Episode 4: How to Use Storytelling & Branding to Create an Engaging Compliance Program — Podcast Transcript

Speaker: Nichole Pitts (Host)

 

Welcome to episode four of The Ethintegrity Podcast. This is going to be a solosode where I’m pulling together key points and concepts from the first three episodes to talk about how you can use branding and storytelling to create an inclusive and engaging compliance program. My guests, Storytelling Coach Jessie Kate Bui and Branding Strategist Hilary Hartling, provided some great insight and tips into how to connect authentically with your audience.

In this episode, I’m going to synthesize this into actionable steps for your compliance department to ensure that you are creating and messaging a sustainable and impact-ready program.

One of the biggest challenges compliance departments face is getting the employees to really care and engage with their program. There is so much going on day to day with just the employee’s roles and responsibilities that adding on more boring or confusing content just increases their anxiety. Think of your compliance program as a product that you need to sell & your employee’s time and attention as the currency you want them to spend.

You’re trying to break through all of the noise of everything they deal with on an ongoing basis. So how do you get your program to stand out? How do you incentivize people to spend their currency on your program?

Well, that’s what we’re gonna discuss today. I’m going to give you some tips on how to use branding to intentionally and effectively connect your compliance department with your workforce in an inclusive and authentic way. Over the first three episodes of The Ethintegrity Podcast, my guests talked about storytelling as well as branding.

Branding Strategist Hilary Hartling defined branding as delivering an intentional experience to make your audience feel something and have them choose you as their top choice.

She also went on to share this formula that she created after 15-plus years as the Vice President of Marketing at Walt Disney Studios. She was inspired to create this formula based upon what she thought Disney does best to protect and expand their brand. While this formula was developed for entrepreneurs, I’ve modified it to use for in-house compliance departments.

So what is this formula? She calls it the MAGIC formula because Disney and Magic. The M in MAGIC stands for Make it Memorable, and this is where she talks about “pack an emotional punch”, whether we like it or not, humans are driven by emotion. People buy into things because of that emotional impact or some sort of advantage that your product offers. So you have to show how your product or service can improve your audience’s life. For the compliance department, it’s really showing how your policies and procedures are going to improve your employee’s work life. I feel as compliance professionals, sometimes we focus so much on the right and the wrong thing to do and showing case studies of people and companies that have gotten it wrong, that we don’t really talk about the benefits of being compliant and acting in an ethical way.

As compliance professionals, we can spend a lot of time focusing on getting employees to do the right thing, but how do you show them that this is a benefit?

Ethics and integrity have different meanings based upon the culture in which your employees are located. So when you’re trying to standardize across all the countries in your business, you have to show in each culture what the benefit is for them.

How does your compliance program provide a positive impact to their work life? How can your procedures and processes make their workday easier? When trying to connect with your workforce and make your program memorable, you have to understand from your audience what do they want?

The A in MAGIC stands for Audience First. This is where you’re gonna do some market research by soliciting feedback from your workforce. You’re going to be asking them what they know about your program. What are some of their current challenges that they’re dealing with? Are they connecting with your program? What are some of the things that they don’t understand about your program or they feel that your program is lacking?

There are different methods in which you can solicit feedback. You can do culture surveys, you can just send out a survey across your workforce.

My favorite way to solicit feedback is to talk to Employee Resource Groups or affinity groups. This ensures that I’m getting feedback across all levels of the organization and all parts of the organization. So I’m getting that diversity of thought. You could find out that parts of your program aren’t working for certain groups. Maybe for those that are neurodivergent, your training isn’t accessible. It could be that some of the terminology that you use in your policies does not translate well into other languages. Or maybe your policies are hard to read and written at a very high level that most of your workforce don’t understand, so they’re just not gonna read them.

Do you treat your workforce as a singularity? A lot of times with the compliance departments, we write our policies and our procedures and we roll them out across all of the organization. It really is a lift and shift. We don’t do a lot of customization, and that’s where we need to look at are we connecting across all demographics and abilities?

And I’m talking race, gender, socioeconomic, neurodivergent, abilities. Do you have employees that are hearing or visually impaired? What about culture or access to information? Age? Do we have QR codes that some people do not understand how to use? Are we putting our audience first? Are there new ways that we haven’t thought of to stay in touch or to listen to our audience better?

Let’s list all the ways that we might try that now and let’s try those new ways. How can we truly listen to our audience and understand where they are, what they need, what they love best about what you’re offering, but also how can you double down on the stuff that they love and just take away the stuff that doesn’t matter.

A great example of this is Blockbuster. They didn’t keep up with their audiences wants and desires. By not getting into streaming, they made it harder to connect with their audience because the audience wanted to stay home.

Just like with big box stores and Amazon, when people can get comfort and ease, they’re going to choose that.

The G in MAGIC is Great Storytelling. It’s where you’re looking at the quality expertise plus storytelling to create value. In episode one, my guest, Storytelling Coach Jessie Kate Bui, talked about two storytelling methods.

The first being the moral compass, and this is where we’re looking at things as black and white. The second was foggy mirror, and this storytelling method allows for there to be different moral compasses. With the moral compass, it’s one person’s sense of integrity and ethics that guides everyone. With foggy mirror, it’s everyone’s individual moral compass that plays into the story. And with compliance programs, what I’ve seen is that there is one standard of what’s ethical and what’s not, and we roll that out, but not understanding how does that fit and how is that received across your workforce? We’re also looking at the different power elements, like the established power, the foreign power. How do we message these things and where do bias and stereotypes come to play in? Are we able to understand how to really connect with your audience in a way in which they can really understand you?

Are we being black and white and engaging more in a monologue than engaging in a dialogue to understand from your audience what is it that they need.

Are you engaging with your workforce to tell a story that is very inclusive across your entire workforce? Jessie Kate had a great quote in episode one where she said, “Storytelling helps us change our minds and grow as people.”

And that is a great advantage for your compliance program where you look at how do you hook their interest and how do you connect with them effectively? How do you get them to even want to know about your program and your policies and procedures?

Jessie Kate used two great examples to explain the storytelling methods of moral compass and foggy mirror. With moral compass, she used the example of Star Wars and how in the movie it was very black and white. You’re good if you’re going with the Rebellion, you’re bad if you’re going with the Empire. There was really no in-between, and in order to be a good person, you really had to side with the Rebellion. And I asked her about Han Solo because he was the bad boy of the series.

But he chose “to do the right” thing by supporting the rebellion. There’s not really a lot of nuance there. But if you look at Game of Thrones, you have a lot of different moral compasses that are existing in that world.

And maybe there are people that you don’t really like that are doing a good thing for maybe selfish reasons, but what you’re looking at is people are complicated and how do you meet them where they are to explain the advantages of your ethics and compliance program. Some people may not understand that certain actions are deemed to be unethical, especially when you get into conflicts of interest because they’re looking at, “Well, if I know this person, I want to help them out, maybe help grow their business, or I want to help my family, why would this be deemed as a bad thing?” And it’s how do you message the program, the policies, and explain what the effects are of that.

The I in MAGIC stands for Imagination and Inspiration. I modified this to Innovation and Inclusion. This is where you’re looking at branding parts of your program and policies to make it stand out. You may have a mascot, logo or watermark, but whatever you have, it gives your program a look and feel that’s easily recognizable. You wanna use language to show them why this is important and why they should care. This information is what you’ve identified in your market research.

You also need to figure out and highlight your UVP your Unique Value Proposition. What does your compliance program bring to your company that provides you with a competitive advantage? How do you serve not only the company, but your employees in a unique way? You wanna make sure that you’re also addressing the feedback from your employee resource groups and your workplace community. If they’re raising issues and concerns, you need to ensure that you’re addressing that and circle back with them to talk about, this is the way in which we think we can effectively resolve some of the feedback that you’ve given us and talk that through to make sure that the resolution actually resolves the problem, and then assess how accessible your program and content are.

Use a variety of methods to communicate your program and to train on your policies and procedures.

So don’t just use online training or in person training where it’s just a monologue with you talking about each of the key points of your policies, but look at ways to make that interactive using Legos or facilitating workshops, using gamification, creating this fun environment where people are not just learning, but they’re also providing you with valuable information to help continuously improve your program.

You could also look at using your ERGs, your employee resource groups to beta test new policies and procedures or some messaging that you wanna put out. Is that messaging inclusive? Does it make sense? Is it having the desired impact and effect across all levels of your organization? Use a modality and entertainment style that works best for your environment. This could be developing infographics or fun and informative videos like maybe creating a Mission Possible game to where you make the participants agents that are solving some sort of issue that they would have to deal with in their day to day work lives.

Maybe it’s creating a podcast. One of my favorite podcasts is Therapy for Black Girls. In that podcast, they talk about a lot of timely topics, but they also connect it to pop culture and current TV shows. That’s something that you could do maybe with a podcast and you talk about compliance issues and current pop culture or maybe on Netflix talking about where you’re seeing some things come up. There’s a lot of great documentaries out on Netflix and Hulu.

How do you bring that in and insert compliance into what people are already talking about, meeting them where they are? Maybe you create a newsletter that you distribute on a regular basis, or ask to be included in the newsletter that your organization already does.

Think about also doing town halls or having this community time where people can get face time with you and feel like they connect with you. When people can put a face to a program, then they feel that sense of connection and you’re going to be able to create that emotional impact that we talked about in “M”, Make it Memorable. A great example of using innovation and inclusion is Fenty Beauty. The beauty market was already saturated with so many different makeup companies, but when Rhianna came out with Fenty Beauty and the 40 different shades of foundation. It really changed the game because she was so inclusive to skin tone and type that people felt that they were actually included and seen, and that’s what you want with your compliance program.

The final letter in MAGIC is C, Creating Synergy. Now I added in Clear Policies and Measurements. The focus of this is to make the whole work greater than just the pieces and the parts.

With synergy, we’re looking at how do you get in front of other audiences to ensure that there’s greater marketing of your program. So identify and engage your market partners, and this could be human resources, your DEI group, communications and marketing, health and safety, operations, finance, but partnering with them so that you can get your message out to their groups, but also that you can ensure that their messaging is getting out as well. This creates win-win, mutually beneficial messaging that helps raise the whole company as opposed to just working on your own in a silo.

In working with your market partners, it provides you with an opportunity to customize your messaging so that you are explaining the advantages of your program to that specific audience.

So if you’re looking at human resources, how does your compliance program and policies directly benefit them? What are some of the issues that they’ve brought up? How are you addressing them? How does it look like you’re working with them hand in hand versus dictating to them?

When I worked at Louis Berger, we partnered with health and safety because I noticed that in the environment in which we were operating, health and safety was always top of mind. So if you are in construction or manufacturing, health and safety is going to be number one because you wanna make sure that your workforce is acting in a safe manner when they’re on site.

So what I thought was why not partner with them so that when they’re talking about tips on health and safety, how can I add in some compliance tips there too? So they would have safety moments and we decided let’s add on and do compliance moments as well.

But one of the things was also how do we combine them together so that they understood it wasn’t separate, It wasn’t that it was health and safety and compliance.

How do you create synergistic messaging to where you’re talking about an overall theme, but people don’t see it as these different pieces? That’s where we’re getting into synergy, is that you wanna be able to message out one concept that may have different parts, but people don’t see that.

You also wanna make sure your policies and procedures are clear and simple. If you have complicated policies or long policies, your workforce aren’t gonna read those. How do you communicate what is expected of them in an easy way. You also wanna make sure that you create a set of key performance indicators or metrics to assess the effectiveness of your objectives and messaging.

How are you ensuring that your compliance program is actually getting the desired results? And then how are you messaging that out to your workforce on a regular basis? People wanna see that if you are expecting certain behavior from your workforce, how is that benefiting the workforce and how does that benefit them?

A great example of synergy is looking at Apple. Apple has the MacBooks iPads, the Apple Watch. All of their devices you can share across. And I found that regardless if I wanted to go to Android, I am so dependent on Apple because I wanna be able to pull my data from any of my devices.

And that’s the same that you should be thinking about with your compliance program, of how do you ensure that your compliance messaging gets out across all the communication channels in your business? How are you showing up everywhere to where there is no doubt that people are gonna know about your program?

And as you continue to expand your program and expand this brand that you’ve created, you have to think of also brand deposits and brand withdrawals. Hilary talked a lot about this, and she said with brand deposits, this is something that reinforces your mission and your purpose.

It keeps your messaging on track and it effectively engages with your workforce. These brand deposits should be something that enhance and benefit your program. Now, a brand withdrawal could be something that devalues your program. It’s not keeping up with what’s going on in the business, or it could be misaligned with the department’s purpose. A good example of this might be Peloton. Their mission is to use technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere at any time. So their brand deposits are using hashtags to create community, having instructors that are full of motivation and focus on how you feel rather than how you look, creating an inclusive environment where they have pre and postnatal classes. You can hide those if you get triggered. They have a Speak up series about race. They do rides to celebrate different cultures and different theme months. They’ve also added on instructors that are doing rides in other languages, such as Spanish and German. Another brand deposit that they’ve done is making fitness accessible for people with disabilities.

On the other hand, there have been some misses and they’ve had some brand withdrawals. An example of that is that 2019 Christmas commercial that was seen as very sexist. Then you had Peloton featured in the first episode of The Sex and the City reboot. And spoiler alert, Mr. Big died on the bike after having a heart attack during one of the classes.

This created a huge PR issue for Peloton because people assumed that the bike wasn’t safe. This was a brand withdrawal because it devalued the overall Peloton brand. And finally there is a collaboration between Peloton and Ashton Kucher as he trains for a marathon. Each week he invites certain guests to be part of his training program. One week he invited Kim Kardashian and that created a whole uproar because she’s been known to use surgery, and some would say unsafe methods in which to lose weight which goes against what Peloton wants to be known for, which is accepting yourself as you are and just being healthy and knowing that an athlete comes in all different shapes and sizes.

Some questions to ask yourself before you roll out a major initiative or campaign is, does it support your purpose and your mission as a group? Is it aligned with your group’s core values? And have you added too many things so now there is confusion or compliance fatigue.

So to recap some key points on how to use branding to intentionally and effectively connect your compliance department with your workforce in an inclusive and authentic way.

Number one. Embrace branding to increase visibility and cut through the noise. Number two, use the MAGIC formula to ensure that your messaging is inclusive and engaging. Remember, MAGIC stands for Make it Memorable Audience First, Great Storytelling, Inclusion and Innovation, and Creating Synergy and Clear Policies and Measurements.

And number three, when you’re looking at expanding your program and your brand, decide whether or not it is a brand deposit or a brand withdrawal. Is this initiative or message going to benefit your program in the long run? Or could it possibly devalue your program?

If you want to understand more about the impact and influence of storytelling, then check out episode one of The Ethintegrity Podcast with my guest Storytelling Coach, Jessie Kate Bui. If you want to understand more about the magic of inclusive branding, then listen to episode three of The Ethintegrity Podcast with my guest Branding Strategist, Hilary Hartling.

If you enjoy this episode, then please rate us on the podcast platform that you’re listening on. If you didn’t, that’s okay. Just go ahead and close out right now. Thanks again, and we’ll see you on the next episode.

Episode 4: How to Use Storytelling & Branding to Create an Engaging Compliance Program with Nichole Pitts

Season 1, Episode 4: How to Use Storytelling & Branding to Create an Engaging Compliance Program


 

Thank you for joining me for Episode 4. This will be a solosode where I’m pulling together key points and concepts from the first three episodes to discuss how you can use branding and storytelling to create an inclusive and engaging compliance program. 

I’ll be providing tips on:

  1. How to cut through the noise & get your workforce to want to engage with your program
  2. How to leverage Hilary Hartling’s MAGIC Formula (which is based on key things that Disney has done right to protect & expand its brand) to create your own compliance brand
  3. Brand deposits vs. brand withdrawals

About Nichole Pitts:
From global film companies & major music labels to intergovernmental organizations and some of Inc. Magazine’s Fastest-Growing Companies in America, Nichole Pitts, CEO & Founder of Ethintegrity and Host of The Ethintegrity Podcast with Nichole Pitts: A Safe Space for Brave Conversationshas helped countless organizations gain accelerated success through the world of  DEI and Ethics & Compliance. With more than 15 years of Ethics & Compliance and DEI  experience, serving most recently as a VP of Compliance & Ethics of a high 8-figure industry  disruptor, Pitts has been recognized as one of Ethisphere’s Attorneys Who Matter and  shortlisted as Chief Compliance Officer of the Year – Large Company. Nichole is a citizen of the world, having lived in Paris, London, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. 

A featured expert and speaker for EQS Group, AllBright, Convercent by One Trust, the Society of  Corporate Compliance & Ethics (SCCE), Ethisphere, Lead360, the International Bar Association,  and Jindal Global Business School, Nichole’s expertise has also been featured in the Anti Corruption Report Ethisphere Magazine, the EQS Group blog, Interactive Compliance Training blog, the Compliance Podcast Network, and on virtual and live event stages alike. 

In 2018, Nichole founded Ethintegrity to establish an innovative and inspiring brand that empowers professionals and organizations to exponentially expand their awareness and impact to create more diverse & ethical workplaces. Influenced heavily by creativity and living abroad, Nichole is passionate about helping organizations and professionals create workplace environments that embrace and promote ethical behavior and embed diversity, equity, inclusion  & belonging into their cultural DNA. 

Nichole holds a BA in both History and African American Studies from Indiana University – Bloomington and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University’s Mauer School of Law, where she served as president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholepitts/
Instagram: @Ethintegrity
Website:
https://ethintegrity.com  

 

Episode 3: The MAGIC of Inclusive Branding – Podcast Transcript

Speakers: Nichole Pitts (Host) and Hilary Hartling (Guest – Brand Strategist)

 

Nichole Pitts

Welcome to The Ethintegrity Podcast, Hilary. It’s so great to have you.

Hilary Hartling

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Nichole Pitts

I’m excited for you to be here and to talk about branding and storytelling, and how we as entrepreneurs, even big businesses, how we do business more ethically and also include and enmesh DEI into what we’re doing, how it can be comfortable with the messaging that we’re putting out.

And as we evolve and grow, do our businesses really reflect our current values and what we’re doing? So I absolutely enjoy everything that you teach and you talk about. How did you get into branding and marketing?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I chose business as a major in college because I wanted a career where I could make some good money and support myself and I just happened to fall in love with the marketing side of business because of the creativity. And because I just thought that was so much fun. And then I think the branding part of it came in when I started working at Disney because it was a very well-known, well-established global entertainment brand when I joined it.

And a lot of what we would have to do in marketing is to consider what the brand was and what the fans’ expectations were. So we always needed to figure how to meet expectations, but even more than that exceed them. And so I was just fascinated by the idea and the power that a brand held for people.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. Mm-hmm, especially the happiest place on earth.

Hilary Hartling

The happiest place on earth. Yeah. That is definitely marketing for the parks. And depending on the day you decided if it was or not.

Nichole Pitts

So how did you end up working with Disney, especially on their film side?

 

Hilary Hartling

The story really starts with, I was unhappy in the first job I had out of college. I worked as an assistant media planner at an ad agency in Seattle, but I was working with companies like Silicon Graphics and Boeing, and I was putting insertion orders for print ads in magazines like Aviation Week and Space Technology.

And I didn’t care about any of it. I wasn’t interested in any of it. None of it lit me up. One day, I made a list and I said, okay, what do I love? Because you can market, you can brand, you can advertise anything. And movies always came up at the top of my list. So what I did is I decided to go to grad school at Emerson College in Boston had huge ties back to Hollywood.

And I got an internship at Dreamworks, the summer before I graduated. It’s when Dreamworks was five years old and it was the summer of ‘99. Which is crazy to think now was before the 2000s even. And, everyone from Dreamworks was kind of like the people who left Disney and they started their own studio.

So everyone knew the Disney people. And the thing they always said is like, “whatever you do just don’t work at Disney”, but everyone knew each other. So I ended up meeting a ton of people at Disney, making friends at Disney and my resume got passed around and I ended up there, but my goal had been the whole time in going to grad school is, I just wanna work at a major motion picture company in their marketing department in Los Angeles.

That was my goal. I kept that vision front and center and I made it happen. I hadn’t cared whether it would’ve been Disney, Dreamworks, Sony, Fox, or Paramount. I didn’t care. But once I was at Disney, I’m like, oh, wow, this is sort of like the cream of the crop. This is where you have not only the bigger umbrella brand, you have individual brands with every single film release, but you’re thinking about like – Nobody else says, “I’m gonna go see that new Universal picture this weekend” or “I’m gonna go see that new Warner Brothers flick”, but they say Disney and they say Pixar, and they say, Marvel.

And we were working with global brands. And so the branding piece of it really attracted me. And I was really good at doing it too. So that’s how I ended up at Disney. And ironically, the one industry book I read when I was in grad school was “Work in Progress” by Michael Eisner, who was the CEO of Disney at the time and he talked about synergy and I ended up becoming the Head of Synergy for the studio. So it was just very synchronous, I guess.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. What‘s amazing is how great they do with their branding because I remember when Disney+ took the Star Wars franchise. And, you know, I love me some Star Wars. I was like “I’m always gonna think Lucas Films”, but with The Mandalorian, The Book of Bubba Fett, that is the one streaming service where I’m like, okay, that’s on Disney+. I watch a lot of streaming services and I’m like, is that on Hulu or Netflix? But with Disney+ it’s such a clear brand and they’ve done such a great job of even marketing within the different series to keep it going. So let’s talk about Disney’s successful brand strategy. You’ve talked about this M.A.G.I.C. Formula. What exactly is that?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. So what I call the M.A.G.I.C. Formula is really my own take on just some of the things that I have seen over the 15 years that I work there that I think Disney does best to sort of not only take care of their brand but to expand their brand. So this is literally from my own experience. I think it’s all things that entrepreneurs can apply at any level of business as well. So M.A.G.I.C stands for five things. It’s “Make it Memorable”. That’s how you stand out. It’s how you become unique. It’s how you make fans. You have to make it memorable. The second one is “Audience First”. So always putting your audience first and knowing just like finger on the pulse. Knowing what they want, what they need, what they crave and almost being able to then extrapolate what they don’t know they want, what they don’t know they need & giving it to them. The third one is “Great Storytelling”. This is the entertainment business. This is Disney. This is Marvel. This is Pixar. And I just feel so grateful I got to work with some of the greatest storytellers in the world, working at Disney and I think great storytelling can be applied to any kind of business or brand.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah

 

Hilary Hartling

The fourth one is two-fold, it’s “Innovation and Imagination”. There are ways that Disney does that very, very well, but there are ways that you can do that for your own business. And then the fifth one is what Disney is very well known for and it’s “Creating Synergy”. So I just talked about synergy before and it’s really, how do you make the whole work greater than just the pieces and parts? It’s how you create win-win, mutually beneficial things that help raise the whole brand as opposed to just trying to work on your own in a silo. And it’s something that you can do in your own way in your business, depending on what stage you’re at.

Nichole Pitts

What would be an example of somebody or a company that’s used what you’ve termed this M.A.G.I.C. Formula in a great way?

 

Hilary Hartling

I’m gonna use Geico as an example. If you think of Geico, why do they have a gecko in all their commercials as their lead spokesperson? Well, number one, I’m sure what happened to start was people were mispronouncing Geico and calling it “gecko”. So instead of correcting people, they embraced and said, let’s just make a gecko our person. That’s just the face of our brand. And then it allowed them to create stories with this fun, cute, engaging gecko that people remember and it’s for car insurance. A seemingly boring topic becomes entertaining to attract the audience they want. So next time they think about, oh my gosh, I need renter’s insurance. I need car insurance, they’re probably gonna remember the freaking gecko.

Nichole Pitts

Oh, haven’t even thought about that.

 

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. And so that is a way to make it memorable. That is a way to add great storytelling. It is a way to create something from your imagination and innovate a topic, a brand, a subject that might not have that kind of interest. And so they’re doing something to speak to their audience in a fun, entertaining way. This is why I worked in movies for so long. It’s like when you can entertain an audience, inspire an audience, evoke an emotional response from an audience. They remember, they like it, they talk about it, they spread it. And so I think that’s probably a great example of someone who does it well.

 

Nichole Pitts

Yeah, that is a really great example. One of the things, when you were first talking about the M.A.G.I.C. Formula a few months ago, it was in terms of entrepreneurs and as you’re branding your business to get very clear on your ideal client and what you’re going to be doing and how you’re going to market. But also for people that are in-house that are heads of department.

So I think about ethics and compliance as they’re trying to brand their program and get their messaging out. I think that the M.A.G.I.C. Formula is great for that because as you said, you want it to be entertaining and memorable and people aren’t gonna remember all these laws and “Okay, I have to do this exact thing.” You just want them to know, “let me come back to you. There’s something that I shouldn’t be doing” and kind of the big things, but getting into it, you wanna make it entertaining enough to where people continue to come to you to ask questions and for more information.

Hilary Hartling

So whether you’re in a career and you’re positioning yourself within an organization, or if you’re starting a business and you’re like “Okay, let’s take a step back, let’s do a quarterly review. Let’s say how could we take our brand one step further and make it not only memorable but unforgettable for our audience. Let’s brainstorm some ideas and let’s try them out.”

Or if you’re thinking audience first. You might say “Are there new ways that we haven’t thought of to stay in touch with or listen to our audience better? Let’s list all the ways we might try right now. And let’s try those new ways. How can we truly listen to our audience and understand where they are, what they need, what they love best about what we’re offering, and how we can double down on all the stuff that they love and just take away all the stuff that doesn’t matter.”

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. Kind of sift through it. Oh, I love that.

 

Hilary Hartling

Yeah.

 

Nichole Pitts

So as you’re taking all this information in, what’s a key tip to keep your message on brand as you’re growing and expanding your business?

 

Hilary Hartling

When you’re expanding, I think it’s important to really evaluate what the purpose of the expansion is. So if you understand, I’m adding this new product or this new offer or this new revenue stream because it solves a specific need your audience has evolved into now needing or is now challenged with then you’re probably on the right track. The key to really keeping your messaging on track and on brand is that when you expand, you have to stay in touch with your audience’s needs. You can’t just say “Well, I wanna go here.” You have to make sure your audience really wants to go there with you. I’m a big believer that when you’re expanding a brand to understand, is this a brand deposit or is this a brand withdrawal?

A brand deposit is gonna reinforce what you are known for and what you do best for your audience. It’s gonna reinforce your mission. Your messaging is still on track because it puts them first. If it’s a brand withdrawal, it could potentially devalue your brand because you’re not keeping your finger on the pulse of what your audience needs. And you have to consider is this expansion ‘on brand’. I mean, that’s really the question you have to ask. “Does it support my purpose? Does it support my vision? Is it aligned with my values? Is it on mission?” Or am I evolving the brand so much it’s a completely different thing now? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself because brands will evolve. They never stay static. I have so many Disney examples of how they evolved and expanded their brand even while I was there. And some of the hard decisions that we had to look at and make were really interesting.

Nichole Pitts

Can you give me an example of one?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. Yeah. One of ’em was, if you think about the Disney brand, what’s one of the first things you think of, you probably think family entertainment, right? It’s okay for the whole family. You turn on Disney+ you could sit your kids in front of that, you’d be fine with anything they watch on there. Right? Yeah. So one of the first questions we came up with was, as we were expanding the brand, we came across our first PG 13-rated Disney branded film. There was never a Disney film above PG. Because PG-13 means, “Hey, warning kids under 13 might not be appropriate.” So that was a big deal. It was Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and we ended up moving forward. We decided PG-13 was okay for the Disney brand because we were trying to expand the Disney brand into a wider, more general audience.

There were still parts of it that were still okay for kids. I mean, it’s based on the theme park, right? For goodness sake, but there are some scary parts. There are some parts that you wouldn’t want on there. And one of my jobs was to promote these movies for kids on the Disney Channel. And so we ended up having to put warnings in front of our marketing material, just letting parents know that.

That’s just one of those decisions you say, is this gonna be a brand deposit where it’s gonna truly help us expand our brand and still be known for what we’re known for? Or is it a brand withdrawal where we decide, Nope, we can’t do it? We have to take out all these scenes to make it PG-rated.

They decided that PG-13 is fine. And they went forward. Hugely successful. There was another example where we decided no, it was a brand withdrawal. And that’s when we had a slew of sports films in the early 2000s. And because they were so successful (Miracle and Remember the Titans and TheRookie) and all these, like literally every sport, we ended up doing a movie for, but they were all like true inspirational sports stories based on these real people, these real amazing stories, these underdogs coming up and winning it all kind of thing.

And at one point we did so much marketing with ESPN who was an internal synergy partner. They’re part of the Walt Disney Company. We asked ourselves, would it be smart to also brand them as an ESPN film? And of course, ESPN wanted it, it would help expand their brand, but we ultimately decided no at the studio, because when you brand something ESPN, it’s automatically a sports movie.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah.

Hilary Hartling

And our biggest audience for inspirational, true sports stories was older females.

Nichole Pitts

Really?

 

Hilary Hartling

Because, yeah, because of the inspiration, because of the heart, because it’s not really a baseball movie, it’s about never giving up on your dreams. It’s about second chances. It’s about coming from behind. And women love that. so we thought it actually puts it too much in a box to be the biggest success we need it to be for a revenue driver at the studio. So we ultimately decided not to do that, but that would have been an example of we decided on a brand withdrawal for that one and so we can’t do it. We can’t move forward. It could devalue that film brand.

Nichole Pitts

Oh, those are great examples. So with Pirates of theCaribbean, when you said, okay, we’re gonna go ahead and do this. Did you receive any backlash for going ahead and going forward with expanding to PG-13?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure there was backlash. I don’t remember the specifics, but Disney movies always have backlash by the way. We would get notes from the Lama organization about the mistreatment of animals for the animated Emperor’s New Groove which had llamas in it. Like, what? So essentially, when you have a brand that big, there’s always a backlash, but there wasn’t a backlash big enough where we wouldn’t do it, where it was bad PR where it was something that didn’t make sense. We had warnings, like I said, in front of the kids-focused commercials and let parents know. So they were aware. It only ran at certain times, you know? So it wasn’t anything that would’ve made us rethink it.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. That’s a great example. So today when I was looking at the news, I saw Cracker Barrel was getting a lot of backlash for adding in the Impossible breakfast meat, which basically is vegan.

 

Hilary Hartling

Oh

 

Nichole Pitts

Vegan sausage, I guess.

 

Hilary Hartling

They were getting backlash for adding that?

 

Nichole Pitts

Yes, because it’s “un-American” and I was just like, out of all the issues I have with Cracker Barrel, having a vegan substitute isn’t an issue. But it was one of those expanding their offerings and their brand. Yeah. And another one was the Honey Pot with the natural feminine hygiene product. And I look at this a lot of times when you have really small businesses that are making products at home, and then they ship them and you know, there’s a shelf life. And then when you want to grow as most companies do, you want to be where the money resides. Then, you have to change your formula if you’re going to sell it in big stores, like Target.

Hilary Hartling

You need to mass produce it.

Nichole Pitts

Exactly. Yeah. And so they ran into supply chain issues, as well as needing to add a preservative to extend the shelf life when it’s in Target. They had this very clear ideal client.

Yeah. And it was a loyal customer base. Some in that customer base were like, wait a minute. What’s this new ingredient that we hadn’t known about? And it’s a preservative and you market this as natural, and there was this huge backlash, this was back in May of 2022. And it was one of those where if she had gotten out in front of it and said, we’re going to add in this preservative to extend the shelf life and maybe have more, make it more accessible to more people. But also maybe have an alternative where you’re shipping the non-preservative. It made me think of Grace and Frankie with Frankie’s organic yam lube where she got into it with Brianna to mass produce it for Say Grace. And she put Palm oil in it. And that’s the first time I ever even heard about preservatives like that.

Hilary Hartling

Is it gonna devalue the brand? Like if you’re literally known for all natural all the time and that’s what your audience loves most about your product. I would probably rethink how could we expand in a way that was more aligned with who we are. And I don’t know the answer to that, but that’s the question I would’ve asked.

Or as you said, just from a PR and marketing and branding saying “Wow, we are all natural and all of our customers really support us in that. We wanna add one preservative. So we have the opportunity to be longer on shelves in a nationwide chain so that this is accessible to more women because that’s another one of our core values is serving as many women as possible.”

Something they could have gotten down in front of that like you said, but yeah, it’s hard when, if there’s ever anything that you feel like you’re hiding, it’s always gonna come out.

Nichole Pitts

Right. You can’t keep anything a secret.

Hilary Hartling

No people will find out. With social media these days, it’s just like, it can just tumbleweed. Right? So, yep.

Nichole Pitts

So many internet detectives and you say something, then they’ll go back 10 years on Twitter and be like, screenshot it, “this you?”, and you’re like, it was. What are some of the key lessons that you learned during your time at Disney that helped you evolve into this successful businesswoman that runs this, agency for branding strategy for modern entrepreneurs?

Hilary Hartling

That’s a great question. I would say one would be, setting a bar for excellence and it’s oftentimes a personal bar. I would say leaning into what you do best. So really embracing your key strengths and what are people coming to you for all the time? And really leaning there. Focusing on growing synergistic relationships, because that really can help boost your brand and boost your business. And then ultimately what I did every single day is it’s not just about selling it’s about getting creative. So instead of a straight commercial, a TV ad, how do you treat marketing as entertainment itself? That’s something I learned. So if you think about marketing your business, let’s go back to the gecko, right? It’s like, okay. They made that entertainment. Not just a regular boring TV commercial about “if you ever need car insurance, please call Geico.” It’s not what they do.

I’m sure I learned a ton about leadership as well. Things I did well. Things I did awful. How to prioritize self-care, which I didn’t do. Self-care and boundaries is something that I didn’t do well when I was at Disney. And I’ve learned to do better as an entrepreneur because you don’t wanna keep repeating the same mistakes. So, yeah. There’s oh, there’s so much I learned from Disney, honestly.

Nichole Pitts

You talked about growing these synergistic relationships. Can you give an example of that?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. So as an entrepreneur, you would wanna look for peers in your industry potentially who are not competitive, but complementary to say, like, how can we grow a partnership together, a relationship together to help each other? So where are those mutual win-wins where everybody raises up? Because you are getting in front of their audience. They’re getting in front of your audience. It’s things like that. It’s really identifying the people and, or other businesses and brands who could create synergy with you, where it makes sense to partner together on certain things to boost each other equally.

Nichole Pitts

That’s a really great example. How do we use these lessons as well as the M.A.G.I.C. Formula to effectively brand ourselves? So that we’re more visible, both as entrepreneurs, but also just maybe as employees in the workplace?

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. I love that question. I mean, honestly, one of the lessons that I talked about was leaning into what you do best, right? If you know what you are uniquely known for, that becomes the thing that carves out your niche that helps you create sort of your UVP, your unique value proposition that sets you apart and has you stand out. I think anytime you can brand something or niche something to say like, “Hey, oh yeah, I do marketing for Disney, but actually I do marketing in a synergistic way, working with all the partners of the company to…”. That’s a niched version of what I do. It’s a specialty. It’s how do you specialize if you’re in an organization and then if you’re your own business, your own brand it’s, this is the unique part of how you position yourself to stand out among a sea of competition and why you’re different and who that difference is meant for cuz that’s for a niche audience as well.

Nichole Pitts

How do we effectively use branding to tell an authentic story that effectively connects with our intended audience and our ideal client?

Hilary Hartling

Branding, in general, to me is delivering this intentional experience to make your audience feel something and then have them choose you as their top choice. Branding helps you really identify that feeling you want your audience to have, and there’s no better way than evoking emotion than storytelling. And I think storytelling is a broad term, right? You really need to know your audience so well so that you can choose the best, most authentic story so that it does resonate. It can’t sound like everybody else’s, it can’t be made up. it’s either a story about you or it’s a story about your ideal client. Yeah. Right. It’s something that’s gonna resonate and tap into their needs and wants. So authentic storytelling is one of the best parts of branding because that is the thing that makes you memorable.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. We were talking before the podcast started about how I just watched the Victoria’s Secret: Angel and Demons documentary. Yes. And I didn’t realize that Victoria’s Secret had been a mail order business owned by a couple, and then Les Wexner the chairman and CEO of L Brands had purchased it. But they also created this story about Victoria being an English maiden with a British father who was in the aristocracy & a French mother. And it was this whole thing and it worked for them up until a point in 2000. Then they had to move it into let’s be super sexy.

And having these supermodels that had bodies that most of us didn’t have, of course, but looking at the ups and downs from that was really interesting just on their storytelling journey. And you think about even the brands that have these cult-like followings. Like Tesla, Apple, and another documentary that I watched last week. I love TV, apparently.

Hilary Hartling

I actually do too. So I’m surprised that I haven’t watched all these quite yet, but it’s just because I have a little human running around here. And you know, we’re not watching everything with her in the room yet.

Nichole Pitts

I watched the WeWork documentary. Also, on Hulu, there is a movie WeCrashwith Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway playing the two characters. But what was interesting about WeWork is I only knew about WeWork when I lived in London and I was looking for office space. So it wasn’t the cult-like thing it was in the U.S. But listening to it, it’s almost like Geico in a way where the business model itself is pretty boring. I mean, you’re leasing property and then subdividing it. But their whole brand story was about this communal space where you’re connecting with others.

Hilary Hartling

And it’s the benefits versus the features.

 

Nichole Pitts

Yes. And it just became this whole cult, but they were having weekends away, it was like Fyre festival done right. All these different things, but then it became mandatory and it was just interesting to see how they went from a $47 billion company to nothing. And just really losing so much value. But looking at the brand story and then as they grew and moved in different ways, it was getting away from those core values. Even what they stood for.

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. You have to stay true to what you wanna be known for and what you stand for in your values. I mean, even look at Blockbuster.

Nichole Pitts

Oh yeah.

Hilary Hartling

What? I mean, how many times have we used it as an example? But they should be the Netflix of today. They should be. But they just didn’t move with their customer. They didn’t believe that this would no longer be a thing where people would go on a Friday night to the video store to pick out their video and then have to put it in the rewind machine to rewind it before they returned it. Like, what the heck?

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. Yeah. It’s almost like Amazon and big box stores as well, which I think has had a major impact when you looked at these major brands that if they didn’t get into really the online piece of it then they’ve lost market share.

Hilary Hartling

They’re losing out. Yeah.

Nichole Pitts

And especially during the pandemic, when people weren’t going to the mall.

Hilary Hartling

That’s right.

Nichole Pitts

It just became, you could get your items quicker. You could return. I rarely go to the mall now I order everything pretty much online.

Hilary Hartling

I do too.

Nichole Pitts

Um yeah, it’s just convenience, but to your point of how do you pivot with that? And thinking about also with our branding, how do we ensure that our branding is inclusive and not exclusive?

Hilary Hartling

I love this question actually, but I would say where it starts is identifying ideal clients because in my branding I talk a lot about demographics versus psychographics and I’m not a fan of creating an avatar for your business cause I think that is exclusive. I think an avatar is having you picture what that person is gonna look like. And they’re really focusing on, “Okay. They live in the suburbs. Do they have a family? Do they have kids? How much education do they have? What’s their salary?” It’s all the demographics, which are the outward descriptors of a person.

You can’t just have one singular type of person mm-hmm as your ideal client. That’s why I always focus on psychographics cuz it’s your internal motivations that can go across any, right? This can be from any gender, from any sexual orientation, from any race, you can still have those internal motivations of why they’re excited to achieve this specific goal.

What they’re currently challenged with what their dreams are that they wanna achieve? It’s those things that can connect you to an audience in a more inclusive way.

Nichole Pitts

You see that a lot with fashion. There was this great quote from Robin Givhan. She’s an American fashion editor for the Washington Post and she’s also a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. But in the Abercrombie and Fitch documentary, she said “The fundamental idea is that fashion is selling us belonging, confidence, cool, and sex appeal. In many ways, the very last thing that it’s selling is actual garments.”

Hilary Hartling

It’s interesting. Yeah.

Nichole Pitts

Benjamin O’Keefe was saying about Abercrombie and Fitch is that “People like the brand because exclusion is part of our society.” Abercrombie and Fitch had an exclusionary type of brand. People, especially those that have been marginalized want to get that like that gives them some credibility.

Really looking at how do you take this to that next level and how they would get very pigeonholed in one ideal client, that when Rihanna came along with Savage Fenty and her all-inclusive body type line and even Fenty Beauty with her 40 different shades of foundation. These were very saturated markets, but she took that inclusive approach before anybody was really talking about inclusivity.

Hilary Hartling

So because a standout, yeah.

Nichole Pitts

Yes. This is a multi-billionaire and it was just one of those where you think you don’t realize that you’re being excluded until you start to be included. That’s what I thought. Cuz I was most {inaudible}.

Hilary Hartling

That’s such a good way of positioning. And here’s the thing is like every brand is trying to do the thing to stand out and be successful, but they also have to evolve with the times they have to be relevant with the current conversation.

It’s like the Blockbuster conversation. Right? They stopped being relevant with the times and so they went away. Inclusivity is such an important thing that consumers are savvy, they don’t just like blindly follow brands anymore. Right? They are looking into, “What do you stand for? What are your values? Are you actually holding up and operating in that way? Are you actually sustainable? Are we actually helping save the planet?” Whatever it is they wanna know because those are the brands that they’re gonna choose to follow and spend their money on.

And they don’t wanna spend money in places that don’t align with their values. That is the current consumer of today so if you’re not on board with doing business that way, then you’re gonna be left behind. And the way to do business that way is to really establish and develop a brand strategy.

Nichole Pitts

Think about also people that want to use their voice with social media, as you said, with these core values, but how even the model industry has changed when you have these influencers like a Gigi or Bella Hadid or a Kendall Jenner who did modeling for Victoria Secret and then when #MeToo happened and they weren’t tied to this company where they’re reporting issues of sexual harassment and it’s falling on deaf ears. They have their own independent platform, so it doesn’t affect their livelihood. And to your point, it’s that I always, when I was in-house and even as I train now, I always look at what the values are of those companies.

And it’s part of my training of how many people know what this company stands for. And even with their Code of Conduct, I’m like this tells you what the company expects of you, but also what you can expect from the company. And sometimes we don’t think about that, that they owe us a duty of care as well.

Right. And are you standing behind this and do you hold them accountable or is it performative? That’s where the rubber meets the road for me is this performative action that some companies will do, like when they did the black box or they’ll put out their statement and you don’t really hear anything. And it’s like, well, what progress have you made?

 

Hilary Hartling

Yeah. What are you actually doing?

Nichole Pitts

Exactly. I think that gets into brand love language and how you connect with your audience. It’s how do we embrace our unique skills and the way that we message to really connect with them, but also ensure that we’re being as transparent and authentic as possible. Can you give a high level of what you mean by using your brand love language with your business?

Hilary Hartling

Using your brand love language is literally like how you can best woo your audience. It’s going back to understanding who you’re talking to so well that you’re using the modality and the entertainment style that’s gonna work best for that audience. So it can be everything from words of inspiration, to storytelling, to really leaning into quality expertise or community time because that’s what people crave. But I think in terms of talking about your unique set of skills and how to communicate that to me, it’s branding again.

So if you know what’s unique and sets you apart, brand that. Brand your process. Because I would say if you brand your process and you communicate that to your audience, that instantly and naming something is powerful, number one, it automatically makes it more important and it automatically makes you more memorable and stand out above the competition.

Right? Let’s say there’s a brand photographer and she simply says,hire me because I can get you great professional photos to promote your brand.” Okay, great. Versus a brand photographer who says something like “I have a proprietary three-step brand story technique in how I’m gonna help female entrepreneurs tell their authentic story to attract their best audience and it starts with 1) helping you identify your unique brand story. 2) finding the location and poses and wardrobe that will communicate that to your audience. And 3) giving you a specific ‘for you only formula’ to give you the content you need to spread across your desired platforms, where your audience is hanging out.” Like which one are you gonna hire?

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. And can I say, I love how you just come up with these things off the top of your head because you do this all the time and I’m like, I can barely come up with something for myself.

Hilary Hartling

Just how my brain works. Right? But that is, I think one of the best ways to communicate and woo your audience, and that can be a version of quality expertise and storytelling put together. Branding your process, naming it, giving it some power and meaning and value.

Nichole Pitts

So what are three things businesses should do when there is a marketing mistake?

Hilary Hartling

I think there are probably a lot of different kinds of marketing mistakes and different remedies for them. I would say in general, If there was like a mistake in your marketing and