Business Unusual: Branding, networking, and human connection.

Reading time:

The task of small businesses right now is not simple. How can companies remain true to our values, connect with our customers, and create real connections during ongoing confusion and change? 

We sat down to speak with writer and brand storyteller Amber Pechin of Amplitude Media, about how to lead with earnestness, empathy, and real value, to create a blueprint for the future.

Katie Hurst:
Hello everyone. My name is Katie Hurst. I’m the director of communications for Ruby, and I’m really excited today to welcome everyone. Go ahead and let’s start with Amber.

Amber Pechin:
Hi, I’m Amber Pechin. I am partner and I’m chief storyteller at Amplitude Media. We build brands, websites, and big ideas. We like to tell stories for brands that are highly technical, scientific, or traditionally considered boring and find the part of their business that makes them interesting and tell those stories.

Katie Hurst:
Well, and something that’s unique to you that isn’t to other small business owners that we’re talking to, is this idea of telling a story during this time. I know me as a marketer for Ruby, we’ve had to totally shift the way that we talk and the way that we are addressing our small business customers. So, not only when you’re seeking new business for your company, but also when you’re dealing with these academic businesses, how is that changing the way that you’re dealing with your branding and storytelling and advising them?

Amber Pechin:
Yeah, a lot of it when we’ve been advising them, it’s that kind of the balance between that we’re always trying to push anyway. So we always try to have the conversation where it’s like, you can’t just sell your product. You have to tell the story about your product and how it helps the person on the receiving end of your product. And essentially, how it’s going to change their life. And right now there’s so much change in the air that you really want to talk about how it’s going to provide stability. You want to talk about how your services are going to make life easier, make life more accessible, things like that, but it’s that story of real empathy and concern for the situation that people are in rather than selling.

Amber Pechin:
But there’s the portion of it that has to be so genuine because if you come out like every other brand with, “In these unprecedented times, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, buy a new car from us.” It doesn’t make any sense. Right? And so it’s that whole human aspect of storytelling about your brand that’s really, really important to do. And then when you add on top of corona, you add on top of it the human rights issues that we’re fighting right now, both Black Lives Matter with the LGBTQ plus, like you need to be sensitive of those things. And how does your brand in a real genuine way, show empathy and tell that story about what your brand believes and how your brand is helping?

Amber Pechin:
And so we were talking earlier about the brands who are getting some bad blowback from customers online and leaving bad reviews because they have required them to wear masks in their store. And it’s sad that it’s one of those things that parses people out. So you have the mask-wearing people versus the non-mask wearing people and you as a company have to take a stand if you have a physical location. So how you tell that story about why you’re taking, like, “We are now requiring masks in our store to protect you and to protect our employees.” And you have to tell that story in a way that is not a political issue. It’s a human issue.

Katie Hurst:
It sounds to me, like you said, marketing really comes down to communication. So what marketers can really do to be versatile in times like this as recognize that internal communication in addition to external communication is extremely important. And if you can switch your marketing hat to really focus on connecting with the team and communicating change, essentially change management, that’s going to allow you as a marketer to be more flexible and to be more valuable to your clients because they may not be focused on an external message at the moment.

Amber Pechin:
Yeah. Well, and they really should be focused on an internal message too. That’s important to make sure that your employees are going to service your customers better if they also feel more secure. So it’s that whole communication ball of wax.

Katie Hurst:
So I wanted to go back to something you said about events and conference season. So we had a customer the other day tell us that she is so frustrated because she’s a person that loves being out in the world and she would go to Chamber events and all these… As someone knowing you, you are also a master networker and love being around with people. Do you have tips for how you can build those same connections virtually versus the in-person which so many of us rely on?

Amber Pechin:
I feel like I’ve gotten 10 times the amount of random LinkedIn connection requests in the last couple of months. And it’s one of those things where I think it’s being intentional in why you’re reaching out to who you’re reaching out to, and it’s got to be a one-on-one connection. And if you are just saying, “Okay, well, I’m just going to spam everybody that I can with my LinkedIn connection requests.” It’s the same thing as if you’re going to an in-person conference and you just walk around and say, “Hi, my name is Amber. I work for Amplitude Media. Here’s my card. Hi, my…” And you just go down the line. Right? So, which is not effective, we all know because nobody’s going to remember that. It’s scheduling one-on-one connections, I think, which is good. So reaching out and knowing a little bit about who you’re talking to, why you’re talking to them, what you have to offer them, which is always, make an offer, not an ask kind of a thing.

Amber Pechin:
And so it’s that connection where you can reach out in person. And say, “I’m really interested in getting to know you. I think that there’s potentially some synergy between our companies. I’d love to talk about what you do, why you do it. Do you have time for a 20-minute Zoom coffee conversation?” And it’s not exactly the same. There’s not the same energy as there is in real-life networking event. But I think that there’s potentially more possibility because you’re reaching out, you’re having those conversations. I do know too, that there are a lot of groups that are doing online. They’re doing Zoom networking events as well.

Katie Hurst:
You follow so many different, diverse industries. I’m curious are there any brands you feel like are doing it right or doing it well right now, in terms of communicating change, being aware of change, but also just putting out really amazing stories or really great customer outreach?

Amber Pechin:
Oh, gosh. I’m sure there are.

Katie Hurst:
I know, this question totally out of the blue.

Amber Pechin:
Totally out of the blue. So Salesforce is a weird one to mention, but I do feel like their outreach lately has been really well adapted and really on point to who their customers are. And it’s one of those things that I track and I start to screen capture when I see it. But their messaging has been about easing their client’s concerns. How do you help your clients have peace of mind? And it’s all about how do you serve your end customer through? Which Salesforce is a, I mean, it’s a CRM platform. It’s a lot more than that, but essentially it’s a CRM platform. And so they are B2B customers serving B2B customers and so there is that connection, that same sort of thing. I’ve been paying attention to their messaging, which has been about comforting your customers more than anything else. How do you reassure them during this time? Things like that, but with really on-point messaging.

Amber Pechin:
So, that’s one that I’ve noticed that has done a really good job. I’ve been really impressed with some of the diversity work that’s been out there, where companies who have said actually, they don’t just say they don’t have a statement that just says Black Lives Matter. Instead, they have a statement that says Black Lives Matter. This is what we have done. This is what we’re doing to do it better. And we’re going to keep checking it. And then they do. And I think REI is one of those that have said, we’re taking some time to reflect and internally have a conversation, and this is what we’re doing to improve. And we welcome your feedback. And then they got like a ton of feedback. And then like a week and a half later, they’re like, “Okay, here’s how we’ve incorporated. We heard you. Here’s how we’re incorporating these things. These are the action plans we’re putting into place.”

Amber Pechin:
And so I think like when it comes to these larger social issues, that transparent communication versus the, “We believe Black Lives Matter. And 10% of sales of this one thing is going to go towards this one cause.” Then it’s how do you make internal systemic change within your organization? So, that’s been really interesting to watch. And I think that those are the kinds of messaging and communications that if you’re sincere and genuine in your outreach in what you’re doing can make a big difference for your brand and how people feel about your brand. So your overall brand personality and tone and all of those sorts of things.

Katie Hurst:
So wrapping this all up, coming to the end, I have two questions for you. Which is one, what wins or lessons will you take away from this experience? And then what is one thing you want to say to small businesses out there?

Amber Pechin:
I think the wins or lessons, I think the most important thing is that actual connection with the humans, I think is the biggest thing. How important it is to have good relationships and honest, transparent relationships, because then when hard things happen, it’s the ability to say, “We’re really struggling because of X, Y, and Z.” Or especially right now if you have a small company and one of your employees gets COVID and is out for a month trying to recover, how do you communicate with your clients and your businesses? And having that very honest communication where it’s like, “Listen, we’re struggling. We’re down by half of our employees right now. And so this is what’s going to happen because of that.” So I think those wins are good.

Amber Pechin:
On the lessons too, that the ability to rethink your model at any point in time, I think is, and pivot towards what’s going to work for the current situation, I think is a really important one. Where instead of saying, this isn’t going to work and we’re going to have to shut down. Instead, saying, “Okay, how can we make this work so we can keep going?” And I think we’ve seen a lot of small businesses do that, where they have, if they’re in person they’ve pivoted to online. And that’s something we’ve helped, a couple of businesses do is pivot to online sales, pivot to online marketing. All of their marketing is now through content distribution and inbound, all of those kinds of things. And so that ability to think differently about problems so you can solve them to find a new solution is definitely I think the most powerful thing.

Amber Pechin:
And that’s what I would say to businesses, to small business owners, is that thinking differently about what it is you’re doing is the strong suit of a small business. These ginormous, mammoth companies and corporations out there are pretty stuck and set in what they can do. It’s like turning a big ship, takes a long time, right? But if you’re a small business, your agility and your flexibility is your strongest asset. And so it’s rethinking that and sitting down with your team and rethinking that. So this is what we’re currently doing. How can we change this so we can keep going? And having a team of people that you can rely on to do that with you, I think is really important too.

Katie Hurst:
I have to thank you so much, Amber, for giving us that amazing insight into branding and networking, and really at the end of the day, how valuable human connections are, especially with small businesses that have that opportunity to really connect versus like you said, these larger mammoth companies that can’t be as flexible and may not be able to make those personal connections. So thank you so much.

Amber Pechin:
Thanks for inviting me.

Additional reads you may find interesting...

View All
Small Business Tips

The Dish on Google Screened & What it Means for Attorneys

Small Business Tips

Business Unusual: Website Content 101

Small Business Tips

Self Care for the Business Owner (…in 2020).

Small Business Tips

Live Chat for Schools: How You Can Woo Prospective Students

Small Business Tips

Business Unusual: Branding, networking, and human connection.

Happy Customers

Customer communication: What mood are you setting right now?

Small Business Tips

Making C-suite communication personal: an interview with Ruby CMO Rebecca Grimes

Business Unusual: Delegation & Remote Workers

Small Business Tips

Business Unusual: Manage Remote Teams with Jehan Noon

Small Business Tips

Freelancers can be a big boost to your business. But you need to handle them carefully.

Try Ruby Risk Free

Call to talk to a live virtual receptionist and hear why 10,000+ companies Ruby.

Call Ruby Sign Up
Sales Support