Ryan Pitylak of ZenBusiness: “Building a brand is often an oversight for companies”

Building a brand is often an oversight for companies, especially startups or small businesses. This might be because a business is solving a problem, but doesn’t entirely focus on why they even need to solve it. Your product marketing is a touchpoint for users, but it doesn’t usually appeal to the emotional connection they’ll have […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Building a brand is often an oversight for companies, especially startups or small businesses. This might be because a business is solving a problem, but doesn’t entirely focus on why they even need to solve it. Your product marketing is a touchpoint for users, but it doesn’t usually appeal to the emotional connection they’ll have with you. Your brand is your path towards that emotional connection, and is the difference between a purchase and a loyal customer.


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

Ryan is the CMO & Founder at ZenBusiness PBC. He is responsible for building and promoting the ZenBusiness brand to the new wave of independent workers and entrepreneurs so they can start, manage, and grow their new businesses and pursue their dreams. Ryan is the former CEO of Unique Influence, a performance digital advertising agency that was acquired by MDC Partners (NASDAQ: MDCA). Following the acquisition, Ryan served as the Head of Performance Digital at advertising agency Media Assembly where he managed a team of 100+ people across strategy, search, social, programmatic, and creative. Ryan has over 20 years of experience in the digital marketing space and is passionate about leading innovation for the industry. As speaker and contributor, he strives to get marketers to think more strategically while also taking a data-driven approach to advertising.


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

The entrepreneurial spirit came alive in me at a young age. I started my first company at the age of 13, and as a result of that I have always seen the world through the lens of entrepreneurship. As I started to get into marketing more specifically, there was a point in my career where I oversaw marketing for ProfitFuel (now known as Yodle), where I helped about 10,000 small businesses customers get noticed on Google. That’s where I became super passionate about helping people build their businesses. The experience of being a part of their journey every step of the way toward making their businesses more successful was extremely fulfilling for me. That led me to start my own digital media agency, Unique Influence, to help brands increase their presence online, which I ran for seven years and was then later acquired by MDC Partners. After two years working under their umbrella, Ross Buhrdorf, who I worked with during my time at HomeAway.com, presented me with an opportunity to help people start their businesses from the ground up with ZenBusiness. Co-running a business that works to help entrepreneurs be successful has always appealed to me. As an entrepreneur myself, I know how difficult it is to start a business then run and grow it, so I always had a soft spot in my heart to help first-time business owners pursue their dreams and gain economic mobility. At ZenBusinses I’m able to do just that.

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?

We had a wedding client at Unique Influence that had a wedding tablescape that kept getting rejected by Facebook’s automated content approval algorithms for being sexually suggestive, despite there being no suggestive imagery or people in the actual ad. The Facebook account management team kept putting in manual overrides, but it just kept getting rejected over and over again! It was annoying because it was their best ad but we also couldn’t really get around the issue. Lesson learned: be careful with what you design!

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

Our company started off as a small business, so we are very empathetic to our users. Since the beginning, we hit several snags, had to pivot several times, and even had to change our name. It was all a valuable lesson and further made us realize how important it was to have a platform that offers what we are offering.

We pride ourselves on our high standard of customer service. Our CS team is readily available for our customers, which is important because we are here to make their lives easier. Having to wait for hours or days to get a response only complicates things. We continually survey and interview our customers, and build our platform based on those findings. The customer is the center of everything we do.

We are also a Public Benefit Corporation. This was an important step to take because we knew we wanted to be a business that does good. We also knew that just acting a certain way wasn’t enough — we had to live and breath our mission. We provide hands-on help with business formations, publish and share helpful resources, participate in small business loan programs, and award grants to female-founded businesses and other underserved markets.

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

We have ZenBusiness Money, which will launch to the public in early 2021. This is an invoicing and payments app, which makes the process of sending an invoice faster and easier. This means users can also get paid faster, which is very important for a small business owner. In the future, we plan on expanding the app even further based on customer feedback.

We are building out our website product. Users can make a custom website on our site, and we are scaling up its customization and editing features. Based on our own data, business owners who have a website make up to 15,000 dollars more per year than those who don’t. It’s highly recommended to those who are spreading the word about their business. We make that easy by offering it directly through our platform.

We are also in the beginning stages of creating ZenBusinessU, which will be a virtual guidebook filled with resources for small business owners. It’ll cover the fundamentals for starting, running, and growing a business with tailored content led by experts in their fields.

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?

Brand is the identity of the business. It’s the core of everything they do. It should be a northern light for their decisions, both internally and externally. It’s a business’ “why” for doing everything they do.

Product marketing is focused on getting you business in front of your customers. It’s the channels you choose and the targeting to get on their radar. It’s all about education and communication. Whether customers are familiar or not with your product, product marketing is the way to change and/or improve that.

At ZenBusiness, our brand is the reason why we became a PBC. We had a mission to live by, and took another step to do that.

We strongly focus on product marketing here. Our team consists of amazing product marketers, who focus on all stages of the funnel.

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?

Building a brand is often an oversight for companies, especially startups or small businesses. This might be because a business is solving a problem, but doesn’t entirely focus on why they even need to solve it. Your product marketing is a touchpoint for users, but it doesn’t usually appeal to the emotional connection they’ll have with you. Your brand is your path towards that emotional connection, and is the difference between a purchase and a loyal customer.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

  1. Walk the walk
  2. Have a strong mission and never forget it
  3. Make your team brand ambassadors
  4. Don’t just identify the problem your product solves, but why people have it
  5. Know your customer and take a walk in their shoes

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?

Innovative brands like Tesla, Amazon and Venmo are ones that have left an indelible impact on the world. Their innovations met customer demand and changed the way people live their lives. Brands that do that are the ones that make the most impact. At ZenBusiness, we’re hoping to impact the world by being the go-to source entrepreneurs use to launch and grow their business and brand.

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?

A tangible measure for a brand can be in customer loyalty and LTV. Brand equity can be measured when a customer interacts with you, continues to purchase from you, and spreads the word on your company.Brands can often hold prominence in the awareness side of a business. Any metrics that show familiarity can be a measure of how your brand is perceived.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a host for community efforts. Companies that use social media just for advertising or posting links are missing the mark. This is the place where you have the opportunity to interact directly with your customers.

Brands like Wendy’s are doing a really great job because they speak directly with people on the platform, and offer some very entertaining posts. They actually sound like there’s a human behind their posts, which is what brands should do. Since your brand is your company’s identity, this is a space to show your personality off. Are you funny? Are you an activist? Are you intellectual? This is where you can showcase that identity beyond just telling people that’s who you are.

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

Marketing is an ever-changing industry and burnout can exist because we are constantly needing to keep up with the trends. Technology requires constant learning and for us to be on top of things. My advice is to divide up your time and know when it’s time to learn and when it’s time to execute. Even as a CMO, I seek out new resources so I know I am keeping up with what’s needed for myself and my company.

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. 🙂

The U.S. is in the middle of a micro business renaissance accelerated by the pandemic. 2 million Americans have started freelancing in the past 12 months due to the pandemic. According to Upwork, 60% say no amount of money would convince them to take a traditional job again. As more people realize they want to follow their dreams of entrepreneurship, our mission is to be the catalyst that helps them pursue their dreams — making the transition from side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship. If we do that — take customers’ dreams and make them come alive — I think that will bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people.

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

One life lesson quote of my own that I often live by is “Think of your brand as a collection of promises you’ve made: to your customers, to the employees in your company, to yourself. It’s your job to make sure those promises are kept.” This is relevant to me because it represents the career path I’ve taken in helping businesses (our customers) achieve success. As a founder who also manages a team, I always fall back on this thought to ensure I’m living up to the promises I’ve made to my employees.

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. 🙂

One person I would like to have lunch or breakfast with is Daniel Kahneman. He’s notable for his work in behavioral economics and is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

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

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Ross Buhrdorf of ZenBusiness: “Place the main focus on understanding your customers”

by Karina Michel Feld
London Summers and Ryan Pownall
Community//

A Discussion With Social Giveaways On How To Stay Motivated In Our Changing Times

by Christine Chen
Community//

5 Personal Branding Secrets With Ryan Foland(No.3 Will Shock You)

by Vanky Kenny Kataria
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.