As a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn. Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups, as well as non-profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to work for a large multinational business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student, I looked up to leaders like Meg Whitman and Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the ’80s and had a successful career in corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect.
I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here, but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility, and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies, I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus, someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do, and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made, and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever, and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am an accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
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?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes, but looking back, I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period, so I went from one evening event to breakfast the next morning to lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech, I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues, and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed, and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is essential to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a handwritten thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed, and we won the business, so I turned my mistake into a good outcome, plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is an excellent lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners, and having a sense of humor.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Leaving my corporate job to join the first of 3 startups was my first step to a more entrepreneurial path. After I had the third positive exit working for other people to build their brands successfully, I decided to launch my own business and brand. In the first few years of my company, I pitched a CEO for about a month before I ran into her at a networking event. She was the keynote speaker, and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail. Still, the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event, as part of her speech, that she believes it is essential for women CEOs to support other respected. And that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her, I must be very good 😉
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our name really sets us apart. For my company, when I started the firm, I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, and tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise, it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name, half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word from my company, so they googled Paige & Mavens, and we popped right up. I was at an event one day, and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted, “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way, and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us!
Names contribute to your brand, and in our case, I think it has been a significant plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert, and a Mogul is someone of rank, power, or distinction in a specified area. I like alliteration, and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you instead hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else, our name is a great conversation starter, and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work, then you can pass on it. I only take on action that I find exciting and worthwhile. Current projects include market research for a venture-backed B2B tech company, new websites for several B2B and B2C companies, creative development for a non-profit, public relations, and marketing communications for several tech startups.
We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop, or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of the industry, so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers; we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders, so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team, so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations, regardless of size or budget, deserve excellent marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tag line and everything we do.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
It might sound counterintuitive, but my favorite hack is to disconnect from technology, and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships. Meeting for coffee or lunch not only allows you to refuel and recharge, but it also can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships are what drives my business, and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation, but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
I also try to find creative ways to multi-task that incorporates work and exercise. When I worked at large companies, they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch, but when you are an entrepreneur, you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal, or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share. It works with customers. Also, I have clients who play golf, so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things, especially when you are trying to think outside the box. A change in venue is always nice, and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk. The other tips I like to incorporate are taking public transportation when possible, parking at the far end of the lot and walking as well as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it adds up to a lot of extra steps and movement if you do it every day. I think that respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I make my most important clients is the least I can do because if I am not at my peak performance, I am not going to be useful to anyone else either.
Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), getting a massage, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs, there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in, so when something has to offer, it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. What I have come to appreciate and realize in my 50s is that “me time” is not a luxury or pampering like it was in my youth, now it is maintenance!
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy.” In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
There are so many new trends and directions that make the field exciting and fun, it never gets old…
Video and rich content gains even more traction and drives growth
In a mobile-first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever, so a video will be used, even more, the show doesn’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives engagement. With the majority of people accessing the internet via a mobile device now, more video and smart content will be used to improve the user experience, the more personalized, the better. Speed matters; when your site loads, it does not have to just be mobile-friendly, but it better be quick too; consumers do not like to wait, under 3 seconds max. AR and VR, when used strategically, are a significant competitive advantage to accelerate the sales cycle with your customers, so use it to help them answer questions and buy. Mobile UX determines your ranking, so with more people watching videos than TV now adding video to your site and using the right keywords for video descriptions and headlines will ensure you do better in searches too.
Websites must be optimized for voice search
Voice user interface allows users to interact with websites through voice commands, so it adds usability and functionality to your site, making it accessible to all users, including those with limitations and disabilities. It is not just about complying with the ADA, responsible web design, and corporate social responsibility goals. Still, it is also good for the bottom line by reaching a broader audience. Inclusion is the right thing to do, and it is good for business. Smart speakers are only getting more popular going forward, so being able to optimize for voice search will be critical to maximizing the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc. Brands that perfect the “branded skill” with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big. Are you prepared when customers ask for help like “Alexa, what is the best Mexican restaurant in Boston?” if not, you are missing a big opportunity! There are always new shiny objects in marketing to distract you, social media and technology are 24/7, but search engine optimization is here to stay, whether it is via Google or voice. You get one chance to make a great first impression, so if you want to improve the impression you are making and give your business a boost, make sure your site is optimized, and voice search is essential.
Authentic relationships beat marketing automation
Technology runs our lives more than ever, but it is relationships that drive business and commerce so people will find more ways to connect in-person to build trust and strengthen connections. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with them and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can, but do not ignore the power of the personal touch.
Big data is getting bigger, but customer conversations are critical to best insights for content
Talking directly to your customers to get first-hand in real-time their experience and knowledge will be a priority and competitive advantage to get the messages right
More use of AI-powered chatbots
They cut costs and convert visitors into leads by encouraging themed content to answer FAQs with voice search-friendly semantic keyword phrases, is your content strategy ready?
Becoming closer to existing customers
It is well known that it is cheaper and easier to keep current customers happier than always filling the bucket with new ones. I predict B2B firms will find new ways to deepen relationships and expand into more useful and connected ways with the clients they already have. There will be more cross-selling and upselling to develop existing relationships.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
There are so many lessons I have learned along the way…
Patience — It really is a marathon, not a sprint, so do not set arbitrary goals like being named 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 because it may take you longer than Mark Zuckerberg to hit your stride and that’s ok. Most people take many detours on their career paths before finding their true calling. Don’t be disappointed if you get to 40 and are still exploring because the journey really is a great adventure, so enjoy it!
Fail fast — Don’t be scared to fail, just learn from every bump in the road, so you make better mistakes next time, that is where you learn the most! You learn to do by doing. Course correct and pivot along the way, it makes for a fun career path.
Keep learning — Finishing school is not the end of your education. You will be a student for the rest of your life, so never stop learning new things. Your training is just starting to get really interesting, and the grades don’t matter anymore. Be a sponge for knowledge & enjoy the learning process.
Success is personal, and your definition will change over time. That is normal and shows maturity, find what matters to you, and don’t worry about anyone else.
Most of my business comes from public speaking and networking, so those are 2 critical skills that have helped me succeed. People do business with people they know, like, and trust, so you have to get out there to build your reputation online and off. Prospective customers and jobs can come from anyone anywhere anytime, so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression. Be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help!
What books, podcasts, documentaries, or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
My new favorite podcast is called Remarkable People by Guy Kawasaki. He started the series at the end of last year, and so far, he has talked with everyone from Jane Goodall to Phil Zimbardo to Martha Stewart, Arianna Huffington, and Andrew Yang. Guy Kawasaki is a remarkable person, too, so I learn something with every conversation, and each one is so interesting and thoughtful. I am a huge fan and highly recommend it!
You are a person of significant 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’d try to start a kindness movement to counterbalance what we see in Washington and all over the media today. I grew up in the South, and people were generally nice, respectful, kind, and friendly. I do not believe life or business is a zero-sum game. We do not have to divide up the pie. We can work together to bake more pies, so there is enough to go around. I think the people around the world in the center want peace, and we need to find ways to bring the extremists back into the fold, but it is going to take people from all walks of life to band together to make it happen. There really is more in common across cultures when you realize everyone wants the best for their family and community, so we should all be putting our energy into building stronger foundations and ecosystems that will help us all.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.