Kate Rooney of Design Pickle: “Create a podcast (seriously)”

Create a podcast (seriously). Just like video, podcasting is huge right now and can be an excellent brand play — even in ways you don’t expect. And you don’t need a fancy recording studio to make it happen. There are a ton of affordable professional microphones available on Amazon. With listeners running in for more than 30 minutes […]

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Create a podcast (seriously). Just like video, podcasting is huge right now and can be an excellent brand play — even in ways you don’t expect. And you don’t need a fancy recording studio to make it happen. There are a ton of affordable professional microphones available on Amazon.

With listeners running in for more than 30 minutes at time, podcasts offer unrivalled levels of engagement. That’s far more time spent than watching a YouTube video or reading a blog. This is true 1–1 time spent with your brand.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kate Rooney.

Kate Rooney is a marketing and design professional residing in Huntington Beach, CA. After studying Creative Writing at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Kate began her career as a Marketing Specialist in the travel industry, working closely with brands such as Whole Foods and Princess Cruises. Over time, Kate discovered her passion for graphic design and bootstrapped her way into the industry, later becoming the lead designer for Enzoani and Badgley Mischka Bride. Now as the Brand Director at Design Pickle, Kate spearheads all efforts in branding, content, and advertising.

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?

Thank you for having me!

Like many young professionals, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my career post-college. I studied English with zero intention of becoming a teacher — it just felt like the natural thing to do, as I loved reading, writing, and pretending to be a tortured artist.

At the time, I didn’t even understand what graphic design was, or that it was a viable career path. In my early 20s, I started working for a small luxury travel agency to get by. You know what’s more soul-sucking than calling airlines all day? Absolutely nothing. The business was growing, but there wasn’t any kind of marketing strategy. So I made one, and ran the one-person marketing department for a while. With new marketing initiatives, we needed content — so with a bootlegged version of Photoshop, my journey with graphic design began.

Flash forward through some really terrible designs, Adobe courses, and experience with freelancing…I eventually left the travel company and became a full-time graphic designer for a well-known bridal company. This was an amazing opportunity to really hone my skills, but I quickly realized I didn’t want to crop JPEG files all day for the rest of my life.

Even though my title was ‘graphic designer,’ I wanted to be a part of every marketing initiative, and was constantly exploring new ways to evolve the brand. At this point, it kind of clicked: design and story-telling go hand in hand. My English degree didn’t have to go to waste. And with a wonderful stroke of luck, an ad for Design Pickle popped into my feed one day. It caught my eye, so I did some digging, and joined the team a few months later.

Design Pickle was barely two years old when I started — we had a tiny office, a lean (albeit hungry) team, and a big mountain to climb. And now nearly three years later, it’s astonishing to look back and reflect on the company’s growth; not only with our team size or customer base, but with our brand reach and evolution.

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 early startup days, it’s so easy to get caught up in the desire to be the next Facebook or Apple — and Design Pickle is no exception. Buzz words are buzzy for a reason.

In one of our early product planning sessions, we were all about “the cloud.” This snowballed into an entire rebrand involving “the graphic design cloud.” It sounds ridiculous, and that’s because it is. Everyone was really excited about it though, and we moved swiftly to update all of our messaging and content to include “the graphic design cloud.”

Gut feelings are good (in my opinion), but you might want to do some research before spending a ridiculous amount of time, money, and team effort on an initiative before going all-in. “The cloud” is an incredibly vague term. It sounded cool, but we didn’t really understand it — so of course our target audience wouldn’t either.

Fortunately, we quickly realized that this was a huge fail, and had to roll everything back — a huge time suck for everyone involved. We killed the graphic design cloud, but it still haunts me from time to time.

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?

It’s an eye-opening moment once you realize that people are coming to you for direction.

At the bridal company, I worked alongside a very talented designer (Steve) who had worked there for ten years. He taught me so much about the technical side of design — how to streamline workflows, organize files, clever Adobe hacks. We grinded side by side for years, churning out the graphics as they were requested.

But the brand itself had not changed at all in those ten years. And I got bored, to be frank. The company had stuck to the straight and narrow with success for so many years, it’s understandable that they didn’t want to stray too far. Yet I still kept pushing for slightly more feminine touches, since our core audience was young soon-to-be brides.

Some concepts passed through; some didn’t. Over time, though, we saw a shift — the brand started to re-emerge as a more current and trendy option for brides. And with this shift, I had more responsibility to guide the new direction. The tipping point for me was when our VP of Marketing asked me to redesign the website, effectively prompting an entire rebrand — for a company that hadn’t altered their brand in ten years! It was a lot of pressure, but also a great motivator.

After I left, the company eventually signed up for Design Pickle. I still get their marketing emails, filled with design nuances I developed, and it’s a lovely reminder to see where I came from.

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

I previously mentioned that I pretended to be a tortured artist in college — and now I get to talk about them in Design Pickle’s new podcast, Creatives Are The Worst.

Disclaimer: this is not your average, run-of-the mill business podcast. We don’t talk about growth hacks or how to beat churn. Instead, we dissect the stories of the world’s most renowned artists, from musicians and authors to fashion designers and entrepreneurs, and find the common thread between them all. It’s a refreshing way to study creativity; there’s a lot of laughter and insane stories, but also a lot of philosophical discussion about how creative minds operate.

One of the reasons I love working for Design Pickle is that we have the opportunity to stray from the beaten path and be our authentic, quirky, gherkin-esque selves. When I pitched the idea last year at a leadership retreat, we knew that it had to be unique. We are a creative company with a massive team of creatives; why not focus on that? It has been really eye-opening to realize how similar creative people operate, regardless of the field they’re in.

Tip for anyone thinking about starting a podcast: if you plan to have a co-host, make sure it’s with someone you have natural chemistry with. For me, that’s Design Pickle’s Partnerships Director, Jess Guffey. We already had great rapport, so the banter feels effortless.

If you’re looking for a podcast to help scale your marketing efforts, look elsewhere. But if you need a break from business tips (or want to whip out some bizarre trivia at your next Zoom happy hour), check out Creatives Are The Worst.

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

To be perfectly honest, this is something I struggle with myself. I tend to go “all-in” on whatever I’m working on, and throw myself into projects without taking a breath. But after working remotely for three years (before COVID-19 made it a necessity), I do have some insight on how to recognize burnout while working from home, and steps to take to counteract it.

This is not groundbreaking information, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of 1. Establishing a routine and 2. Creating a dedicated workspace. My morning routine runs like clockwork: Make coffee, walk the dog, listen to a podcast for 30 minutes, get “Zoom-camera-ready,” and review the day’s agenda. Maintaining a consistent routine signals to your brain and body that it’s time to work (or time to stop work). It sets the tone for your day, and prevents distractions.

Some folks might be able to work from their couch, but I am not one of those people. Even when I lived in a tiny studio years ago, I still had a dedicated workspace area in my kitchen/living room. Again, there is a psychological effect at play: when I am in my home office, my brain knows I am here to work. Claiming some space for work also helps establish boundaries, which I believe to be crucial for avoiding burnout or distractions. On a personal level, it helps family members or roommates understand when you’re in work mode versus play mode. And professionally, it helps you “turn it off,” so you’re not on the couch scrolling through emails or dwelling on projects all night.

I think it’s important to note that the 24/7 hustle-til-you-die culture comes from the top down. If you’re leading a team, and find yourself working all night and all weekend, it can (and will) absolutely affect your company culture. It sets the precedence for an unhealthy work-life balance. Of course there are instances where working overtime is crucial, but most of the time, it’s not. Take care of yourself and your team by being cognizant of personal time. That “urgent” Slack message can probably wait. Just create a draft ready to send at 8am on Monday morning.

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?

Since I love a good metaphor, let’s imagine a business as a stand-up comedian named Joe.

What is his comedy style? Are his jokes dirty or clean? What does he look like? How does the general public feel about him? This would be the brand — all of the elements that make a business unique, from personality to visual appearance. It’s what an audience will experience, whether they’re in a comedy club, or engaging with your product.

Now how does Joe get an audience to see him in a live show? Perhaps he already has a reputation for quick-witted jokes about politics (his brand), but he still requires some sort of promotion in order to fill seats. This is where product marketing comes into play — it’s all about bringing the product to market.

In order to sell tickets, Joe needs to determine what kind of people enjoys his style of humor (his target market). If his target market is males between the ages of 25–30 who are interested in politics, he still needs to reach them somehow. Joe’s team may put together a targeted ad campaign that informs his audience about an upcoming show — including information about Joe, why people should attend, and (important!) how to get tickets.

The messaging and strategy in product marketing is key. You’re trying to determine who your product is for, and why customers should use it.

Did I lose anyone? I think I confused myself with this metaphor (and maybe I just really miss going to comedy shows). Ultimately, branding is broader and a long-term strategy. It’s the persona and reputation behind a business. Product marketing is all about bringing a particular product to the right 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?

I see a lot of businesses attempting to cut corners when it comes to brand and design — and I get it. There’s a lot of pressure to achieve net margin goals, especially for newer businesses or startups. So if you can’t cut production costs or are struggling to lower retention, branding often goes to the wayside.

But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you plan on staying in business for years to come, it’s absolutely crucial to invest in building a brand. Especially if you’re investing in any kind of marketing or advertising. Your brand is the foundation to build all of the other pillars of your business upon — from seeking new customers to keeping your current ones.

Consumers are far more likely to opt for a company with a polished appearance that they are familiar with. If McDonald’s changed their famous golden arches every month, would you still recognize them while driving on the highway? Probably not — and the inconsistency could affect sales. If their sign changes constantly, what does that say about the consistent quality of the food?

But you don’t need to be a huge Fortune 500 company to leverage the power of branding. In fact, small businesses need a solid brand strategy more than ever. Having a strong, consistent brand gives you a leg up on the competition, especially in saturated markets. If a prospective customer is looking for solutions, they are likely to opt for the one that has taken the time to develop a great brand experience.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

There are so many factors that determine whether or not a rebrand is necessary — but for simplicity’s sake, I like to break it down into two categories: an active rebrand, and a proactive rebrand.

An active rebrand comes from a position of anticipation. Perhaps a company is preparing for massive growth, and chooses to rebrand to fit new markets or include new product lines.

A proactive rebrand occurs when a business is reacting to certain events or circumstances that prompt them to do so. Maybe they are influenced by rising competition, or receiving negative publicity (we’ve seen a lot of this happening this past year). It doesn’t necessarily mean that a proactive rebrand is negative — it could also stem from a big merger or acquisition. But ultimately, there is a cause and effect situation happening.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of work that can go into a rebrand. It’s not as simple as slapping some new colors on a logo and calling it a day. And on top of that, if things go south, there’s even more work to reverse things (hello, graphic design cloud).

But it’s not impossible. Any business that is considering a rebrand should take time to plan everything well in advance — from iteration and development to deployment and even team training.

I simply advise against any company that is doing a rebrand just to keep up with latest trends. It’s not a bad thing to refresh things, but I’ve seen a lot of popular design trends rise and wane. Before jumping on to whatever is hot at the moment, take some time to consider how ties into your business’s character, audience, and long term goals.

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.

Revisit your target personas. If you’re actively marketing your business, chances are you have already developed your buyer personas. But when was the last time you reviewed them? Do your core customers still fit into these personas, or has the market shifted in that last year?

Branding is all about connecting with your target audience. If you haven’t established your buyer personas, start here. But even if you already have buyer personas, it’s important to regularly review them and make updates as needed.

At Design Pickle, we refreshed our buyer personas in 2020 to better reflect our core customers and fine-tune our messaging. Before, they were too broad — we were trying to speak to everybody instead of focusing on the single individual that purchases our product. It hasn’t only affected our numbers; it has also improved our team’s focus and productivity.

Get creative with interactive partnerships. Brand partnerships are a total win-win. They’re a great way to boost awareness and break into new markets. Of course, you want to make sure that there is a mutual benefit when deciding to partner with another brand. A good partner should have a similar audience type and hold similar values to your own brand.

Since the Design Pickle brand is pretty quirky, we’ve developed some really unique partnership campaigns this year. For example, we recently partnered with SnackNation, a snack delivery service for businesses this year. Our teams got together to play a hilarious game called Squad Squabble (akin to Family Feud).

The campaign highlighted virtual team building, which resonates with both of our audiences. And we had fun creating it!

Level up your brand with custom packaging. It doesn’t matter what I’ve purchased: if it’s sent with great packaging, I am hooked.

Using custom packaging is an excellent way to surprise and delight your customers while strengthening your brand image. It can have a huge impact on how others perceive your brand. In a massively digital world, offering a tangible experience to your prospects or customers can totally differentiate your brand from the competition.

I have a folder full of print and packaging designs I’ve received over the years. Marie Kondo would be horrified, but I go through it from time to time for inspiration. Even if you have a fully digital service, you can still get really creative with direct mail — such as custom onboarding packets or company swag.

Show off your company culture with video. Company culture is definitely an extension of your brand image. It’s part of what makes your business unique, and fosters a deeper sense of loyalty with your customers. If you and your team truly exemplify what your company believes in, promoting it is easy.

And since video content is all the rage these days, you can really showcase your brand by pulling back the curtain on your culture. You don’t have to be in a fancy recording studio, either. As with our Squad Squabble series, we’ve recorded segments on Zoom that are both educational and entertaining. Video content like this is easily digestible and shareable — a great way to spread the word about how awesome your brand is.

Create a podcast (seriously). Just like video, podcasting is huge right now and can be an excellent brand play — even in ways you don’t expect. And you don’t need a fancy recording studio to make it happen. There are a ton of affordable professional microphones available on Amazon.

With listeners running in for more than 30 minutes at time, podcasts offer unrivalled levels of engagement. That’s far more time spent than watching a YouTube video or reading a blog. This is true 1–1 time spent with your brand.

Podcasts also have other unexpected benefits for your brand. When we launched Creatives Are The Worst, our goals focused on brand exposure and engagement — but it also ended up as an excellent recruiting tool for Design Pickle. New team members and prospects have tuned into the podcast to get a better understanding of our culture. We’ve discovered that podcasting isn’t just for prospects or customers — they are a powerful tool for internal teams.

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 Loom — not only their brand, but the product itself. It’s a total game changer for fast and efficient communication!

Earlier this year, they pulled off a massive branding overhaul. We’re talking about an entirely new logo, new color scheme, website, and product redesign.

What impressed me the most was the strategy behind their “Brand Makeover.” They timed it perfectly to align with a major shift in their product offerings.

From an outside perspective, it seemed like a very well done proactive rebrand that took a lot of planning to reflect their growing market. Sure, I had to upgrade to a paid plan — but I didn’t feel bamboozled in any way. Their new branding is extremely polished and demonstrates their product maturity.

Furthermore, they did an excellent job of promoting and explaining the drastic change across multiple channels. This is really important for anyone who is keen on rebranding — it can be really disarming if you wake up to see a product you know and love altered overnight. When facing a rebrand, be sure to include messaging to your fans and customers that explains what is different (and why).

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. 🙂

Not so much of a new movement, but I truly believe that everyone is creative. That’s kind of the joke behind Creatives Are The Worst — we are all creative, no matter what industry we’re in, and we’re all flawed.

I think many people mistake creativity for artistry. Just because someone doesn’t know how to hold a paint brush doesn’t mean that they are not creative.

Artistry encompasses the technical skills to create fine works of art. But creativity does not necessitate artistry. An accountant is creative when developing unique solutions to mathematical problems; a mother is creative when finding fun ways to interact with her child.

So in a nutshell — we are all creative in our own ways, and should celebrate it!

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

“Today you, tomorrow me.” This quote comes from a well-known story on Reddit with a young man stranded on the highway with a blown tire, and a family that stopped to help him.

I won’t go into the full details, but ultimately this quote is all about the kindness of strangers and the importance of paying it forward. Some days you’re the one in need, and some days it’s another person.

You never know what other people are going through. A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

How can our readers follow you online?

Join my 4 followers on Twitter at @the_kate_rooney, or check out all of our custom podcast artwork by following @creativesaretheworst on social media (and @worstcreatives on Twitter!).

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thank you so much for having me!

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