Prioritize long term vision over short-term gains. There will be moments in the day-to-day grind that you might want to take a shortcut that conflicts with your overall brand values and vision. This could be making a hire you’re leery about, but doing anyway due to workload, or taking an investment that compromises some of your decision-making authority. While these stop-gaps might alleviate some form of short term tension, they’ll ultimately come back around and produce more — bigger — challenges down the road.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucy Glaser.
Lucy lives in Washington DC following a lifetime stint in Chicago. She specializes in crafting and stewarding bespoke, strategic marketing solutions to grow her clients’ business. Lucy currently is the Head of Growth at independent creative agency, Unconquered. She spent a career at large, traditional advertising shops working on brands including DISH, Citibank, Hefty-Reynolds and Marriott. In October 2019 Lucy joined Unconquered; the agency was founded to create work with a sense of purpose beyond itself, using commerce and creative problem solving to make positive change in the world. Lucy’s role is to scale the agency’s brand values & purpose into tangible impact through both client and agency work. Agency initiatives currently include: 1% For the Planet membership, sharing stories of CMO & VPs that connect personal passions to brand values in agency podcast, “Conquer the Nose,” and championing equity and inclusion as a founding partner of The Humanity Lab.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m one of the lucky people that not only had the opportunity to go to college, but knew exactly what I wanted to do upon graduating: work at an advertising agency on household-name brands. To get my foot in the door, I held a number of internships. At one point I cold-called every agency in the city to try and pivot into the creative space — I finally secured one at a small branding shop that led me to Havas Chicago and ultimately to my current role on Unconquered’s leadership team.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Most of my hard times are rooted in something I think most professionals go through at some point — imposter syndrome. It’s an internal narrative along the lines of, “who am I to be in this role? Who will ever think I’m good enough?” Any time I’ve ever made a major career move — new company, new title, new level of responsibility — that narrative picks back up in my mind. This especially was the case joining Unconquered. What a sense of responsibility to not only grow a business, but do so in a way that realizes it’s goal to change the world through commerce. To combat the train of self-doubt, I realized I needed to change my focus from “what else (new, impactful, standout thing) can I be doing?” to “why am I doing this?” Grounding myself in my personal “why” puts day-to-day imperfection and challenges in perspective.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It was a Friday evening and I was shipping out materials for a major presentation on Monday — I accidentally put the FedEx package into a UPS drop box. To make matters worse, I failed to write down the tracking number. I spent all day Saturday at the UPS shipyard in the cold November rain begging staff to, essentially, help me find a needle in a haystack. Ultimately I was able to find the tracking number and discover that the package somehow made it to its destination.
The obvious learning is to always double check your work. The deeper takeaway is that at the end of the day, even if this circumstance hadn’t worked out positively, I could truthfully say I did everything I could to fix it. For any mistake, put yourself in a position that you’re able to honestly answer that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Bold transparency and alignment to values. In the early days of the pandemic we, like most agencies, were impacted. A project opportunity came in that we believed encouraged fear mongering — directly conflicting with our mission to (positively) change the world through commerce. While we could’ve used the project at the time, we declined in favor of our values.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Such a hard question and, transparently, an area I’m constantly working to improve myself. I was recently advised to start each day by identifying the 1–3 things you absolutely need to — and can realistically — complete. When the day ends and those boxes are checked, you’ll feel accomplished, productive, and have the clarity that if you didn’t get to absolutely everything, there’s always tomorrow’s list.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My parents. They both had successful careers as small business owners, which is where the root of my entrepreneurial spirit comes in. From as early as I can remember, they instilled a sense of importance behind making sure that your career is doing something you truly love and would be happy doing every day. They also didn’t shield me from “the real world” and the idea that good things don’t necessarily come easy. When I was around eight, I set up a lemonade stand with a neighborhood friend. At the end of the day, I proudly showed my dad my earnings. He congratulated me, then educated me on the concept of the cost of doing business by having me pay back the cost of materials. Maybe a bit early in life for this lesson, but it stuck and is now a running family joke.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I believe most entities fall into a 80/20 ratio. 80% of companies are good — they service a need of the population, are able to articulate what their product or service is and identify some aspect(s) of it that makes it better than competitors. I.e. “We bake fresh bread, and are the only one on the market that uses ____ ingredient”, or “We bake fresh bread, producing more loaves daily than any other breadmaker in the tri-county area.” 20% of companies are great — they not only service a need and can articulate it, but they are a true innovator in their industry &/or make a measurable, positive impact on society. Great companies are able to unite their functional reason for existence (i.e. selling bread), with a greater human need (i.e. reducing hunger, sustainable operations, job opportunity creation).
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Growth starts with incremental decisions in support of the overall mission
Unconquered’s purpose framework started small: we eliminated single-use plastic on production sets. From there it’s blossomed into a 1% For the Planet membership and participation with other sustainably-minded, mission-driven organizations
2. Talk the talk, walk the walk, then talk about the walk
The idea that brands are now expected to act on their stated values is becoming increasingly standard. The next evolution is for them to reflect and report on their brand value initiatives and assess points of success and room for improvement. A great recent example of this is Chipotle’s Real Foodprint tracker. From day one they stated their purpose to sustainably provide “real food” to change the world. Over the years they’ve told this story in all brand touchpoints, and now they’re measuring and reporting on it.
3. You cannot be all things to all people
You need to be honest with who & what you are, and who & what you are not. Understanding — and accepting — the role your company plays in peoples’ lives will help define the way you can authentically connect. For instance, if you lead a plunger company, you inherently aren’t top of mind for most people until the need presents itself. That said, in that moment of need, how can your company best express itself?
4. Prioritize long term vision over short-term gains
There will be moments in the day-to-day grind that you might want to take a shortcut that conflicts with your overall brand values and vision. This could be making a hire you’re leery about, but doing anyway due to workload, or taking an investment that compromises some of your decision-making authority. While these stop-gaps might alleviate some form of short term tension, they’ll ultimately come back around and produce more — bigger — challenges down the road.
5. There’s no one “right” way to do it
Sometimes you need to build the ship while you’re sailing it. It’s ok to not have the road ahead 100% planned out; it’s actually better for this not to be the case. Know the end destination and have a general sense of available resources and milestones. Unconquered has a podcast, Conquer the Noise, that launched in June 2020. It was originally supposed to be a panel series. The pivot still delivers the vision of telling outstanding individuals’ stories, and ultimately worked out better in our favor.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Business ultimately exists to service human needs. Without humans, there is no business. Moreover, the “what” of business is constantly changing because human needs are constantly changing. Horse and buggy became cars. Travel agents (mostly) evolved to self-service online booking platforms. For a company to successfully evolve its product with the times, it needs to have a clearly defined perspective for how and, more importantly WHY, it services the people who consume its products. The how and the why are rooted in people, and without people, there isn’t business.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
First & foremost I’d do research — on your customers and the general industry landscape. As the world evolves, market & consumer behavior do as well. You need to get insight on what’s changing to be able to identify how you can adjust accordingly. Getting data can be as simple as a DIY survey to your email list &/or pulling 3rd party trend reports.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Market evolution and consumer behavior are interdependent and drive one another. When your industry has a downturn, you need to first assess root cause, and estimate how long this will be the case for. If short term and you have the means, it’s key to invest in your long term customer relationships. This is where brand values come in. Ask yourself: how can your brand authentically support & add value to your customers beyond the immediate sale? If your market dip will have long term industry impact, assess how your consumers’ needs have changed, and the ways your brand/business can naturally evolve to serve them. Look into competitors and industries tangential to yours that have made similar shifts as examples of ways to do this.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Regardless of industry, running a successful business requires creativity. The obvious sense would be big picture brand and business vision. But in reality there are day-to-day issues of creativity that often result in the big picture being neglected or knocked out of perspective. These might be resource usage, solving for supply chain or operational challenges and prioritization of deadlines. In order to successfully maneuver day-to-day issues of creativity vs big-picture brand vision leaders need to be intentional about dedicating time and brain space to nurturing their brand and vision.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
- Ensuring off-site marketing is aligned to on-site experience. Often ads and on-site experience are thought of in silos. A well-crafted ad or promotion drives to a site that doesn’t consistently transition the user will result in drop-off. Breaks in transition might be from anything such as disjointed imagery & design, unclear site navigation or lack of product/service information.
- Incorporating data collection. Sometimes consumers will convert to your site, but drop off. Use this as a learning opportunity — deliver an on-site survey question before they go asking why they’re not making the purchase. This information will help you optimize the experience for the next sale opportunity
- Deliver a strong Customer relationship management (CRM) system. Most of your sales will come from repeat customers. Ensure you’re constantly giving them a reason to keep your brand top of mind after they’ve made a purchase. Regular email updates, exclusive sales, loyalty programs and brand experiences are all tactics to consider incorporating.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Beloved brands consistently deliver an excellent customer experience at ALL parts of their journey — discovery, consideration, conversion and, most importantly, post-purchase retention. Making consumers feel valued and validated once they’ve invested in you is key to an outcome even more important than purchase: consumer advocacy. Retention programming can include everything from post-purchase product receipt (“unboxing”), an engagement-driven social media community, email and loyalty programs.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- You need to actually speak with your consumer. While our increasingly tech-driven world has created many opportunities, it also can remove a layer of direct human-to-human business interaction. Create and encourage means to get intel on what your customer is thinking, needing & feeling — both about your brand, but also spaces related to your brand. Leverage new tech to your advantage. Post-purchase email surveys, social media communities and an open communication line for customers to reach you directly are all vehicles to collect this information.
- Personalization needs to go beyond the customer’s name. “Hi ______,” is a great start, but effective personalization tactics elevate beyond basic demographic information. Brands that are able to anticipate their consumers needs and deliver against their personal interests make consumers feel independently valued and a reason to keep you top of mind.
- Provide value beyond your product/service. No one wants to be constantly sold to. If a customer has just purchased, think about ways to positively reinforce this decision and to keep in contact. This could be branded content that educates them on inventive ways to use their new product, events or experiences where they can engage with you and other customers or even giving them the opportunity to be featured on brand social pages.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
I think it’s less concern, and more mindfulness. There’s an inherent risk anytime a brand puts itself out in front of consumers, the difference is that social media is an always-on, almost living entity. To be successful, brands need to be aware of this platform’s intimacy — they’re either entering, or being invited, into the same environment that consumers interact with their friends and family. With this in mind, brands should have a clear, authentic reason for existence and brand behavior pattern to reference when any inevitable risk-inducing missteps or roadblocks arise.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Most mistakes are found in the delicate balance of empowering teams to do their best work and ensuring the work gets done. Micromanaging is a surefire way to ensure an unhealthy team culture, and ultimately a less successful work output. Letting go control is difficult — and in some cases, not feasible. This is where it’s key to have strong inter-team communication and transparent measures of what success looks like not only for the company, but each individual.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 be a movement to pay it forward by giving time. I recently participated in a social media-driven book exchange — to participate, all you had to do was send one book and registration information. By sending one book, I received 5+ in return. This philosophy, the act of one person giving to another, can domino in impact, and most advancement starts with a network of resources.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Keep in touch with Unconquered at weareunconquered.co or on Instagram, @weareunconquered. To connect with me personally, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!