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Kerri Fernsworth Feazell: “Communicate honestly and directly”

The ever-faithful golden rule: treat everyone as you want to be treated. Whenever I cross the street and get the urge to flip someone off (which I sometimes I do), I imagine the driver who edged too far into the crosswalk (which I sometimes do), is going to be in the meeting I’m going to. […]


The ever-faithful golden rule: treat everyone as you want to be treated. Whenever I cross the street and get the urge to flip someone off (which I sometimes I do), I imagine the driver who edged too far into the crosswalk (which I sometimes do), is going to be in the meeting I’m going to. I imagine they’re going to be the client I’m meeting. A handshake will be very awkward if preceded by a middle finger. This is the very basic core of creating a solid foundation. The rest of the brand is you, your personality, decoration — so the last little bit of overall advice is: you got this. Just be. Exist. Lean into your most original self.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Kerri Fernsworth Feazell. Kerri is Co-CEO of Concurrent Productions, an LA-based film production company that creates non-boring brand videos for CEOs and startup founders. Kerri and her husband Jeff founded the company together in 2017. Kerri’s background in independent filmmaking, improv comedy, writing business plans for immigrant investors, and fundraising for nonprofits has the common thread of: story. With the power to change your mind and our collective future, Kerri understands that story is a key driver of human behavior. To learn more about her work and philosophy, check out her company website at concurrentproductions.com. To learn how you can tell your own story more effectively (and less boring-ly) through video, check out her e-course at authenticbrandvideo.com.


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

When I was five years old, I was kicked out of preschool. Not because I was hitting kids or eating glue; because I was shy. Specifically because I was so desperately shy that I was afraid to interact with kids I didn’t know and I wanted my mom to stay with me. She did. So they kicked me (us) out.

That story brings me to where I am because it reveals my superpower and also what I’ve overcome to do my job. (My mom does not come to work with me!) My favorite thing about what I do is sitting with people I don’t know and following my curiosity about their lives. Asking questions. Getting to know strangers.

I can sense when people are nervous on camera and I use my sensitivity and empathy to make them feel comfortable. When I watch someone come alive and lose their self-consciousness on camera, that is my favorite moment. The stories that emerge are powerful and emotionally engaging — and I’m talking about sitting down with business leaders who are accountants, attorneys, and construction guys. I’ll say it again: emotionally engaging accountants, attorneys, and construction guys. I am often moved beyond words. Plus, I get to cry at work and no one kicks me out.

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?

Early on we posted our pricing on our website. This is fine (and necessary) for some products but for a high end service — especially one that is preaching not to compete on price — it’s a mistake. Hypocrisy is endlessly funny. Oops! We thought we could sell a many thousand dollar service by telling people about our website and putting a “buy now” button on it and boom, sales! No. We have learned, through the experience of no one clicking our Buy Now button, that the sales process for high ticket services is a long cycle and includes a lot of time in client discovery. We very naively thought things could be a lot easier than they are.

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

We have a very specific philosophy that is very simple: be vulnerable enough to reveal your beliefs and values and you will attract the kind of clients you want. Also, you will not be boring.

One of our clients hired us to create a culture video for his accounting firm. He uses it on Glassdoor to attract and retain high quality employees who are aligned with the work culture of his firm. The following phrases are in his video: “It’s not about me…we believe that the core values…I like talking to them…it’s exciting to see him excited about it…that brings me joy…” We get to dig in to ho he really is and what it’s like for his staff to work there.

Also, how many accountants have you heard express joy?! I make my company stand out by making my clients stand out.

When we edit, our process is to go through the transcript and look for subjective value statements — emotional phrases. This is our “secret” for creating brand videos that are authentic and engaging. (We happily share our “secret,” in fact, you can learn how we do it and DIY your own video with the help of our e-course — see link above in bio.)

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

Always!

I’m super excited about our current project that introduces a new service for us. It’s a workaround that we’re leaning into for a client that has a distributed team all over the US so it makes sense for their brand and also gives us a new way to problem-solve for budget-conscious clients. We’re currently wrapping a project where we interviewed people using a zoom meeting with their webcams and phone cameras. We’re still creating an authentic connection with an engaging interview and a story-based video edit — but with 10% of the production budget that would be required for us to fly around the country and set up a full set. We don’t need to full set to tell a great story. If we can scale this concept, it will help more people tell better stories. That excites me!

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 being understood for who you are.

Advertising is about getting the attention of your customer to remind them about the problem you solve.

So, for example: Always’ 2015 #LikeAGirl campaign. Their branding efforts are emphasizing the tagline “Rewrite the Rules.” Always makes period pads. Rewriting rules doesn’t have any obvious connection to periods. But always is a known brand in the marketplace, they’ve already done the work to tell you what their brand does so they can skip a lot of heavy advertising and focus on their brand and values-alignment. Onscreen text in the ad shows: “A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty” This is a subtle reminder to its audience (advertising) that the always brand is there for you when you hit puberty and get your period. In this campaign, the entire ad serves to reinforce the idea that always brand cares about girls, always brand is changing the way girls think about themselves. Always brand is looking out for you even when you aren’t looking out for yourself. Always. Brand. And if they do this so well in this ad campaign, wouldn’t they do it this well in their leak-proof period pads? Of course. And they didn’t even have to say it because it came across subconsciously — that is branding.

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 clients need to know who you are. It’s very unlikely that you have no competitors. So, your clients and customers have a choice. Why should they choose you? Why should they continue to choose you, even though you’re more expensive? Because of your brand. Otherwise, you’re a commodity and you’re stuck competing on price. Your brand will appeal to a certain set of clients or customers. It probably won’t be for everyone and that’s OK. That’s good! Defining your brand through your beliefs and values will afford you longevity in the marketplace. You’ve heard of “brand loyalty.” You have not heard of “advertising loyalty.” It might take a long time to build your brand but once you do, you will not only have customers, you will have referrals. You’ll have a style and a personality. That’s exciting!

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.

Building a trusted and believable brand follows pretty much the same principles as being a good friend. The overall advice is to be vulnerable. These are really basic how-to-be-a-human things because trust is a really basic thing. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a brand.

  1. Be consistent and be OK with making mistakes.
     
    In seventh grade, I sewed a pillow with 9 squares and between two of the squares, the sewing is two stitches off. Yikes. When I turned in my assignment, I was so afraid I was going to fail home economics (I didn’t). I don’t think my teacher even noticed my pillow wasn’t perfect. She could see that I tried to unsew and stitch it back up a few times but there just wasn’t enough stretch in the fabric to make up for those two stitches. Plus, I was always on time for class, didn’t pass notes, did my homework, was cooperative and didn’t even need my mom to come to school with me! It’s OK to make mistakes and be imperfect; it’s OK to be this way with your clients if you are consistent. Most of your clients are looking for 99% and an acknowledgment that you aren’t perfect is fine, especially if you try your damndest to get as close as humanly possible to exactly what they want every time and you will constantly be improving. Be consistent.
  2. Listen and be curious. Remember how I made the mistake of putting pricing on my website early on? It’s because I wanted to skip straight to the sale — the good part! But the really good part is actually in the process. You get to discover and be curious: what does my customer actually want? What do they need? When I step away from this conversation, what will I will think about? How can I solve this problem for them? Why is that their problem?
  3. Provide value and offer what your customer understands they need.
     
    One summer I tried to help my mom organize some things. I bought red file folders, I made a plan, I set aside time in my vacation to help her organize. By the end of my visit, I returned the red file folders because I realized: she didn’t want to organize her stuff. What she did want was for me to scrub dirt from all the home grown carrots because it was painful for her to do it with arthritis. I can scrub carrots. So, I got the scrubber. Find out what your client actually wants and deliver it to them. Always focus on providing value.
  4. Communicate honestly and directly. When I was in 8th grade, I was working on a cross-stitch for an English project (I know, that’s weird). I had never cross-stitched before and I didn’t realize how freaking long it takes to cross-stitch! I was afraid of failing English class because I couldn’t cross-stitch fast enough. I sheepishly held up my work in progress — pencil marks still showing — and told my teacher I overestimated my ability to complete the project on time. She gave me an extension and I celebrated by completing my cross-stitch, getting an A, and trying to figure out how I could weave crafts into a math assignment. (Weaving, that’s it!) If you mess up, own it. If you know you’re going to miss a deadline because you overcommitted or your computer crashed, call your client as soon as you realize it and make it up to them. (PS: If you’re missing a deadline because you’re lazy, you should be reading a different article.…or actually you should be doing your work.)
  5. The ever-faithful golden rule: treat everyone as you want to be treated. Whenever I cross the street and get the urge to flip someone off (which I sometimes I do), I imagine the driver who edged too far into the crosswalk (which I sometimes do), is going to be in the meeting I’m going to. I imagine they’re going to be the client I’m meeting. A handshake will be very awkward if preceded by a middle finger. This is the very basic core of creating a solid foundation. The rest of the brand is you, your personality, decoration — so the last little bit of overall advice is: you got this. Just be. Exist. Lean into your most original self.

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 love the brand TOMS shoes. I’m impressed by their social impact and also by the way the brand originated. It evolved really organically and based on the founders’ travels. The specific thing that impresses me is that the founder had no experience making shoes. He had built businesses before but nothing like shows. He saw a need in one market, knew he could support that need in a different market, and went for it. Plus, he didn’t just give stuff away, he empowered people with jobs. That’s ambitious in a really lovely way. To replicate that, I’d say: keep trying stuff until you find the thing. And be willing to be surprised when you find the thing.

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 measure success in brand building by asking myself: is it authentic? To me, that is very different than advertising.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

I rebel.I only use LinkedIn and I love LinkedIn. I have a facebook account for my business with a whopping 17 people who follow it. I care about authentic connection and yes you can use social media for that, you can engage people in your brand, you can use videos I create on social media. But it’s not worth it. The cost to outsource and sacrifice our human relationships to platforms is way too high. Yep, I’m that person. Send an email. Make a phone call. Have a conversation in person. Most social media interaction makes it harder to authentically connect with humans. What really matters to you? Do more of that.

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

Do you want me to say more about boycotting social media? 🙂 Go camping and sit around a fire with your friends and share stories. I do this a few times a year and it’s what I live for. (And if you don’t have any friends IRL because you spend all your time on social media, go make friends with trees.)

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 try to remind myself — my current self, and my five year getting-kicked-out-of-preschool self — two things:

  1. Show up.
  2. Be yourself.

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

Civil rights leader Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” In my early life and career, I spent a lot of time losing myself in other people’s suffering, trying to save the world. It didn’t work. I got very depressed. So to receive this message from a civil rights leader blew my mind. I realized that there are some people who like doing things I hate doing and if I stop doing the things I hate doing, it makes room for someone else who wants to do it.

If you’re not doing what makes you come alive, go do it! If I made the switch, so can you. And if a civil rights leader is giving this advice, you don’t have to feel guilty about doing something that feels less important than saving the world.

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. 🙂

Simon Sinek is an enormous champion of brand building and authentic human connection who has been a tremendous influence on me. Hello Simon! I would love to have lunch with you (or sit in front of a campfire) and ask you all about your why.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes. Please do connect with me on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kfeazell/

Message me and tell me your story. Better yet, rewrite your LinkedIn profile summary to replace it with your story, then send it to me. Your story is the beginning of building your brand, especially if you tell your story with vulnerability. Because vulnerability establishes trust and authentic connection with previous strangers. If I can do this without needing my mom at my side any more, so can you.

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

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