Ep 33: Unleashing an Overlooked Superpower

This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


statements, marketing, DEI, organization, people, commitment, words, employees, website, trend, values, feel, equity

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:04

Marketing can be an incredible force for good, it can inspire and motivate and make our world more just, equitable, and inclusive. But too often marketing perpetuates the status quo for a select few, rather than disrupting it for the greater good of all. This show looks to change that. Join me, your host, Eric Mills Barnhart as we usher in a new era of marketing, an era of marketing for good. Hello, hello, hello. This episode marks the one year anniversary of the marketing for good podcasts. I didn’t know this, so this was news to me, but 75% of podcasts don’t make it to their one year anniversary, that is a pretty high rate of attrition from podcast land. So I want to start today by saying a bunch of thank you’s. First and foremost, thank you, listener for listening and for sharing and for making it possible for this podcast to live to see a second year and hopefully more after that. There have been so many great moments on the show, I was just going back and relistening to things. And it was a little like, you know, my birthday is around the same time and so you know, you go back over the past year and you’re like, oh, I remember that. I mean, during COVID it’s been a little not only like, I remember that in a good tone of voice for like, oh, yeah, I remember that too hmm. It’s just been really interesting to, against that backdrop, go back and just hear the nuggets of wisdom from all of the folks who have been so gracious and taking their time to come on the show and you know, share their wisdom and wit and big hearts and smart thoughts and awesome tips and all the rest of it. So thank you to all of the guests for sure. You know, anniversaries and birthdays really are a wonderful time to reflect and you know, kind of look back so that we can move forward. And in listening to the episodes, it was interesting, I wasn’t sure what was going to emerge, but two themes emerge that align with things that are happening that are afoot as a word more broadly, that are really markedly different than a year ago. So in this anniversary episode, I want to take a look at those trends. And then share an example of an organization that exemplifies or, offers an example of what it looks like when you are part of these trends and you’re kind of incorporating them into how you’re working. The first is getting real about diversity, equity and inclusion. And the second trend is getting real about employee engagement much more broadly. Let’s start with getting real about DEI. There’s a lot of acronyms for this work. And so I just want to start by saying it’s always a little dodgy to use any acronym it is jargon, I advise against it generally speaking, especially in messaging, but I know that I’m gonna go there and say that. So when you hear me say DEI, that’s an acronym for diversity, equity inclusion, something that we have talked a lot about on the show, also about being anti racist, which is part of that work, right? I mean, a year ago, George Floyd was alive. And his murder along with wrongful deaths of so many other black people, Briana Taylor, Eric Garner, this list unfortunately, goes on and on. It ignited a movement that was long overdue or amplified, it was already in process. And this movement has made its way into our culture and into our organizational cultures. Every single client I’m working with and talking to just in terms of other organizations, even if I’m not working with them, they’re trying to figure out how to infuse their commitment to DEI into everything they do. Sure in our conversations, the question is, how do you include it in a way that’s authentic and true, like not overstating what you’re doing into your messaging and marketing. And you know, Kate Slater, and I talked about this in our episode, but it’s, you know, it’s coming up again, in the broader landscape and Marlette Jackson and Erin Dowell talked about this in Episode 22, which is the fact that woke washing isn’t going to cut it, like you just can’t slap a DEI statement on your site and be like, check, we’re good. We did it. Those statements are, they’re a great start. And you know, they say that, but that’s all it is, is a start. And you might need to start there, right? I mean, this work is a journey. It’s not a destination. So if where you’re at is a DEI statement, as a standalone statement on your website, at least your you know, raising your hand to be on the journey. But if that commitment doesn’t make it any further than a bunch of words on your website, it’s not really a deeply held value, is it? I mean, you’re not making a more substantive commitment to it. You learn if you’re living your values, I mean, you’ll learn if you’re living your values, not when things are easy. But when they get rough when they get challenging when you’re grappling with how to honor them. I actually just had this happen, I’ll share this with you. So after 10 years, Claxon is redoing its website, I cannot believe it’s been 10 years, on many levels, anyway, it has been apparently. So we’re redoing the website, which I’m super excited about. Long overdue needs to happen and we got to a point where we’re trying to make choices about images. And because of how the websites coming together, we need images of kind of like, you know, that really focus on at most like three people, but they’re not going to be a whole bunch of people, because that’s just not gonna work. And so what I was struggling with as a leader of Claxon is how do I honor our commitment, my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. For me, I knew even though Claxon works with primarily predominantly white institutions PWI or organizations, that’s where our work happens. It also didn’t feel right to just yet again, have another website where the only images, the only faces you see are white people. On the other hand, it didn’t sit well with me to have it be a whole bunch of people of color because it felt like we were tokenizing and also being inauthentic about where most of our work happens. And so gratefully, I know Priya Saxena of Equitable Futures, I am somebody who is committed to DEI but I’m not an expert, but Priya is an expert. She’s a DIE consultant, and I just have so much gratitude for her. Because Priya came through and took a look at our websites and they were like, do this, don’t do this, you know, and just really helped us honor our commitment and live those values on the website. But boy, it was really tricky. And I genuinely wasn’t sure how to move forward. So we need these people like Priya who, like know, that think deeply about it, and really can help us move forward. And we’re seeing more companies start to speak up about things, you know, things that affect people of color, disproportionately, and negatively, like voter suppression, we just saw that happen. And more leaders are stepping up and saying we need to go on this journey. I mean, the mere existence and proliferation of DEI statements is markedly different than a year ago. And although I worry, I mean, I really do worry that this commitment will fade, as it has so many times in the past. And yet this time, it does, it does feel different. So I’m hoping hard that this is in fact a trend, that will become a norm. Like I really hope and I don’t know what the time horizon is, but I’m hoping that sooner rather than later, that it is the norm, it was almost to be taken for granted that you will not just slap the DEI statement on your website, but that truly organizations are living into that and it’s part of the culture. So I’m hoping it’s not a fad that will fade, that it is a trend that will then become a norm. So that’s the first thing that of course, we’re all seeing that play out in so many ways in our society. But definitely when you look at the episodes from the past year has been a theme. And then the second trend is around broader employee engagement. And part of why I’m actually optimistic that diversity, equity inclusion might become a norm is that employees are expecting it, they’re demanding it. And companies are paying attention to that. So employers are being engaged more broadly in efforts around brand purpose, which you know, this can be a piece of that also in terms of strategy, and just you know, places where it has been more siloed that work has you know, live in the C suite or like with a marketing team or you know, with HR and but it is becoming a horizontal rather than a vertical. So, I’m hoping that this will lead to organizations finally getting serious about unleashing one of the most overlooked marketing superpowers that’s available, doing the work to come up with consistent messaging and giving employees a consistent way to talk about the organization. In most organizations, if you ask 50 different people to answer the question, what do you do or what does your organization do? You’re going to get 50 pretty different answers to that question. And this is a total missed opportunity. Because we know still to this day, word of mouth marketing which can happen, I mean, let’s just clarify word of mouth can be like you and I are chatting word of mouth, but it also plays out on social media. So virtual word of mouth, I suppose we could call that. So not bringing consistency to this, it’s like, let’s say, you know, if you’ve ever watched it rain, and you’re like sitting by swimming pool, which that’s not a great combo, but let’s roll with it. You know, it is the difference between little drops of rain, you know, all over the pool. So they’re having a little bit of an impact. But imagine if you brought all of those together into one great big droplet of rain and boom that landed in the pool. That impact is deep and broad. And it’s focused energy. Right? It’s like somebody’s doing a cannonball into a pool, really, which I think we all have had the pleasure of being poolside when that has happened if not doing it ourselves. So that’s the difference, right? It’s like, why not harness all this energy, it’s happening anyway. But harness it so that it can advance your organization in a way that is consistent and compelling and all of those things. I mean, it is why they acknowledged the word of mouth marketing as one of the most powerful forms of marketing. And yet, interestingly, most organizations don’t like actively invest in it. It’s like acknowledge, but then the thing is, you’re like, what would that mean? And then you have this resource. And again, increasingly, and Akhtar Badshah talked about this, and he talks about his book, employees are motivated by purpose, about the overlap between their individual purpose and the company’s purpose. So it’s, I mean, it’s like, you know, it’s like Clark Kent, before he becomes Superman, or, or it’s like when Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCartney, McCarthy? Melissa McCarthy? Yeah, that’s right, I think? Well, okay, Thunder Force is this new super hero movie that came out, watch it if you haven’t already. It’s delightful. But it’s like, you know, they were amazing and awesome, and then got the superpower and with that unleashed, you know, was so much more powerful. It’s a similar thing. So that’s another deeper, broader employee engagement, also seems to be a trend and was a theme in the interviews and in the conversations I had with guests over the past year. So if you’re committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and being proactively anti racist, and you see the value in investing in word of mouth marketing, you would invest in the creation of two things. So a set of identity statements, we’ll talk more about that. And also investing in create a culture where everyone in your organization has the superpower to drive word of mouth marketing, because there’s consistency in terms of how people respond to the question, what does your organization do? So it talks about the identity statements in Episode 27, but let’s review, because you’ve heard these words before, but different people talk about them and use them differently. So in the framework that I use, you have, in the framework that I use, which I’m very familiar with, I actually am not going off the script today. So that’s making this you know, a bit more ad-libby, I suppose, let’s see if I can remember them values: the principles that guide your work, vision: where you’re going, and why, purpose: why you as an organization exist and the mission: what you do and how you do it. And it’s, you know, it is a little bit different. Sometimes folks are like the mission statement needs to have the why and the what and the how, and that just weighs down your mission statement. It’s like asking one statement to do all of these things. And then we see like semi colons, it’s super long run on sentences, and you’re like it has do everything. Whereas if you split these things apart, and you remember, this is meant to be the essence of who you are as an organization, that’s the job of the statements, then it kind of free’s, you know, free’s up some energy, as it were. So how exactly do we get to these statements, and empower folks to use them? Right, so that’s the part two to this. So I said I was going to share an example, and the example that I want to share is of the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, where I have the great good fortune to be on faculty, we recently got a new Dean, Dean Jody Sanford, and she before she even started, said, “you know, I really want to be clear about our purpose about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it”. And so I got to be part of the process where we articulated our identity statements. And so those are optimized to be read not said, and this is an important point. I mean, oftentimes, we write this set of statements, and they are optimized to be like I said, read not said, well, then we try, you know, when we asked folks to you know, use them as the elevator pitch or whatever. And of course, you know, we sound like robots. Unless you’re doing like a standard deliver, right, you’re giving a speech or something, then then you could kind of read them. So you have to be intentional about that translation from written statements to a verbal response or a more casual response again, it’s like virtual word of mouth idea. So let me share with you, I’m going to give my version of the translation from these very powerful statements. So now when somebody asked me and I love having this language to be honest, I’ve been associated with the other school, well, I went there, so I am an alum, but yeah, taught there and served in various capacities for like 15 years and just haven’t felt like I had this language. So, I’m living through the experience, which I don’t get to do very often, so it’s pretty cool, of how empowering it is to have this language. So now, you know if you were to say, “so you’re at the Evans School, what is the Evans School about”? I would say, “really fundamentally what we’re focused on, our mission is to co create solutions to pressing societal problems” right? “And we do that by educating leaders, generating knowledge, and hosting communities, again, in service to co creation. Because we exist as a school to inspire public service and democratize public policy. And I’m happy to like talk more about what those you know, sort of lofty ambitions mean. But when you get down to it, you know, what we want to do, our vision is an inclusively built societies powered by collective wisdom, brave leadership and rigorous action. So that, you know, that’s where we’re going and why and that’s kind of about how and what we do and just, you know, in case it’s of interest to you, the Evans schools values are equity, courage and service. And so there’s like a direct correlation between this idea of co-creation and our commitment to equity, and to service which we define, as you know, being committed to discovering and daylighting disparities, taking anti racist action and dismantling systems or oppression, you know, different people to find equity differently, but for us at the Evans School, that’s how we define that. And then service, that we have a responsibility to think beyond ourselves and act to uplift all.” So would I say all of that, I don’t know, it would depend on how interested they looked after I said, you know, what we’re about is co creative solutions to pressing societal problems. And if they’re eyebrows went up and that seemed interesting, I would go on, if I got like, you know, no reaction or like, whatever, co-creating blah, blah, blah, then, you know, we would we would move on to talk about the Seahawks and whether or not Russell’s going to stick with us or not. So that’s an example of the statements and how they can you know, how they can work in a verbal setting. So in the more casual the setting, the more casual you would you know, you would want your delivery to be so let’s get super tactical, because it’s like, that’s all well and good. Erica, thanks for the example. But how do you get from maybe where you are right now, to engage employees and external stakeholders as well, by the way, like a broad engagement to that distillation of essence. So at the Evans School, and this is pretty standard, we sent out a survey to all the different stakeholder groups, so faculty, staff, students, alumni, other members of the community, right, but they all had an association with the Evans School. And just to be clear, like, I was not like, “what do you think the mission statement would be”? Oh, no, we deconstruct to reconstruct. So what you’re asking for is input actually, on individual parts of speech. What adjectives would you use to describe the school today? What adjectives do you hope people will use to describe it five years from now? That allows you to see how far you know, you might need to go? How big is that gap? What verb best represents the change that we’re committed to create in the world? Right? So it’s a very, like, laser targeted set of questions. And I will say, like, I’ve done this, you know, maybe hundreds of times at this point, but definitely dozens and dozens, people love filling out this survey, like parts of speech, yay, they will say like, that was hard, I sort of forgotten what adjectives were. But in general, every client I work with gets, like really great engagement on that, and people enjoy it. And therefore, wherever you land with the statements, you know, the adoption of them tends to go really well. So sometimes, you know, you can just do the survey and stop there. Other times, you’re going to want to get more qualitative input. So kind of focus groups, at the Evans School, because of Dean Jody’s work, we held world cafes, which are sort of a variation on focus groups. And this was because, you know, for her, this wasn’t just about, she didn’t come to me and say, we want to try word of mouth marketing, she came and spoke with me and others, and said I really want us to be clear on who we are going forward. So, these statements are being operationalized throughout the entire organization. And with that in mind, you know, she wanted to get this deeper sense of perspective. So that was another way that we gather data. And that gave us like a lot of information, both depth and breadth of information that then along with a few other folks, want to give a shout out here to Katie, Marie and Ben and of course, Dean Jody, you know, we started working on drafts, and we’d work on drafts and then we circulate them to key employers and decision makers that give their impact, their input we’d refine, and then we treat and we treat and eventually and you can you will be able to feel, feel when you’re done. And the sentences are complete. The statements fit together. You know, oftentimes when I’m asking for input, well, I never say what do you think? I often say, what do you feel? When you read those statements, how did it make you feel? Because that gives you different and more actionable insight. So like I said, now we’re turning this into action. You know, we’re revamping syllabus and learning objectives to be truly anti racist. We are assessing research and community engagement tuition, financial aid, I mean, this list goes on and on and on. And like everything is being run through the filter of these statements. So is everybody busting out pom poms in school, like, yay new language? No, change is hard. And this is change. But we are hearing things like, I see these statements and I feel proud to be an alum, you know, I feel a renewed sense of energy and commitment as a staff member or a faculty member, you know, quite a few folks have said they made me tear up in a good way. Right. So that’s the type of feedback that we’re getting from that process. And there does seem to be, you know, clarity and alignment around this, which is, you know, in terms of benefits of this type of engagement, doing this way that happens every time right, when I talk to clients after they’re like, we have so much clarity, and we have alugnment. So this is what we’re up to. And now at the Evans School, we need to do this translation bit, right. So it’s one thing to have the written statements again, but it’s another to kind of get everybody personalizing those statements, and to drive that word of mouth marketing. So when folks say, what does avid school do? There’s some consistency to what that response is. I’m hearing naturally, lots of gravitate toward that verb co-create, just hearing that pop up a ton. So we’ll probably looking for some consistency in that regard. And we’ll get there. And, we’ll have to create intentional space. And every time I work with a client, they’re like do we have to do a roleplay? And I’m like, yeah, let’s do roleplay. They’re like, I hate roleplay. And I am like, I get that, and yet, we do it in a specific way so it’s kind of fun. But the reason that I’m such a fan of that is because it you know, you can create safe space to play with the new language, which is, you know, a much, much kinder, more compassionate way of thinking about doing that translation, because change is hard. You have to proactively facilitate it. You can’t just expect folks to like gleefully change up their language, that just usually doesn’t happen. But you can, however, create that space and, and you’re not ever going to be like, you know, thou shalt help with word of mouth marketing. But because employees were invited into the process, they tend to go really invested in the outcome and open, open to that change, so long as they are supportive. And you know, also commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion means a commitment to your employees, current employees, and especially employees of color, and other folks who often feel marginalized. So, if you want to turn your DEI statement into a culture that’s living that statement, I highly recommend and encourage you to consider revisiting your identity statements, mission, vision, values, purpose, and including everyone in that effort. I know it sounds like oh, maybe overwhelming and dodgy, but you’re going to unleash this marketing superpower, and have folks feeling good about it along the way. You know, right now, things are tough. We’re emerging from COVID. But there’s a lot of uncertainty, most folks are pretty burnt out feeling pretty fragile. You know, as a leader, you have to move forward with compassion and a sense of urgency. And that is not an easy balance. COVID has burned a lot to the ground. For better or for worse a lot to the ground. It has forced our hand in a lot of ways. And you know, we’re left with a lot of questions about how to move forward, a path is not always clear. But one thing does seem clear from where I sit at the one year anniversary again of this podcast, which is now’s a mighty fine time and excellent time to define and refine your values, your vision, your purpose and your mission statements. Let language be part of the solution. Let words create some of the change you want to see in your life, in your organization, and the world. Words have energy with intentionality and focusing them in a specific direction. You know, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. There’s the action of putting words up to the world with intentionality and getting back what you are hoping to, so use words to stay true to your values. Your why, your what, your who, your how, will unleash a marketing superpower by driving word of mouth marketing. This is a virtuous cycle. So if this feels daunting, I totally get that reach out. We will figure it out together. Okay. In the meantime, thanks again for being a listener. Thanks for getting this podcast, the marketing for good podcasts to its one year anniversary or birthday or whatever. Keep doing the good work you’re doing. I’m so grateful for it. Take good care of yourself. Be well and I will see you next time.

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