Test Drive My Job: Brand Expert Matthew Fenton
I have a love/hate relationship with Thursday. On the one hand, I hate Thursday because it means the week is almost over and since I’m a workaholic, I only have two more days to squeeze in everything I wanted to get done before the official business week ends.
On the other hand, Thursday is Test Drive My Job Day on Mopwater PR + Media Notes. I get to take your jobs out for a spin to see how they fit. I love this!
Today, I’m featuring two TDMJs because, well, I just want to. First up: Matthew Fenton, Founder and President of Three Deuce Branding.
38 years old
Founder and President: Three Deuce Branding
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR and marketing. What aspects of the industry are you currently most excited about?
MF: I entered the University of Cincinnati as a quantitative analysis major. While the problem-solving aspect was fascinating, I didn’t want to grow up to be an actuary. I was very interested in psychology, motivation and human behavior, so marketing was a natural choice.
Through UC’s strong co-op program, I was able to spend a full year in market research, in both supplier and client jobs, prior to graduation. That background allowed me to get into brand management, my ultimate goal, immediately upon graduation.
I joined Van Melle USA (now Perfetti Van Melle) in 1992, when the company had just two brands – Mentos and AirHeads. The Mentos “Freshmaker” campaign had just launched and the buzz was beginning. I managed marketing for AirHeads for 5 years, during which time we took the brand from partial to full US distribution, tripled total sales, and earned the top sales spot in the non-chocolate category. In addition, it was a great environment in which to learn truly consumer-centric branding, which was not widely practiced at the time.
In 1997, I made the decision to found my branding consultancy. The mission of Three Deuce Branding is the same now as it was then: “To help good people build great brands.” Every day is a new opportunity to make branding clear and actionable for those who practice it.
What I like best about branding is that, when properly practiced, it makes the world a better place. You simply can’t build a long-term consumer relationship without serving. Lately, I’m most excited about the ability of consumers to connect and to have their voices heard; brands have always belonged to consumers, but now that fact is becoming impossible to ignore. I’m also excited about the opportunities for brands to live their stories and values in a manner that involves consumers and employees alike.
Mopwater: Describe a typical work day including your typical work hours.
MF: No such thing as a typical work day! A given day might find me doing public speaking, leading an inventing session, building a positioning statement or strategic plan, interviewing clients and their customers, writing my column and blog, reading relevant books and newsletters, and staying in touch with the talented people with whom I’m fortunate to work.
I tend to work unusual hours – I may work as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. I usually break up the work day with non-work activities, as I find I’m more productive and creative that way.
Mopwater: Describe your office: Do you work from a busy office in the city, do you work mainly from home/a coffee shop? Do you like working this way?
MF: I work from home; one floor of my house is completely dedicated to Three Deuce. Sometimes I’ll do the coffee-shop thing for a change of scenery. I love working this way; it enables me to work whenever inspiration strikes. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, however, as it requires a certain amount of discipline.
Mopwater: What types of clients does your company serve and what services do you provide? What’s a recent project you worked on where you delivered results you’re proud of? What was your role in the project?
MF: At Three Deuce Branding, our services are as follows:
1) Core Brand Consulting – Mission, vision, values and purpose; Brand positioning; and Strategic development (brand experience, messaging and guidance)
2) Ideation – Generating quantities of ideas for new products, services, brand experience, messaging, tactics, promotions, etc.
3) Speaking and Training – Delivering “brand clarity” to audiences and attendees
Clients have ranged from major international brands (Wrigley, Fidelity Investments, Valvoline) to a number of local, regional and national brands. We work with clients based not on size, but on need and mindset; in other words, a client must have a business problem that we can solve, and the commitment to make the necessary changes.
A representative recent project is the new brand positioning, strategy, logomark and website for Elegant Fare. Elegant Fare has long been recognized as Greater Cincinnati’s finest social and corporate caterer, but had never proactively managed its own brand.
My role was first to lead them to a new positioning, which required (among other things) a competitive communications audit, interviews with current customers and suppliers, and an internal “visioning session” with Elegant Fare employees. The final positioning statement included clear choices for overall brand equity, target audience, benefits, points of difference and brand character. As a companion to the positioning, we created a “Strategic Guide,” which gives Elegant Fare management the few key areas of focus needed to turn the brand positioning from idea into reality.
With this core brand guidance finalized, we then worked with a local design partner, Linserpelle Creative, which created the new Elegant Fare logo and website. My role at this phase shifted to one of “brand guardian,” working with Linserpelle throughout the design process to ensure their solutions were on-brand and on-strategy.
Mopwater: What are your favorite things about working at Three Deuce?
MF: I love finding new ways to help my clients solve their brand challenges – it’s never the same puzzle twice. I enjoy learning about, creating and sharing brand theory and practice. It’s always a pleasure to interact with clients and partners. And I like working on a business entity of my own creation – ultimately, its success or failure is in my hands.
Mopwater: How many co-workers/employees do you have? How do you best collaborate with your team (standard board room meetings, conference calls, BaseCamp or other project management tool, etc.)
MF:No employees, though I regularly build teams to solve client challenges. These teams might include a researcher, graphic designer, or experts in PR, social media, web design, etc. Much of our collaboration is over the wires, though of course we meet face-to-face and with clients as project needs dictate.
Mopwater: What do you wish was different at your job?
MF: There are times when I miss working in an office, where you’re surrounded by people with whom you can exchange ideas. On the other hand, I don’t miss office politics, lousy bosses or weeks filled with worthless meetings, so on balance, I’ll take that trade.
Mopwater: Do you see yourself in this job in 5 years? If not, where do you see yourself?
MF: I absolutely see myself in this job in 5 years. If anything, the branding landscape will become more interesting and challenging in that time.
Mopwater: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, soloists and free agents?
MF: 1) Define how you’re different and how you serve. When I started the business, I thought I was a “marketing consultant,” which was plain stupid. Telling you I’m a marketing consultant doesn’t tell you what I’m good at, nor does it tell you how I can help you. It wasn’t until I decided I was going to focus strictly on “helping brands define where they’re going and how they’ll get there” that the business took off. If (for example) you’re a designer thinking about going solo, ask yourself: What’s unique about what you do? What design problems are you best at solving? What kinds of clients need that? How will it benefit them?
2) Make sure your financial house is in order. Take your initial business plan numbers, then cut your 5-year sales forecast in half, and ask yourself if you’re still excited. You’ll need at least 6 months of living expenses before you open your doors, and you’ll need to remain fiscally conservative throughout.
3) It’s a business, not a hobby. I’ve seen plenty of very talented people fail as soloists because they didn’t address the business aspects.
4) Stay connected. It’s easy to become “invisible” as a soloist. Make sure you maintain a profile in the market. Selectively join business organizations or networking groups. Keep a short list of people you can turn to for advice or counsel. Maintain good relationships with past employers, co-workers and colleagues. Use online and social media tools smartly.