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Karen Morad: “Understand the problem you solve”

It would have to involve breaking bread, and something around the creative process. Honestly, I would inspire people to slow down and get to know the teams working on your projects. I’m not saying we need to all be best friends. What I am saying is that there is so much untapped talent and misdirected […]

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It would have to involve breaking bread, and something around the creative process. Honestly, I would inspire people to slow down and get to know the teams working on your projects. I’m not saying we need to all be best friends. What I am saying is that there is so much untapped talent and misdirected energy, lost time, and wasted money put into the creative process today. Let’s invigorate it. Let’s bring back the idea that everyone in the process of building a campaign has a specific, expert role to play. And the more we understand each of those roles, the more we will appreciate the fact that building a campaign is not about efficiency and speed, it’s about collaboration and creativity coming together to produce something worthwhile.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Karen Morad .

Karen Morad is known for building rock-solid client relationships and delivering high-quality content in just about any medium you can imagine, with a focus on digital, branding and video. Karen is a thinker and teacher at heart. She’s taught Design Thinking at the StartUp Institute in Boston; she’s participated as a MITX mentor and is currently on the board as Marketing Director for a community organization in her hometown. It’s her passion for building meaningful relationships coupled with an opportunity to share her marketing expertise that makes Karen a valued strategic content advisor. Her balance of agency and client-side experiences also doesn’t hurt. She’s determined to make sure content lives up to its full potential.


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

I arrived at this specific career path through an acknowledgement that hospitality, defined as the idea of making people feel welcome, must be an element in any role or position I have. Without the ability to exercise hospitality, I will shrivel up and be lesser version of myself. I am also addicted to creativity, and look for opportunities to be around it, to explore, think, practice and create whenever I can. Through realizing and refining what these two things mean to me, I’ve found my way to where I am now. There are two specific times in my life that helped to solidify this thinking and this path for me. One was when I was laid off from Arnold Worldwide (after losing the VW account) and choosing to manage a B&B in the South End of Boston as my next career move. The second was when I attended a leadership workshop in Ottawa, Canada, which gave me the opportunity to build my leadership narrative.

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 am continually reminded, whether via a funny story or not, of the power of communication. There is no underestimating the value of thoughtful, clear, and concise communication. Early on in my advertising days when, as a confident (well…until you make me go to the creative floor) account executive, I would have to deliver copy feedback to the writer, or design changes to the art director. I can remember a few laughs (and a few tears) in those days. During my time as a B&B manager, I learned the art of diplomacy and all the tricks and tips one must practice in delicate situations (i.e. Sorry, we double booked your room.

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

Honestly, the thing I love most about Demand Spring is that we continually take the time to define, redefine, and live our mission of ‘helping individual marketers within the companies we work with be the best versions of themselves in the roles they own’. Don’t get me wrong, we still deliver marketing best practices, but it’s with a greater mission in mind. Some days I feel like that this is a rather lofty and nonsensical thing to do for a marketing consultancy, but then I see how we help our clients master a skill, achieve a goal, or deliver a strategy. It’s the closest thing we’ll get to “saving the world” in this profession…so, I’ll take it.

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

At any given time, I’m working on about three or four new projects — that’s the nature of consulting. One thing that’s really important to me right now is around how to get marketers, who are oftentimes moving 1000 miles a minute, to slow down and focus on quality over speed. There are so many demands on marketers today, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. So, how can we as marketers make sure the work we’re doing meets our internal numbers and is truly worth our audience’s time? Quality in marketing is too often underrated, and it needs to be made a top priority.

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?

To me, brand marketing is having a foundational understanding of who you are as an organization, what problem you solve, and how it relates to your target audience. This is essential marketing — call it brand, mission-oriented, or value-based marketing. Product marketing, on the other hand, is tied to and dependent on the widget or service you sell. It is a finite effort that results in a specific goal — usually monetary based. At some point the two forms of marketing must meet, and the better your brand marketing sets up your product marketing efforts, the better positioned and more valued you will be with your intended audience.

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 extends beyond the widgets and services we sell. The people in any organization are a part of the brand. If you work for an organization that has a strong mission and shares that mission concisely and consistently throughout the organization, you are equipping your people with the tools they need to make better business decisions and to make better personal choices on why they choose to stay. This goes for every single role within the organization. The higher the number of employees who can consistently deliver the core of why your business exists, the more opportunity and creativity you will be able to achieve as an organization. Operating with this goal will also reduce internal marketing and sales inefficiencies and create less confusion for those consuming your marketing messages.

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. Know your audience. This goes beyond personas. This is about understanding your audience as peers, as individuals, as living beings with emotions. Yes, this has been said before, but it hasn’t been heard. I learned a tip from a fantastic writer. It’s a no-brainer for her, but it was enlightening to me. Treat your audience as characters. (Did I mention she’s a writer?) And, just as any decent author would do, develop their stories — professionally and personally. We are continually evolving our internal interview skills to seek out the humanity and character in potential candidates, so why wouldn’t we apply this same thinking to our marketing efforts?
  2. Understand the problem you solve. It’s astounding to me how many times this singular, vital point is misunderstood or spoken with no feeling or without deep understanding within organizations. You don’t have to be saving the world to be excited about what you do. You do have the opportunity to be a part of solving a problem that people care about. And the more we connect with those people as an expert in the problem they are also trying to solve, the more relevancy, trust, and action they will bestow to us. In working with a client recently we had a discussion about exactly this, and I can tell you firsthand that once they landed and agreed to the problem they solve, the choices we made about the future content and marketing opportunities that day got a whole lot easier. Having a deep understanding of the problem you solve affords you the right to say no to distractions and say yes to opportunities and efforts that ensure you are seen as a thought leader and expert.
  3. Identify the conversations you should lead. This is the marriage of the first two strategies. This is what we call ‘conversation mapping’. This is not a widget conversation. This is a values conversation. What are the conversations your audience is already having that your organization should own? If you know this, it’s pure gold! The trick here is not to overstep your bounds. If you go too far, you lose trust. If you don’t go far enough you establish yourself as a commodity and are left to compete on price.
  4. Don’t tell your story before you build your story. As good a storyteller as you might be, it is impossible to tell a story you don’t know. All the elements that you’ll be told you need to tell a good story (characters, an inciting action, conflict, resolution) must be built first. Story building, the forgotten stepchild of storytelling, involves hard work — researching, documenting, vetting and validating the elements of your story so that by the time you’re ready to tell your story, you have a vast amount of knowledge on which to build your plot. Authors would agree that the amount of research that goes into writing a book is what makes the actual book worth reading. For brands, story building is a reflection of your buyers’ journeys. The more depth, data and humanity you bring to building these journeys, the more attention and trust your audience will give you.
  5. Use your story as the foundation to build your campaigns. This is a must in order to reduce random acts of marketing and create the most efficient process as marketers. For smaller companies, with fewer resources and smaller budgets, this is essential. You do not have time to get marketing wrong. If you are using your story as the foundation to validate your marketing choices, you have a baseline to measure what’s working and what’s not working with your audience. In working through this foundation with a client, we are able to provide them a map that outlines their priority audiences, the key messages for that audience by funnel stage, and the calls to actions that align with those messages. From this they are able to map their current assets to the key messages, identify gaps and prioritize their budget and efforts based on the priorities we identified. This is the opposite of random acts of marketing.

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?

I have to say that Tide, in my opinion, is doing a great job at the moment. They have produced a series of ads that while a little corny, have managed to capture a high-level value (looking “clean” and the perception, confidence and feeling that inspires) with selling product. “If it’s got to be clean, it’s got to be Tide” has never meant so much. It’s a great example of how knowing your brand and what it represents allows you to communicate value instead of pushing features and benefits.

Another perhaps more obscure example is Pole Bicycles. They make premium mountain bikes, and they have a loyal following, including my husband. What impresses me about this company is that they build a brand on quality and expertise by listening to their community. They make their people accessible, and they respond to forums and social messages. They love what they do and it shows. Companies like Red Bull have created somewhat of a template for adventure sports, but Pole is owning a lot of their brand themselves, and it’s both admirable and valuable. And evidently it pays off — there’s a waiting list for their bikes.

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?

I’ve had a few conversations with my peers and colleagues about this specific question. My first response is engagement. Every campaign should have a specific action you want your audience to do. Measure the engagement of that specific action and you will know if your campaign worked. The success part will have to be tied to how you define success. As for a universal metric for this? From what I can tell, there isn’t one. Perhaps there’s an opportunity here…

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

The role of social is essential. People need to be able to find you on social. And arguably the more important reason, for learning. But for smaller companies who are just building their marketing teams, have little to no content to work with, and who are easily juggling three or four roles in one, the struggle is real.

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

Take some deep breaths. Learn how to manage your time exceptionally well. The key to doing that is to know who you want to be. What skills, projects, assignments, responsibilities give you energy? Find a way to focus on those.

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. 🙂

It would have to involve breaking bread, and something around the creative process. Honestly, I would inspire people to slow down and get to know the teams working on your projects. I’m not saying we need to all be best friends. What I am saying is that there is so much untapped talent and misdirected energy, lost time, and wasted money put into the creative process today. Let’s invigorate it. Let’s bring back the idea that everyone in the process of building a campaign has a specific, expert role to play. And the more we understand each of those roles, the more we will appreciate the fact that building a campaign is not about efficiency and speed, it’s about collaboration and creativity coming together to produce something worthwhile.

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

“Play to your strengths.” This quote is empowering to me. It provides me the opportunity to get to know myself better and to say “no” to the tasks, direction, and path that will lead me away from what gives me strength.

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. 🙂

I’m becoming more and more obsessed with good journalism and editorial content. My appreciation for how hard this is to do well has grown over the last few years, and I am somewhat in awe of journalists, reporters and entertainers who consistently do this well. Ultimately, it would be incredibly interesting to sit down with Seth Meyers and understand why he does what he does and how he got there, and perhaps how much of a role in the writing process he has. But other reporters also come to mind, like NPR’s Fresh Air host, Terry Gross.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kcigala/

Twitter: @kciggy

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

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