In honor of International Women’s Day, I proudly hosted a panel at Siegel+Gale featuring admired female marketers and Siegel+Gale clients. I had a conversation with Katia Beauchamp, Co-Founder, and CEO of Birchbox, Beth Wood, Vice President of Marketing at Guardian Life Insurance, and Lisa Checchio, VP of Brand Marketing at Wyndham Hotel Group. These women spoke with candor on the challenges and opportunities of managing brands today and the parallel challenges and opportunities of managing their careers. Over the course of the conversation, it became apparent that the same traits that make these women exemplary are shared by the strong and powerful brands they have worked to build.
Not only are these female executives powerful architects behind the professional brands that employ them, but they have each also cultivated a personal brand that makes them standouts in their field. A parallel emerged as these women shared their stories. Like their vulnerable admissions of less-than-linear career paths, the brands they support also face a new frontier as they move forward into new digital realms. It became apparent that these women never let the uncertainty of what lies ahead subdue their unwavering commitment to keep building. If it means waking up at 3:45 each morning to commute to the office as Beth Wood does every day, or powering through a full morning of childcare before stepping foot outside, these women display their commitment to success in their every action. I asked them to reflect personally on three topics: what does brand mean to you, where do you see the future of branding headed and what advice would you offer to your younger self?
What does brand mean to you?
Culture, evolution, and responsibility
Katia Beauchamp explained that brand is a reflection of employee culture noting, “how you are spending your time really ends up becoming your brand.” She drew a connection between her own lifestyle and understanding the needs and lifestyle of the “beauty majority.” She insisted that “customers give you a part of their heart,” and the relationship that exists between a brand and customer is “more than just a moment or transaction.” Given this greater mutual commitment, brands need to be able to evolve to meet the individual needs of the customer. I share her belief that as the gap closes between customer and brand, brands have a greater responsibility to honor the closer connections they forge with their customers.
Reputation, consistency, and DNA
Beth Wood noted the challenges in maintaining brand consistency at a large organization where so many employees touch the brand. That is why a brand’s core values—its DNA—are crucial to its continued relevance. She underlined that reputation and consistency are equally crucial in a world where customers gain more control over their relationship to brands. Quoting Jeff Bezos she reminded the audience, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” From my vantage, it takes the same deliberate, unstoppable and committed efforts that enabled these female executives to advance in their careers to ensure continued brand relevance.
Perception, customer, and consistency
Lisa Checchio spoke of how customers and perception go hand in hand, explaining that “no matter what we want our brands to be we have to listen to our customers.” She explained that this new frontier means brands have had to cede some certainty, surrendering traditional methods of marketing in favor of co-creating a brand experience with their customers. Checchio did not seem deterred by this new phenomenon. It became clear to me that the same fearless approach to new circumstances and a willingness to evolve enables both powerful brands and powerful women to move forward.
What is the future of branding?
Ensuring brand relevance
While Beauchamp is already responsible for revolutionizing the beauty industry and bringing it online, she is not prepared to stop innovating. For her company, Birchbox, the future will be evolution, “we have stated that our mission is to be relevant. The macro-world around us defines our relevance.” She will focus on making full use of the many digital channels to develop emotional connections in tandem with customer response. Far from balking at the prospect of so many overwhelming new media channels, Katia is excited by the opportunity to become hyper-relevant and the capacity for every individual to “take the brand and make it their own.”
For Wood at Guardian, the future is about rallying internal support to champion the brand. She is focused on arming her employees with a consistent brand story that they can hold up to customers, intermediaries, and each other. For the future she is focused on “getting everyone on the bus, everyone between our four walls to buy in.” She insisted that culture eats strategy for breakfast. No matter how brilliant your brand strategy is, if the people can’t embrace and execute against strategy, it won’t work. In the context of female leadership, Wood maintains that women in marketing and other industries should not be afraid to ask for leadership positions that they believe will enable them to inspire others. Female leaders with this unstoppable capacity are crucial for a brand’s continued relevance. Wood observed, “leadership style shapes culture,” which in turn permeates brand.
For Lisa Checchio and the Wyndham brand, which has two distinct customers—franchisees and hotel guests, “the future is getting our story right. You can’t attract the right owner if you are not telling the right story.” Like Wood, she advocated for the importance of instilling a sense of pride in employees. “Pride innately drives people to want to do better. Marketing more and more is about marketing to your internal constituents.” From my own perspective, storytelling is not just a means of demonstrating purpose and value to external onlookers; it is also a primary means of driving action and performance within an organization.
What advice you would give to your younger self?
Own your choices
Lisa Checchio approaches her personal goals with the same flexibility that enables brands to survive in a constantly shifting world.
You can have it all if you determine what ‘all’ is for you and once you get to that “all” you decide what the next “all” is. My “all” has shifted… my days are very long but my hours are filled with my choices. I can’t be upset or angry or tired because I made these choices and they add up to my “all.”
In her words, I found a strong parallel to the qualities that exemplify great brands. The same commitment to being choiceful is vital to both, but it must be complemented by continuous reassessment and adaptation. While most brands can’t realistically appeal to everyone, a brand that executes decisively on its choices can build a platform that withstands shifting trends. At the same time, a brand must be willing to continually reevaluate and redefine its stance, without sacrificing conviction, values or purpose.
Beauchamp encouraged women to keep up the fight for equality, admitting “it is harder to be a woman and do this, and it is harder in a profound way.” Far from being despairing, she took a practical approach to her work and advocated persistence. Similarly, Beth Wood encouraged women to ask for what they want and not to let the voices in their heads overwhelm them. Too often, she said, women have a tendency to process and ruminate over choices in an effort to find perfect solutions. I have seen this risk factor manifest often; efforts to be thoughtful about the dimensionality and scope of an issue are often at the cost of action.
International Women’s Day is an important day. It’s a day when we pause, acknowledge and celebrate our female clients, colleagues, and friends of the firm as well as the men who support us in our mutual accomplishments. Most of all, it reminds me of my obligation as a woman to both make my own success and to encourage others to make theirs. It reminds me that as we climb we must continually lift those around us. Convening this event is one way I recognize other women leaders’ success and share with future leaders the lessons from our respective journeys.
As a fellow CMO, it is clear to me that just as there is no blueprint for building and managing a brand, there is no single narrative that guarantees a successful career. Lisa, Katia, and Beth are working hard to shape their careers, each forging their path with a tremendous amount of individual effort. They remain proud and responsible, unapologetic for their success and grateful to all those who helped them. There are many lessons in leadership and brand building to be learned from each of these admired female executives. As their and friend, I salute and thank them for generously sharing their insights.
Margaret Molloy is chief marketing officer at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy