Have you spoken to your customers empathically lately? For your brand to resonate, it has to connect with your community. To do that well, you must understand the customers in that community.
From empathizing with your customers to creating products with cilantro when you hate cilantro…Today my guest, former Vice President of H-E-B Own Brand Dr. Molly McAdams, and I chat about genuinely imagining the needs of those you serve.
ED: So how do leadership and empathy effect a brand? And how will that help you grow your business, protect your business and engage your clients and customers? So, today we’re talking with meat and protein industry expert Molly McAdams. Molly is an executive leader and strategist who is super passionate about the meat industry, because frankly, she knows it from every single angle. From animal raising, to manufacturing, plant production operations, consumer insights, retail marketing, and product development, Molly is the perfect person to talk about this topic today because she is passionate about meat, and she is empathetic about serving customers successfully. Let’s learn from Molly about what it takes to make a brand successful in today’s marketplace.
So…we’re visiting with Molly McAdams, former executive with H-E-B Grocery. She and I worked together at H-E-B and have many stories to tell and many stories NOT to tell, right?
MOLLY: That’s a true story.
ED: True story, that’s right. Let’s talk a little bit about empathy and marketing. Molly, there was an article that was released recently that basically positioned empathetic marketing as a new thing. You know, I don’t know if I necessarily would have referred to it as empathetic marketing. But when I look at some of the brands I admire, and have admired over time, their purpose seems to be connecting with the individual consumer versus selling to an audience.
MOLLY: Mm hmm. Yeah, I agree. And I think that kind of the way to look at that is if, if you can actually kind of get in your consumer’s shoes and walk around for a little while. You have to really feel what they’re going through to get a brand that really resonates with them. I think some really great marketers do that naturally. And I, just personally, believe that that is the most enduring way to create a brand and present a brand to a consumer so that they can truly identify with it.
ED: Yeah, I do to and what I think that is interesting about, especially the last several months, is that, not that everyone’s doing a good job at it, but we’ve really been called on many fronts to really understand those around us in ways we never have.
MOLLY: Oh, absolutely.
ED: And to me, I think that’s what great marketers, great brands do- they understand their community and their product needs to resonate. You know, we started off talking about copywriting and we both have had experience in facilitating that, leading that, collaborating on that, and sometimes doing it ourselves, right? What I really want to visit with you on, for a moment, is product development. And how the empathetic eye, the empathetic card, plays into that. You’re kind of product-obsessed – you really love the nature of products. Tell me why you’ve always gravitated to product development and product creation.
MOLLY: Well, that’s a that’s actually a really good question. I’m not sure I can tell you exactly why. I don’t know that I’ve spent a whole heck of a lot of time introspecting on that, but I think I’ve always had a visceral response when I resonate with or personally identify with a brand or a product. My background is a little bit strange. So, my first year of college, I had this idea that I was going to be an art major and it turns out I’m really a terrible artist. And so, that was not a good choice. But I have this sensibility around appreciating artists and their process and how they do what they do. So, I’m glad that I have that sensibility. I’m also really, really happy that I figured out that I wasn’t going to be an art major. But then I got into the scientific field and my first year of school, and what I recognized is there’s a tremendous amount of art in science and the imagination that comes with science. So, whatever that background looked like, I actually think that the practical aspect of how my brain works is what got me so excited about product development, kind of this idea around “Oh, I can make that”. Wouldn’t this be a great idea? I can do that. And, you know, so thinking through, I still am very analytical about products that I see, and I try to figure out, how does it work? Why does it work? And more importantly, why do I find this to be the exact thing that I need right now? And it’s just got to go back to that weird juxtaposition of art and science together.
ED: You know, one of the principles that we have always attempted to employ with the brands we serve and the businesses we’ve created is the principle of selling the reward, not the product. And, you know, as we’re sitting here talking, what I realize is that before you can sell the reward, you have to know what the reward needs to be. And you have to empathize with those you think are most likely to be attracted to your brand and do something for them that they need. Because especially right now, there are not a lot of flippant purchases happening. There’s not a lot of “oh well let’s just buy that to buy that”. We’ve been pushed into a world where we’re having to weigh and measure most of our decisions, right?
MOLLY: That’s exactly right. And that in and of itself is where the empathy really comes in is that you’re able to feel, even if you personally are not having to make really difficult decisions, you need to be able to feel around you that others are. And that their difficult decisions may be completely different than yours. I think whether it is a kind of recessionary time where money is tight, or it’s where there’s a health issue that’s imminent or on the horizon, everyone is going to react to that in a way that is best for their family. It’s immediate, it’s tangible to them. And really what your job is, is to understand like, “Alright, some people are dealing with this, some people are dealing with that.” They’re worried, they’re concerned, they’re worried for their future, they’re worried for their family. And that’s where you try to figure out, “Okay, what can I do to help that? How do I assuage their fears? How do I get them better prepared?” Or if you’re developing a product, “What product is going to resonate now that they really need?” And that’s part of what I love about food marketing, too. Food, you know, it just resonates all the time. We all have to eat. I love that part about food marketing – if you get it right, you can really just make a huge difference in someone’s life.
ED: So like for example, in flavor development. How do you empathize the need for cilantro if you hate cilantro?
MOLLY: Well, you know what, I learned this at H-E-B, Ed. This was a great thing to learn, and that is: You personally cannot buy enough of what we need to sell. So, you’d better make sure that a lot of people are going to want it. Whether it’s heat, or heat-build, in a food, or the amount of carbonation in a soft drink, or the amount of salt, or cilantro when you hate cilantro – you literally have to take a tremendously unselfish approach. It’s wonderful if you personally love it. It really is because then it’s like, “Oh, this is great.” You develop a product, you love it, you interact with it all the time. It doesn’t matter if you personally love it. If it says cilantro, for example, it better taste like cilantro, or the cilantro lovers out there are going to be terribly disappointed in the way that you developed the product. That’s where a great team comes in, right? When you have really amazing people around you, who are so good at developing products, they should weigh your own personal decision. We come to the table as an expert, you come to the table as a product developer, or a flavorist, or a leader. But ultimately, you’re listening to these people around you that have these differing opinions and you really have to leave your own deep-seated personal preferences. You’ve got to leave them at the door – you just have to.
ED: You do. I’m sure you’ve been in the situation where working with a business owner, or a category leader, or your boss even, and how do you help them see beyond their own lens and feel confident they’re making the right decisions? Because sometimes when it’s unfamiliar, it’s much riskier to make the decision because you don’t have that personal bias to fall back on, that personal ownership.
Awesome, great visiting!
MOLLY: You too. Take care.