In this episode of Building Brand Advocacy, Paul is joined by Madeline Sims, the Marketing Director of Rally Pickleball. Together, they delve into why you need to be a part of the community your brand has created. It’s not enough to sit and observe how consumer and media relationships aren’t too dissimilar. She also explains why she has such a unique perspective on branding due to her incredibly diverse background.
We can't wait to meet you.
Paul: Hello. Welcome back to the Building brand Advocacy podcast. My name is Paul Archer, your host, and I'm delighted to be joined by Maddie Sims. Absolute brand builder guru have worked in most diverse brands you could imagine that still has this kind of core ethos of brand building, which I want to kind of start off with. Like recently we just had Tony from Hammett on who kind of compared the idea of brand to your long term health and longevity of it and things like discounting as equivalent of sugar. It's great in the short term, but it doesn't get you to live longer. How do you view the idea of brand building and how does kind of longevity and short termism versus long termism play into that?
Madeline: Such a good question and thanks for having me on. So excited to be here. So, starting my career at Lulu Lemon in PR, I learned three things very quickly that have shaped how I see the consumer relationship versus just the media relationship. So first one is that your story cannot be self serving. So when you hit up a media, you cannot come to them and just basically try and get an ad that's like what you have to pay for now, right, in journalism. And you want it to be in service of the reader. So it's either inspiring or entertaining or educating or media. So it's like a scoop or an exclusive. The second one is that building the relationship with media takes a really long time. So I came in as a coordinator and we were doing super well. Within the first couple of weeks, we had a few PR snafus and we had to learn. I was on the ground floor learning. How do you repair relationships with media when there's a bit of distrust or there's things that have happened at the company that they are trying to get down to versus just build relationship with you. And then I also was in charge of Men's PR for a little bit there where they wanted to shift the brand and grow it rapidly with the men's business. And there was a long time there where I sent out probably hundreds of media samples to Men and did not get any coverage. And it was just because we had to play the long game with them. We had to get them in our product and trust them. They thought that the brand wasn't for them at that point. And so it just takes a while. And then the third thing is that you cannot I don't want to swear, but you cannot use bull crap with media.
Paul: You can swear all the fucking time.
Madeline: Good. Okay. Well, yeah, you can't bullshit your way with media at that point, put it blankly. So you cannot trick them into writing things. The truth will always prevail. The story that you tell on your brand, on all your channels, must be in service to the consumer it needs to be entertaining, inspiring. You do not just want to put ads on your Instagram feed. That just doesn't work unless it's pointed like, hey, Halloween is coming and we've got your perfect costume. Never worked on a brand that sells costumes. But alas, that's the point. And then the second is, just like building relationships with media is a long game, so is building brand advocates. So I got used to not seeing the fruits in my labor and the results of that for a very long time. I just got used to it. And with that you just trust that the long term commitment that relationship comes with relationship will come into fruition later on. So I've never been a flash in a pan sort of marketer. If we pay a lot of money to get a consumer one time, it just to me is not worth it. I'd rather invest longer term and build a brand ecosystem that draws consumers in and makes them want to stay and results in higher longtime value and then resulting in them doing brand advocacy work for you. So again, that's like a long game. Less of that short tail results. And then finally to the third point around bullshitting our way with media, you can't bullshit your way with consumers. I mean, your people on the other end of your Instagram feed are just as savvy as the New York Times journalists. In fact, they're going to keep digging in the same way that journalists would, and it's important to treat them as such. It's never a good idea to force your way into your life, into their lives. And you want to invoke curiosity and support your brand's community by showing and not just telling, we see you, we hear you. Just like the media. I went on a lot of sweat dates in New York City with journalists to have them test our gear and when I was working for Lululemon. And it's the same like what is the equivalent to the sweat date with your consumer and hearing them in your product and working with them to build the brand together?
Paul: Love the idea of a sweat date. I can't say I've ever actually been on one myself, but I think it maybe is quite niche into that area there. But it's all well and good talking about building a long term brand, but the vast majority of people don't have kind of a retail brand building genius like Chip Wilson who's rejecting every single thing you need. He's sticking two fingers up to his investors who are constantly trying to get the returns from him and to his detriment, which obviously cost him his job eventually, among other things. But that's all well and good there, but most people don't have that scenario. Most people have, particularly maybe if you're lucky enough to be a CMO, but if you're not the CMO, you're going to have CEOs, CFOs, investors, whomever it may be calling for short term results. How do you actually say, it's okay, we're playing that long game. We're going to see these results in year two, year three, but you got to let me be and do what I'm going to do in year one.
Madeline: I mean, some of those short term brand metrics do matter. We have the things like social and seeing growth on social. I am a huge fan of looking at shares and engagement on social shares especially. I think if someone is willing to send something that you created to their friends and family or their people or on their own platforms, that is like a short term. You just made something amazing, touching, funny, inspiring back to all those things that I was saying. That is a perfect example. One of the examples I can give you is we would do these events when I was at community at Lululemon, and we would invest a good amount. We were part of the local Maven team, right? So our job was to basically build in the community, get a feeling for what was going on on the ground floor in that community, and then level that up to the global brand and see how that influences the global brand. And one of the rules that I made was always have the executives invited to these events because that's where the magic is happening, is at that ground floor. And until you experience that, it's hard. Like you want to put a number when you're behind a screen to some of these experiences, events and brand building touch points. But as soon as you're in that room, you know that the SeaWheeze Half Marathon, for example, was Lululemon drew 10,000 brand advocates in. It wasn't necessarily a profit building exercise for us, but it brought 10,000 massive fans of Lululemon to Vancouver, which we had written kind of like a love letter to the city through this half Marathon. And you would be in that room with these folks and you'd be like, this is palpable. They're all going home to their hometowns and talking about us.
Paul: And that storytelling piece, it seems to be really key. Once you're getting them in there, you're getting the execs. They are then building their own narrative of, I met this person who told me this, so therefore I'm getting that real vision for it. And that idea of getting your CFO to get boots in the ground, to start having conversations that will then bolster them up, I guess there's potentially the opportunity to capture stories and narrative that you can sort of send their way as well, but they probably won't watch them. Nothing beats getting them in the room. And so I think that's an amazing fit.
Madeline: Yeah. And I mean, part of that is like, there are some organizations that will not want to do brand marketing to this level. And in that case, you adjust and you look at some of those shorter term sales oriented results. As a marketer, I have worked in organizations that are more short term focused. You find other ways that are a passion to the organization, such as Eco and Impact and inclusion and pieces that they're baseline. Any brand that isn't doing that, that needs to happen. And that's how you get the long term brand building pieces in a way that is a bit more palpable to an organization that needs to focus on short term results.
Paul: What are your thoughts? And you said something to me earlier, which I'd love, like how are we post blanding? What does this mean?
Madeline: There's a great Instagram TikTok branding dude, and he talks a lot about this. I can send you the link for the show notes. I'm sorry, I don't remember his name, but he talks a lot about blending and this has become a whole subset of TikTok and how this concept of a lot of millennial brands starting to look the same, feel the same. A lot of San Siri font and white backgrounds and blank space and clean minimalistic feel. A lot of brands started to look like each other on the shelf. And so therefore, when the shift started to be like, okay, millennials are old news, let's hit the Gen Z. We went the opposite way. We went a little bit maximalism and we went bright colors. We went unfiltered. We were inspired by Emma Chamberlain and doing photo dumps and UGC content, which is incredible. I actually think that I'm the biggest fan of Gen Z. I feel like they are going to help us change the world. And I think if we can get them on board to brands and co creating brands, then that's an amazing thing. And then investing early in athletes. Again, I haven't been directly on the sports marketing teams, but always work closely. Lulu Lemon had a very similar mentality of investing in the people that, first of all, you'd want to hang out with because you will learn something from them. They're good folks, but also they are on the up. They are doing things in their community and maybe just need a little bit more light shined on them. Yeah, I think that focusing and that's where the local ambassador program is always so good, too. It's so easy to just be like, go with the influencers they convert, which, by the way, I'm not like saying you shouldn't do if you have the budget for that. Definitely influence their direct link programs. Man, I learned a lot about that at Reese. That works, it converts, but also like a local ambassador program that represents your core values that they embody. Who the brand either is at the current day or who you want the brand to be is just so crucial.
Paul: We see quite a lot of the brands that I work with that they're really differentiating between the difference between an affiliate and a creator and the affiliate is someone who is driving traffic and driving revenue, but they're not necessarily representing the brand. The creator, that is, someone who is they are an actual ambassador. They've been anointed by the brand to officially represent them and their values and who they are and what that means. In the same way that I can be a big fan of a country, but I'm not necessarily the ambassador of that country, they've got to give me that right to do that. And so I think that those sort of differentiations is really critical because the affiliates are an amazing way of getting distribution at a fraction of the price of buying ads, which is the typical go to market for a lot of brands. They don't have very many options that the creators are the ones who hold your brand in your hands, the ones you decide to partner with, the ones that you really get to tell your brand story on your behalf. And at the end of day, brand building is about being cool. When you start looking at an individual basis of looking at who you want to work with as a brand, who are the creators, who are the humans that are able to push that forward. Finding someone who's cool is massively important. And I think that it's a gut shot. You know it when you see it, and it has nothing to do with how many followers they've got. It also does tend to have a lot to do with how many engagements they have per followers. That definitely has something that's got to do with it, but that would probably be my perspective of it. But we can talk about that all day, right?
Madeline: I know. My favorite quote I've ever heard is that interested people are interesting and it's the folks that are on their channels and being interested in the communities versus just using it as a platform to be self serving. And same with brands, right? Like interested people. What does that mean across brands? It's one of my favorite quotes and I think that's kind of how I've defined cool. As I've gotten older, I'm like, who are the coolest people I've met? I'm like, it's usually the most interesting and they're usually the most interested in the most amount of things possible or just know a lot of things about random things. Right.
Paul: So you mentioned culture here's a bit more of a kind of a challenging I don't know if it's challenging or not, but I think trends and culture are different. And particularly with TikTok, a trend will happen. A particularly TikTok trend of doing a certain video in a certain way with a certain soundtrack or whatever it is and getting on that as fast as possible is one of the biggest causes of anxiety that I've noticed in some of the brands that we're talking with in terms of their social media. They're like, we got to get the trend before the trend happens, and we can get like, it's going to pop, it's going to go crazy, versus culture, which is, is that the same as a trend, as culture, just long term trends? How can a brand be at peace with being current, being relevant, being a part of the culture, being a part of the trends, yet not constantly be terrified of missing the next big thing?
Madeline: It's a great question. I'm just writing it down. Okay, a couple of answers to that. Just generally, you would not believe the amount of brand marketers that I've met that refuse to go on TikTok, that are just like, I'm above this or I'm too old for this. And I mean, it is where the future is happening. And so maybe you don't necessarily activate on a certain trend, but that is like a window into culture. And because youth drive culture, it's the top platform. That's probably no longer the case. And you can keep me honest here, but one of the top platforms for the youth of our world. And like, capital y yes, I sound like an old person saying youths, but this is where you can understand what is up and coming, what is trending, and not just like the dances and the songs, but truly, what are people talking about? What do people care about? Keeping up with pop culture and all that keeps you in the cultural relevancy conversation. It's in service to the consumer. If you can generally guess that your population is watching Ted Lasso tonight, then, yeah, maybe if a lot of your they're doing that, then activate on the Ted Lasso trend or whatever it is. And that's just kind of, again, being in service to your consumer and just meeting them where they're at versus just.
Paul: And that's one of the things that's really interesting, is that because they're all those old people that go, well, I'm not on TikTok, it doesn't matter. A brand can put out content on TikTok or a social media manager can put out content on TikTok. They would never have got sign off anywhere else because the people who are so intent on their sign off, they don't care enough about it, even though it could be huge. One of the things that we've seen to be one of the most reliable techniques for actually winning on it as a platform is to kind of relinquish control entirely and to start thinking less about it being a centralized brand channel as it is with everything else, and start thinking it as a decentralized channel for getting awareness. So if you can get 50 people to create content on your behalf, a handful of those will hopefully start to get picked up by the algorithm, which means that people are talking about you rather than you talking about you. And a little bit less anxiety in terms of keeping current wherever the trend is. Because the creators, if you're asking people to create on your behalf and they're doing it quickly and they're doing it regularly enough, and they're involving you in the brand story, then they're actually going to be constantly current, because they will always know, far more than any social media manager, what is the thing that's making them tick? Because it's just made them tick.
Madeline: I think as brand marketers, we're all getting looser with that. So I agree, relying on others to as soon as you switch the like, as soon as you start to co create your brand, you lose control. And I think you can't be in that old way of thinking of, like, it needs to look like this. It needs to be crisp, clean, and we all know this by now. Hopefully, if you're still attached to having perfectly crisp, clean content on TikTok, then I'm sorry, that's just not the case anymore. But it's going to breed a lot of really interesting brands because they might not be immediately recognizable in that space where like, oh, yes, that's that brand, but it's going to mean different things to different people. And then it will kind of take on the self evolution, which is really cool for if you think about the long term trajectory of brands as well.
Paul: I love that as a vision for the future, and I think that is a wonderful place to move on to the final closing questions, if you're ready for it. So we've got three coming up. Sam, when should we ask everyone who comes on Building Brand Advocacy? So, first of all, what marketing related advice would you give to your 21 year old self?
Madeline: Yeah, this is one of my favorite questions because I spent my entire 20s well, first half of my 20s doing this and the second half regretting that I did this, which was this. I will tell anyone that is in the beginning of the career, this is the youngest you'll ever be and you are the youngest person in the room. And use your voice. Really, like, if you are a young person and you are just starting your career, do not underestimate the value of your voice. And again, I will look to Gen Z. I think they know the value of their voice a little bit more.
Paul: I'm not sure this is necessarily going to be relevant.
Madeline: Yeah, true. But I don't know, I've still worked with some young folks that are second guessing their own voice a little bit. I mean, it's just like, yes, generational change, but also it just comes to the cause of not knowing exactly who you are when you're in your early 20s. Right.
Paul: So number two is what counterintuitives have you learned along the way?
Madeline: And so one of the counterintuitive things is that you come in and you think, especially at this level, that people want you to be experts. And I think a lot of executives or people as director level, give this advice, but you need to not assume that you're an expert in that consumer segment and really, really learn it.
Paul: And final question then, so who in the world of brand building would you like to take for lunch?
Madeline: I am obsessed with idea of blending behavioral psychology and all the pieces that Seth Godin, Renee Brown, I mean, Simon Snick, Adam Grant, those people are like my marketing teachers more than any other textbook on marketing is. So I would love to have a roundtable dinner which like all of them and just be like, what is brand building and marketing look like? Seth Godin's this is marketing book is like probably my bible of marketing. So I would love to pick his brain especially. He just came on Tim Ferriss and he had a quote that I actually wrote down because I wanted to speak to it because I think it's so good. But he talks about some people believe that the purpose of business is to enable culture to enable humanity. And some people believe that the purpose of humanity and culture is to enable business. And I think that this really it's all back to our conversation about like, okay, so that's all well and good, but how the heck do we do this? How do we move culture forward?
Paul: Maddie that has been marvelous. Really enjoyed this, super wide ranging, touching loads of things. But the answer is Coke creation and community. Something which I'm a massive fan of, I think. Thank you so much for being on the Building Brand Advocacy podcast. Where can people reach out to you if they want to have a chat?
Madeline: Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Madeline Sims yes, I have like, different names at this point. Maddie Craig, maddie Sims, madeline Sims. It's all there. But Madeline Sims on LinkedIn. Perfect.
Paul: Amazing. Thanks a lot.
Madeline: Thank you.