How to build a brand that drives demand with Amy Barzdukas

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Welcome to another episode of 3-Minute-Marketing, where we sit down with the world’s top growth marketing leaders and they provide actionable tips and insights in bite-sized 3-minute segments for your listening pleasure.

Today’s guest is the very impressive Amy Barzdukas. Amy is CMO of WiTricity, an electronic vehicle charging startup. Previously, Amy was a longtime executive at Microsoft and HP.

As a direct response marketer at heart, I’ve always felt that “branding” is a bit fluffy. But brand is really important to Amy. So my question for her is, “How can companies build a brand that drives demand?”.

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Show notes:

  1. Too often brand is not central to either the marketing efforts or to the business strategy. It’s seen as something that takes whatever it’s given and makes it pretty. That’s a big mistake.
  2. There’s a lot of branding work that people see as pedantic, but words and authenticity matter.
  3. Having an authentic brand point of view is a signal to your customers and potential customers that they know what they’re signing up for.
  4. When you have a great brand, you’re also defining the criteria for whether or not a particular product or price point is something that’s authentic to you.
  5. Customers can smell authenticity (or a lack thereof) from a mile away. When you’re not being authentic to who you are as a brand, it will backfire.
  6. If you’re trying to build a brand by consensus, it won’t work. Great brands are usually polarizing.
  7. Are you growing in market share and revenue? That’s a great way to measure your brand.


– You’re listening to Three Minute Marketing, where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable bite-sized insights. Now, here’s your host, Chris Mechanic.

– [Chris Mechanic] Hello, Three Minute Marketing fam. Chris Mechanic here. Another interesting episode. Today’s guest is Amy Barzdukas, who’s CMO WiTricity, W-I-T-R-I-C-I-T-Y. They’re charging an electronic vehicle charging startup, and is funded, and very small for what she’s used to, because she came up as a longtime executive at Microsoft, and then at HP, where she did some really big things. The clip that you’re about to see is her reaction to me telling her basically that I’m a performance marketer mostly. And then I think brands sometimes can be a little bit fluffy. And so here’s her reaction to my statement that brand can be fluffy ’cause she’s big into brand.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Too often brand is not central to either the marketing efforts or to the business strategy, and is seen as kind of something that takes whatever is given and makes it pretty. And that’s a big mistake.

– [Chris Mechanic] Performance guys like me, like roll my eyes when I see brand-

– [Amy Barzdukas] Oh, there’s brand right here we go.

– [Chris Mechanic] Not really, not anymore. But I’m a convert.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Yeah. And so there’s a lot of branding work that people see as somewhat pedantic, and does it really matter if we have the brand hierarchy established and does it really matter? We do what we do. But words matter and authenticity matters, and having a point of view that is authentic to who you are as a brand is both a signal to your customers and your potential customers, as well as your prospects, that they know what they’re signing up for. When you have a great brand, you’re also then really defining the criteria for whether or not a particular product or a particular piece of software or a particular price point is something that is authentic to you. And customers can smell authenticity or lack there of from a very, very far distance. And when you’re not being authentic to who you are as a brand, the backfire is horrible. Different companies I’ve been at we’ve actually used brand as kind of the litmus test, does that price point for that kind of a solution with this set of features versus this set of features, who is actually, or which one of those is really true to who we are as a company? And it can be terrific when you have that depth of understanding of who you are and what you stand for.

– [Chris Mechanic] So you all are like that right there, and we don’t have to publish this if you don’t want this part, but that right there sound kind of fluffy to me. Like the price point resembles your authenticity. So if I were to restate my opinion that branding is kind of fluffy, how would you argue against that?

– [Amy Barzdukas] So if you are a brand that stands for value, you’re not going to come out with a product that is premium priced.

– [Chris Mechanic] Sure.

– [Amy Barzdukas] But there’s a lot of gray area between what’s a premium price, what’s a not premium price. If you’re a brand that stands for impeccable audio quality, you’re not going to come out with a headset that is mediocre because that gets you at the right price point. So they become choice points in the product definition. If you’re a brand that speaks to senior citizens, you’re not going to develop a new TikTok campaign. That’s not the kind of marketing you’re going to do, that’s not where necessarily those people live.

– [Chris Mechanic] Right. I would agree.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Yeah. So I think it can influence product decisions, it can influence maker buy strategy, it can influence marketing mix. And becomes really important to understand what your brand stands for so that you don’t spend money just because you have it, because it may not be time for that product to be marketed.

– [Chris Mechanic] So what you’re saying sounds logical enough, but what are some things that you might be able to measure to determine the effectiveness of a brand? ‘Cause maybe that’s why it’s fluffy is because seems like a lot of IDA like big ideas kind of and then a consensus is drawn by committee and then they launch and then that’s it. I haven’t seen really a whole lot of measurement, there’s maybe some customer studies, but can you think of any ways to make branding more performance driven?

– [Amy Barzdukas] Yeah. So the first thing I would do is I would take issue with the by committee. If you are trying to do anything brand oriented by consensus, it will, by definition, suck. As great brand is also, usually, at least to some extent polarizing. And so that’s where you have to really know and understand your customer. Because a lot of times, I don’t know how many times I’ve said this in the boardroom, where somebody said, “Well, I don’t know about that.” And I’m like, “Okay, to be clear, “you are not our target customer. “So it shouldn’t appeal to you.” It’s important everyone is working on it.

– [Chris Mechanic] Great point.

– [Amy Barzdukas] But I think, there are common proxies for a brand strength, right? What is your share of voice, what’s your web traffic versus others, what’s the time spent on your…? I mean, there’s all of that kind of stuff, but ultimately I think your brand strengths comes down to NPS. Now, that’s really hard for most companies, particular, my company size, mini-company sizes, to measure because NPS has traditionally been a very expensive thing to measure. But if you can find a way to do it, it can give you incredible insights into what you can do to improve your brand. One of the things when I was with HP and we were working on an NPS study was we found that the number one issue and thing that people had bones to pick with us was about battery; battery life, battery charging, battery charging cables, everything to do with battery. And so that then became one of the chief driving principles behind the next wave of personal and business PCs that we came out with. We needed to challenge the perceived wisdom on what battery life could be for our Windows-based PC. And it led to some really fantastic breakthroughs that helped us gain market share. And that’s a way to really measure your brand are you growing in market share, are you growing in revenue? Those are good things.

– [Chris Mechanic] Absolutely. So you guys, basically, so based on UserVoice, based on what you heard, you changed your strategy at the brand level and really at the product level, it sounds like, to focus on the charging piece.

– [Amy Barzdukas] That’s right. That’s the key issue.

– [Chris Mechanic] Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Amy Barzdukas, sorry, I know I probably mispronounced that, has just converted me to a believer just with that. ‘Cause I never have thought about it in that context. It’s like having that UserVoice, like we’ll use UserVoice to influence a website, maybe to influence an entire strategy. But to take that UserVoice and then reapply it at the very highest levels and then measure it through to like that specific feature or benefit of the product and gaining market share, that’s something that a performance person can get behind.

– [Amy Barzdukas] That’s right.

– [Chris Mechanic] All right. Well, I think that about does it. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve enjoyed this today, please drop us a like or a comment. Let us know what you’d like to hear. Amy, it’s been a real pleasure today. Stay on the line, let’s continue our conversation. Folks, if you’d like to hear that, there should be a link to it in the show notes or somewhere along this page. Amy, do you want to say anything quickly about WiTricity, I mean, you guys are doing the coolest of cool things?

– [Amy Barzdukas] I think, the wireless charging for electric vehicles is one of the key enablers for accelerating the adoption of EVs. I’ve had conversations with people where they’ve said, “Oh, come on, how hard is it to plug in the car?” And shortly after joining WiTricity I was talking to a known pundit in the EV space and he said, “Oh come on, how hard is it to plug in?” And I said, “Well, you’d be surprised. “It can be a super annoying thing “and it can be more than inconvenient.” And he called me back about two hours later, his wife had come home and walked in and he said, “Hey, how much of a pain is it “to plug in the Tesla?” And she was like, “Oh, don’t even get me started.” And so called me back to say, “Okay, I’m sorry I was wrong.”

– [Chris Mechanic] Totally. It’s like a chore, and it’s got-

– [Amy Barzdukas] It is a chore.

– [Chris Mechanic] And it’s so nice when you don’t have to do it. I don’t know yet.

– [Amy Barzdukas] So just being in the park.

– [Chris Mechanic] But I did order a Tesla and it’s coming. So maybe I’ll grab one.

– [Amy Barzdukas] So which model did you order?

– [Chris Mechanic] The Model Y.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Excellent. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool technology. And the first factory installed wireless charging is on the Hyundai Genesis GV60, which is currently only available in South Korea, but will be coming this way. So watch out for that one, it’s getting some pretty rave reviews. The brand thing is actually something I’m ridiculously passionate about because it does get poo-pooed so often as just being fluff. And I think a lot of what CMOs do is often pooh-poohed is fluff because we haven’t done ourselves favors in how we’ve presented things. And one of the things that I remember so vividly was Antonio Lucio, who was at the time the new incoming CMO at HP said to me, he was like, “Look, as we’re going to the board, the deck, “the first slide has got to be the numbers. “That’s the language of the boardroom. “Then you can talk about and show things that are pretty, “but coming up in marketing, “you always lead with the pretty pictures.” And so learning to reverse that thinking and really start with the detail on the data that show what is and isn’t working, gives you permission then to have other types of conversations. But heaven forbid, you have to be able to understand numbers, you have to be able to deal with stats, you have to be able to understand the data that you’re sharing. And you can choose to say EBITDA one of several ways, but you got to know what it means.

– [Chris Mechanic] Right. Yeah, totally. You have to have… CMO, I think, is one of the hardest roles, if not the hardest role in the org. And the definition continues getting expanded ever more. Now, there’s even like chief growth officers, which, I mean, I don’t know if that’s higher than chief revenue officer. I’m a little confused about all those, the intermingling between them.

– [Amy Barzdukas] And then you’ve got chief customer officer and then you’ve got… I mean, I think you read these headlines and talk about company X, Y, or Z has gotten rid of their CMO. Like, no, they haven’t really, they’re calling it something else or they’re distributing the work, but somebody somewhere is still making a lot of those calls. And if you think marketing isn’t working… An interesting case point is Tesla who doesn’t really have a marketing department, but they’ve got marketing. It’s just in a different guise. It’s the same as every new buzz word you hear, “Now we’re doing growth marketing, “we used to do content marketing “now we’re doing revenue marketing.”

– [Chris Mechanic] Digital marketing, demand gen marketing, account-based marketing.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Great. It’s all of these.

– [Chris Mechanic] So hey, there was another question, which I think we have enough time to tackle, but in terms of getting that attention from the board for them having to take you seriously, right? You’ve done it now at the highest levels of HP and Microsoft, and now you’re doing it at WiTricity. So how do you do that? You mentioned lead with the numbers, that’s great. What else is involved in that strategy of getting a seat at the table, and how’s it different at the biggest of bigs versus the smallest of small?

– [Amy Barzdukas] It’s not all that different. There’s obviously a little bit of scale, but I think it is incumbent on you to focus on your relationship with the rest of the C-suite as your partners in crime. And I think, again, when you come up in a function, a lot of the things that you’re measured on is how well do you manage your function. But the higher you go, the more important it is for you to manage your peers. And that means understanding and abiding on the business strategy, and understanding your technology and what it can and can’t do and the limitations. So I think when you have a lot of curiosity and you ask questions and want to understand and have a point of view, it becomes a lot easier to keep that seat at the table because you’re seen as a business leader, not as somebody who makes pretty things and can throw it in.

– [Chris Mechanic] Got it. No, that makes perfect sense. So what are you doing at WiTricity, what was the scenario that you arrived on the scene at and what were some of your first moves?

– [Amy Barzdukas] So when I arrived, there was no marketing department. Most of the marketing was basically being directed by the CEO. And as we’re growing very quickly, he felt having somebody who could do that as a full-time job and with a focus might be a good thing. So it really set about to establish first content, right? We didn’t have, and now we have a very robust blog. We’ve got other content that will be coming on board over the coming months. We’ve got a bunch of videos, we’ve got things that people will want to look at and engage with. And we have a newsletter every month, which is actually a ton of fun. And right now, at least, knock on wood we’re crushing the open rates and click rates of what we expect to see. So really starting with the basics but we are dreaming big ’cause it’s going to be a busy year.

– [Chris Mechanic] Yeah. So you’re hiring a team, I would imagine, or at least some help.

– [Amy Barzdukas] I am. I’ve hired two, three. More to come.

– [Chris Mechanic] All right. Well, I want to wrap this here, because I am sensitive to your time. I imagine you have a zillion things to do. But thank you very much for this. This has been really eyeopening and the way that you phrased it, I think it really hit home. And the example that you provided with regard to taking UserVoice and deploying it at that super high level, I think it’ll stay with me for awhile.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Right on.

– [Chris Mechanic] So I appreciate that.

– [Amy Barzdukas] Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Amy Barzdukas

Amy Barzdukas CMO

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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