In our second episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Laurel Mintz. Laurel is the CEO and Founder of the award-winning Los Angeles-based marketing agency, Elevate My Brand.

As a fellow podcast host Laurel also sits on the board of directors at NFTE the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, the Woman’s Founders Network and the UCLA Restaurant Conference. She’s a mentor for the Woman’s Global Leaders Initiative and also advises the Los Angeles Venture Association.

In this episode, We asked her about the importance of brand and the role it plays in the ever-changing customer experience, any tips she had for brands struggling with identity and some advice when creating a customer experience strategy.

 

Ways to Listen

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Transcript

Graham  00:14

On this episode of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Laurel Mintz CEO and Founder of the award-winning Los Angeles-based marketing agency Elevate My Brand. As a fellow podcast host Laurel also sits on the board of directors at NFTE the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, the Woman’s Founders Network and the UCLA Restaurant Conference. She’s a mentor for the Woman’s Global Leaders Initiative and also advises the Los Angeles Venture Association. We asked her about the importance of brand and the role it plays in the ever-changing customer experience, any tips she had for brands struggling with identity and some advice when creating a customer experience strategy.

Shelley  00:46

Laurel. Hi, welcome to the podcast.

Laurel  00:48

Thank you so much for having me.

Shelley  00:50

It’s a pleasure. So, the word brand is thrown about quite a lot. We wanted to ask you what does that actually mean? And why is it important?

Laurel  00:58

Well, I think the bigger conversation is around the confusion around marketing. So, everyone thinks that branding is marketing and vice versa, or marketing, it’s advertising. So, when we have a brand conversation, we actually pull back and do a 30,000-foot kind of overview. And I like to liken it to an umbrella. So, the umbrella is marketing is the marketing umbrella under which all of those things that are top of mind with marketing and branding and advertising all lives. So, there’s branding, there’s messaging, positioning, targeting, advertising, social content, I mean, you could go on and on and on. At the end of the day, the handle of that umbrella is visibility, awareness, and whatever your conversion metric is. So branding, to answer your original question, it’s just one small component under the larger marketing umbrella. And ultimately, what branding is, is the tone, the voice, the look and feel of the brand and the sentiment that your consumer feels when you put it out into the world.

Graham  01:46

So it’s a fairly major piece, right, though it’s not a small subset, because when people think of your brand, they’re going to, for instance, Coca-Cola, there’s lots of stuff that people immediately pull on colour red, the polar bears of Christmas, it’s that kind of it’s all those things that live and breathe that if you ask somebody, what is the brand or you know, can you describe Coca Cola? It’s kind of those sorts of things that come out.

Laurel  02:07

That’s exactly right. Yeah, we actually do an exercise when we teach this topic. And we pull up a lot of different brands like Coca-Cola, like Apple, like BMW. And the question is, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you see those logos, and that is what a brand really is. And we always say it’s half what you want it to be, and half what your consumers say you are.

Shelley  02:25

What we’re seeing a lot at the moment is authenticity in brands and like a real rise of an appreciation, particularly around ethical business, and how they tie that to their brand. How important would you say authenticity is to a brand?

Laurel  02:40

I think it’s everything. Historically, there was such barriers to entry to really target a large segment of a market or an audience. And now with social media and content marketing, and influencer and all of these other channels, it’s become even more important to have that authentic message. Now personally, I hate the word authentic. I think it’s so overused, especially in corporate America, where they say they’re authentic. And they’re kind of full of BS, if you know what I mean. But to your original point, it is absolutely crucial because consumers are smarter than ever before. And they can read through that BS really, really quickly. It’s also a really great opportunity for new emerging brands to capture new market share, because especially millennials, Gen Z, and eventually Gen alpha, that’s gonna have so much buying power, they only want to spend their money with brands that really do deliver that true authenticity.

Graham  03:28

And I think that’s the key and the word that you just said is deliver, right? Because there’s lots of people that can talk the talk, but when it actually comes to doing it and living it and showing that you’re more than just three mission statements on a website, I think that’s key, right? People can see straight through it, and they’ll hold you to account if you’re not actually doing what you’re saying that you’re gonna do.

Laurel  03:46

100% Yeah, it really is table stakes, which is challenging for more heritage brands that that wasn’t baked into who they were from day one. It’s an exciting opportunity for new and emerging brands. But 100% It’s and it’s got to be a part of the core brand ethos and pathos.

Shelley  04:01

Laurel, how would you say brand plays into the customer experience?

Laurel  04:06

I think if you are developing a new brand, especially you have to use your customer as a reflection as you build that brand. And it’s actually one of the smartest ways to build a brand from the ground up to create brand evangelists by actually tapping into who you believe your core audiences to provide feedback in building that brand. So for example, when we’re building a new logo and typeface, etc, for a new company we’ll oftentimes go to the founder’s social channels and provide options on a logo or options on a typeface and say, Hey, team, what do you think vote below A, B or C or one, two or three? And even though it seems like such a small thing, just imagine if Coca-Cola had done that with us very early days, and they decided you can either pick a red, green or purple logo and 80% of their audience said pick a purple logo and then they went with the purple logo. Wouldn’t you be so much more connected to that brand because you felt like you were actually a part of building it? Like that’s the exciting opportunity that we have in modern branding society,

Graham  05:01

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. It’s bringing people in on the journey, but you say getting in at the bottom creating brand advocates. And they are, especially in a world of shared content, the sooner you can get people on board with a journey, the more you can kind of, there’s not so much getting them to work for you. It’s getting them to kind of feel like they’re part of something.

Laurel  05:19

 Like a collective experience.

Graham  05:20

Yeah, from a social point. Like if you think of Tom’s as an example, they’ve shifted from the buy a pair of shoes, or give a pair of shoes, they’ve kind of shifted to a buy a pair of shoes, and we’ll still do something but you help us decide what that thing is. I think they’ve seen incredible success in that.

Laurel  05:35

Yeah, it’s the difference between push marketing and pull marketing really like it used to be a brand would show up. And they’re like, we’re here, we’re a new brand. This is who we are. This is our logo, love us. And now it’s the opposite. It’s like what do you want? What are you into what resonates with you in this audience that we’re trying to target with this new concept? Okay, let’s collectively build this.

Shelley  05:52

If you were a business struggling with brand identity, do you have any tips or a particular process that you would recommend for them to to get on the right path?

Laurel  06:00

Absolutely, yeah, we do a digital mind map and a creative mind map to help align brands with who they are and who they say they want to be with their audience. And so, the first step in doing that is what we call a word vomit exercise. So, you literally are throwing up all of the words that you want associated with your brand. That could be colour theory, that could be whatever your actual core offering is. And then you also want to do who you’re not right. So, it’s almost as important to understand what a brand is or who a brand is, and who they are not. So that you can start to build out the lexicon for a brand. And then after that, it’s about building out the personas, right. And that usually is a primary, secondary, tertiary persona. And that becomes then a hypothesis against which you test with actual ad dollars. So, it starts with a lot of the I think, I feel, and then we have to quantify that with data. And that’s where I would start. Other than that, I would say, starting with a survey. So even if you are a brand-new baby brand, you probably have a database on some audience, whether it’s friends and family, or a little bit beyond that, create a really simple survey and ask for real feedback, again, helping to datafy that creative process.

Graham  07:01

We use data a lot in the stuff that we do, we advocate experimentation, and there’s no such thing as a failed experiment, the more you do it, any learnings that you get back are learnings that you can use to take the next step and try again.

Laurel  07:12

100%. And you should iterate through that, you know, on a frequent enough basis to make sure that what again, what you say you are, is reflected in who your audience believes you to be. So, I think we do at least an annual survey for most of our clients if not more frequently, to make sure that not only does the look and feel of the brand resonate, but the content is delivering on all channels as well. So, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for these feedback loops more so now than ever before. I think the challenge is getting brands to understand the value and importance of actually executing those. A lot of brands are kind of scared of that feedback when to your point, it really should be used to strengthen the brand.

Graham  07:47

And I think the important thing, like you said is you might think that your brand is X but do your consumers agree, right? Do they see you as a completely different thing? Do they see that the product you’re offering matches the brand that you’re kind of putting into the world? Because those two things don’t align? It doesn’t matter how many strategies you write, or what kind of how many business plans you create if people don’t buy what you’re selling. You’re not moving forward. Right. And I think that’s key.

Laurel  08:09

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a great stopping point. So if you see open rates are going down conversions are going down, you know, all of these kinds of KPIs are dipping, that’s a really important stopping point to pull back and say, okay, something’s broken here. How do we fix it? And usually, the answer to that is ask your audience, they’ll be pretty honest with you about what’s working and what isn’t typically, and the exciting part about a survey that I don’t think a lot of brands think through very intentionally is there is a huge opportunity in serving your audience use it as a sell through opportunity, as well offer a small discount or small credit on whatever the next purchases, so it can actually help bolster sales in a product or service and give you really valuable and critical feedback.

Shelley  08:48

I think it’s safe to say it’s a tough time for businesses out there at the moment globally, in your work with brands. Are you seeing are there any kind of common threads, whether they’re big brands, small brands, upcoming whatever? Are you seeing any sort of common threads coming through that are helping to take it to the next level, or helping to really engage with their audience in a way that’s more successful than just kind of the mainstream approach?

Laurel  09:10

That’s a really great question. You know, I think what we’re seeing more than ever is brands getting back to basics, I think, when everyone was a fat cat and sitting pretty and revenue was really, you know, cranking. I think people were able to test more channels and be a bit more inventive. I think now that budgets are being cut headcount is being cut, everyone’s kind of like tightened up a little bit. I think the big trend that we’re seeing, and it’s not really a trend is like, how do we get back to basics and make sure our core fundamentals are there? And that starts again, from the data perspective, right? So, what are the channels that we’re executing on which ones are delivering the best for us? How can we bolster those channels and test within those? I mean, I don’t think that you should not be testing and taking chances when the economy isn’t that strong, but you should really be doing it in your strongest channel. So I think back to basic testing within your strong channels, and making sure that your metrics are strong on the channels that deliver for your brand. That’s what we’re seeing across the board.

Graham  10:05

Do you have any tips on creating an experience strategy that’s going to stand the test of time, I guess what kind of when a person is looking to build, like we say, you can build a marketing strategy and kind of pick channels, and you can align your brand to say colour font and stuff. When it comes to experience, it’s really, that’s where the rubber hits the road, right? Because that’s the thing where the customer and the business are meeting are the things people should be considering when putting so that sort of strategy together.

Laurel  10:30

Are you talking about actual experiential, or a digital experience?

Graham  10:34

Kinda both, I guess. COVID pushed us digital very heavily. And we’re kind of coming out the other side of that. And what we’re certainly seeing is a desire for people to kind of get back to what people would deem traditional reaching out into stores, pop-ups, whatever it is, but I think digital is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. And I think it’s heavily impacting what that in store experience is like, because people like the convenience of digital, they understand how it works. They want that digital experience in store. So, I think those two things have to live and breathe within the same world. And they have to be very heavily connected, because people aren’t just going to put up with poor experiences in store because hey, I got to leave the house and the sun was shining, like I think those days are over.

Laurel  11:13

Yeah, it takes a lot to get me out of the house. I’ll tell you that much these days. But there’s a couple of stores that are doing it really well. I’m totally blanking on the name of the store. But there, there’s a store in New York. And they it’s a very experiential, consumer-driven store. And so all these brands come in and they do these really wild pop-up experiences, kind of like in these little bubbles within the larger store experience. What they’re doing really well is they’re using technology to give people both a digital and an experiential experience and tying the two together. And I think that is is what we’re going to see moving forward is this by necessity and by desire tie in, and we’re actually executing on it ourselves. There’s a grocery store here called Gelson’s and they are launching a bunch of new stores. And one of the reasons they reached out to us was because they wanted to create a new experiential moment to drive in-store for their new audience within these new markets that they’re launching in. So we’re doing some pretty wild and wacky tie-ins for them, which are going to be super, super fun. But ultimately, it’s to drive that in-store experience. We’re using things like QR codes, we’re playing on the nostalgia factor, because the audience is a specific age category that we’re targeting. So I think it’s about how do we capture first-party data so that we can then serve that audience in the most effective way possible to drive the in-store experience, those people that become a part of that experience will be receiving very targeted coupons, discount codes, VIP offers all of that, that’s what’s going to drive that in-store experience. It can’t just be traditional retail anymore.

Graham  12:45

And I think the thing, as well as the people that are potentially behind the eight ball, they need to be paying really close attention to what other people are doing, right? Because at a certain point, it stops being the cool, fun idea. And it becomes the norm and it becomes an expectation when you’re not delivering it. You just start to hemorrhage people, because they’re gonna go to where they can get the experience that other people are providing.

Laurel  13:06

Totally, that’s exactly right.

Shelley  13:08

And I think whatever channel that we’re using, it ultimately comes down to that connection, like you said, whether it’s a brand that you’ve followed for many, many years, and it’s a nostalgia thing, or whether it is literally just taking traditional methods and trying to digitise them in a way that gets that brand experience across to those loyal customers that doesn’t feel like it’s any less than if they were engaging with that brand in the ways that they used to. I think that’s kind of really key for these businesses that are trying to carry it across into the digital sphere.

Laurel  13:39

100% Yeah, they have to leave, especially for Heritage brands that have been have been around for forever. They are like, Oh, shit, we got to catch up with these really cool new brands that are doing all these wild and wacky things. And we’re looked at like the old guy in the room, we need to step up our game and, you know, good for them for trying, they don’t always succeed. But the effort is certainly seen. And the cool part about that is that those more heritage brands have bigger budgets to play with. So a lot of times activations are just out of this world. I mean, they don’t always you know, that sometimes they fall flat. But if they hired the right teams, and they really, to our point earlier are talking to the right audience and understand what the needs are, they can deliver a an insane and cool experience.

Shelley  14:23

Laurel, I wanted to ask if you had any other tips or any sort of advice that people can practically apply when creating their own customer experience strategy with brand in mind?

Laurel  14:33

Well, I think I mean, that sounds like a broken record. But it all comes back to the data points, right? So we need to make sure that you’re doing comparative analysis. I think one of the big fail points that we see with brands, both digitally and experientially is that they create their concepts within a vacuum, right? They’re like, we’re in this industry, and this is who we’ve been always this is who we want to target and this is who we want to be and this is what we’re going to do, and that might work but if you’re not looking at the bigger picture again that 30,000-foot view with who your top three to five direct aspirational, or the brands that are coming up on your tailwinds, you know are and what they’re doing, then you could potentially be missing the mark, right. So I think a lot of brands get really myopic, and focused on their own brand. And they eat their own dog food, so to speak. And they need to do a 30,000-foot view, pullback and make sure that they’re seeing the potential landmines along the way, right, like they could be launching something that just is totally not going to resonate with their audience, or that one of their competitor brands has already done well in the space. So I think that there’s ways to look at that from an experiential standpoint. And then from a digital standpoint, obviously, there are platforms like SEMrush that we use all the time to help us take those data points and say, okay, even if you are doing the most creative digital campaign, if you’re not putting the right spin behind it, or if it’s not on the proper channels, that’s going to fall flat, there’s nothing worse than talking to a brand and they’re like, we’ve got this amazing campaign, we want you to execute, and we’ve got X number of dollars to spend on these four channels, you’re like, well, that’s great. And that’s your perspective. But if your competitors are spending 10x, that are not spending it all on those channels, that also has to be a part of that conversation.

Graham  16:08

The piece where you say brands become super kind of myopic on themselves is really important, right? Because no brand is too big to fail we’ve seen in the past, and it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen again, there’s brands that disappeared in 2008, that no one thought would ever go anywhere. And they’re now in the pages of history. And I suspect for some of them, if you ask people on the street, who are they nobody would not have just disappeared. So yeah, it’s I think that’s a really good point, kind of keeping an eye on yourself, you competitors and your customers that are coming up and meeting the change and not expecting or forcing your customers to change to meet your demands kind of changing to meet theirs.

Laurel  16:45

Totally

Graham  16:46

Awesome.

Shelley  16:46

Laurel, thank you so much for your time. It has been really really enlightening and really interesting talking to you on this subject we could keep going forever.

Laurel  16:53

Thank you. It’s been such a pleasure. I love having these big-picture conversations and hope any brands listening check these things to heart and let us know if we can help.

Graham  17:02

That was Laural Mintz, CEO and Founder of Elevate My Brand. It’s clear their authenticity, transparency or honesty are vital to the success of a brand and how it is perceived in the market. But it’s more than just talking about it it’s doing the work too. Customers are a lot more savvy to the techniques of old and trust is always sitting on a knife edge. Bringing your customer along for the journey and showing respect for their experience and needs will create advocates and by focusing on the customer experience, using your customer’s feedback and your first-party data will help you build a strong brand that will stand the test of time. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 15 Minutes With and we look forward to having you along on the next one.