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Understanding our voice and telling our story. That is something we all strive to be able to do. We want to know who we are and embrace it. And while most of us have dealt with and talk about the personal journey of discovery, we rarely think about how that same journey happens with the brands we know and love. Brandon Rhoten thinks about that constantly, especially since he became the CMO of Potbelly. On this episode of Marketing Trends, Brandon tells us why finding a company’s voice, and embracing that voice, will help them stick out from the herd. Plus he discusses his philosophy of how companies can work through the discovery process, including the struggles that come with striving to be different.

3 Takeaways:

– Ideas need to be based on who your brand is. Recognize it and play to that voice

– Low-risk high-reward campaigns are what get you noticed. Striving for efficiency will never get you noticed

– Groupthink holds companies back from creative ideas and prevents them from pushing the envelope

Key Quotes:

“At first a lot of it was just letting the organization get comfortable with data and the fact that it’s not about what your uncle thinks or the daughter of the chairman of the board or whatever. It’s about what actually will create enough demand that it’s worth talking. So a lot of the problem was just getting people comfortable with the idea of data and data collection and research and understanding where we can actually go to get business.”

“The liberating part about being an organization that really doesn’t understand marketing, and an organization that doesn’t really have a brand, is you can do whatever the hell you want. Whatever is right for the brand.”

“For a lot of organizations, marketing is a cost and you’re not a cost. If you’re doing your job, you’re an investment and you are an investment that pays back better than almost any other investment in the business.”

“Not to be facetious, but you need to have multiple layers. You need to have the thing that are hard-working, bottom-funnel, gets you a direct ROI, and then you need the shiny thing, the thing at the top that has the potential to get awareness and reach way beyond the buy. So, anytime we put a program forward, I always have that shiny thing on top that I can’t necessarily say that this is the direct thing that will give us the attribution we need to drive the end result. But what I can do is say, this gives us the potential to go way past the ROI that I know I could achieve in the lower funnel work.”

“I think that piece at the top, things that are better, Hail Mary’s, they’re low-risk Hail Mary’s, are a huge part of what’s important in marketing today. And if you ignore those and just go for efficiency and reach, you’re never going to do work that people actually talk about.”

“If you don’t at least have metrics you can point to that are real in the business, not vanity metrics that we invent because they make us feel good, the real metrics in the business like if you see your awareness change, if you see propensity to purchase change, if you see a controversial topic, you know shifts in perception. These are valuable.”

“Your job as a CMO or a leader in marketing is to get out of the way of good ideas and to make a path for them.”

“[External people said] ‘Why don’t you just look like everybody else?’ And the argument that my team had was, ‘Well, that’s the problem. That’s the reason everyone’s ignoring us. That’s the reason that we’re not growing is because we look like everyone else. And we don’t have a good story to tell if we look like everyone else.’”

“You have to push the boundaries and do what feels right.”

“Things that everyone says are good, are usually bad. The things that everyone in a boardroom nods to and says that’s great work, is usually going to fail nine times out of 10 because if there is consensus that it’s good, usually what that means is there’s nothing interesting. It’s just low-risk.”

“I hire really talented people and I trust those people because more often than not, the people that get you in trouble, also save your butt and ultimately get more love for your brand. And that’s what you’re looking for.”

Brandon Rhoten is a marketer who loves building iconic brands, often through modernizing for the digital age. Currently, he serves as the CMO for Potbelly, a publicly-traded sandwich shop with nearly 500 locations worldwide.

Prior to Potbelly, Rhoten served as CMO at Papa John’s for a year, with most of his experience in the restaurant industry occurring as the Vice President of Advertising, Media, Digital and Social Media at Wendy’s where he deployed holistic marketing strategies for Wendy’s, shifting focus from older and deal-driven to younger and equity-driven with an emphasis on social media and digital marketing. Rhoten developed digital and social teams from scratch, including brand voice on social platforms, leading to a top brand position on Twitter and was responsible for all marketing assets, media, and digital marketing.

His team’s work has been lauded by Forbes, Spin, Fast Company, Ad Age, DigiDay, Wall Street Journal, and Ad Week and has won dozens of awards including Cannes Lions, Clio’s, Effie’s, One Show, Ad Week Watch, US Hispanic Idea Awards, and Facebook Studio Awards. He has been a featured speaker at SXSW,, the Mobile Marketing Association (where I was a board member), SM2, Ad Week, 4A’s, ANA, and WOMMA. Named an Ad Age Top Digital Marketer.

Rhoten’s got his start in advertising at Gyro, a decorated agency based in London with 15 offices worldwide, as a senior PR consultant and account director working with tech and manufacturing clients.

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