Why You Need to Double Down on Brand Marketing

Episode #025: Elisa Padilla; Executive Leader, Marketing Executive, & Brand Builder

Brand marketing: We all know the importance of brand, but why is it the first area of marketing that seems to get cut when there needs to be a budget reduction? After all, brand is what really pays out in the long run.

In this episode, we chat with Elisa Padilla, former Senior Vice President of Creative Strategy and Partnership Marketing at Roc Nation. She has more than 25 years of marketing leadership experience at brands such as the Miami Marlins, The Howard Hughes Corporation, Apple, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, and more.

We’re talking about why every marketer needs to invest more in their brand, how consumer expectations have changed since COVID-19, great examples of customer marketing and retention efforts, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Consumer expectations have drastically risen in the past year. The brands that are winning are those anticipating consumer needs. 
  2. Surprise and delight your customers. It could be something small, but think of ways you can make your customers feel appreciated. 
  3. There has to be a balance between brand marketing and transactional marketing.  

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I am more than 15 years of marketing experience and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards, and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show my guests and I will push boundaries, and share the real truth about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. Brand Marketing: We all know the importance of brand, but why is it the first area of marketing that seems to get cut when there needs to be a budget reduction? Why is there this focus on always emphasizing demand generation versus brand? Even though I think all of us know in the long term, brand is what really pays out. So we’re talking all about brand marketing today. And this episode, we chat with Elisa Padilla, former senior vice president of creative strategy and partnership marketing at Rock Nation. She has more than 25 years of marketing leadership experience at brands, such as the Miami Marlins, Howard Hughes Corporation, Apple, Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, and more. We’re talking about why every marketer needs to invest more on brand today, how consumer expectations have dramatically changed since COVID-19, great examples of customer marketing and retention efforts, and so much more. Welcome to the show!

Elisa Padilla: Thank you so much, Stephanie. I am so excited to be here with you today!

Stephanie Cox: I am excited for this conversation. I think we’re going to have a lot of great topics to chat about, but before we dive in, I love to ask every guest, tell me something about yourself that few people know?

Elisa Padilla: I think the one thing that few people know about me is that I am a dog lover and I am completely obsessed with my dogs. And that translates into every time I see a dog in the street, I stop and talk to the dog like they’re a human.

Stephanie Cox: I am kind of the same way. I have three dogs. Hopefully we don’t hear any of them bark today, but no one ever knows.

Elisa Padilla: Yeah, I know, I know. I’m hoping that we don’t hear them.

Stephanie Cox: But I’m a big fan dogs. Dogs are like family to me, so we have three small dogs. How about you?

Elisa Padilla: So I have two small dogs. They’re Yorkie poos, Trevor and Trey. And I a hundred percent agree with you. They’re like family where if Trevor and Trey can’t go somewhere, I’m not going.

Stephanie Cox: Yeah. My kids are like that now, too. They always worry about what are the puppies going to do if we leave the house?

Elisa Padilla: Right!

Stephanie Cox: Or before COVID we used to talk, when you go on vacation and we take them to see a boarded, and we even call it puppy vacation. So the dogs know when they go on puppy vacation, they get real excited.

Elisa Padilla: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s interesting. Yes. See I either take them with us or we go on vacation where we can take them or if we can’t take them, I usually have someone come to the house to take care of them. Because again, this is where I treat them like humans. Like the thought of putting them in a boarding place just doesn’t feel right to me. So again, a little bit of insight to what people don’t know about me and how I feel about these two little guys.

Stephanie Cox: Love hearing about your dogs and would love to just start talking maybe about brand marketing. I know that’s an area where you’re really passionate. So before we kind of dive into all things brand, I’d love to just get your definition of what is brand marketing really mean, or what should it mean to a marketer?

Elisa Padilla: So from my perspective, I think that brand marketing should be a clear understanding of the commitment that a brand is making to its consumers. I think that you have to look at what is the brand promise and how was that being delivered in market and how is that being executed? And is there consistency? So you can’t say that you’re offering the best coffee in the market and not holistically communicate the why and what your promises to the consumer.

Stephanie Cox: And I think so many marketers know brand marketing is important, but at the same token, they also don’t know how to think about it and measure it or advocate for it. So when you think about investing in brand, how do you help convince other executives that it’s worth the time and effort to build a brand?

Elisa Padilla: Yeah, that’s actually a great observation. I think that in today’s world everything is so cluttered and marketers are so worried about getting a share of wallet that they don’t stop to think that okay, brand marketing is important because unless you’re a legacy brand, like McDonald’s, that has been around for a hundred plus years, you need to continue to educate and reinforce your brand, your brand promise and your offerings to consumers so that they’re top of mind. It’s really interesting because I think that there has to be a balance between brand marketing and transactional marketing. It just can’t be about going after customers for their dollars because customers are very, very savvy and if you’re not authentic, they smell you out. And I think that that’s something that’s really important. And I understand, and especially today, Stephanie in the world that we’re living in, how budgets are cut. However, I think that brand managers, CMOs need to advocate for brand marketing because the dollars are well spent in terms of getting new customers and also retaining your current customers.

Stephanie Cox: So let’s talk a little bit more about that. I think you bring up a really great point, which is a lot of times the first things that get cut when budgets are cut, right, is marketing overall.

Elisa Padilla: Yep.

Stephanie Cox: And then a lot of times it’s brand marketing or anything that tends to be, a little bit more squishy where it’s harder to measure your brand affinity. So when you start thinking about brand affinity overall how do you think about measuring that or helping just really anyone else in the organization understand the value that brand provides long- term?

Elisa Padilla: Well, I think it starts with you have to have a really good business analytics team internally who will work alongside marketing to do surveys, to reach out to customers, to do focus groups. And I think that that’s really important. I think that brands need to know that their relationship with their customers are a two way street. So you can’t always and continuously just at your customers. And what I mean by that is just speak at them as opposed to being in tune with how they’re consuming your product, why they’re consuming your product, and if there’s anything else that your product should or shouldn’t be offering. So I think that from a customer touch point, the surveying is very, very important to really keep the pulse on your consumer needs and how your consumers are evolving. Because you can have a consumer who’s purchasing your brand and their changes may, I’m sorry, their needs may have changed based on X, Y, and Z circumstance, right? So how do you continue to service them when their needs have changed? And when you’re looking at it through a retention lens?

Stephanie Cox: Well, one of the things that I just thought of as soon as you started talking about that was this idea of how do you communicate with your customers in a one- to- one manner? So I’d love to know more about how do you think about that? How do you think about those really, I think we all talk about personalization and how much it matters, but I think so few marketers understand what true one- to- one communication really means. So I’d love to get your perspective on that topic.

Elisa Padilla: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely think, from where I’m sitting, I always think about everything from through the consumer lens. So personalization is really important. And the next thing is knowing enough about your customer to understand how they’re consuming information, whether it’s do they like direct mail, do they like getting SMS messages? There is enough technology out there, any enough research tools out there that you can drill down, just getting past the person’s name. Right? So people, there are brands that think, Oh, you know what, we’ll send out a blast email, and it’ll just be personalized by the person’s first name. Well, okay. Again, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to one- to- one marketing. And I really think that knowing deep details about your customer are really important. You know, I’ll share a personal experience. One of my favorite car manufacturers is Volvo and I love their brand because they clearly communicate that they’re all about safety. And I had a Volvo many, many years ago and I used to walk into the dealer ship to get my car serviced. And they knew my name. They knew everything about my habits and my interaction with my car. And the reason that I highlight that is because they went the extra mile. And I think that going the extra mile is really, really important specifically in this competitive world that we’re living in where consumers have so many choices.

Stephanie Cox: Well and I think part of it too is digital, right? Like our expectations as consumers and the amount of information we expect a brand to have about us has just changed so rapidly even in the last year, right? I’m thinking back to a year ago, I wouldn’t have probably judged a company too harshly if I had to wait 15 minutes for them to come out and give me my curbside purchases. And now if the experience isn’t as seamless as like Target is where it knows that I’m getting to their store and it tells me that I’m already there, right? Like it’s just super seamless and they’re out in five minutes. Like I now judge everyone because of that. So how do you think about making sure you’re true to your brand, but then also like staying ahead or at least in line with the competition where those expectations are changing sometimes what feels like on almost a daily basis?

Elisa Padilla: Yeah, that’s actually a really, really good point. And I think that the companies, the brands that are forward thinking that are anticipating their customer needs are the ones that are winning in this space. So when I think about a brand like Apple, for example, where they’re committed to enhancing people’s lives through their devices, they’re always one step ahead of their customer’s potential needs. The other one that I’ll highlight is Starbucks. Starbucks I believe it was two years ago, they came out and they were closing I think it was a hundred locations, physical brick and mortar locations, but they were going to do more pop- ups because what they learned, despite the fact that when Starbucks launched, it was all about having a place to go a communal place to enjoy a cup of coffee. Their consumer needs had changed where it was enough for them to close a hundred brick and mortar stores and then open up a hundred plus pop- ups so that their customers could just come in and get their coffee because on the go was exceeding the in store purchasing habits right? So that to me is very, very, it’s fascinating. Starbucks had enough information about their customers. They were serving, or they were really studying their habits to really help them make that decision. So when you think about the customer life cycle, and you think about anticipating their needs, like your example of Target. There’s other retailers that are doing the same thing, but had this pandemic not happened that probably wouldn’t have even been on their radar because I’m not sure that they were that forward- thinking.

Stephanie Cox: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned that because that’s one of the things that I’ve noticed is how much digital transformations happen in the last 12 months because companies didn’t have a choice. And things that in experiences in the way that they communicate with their consumers from a brand perspective, things that would have been really hard to do a year ago now seem like they’re just commonplace because that’s what they had to do in order to survive. So, as you’re thinking about planning out your brand and marketing strategy and thinking about obviously right brand affinity and creating brand advocates within your customer base, but also acquiring new customers, how do you balance the two? Because I think that sometimes what a lot of marketers tend to do is focus a little bit more on new customers and less on really growing existing customers and ensuring that they’re loyal. Even though we all know it costs more to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one, I think sometimes we forget that, but how do you think about balancing both? Because you need both to be successful.

Elisa Padilla: A hundred percent agree and echo your sentiments in regards to understanding that it costs more to acquire a new customer versus retaining your current customers. And I think that that all goes back to really understanding your customer. When you think about your product offerings and your customers, right, and if you’re growing your product offerings, how do you communicate that your new product offerings are going to be a benefit to your existing customers? Because I think that a lot of brands sometimes when they take their current customers for granted. So, it’s like, okay, we have this product offering, well now we’re going to, we’re going to launch this and our existing customers of course, because they love our brand, they’re going to consume this new product, but that’s not necessarily the case right? You just have to be really, really smart from a research and data perspective up front. And it’s really interesting because when you think about the marketing mixing, you think about marketing dollars, right? You have the brand marketing, you have your transactional marketing budget, what I call to get new prospects and to get new customers, but then where’s the line item for retention? How do you reward your customers? You know, so even I’ll use Starbucks and Dunkin donuts as an example. They launched their app and you know what, you buy a certain amount cups of coffee and you get a free coffee. And I can tell you being a user of both apps, I get emails that I’m being reminded that, you know what, you’re 10 points away from your next free cup of coffee. Or come in on Monday for X, Y, and Z. So they’re touch points with me because I’m a frequent customer are always top of mind and very relevant because I love coffee.

Stephanie Cox: The other part that I love of what you mentioned is they know their customer base and consumers, because they’re also gamifying it a little bit, right? Like you’re 10 points away. And then all of us like, right? Like it’s kind of like a challenge well challenge accepted. Let me go take care of that.

Elisa Padilla: Yes! Yes, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And they do a nice balance I feel of keeping their loyalists, continuing to build that loyalty, but then they also do a very nice job when they’re launching new products to get more people through their doors or through the drive through these days.

Stephanie Cox: So let’s talk customers in general and we’ve touched on it a couple of times, but when you think about really putting together and putting a lot of efforts around customer retention, from a marketing perspective, what does that typically look like? Or what should it look like in your perspective?

Elisa Padilla: I think it’s twofold. I think one is appreciation. You have to show your customers that you appreciate them, and whether that’s through gamification where they’re spending money and they’re earning points that’s one way, right? And then the second is surprise and delight. And what I mean by that is surprising your customers with the unexpected., You know, surprising your customers with something that it could be as small as when you go to pick up the pizza that you ordered that you give your customer garlic bread! I don’t know, I’m, I’m using the restaurant reference because that’s just what came to mind just in terms of the small things that you can do. But I really think that appreciation and surprise and delight goes a long way because when you have a really good experience, you’re going to be almost become a brand ambassador for that brand. And I also think that retention efforts don’t have to be lavish and cost companies tons of money. I think that sometimes marketers think that, oh, if I can’t do X, Y, and Z, then it’s not going to be worth it. However, on the flip side of that, I would challenge that thought process because I firmly believe that it’s the smaller things that matter the most, and that go the longest way.

Stephanie Cox: So when you talked about appreciation, I think my initial gut reaction is loyalty programs, which we’ve talked a little bit about, but if your business maybe doesn’t set itself up for a loyalty program in a traditional sense, what are some other ways that you feel like customers can be appreciated, that it’s meaningful for both the brand and the actual customer?

Elisa Padilla: It’s that simple where if a brand knows your birthday, so do you get a birthday email and does that birthday email have an offer to drive you to a store or to drive you to online or to drive for a purchase? And even though you’re providing an offer, it’s still the thoughtfulness that it’s like, wow, these folks know my birthday. Like, okay, this is great. The other thing is around holiday. Is there an opportunity for brands to again give a small token, give a small gift that doesn’t have to break a company’s budget. And it could be beneficial for not only the customer, but it could also be beneficial for the brand. For example, Christmas Tree, that’s a store here in the Northeast, they did a really good job in the month of December. Every morning, I would get an email with these are the savings, and I had gone to the Christmas tree store, like maybe twice before then, before I signed up to get their email. But every day I was like, oh, here’s something of value. And I felt appreciated. And it wasn’t like they were giving me anything free. It was just the mindfulness in terms of the communication of these are the offerings that we have. There may be something in here as you’re preparing for the holidays for you. So that’s the kind of thing that I think about, and it’s not email or even a text message. Those are low cost touch points that brands should be thinking about.

Stephanie Cox: That is such a great point. And I love that you mentioned the Christmas Tree store. Because I love all things Christmas, not to derail us at all, but I would have loved that email.

Elisa Padilla: Yeah. Yeah.

Stephanie Cox: So thinking a little bit, like taking that step further. So let’s say you put into place a customer retention program, do you typically recommend that that’s part, like who owns that within marketing, right? I’ve seen different situations where sometimes there is a customer marketing person, sometimes there’s someone that owns retention. How would you recommend companies think about structuring that?

Elisa Padilla: I think that within the marketing department, well, you know what? I have two views on it. One is I think that it could either live within the marketing department whether it’s a retention or slash customer marketing, or it could live within the business strategy group or business intelligence group. Because, those folks that are looking at the data should be able to provide consumer insights from a behavior standpoint. And like I said earlier, the business intelligence and the marketing groups should be attached at the hip. So from a business intelligence perspective, they’re seeing the trend, whether it’s opting in or opting out. So to me, those would be the two views that I would recommend.

Stephanie Cox: I think one of the other things, since I mentioned it earlier, that I’d love to get, we’ll just talk to you more about is I think sometimes people stick together like combined, but also mix up what customer retention means versus customer marketing. And I think sometimes people think like, oh well we do customer retention because I ask people to do case studies for us. Or I asked people to participate in social campaigns. How do you separate the two? One is really focused on appreciating customers and showing them that you find value and you are grateful for their loyalty while the other is using customers to help you acquire more new customers. Like does one have to come before the other? How do you make sure that they’re separate but also combined at the same time?

Elisa Padilla: That’s it, that’s a really, really interesting and really great question. And I think that it all goes back to number one, that the structure right within the brand. That’s the first thing that I would say. And then the second is for the head of marketing to really outline crystal clear objectives in terms of, this is what customer retention/ loyalty looks like. These are the goals, these are the objectives, this is how going to get there, and this is the why. And then on the customer marketing piece of it, making it as crystal clear, and while they’re both tied to drive new revenue, right? Because, in either funnel, you want customer spending money with you, but I think it starts at the top where the head of marketing has to make it crystal clear and put that line in the sand in regards to they’re two different funnels. And this is how they may or may not cross. And provide clarity on that strategy and how it’s going to be executed. Because it could also be confusing from a customer perspective, right? And the last thing that you want is for your customer to be confused about the communication from the brand perspective.

Stephanie Cox: You’re just a wealth of knowledge about all things brand marketing and customer retention. I’d love to end with what’s the one or two things that you think most marketers should be doing and aren’t? Or the biggest mistakes that they’re making in regards to these topics?

Elisa Padilla: I think the biggest mistake that they’re making is that they’re taking them for granted. I think that they’re taking for granted that customers are thinking about their brand and that the customers are top of mind versus always top of mind. I think that that’s the biggest thing. And the second thing is that brand marketing and customer retention matters. It’s not solely about acquisition. And the way that I look at it is that if you have a strategic view, and you have a strategic plan, and you execute it flawlessly and you have churn, whether a customer decides whatever the case may be when it, if you’re not seeing the results from the customer, I think that at that point, it’s like, okay, you know what we need to move on. But I don’t think that brands are being that diligent. And I don’t think that they’re being that detailed in terms of having that be a priority because yes, it’s great, passed inaudible, get tons of customers, but then if you don’t keep them, how are you going to sustain your business?

Stephanie Cox: Surprise and delight. One of the things that I love that Elisa said was this idea of surprising and delighting our customers and how it doesn’t have to be expensive. And I think her example of garlic bread was a great one. You know, if a pizza place gave you free garlic bread when pick up your pizza or through delivery, you would be surprised and delighted by that. And the cost to them is very minimal. So think about ways that you can surprise and delight your customers today. It doesn’t have to be this grand expensive gift. It could be something small, but how can you go out of the way to make your customers feel really appreciated? You’ve been listening to real marketers. If you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And don’t forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing, goodness, shouldn’t be kept a secret.