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“The customer drives branding and business…so find out what the customer thinks about your brand, what they want and how they want it — how the customer wants to be ‘told and sold’…by doing this, you can increase your ROI as much as 10-fold”

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Sandra Holtzman is the President and Founder (1997) of Holtzman Communications, a New York marketing communications company. She’s an award-winning creative director and marketing strategist with over 20 years of expertise in high tech (life sciences, chemical, pharma, biotech, and emerging and converging technologies) advertising and marketing. Her experience includes business-to-business, international marketing, and consumer marketing, including working on the launch team of the Acura car.

Holtzman Communications is a marketing company that specializes in strategy, branding, graphic design, web development, technical writing, PR and a proprietary customer-focused market(ing) research methodology called Rapid Development or RaDe. Rapid Development costs 80% less than traditional research and discovery methods and takes 75% less time that the usual strategic development process.

MO: What influenced your decision to launch your own company instead of working for an established firm?

Sandra: I love what I do and for about five years prior to starting my own firm, I would come to work happy every day (I won awards on virtually every piece of business I worked on, got raises and praises galore) but there was always a little something in the back of my mind that wasn’t quiet satisfied and and yearned for more (although I didn’t recognize what the more was at the time). It took a wonderful mentor to put me in touch with, and helped me articulate, the yearning. Once I figured that out, it took another year or so to prepare myself to take the leap. While all of this was going on, my mentor kept encouraging me every step of the way. Once I made the leap, I never looked back. (And it was difficult because I had always wanted to be a Creative Director on Madison Avenue and as soon as I made the decision to start my own business, I got three offers for Creative Director spots. It was very difficult to do, but I turned down all of them. My thinking was that if I took the Creative Director job, that in six months I’d be regretful that I didn’t try the entrepreneurial route. If the entrepreneurial route didn’t work out, then I could always put myself back on the market. So the job offers gave me added courage and assurance in my own skills and vision. PS I never looked back.)

MO: You explain the concept a bit behind your RaDe methodology and how it works?

Sandra: RaDe, or Rapid Development, was born from the belief that the customer drives branding and business. So the logical step in doing primary research is to find out what the customer thinks about your brand, what they want and how they want it (we call this learning how the customer wants to be told and sold). By doing this, you can increase your ROI as much as 10-fold. Traditional market(ing) research focus groups take about six months to get results (the client goes to an ad agency, the agency prepares ideas to show in the focus group, a script is written and a moderator chosen to lead the focus groups, there are multiple focus groups in multiple cities, it takes time to sum up the results). It’s an expensive process. RaDe can take as little as a month to get superior results. We find all the stakeholders, or representatives of stakeholder groups, and schedule a single brainstorming type session. During that session, no one is shown any preconceived ideas (preconceived ideas are an immediate turn-off to the stakeholder, it’s like saying “we don’t care what you think. This is what we think you think. What do you think about what we think, you think?” – in this kind of traditional market research, the research is biased from the outset.) When there are no preconceived ideas presented to the stakeholders, then the stakeholders come up with their own unique solutions/ideas. This is a much more powerful approach. When you take these results and apply them to create a messaging platform, a website, an ad campaign, a branding project, the end product is often very different and fresh and speaks directly to the stakeholder in the language and tone they want to hear. It gets through to them immediately because they relate to it. This immediacy is crucial in the internet speed at which we communicate today.

MO: Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

Sandra: I think I always had it. Being a creative person, I’ve always thought outside the box and saw unique solutions and pathways. As I mentioned earlier, I had the good fortune of having a mentor recognize that spirit and help me recognize it in myself and develop it. I actually teach entrepreneurs to do the same thing (I am a Fast Trac facilitator at the Levin Institute, SUNY and teach at Fashion Institute of Technology in the Enterprise Center).

MO: What are the best ways that companies can measure their ROI?

Sandra: There are many traditional measurement tools depending on the media employed. When we do RaDe, our clients tell us the before and after numbers and that’s how we measure ROI (in large corporations access to this information is proprietary and so we rely on the client to share it with us). For instance, if a client who is a consultant tells us that their bookings have increased six-fold since we did some work for them, then they, and we, know it was as a result of that work.

MO: Can you talk about the inspiration behind your book, “Lies Startups Tell Themselves to Avoid Marketing: A No Bullsh*t Guide for PhDs, Lab Rats, Suits and Entrepreneurs.” What do you hope that the average reader walks away with?

Sandra: I was very close with a client for many years. He left a job to go out on his own and over a period of a few months realized that every trait I had characterized that startups had, he had experienced firsthand. One night, over dinner, we wrote down all the excuses startups told us as to why they couldn’t do marketing, “right now”. We laughed at how our list represented exactly the same experience each of us was having. That discussion generated the idea of creating a slide presentation with the 10 excuses or lies. When we went out to present this slide show, in all kinds of different venues such as universities, incubators, trade shows, etc. we received such a positive and overwhelming response that we decided to turn the slide presentation into a book. A few months after we made that decision, my former client took a job as a CEO of a biotech company and couldn’t devote the time needed to writing the book. So I co-wrote the book with a friend and colleague who had had similar experiences working with entrepreneurs.

The average reader will see the lies as excuses they tell themselves. Each chapter has a lie, followed by a truth, followed by an example, using graphics to help make the point crystal clear. We present the information in a very direct manner, and in bite sized portions – each chapter is self-contained and short. The reader comes away with immediately actionable steps to take – and most important — they understand why they need to take those steps.

MO: If you could share one small business branding strategy with our readers, what would it be?

Sandra: With a small business, YOU are your branding. People are buying YOU, the business owner, when they make a purchase so it’s important that you get out there and establish trust and goodwill personally. That’s why it’s important to get out and network and make yourself known to many different people in many different venues and formats.

In my case, in many events I often meet people and they say, “yes, I’ve heard of you.” That increases the probability that they will then visit my website, buy my book (having written the book is giving my potential customers reason to believe or credibility), call someone and ask if they know me. The key with branding a small business, is to get it right the first time and stick to it. Spend the money to do this up front and you won’t waste precious time and money having to go back and do it over (which means having to go back and uncreate the image you’ve created and then create a new one).

MO: Thank you for your time!

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