Interview originally published by Rockstar CMO
Hi Sydni, tell us about your current gig.
I am the CEO of Smart Simple Marketing, a content marketing consultancy based near San Francisco, California, USA. We help brands gain market share, drive engagement, and deepen customer loyalty with small, minority- and women-owned businesses. We also help small business owners attract more customers and increase their revenue. We are the ONLY content marketing consultancy specializing in this coveted niche market that is working with the world’s largest technology brands.
Your consultancy has a track record of helping small minority- and women-owned businesses. With this experience, what does diversity, the theme for this issue, mean to you?
Diversity has become quite the buzzword. However, my perspective about diversity has nothing to do with politics or social issues. I grew up in an incredibly diverse community in the Bay Area, in a town where everyone knew everyone. When I graduated from high school, I graduated with kids of all backgrounds: Latino, Indian, Asian, Black, Caucasian, Mixed, kids with disabilities… you name it. Many of the kids in my graduating class were in my class when I started kindergarten.
As such, when we met as young children, we didn’t realize we were different from each other. As a kid, you don’t notice what makes a person “different” from you. I liked Gavin, one of the Asian kids, because he was always kind and would share his candy at recess. I liked Dina, who had a permanent, visible disability because she made me laugh.
My parents raised me to believe that all people are the same and deserve kindness and respect. They also taught my brother and me that no one is better than us and conversely, that we aren’t better than anyone else. I learned at a very young age that my life would be shaped by the decisions I made, not because I was a girl, or black, or lived in a particular place.
Because of where and how I was raised, diversity has always been a part of my life. I appreciate people simply for who they are. I genuinely believe we have more in common than the things that make us “different”. Each of us deserves respect and appreciation for who we are and the talents we bring into the world.
How has this upbringing defined your approach to your business?
Being a fourth-generation entrepreneur, seeing how entrepreneurship has impacted three generations before me and the lessons I’ve learned from watching entrepreneurs in my family has definitely shaped my view of the world as a business owner. Embracing diverse ideas and supporting entrepreneurs has always been something I am passionate about. Thus, my background heavily influences how I approach my work, how I show up as a marketer, and how I serve my clients
When my husband and I started our business back in 2006, we had three clients. Two were small businesses run by women, and a woman of color owned one of them. From day one, we’ve been helping minority- and women-owned small businesses. We’ve had the privilege of working with over 8,000 small businesses in 79 industries since we started. Women and minorities have owned a significant portion of the businesses we’ve helped over the past 13+ years.
I love that expression, “how I show up as a marketer.” I read that you’ve “shown up” working with Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Oracle, and other large technology companies. With regard to the topic of diversity, where do these companies need help?
We’ve been working with enterprise companies to support their small business and multicultural programming since 2013. Our focus is on partnering with companies that sell to small businesses, and as it turns out, many of our clients are technology companies. Women and minorities are the two fastest-growing segments in the small business space. Thus, tech companies developing products for this audience need to invite diverse perspectives and develop inclusive approaches to engage the business owners they want to serve.
In many cases, we are our client’s ideal customer, and because of our experience, we’re able to share priceless insight into not only understanding the needs of small businesses in general but, more specifically, how to engage minority- and women-owned businesses.
Often, the professionals we work with (senior leaders, product managers, product marketers, UX researchers, etc.), have never had a small business. It doesn’t matter how much research you do, if you haven’t experienced the blood, sweat, and tears of being an entrepreneur, there is a disconnect between your perception and the reality of running your own business every day.
For example, one of our clients shared that while sitting in a meeting, listening to her colleagues talk about their latest small business marketing challenge, she finally spoke up and said, “Look at us! There is no diversity in this room. We are all the same color, none of us has run a small business, and we’ve all only ever worked in tech. We live in a bubble, and we need an outside perspective.” She and I happened to meet shortly after that, and our early conversations led to us helping them with a marketing project that has grown into a two-year engagement.
Our passion remains to help small businesses achieve success on their own terms. Our work with enterprise companies helps these brands educate and partner with small businesses, which in turn helps entrepreneurs see the value in the products available to them and understand how to use these products to meet their goals.
As a result, enterprise companies see an increase in market share, engagement and customer loyalty. Small businesses take advantage of products that allow them to attract more customers, increase their revenue, and create a more efficient business. Their customers have access to high-quality products and services and have limitless opportunities to support their local economy. Thus, everyone wins.
It doesn’t matter what product you’re selling – your audience is not homogeneous. In fact, your audience has never been more diverse. If you ignore the diversity of your target market and don’t have an inclusive approach to your campaign design process, you’re guaranteed to develop tone-deaf content that helps no-one.
You mentioned the term “product inclusion,” so you see this as bigger than just marketing?
Every day, we come across products in the marketplace that aren’t built for diverse audiences. We’ve seen brands that have millions of customers using a product that wasn’t designed for them. These customers are trying to leverage the product as best they can without support and guidance from the company that built the product. Thus, the enterprise company isn’t truly serving small businesses that have a clear interest in their solutions, and they’re missing a huge opportunity to deepen customer loyalty.
All our audiences, no matter if we’re selling B2C or B2B, are increasingly diverse. Prospective customers can easily see through the marketing if the product was not designed for them. If you have not designed your product with inclusion in mind, no amount of marketing will fix that. You will be hammering a square peg into a round hole.
This is a problem, not just for the big tech companies, but for small businesses. Small business owners won’t appreciate the value of a product that wasn’t designed for them and thus won’t adopt those products. As a result, their businesses may not be running as efficiently as their competitors, and they may not be servicing their customers as well as they can. So, everyone loses.
The most successful enterprise companies are proactively seeking to diversify their teams and build products with diversity and inclusion in mind. Thus, when it’s time to ship a new product, creating appealing multicultural marketing campaigns is easy.
That’s really interesting. What results do these organizations see by taking this approach?
One of my favorite examples is Google. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. They may not do everything right, but they have appointed Annie Jean Baptiste as the Global Head of Product Inclusion, and they have adopted a product inclusion initiative to ensure that they’re considering diverse perspectives.
Google is thinking about the dimensions that make individuals who they are and the intersections of how people move through the world. Google understands that we all have biases and that to build products for everyone, it needs to bring in as many perspectives as possible at the product development stage to avoid unintentionally excluding anyone. The Product Inclusion Team’s mantra is, “Build products for everyone, with everyone.”
For example, with the Google Assistant product, where people search online via voice, the team realized that in using the product, people might say things that are controversial or demeaning. So, they had to ensure the product was inclusive and safe. To understand diverse perspectives and ensure the product was inclusive, part of Google’s strategy was to invite members of various employee resource groups to participate in tests, which helped the team write for the diversity of the audience they were targeting.
Google Assistant processes billions of queries each day. To date, they’ve only gotten reports of 38 queries that were so offensive that they had to be addressed. That is only .0002% of the population using the product. THAT is success.
You recently did an interview with our mutual friend Robert Rose. On his CMI Weekly Wrap podcast, you mentioned this was a missed opportunity for businesses. Can you elaborate on that?
The numbers don’t lie:
- Black people in America spend $1.4 trillion on products and services each year.
- The Latino community spends $1.7 trillion.
- Globally, women’s income around the world is $18 trillion dollars.
- Women are involved in 75% to 80% of all household buying decisions.
My perspective is working with enterprise companies and specifically looking through the lens of engaging small businesses. When I look at this audience, the fastest growth in entrepreneurship and small businesses in America is happening with women of color. The growth is off the charts. For companies looking to increase market share within the small business community, we encourage them to invest in underserved and underrepresented communities because this is where they can have the greatest impact.
Editor’s note: Last year in the US, women of color opened 78% of net new women-owned businesses – the number of businesses owned by women of color grew by 163%. In total, there are more than 5.8 million businesses owned by women of color. They employ 2.23 million people and yield $386.6 billion in revenue. (According to this article).
The same principle applies to every company. If you genuinely want to help people and you don’t consider the fastest-growing markets, can you truly say you’re serving the needs of your audience?
If you invest in getting to know your diverse audiences, where the majority of the growth is, and you’re inclusive in how you plan and create educational-focused marketing, your audience will see you as a partner and a trusted advisor, not someone trying to sell them something, and they will seek out your products.
In the case of the big tech companies, doing this means everyone wins. The tech company increases market share among the audiences that need its products, the entrepreneurs improve their small business, and their customers get a better service.
Speaking of Mr. Rose and the Content Marketing Institute, I hear you are speaking at CMWorld – what can folks expect to hear from you?
My business partner and I will be presenting “Profitable Multicultural Marketing: How to Increase Sales Using Diversified Resources to Infuse Authenticity Into Your Campaigns.”
While embracing diversity and inclusion empowers marketers to serve their audience better, we recognize that we all have to make the numbers work: the dollars and cents. So, we will be talking about that with an authentic approach to multicultural marketing.
You mentioned that you are a 4th generation entrepreneur and left the corporate 9-5 life behind early in your career – what advice would you give to marketing professionals looking to take that leap?
I’m not one of those people who ran away from corporate America because I hated it. I loved working in corporate and did so for 11 years. I had great leaders, had great experiences and I always loved my job. What prompted me to exit corporate was that my husband and I decided to move back to California, which meant I had to leave my perfect job. I realized I didn’t want to start over with a new company and a new role, and that I had taken my corporate career as far as I wanted to go. So, instead of looking for a new job, we started a business helping other small businesses develop and implement a profit-focused marketing strategy.
That said, I meet a lot of people who are fed up with their corporate work experience. My advice to those who want to start their own business (and more power to you, come join us!) is to get really clear on what you’re good at and the problems you can solve.
I find that often, people leave their corporate job to do what they enjoy and what they’re good at. However, transitioning from a corporate professional to an entrepreneur is a process. You need to figure out what you are good at today and how you are going to grow that skill into a sustainable business model.
In my case, what we do as a business today, my role as CEO, the clients we work with, etc. is very different from what we did in 2006 when we started. It’s truly been a journey. None of us successful business owners started out as a fully formed marketing “rockstar”. You’ve got to be okay with making mistakes and learning as you go. Trust me, we’ve made every mistake you can make. However, we’ve learned from our mistakes, and we’ve grown because of them. It’s part of the process.
Last thing: understand that running a business is very different from doing your job. In corporate, all you do is focus on getting your work done. When you run your own business, you have to do your job AND run a company. This can be a rude awakening for some folks who think, “You mean I don’t get to do just do my work and hang out with cool clients all day?” The answer is “No.”
Here at Rockstar CMO, we have a regular series called the Swimming Pool – a place to throw all the bad things about our industry, the buzzwords, bad advice and snake oil that gets peddled. What would you throw into the Rockstar CMO swimming pool?
Self-serving “market research”. We see it ALL the time. Instead of conducting market research to inform their strategy, many companies conduct “research” to validate what they’ve already decided. Thus, their perception of the ideal customer is not always based on reality. What they should be doing is seeking to understand their customers.
As a marketer, you are doing yourself a disservice if you are not trying to understand your market. I frequently ask marketers, “When was the last time you spoke to your customers?” Sometimes they ask, “You mean a real customer?” I say, “Yes” and they say, “We don’t have time to do that.”
If it’s our job to create compelling, authentic, and engaging campaigns, how can we be too busy to do the ONE thing that helps us meet our goal? How are marketers creating messaging and content for their audience when they never talk to them?
It’s the simplest thing, to meet and have a conversation with a paying customer. If you do so regularly, then your marketing will be exponentially more engaging than it is today.
Any final thoughts?
Please act on the insights shared in this article. Take a moment to sit with what you read and then DO SOMETHING with it.
Talk to a customer. Do some research into who really uses your product. Stand up in a meeting and say. “HEY, we need to talk to some customers.”
I guarantee there are a lot of folks who are interested in your product, who look nothing like your buyer persona. Think of the impact if you took a more inclusive approach to your work.
And where can people find you?
On social, I’m most easily found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For folks who are selling to small businesses, visit our website for articles and resources to support you: http://smartsimplemarketing.com