Reaching Passionate, Informed Consumers with A Squared Group’s Amy Cotteleer

November 1, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have on with us today Amy Cotteleer. She’s the founder, President, and Chief Creative Officer of A Squared Group. Welcome to Green is Good, Amy. AMY COTTELEER: Hi. Thank you. Very excited to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m so excited to have you on. I’m such a true believer and it’s a woman’s world and I love promoting great women entrepreneurs like you that are just changing the world every day and doing great things and creating jobs and creating new messages so it’s just fun and an honor to have you on. Before we get into your great company, which is called A Squared Group, and I’m on it right now and I want our listeners, if you want to follow along and look at Amy’s great company while we’re doing this interview, it’s ASquaredGroup.com. Before we talk about your great company, talk a little bit about your journey. Was this your dream always to be a woman entrepreneur or has this happened for other reasons? How did you get here? AMY COTTELEER: You know, that’s a great question and thank you for that intro. I started as a banker of all things but my degree was in entrepreneurial studies and when I went through the program in college, I thought gosh, would there ever be something that I could feel so passionate about that I would risk it all to get behind and straight out of the gate, I didn’t and I started as a banker and as I move dup in that industry, I became more exposed to marketing and advertising and PR and it became really exciting to me but unfortunately, because I was a banker, I really found it hard to make that transition and so after trying and trying and trying, I thought you know what, forget it. I’ll do it on my own so that was that. I walked out, rented a place, and started living the dream. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just awesome. So, you started A Squared Group how many years ago approximately? AMY COTTELEER: We’re in our ninth year, which is unbelievable to me, but our ninth year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Most enterprises fail within the first so you’re way off to the races. How many employees do you have now? AMY COTTELEER: We’re about a little over 25 and we, if you can believe it, all are existing in about 2,000 square feet as we wait for our offices, which are much bigger, to be finished, so I can move people off of stools and into a work environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, what do you do at A Squared Group and why is it relevant to our Green is Good listeners in the United States and around the world? AMY COTTELEER: A Squared Group is an integrated marketing agency, which is a fancy way for saying that we help brands figure out what the essence is about their products or services that’s going to ultimately connect with the consumer and where we really do our work is where a brand connects with a consumer in a live space so it’s not ambient. It’s not in a magazine. It’s not in a billboard but literally an interaction and nowadays, that can also be online. That’s where we live. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’ve read in your materials that A Squared Group stands for advocacy amplified, which I just love, but what does that mean with regards- I just love those two words together but what does that really mean? What does that mean to you and how have you exercised that at your company? AMY COTTELEER: Well, advocacy amplified, for a brand and for our clients, means finding those people who are either naturally just so passionate about what you do or what you sell or- and this is sometimes where we get even more excited- is find those people who are rejecting you or aren’t considering you and share with them your story to get them to not only feel good and positive and want to purchase your product, but tell others and we live in a world where still, with all the technology that we have, a word of mouth, a recommendation from a friend, friend to friend recommendation, is more important than anything you can read online or in the paper so that’s what we do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: A friend’s endorsement is always great. AMY COTTELEER: An endorsement, thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, if I’m a green company and I want you to help me sell my green products or services, and we’ve got tons of green ecopreneurs and entrepreneurs that listen to this show all over the world, why are they going to come to you? What are you going to do for me as the green entrepreneur that needs to get my product out there and amplified? AMY COTTELEER: Well, a few things: Green products really lend itself to consumer advocates because they get very passionate about their belief systems and green products, if you have someone who has a strong environmental passion, then they’re going to naturally get excited and naturally want to talk and share about that and it’s incumbent on a company to figure out who those people are and gather them together in a community and really form that community and figure out what they need to not only grow but thrive and to help you talk about your message and then creating channels for them to do that or looking at their channels, so if they’re talking on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest about you, then you can dial in and make sure that you’re benefitting from that. Also, just like I was saying up front, figuring out how to interact one on one with consumer is so important when you’ve got a product that has a green message because that can be a hard story to tell these days with all the products out there that are green. You really need to point out differentiation. The best way to do that is face to face. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, three things: We love giving solutions. We love having our guests give solutions on this show so three things a marketing executive for a green company should be thinking about before they launch a green product or service. Give it to us in bullet points, three things. AMY COTTELEER: You want to minimize the sacrifice a consumer makes to have to buy a green product. That means you really have to focus on what the value is. GE has a light bulb and they have the slogan, ‘Long life for hard to reach places,’ and it’s really great sort of marketing idea that this is a hard to reach place so yes, it’s a green product. Yes, it’s helping the environment but you know what, it’s also going to sit here for five years so you don’t have to go out to the garage every six months and kill yourself trying to reach it and change the light bulb. The idea of greenwashing, you need to be very specific about what the product attributes are for your product and use very specific language. If you use too broad language or misleading language, you will totally lose consumers’ trust straight out of the gate so you want to be really clear when you’re marketing a green product that you’re talking about things that you can prove and you really want to focus, like I said, on the mainstream benefits to broaden consumer appeal and not just on the narrow green message. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. Those are three great bullet points. You’ve been in business nine years now, you said. Talk about now interact those points that you just made with some of your favorite clients or a favorite launcher client that you’re really proud of. AMY COTTELEER: Talking about one of our green clients, which would be Method, the work we did for them, it was an interesting challenge that they faced at the time, which was everyone thought Method was a Target brand. They didn’t realize that Method was carried all over the country at different stores but when you’re a product like Method, you are at the mercy of the people who are purchasing for their retail environment so you don’t get to show your full range of products and you don’t get to tell your specific story. You are on a shelf next to your worst competitor and a product that makes no sense so for us, we really took, first and foremost, their campaign, which is people against dirty, their natural advocate base. We tapped into that in different markets, had them come out to a space that we built as a pop up shop, which is done quite a bit now but at the time, the idea is you take over an empty space. You completely build it out to really reflect the brand, not the place where they’re sold and again, in a big box, but the brand, the essence of Method so we built this store. We offered the full range of products and then we invited their best and brightest and most verbal brand advocates out and really educated them in fun ways and then had a chance to just reach out to the public in general who would then walk in and say, ‘Oh, I thought you guys only made hand soap,’ and we were able to show them the entire spectrum of products. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so great. You know, when you started your company, nine years is a long time in the business world but it’s really an eternity in what’s happened in the social media world and so how is that affected in how you do your advocacy amplified, the advent and the rise of the social media platform? How has that helped you and helped your clients with the advocacy-amplified methodology that you use? AMY COTTELEER: Well, I think for our clients in both really positive ways and then in ways that they really have to be thoughtful. In positive ways, it allows, like I said, people a platform to really quickly talk about your brand and when they do it enough and in a positive way, that spreads pretty quickly in a way that you couldn’t do nine years ago and you can also — it is the rise of content creation and it is incumbent on a brand to figure out what you need to get to these brand fans of yours to allow them to generate even more content so if somebody is writing a blog about you because they naturally came across your product, then is it giving them more product? Is it giving them your company’s story? Is it providing them experiences so that they then write another blog, tweet, Facebook, tell their friends? I think that’s really important stuff a brand should be doing. It really amplifies the message but on the other part of it, you do need to listen and you need to listen all the time because if somebody is questioning you or confused or needs to be educated and are saying things that could be potentially damaging to your company because they don’t understand one of your attributes or why you’re marketing a certain way, you need to get out in front and you need to address it as quickly as possible and an open and authentic way so that you can take that potential negativity and again turn it into a positive story. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s important. That is so interesting. With regards to launching green products and green campaigns, give our listeners five things they shouldn’t do. You already gave us some great tips on what we should be thinking about in terms of accessibility and ease of use and word of mouth. Talk about the no-nos. Save some entrepreneurs out there that are on to the next big thing some fatal mistakes. AMY COTTELEER: Make sure that your product doesn’t fall short of the claims that you’re making. You need to really make sure that what you’re saying is true and if you can’t, you need to delay your launch until your product is ready because you will get annihilated by this particular consumer base because they’re very passionate and very vocal. If you are defining a new category and it requires substantial consumer education, you have to, again, make sure your message is very clear because if consumers don’t quickly grasp how to use your product, you’re toast and that product’s not going to make it and if it’s a revolutionary and there’s no market for it, you need to be really clear on who’s going to buy it. Why are they going to buy it and at what price? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Those are great. In terms of the word of mouth and authentic engagement, that is so important now to getting products out there. What advice do you have about that in terms of inspiring authentic word of mouth engagement? AMY COTTELEER: I think for a launch of a product, dependent on your budget, first and foremost, especially if you have a smaller budget, you need to have your ear to the ground and this is why social media is such a powerful tool because you will be able to see conversations bubbling up and as soon as they do around your product or service, you need to get on that and you need to aggregate them and you need to point new potential consumers to those conversations already and again, create opportunities for people to create content about you. If it’s a blog post, if it’s testimonials on your website, if it’s vlogs, give them the tools to help you get your message out. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, we’re down to the last minute-and-a-half or so, Amy. Share some things backwards with young women out there that want to be the next Amy Cotteleer. Seriously, there’s so much that young women want to break through. Share some lessons as a woman entrepreneur so they can follow in your footsteps and live their dreams. AMY COTTELEER: Well, you definitely need to have a great support system and I was very lucky to have people who really were my mentors and I kept them very close and they gave me great advice and I like to think that I had the good sense to follow it so that’s the first thing. Don’t be out there alone. Both men and women can help you and you need to ask for help. Really, really, it’s about the people who you surround yourself with also on a day-to-day basis. Hire the best people that you can afford and try to get them to stay with you as long as possible, which really speaks to your corporate culture and then I think finally, there’s 65,000 marketing companies registered currently in the United States, and if I had really sat down and though exactly what that meant, I probably wouldn’t start my company, so really, when it comes down to it, if you feel passionate about something and you think you can make a difference, then you need to put your head down and figure out how to make that work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so well said and so inspiring and we thank you again for your time today, Amy. For those who want to hire Amy or her services at A Squared Group, go to www.asquaredgroup.com and learn more about her wonderful services and get your brand out there. Get your service out there or become the next woman entrepreneur. Amy Cotteleer, you’re an inspiring brand amplification advocate and truly living proof that green is good.