“Why it’s so important to talk to your customers much more than you do now” With Voices.com VP Alina Morkin

Talk to your customers! Hopefully you read that and thought “that isn’t non-intuitive!”. If you did, that’s fantastic — but now, actually go do it. Go see your product in its natural habitat, watch your customers using it, ask them questions. Even if you have an online business, there are tools where you can observe mouse activity […]

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Talk to your customers! Hopefully you read that and thought “that isn’t non-intuitive!”. If you did, that’s fantastic — but now, actually go do it. Go see your product in its natural habitat, watch your customers using it, ask them questions. Even if you have an online business, there are tools where you can observe mouse activity and user journeys on your website. People are going to be doing things in ways you never predicted, or finding value in your product you didn’t anticipate, and this will change over time. This information will be critical both to the evolution of the product or service you are creating, and to your overall marketing strategy.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alina Morkin, VP of Marketing at Voices.com. Alina is a marketing and strategy professional with over 15 years of experience. With an MBA focusing on strategic decision-making, marketing, and communications, and an HBA in Business Administration, Alina has helped both ad agencies and brands achieve their business objectives and realize their full market potential.

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

Students starting out in business occasionally ask me how I knew what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’, and I still say that I’ll let them know when I figure it out. However, the initial steps on my path I’d say date back to high school, when in my last year I had my first opportunity to take a business class taught by a really awesome teacher. In large part, that class and that teacher inspired my decision to go to business school for university. There, as much as a result of purposeful direction as a process of elimination (time never passes more slowly than it does in an economics class!), I found myself grativating to specialize in marketing as a really interesting combination of art and science.

I’d describe myself as simultaneously very creative and very analytical, so marketing appealed to me in that way. I love that in the morning I can be eyeballs deep in reports and data and pivot tables to find what information is hidden in that data, and then in the afternoon be thinking about what a fun angle for a podcast could be to engage a particular group of our customers.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I’m lucky (because there is an element of luck in it) to have made choices and had a career that has and continues to keep me interested and learning. One story that always makes me smile came about when I was working at an ad agency in Toronto, Canada. We were pitching to win a new account, which was a company that made a very niche product in a niche industry for a niche need, that was pretty much a commodity — one company’s product was seemingly the same as the other’s. In addition to that, the way the company had approached marketing was quite utilitarian — sell sheets describing product features created in house, which to be fair, had worked for them. Now however, they were looking for next-level growth, and so needed some next-level strategy and marketing, which is where we came in at the ad agency. The first thing we did, was give this product a brand — we wanted to make it what Sharpie is to markers, or Jacuzzi is to hot tubs. In doing so however, we had 2 challenges: one was creating the brand, the other was selling the idea to the company that brands mattered.

We worked internally as a creative team and came up with a great campaign, all hinged on introducing this concept of ‘brand’. Our amazing creative director and I went to the client to pitch the idea. I started the presentation with this concept of branding and why it important. Shortly into the presentation, mid sentence, I stifled a sneeze. I went to begin talking again, but didn’t get too far in when again, I was fighting the urge to sneeze, and asked if someone could hand me that box of — oh what was it called — that box in the back, and “Kleenex! I’ll get it for you!” came from the audience. I then went on, saying wow — isn’t that interesting; this is a box of tissue. And yet, what you just called it was Kleenex. Which was of course about when they realized we’d put the box back there, and I wasn’t actually needing to sneeze (this was also incidentally, where my acting career both started and stopped), but I was demonstrating the power of branding. They loved the pitch and we won the account, because they actually understood and bought in to the vision of how the concept of branding was going to be revolutionary here.

I think the underlying lesson is also one about how marketing is about communication, and that happens at so many levels. Selling this group on how great the brand we created would have fallen totally flat and not really mattered if we didn’t know we first had to sell the very concept of why brands are important at all. Conveying meaning so someone hears and understands what you said and meant, hinges on seeing things from your audience’s perspective.

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

I think Voices.com is a really interesting company, one I’m very proud to be a part of and grateful to be one of many with a hand in its ongoing success.

One thing I’m really fascinated with is how the definition of work is changing in this day and age, particularly in the creative space. I think both workers and businesses are sort of simultaneously realizing that the traditional definition of work isn’t ideal for either, while at the same time this new business model of online platforms is emerging to facilitate that direction. In this way, Voices.com connects voice actors and businesses, each from all over the world. The platform is opening new ways to remotely work together that are easier and faster, creating opportunities for actors to work on their terms and helping businesses better achieve their goals. I think it’s pretty great that the company was started because there was a vision for a better way, which ended up disrupting the voice over industry to open doors unlike ever before. Now, we’re not just participating in, but leading and creating these really interesting new ways of doing work.

Another thing that makes Voices.com stand out of course is just the sheer size — we’re the largest at what we do in the world, which basically means there isn’t a voice actor need we can’t help a business with, or a project involving voice that we can’t do. On top of that, our proprietary algorithm technology effectively takes what a client needs, and finds the voice actors best suited to that and invites them to audition. In other words, you have the benefit of the world’s best voice actors curated for your exact needs, all in one place. This, among other things, means clients get work done in days or hours with Voices.com, something that traditionally took them weeks and months under the old way.

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

We never have a shortage of exciting projects over here. However, we’re currently putting the finishing touches on something that I’m really excited about, which is our 2019 Trends Report.

This is tied to another interesting thing about our company. The staggeringly large amount of in-house data we have, along with the massive, global database we have of creatives and content producers, puts us in a unique position to cast industry predictions based on the shifts occurring in the marketing and advertising space. This is important because we find that trends in what clients are seeking for their voice over needs are reflective and predictive of the broader industry. For example, different requirements around artistic direction for the read — such as wanting a girl-next-door, as opposed to the traditional authoritative sound — and differences in demographic requirements, like the voice actors that are selected are most often either the same sound as the target market, or aspirational to the target market, are indicative of greater industry trends that we’re excited to share each year.

As a sneak peek, one trend we’ve observed that I’m especially excited about, is that we’ve found in the voice over industry, women complete 44% of the work, for 44% of the pay. That is, on average, women do almost half the work, and they get paid as men do, a shift we’ve been watching over time as it continues to evolve. This year in fact, the shift actually accelerated. For example, in previous reports, we predicted gender parity would exist in 5 years. Now, we are predicting that by 2020 (next year!), women and men will complete equal work for equal pay in the voice over industry. This is a great story, and one that we certainly hope is a trend that is spreading in the broader creative services space (and beyond!).

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 lessons that others can learn from that?

The “tipping point” for me was when I took the time to really reflect on what I wanted from my career. I mean that less about having a vision around a specific job description, and more about what the qualities were that I wanted and did not want in a company that I worked for, about the type of job I would do, and what role I wanted that job to play in my broader life. I think people often try to define their career too specifically, and if you do that, in addition to driving yourself nuts because it’s a near impossible task, you also risk missing something great. I’ve been amazed in my career the number of times that when I’ve been clear on what I want from that perspective, how opportunities reveal themselves, because I knew what to look for.

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

In some industries or jobs, the boundaries between work and life are clearly defined for you; your day ends at 5 and you leave your work behind when you leave work. Marketing is often an example of where the lines can become so blurred that aspiring to this concept of balance can feel unachievable. And you can’t (and often don’t want to) press the pause button on creativity. Many of us have probably had more ‘ah-ha’ moments in the shower than at our desks.

For myself, I’ve found a few things to be critically helpful when trying to manage this and avoid burnout:

● Understand the difference between urgent and important. Understand as well that just because someone is running down the hall with their metaphorical hair on fire, that does not make something either urgent or actually important in the moment.

● Be honest with yourself about whether you are working to live, or living to work. If it’s the latter, then act like it. Draw clear boundaries for yourself around what you will and will not do with respect to your time outside work hours, and how you will handle things if the work creeps past those boundaries. We are all going to have moments in time where it can’t be helped — a big deadline or critical project requiring us to dig in for a period of time. However if work is becoming just a series of big deadlines, and you find you’re constantly saying to yourself ‘after this is done, it will be better’, you might need to look at whether you’re ok with that (and some people are).

● Be fully present at work. A lot of the above will enable this. If on the other hand though, you feel like you are never not working, unless that’s the choice you’ve made and the life you want, then being fully present when you are actually at work or working, can be nearly impossible.

It really is possible to have passion for your work and what you do, without it fully consuming your life. What that looks like and how it’s achieved, though, is unique to each person.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

Marketing is persuasive communication to drive customer action and business objectives. Although that can also be explained in an entire novel, I believe that sentence really is it, in a nutshell.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?

The shifts in how people are working are really in favour of the small business owner in particular.

When you’re starting out, part of the challenge can be how to present to the world a company or brand customers can trust and want to try, despite being new. With this, the importance of a professional, polished presentation cannot be understated. While Voices.com specializes in connecting voice actors with businesses, other online platforms offer solutions connecting small business owners with other types of creative professionals. Through those, you can get every aspect of your branding completed, from your logo to your website, at a very reasonable price by very qualified professionals. Take advantage of that.

The other advice I give businesses that are starting out, are trying to figure out their market and marketing, and who want to just dip a toe in and test the waters without using up too many resources, is to take advantage of a Google Adwords account. It’s very simple to get started, the budget is entirely in your control, and the results are measurable, which is also key. This can be a great way to create extremely targeted and affordable marketing campaigns, while gaining a lot of knowledge.

What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”?

1) Think beyond features and benefits. People buy what you’re selling because it’s going to help them solve a problem or have an experience that they want. If you focus your messaging too much on describing your product or service’s features and benefits, then you may be focusing too inwardly and potentially missing out on opportunities. Understand the problem you are uniquely solving for your customers, or the experience you are uniquely creating for them. Start from there when creating your communications.

2) Clearly define your brand. Really understand your brand from a personality, voice, and visual perspective. Unity and cohesion are critical to a good marketing strategy, and it starts with a clear articulation of your brand from each of those angles. It sounds cheesy, but describing your brand as if it were a person can be extremely effective. For instance, is your brand casual or authoritative? Relatable or aspirational? From a visual sense, what is your colour and font palette? Everything your brand or company produces should feel, look, and sound like a singular experience.

3) Talk to your customers. Hopefully you read that and thought “that isn’t non-intuitive!”. If you did, that’s fantastic — but now, actually go do it. Go see your product in its natural habitat, watch your customers using it, ask them questions. Even if you have an online business, there are tools where you can observe mouse activity and user journeys on your website. People are going to be doing things in ways you never predicted, or finding value in your product you didn’t anticipate, and this will change over time. This information will be critical both to the evolution of the product or service you are creating, and to your overall marketing strategy.

4) Stay away from squirrels. There are no shortage of marketing opportunities, including the latest cool thing that’s allegedly going to revolutionize your marketing results. There is always a squirrel, or something running across your peripheral vision that will tempt you to drop what you’re doing and turn there. However, unless that thing ties firmly back to your objectives, don’t let it distract you. Programmatic, AI-based ad platforms are ideal in some situations, plain old direct mail is best in others. There will always be a new thing, but consider it only as another option in your toolkit.

5) Focus. Small and growing businesses, in particular, have limited time and resources. Understand what the most important marketing activities are for you that will most directly drive your business objectives, and do those really well, as opposed to doing many things just okay. “Okay” is not the impression you want people to have of your brand. Social media channels are a great example of this. Because they’re free to have an account, it can feel like you should be doing everything on all of them, but rarely is that the case. This same advice of focus also applies to your target market; clearly understand who your ideal customer is, not just who could potentially buy your product (that is, ‘everyone’ is not a target market), and do everything with that target group in mind.

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 number of interactions we have on a daily basis with others in our world — friends, family, co-workers, customers — number in the hundreds, if not thousands. I think each of those interactions are an opportunity to spread kindness and positivity.

To elaborate, the substance of a message is simply what it is. The meaning I convey through how I choose (and it is an active choice) my words is what will impact those words being interpreted as anything from motivational and exciting, all the way to deflating and disappointing. Something as simple as the difference between “do this now” and “I know you’re busy; could I interrupt and have your help for 10 minutes” land completely differently. Professionally, this is often the difference-maker that determines a loyal team who is willing to go above and beyond because they respect and trust you. Even when those difficult conversations need to be had, there is absolutely a way to clearly communicate your point, and still have that person leave feeling motivated to do better.

When your work days are filled with positive, productive interactions, it spills over into private life. Kindness begets kindness, and it is something each of us can do with no more resources than a bit of time and thought, and yet can change the way we all see this world.

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

“Don’t bang your head against a wall unless you think it will go through it. Otherwise you’re just giving yourself a headache.”

In other words, it’s important to understand what is currently within your control, and what is not, and then focusing on what is in your control. Be picky about the battles you pick — because some are worth picking — but don’t waste your finite energy on things you can’t change. I’ve often found that when you accept and move past that, you realize the options that are actually available to you within those confines are remarkably broad. Those can be the moments where the most creative solutions present themselves.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can check out more of Alina’s work as it appears on:

Twitter: @voices


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

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