What's Working In Marketing™: The Idolatry of Innovation in Marketing with Brittany Hull, VP of Marketing at Earth's Own Food Company
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode, we spoke with Brittany Hull who is the Vice President of Marketing at Earth's Own Food, a company who is trying to change the world through "plantiful living" with their plant-based products such as their oat, almond, soy, and cashew milks. Brittany shares her views on how innovation layers into a marketing strategy, the importance of rooting marketing innovation in consumer insights, learning from failure, core marketing principles, advice for marketers, and much more.
You can listen to What's Working in Marketing™ – A Podcast by RightMetric wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts.
Here's a full transcript of my conversation with Brittany:
Charlie Grinnell: On this episode, I'm joined with Brittany Hull, Vice President of Marketing at Earth's Own Food Company. Thanks for joining me today, Brittany.
Brittany Hull: I'm excited to be here.
Charlie Grinnell: Likewise, likewise. You and I talked before this episode about the topic that we're covering today. And as we were kind of going back and forth, I just instantly thought, "Oh my gosh, I need to have her on the podcast." There are things that ... You were finishing my sentences and I was just like, "Oh, there's so much value here." So, I think what we ... How we typically start these episodes is, I want to kind of dive in and learn more about your journey to date. I want to go back to the beginning. And so, can you just kind of start with, how did you get into marketing and how has that evolved into your role today at Earth's Own?
Brittany Hull: Yeah. Well actually, I was going to be a hotelier. I was going to ... Working in hotels sounded very, very glamorous. Newsflash, it's not. It's a lot of early mornings and late nights and low pay. So, it was a terrible career path. But luckily my specialization in hospitality came on the back of a business degree, which is amazing and terrifying all the same time. Because unlike when you come out with a teaching degree, you know exactly what you're going to be. And I just didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I kind of did a couple of things.
Brittany Hull: When I talked to anybody who talked to me about what they did, if they had any semblance of being in business, just to get an idea of what was out there. And then the other thing I did is, back in the day, things like strategy online, they used to actually be print publications. You used to actually go and buy them at the store. And they used to be job postings in the back. So, this is 2000, around 2000. But what I did is I went and I pulled out all these job postings and pulled out the lines of the jobs that I ... Of the things that I wanted to do. And I basically built my own job description. And then I also built one of all the things I didn't want to do. And then-
Charlie Grinnell: That's smart. That's super smart.
Brittany Hull: And then I went to a recruiter and I was like, "What's this job? Because this is the job I want. So, can you help me find them?" And as part of this journey, I was put in touch with ... Through my dad, actually, someone who was ... She was a brand manager at Proctor & Gamble out in Toronto. And so, she was telling me about what she did. And I was like, "Wow, this brand management thing sounds amazing. I want to do this." So, it really started me on a path. But when I started talking to recruiters, they were like, "Listen, if you don't go to the big three schools, which is Western, Queens or UFT, don't even bother. No packaged goods firm's even going to talk to you. It's like a moonshot."
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.
Brittany Hull: And here I was this girl from the University of Victoria. And they're like, "You got nothing." So I was like, "Well, how am I going to let that stop me?" And so, I went and I made a list. And back in 2000, there was a lot more packaged goods firms. So, I was living in Toronto at the time and there was a lot more packaged goods firms than there is today, because today they've consolidated, so Kraft and Heinz were separate, Cadbury and Kraft were separate, Quaker and Pepsi work together. Yeah, so there was about 30 different companies that were based out there. And so, I made a list of all of these companies and all of the HR managers that actually worked there and their phone numbers. And-
Charlie Grinnell: What? This is pre-LinkedIn days. You just getting after. I love this.
Brittany Hull: No, there wasn't really even email for the most.
Charlie Grinnell: Crazy.
Brittany Hull: And so, on a three-week rotation, I would call them and be like, "Hey, remember me. I'm here. Any jobs?" And so, you get to know them all through this process. And I actually got quite a bit of interviews, but you know how they have those lists of what not to do in interviews? I did all of those things that you're not supposed to do. I learned so much and did so much wrong. But eventually I ended up ... My first job was as an assistant brand manager at Heinz working on Alphaghettis.
Charlie Grinnell: Whoa.
Brittany Hull: And the first day I got in there, I was like, "Oh my God, I'm home. This is my place. These are my people." And I haven't lost that feeling in 20 years. It's been an amazing journey. So, I spent a few years at Heinz in a couple of different portfolios. I worked on baby food. I worked on baked beans, canned pasta. And the thing about Heinz that I just loved is they are a general management packaged goods firm, which means firmly focused on running the business, running the P&L. So, all of the fundamentals that you're supposed to learn in your first job when you start out, I learned there and I learned from-
Charlie Grinnell: That's awesome.
Brittany Hull: ... really brilliant people that just taught me, yeah, just the basics. So, I spent a few years there. From there, I went to Ocean Spray, spent a couple of years there. And then I went to Kellogg's, a couple more years at Kellogg's. And that was an amazing organization, very different than where I started at Heinz, where we talked about this sort of general management. Kellogg's was all about a branding machine. So, that is what they are all about. And I learned a ton just about the value of branding and how to set yourself apart and what that means, and then really connecting with the consumer.
Brittany Hull: And that was also where that idea of, you've got to connect with the consumer and consumer insight in they spent a ton of money on research. It was so much great learning out of that one. And then from there, I went to Canada Dry and I spent a couple years on Canada Dry. I'm a brand manager running a $100 dollar portfolio, and it was just incredible. The neat part of that is we did this big restage where we looked at the positioning and the innovation pipeline and redesigned the packaging. And because the business was bigger in Canada than the US, it is actually a North American exercise that got led out of Canada, which never happens.
Charlie Grinnell: That's rare.
Brittany Hull: It's really rare. So, that was an incredible opportunity. And then, I had been in Toronto for about 10 years and I realized I was missing home and I had met my husband in Toronto, and it was time to start a family, and come back to Vancouver. So, that's when I came back. And then the thing I found that was really interesting about Vancouver versus Toronto is in Toronto, you get career progression by working for different companies. So, same stream, work your way through different companies. In Vancouver, it's all about different industries. And mostly because there just isn't the same breadth of companies within a certain vectors.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Brittany Hull: So, I did a number of different things. I worked in liquor. I launched Tolling for the government out here.
Charlie Grinnell: Crazy.
Brittany Hull: I built a brand team from the ground up at Vega, which is a plant-based protein company. And then my old boss at Marc Anthony, which is the first job I got in Vancouver was ... He was at Barsoum. He was like, "Hey, can you come over and join?" So, that's how I ended up here.
Charlie Grinnell: Wow. What a journey. I feel like there's so much there. Just, the thing that sticks out to me, are you a foodie outside of work?
Brittany Hull: I do. Now I have two kids, so that really kind of kiboshes a lot of the fun foodie things that I get to do, but yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. Because I'm like, "Oh, that's interesting." You've touched, it sounds like, every area of food and beverage, so to speak, whether it's booze, or packaged goods, or whatever. And that's ... I don't know, I feel like that's very, very unique over such a long period of time because, to your point, I often see people in my network kind of jumping around from thing to thing, industry to industry. So, huh. Super, super interesting. I want to dive into the topic at hand here, innovation, this word innovation.
Charlie Grinnell: I feel like this word is, it's such a buzzword in marketing, at least from my perspective. I think it's one of those things that we've seen in business that is necessary, especially on the product side of things. But, there have been contrarian points of view or opposing points of view where this idea in the business community that innovation is over-hyped and it's kind of led to this mentality of innovation for the sake of innovation. How do you see innovation fitting into just marketing as a whole?
Brittany Hull: Well, I mean, it is necessary, but I think the thing that we need to keep in mind is everything we do in marketing has got to be rooted in consumer insight. And if it's not rooted in something that a consumer actually wants, you're wasting your time by working on it. I always go back to the amount of time and effort it takes to launch something is the same, regardless of if a massive success or a huge flop. So, you got to spend your time on the right things. The other piece of it is, there's an opportunity cost, working on innovation, because when you're working on that, you're not working on your base business. So, you've got to be able to balance out innovation as part of the overall mix. And if it's not, again, addressing a real consumer need, then it's not worth you spending your time on.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I think that reminds me of going back to that thing of innovation for the sake of innovation, I felt like I've seen it used as almost like a crutch in the past, or this kind of shiny object syndrome, kind of like the word ... Like in e-commerce, like new or sale. It's just a word that we're like, "It's innovation, box check." And we kind of go on from there. Do you think there's a sweet spot or a Goldilocks zone where innovation fits into marketing or brand strategy?
Brittany Hull: Yeah. And you do need it. And that's ... So, first thing I'll say is you have to have a solid base. If your brand base isn't solid, there's no point of layering innovation on it. The bright, shiny syndrome thing is real. It does actually serve a bit of a purpose, because every time you ... You need to bring new news to the category. There is also a product life cycle where as new products, you launch them, other ones are coming down. So, you need to try and keep your volume solid by having that balance of mature and new products. New news also helps to signal to a consumer to re-look at your brand.
Brittany Hull: But there's no point in bringing back your brand if the rest of your portfolio actually doesn't stack up. And same thing with retailers, it gives you a reason to go and talk to retailers about the rest of the portfolio. So, it definitely serves a purpose. But again, the thing is, when you have new innovation, you got to go find consumers to buy it. So, it's either you're stealing from your existing, which doesn't make you any more money, or you have to go out and spend a lot of money to tell people all about it. Versus, you actually have an existing base of consumers already buying your brand product. And if you can just spend, even the same, you often will get a better return by nurturing what you've already got, rather than trying to go get that new one.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I mean, that's kind of the age old saying of like, "It's better to retain an existing customer, then go get a net new customer because of that cost."
Brittany Hull: Yeah. Yeah. That's it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. And I think if you were going to kind of break down ... This is a followup to that. If you were going to break down how innovation fits as one of the core components around a marketing strategy, what has been the process in order to identify those different core components?
Brittany Hull: Yeah. So, I'll start by saying I'm a really logical marketer. I'm not a flashy ... I logic things out. So, when I look at anything and it can be innovation, it can be anything, but you start with your core consumer, your insight and you figure out ... And you get to know your consumer really well. So, if there's anywhere to start, spend all of your time really understanding who it is that' buying your product, and then figure out how do you position what you've got or your product to fit that needs. Then you break it out and then you build your innovation, your content pillars, that address the positioning that address the insights. So, you layer it down to the point and then you end up with a mix and that's the key part too, is you have to have it as part of a mix. It's one piece of many. And then, how do you bring it all back together?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that the layer thing is something that resonates with me. When I've built strategies in the past, or when we get asked about strategy at RightMetric, this idea of causal or contextual linkage and how stuff fits together. And yeah, that logic, I feel like what you just said there is something that so many marketers just need to remember in general. Like, "Hey, we're not ... " It isn't this crazy advanced math equation that we're doing here. It's like, "How can we put this together and build this in a way that structurally makes sense, that top to bottom are linked together in a way where you can do things at a tactical level that point up to where you're trying to go as a business, or what you're trying to do as a business?"
Brittany Hull: Yeah, I think that's it. And I think the other thing that people sometimes miss too, is that there are those logical steps that don't go straight from product and tactic, that you actually have to layer it down. It's not rocket science. And that's the thing about marketing is it's really logical. You just got to think it through. And I think we can get caught up in the bright, cool, new things. The other thing is, marketing at its core, hasn't really changed. You get new channels and you get a new of doing things, but the logic still applies.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Brittany Hull: Your consumers at the core know what they want and then figure out what products you can make to deliver on them. And then you just talk about those things in a way that actually resonates.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Yeah, it's funny you say that. I think about this framework in my mind, where if you have objective strategy tactics and then say measurement, right? Those are those four areas. How if you built that properly ... Let's say you take that framework and you apply it to your business and you build that properly, it almost actually narrows down the choices out there in this shiny object syndrome. Because when you get really clear on objectives, those objectives are going to help steer you towards the strategies, which are going to help steer you towards the tactics, which then is going to steer you towards how you measure it. And having all those things linked, it becomes this really crowded thing, but then a bunch of options just automatically cancel themselves out because it's just not relevant to what you're trying to do.
Brittany Hull: Yeah. And the other thing I put a lot of stock into is really understanding your north star. So, what is it as a brand that you stand for? And be really, really clear on that. Because then you also don't get mixed up with all these kinds of things that you could do, but actually don't make sense because they don't know what your north star is all about.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. That brings me a followup question, actually. I was talking to a company that had me in for a lunch and learn. And one of the things ... I kind of talked through that framework of objective strategy, tactic measurement, and a question that I got was, "What if your objectives aren't very clear?" And that was a really interesting question for me. They're like, "You, as a marketer, who sat in the marketing seat, what do you do when you're not getting the type of objectives or clear objectives for you to execute against?" And I kind of was like, "You got to push. If the C-suite is steering the ship and having that north star, it's super, super critical. But as a marketer, without those clear objectives, it's kind of hard for you to activate against that." What do you think about that?
Brittany Hull: I think at the end of the day, you have to be really clear on who you're ... I feel like I'm talking like a broken record, but be really clear on your consumer. And then, your objectives really deliver on your strategy and your strategy delivers on what your consumer needs. So, if your objectives aren't clear, then you're not doing a good job of defining them. Because you got to figure that stuff out.
Charlie Grinnell: I agree. I think it's one of those things where even just setting objectives in a way is a tough thing for marketers to figure out, right? But it does go back to that point of customer insights, or industry insights, or whatever. There's a level of insight that informs all that stuff. And so, I think you saying, "Oh, I feel like I sound like a broken record," I think, to me, that just highlights the importance of it. You can talk about it in whichever way it wants, it all comes back to that. As marketers, what are we trying to do? We're trying to understand how people behave and figure out a way to put our brand in front of them in a tasteful way that can hopefully get them to take an action that we want a business outcome from. And so, yeah, you need to look before you leap, I guess.
Brittany Hull: Yeah, I was find ... Also, the interesting thing is it can apply to things that you actually don't know that well. And I'll use an example, as you can tell, I grew up in marketing before digital was a thing. Okay? I'm reaching my 20th year being a brand marketer. And I remember the time when people were like, "Oh my God, should we actually invest in this online digital advertising? Is it really going to go anywhere?" Anyway, I digress. So, we brought digital in-house at Earth's Own about a year and a half ago. And we had to come up with a digital strategy. And because I'm not naturally a digital marketer, you kind of had to just logic it through.
Brittany Hull: So, it goes back to, what's the business strategy? Okay? What's a digital strategy that addresses the business strategy? How do we break the digital strategy into core components of content that addressed it? And then your tactics all come up. But just by water falling it down, it makes it much easier to figure out what content buckets you could play with. And I think what I've found with a lot of digital agencies is they go straight to pretty pictures and captions and that whole upfront piece, where you actually kind of logic out how the strategy ties back to your business strategy and how your core content buckets actually link up, is missing.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Brittany Hull: And you don't have to know about digital just to be able to logic out how that can play out.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, I think that going into the why ... Yeah, anybody can spin up a campaign that looks great. Why are we doing this? What does this actually do for us as a business? And it goes back to a quote that ... Paraphrasing a quote from a buddy of mine who I used to work with back in the day at Red Bull. He coined marketing as, "Art for the sake of commerce," commerce being the key word. And so, to your point, this thing of like, "Oh, this is a pretty picture. Our Instagram feed looks good. Or this brand video is cool." Why? What are we doing here? What is the purpose? If you want to go make pretty pictures, the art gallery is just down the way, go for it. But, this is a business function that has to support a business. I don't know. I'm very bold [crosstalk 00:19:06] in sitting on that side of the fence and that might piss off some creative people who might listen to this, but-
Brittany Hull: Well, there's a reason that they pay us to do our job, to be fair. If we don't bring in the ales and we don't actually sell anything, I don't have a job.
Charlie Grinnell: Facts, absolute facts. Hard hidden facts. Yeah. I could not agree more. I want to continue on, you were talking about consumer insights. You were talking about understanding your north star. You obviously do some work looking at competitors, how do you stay up to date with that and how does that fit into as you approach building out strategy, right? You obviously have a good idea of where your brand has come from, where your north star is trying to go, talking to your customers. How do you use market intelligence to shape your strategy?
Brittany Hull: It's a really good question because I think we've all been victim in the past, and a lot of brands keep looking to their competitors to figure out where their strategy is. And we learned a few years ago that it was better for us to be firmly focused on the consumer and the consumer insights and being aware of what the competitors are doing, just so that we're not blindsided, but it's almost irrelevant, because they can do what they do. And we will continue to focus on delivering against a core consumer need in a way that is relevant and engaging. And so, by focusing on our north star, it doesn't matter what our competitors do.
Brittany Hull: They can ... And we've also been able to cultivate a tone, and a personality, and a purpose that whatever they do, it doesn't affect that. We just keep doing our thing and making sure that the consumer is firmly in our focus. And then it's really hard to go off the rails, because so often you end up getting distracted by what a competitor's doing and you react and you take your eye off the ball. And I've seen that happen over, and over, and over again. We stopped doing that at Earth's Own ... We did it for years. We kept watching the competitors. When we stopped doing that, we actually started to win in the market because we ended up following our own path and the path that was laid out by what consumers want.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Makes a ton of sense. I want to switch gears here again. You've talked a lot about your background, the brands that you've worked with. What brands do you look at today for inspiration? If you're ... Almost with your marketing hat and maybe your non-marketing hat, you're like, "Oh my gosh, that brand can do no wrong." I'll give an example. Apple can literally do no wrong for me. They could release cardboard and I'm like, "Here, take my money. Have it." Who is that brand for you and why?
Brittany Hull: I think there's a ton of brands that are doing some really awesome things, and inspiration totally comes from everywhere. I love how SmartSweets, they took an insight around this vilification of sugar and they really made it permissible to love candy again. I love Away. You know Away?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, luggage.
Brittany Hull: Yeah, luggage. So, they took something that is typically product shots, like really traditional luggage shots, and then they pivoted to really concentrate on content and what you can actually do with their product, rather than just focus on, "Hey, buy our product." Glossier is another one that I love, where they really started with the consumer and they continue to keep the consumer at its core and then they create products in response to what those consumers need. I mean, there is a ton. There's a ton of brands that are doing it well and I think ... You and I talked about this when we first started talking is, ideas can come from anywhere and it's not even about needing to be first.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Brittany Hull: It's about being able to take inspiration and call things that are just ... There's tons of great ideas. And how do you pull one great idea that these guys are doing, and one great idea that these guys are doing, and then you make it your own? And again, because everybody's got a different brand, and different position, and a different way of speaking, you can take it in-house and you make it your own regardless. Good ideas can come from absolutely anywhere.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, I feel like almost that curation becomes innovation, right? It's taking those little pieces and being like, "Yeah, we're curating this." And these components put together, become this innovation in the eyes of the consumer. And then, you're kicking back being like ... They're like, "Wow, this is amazing. Look at this new thing." And you're like, "Oh, well. It's actually this. It's a bit of this." And I think about it almost in music production with sampling, right? How artists will sample tracks to make beats for hip hop or whatever. They're pulling inspiration from all over and then putting it together into this thing. It's-
Brittany Hull: I think you also need to be humble and realize that you don't know all the answers.
Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely.
Brittany Hull: Right? And I think ... I mean, I suffered from that, where you're coming up and you think you should, but you really don't. You just make your best guess based on everything you've known to date, and what you see, and you try things. Also, what I love about digital is the test and learn with digital is so much quicker and faster, and you're able to measure way better than you've ever used to be able to with other mediums.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think about with digital, it's almost, you can kind of use it as an optometrist. You put something out there and is it better or worse? Like, as they put the lens in front. Doing that with your audience or doing that with your customer base, you do get that feedback much quicker. You just sparked something in my mind. Well, two things. One, I want to go back to the brand thing. When you brought up Away, the one that came to mind for me was actually Yeti coolers, right? Where it's like, same type of thing. They took a product ... A cooler is not a sexy product. Neither is a piece of luggage, to your point. But, you hit the nail on the head. It's like, what does that product ... What type of lifestyle does that product enable? What does that allow you to go do?
Charlie Grinnell: So, that was one that I was like, "Oh yeah, I never thought of Away in that way." I always use Yeti as the example that came to mind for me. So, that's really interesting. But I want to talk about this thing about testing and learning. I want to talk about, has there ever been a point in your previous career, when you look back at campaigns ... And I have epic failures that I'm happy to talk about as we go on. Is there something where you're like, "Oh, we did this. This was the information we had at hand," and maybe you leaned too hard into innovation or into something else and you were like, "Whoa, that did not go how we thought it was going to go."
Brittany Hull: Oh my gosh, it happens all the time. I think that just comes with the territory. I also, I mean, I am a big believer in risking and if you don't risk, you can't win.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Brittany Hull: And failure comes along with that. And I mean, to be fair, risk all the time does not always work out. I mean, I've launched probably, to be fair, hundreds of products over my career.
Charlie Grinnell: Whoa.
Brittany Hull: So, a lot of things. Most of them aren't out there anymore. So, I think that that's the ... When you go back to the topic around innovation, I've also gone through a number of repositionings and most of that work still exists. So, I would say you always base your decisions on the information you have at hand. I've heard it well described as between 40 and 60%. Anything less than 40% of information, you don't have enough, and anything above 60, you're waiting too long. So, how do you take what you know, and you pivot, and you get flexible, and you learn, and you fail, and you learn again. I don't know if I can actually ... I mean, there's a ton of things that I could say that I launched and failed, or campaigns we've run and didn't work. But at the end of the day, I don't focus necessarily on all the things that didn't work. I probably focus more on the things I learned by going through those experiences.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And I guess it comes with the territory, right? To your point, marketing is not a perfect art or a perfect science, right? There's never going to be like, "Check mark. This is exactly how you do it." Like, "This is a math formula and X equals 10 and here you go." It's never going to be like that. So, yeah, I'm always interested to hear, "Man, I've had so many failures over the years and stuff." And I think people don't usually talk about that, but, "Oh yeah. These were the facts we had going in. This was going to work. This is why it's going to work. We had done some insights work and things had completely flopped." And I think we've seen that in history, whether you look at ... The big one that comes to mind for me is, remember 3D TVs?
Charlie Grinnell: Everyone was like, "This is the future. Oh my gosh, we're going to watch 3D TVs. Everyone's going to have their glasses. And this is amazing." I don't even want to think about how many of those things are in the landfill or in the recycling bin. That was something that was completely overlooked that has happened. But I also think you had to go through that to cross that off and go down that route to go, "Yeah. Okay. That was an innovation, a piece of innovation that we all thought was going to work and maybe they had ... " I don't know how they would've gone out and validated or tested that, but it didn't actually get us anywhere.
Brittany Hull: Yeah. We actually ... I think as marketers, particularly packaged goods marketers, we've gotten a lot better, even just in process, in getting to that point faster, to get to the learning, to the decision and move past it. And then take the learnings from going through the process and apply it to the next thing. So, we have ... And a lot of companies do now have Stage-Gate processes to go through innovation where you literally go through the thinking in a staged way, so that you don't get all the way to the end and be like, "Oh, we don't make any money." Or, "That was a terrible idea, and we just wasted eight months of our lives." We get there faster by going through these processes. And we just are able to take the learnings along the way.
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting. That idea of structured innovation, I feel like something that isn't talked about much. Just now, we hear about innovation, you've kind of heard me talk about shiny object syndrome, that sort of thing, but just when you broke it down like that, applying a logic, or a structure, or a framework to innovation, maybe that's the key.
Brittany Hull: Yeah. I mean, innovation absolutely plays a role. It's just about figuring out, how does it fit within your overall mix?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. There's a lot to think about there, but I know we only have so much time, so I want to switch gears again here. We've been talking a lot about innovation and innovation could still be a topic as we move forward here. But what are you most excited about when it comes to marketing brands today?
Brittany Hull: Oo.
Charlie Grinnell: As a marketer, you've been through a lot over 20 years. You've launched things, you've worked across so many different kind of categories within your industry. You alluded to being like, "Hey, should we invest in this digital thing?" I feel like that's such a unique point of view. What gets you fired up?
Brittany Hull: You know what? I'm really inspired these days about the number of brands that are really pushing themselves to think differently. So, this idea of risking and being not afraid to fail. And digital has opened up the world to so many smaller brands that just are doing things differently. When you had to be able to launch a product via TV, it really limited the breadth of what you saw. And so, there's so many of these up and coming brands out there that are bringing a really new perspective and they're not afraid to try things that haven't been tried before. So, I love that.
Brittany Hull: I also love the transparency and connectivity that brands have today with their consumers. So, this idea of ideas can come from anywhere. They're not always generated in ivory towers or focus groups, that there's this two-way dialogue that can happen between brands and consumers. And the ideas that come from brand advocates get implemented. That never happened before. We never had that loop. Or when somebody calls us up to say that we did something wrong and that we could have done a better job, we actually have the ability not only to take the feedback and actually implement it, but actually to reach back out to them and let them know that we did that. So, I love where this dialogue is going with consumers these days.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, it allows them to kind of hold businesses more accountable for things.
Brittany Hull: Well, people want their voices to matter and they want to be heard.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely.
Brittany Hull: And they are.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the thing that comes to mind with that is just lowering that barrier between ... Consumers and brands have been closer than ever before, right? With digital and with other things. And then, yeah. Maybe the way the internet has kind of hyper-connected people and acts as a megaphone, so to speak, for consumers, right? Before ... I think about my parents. My dad, he'll still write a letter to the editor, he'll still do that. And I'm like, "That's nice dad." Whereas, now writing a letter to the editor could be tweeting something and it gets picked up. And boom, you have this thing explode. Whereas, a letter to the editor, sure, maybe some people cut it out, maybe some people read it. And so, yeah. I wonder if this amplification of consumer's voices has contributed to that as well.
Brittany Hull: And I think that it also talks to the importance of cultivating and being very humble as a brand, and not putting out this persona that you know everything, because we make mistakes. All brands make mistakes and the ability to be able to own up to it, consumers respect that. And so, you need to be able to have cultivated a persona or a brand personality that allows for that dialogue, because when you screw up, which will, you need to get the forgiveness and the space to be able to one, own up to it, but also to not get vilified for it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. I want to ask a separate question. This is one of my most favorite questions that I get to ask on this podcast. Hearing your story about how you got into marketing, you were such a go-getter. You with a phone book would be dangerous, because you'd be a really great private investigator or a stalker to go find someone. I always found ... I dropped out of university. I actually never went to university for marketing or business. And the way that I've kind of learned everything is by reading and listening to things. How do you stay up to date on business or marketing? Who are you following? What are you reading? What are you listening to?
Brittany Hull: It's probably going to be a very unsexy answer. I read a lot. I do read a lot. I get recommendations. Or I often go back to books I've even ... Really great ones that I've read in the past and reread. One of my favorites that I keep going back to is Good to Great, but there's a ... I mean, there's a ton of really great business books out there. You learn from everywhere. So, I do a ton of reading. And again, the principles haven't really changed in marketing at the core for the last 50, 100 years. You can learn things that were written ... I mean, Dale Carnegie's book, it was written almost 100 years ago and it still has tons of nuggets that can be applied today. I also listen to a bunch of podcasts. I mean, ones that I love are Guy Raz's, How I Built This, and Under the Influence.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, Terry O'Reilly, Under the Influence is a great one.
Brittany Hull: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Brittany Hull: Yeah, those are just fun.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, totally. Yeah. I find it's interesting, when I get asked ... People in my network, "How'd you get into marketing? What was the thing? I think, I cannot underscore how important it is to just constantly devour information, and relevant information, right? About marketing. So, to your point, there are things where I'll do something similar, where I'll have read a book one, two, three, four years ago, something will come up that's work-related and I'll be like, "Oh yeah, there was something in that book. I'm going to go pull that book off the shelf, open it, reread that chapter and be like, 'Okay, interesting. That's how I can apply that to that.'" And I just think, yeah, I'm always looking for new things to read and new things to devour. Whether I'll retain it or not, that's a whole nother question. But hopefully it gets indexed in some way that I can use it in the future when the time is right.
Brittany Hull: Yeah. And it can be a lot. I mean, I understand some of these books are hard, slog reads. And you find great ones and you find ones that are like, "Okay, I'm not going to read that one again." I tend to alternate. I do like a book for me, and then a business book, and I like going back and forth. And then-
Charlie Grinnell: That's a good system.
Brittany Hull: Well, then I get motivated to read something that's more work-related, then just been able to shut my mind off for a little bit. I mean, like I said, I have two young kids, so it's usually reading before bed. And so, it'll take me a couple of months to get through something.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, for sure. I also feel like there's just no shortage of good books out there. My reading list is ridiculous right now. I'm like, "Okay, I guess I'll finish this in the next decade," to your point.
Brittany Hull: Well, and my team does it as well, but they do a lot of audio books. So, that's the other way to do it. I haven't gotten on the audio book train yet. I still like the physical, tactile, book, but most of the great ones are on audio books.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. What I've done actually is, I'll do audio books and I'll buy a physical copy, so I'll listen to it first. And then if there's something there, I'll find the ... When I get the physical one in my hand, then I'll go reread it, so I listen to it-
Brittany Hull: Oh, that's a good one.
Charlie Grinnell: ... and then I read it. And then also, I can actually have a bookshelf to say, "I've read and listened to all these books," as opposed to me just listening to things and being like, "Well, I don't read books." So, maybe that's a selfish interior decorating thing as well, I don't know. Okay. Last question for you. What advice would you have for marketers that they should keep top of mind as they move forward in their careers? I think something that struck me that I didn't know about you before this conversation was how scrappy and gritty you were to go out and use the phone book to chase down HR people way back when. I don't know, that just resonates a ton with me. But, yeah, you've been through a lot. You've seen a lot. Yeah. What would you say?
Brittany Hull: I have a couple of actually that I tend to share. One I would say, be broad. So, don't specialize early in your career. Like I said, there was no digital marketing when I started out and by being a generalist, I was able to find the opportunities in every role and then just kind of keep bringing those things along. So, being nimble and being ready to pivot based on the opportunities in front of you, I think is a big one. The second one would be to be very purposeful in your career. I made the mistake early on of waiting for my boss to manage my career. So, waiting for them to give me opportunities-
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.
Brittany Hull: ... that allowed me to learn. And what I'll say is, your path lies with you. So, look for the opportunities, ask for the assignments where you can stretch. Just keep your eyes open to areas where you can learn things and not just wait for them to land in your lap, because you're the only one. You're going to be the one who's most invested in your career. And no one else will be putting in as much effort as you will. So, be purposeful on what you learn and how you get there. The other one I found actually was a really good one for me, and I kind of learned this one by accident, is don't be afraid to take a contract versus a permanent role. I know a lot of people will only look-
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.
Brittany Hull: ... at permanent roles. I've had more contract roles than I've had permanent roles over my career.
Charlie Grinnell: Wow.
Brittany Hull: One, there's a lot less competition, because a lot of people don't want to take contract roles. And with maternity leave being a year in Canada, you can get really great experience in a company in a year, and often it will roll over into something you never knew would happen. When I worked for Ocean Spray, I was on a contract. There was only three people in the marketing team. And then there was two back-to-back maternity leaves. So, the chance of ... You never know where things are going to lead. The other thing I found really good about that is by being very purposeful when you go into these roles, you can go in and say, "Here's what I want to get out of this role over the next year."
Brittany Hull: And so, you go in with this almost proactive mindset of, "Here's my plan. Here's what I'm going to get." And then you just ... You'll get more out of these opportunities because you can wrap your head around what's actually possible. And then the other one I would say is there is no substitute for experience or time in seat. And I know that that can be a tough one for people of, to actually be able to move up really fast. But there is something to be said for going through a business cycle and going through something a couple of times for it to really get in your head.
Brittany Hull: And as much as you want to be a VP by the time you're 25, there's something to be said for literally just being humble, learning, failing, growing, making mistakes, and then learning from them. And you just need to go through the process in order to get all of those learnings. And so, when you try and skip it, you're really just losing out. So, I would just say, be patient and be purposeful and look for the opportunities in front of you because they're there. Don't just keep focused on, what is the next step, and maybe the last thing I'll say too is, the thing that I've learned is often people will go after roles because of the sexiest brand.
Brittany Hull: And instead of looking at how much a role has to offer. Like I said, I went ... One of my jobs was launching Tolling on the Port Mann Bridge, which is the unsexiest of jobs. But the government doesn't do marketing. And so, I had to hire a team and slew of agencies. I've got a great healthy budget. I got to run my own show and I was a marketing manager, because I went after an opportunity that was just really meaty on paper, but maybe didn't have the sexiest brand or company behind it. And I know people want to go after ... And look at the Lululemons, and the Aritzia's, and the big fancy ... There's a lot of great companies out there, but focus on the role, not on the company and it will lead you in the right direction 100% of the time.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And building that skill. I think one of the things that resonated with me from that is, you talked about going through the cycles, going through the process. It's like, you need to build that scar tissue as well, right?
Brittany Hull: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Of you falling down over and over again to realize like, "Ouch, it hurts when I fall down, and now I know what to avoid to not fall down because that hurt." Like, "The stove is hot."
Brittany Hull: That's exactly it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Brittany Hull: I consider myself really fortunate. One, I've been really lucky. I've worked for some really great companies and learned from a lot of really great people, but I also made a ton of mistakes along the way. And luckily, I made a lot of them really early and I learned from them all. My God, they were painful at the time.
Charlie Grinnell: They always are. But then you zoom out, or as you go on, you look back, you're like, "Yeah, that wasn't that bad. That stressed me out way back then, but that wasn't that bad."
Brittany Hull: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: But that's part of the process.
Brittany Hull: It's part of the process. And you have to go through it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I love that. Well, let's end it there. I want to thank you so much for joining me today. It was such a great conversation. I learn so much from you every time we chat, so I'm sure our listeners will as well. And yeah, I hope to see you at some point soon.
Brittany Hull: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I love talking about this stuff, so I appreciate you having me come and chat.
Charlie Grinnell: Thanks.
Brittany Hull: All right. Thanks, Charlie.
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