For the past 20-years Abe has worked in the communications agency business, first on Madison Avenue and then in Baltimore rising to the executive level of Director and Senior Vice President. While leading efforts within that industry, he’s worked on behalf of large corporations and institutions including Johns Hopkins, CSX, The Voice of America, The Nature Conservancy, General Dynamics, GoRVing, Lenox and many others.
Abe now creates corporate positioning for agencies and clients based on competitive market research, consumer investigation and current brand analysis. He’ll make recommendations that focus on brand recognition, customer/client acquisition and profit increase. In conjunction, Abe devises and executes business development strategies and tactics for clients and agencies to attract and acquire new business.
BusinessInterviews.com: What were some lessons that you learned while working on Madison Avenue that you’ve been able to apply to your own business?
Abe: Madison Avenue and the role that ad agencies have taken on for clients, has been and I think always will be, about looking at a problem or challenge from the outside-in. What I mean by that is, the aim is to see things from the consumer’s perspective – that’s often hard for clients to do on their own because they are on the inside looking out. I use that same outside-in approach for clients based on primary and secondary research along with a healthy dose of some common sense. Because I am nimble, I am able bring a unique skill set to a client but on a more direct, one-on-one level. Because of 20-years of experience, I’m equipped and ready to apply marketing solutions, create a plan and course of action and set an overall strategy for them, but at much less cost.
BusinessInterviews.com: What advice would you pass onto someone contemplating leaving their position at an established firm to start their own company and become a consultant?
Abe: Several outside factors have converged to make it easier to hang out a shingle. Yet at the same time, it’s more competitive for consultants and those going off on their own. With the economic collapse and recession, the ad agency world took a major, seismic shift. I call it a post-apocalyptic Diaspora, made manifest by talent slashed and set free to launch out on their own, hang a shingle and (in 60s-speak) “do their own thing.”
A person doesn’t need four walls and an address on Madison Avenue any longer. You see, just as the economy was collapsing, technology, like a phoenix, was rising. And because of this winged bird, hand-picked teams of ex-staffers can be rounded up anywhere by anyone with an opportunity and brought together. Distinct from typical crowdsourcing, many are vets who once worked side-by-side in cubicled offices inside one of those big skyscrapers. But after the dust cleared, we reconnected via LinkedIn and now share and brainstorm via Skype, operate a virtual network via Drop Box and with smartphones are, well, always there and always on.
Due to such a crowded space, consultants have to stay very focused on their particular area of expertise, brand themselves as the expert and find the right partners. The challenge for someone going it alone is the understanding, that it is still a collaborative business and they will always need partners to work with that they can trust and rely on.
BusinessInterviews.com: What would you recommend to a startup in need of a brand strategy but isn’t sure where to start?
Abe: Hire me. But seriously, a lot of startups I work with are very product or service focused. And they have to be. But they also often believe that simply by creating a better widget, it’ll take care of itself. What they overlook is the bigger brand idea. What’s a brand? A brand is a promise – something that’s much more ephemeral and harder to quantify and so for many entrepreneurs it gets overlooked. But here are two examples that might help explain what I mean. One is a service and the other a product. The head of FedEx once claimed – that by knowing that your package will arrive on time the next day, they are not really in the shipping business. They are in the “peace of mind” business. It’s quite an important distinction. Similarly, Volvo doesn’t just make safe cars, they sell the comfort of knowing your family would be protected in an accident.
For a startup, that kind of thinking, to really ask, what business are we really in and what problem are we truly trying to solve, is crucial.
BusinessInterviews.com: To blog or not to blog – that is the question.
Abe: Having just talked about a branding, this is a nice segue because so much emphasis these days is on content marketing and blogging is a major highway and method of content marketing. While today we all know news is no longer delivered down a one-way street, by a singular authority. Blogging too has and is changing just as rapidly. If, say you’re on LinkedIn or Facebook, you don’t necessarily need a blog to blog. And does Twitter count as micro-blogging? Blogging is about taking on the role of reporter/commentator and infusing it with your own brand of marketing. If you want to grow your business and build a brand, blogging is a great tool. But with that power tool also comes great responsibility. First, have a strategy and ask yourself, what is your category expertise? What do my customers have a need for that’s currently unmet or not being fulfilled? And where else could they go to get expertise and how can I offer it in a way that will be of benefit to them and, in turn, grow my own business.
The next and most overlooked requirement can seem tedious, but creating a schedule and sticking to it, is just as important. A lot of bloggers don’t do this and so they’ll write one or two posts and then, since they didn’t get the response they were hoping for, abandon it or continue but do it haphazardly. By setting a schedule, just like an editorial calendar, readers will know and can become accustomed for when to look for your posts.
BusinessInterviews.com: What key elements are important to keep in mind when it comes to rebranding?
Abe: Well, the first thing to remember is that a brand exists in the mind. So rebranding is really about changing perceptions. And perceptions are like hand prints in wet cement – very hard to remove. But it is possible. First you need to ask, where was the brand and what’s not working to prompt a rebrand? Is it because the market has changed and there’s new competition? Or is it due to an entirely new approach by management that wants to convey a new vision for the brand? Or is it simply that the CMO has been replaced by someone who wishes to put their own mark on things? Unlike a product, which can quickly become outdated, a brand needs to be timeless. So you need to keep a distinction in mind and be careful that, just because the product is getting updated every six-months, you wouldn’t ever rebrand that often. The brand needs to be the bigger idea that can withstand nuances and rapid change. If you do need to rebrand, set a course for a marathon, not a sprint.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally in 2014?
Abe: I’ve been very fortunate to have begun working in new categories like education and non-profits and bringing more traditional brand expertise to categories that do a lot of good in the world, but haven’t been the most savvy or sophisticated when it comes to marketing. They need to know that the same principles apply.
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