+ years of my career, I was happy to provide free consultations to companies believing that my insight was valuable that it would lead to a great relationship. Sometimes it did, but more times than not it lead to a huge investment in my time and ideas, and then a competitor running with the ideas because they provided a more competitive rate. “It’s nothing personal, just good business…” became a phrase I heard too often. Then during a meeting where an investor client asked his attorney to just pop into a meeting and give a quick comment, the light bulb went off for me when the attorney said, “Nope. You have to formally bring me in and get me up to speed, including allow me to ask questions, so that of the several opinions I could give you, you get the right one. My opinions will dictate your next actions and they require an investment in my time.” The attorney wasn’t being coy or demanding or salesy, he was just stating facts. When I started TGC Worldwide, I made a commitment to myself to value my massive experience and creative expertise as well as my time. I set very specific client acquisitions standards and it has made all the difference in attracting and signing some of the coolest clients on the planet.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Almost all of my clients are working on mission-based initiatives with the goal to help people. This makes all of our projects very exciting. Some examples include working on a solution to end the school lunch shaming problem in the US through investments in “second chance” businesses. Another is around creating an alternative education platform for kids who want to start their own businesses in their teen years and skip traditional education but still be competitive when it comes to enrolling in college. Another client is trying to help people pre-plan to live past 100 while another is trying to make quantum computing available to the masses. These clients are all authors, or speakers, or investors, or CEOs of very successful companies looking for ways to use their personal influencer platform to change established systems and to tie their brand’s business into cause-based outcomes. So much cooler than price competing with Amazon for selling a product on TV that you can actually buy in a CVS.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Change your definition of marketing. Traditional agency marketing is a dying art form. Focus on building communities, conversation, and connections. Focus on making people say WOW first, rather than reach for their pocketbook.
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?
Branding is about advocacy. Your customers advertise the product for you. Product marketing is all about reaction. Your customers are reacting to an immediate need or promise or, more generally, immediate gratification. Branding is about building repeat business, where advertising may only ever generate a singular response. In the best and most well-known companies, the marketing and advertising is authentically aligned so your advocates love to react over and over again.
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?
Some of the most incredible products and services will never be realized because the companies didn’t or couldn’t invest in research, professional resources, and the energy it takes to build community, conversation, and connection. With the rise of Amazon, and other gig sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and the like, companies have many ways to get the job done quicker and cheaper, like websites, product labeling, social media content, product videos and more. Companies also are bombarded with online options for getting reviews, or influencer shout outs, or authority positioning. While this all may work for initial marketing and advertising, consumers see the lack of authenticity and do not become advocates. You can get anyone to try something once. Branding is about getting people to request the product or experience as often as possible.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
Which cliché works the best here? Everything goes out of style? What got you here won’t get you there? People grow and change. Technology is ever evolving. New ideas and innovations are happening all the time. I can’t name a brand that hasn’t updated their look and feel or product offering or messaging at least every two decades or sooner. Advocacy is about believing in the core values of the brand, the honesty in the message and product, and the dependability of the WOW factor — it is not color or product centric. Rebranding should not be done “just because.” It should be done to further deepen the 3 C’s — community, conversation, and connection. The Impossible Burger is a perfect example. Many fast food chains comes up with their version of a veggie burger so that they stay relevant in the consumer conversation around alternatives to meat, become an option in the community of fast food eaters looking for alternatives, and stay connected to their advocates. Between McDonald’s and Burger King — which one was willing to give up their long-time advocates by not offering plant-based burger?
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
If you don’t have a clear vision of WHY you want to rebrand and what the exact goal of the rebrand is, then don’t do it. You risk more by rebranding and losing the connection to your community than you do by getting your existing brand in front of new faces. It’s time consuming and expensive, especially if you don’t have solid metrics around the results you are trying to achieve.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
1) Have a Message Backed by Purpose
Branding is about creating future advocates. If what your brand represents will not be important in 10 years, then don’t bother rebranding. Don’t play the short game. If you can’t evolve your brand offerings to be meaningful to the future advocates, then you are simply advertising a product on its way to extinction. We represent many thoughts leaders and influencers that teach and engage their audience in exciting ideas. We turn down potential clients that are talking about the “better mouse trap” idea or product. We are entering a decade where teenagers will have the option to completely change the rights and rituals of the past two decades, including education, politics, and even how currency is used. Brands that speak to the greater need for human connection, inclusion, and evolving conversation will survive the disruption about to happen. One client we represent is focused on making CBD accessible to the masses at all levels. The future conversation is about powering the human capacity and this company tells the story of the future in a very evocative way, not focusing on the taboo nature of CBD — that’s not relevant in the future. Their story is about evolving the mind through plant medicine and creating better community connection as a result. The key to this is purpose. Your brand must have a long-term purpose driven mission in order to compete long term?
2) Develop an Omni-Channel Voice
Your brand message must have a clear voice. The voice has a distinct vocabulary and tone. The voice should be similar, no matter which part of the brand uses it — brand marketer or brand advocate. Your messaging should have a distinct tone across all channels. This means that an Instagram post has the same vocabulary and tone as a half hour podcast interview, as an introduction to a live stage event, and as a commercial on YouTube. People should be able to imitate the voice of the brand when they engage with it — that’s when you know it’s sticky. A great example of a clear and powerful brand voice is this line from the Honest Company’s mission statement: “We also believe that a happy, healthy life should be a right, not a privilege.” Whether you are scrolling the Honest page on Instagram, shopping for products on Honest.com or listening to an interview with Jessica Alba, this message is clear and consistent in their words, tone, and consistency of delivery. Brand advocates (consumers who feel your voice is authentic) are quicker to forgive and give brands the benefit of the doubt if/when they make a mistake or provide an inferior product, service or customer experience.
3) Encompass the 3 C’s — community, conversation, connection
Whether you are starting new or rebranding, you have to focus on the 3 C’s. Brands that matter are community focused; they create reasons for people to come together. The encourage conversation; they want their customers to openly dialogue with the brand online, in stores, in the media, and with each other both about the brand and the issues that are important for the brand. This create opportunities for brand advocates to feel connected to each other through rituals and live events. A great example of this is Sephora. In a time when you can order any kind of make-up online, why do women still shop in stores at Sephora? Think about the community of make-up artists that are used in place of salespeople, the ability to get free make overs and try new products while in the store, and the ability to shop with your girlfriends and talk about all the reasons these products are important to you. Sephora creates conversations around new products by gifting samples, engaging followers in surveys, opinions polls, and contents, as well as positioning make-up brands in comparison to each other in the stores. They keep their customers loyal and connected with small moments of WOW like birthday gifts, beautiful bags and tissue paper that accompany every purchase, and emulating the in-store experience in their online communities. Sephora makes shopping for lipstick an event you’d rather do in person with your friends rather than online because it is fun, enlightening, and always presenting future forward trends. It’s a unique beauty community not loyal to any one make-up brand but always concerned that their customers get the right products for them.
4) Create Caring Controversy
You read a lot about brands that pick a fight. One good example is REI announcing that they were closing their stores on Black Friday and giving employees time off to be with their families. This was a very strong statement by REI, proving to the world that it put people before profit and that they were not afraid to make a statement against the retail frenzy that is Black Friday. REI picked a fight with every brand who chose to stay open and make employees work on this ominous day. For REI, it gave them a pop of branding in the news. The real test will be if they continue this action every year forward and make closing on Black Friday part of their message of bringing people closer together in the great outdoors. Many brands will pick a political topic (animal testing for example) and make marketing campaigns standing against the topic to reinforce the message. I would advocate that in a time when people are looking to stop bullying and cherish inclusivity, brands should create caring controversy instead of picking a fight. What’s the difference? Caring means not shaming, judging, or condemning the actions of other brands but rather creating actions that highlight the brand’s authentic purpose and message regardless of time, place, political pressure, or financial impact. Brands that deliver their viewpoint in a way that is bold but not destructive, clear but not combative, and respectful rather than condemning will outlast the others. A great example is how Ellen DeGeneres continues to be a mass media thought leader for the underdog. On a recent episode she featured a boy with “ethnic hair” that had been expelled from school for not cutting his hair. Rather than use her platform to shame the schools or reprimand their actions, she invited the boy to tell his story on her show, rewarded his courage by getting his favorite singer Alicia Keys to surprise him on set, gifted him a $20,000 check for his college tuition, and then she turned to the camera and made a personal please to the school to “reconsider your decision because this is a really good kid.” Her brand is one built on consistency of trust not meanness and this event proved it again.
5) The WOW Impact
It’s so simple. When people interact with your brand, they need to walk away saying WOW! Whether you’re a personal influencer brand, a product-centric brand, or a service brand the end goal should be the same — WOW. You’ve impacted your customers life by creating a moment of WOW, a solution that was WOW, an opportunity that is WOW, or you’ve changed their outlook from “eh” to WOW! One way to test this is to pull your company into a room as ask everyone to write down on a sticky note what is the most remarkable thing about your company or business. If there isn’t a resounding WOW — then stop what you’re doing and design it before you do any more branding.
These 5 questions must be answered to become a legacy brand.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I’m a huge fan of superhero movies. One of the best brand turn around stories is around Marvel. In 2008, Marvel bet the farm on an audacious “Universe” strategy that more than 30 writers declined, and no studio wanted to touch. They were desperate to turn around their brand based on the results of their recent box office disappointments. Undeterred by the negativity of the Hollywood creative teams, Marvel continued to pursue the “Universe” brand make-over. They hired a down-on-his-luck actor (Robert Downey Jr.) to play Tony Stark and kicked off a multi-billion empire that few believed possible at the time.
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 want brands to sponsor education for kids who don’t fit the traditional schooling model. Brands were often built by entrepreneurs that think and act differently (many without college educations). They didn’t fit the traditional mold. There are so many smart and talented 8- to 16-year-olds that are told they are too slow, not academically inclined, need to focus more, or stop daydreaming — that literally kills their spirit. Traditional schools are not setup to embrace and enrich the minds of kids who are born thinking differently. I’d like to see brands adopt a Willy Wonka-like program — without all the indiscriminate harm that befalls the children — where they allot a certain percentage of their budget dollars to sponsor kids to create an educational journey that allows them to thrive and show how spectacular they are. Kids could apply to be sponsored by a brand outlining what the educational path looks like (perhaps homeschooling, vocational school, or some hybrid concept) and brands fund them. The kid in turn works with that brand to help them evolve their future vision. Imagine Facebook, Uber, Spotify, LegalZoom, or Ellen helping to educate the world’s future visionaries and the think-tank they would get in return to make their brand have more longevity and impact. If we could create alternative educational paths for kids that cost between $3–5k annually, thousands of brands could sponsor thousands of kids annually and change the energetic vibration of the world just by empowering teens that think differently.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” — Jack Kerouac, author, On The Road
The biggest influencers of my life have been people who fit this description. As I grow TGC Worldwide with the mission of connecting those that can with others than can, it is important that all our clients fit this description.
How can our readers follow you online?
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charliefusco/
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.