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Reinventing Your Brand
Episode 674

Susan Meier, Founder and Principal at Susan Meier Studio

Reinventing Your Brand

In this episode, we have the privilege of hosting the outstanding Susan Hamilton Meier, a brand strategist, visual artist, and founder of Susan Meier studio. Susan discusses branding challenges in healthcare, thoroughly understanding the needs and perspectives of stakeholders, and delivering on what businesses are promising. She also shares her thoughts on the benefits of branding and messaging for clients, reinvention, working with smaller businesses, dealing with setbacks, and more. If you’re thinking of changing your branding, taking your branding and strategy to the next level, or you just need a boost of inspiration today, this podcast is for you. Please enjoy!

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Reinventing Your Brand

Episode 674

About Susan Meier

Susan is the founder of the Susan Meier studio. In her consulting practice, she helps marketing and sales teams across the health care ecosystem grow their brands and envision innovative ways to electrify their work. At the Boston Consulting Group, where Susan began her career, she became fascinated by the deep emotional connection that brands can build with consumers. She went on to work for a boutique branding agency focusing on customer research, product innovation, and packaging design, and has had the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading corporations, including Unilever, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Mars, Samsung, Genentech, Novartis and more. She holds her BA in art history from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard. 

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Saul Marquez:
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Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, Saul Marquez here. Today, I have the privilege of hosting the outstanding Susan Hamilton Meier. She’s a brand strategist and visual artist and the founder of Susan Meier studio. In her consulting practice, she helps marketing and sales teams across the health care ecosystem grow their brands and envision innovative ways to electrify their work. Drawing on her work as an artist, she brings a fresh, creative perspective to strategy. At the Boston Consulting Group, where Susan began her career, she became fascinated by the deep emotional connection that brands can build with consumers. She went on to work for a boutique branding agencies focusing on customer research, product innovation and packaging design, and has had the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading corporations, including Unilever, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Mars, Samsung, Genentech, Novartis and more. She holds her BA in art history from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard. Her own creative output includes paintings, sculptures, jewelry and children. And so, Susan, it’s such a privilege to have you here today, and really excited for our conversation today.

Susan Meier:
Thank you so much for having me. I am also.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. Susan, you’ve done some incredible work around just brands and strategy. And I mean, your creative background certainly offers a unique perspective. But what’s most intriguing to me and I feel like would be most intriguing to our listeners today is your focus on health care. Tell us a little bit about that and what sparked your interest in health care.

Susan Meier:
So I came to health care as my professional focus really well into mid-career. But I’ve always had an interest in my personal life and health and wellness and exercise. I’m a yoga teacher. I’m fascinated by science. And I actually subscribe to Science magazine like the nerd that I am. And so that has always been sort of a hobby interest of mine. I make my art about cells and biology and physics. So this has really been like a hobby interest of mine my entire life. But I didn’t study medicine. I didn’t go into that career professionally. And I was doing consumer goods branding, which is where a large part of branding work happens in the consumer goods world. And then a few years into starting my running my own independent consultancy, I started doing a lot of work when I started that business in the digital space and work started to come to me in health care technology, which I found really exciting because I love the idea of individuals having more control over their own health. And so I started working with folks like WebMD and then Medscape and Epocrates and Doximity.

Susan Meier:
And it’s one of those things where it’s word of mouth and suddenly you become this mini expert in this little sliver of the field. And the rest is history. I really started to focus on health care. I do about 80 percent of my work in that space today. And another thing I really enjoy about it is I can transfer all of that experience in branding, that really sophisticated branding machine, that food and beverage, Cokes and Pepsis of the world. They’re really smart marketers. They’re visually compelling. They think really deeply about their messaging and sort of learning from having those kinds of folks as my clients for 20 years. I can now bring that into the health care space where they’re busy coming up with amazing technology or new molecules. And they’re not necessarily thinking about the world from that perspective. And I’m able to bring that into that world in a unique way.

Saul Marquez:
I think that’s awesome. And in health care, we could certainly get a lot from a lot of wisdom on how these large brands are marketing, how areas like finance are implementing artificial intelligence and technologies. And I think your experience outside of health care and curiosity within health care is such a cool combination that I’m sure your clients benefit from. Talk to us about how you’re adding value to the health care ecosystem of what you’re doing.

Susan Meier:
So I think one of one of the things that I find really rich in value to clients and really rewarding for them and also fun for me is when we go out and speak to the constituents that they are concerned with and in health care, there are many different constituents and sometimes their needs and desires are not aligned. It’s a complex world. It’s more complex than selling cereal to moms. And so when you actually go out, the same rules apply as when you are selling cereals to moms. You want to go and talk to them, understand what their needs are, understand what their world is about, and then understand how you can better fit into that world and serve those needs. That same thing holds true when you’re talking about the health care ecosystem. And so I think where I have the most fun and add the most value is often when I get out and talk to patients, talk to providers, talk to pharma, depending on who my client is and what the scenario is, but really understand that complex intersection of needs here firsthand on the ground from those folks who are either using a device or providers who are dealing with payers, understanding what their actual experiences day to day and how my client can address their unmet needs and improve that experience.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that’s well said. And being able to dig into those specific use case scenarios, how we best approach those stakeholders. As you mentioned, health care is so complex. There are so many stakeholders. How do you approach them and what makes you approach them different and better than what’s available today?

Susan Meier:
Yeah, and I think another branding challenge in that context is that as a brand, you need to be speaking in one voice with one message. And that can be really complicated when you have all these different constituents. And so that’s really very much the art of branding is in a complex environment where you have these different stakeholders who are maybe coming at the world from different perspectives. How do you create a brand message that is not so generic that it’s generic, that is meaningless, but that is a big enough umbrella to hold all of those people’s needs and concerns?

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, you mentioned in one voice, one message. Talk to us a little bit more about that. I feel like there’s an opportunity to peel the onion a bit on that.

Susan Meier:
Yeah. I mean, I think I did work last year for a large payor. And if you think about how insurance companies work, of course, perhaps one of the more complex parts of the health care ecosystem. And so and we spent really a lot of time, in that case, interviewing providers, medical office managers. They had already done a lot of interviews with their actual end-users, consumers. And, of course, in the background, they’re thinking about regulatory environment, etc. But they were well, that was one of their key challenges, is thinking about how do we come up with a message? In this case, they were specifically thinking about providers, but they were constantly checking back and I was helping them constantly check back. So think about, first of all, what’s kind of true to what you actually can provide. And that, by the way, I think is the key to coming up with that umbrella message that is relevant to all your stakeholders, because the first thing that’s important is to go out and understand what they need and figure out how you can deliver it and what your message should be to address that.

Susan Meier:
But that message can’t be just telling people what they want to hear. It has to actually be grounded in something that you can actually deliver on. And this is, of course, a very big issue in the insurance industry, because what people want, it’s actually very hard for insurers to deliver on exactly what providers and consumers want. And so we spent a lot of time really looking then internally after we had done that external research, looking internally at other projects across all of their businesses. And we looked at where do we in the work that we’re doing to improve our business that touches providers? What can we point to genuinely that says, hey, we’re making strides forward toward the stuff that you guys care about? And so I think that that’s where once you start digging in, then in the navel-gazing piece to what’s real and genuine about what you’re doing, it becomes easier for that core message to bubble up. That does move across. Yeah. You know what? That is relevant both to our providers and to our consumers. And guess why? Because that’s part of our DNA.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And. You know, you call out the importance of not just telling people what they want to hear, but being able to fulfill that, and I think addressing that upfront could prevent a lot of issues on the back end. And I think companies, no matter what size they are, could often fall into this trap of just get them in the door, just get them in the door, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re delivering on what you’re promising. So that’s an awesome point to bring up. How would you say what you do has helped make business better for folks?

Susan Meier:
So I think well, I can give you a couple of examples of case studies, but just building on that point of the promise, which is relevant to the question that you’ve just asked, how do you make business better for folks? I mean, I think that part of how to make business better is that you are delivering on what you’re promising. And one of the things that I like to say is that a promise that you make as a brand to your customers is no different, should be no different from a promise that you make as a human being to your friend, your loved one. It should be something that you know, that you really mean and that you really want to deliver on in the very best way and that you think you’re capable of delivering on and that you absolutely do not break that promise. And if we think about our brand in an anthropomorphized way in that way, it can be really helpful. So what are some of the benefits of branding and how do I help deliver value for clients?

Susan Meier:
I mean, I think that the first and foremost, when they’re looking to do undertake a branding project, they’re looking for typically they’re looking for topline revenue growth or they’re looking to improve your brand awareness or conversion right to sales conversion. And so those are the things that as high level objectives that they come and or occasionally they’re looking to position themselves well to be sold or to attract investors. And so those are the kinds of objectives that they come to someone like me with. And that’s what we deliver on. And I’ve had great success with companies that positioned themselves well, and then we’re sold for many, many millions of dollars or that they, you know, experience exponential growth after they do this kind of holistic. Let’s look at our brand, let’s look at our messaging, and let’s look at our overall marketing mix. And guess what? We are able to then capture more share and grow the business. I think. So there’s sort of the how do you do the feel good part of we’re going to make promises we can keep and we’re going to keep those promises. And then how do you do the part which is that’s going to translate into actual growth? There’s a McKinsey study actually on they do studies on ROI of marketing, and their study has found that businesses that actually invest in branding and brand messaging without doing any other change to their marketing spend, they experience a 10 percent greater top line growth. And that’s branding. That includes that piece of customer research, listening to customers, gaining insights, and then putting that into their brand messaging. And I think that’s a pretty compelling number.

Saul Marquez:
It is compelling and something for all of us to think about that branding and brand message, what are you doing about that? And the answer is not much. Then maybe this time is the right time for you to start thinking about that, for all of us to start thinking about that, because I look at this time that we’re in right now as an opportunity to take a step back and rethink your approaches. I don’t know about you, Susan, but for us, this time during COVID, it’s been a total change and an opportunity to reflect on things like this, things that you’re sharing with us today.

Susan Meier:
Absolutely. I keep the word reinvention. I find myself continuously using during this time because, I mean, the whole world is being reinvented and we’re reinventing the way we work and where we work and how we parent and we’re reinventing everything in our lives. And so, yes, we are and should also be reinventing our businesses. And some of those things, particularly on the health care front, are quite obvious. OK, we’re telemedicine, explosive growth, reinventing the way that people go to the doctor. But every business in every way is thinking, oh, how do I take into account this incredibly new set of constraints, this new context that I’m operating in? I mean, look at hospitality. I mean, talk about reinvention. I have to turn the entire thing on its head. Oh, OK. We’re going to get into the shipbuilding business and figure out the heat lamps and we’re going to churn of brick and mortar retail location into a delivery business. And everyone’s thinking about this. It also for some folks, it’s a quiet time. It’s a downturn in their business. And that’s also a good time to take that moment to think about your brand, do those things that you don’t have time for normally when business is booming, and think about how to reinvent. I have a friend who runs a restaurant business and is now launching a coffee brand online direct consumer. And I think this just interesting like that ingenuity of like, OK, life gave me lemons and I’m going to figure out how to make something else. I’m going to go make grapefruit juice. Yeah. And I think that another thing in there that you said made me think of, you know, I do a lot of my work with large multi-million, multi, sometimes multi-billion dollar corporations. But another thing that I’ve been noticing recently and actually I’m very excited about doing is working with smaller businesses as people have approached me to say, hey, can you just help me out as I go through this, thinking about my brand and reinventing my brand or starting up a whole new thing moment.

Susan Meier:
And so I’ve been trying to develop a little tool kit that’s a little bit more of a DIY situation based on all of the work and the tools that I’ve developed over the years for use with corporate clients. All the same rules apply. If you have a couple hundred thousand dollar business or a couple of billion-dollar businesses, branding is the same Right. you’re thinking about Target. What do they need? What are what’s their world all about and how do I fit into it? You’re thinking about what do I stand for? What can I uniquely offer in the world and ultimately what is my brand promise? And so that’s also been kind of fun.

Saul Marquez:
Well, that is fun. And would you say that’s kind of how you’ve reinvented yourself during this period, or is that something you’ve been doing before as well?

Susan Meier:
Well, that is something that I was actually developing before this period of time. But I have found more people coming to me for that purpose in this period of time. And I think that’s why, because all this upheaval totally. And so that’s just been kind of a little piece of kismet that those two things intersected my wanting to do it and then it actually kind of coming to fruition. But yeah, I think that reinvention, that’s that’s the key word right now.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. And so we get some of our best learnings out of setbacks. Susan, tell us about one of your setbacks and one of the key things that you took out of it.

Susan Meier:
So I think when you run your own business, there’s any number of small, daily or infrequent setbacks, but I think there was a period of time. So I’ve been running my own business for 10 years and we started off hard. I want to start off. So we started off like everyone does when they start a business a little tentatively, like, will people actually pay us to do this if we hang out a shingle? And it was like from day one gangbusters, we were super busy. We were shocked and thrilled. And several years went by like that. And like we didn’t have a minute to breathe. We did the branding for the Obama White House. I mean, it was amazing. And then all of a sudden crickets and we went, OK, all right, let’s keep writing proposals. OK, great. We have a proposal from Pepsi. OK, now that’s no, you know, and it was one after the other. We just had this long dry spell. And, you know, that’s a big setback. It’s like this rude awakening and you go, was that all beginner’s luck? Did we just already tap out all of the networks that we had and now there’s no more? And there was definitely a serious reflection time there where we said, is this going to work? Do we want to keep doing this? And in the end, we did. And they’re so glad that I did. But there were so many moments where I was like, what am I doing? I should go get early like everyone else. And I’m so glad I did. Because what I realized I have realized I’ve been doing this for ten years, so maybe this is really obvious. But I am so wired to be an entrepreneur.

Susan Meier:
I just I love this lifestyle. I love the freedom to create my own tools and processes and frameworks and to cherry-pick the clients that I want to work with and to set my own schedule and all of those good things. And I’m actually very well suited to the chaos and need for flexibility and comfort with ambiguity is the phrase that you used to use, which I always found very charming. I’m very comfortable with ambiguity and I really enjoy that kind of the hunt and the chase of like, who am I going to get that new client? I would have lost all of those things if I had gone back into a job, which I could have done, gone back into. And so I think my take away from that us for learning is stick with stuff. Obviously, you don’t want to get stuck in a rut, but for someone like me who’s interested in lots of things and has more of a tendency to sort of be curious and bounce around, it’s actually something I have to tell myself all the time, like stay invest in this go deep or keep going even when it’s hard, even when it looks like it’s falling apart. If you stay, you will be rewarded. And I had actually at a business school professor who said that to a class full of us. And we kind of looked like with our heads cocked to one side is that it doesn’t matter what you do, just pick something, pick something and do it for 20 years and you will be wildly successful. And we’re like all worrying about which career to choose. And he said, stop worrying, just pick something and do it and stick with it.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. Yeah. I think for anybody listening right now, myself included, I believe you just said, yup, yup. Like I can’t tell you. So I’ve had the podcast go for a little over four years now. Susan, we’ve done over we’ve published over 600 interviews. We’ve got over seventy thousand downloads. It’s a great business. And I can’t tell you like two or three times a year where I will feel like you said. But I know that at the end of the day, what we’re doing is important and it’s and it’s adding value to the health care community. So we’re here. And so I love your message. And I know that it has resonated with a lot of listeners. Folks stick with stuff. Just stick with it. Susan, what are you most excited about today?

Susan Meier:
I am really excited about since we’re talking in the context of health care and about digital health, I am so excited to see the ways that technology is already and will continue to transform the health care landscape. I mean, I think this virtual visits thing is just the beginning. And I think that there has been like a like a stop or pulled by covid that has kind of forced or pushed or allowed, depending on where you sit in the ecosystem, but just really removed a lot of barriers to that sort of tech-enabled virtual health care, providing the health care. And I just think that there is going to be so many new innovations in that space that really improve people’s lives. And I’m really excited to see where that goes.

Saul Marquez:
And I will second that. It’s certainly a great opportunity for digital health and a lot of barriers have been removed. And what a better time than now to think about your brand and your promise. And folks, there’s a great opportunity for you to explore this with Susan. And so what we’ll do here now is, Susan, leave us with the closing thought and tell the listeners where they could get in touch with you to explore the opportunity.

Susan Meier:
Sure. Closing thought. Something I’m thinking about a lot right now as I’m writing my I publish a monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for my website if you are interested, but I usually pick like a theme, sort of a big theme, and then I give my thoughts about it. And the theme I’m writing about right now is empathy, and which, as you may have seen, is featuring prominently in the soon to be new administration’s messaging. But it’s that was what spurred me to write about it. But it’s something that I talk about all the time and branding and the importance of empathy, the importance of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, in particular your customers or all of your stakeholders.

Susan Meier:
And it’s something that we often forget to do, especially if we have a really cool product, especially if we have a really cool technology or scientific breakthrough. It’s so exciting to focus on that thing that you are making. And the missing link is often pull back and think about what would it feel like to be the person on the receiving end of this and what would they care about and what would they need to know? So and of course, outside of a business context, empathy is really what makes the world go round and makes relationships better and makes us all better and happier people. So that’s my outgoing message.

Saul Marquez:
Well said, folks. Susan has a ton of really interesting blogs on her site. Check it out. It’s susanmeierstudio.com. You’ll also find a link to that in the show notes of today’s app. Just go to OutcomesRocket.Health, and you’ll find that by typing in Susan Meier in the search bar, it’s m e i e r and yeah, just an incredible opportunity to connect with her and figure out how you could take your branding and strategy and messaging to the next level. Susan, this has been fun. I really, really appreciate you jumping on with us.

Susan Meier:
Thank you so much for this is great.

Saul Marquez:
Hey, Outcomes Rocket listeners, Saul Marquez here. I get what a phenomenal asset a podcast could be for your business and also how frustrating it is to navigate editing and production, monetization, and achieving the ROI you’re looking for. Technical busywork shouldn’t stop you from getting your genius into the world, though. You should be able to build your brand easily with a professional podcast that gets attention. A patched-up podcast could ruin your business. Let us do the technical busy work behind the scenes while you share your genius on the mic and take the industry stage. Visit smoothpodcasting.com to learn more. That’s smoothpodcasting.com to learn more.

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Things You’ll Learn

  • Businesses that invest in branding and brand messaging without doing any other change to their marketing spend experience a 10 percent greater top-line growth.
  • Stick with stuff. Invest in this. Go deep. Even when it looks like it’s falling apart. 
  • Pick something and do it for 20 years and you will be wildly successful. 
  • Empathy is what makes the world go round, what makes relationships better, and makes us all better and happier people. 

 

Resource:

https://www.susanmeierstudio.com/