Unknown Origins

Scott Omelianuk on Brand Leadership

July 20, 2021 Attitude. Imagination. Execution. Season 1 Episode 61
Unknown Origins
Scott Omelianuk on Brand Leadership
Show Notes Transcript

From mainstreaming. metrosexuals as a columnist at the late lamented, details magazine, to developing the illusion of reality, as part of the creation team of The Real Housewives franchise, through pioneering content, supported ecommerce at Polo, Ralph Lauren, and the maker movement as the Managing Director of the iconic This Old House, Scott Omelianuk, now the Editor in Chief of Inc and Inc.com, he has built a reputation for defining the culture and using it to the advantage of clients and the benefit of consumers. Honored with the Ad Age A-list, its Idea of the Year award, and a Media Vanguard award, Scott is known as a marketing and branding expert, and champion of entrepreneurial thinking within small business on the enterprise.

A professor of marketing and innovation and an entrepreneur in residence at a U.S. News & World Report; World Report “Top 25 Innovation School,” the Stevens Institute of Technology, Scott was chief strategy officer for HumanConsult.io, a consultancy that helps companies perfect their purpose, master their narrative and strengthen their pitch for stakeholder and consumer alike. An author, investor, founder, and patent holder, Scott has been profiled or served as an expert source for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age AdWeek, CNN, the BBC, NHK, NPR, CNBC, MSNBC and dozens of other newspapers, blogs and broadcast outlets around the world.

Scott provides perspective on building purpose-led mission-driven brands for the greater good.

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Roy Sharples:

Hello, I'm Roy Sharples, and welcome to the unknown origins podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast? Are you an industry expert looking for insights? are you growing your career? Or are you a dear friend, helping to spur your old power on? I created the unknown origins podcast to have the most inspiring conversations with creative industry personalities and experts about entrepreneurship, pop culture, art, music, film and fashion from mainstreaming. metrosexuals as a columnist at the late lamented, details magazine, to developing the illusion of reality, as part of the creation team of The Real Housewives franchise, through pioneering content, supported ecommerce at Polo, Ralph Lauren, and the maker movement as the managing director of the iconic this old house start on Eliana. Now the editor in chief of ink and ink.com has built a reputation for defining the culture and using it to the advantage of clients and the benefit of consumers. honored with the odd age, a list, its idea of the Year Award, and a media Vanguard Award. Scott is known as a marketing and branding expert, and champion of entrepreneurial thinking within small business on the enterprise, a Professor of Marketing and innovation, and an entrepreneur in residence at the US News and World Report top 25 innovation school, the Stevens Institute of Technology. Scott was Chief Strategy Officer for human consult.io a consultancy that helps companies perfect that purpose, master their narrative, and strengthen their pitch for stakeholder and consumer alike. An author, investor, founder and patent holder, Scott has been profiled or served as an expert source for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal aardige odd week, CNN, the BBC, NHK, NPR, CNBC, MSNBC, and dozens of other newspapers, blogs, and broadcast outlets around the world. Hello, and welcome, Scott, what inspired and attracted you to pursue a career in brand leadership?

Scott Omelianuk:

Well, I'd like to say that there was some overarching philosophy. But to be honest, it was my first job out of school graduate school, I'd worked as a carpenter for a couple of years, I went back to school in journalism, and managed to get a job at GQ Magazine, which at that time was a really, really big deal, right. And there was language in the culture that described it, it's like you looked very GQ how to look like GQ how to look like a page out of gkm. Right. So I ended up at a place that was strong on branding. From the start of it. There were a whole stable of other brands. They're like Vogue, like the New Yorker that were similarly strong brands. And then, in working at GQ, as a journalist, I went out and I interview people like Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani. And I saw how their control over what they did, how they're thinking about what they did, how the, for them, the creation of a lifestyle was so all encompassing, and in the end for them so perfect, and had profound power. Right? They both were billion dollar businesses at the time, just realized, wow, yeah, you know, brands matter. They really matter. And when you do them, right, they're really special. And they have a significant, significant role in the culture.

Roy Sharples:

Why do brands matter? Because they matter to people. brands, what about trust? They help people feel good, confident, and connected to something bigger? What is your creative process in terms of how do you make the invisible visible by dreaming up ideas, developing them into concepts, and then bringing them to actualization for the brands that you've been involved with

Scott Omelianuk:

that begins with trying to understand what brand purposes somewhere and I've had a career that has allowed me to go into a bunch of different places and retool some brands. And one I often like to talk about it was so so here at Inc. Our our brand purpose is to support the American entrepreneur, the business founder, the CEO of small biz And so once you understand that and you understand that support can actually mean a lot of different things. And then it's up to us to figure out in what ways we can economically viably support, small business, lots of opportunities open up as long as we remember, at core. We're supporting the business founder, the entrepreneur, right. And so that begins, every store we write has to appeal to the founder, not to the employee, right, because we're here to support founders, every product we launch has to somehow extend the support of the founder. So we can launch a data product that has nothing to do with journalism that Inc has done before. But if it helps businesses who interact with us say, raise funding from private equity or VC, you know, that's doing our job, right. That's fulfilling our brand purpose. So I think it starts there. And then it can provide you with guidelines, I previously had had run a brand, called this hold house mentors, which is a television show in the United States for nearly 40 years on on public television. It's still on actually, so more than four years old now had a magazine and had websites. And the television show itself, which was sort of the precursor to HGTV. And all the Home Improvement shows we see now was very hammers and nails, five guys who built big renovations. I just had this inkling when I learned that our audience, you know, and when I was there was nearly 40 years into it. As I say, when our audience grew up watching that television show with their parents, and now watched it with their own children, there was a realization for me that there's something more to this show than just about hammers and nails, because you, you learned enough about that in you know, seasons 18 and 19, you didn't need to keep coming back. And so I thought there was something more there. And we did a little bit of research. And it turned out that people wanted to watch the show, and be associated with the brand because they trusted the hosts of the show. And in that trust, they saw our brand, not as a renovation experience, but as a place to help them create a safe home for their family. Right, so entirely different, it suddenly became that emotional connection that they had with a brand. And in that emotional connection, we were suddenly able to do so much more right suddenly, this wasn't just about hammers and nails in this perfect remodel. It was about all the little things you did and sometimes screwed up on Yeah, and and acknowledging that but the end goal was like, you know, we're trying to make a nice place. And I tell this story about a woman, we created something called the reader remodel contest, where we let users of the brand through the print magazine, compete for the best remodel of different spaces and our houses. I got a letter from a woman at a certain point saying how much she enjoyed this issue, and it was quite personal ladder, how much she enjoyed the issue, how much she enjoyed seeing what people had done, the spaces they created for their families. In the letter, she acknowledged that she was ill and and didn't really have the energy or the money now to to do any remodeling. But but she also wanted to send me this poem about what was important to her about home. And she sent me the needlepoint poem in a frame that she had found somewhere. And we wrote about this, and sort of I didn't acknowledge that this woman was ill in the letter, but I said we'd heard from her and she wanted to share this with the rest of the audience. Your year and a half goes by, I get a letter that begins, Scott, you don't know me. But you wrote about my sister, Kathleen, a year and a half ago when she was at the end of her life. And I realized that that was the crystallization of the power of this brand, where our writing about safe spaces allowed this woman to have a safe space as she was dying. Yeah, and are writing about her and acknowledging that we heard her became something I learned from her sister that she talked about to everybody. She took out the page of the magazine and would share it with people. And a year and a half later, her sister felt the compulsion to write me about that. Like there's no more profound brand experience you can ask for than something like that, right? So when you get that, you know You've hit it on the head, you know that there's a reason for us to exist. And as a brand like to have that kind of clarity around why you exist, is just terrific.

Roy Sharples:

When a brand connects emotionally to its audiences by providing authentic, personalized or unique experiences, that's when the alchemy happens. Brand love is created by establishing trust, and making people feel good, confident, and connected to something greater

Scott Omelianuk:

what brands are has changed a little bit, right, and we have to think about that maybe brands are all a little smaller, or a lot of them are a little smaller than they were. And I don't mean Facebook and Apple when I'm talking about that, right. But other other brands might have shrunk a little bit just because there's so much competition. But in that competition, differentiation, which smart branding is, is all the more important and your ability to connect with someone when they can choose a dozen different, you know, suppliers of disinfecting wipes, or, or, or luggage, or whatever socks, whatever it is, you know, becomes that much more significant. And so your positioning, and I say a word thrown around a lot, I think often misused about when appropriately use your brand purpose really, really counts for a lot. And I would just say really quickly, when I talk about brand purpose, it's not corporate social responsibility. It's not ESG. It's not making donations, but it's the reason you exist in business and why someone wants to come to you, rather than someone else. figuring that out is really important for people. But when you do can be amazing guidelines and sort of a North Star, and also tell you where not to go as a business. There's another lesson in there. And it's about, about branding that's really useful. And by the way, this is a story I tell often. And I'm grateful to Kathleen, the woman who wrote me for helping me see this right now she's not with us any longer. But she's with me often when I have these conversations. And the other piece that I learned about opportunity and brands and branding is is how valuable a tribe can be how valuable a group of people who consume your brand, but also support it, and even a market and, you know, go out in and promote it on their own just because they're passionate about it. It's an incredible multiplier,

Roy Sharples:

the brands that transcend the obvious, routine, and ordinary. They're the ones that will build better brands, because they have the foresight and empathy, to see through the eyes of their audiences to quickly innovate and deliver differentiated experiences, products and services, they're the ones that will be able to cultivate fans, and to engage audiences and to win the hearts and minds by creating passionate fans, and let's not be mistaken, customers are not the same as fans, customers is a transaction finds is that they are connected to your to your brand, the self identify with it. And they tend to be loyal, and quite often through the duration of their life. And when you then break it down into business value, the probability is that when you've cultivated a fan base, that they likely spend more on your brand than what customers do over the entire lifecycle.

Scott Omelianuk:

Yeah, no question. And you nailed that, when you said a customer is a transaction. And and I think, you know, obviously businesses exist to make money and so to support themselves and the people who work there and who found it. But the less transactional you can be as a brand and the more useful you can be as a brand, the greater the opportunity for you to ultimately, you know, to ultimately make the money you want to make because people will be willing to spend it with you. I think that's something that we don't have enough appreciation of still yet right now is how people want to spend their money. Not with companies, not with big businesses, they want to spend them with people. They think they align with who they can trust to have done them a favor. I think that's why in the DTC movement, you know, having an about page or a founder story page or what have you and seeing that face is hugely important and yes, and this used to be at one time, right so the beginning of if we're just like looking at consumer products at the the big of the sort of the food industry age. There were a handful of brands here in the states that Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, right, these were based on Marie calendar, Sara Lee, these were based on real people. They were real people at the time, who became big brands. And they were real people. Because that mattered as a way of convincing homeowners or homemakers at the time that you can buy industrial produced food, but there's a person associated with it. Somewhere along the way, we lost that connection to a real person to a Duncan Hines to Betty Crocker. They just became, you know, a corporate emblem, they weren't the people, they were at the start. And so of course, we turned our backs on those larger brands, and now go out and pursue, you know, kind bars and smaller, whatever it might be smaller products, because if they feel more authentic to us, and and the challenge now, I think, for companies in this space is is not to make the mistakes that big food made by forgetting that the people mattered, right. And so making sure the founders are still front and center all the time. You know, it's not a surprise that Ben and Jerry of Ben and Jerry's ice cream was bought by Unilever for as much money as it was because we identify with those two guys. It's not just a nameless ice cream brand.

Roy Sharples:

Bill Shankly was the manager of Liverpool Football Club in the 1960s and 1970s. And he took the team from nowhere to become the most formidable force in Europe for many years. Success is in the main he said, You have to believe you are the best then make sure that you are shanku he was deeply connected to Liverpool's funds, and he wanted to build a team that played football, the way the fans wanted, exciting, stylish, and victorious. Shankly personally responded to every fun letter. And there were 1000s of them every year, as Liverpool became one of the most popular soccer teams ever. And to drive excellence in everything he and his team did. He proactively and regularly formed funds to ask for their critique of the team and how they would improve it. And he often acted on their advice. Shankly was trying to see through the soul of the Liverpool fans so that he could synthesize their desires into his blueprint for what became a peerless fan centric football team that played football the way the fans wanted, while creating a winning culture that endured, which became the Liverpool brand. And it wasn't just the Liverpool supporters that loved that brand. It was people from all over the world that supported other teams that would still self identify with the way that Liverpool would play football and hold it is best in class, in terms of how football should be defined and in played. So there was an emotional identity and connection that resonated with everyone associated with football, not just a core fan base, they had developed a brand of excellence and leadership that connected deeply and emotionally. Another great example of cultivating funds through brand leadership that people loved, that endured over a long time is Motown. The Motown sound was crafted with an ear toward pop appeal, with distinctive melodies and call and response singing. Originating in gospel music. Motown remained true to its KISS principle, keep it simple stupid. By avoiding complex arrangements under elaborate and evocative vocal limit riffs. It also used a factory production system inspired by founder and owner Barry Gordy stint at working at a Ford production plant. Barry Gordy held quality control meetings every Friday morning and used veto power to ensure that only the very best material and performances were released. Every new release needed to fit into a sequence of the week's top five selling pop singles. Developing artists was a major part of Morton's operations. And these acts on the Motown label, were fastidiously groomed, dressed and choreographed to give elegant live performances. The Motown department that trained its artists created a style associated with the layup label, and all stemmed from excellence within songwriting production are Trust, development, and presentation, that all blended together to be the attributes, the brand values and principles that brought the Motown brand to life globally, and cell phones to self identify and love. And even many decades on that brand experience still has endured, based on your experience, Scott, what are the critical skills needed to be a brand

Scott Omelianuk:

leader more than anything, you have to be incredibly self aware? I think you have to be aware of what your own habits are, what interests you and what doesn't. And be honest about that, and see how your own habits actually relate to a larger audience. And I think this is true of a lot of places. If you're if you're doing one thing, ask why you're doing it, does that actually make sense? I think it's incredibly important to be stringent about your branding. And in fact, right now, at Inc, where I am the editor in chief, we are having an argument over some branding changes, and and how far they should, how far they should go, you know, I have no problem talking about this, you know, my position is like you develop a logo, and you have to have a really good reason for changing that logo, or you don't change it right. And we see companies like GE and Coca Cola, which have not altered their logo in decades. And even when they did, it was just in the slightest thickening or thinning of a letter form. But But obviously, you want to be up to date, I think you need to take that strict nature. And at one point, set it aside to recognize that brands and too often brands forget about this. There are a lot of ways for consumers to have conversations about you, or about the space you're in. And you have to ask yourself, if you're going to participate or not, there's a fashion brand I won't mention, but I was involved with briefly. That was a luxury leather goods company and said, YouTube, we don't want to have anything to do with YouTube. We that's, that's beneath us. And, and and I said to them, you understand that people are having a conversation about your brand, and you're not participating in it. And they said, What do you mean, and I, you know, I did a quick Google search to show them how many times their name appeared with with YouTube, because people were doing their own reviews, they were doing their own unboxings, they were doing their own reveals, whatever, whatever it was, and this brand wasn't participating in any of it. So you know, insofar as it could direct the conversation in any way it gave up on that. And I think it's important to constantly remind yourself that there is a broader conversation. And it's one that you can't necessarily steer the way people used to before social media outlets and other ways of communicating. But by participating in it, it's still important, it also gives you the opportunity, again, to be non transactional with people. And again, I think that's really important for every brand at every level, developing non transactional relationships is really important. So I think those are, are a couple keys, and then it's paying to the paying attention to consumer behavior, we have to acknowledge that business has never moved faster than it does right now. And it will likely never be more slow than it is today. Either right? Or this is right. So it's only going to get faster and faster and faster. And that means technology is changing. You know, supply chains change, consumer behavior, changes, tastes change. And as a brand, you have to be constantly aware of that and see how you're going to adjust to sort of stay ahead of the product, life cycle curve, right? And where is it in that curve, that you're going to jump off with a new opportunity to introduce an ancillary product or a, a, you know, sort of change to your core product or whatever it might be, but I think you constantly have to be doing market research. Everything from who's doing what in the parking lot when you're walking through it and seeing you know, to real research, but just constantly paying attention because I feel like we're in an era when you know, we know this right? We know that it used to be a business is transit through the the fortune 500 was 60 years. Now it's 13. Right and those are for the most successful companies in the world. There are lots of other brands That don't have that kind of staying power. So you can truly be here today gone tomorrow if you're not

Roy Sharples:

paying attention, your spots on Scott, the Harvard Business Review published back in July 2017. And a piece of digital transformation is racing ahead and no industry is immune. And within that article, the research that was depicted showed that since 2,052%, of companies in the fortune 500, have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or cease to exist as a result of digital transformation of digital disruption. The collision of the physical and digital worlds has affected every dimension of society, commerce, enterprises, and individuals. And while many factors have contributed to these organizations rise and fall, the key underpinning messages, no one is immune. What matters most when managing brands, frankly, everything matters, because every product service, call campaign event, digital property asset, every touchpoint, to find your brand, and your brand is a powerful asset, and you need to use it wisely. The days of having complete control of your brand, are long gone. The reality is, it's owned by the world, and to recognize the Global Diversity of the people you serve. The edges are no longer the boundaries, and that are no constraints and the digital revolution that limit your reach, or someone from hijacking your brand and taking it whatever they want, which can be good when it happens in the right way. And there's a benefit. But you need to be quick to respond, if it occurs in the wrong way. What are your lessons learned in terms of the pitfalls to avoid, and the keys to success that you can share with aspiring brand leaders,

Scott Omelianuk:

there's so many different ways to think about this. But I think the most important things are to find a way to honestly differentiate yourself and not through a gimmick. And it doesn't even have to be part of a product. If you're selling a product, it could be you and your sales team and how you differentiate might be how you care about people differently. And I do think I can't stress enough that we're in an age where people matter, right? And so you can't just see wallets, you have to see, you know, who who's who's holding that that wallet, I think is a brand you have to be very transparent as who you are as a founding team, or who your leadership is, I think you have to be transparent about where your products come from. People are demanding that I think you don't have to be political, but you have to show some sort of social responsibility. I think people want that from brands. Now. I think you know, and I see this all the time, still in an incredibly frustrating way. How hard some companies make digital commerce still, because they don't enable every payment application there is right I want to play with Apple Pay, and I can't and I've got to put my credit card in. And that seems crazy to me that today I have to type in you know, however many digits in the credit, don't make me do that right? Have Pay Pal have Apple Pay, make that opportunity easier, the more friction you can reduce for the consumer all along the journey, the better you are, and the more likely you are to engage with them. So I think those are some of the things that that I would stress that I think are, are really important, letting folks know that there are folks on the other side of the equation. And they're not just sending their money off to a bank or a corporation or a fat cat CEO. It might be someone in there who's like that, right? Of course. But but there are people too. And that transaction is helping people when you finally get to it. What's your vision for the future of brands, brands become more important than ever? I think they become less durable, right? Because the ability to stand up a brand and having means something is easy to do. But the getting all the pieces of it right? Aren't aren't so easy, but I think I think brands become more important than ever, in helping us cut through the clutter. I think clusters of like brands will become very useful to us. So I think one of the things we're going to see is is is brands that have similar ideas around how to serve the sumur have similar ideas on how fair trade their supply chain is. Or on sustainability issues, whatever we're organic food or not, you know, whatever it might be, I think we'll see brands come together and clusters in that way. And maybe even market simultaneously with each other and off of each other's audiences, because it sort of comes right down to it. A brand is just a very useful shorthand to understand a lot about a company. And and that company can be one in one product, or it can be like the best department stores have years ago, where you knew that if, Bloomingdale's or someone like that had a collection of products, you knew they were the right ones for you. So I think I think there's a big opportunity there for brands to join together in sort of affinity groups.

Roy Sharples:

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