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EP.14 Show Runner – Laura Wolf Stein

EP.14 Show Runner – Laura Wolf Stein

•Passion Marketing, From Major Brands to Cause Marketing•

Using her Masters in Global Communication as the former Director of Consumer Marketing at Sony Electronics and VP of Marketing for SKLZ, Laura was responsible for the planning and execution of multi-million-dollar advertising and promotions budgets, as well as positioning some of the most prominent household brands.

Laura talks about the art and the science of marketing and brings her expertise in brand strategy, messaging, retail marketing, experiential events, PR, social media, e-commerce/digital, marketing sponsorships and cause marketing to our conversation.

Laura Wolf Stein, Marketing Director for The Challenged Athletes Foundation 

Master Brands & Sub-Brands Hierarchy – Feature Brands vs Sub-Brands

Lessons you will learn from this podcast:

  • Social media’s many functions, including how it put her cause on The NBC Nightly News
  • Working with retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Circuit City on high-level marketing strategies
  • The right way to approach big brands like Nike, Toyota, Ironman, and Apple for your cause
  • How to use your fans and allow them to amplify your brand by encouraging them to remix your brand in their voice
  • Passion messages, how to dial up the storytelling to engage consumer passions
  • Why staying relevant and active in consumer trends can help capture earned media
  • Why your brand’s purpose or cause is the tiebreaker for consumers and where they spend their dollars
  • The balancing act between Amazon’s master brand and its sub-brands laddering up the brand hierarchy
  • Sports leadership, mentoring and how to focus on failures as learning points

Listen to Next Episode


Kathy Cunningham: Hi, everybody, it’s Kathy, and today, we are network with Laura Wolf Stein. She is the marketing director for the Challenge Athlete Foundation. It’s a organization that provides supports to individuals with permanent physical challenges, so they can pursue sports and an active lifestyle. Before that, as vice president of marketing, she helps skills which makes sport training gear for athletes.

We position and transform your brand each coming backyard product company to an authenticate training brand. Earlier, she was the director of consumer marketing at Sony Electronics where she was responsible for the go to market planning and execution, of multi-million dollar advertising and promotion budgets for the home entertainment and audio group.

Laura’s marketing expertise is best and it includes brand strategy, retail marketing, experiential events, budget optimization, email social media and e-commerce digital marketing sponsorship. She’s our former Princeton University volleyball player and an athlete in. I met Laura when I was moderating the LPGA Kia Classic Women’s Leadership Panel, and she was on the panel. Laura, welcome to the show.

Laura Wolf Stein: Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here.

Kathy Cunningham: I’m so excited for our conversation today. We had such a great panel at the LPGA leadership event, so I know you’re gonna bring some fantastic to the show, so thank you so much for being here.

Laura Wolf Stein: Absolutely.

Kathy Cunningham: Laura, I given our listeners just a glimpse of your business background, can you tell us a little bit more about your journey and your experience in marketing?

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, so I can start with it, as a little girl I did not say I want to be a marketer was not a dream I had. I sort of fell into it by virtue of following the walk signs and just listening to my instincts and seeing what interesting experiences I reacted to. I wasn’t exposed to it growing up. I certainly didn’t study it in college. But I went to grad school, I really went to grad school to study international development, and fell into a different program called Global Media and Communication.

Kathy Cunningham: Nice.

Laura Wolf Stein: Still not really sure what that means. Or how it, was applicable to my future life and I can tell you that my masters in global media and communications set my resumes apart from all these other MBA students that were applying for jobs at entertaining and media companies. And at that time I thought I wanted to move back to LA and work in media and entertainment, which is a world I kind of grew up in, having been born and raised in LA. So my first shot after grad school was at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Right when content with transitioning from DVD into Blu-ray.

Kathy Cunningham: Okay.

Laura Wolf Stein: So digital distribution was still out there but certainly not the norms, certainly not a thing.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: So I was brought in for this new position to help launch the Blu-ray format, and help bring all the different Sony groups together So that we could show up in the marketplace as a unified Sony was called the Sony United Strategy. Well, this was my first job out of grad school. First job in marketing, and I all of a sudden was in meetings with the president’s of every division, and getting exposed to all of our key retailers like Best Buy, and Target, and Circuit City at the time.

Kathy Cunningham: Wow.

Laura Wolf Stein: And it really became trial by fire. I called it my business school, because I was exposed to so many different business models and business leaders and realized that telling these stories in order to achieve a goal, move a customer in a certain way was really exciting to me. I immediately loved both the art and the science of marketing. I loved that it stretches creatively, but also stretches me analytically and using the rational side of the brain. So, a little bit of that background, but it was only a year until one of my partners at Sony Electronics said, hey, I have this other entrepreneurial opportunity within a big company available, all they left for you to interview for it.

So that was to help launch the sale of DVD on the website.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: So whether it focuses on direct, it goes direct to the consumer, that’s not for all of our eggs in the retail basket, and let’s try and film movies and CDs, music, and games, so this is circa 2002, 2003.

And that was another great opportunity to be an entrepreneur, and kind of start area of a massive multinational global media company.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: Which I think has influenced my approach to marketing, I like the stability of being supported by a big force and having infrastructure and having process but also being put on new initiatives, new strategies, the innovation side of the business.

So I always look for opportunities where it hadn’t been created before and I needed to come in and help create it. And I quickly moved from being a pure executor to having more creative ideas on strategy and direction and I think I really grew up as a generalist in marketing. Which has its plusses and minuses.

Kathy Cunningham: Yes, sounds like, wow, what an interesting background. Thank you for sharing that, Laura. So it kinda sounds like you got out of grad school and you just continued with that learning. Working with these big companies and these big projects and just the global nature of this and working with Blu-ray and and Best Buy, and Circuit City.

Those are a lot of big brands. So that was a great opportunity for you right out of college.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, absolutely.

Kathy Cunningham: That’s great. Well, thanks for telling us a little bit about your background. Let’s talk a little bit about marketing today.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: When thinking about 2018, what are the main marketing challenges that you and your team are working on right now.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yes, I definitely scale down in my career in terms of budget and number of people and number of touchpoint. And with that more challenges that come on that can’t always spend your way other than marketing problem. You’ve to really be creatively and use the resources you have and learn on people to kind of bring their ideas and bring their creative thinking into solving your problems.

So now at the Challenge Athletes foundation, we’re a marketing team of three, we’re staff of 22. And we really show up as a big organization, a big foundation with huge history, big impact. But our challenge now, we’re at this crossroads is how do we scale what we’re great at.

And people talk a lot about scale and marketing, but we’ve really been built on this high touch, one to one model, where we personalize the experiences for our supporters, our donors, our participants. And then we also personalize the experience for the athletes that we serve. So I think our number one challenge is scale and how do we make ensure that we scale in a brand right way and what I mean by that is anyone who touches our foundation needs to feel the mission.

They need to feel why and we know that the number one way you feel the mission is an in person interaction with a challenged athlete and you can’t always replace that with digital storytelling. So it’s really flipped my thinking on how digital has to be An add-on and a support, and an engagement tactic.

And not always leaned on as an acquisition or recruitment tactic, because our experience in what we offer on both sides to our supporters and also to our challenge athletes is you gotta feel it. You’ve gotta experience it.

Kathy Cunningham: Wow, so scale. That’s so interesting, the way that you describe it. So you’re bringing really big marketing ideas and you’ve got this huge foundation. But you have to figure out how to scale it because it’s so high touch and personal and it’s one to one. And it’s interesting because a lot of things going on right now in marketing is utilizing digital so that you can touch so many people at one tie.

But so your biggest challenge is figuring out, how do they know when I wanna experience people. And not using digital.

Laura Wolf Stein: Well, we use digital for so many things. But we have to remember that in terms of bringing new people in to the tributary might not be number one way. That might have to come in contact with the first touch from friend referral.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Or sharing about us from a doctor’s office or a office. Or hearing about us from another supporter who done one of our fund raising or fund raising event. So we just don’t rely on digital so much for acquisition and we really rely on it for engagement and conversion.

Kathy Cunningham: So what are some other ways that you are able to present that high touch personalized experience. So you mentioned you maybe meet people through doctor’s offices, and other supporters, and things like that. Are there other ways that you’re doing that?

Laura Wolf Stein: We’re a really social organization. I’ve only been there a year. When I made the transition, I don’t think I fully anticipated how much we rely on relationship building in various environments to drive our business. So we’ve started to use LinkedIn more than ever, to help with some of our corporate partnerships, and corporate opportunities. And then we also make sure that someone from the foundation is representing at a lot of different events. So a lot of our supporters do their own fundraisers. We have lots of athletic events where we’re the beneficiaries. And large or small we try to ensure that we have a high touch presence from someone from the foundation, there to give it a human dimension. And typically, the best is for staff to get out of the way and for our challenged athletes to deliver the message and to be the ambassadors.

Kathy Cunningham: Wow, that’s great. So I love the human dimension part of that story, and using the challenge athletes to basically tell their own story, right? And get other people involved, and excited, and interested in being apart of this. That’s great.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, I would just add to that one of our challenges too, and I know lots of marketers face this is, it so easy to just be a 100% committed to getting your story across. Your brand your messages, and you come up for air and realize that you totally missed consumer trends. You totally forgot to stay relevant and connected to what’s going on in other parts of the world. So we try to ensure that we’re up to speed on sports and athlete trends, experiential
marketing trends, event marketing.

What’s happening in the race market with running races and biking races? Sports festivals, musical festivals, where else can we. And of course what’s happening in the disability rights movement and lobbying and activism around the population that we serve and the social problems were trying to solve. So it’s a lot of other worlds that we need to keep our finger on the pulse of. To ensure that all messages is relevant.

Kathy Cunningham: Boy, yeah, that’s a lot of things to keep straight, isn’t it? But it’s also a lot of opportunities.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yes.

Kathy Cunningham: It seems like there is a tremendous opportunity with all these things that you mention. To reach out and get involved and keep your eye on.

Laura Wolf Stein: There’s tremendous opportunity to get earned media by being relevant. So by knowing what the trends are, by keeping your eye on keyword search volume going up and down, on Twitter trends, what’s in the news, what are reporters looking for, and using that as a really important input.

To craft your story, because, again, your story comes from a lot of different inputs. I always like to blend your analogy. Put a lot of different ingredients in the blender, and then you put together amazing tasting smoothie.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: So it’s just knowing what ingredients you need to make it.

Kathy Cunningham: Right, and it’s so interesting that by staying relevant and making your story part of the content for people to pick up, it’s really a good tactic, definitely.

Laura Wolf Stein: Mm-hm.

Kathy Cunningham: You know, I wanna talk a little bit about, it’s so interesting to me your background. Because you come from this big consumer goods marketing background. That we talked about with Sony. And you’ve transitioned now into the non-profit world of CIF. I’d like for you to talk a little bit about what the difference is you’re finding, and has your [INAUDIBLE] to your past experience helped you solve today’s marketing challenges.

Laura Wolf Stein: I think the common thread has been passion marketing, passion messages. And it’s not rocket science to sell passion, you have to dial up the storytelling and the message, and ensure that you’re relevant and simple in your communication. So when I started at Sony, we were working on sports marketing. We were working on music, and movies, on games. All of those are consumer passions.

And I think that now, in Challenged Athletes Foundation. The passions that we work on are obviously sports, we’re still working within an athletic environment. But also in give-back, and community, and mentorship. And all of those are passion messages, and messages that are messages that resonate with people in a lot of different ways and inspire them to take action. So I think that’s been the red between my more corporate past and my non-profit future, or my nonprofit present.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah.

Laura Wolf Stein: The big differences are obviously just spend and resources. You have to get crafty. You have to be really disciplined about the creative partners you choose and you might not have dollars for all the agencies around the marketing mix beyond retainer.

And you have to be a little more ad hoc with your project. That you still have to find the partners you trust. The partners who get what you’re trying to do. The partners who can elevate your ideas.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Can amplify them and bring in some outside stimulation and outside thinking. So I think that there is a little more pressure on me to pick the right partners and to be really clear with every dollar you spend. What it’s intended to do. So one of the main drivers for me changing careers and moving lanes. Cuz I wanted to chase every dollar out the door, and I wanted to ensure that we were spending wisely and could measure our ROI.

Utilize every piece of content and message we’ve created in ten different ways so that the marketing mix is achieving it’s objective.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, and it sounds like an organization like CIF could really use somebody like you. That understands all of those layers with marketing and even though you’ve seen the big budgets if you had the big spending.

The cost over there is the passion and consumer passion. And then you fulfill that need of the
marketing needs that you have through it sounds like finding partners that has the same kind of
passion. So I can see the thread, from where you’ve been in consumer marketing, to where you are
now in the nonprofit world.

Laura Wolf Stein: We work with a lot of big brands, Nike, Toyota, Iron Man, Smoothie King, Apple. And I think having that big brand experience at Sony helps me understand their thought process, and their matrix setup often times, and their integrated approach, and their longer lead planning, but also the need to pull things together at the last minute.

So I think it helped me better approach potential marketing partners.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense you know the inner workings of the big brands and how to get something through congress right? [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, exactly.

Kathy Cunningham: That makes a lot of sense. Lets talk about social media. We talked a little bit about it before. But it’s gotta be an interesting part of your mix For this, again, this passion. Because social media is really all about people expressing their passion and following their passion. So can you describe the impact that social media’s having on your marketing strategies?

Laura Wolf Stein: Sure, so our marketing team, when it comes to campaign building, campaign development, it really is a social first approach. We’ll draft off of all better opportunities like I was speaking about. Our events or our beneficiary parties or other fundraising opportunities or if a challenged athlete is speaking at a company or speaking at a school, we’ll draft off of it. The first place we’ll start is our content calendar. So when are we putting the message out there? What are we saying and what else do we need? So social by far the most important part of our mix. And we use it in a lot of different ways and as I reflected back on the importance of social I realized the many different functions it serves.

So the first function it serves for us, is to keep our community engaged. And our community is a diverse community. It is the number one place our challenged athletes come to, to feel connected and to learn what’s going on in the foundation, to know when the deadlines are for different camps and clinics and grants and events.

It’s also a way that our supporters can see all the incredible things the athletes are doing with the funding. So one of our biggest challenges is always showing the impact of what we do with all the money that we raise. And video and constantly posting on social, constantly celebrating what our athletes are doing.

Sharing their struggles, sharing their accomplishments is a great way for our supporters to see the impact of the dollars that we raise. It also really helps with earned media. I can share an example. I was at the top of the Empire State building in February for one of our events and I had my iPhone out.

At 11 o’clock at night, filming the Empire State Building runup, one of our partner events. And we had one of our athletes, Rudy Garcia Tolsen approaching the finish line. And Rudy was going to be the first ever double above knee amputee, to climb the stairs of the Empire State building. In our world that’s big.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah.

Laura Wolf Stein: So I’m out there with that dark iPhone, Dr. Oz is there as an ambassador for Turkish Airlines. So I grabbed Dr. Oz and say, you need to go to the finish line, the first-ever double above-the-knee amputee’s about to cross it!

And he goes, and he has his photo finish moment with Rudy. I’m there taking a picture, and 24 hours later NBC Nightly News calls me and says, you have rights to that footage I saw on Twitter. So you don’t know who is watching. And you don’t know what other opportunities are going to come. So NBC Nightly News is grabbing that story and wants to launch it through their platforms because they have someone whose job it is to search social media for compelling stories that are breaking through. So it served a lot of purposes. It’s helping us get more earned media. It’s helping us communicate the impact in a creative way.

And most importantly, it’s helping us keep our community engaged, informed and connected.

Kathy Cunningham: And those are three great ways that you’re using social media. Thanks for walking us through that. And how fantastic that is that we can now capture live moments like that to get such attention. Facebook Live is incredible in being able to get you exposed not only to your social media.

Not only to your community and your supporters but to get national news coverage, that’s awesome.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, another way we use it, too, I always say in this day and age and my brand directors ad skills. Plug this soundbite into my head is, you wanna give your supporters and your influencers the tool to remix your brand in their own voice.

And our athletes do that all the time. There are so much brand love for the Challenge Athletes Foundation, and they constantly want to video themselves in practice mode, in competition mode, wearing our brand and they’re posting it. So they’re showing our foundation through their lens and they’re much better spokespeople and ambassadors than we could ever be.

So our job is to just get out of the way and let their story shine through. So we do a lot of reposting, re-sharing of the content that our community is creating. And there’s nuances around native posting and authorship around blogs and content creations, so we do a great mix of both, but we’ll spend four days just re-sharing content from our athletes.

Kathy Cunningham: That’s great. Remixing your brands in their voice. And that’s how you’re using your challenged athletes, and just reposting and re-sharing is a great way to allow them to brand it in their own way. But we’ll get to share it, so you get to use that, you get to tail onto that.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: That’s fantastic. I’m wondering if you have a marketing challenge that you’ve faced? And if you could share with us say what that challenge was and how you overcame it?

Laura Wolf Stein: Oftentimes for a marketing project or strategy, there’s many, many demands on that campaign. So oftentimes I’m challenged by a lot of different people expectations about what a campaign is supposed to do.

So I am a big believer in great inputs make great outputs. So having a clear brief, having a brief that gets talked about all the time, early and often, so every stakeholder in the project along the project’s journey knows what we agreed too and what we’re executing against.

And that’s a hard thing to translate to people outside the marketing discipline. I have found in my career that my internal clients don’t always know the struggle of a creative team to make a great breakthrough creative, but there’s too many demands on that piece of creative. It’s a 30-second spot, it’s a 15-second video, it can only get across one message.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: So it’s really important that you articulate what the job of that tactic is, what is the job of that piece of creative, and keep reminding more internal clients or external clients what it’s meant to do. So you can evaluate the creative through the lens of debris, and I say that often. So one challenge I had recently, we all agreed we were trying to raise more dollars for our Operation Rebound program, which supports injured veterans and first responders by getting them access to sports and an active lifestyle We said, let’s do a Facebook driven campaign. Let’s create content 100% intended to go viral on Facebook, and let’s not spend a dollar on distribution.

Let’s spend our money on the edit, okay? And when we articulated our goal, which was get the video to go viral, it helped us make every single decision in the production process. When someone says, don’t we need a donate now, call to action, we said that wasn’t the goal.

That’s gonna come later, right? That’s gonna be paged out five days after we launch the viral intended content. Every decision we made for the video content was laddering up to that end goal. And that’s hard because you want content to serve a lot of purposes. But if it’s trying to serve every purpose, it will serve no purpose.

So let’s be really clear as to the number one purpose it needs to address. And if you can get purpose two, three, four, great, but that’s gravy. So really be laser focused on that goal. And spend energy talking about it and teasing it out of your work partners, so that you can all agree to it. If not, the review process and the project execution portion will be very painful. [LAUGH]

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, you make a really good point about the review process. I know sometimes as an agency owner, I’m hesitant to share creative with people. We’ve worked with JA Counter and they say, we wanna see your creative.

But, for me, just looking at creative, I don’t think that you can analyze creative or even judge creative if you don’t have a creative brief in front of you. Because to me that’s really what creative is. It’s an execution of a plan and a call to action that you’re trying to elicit.

So if you don’t know what we’re trying to do, then you shouldn’t really be trying to judge the creative. So I just love this idea of your challenge being keeping people focused on the creative brief. And how your challenge was to have this video go viral. Because you get so many people that, well,
so and so thinks we should put this in.

Or we need our call to action. Or it’s gotta be purple. But purple’s not the call to action color. It’s not the viral color. So I think that’s a great example. Thanks for sharing that.

Laura Wolf Stein: I’ll just add to that. Every project is a mix of different input. So I try to temper that with a quick gut-check to someone who doesn’t know anything about the brief.

Kathy Cunningham: Yes.

Laura Wolf Stein: So I try to get a read from someone who acts like a consumer, an unengaged consumer who wasn’t behind the scenes planning the project or the campaign just to see what their reaction, what do they remember how did they feel after they saw the creative, as another input into the process.

Kathy Cunningham: Right, and just to see if you’re getting the kinda reaction that your brief said that you wanted. What was our goal? Our goal is to elicit happiness. Or our goal was to let people know how serious this problem is one of those things. So if that’s not happening, then your gut-check
is, okay, we need to go back and look at the execution.

Laura Wolf Stein: Definitely.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Since we’re talking about this, and I’d like to talk a little bit about brands. Can you give us one or two brands that you’re following that you think are doing a good job, and give us some insight on what marketing lessons we can learn from them?

Laura Wolf Stein: I’m gonna start with Amazon cuz a common problem I’ve had in my career is this relationship between the master brand and the sub-brand.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah.

Laura Wolf Stein: I saw this at Sony firsthand. The brands I inherited to market Alpha, Handy Cam, Bravia, Walkman, some of those sub-brands had great equity.

The Sony Handy Cam, everyone knew that was a camcorder, they knew Xerox was a Xerox machine. But every dollar you spend to market a sub-brand is a dollar you’re not spending to strengthen the master brand, and that’s a tricky one. So when you ask what brands am I paying attention to, I feel like Amazon is incredibly strong at launching products and services into many different categories that are oftentimes totally unrelated but all laddering up to the Amazon master brand.

So it’s Amazon Prime, it’s Amazon Cloud Storage, it’s Amazon Fire, Amazon Alexa, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Dash, you now that all of those sub-brands are connected to Amazon. And yet, somehow, it’s not diluting your trust in them for fast service and delivery, which is what they’re known for, for getting you your batteries in four hours.

And yet, you still trust them to create original programming on Amazon Instant Video, and that’s hard to do. There’s a joke when people talk about the Kirkland brand, which is I buy my cashmere from Kirkland, and also my wine, and also my white t-shirt. How can a brand that’s so distributed across many different consumer categories be loved and trusted?

And I don’t think Kirkland and Costco have done that to the same level of premium, and trust, and love that let’s say Amazon has. So I’m very interested in how brands build their hierarchies and how they launch new products and services, and yet keep their reputation solid, premium, and focused.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, and I think there’s a great TED talk, I think his name is Simon, is it Simon Sink? He does-

Laura Wolf Stein: Sinek.

Kathy Cunningham: Sinek, there you go, thank you. And it’s about the why, because I believe that Amazon really is focusing on the why, right?

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: The fast service and the delivery and the volume of all of that ladders up to that why. So that might be a good example of why they’re successful.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: Why this is a successful brand.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, and then I’ve been paying a lot of attention to Toyota. They are making a big transition from being a car company to a mobility company. And they have spent millions and millions of dollars investing in their Paralympic sponsorship.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: And their Olympic sponsorship. And they are singularly focused in solving the world’s mobility challenges. And if you look at the six or seven original TV spots they built for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, not a lot of cars in those spots.

There’s a car in sort of the end graphic, the outro. But the stories are about humans, the stories are about people, and the stories are about mobility. And they were ruthlessly consistent about, start your impossible, and mobility for all. They didn’t have a ton of messages that they were throwing at you, and it certainly wasn’t, meet the all new Camry.

Kathy Cunningham: Right, [LAUGH] right.

Laura Wolf Stein: So, to me, that brand seems singularly focused on changing their brand perception in the marketplace to standing for mobility.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm, that is such an interesting observation that you’ve made about Toyota. And that’s a brand that’s been around for a long time. Tell me why you think their sort of pivot to this being a mobility company is good for business for Toyota.

Laura Wolf Stein: There’s a lot of unmet needs in the marketplace that their technology can solve. And they’ve clearly researched it from both a consumer message perspective and a business opportunity perspective. So from a storage line perspective, connecting to sports, connecting to people with physical disability is relevant, and is making people think about Toyota as a company with a purpose, a company with a heart.

But clearly that’s been complimented with the data and the business analytics to say, this is actually going to be good for businesses as well. Because people are more willing to spend their dollars with a company if they know have a purpose, and they know have a heart. But also, because there’s a huge population that hasn’t been served properly with solutions, with mobility solutions.

So they’ve clearly researched the number of people around the world that need different types of vehicles, and different types of solutions to move and be independent.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, I think that’s just a really great way to look at brands and storytelling. And really, the selling point there is that people want to spend their money with companies that have a meeting, and have a why.

And in our supporting the community, and the people around them, and the growth of humanity basically is what Toyota is talking about.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, there’s so much research out there, especially when it comes marketing to millennials, that unless you have a purpose or a cause, you can’t even talk to a millennial. And that oftentimes, the cause and the purpose is the tiebreaker for a consumer about where they’re going to spend their dollars. And it’s oftentimes hard to add a purpose message on late in the game. You look at companies like Google and Toms, that have been launched with purpose, and a core part
of their brand DNA. And it wasn’t we’re doing a campaign, we’re gonna spend a lot of money, let’s go get a cause.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: It comes at the very beginning. It comes as part of their brand building and brand development that then just gets added onto over time.

Kathy Cunningham: That makes a lot of sense too, you can’t just add a purpose on to your brand. And so, Toyota, do you think they’re evolving into that mobility company? Or are they such a big brand that when they start to tell a story like that, they can get away with it?

Laura Wolf Stein: From what I’ve seen, they’re evolving into a mobility company. I think when you get past the TV commercials, and you understand what programs are they working on?

What innovations are they building? What’s in their innovation pipeline? And I don’t have exposure to all that, but my sense is they are behind the scenes, ensuring that what they’re actually doing matches up with the story that they’re telling.

Kathy Cunningham: They’re walking their talk.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, exactly. I don’t think as a brand these days, given, especially in the auto industry, everything that’s happened with brands like Volkswagon, and everything that’s been exposed.

And with social media, and earned media, and all these channels of getting information that you can get away with it. I don’t think you can put a fresh coat of paint on a brand without having the actual product strategy, channel strategy, match up to it.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well that was great example of a brand, so thank you for walking us through that. But let’s stay in the topic of brand. And let’s get a little bit personal, and talk about your personal brand, maybe your personal business brand, or your personal leadership brand. Tell us, how do you describe that?

Laura Wolf Stein: More carrot than stick.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: I think bringing your own positive energy into a room can be a great tool. I don’t like to ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t just do myself, or haven’t done myself in the past. For the people that are on my team, that directly report to me, I always try to empower them, and I always try to hire people whose strengths fill my weaknesses.

So today, I have a three-person marketing team, the two other women on our team are clear experts in their functions. And there’s great exchange of ideas. And oftentimes get out of the way-

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Remove obstacles and let them do their thing, because they are so talented in their respective areas.

I think sometimes, leaders have to lead from the front. Other times, you have to lead from behind. I know for me, I try to lead across. So you never know who’s watching, who’s in the room, who might be picking up from what you’re sharing, or how you’re presenting yourself.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: I know that in my own development, I am always looking at leaders that I can learn from, whether I’m both we connected to them, or know them from afar. I just try to identify what struck me or what moved me, and put that in my tool kit so that I can use that. Whether it’s language, or an approach, or a document, something that I’m just putting into my tool kit, and then going to repurpose as part of my own approach.

Kathy Cunningham: Right, it sounds like you’re a very conscious leader. It sounds like your brand is very conscious. Because I think it’s interesting how you say sometimes you lead from the front, sometimes you lead from the back, and sometimes you lead from the middle, and you’re always very conscious of the signals you’re putting out, and the signals that you’re receiving.

Laura Wolf Stein: Absolutely, when you’re giving feedback to someone, or when you’re looked at as the decision maker in a room, you do have to be careful about reacting. Reacting to creative, reacting to an idea, because so often, those reactions influence someone else’s motivation, or influence someone else’s own perception of themselves, or perception of the project, perception is new.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to get the best work out of everybody, what you say will influence that. And I don’t want people leaving a meeting with me not feeling energized to go and do the work and solve the problem.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, I think that’s a great word to describe your brand too, and I think you kinda started us off with that today, with the energy, and I can see that. So, thank you for sharing that with us.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: Let’s talk a little bit, maybe you have a personal learning experience, or a time or a situation in your career, Laura, where you faced a professional obstacle. And can you give us an idea of how you overcame that?

Laura Wolf Stein: There’s been a few job changes over my 20 year career, and those are always big life moment.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Those are big decisions.

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: And I think how I managed through those transitions is kinda trusting the process, and knowing that you can’t just do a gut check and get to the answer. You can’t just do a pros column and a cons column.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: And come out with, should I take it or should I not? So, I have learned to give big decisions time, time to think through them. Not too much time, but enough time to let your thought patterns go in different directions, and also to consult different resources, consult different people, get different points of view.

And then I’ve always imagined, what is it going to feel like? What will it feel like if I change jobs?

Laura Wolf Stein: What will it feel like in three weeks?

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: What will it feel in three months? What will it feel like in three years? And if you can envision that, it will feel motivating, it will feel fulfilling, it will feel like a learning experience, and like a growth experience, that is probably the right decision.

Kathy Cunningham: That’s a great way to think about it, what will it feel like? That’s great. How about a daily habit or two [LAUGH] that contributes to your success?

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, consistency is not part of my brand. Energy and productivity and being industrious and being very social, those are all parts of my brand.

So one daily activity is drive-bys. I try and stay connected with the people I work with both formally and informally. Cuz I think that’s how relationships are built, and that’s also how you get creative thinking, you don’t get creative thinking as much sitting behind a desk. And then also knowing that you need some time out of the office to look at something differently.

So I’d say more kinda one on one in formal drive by’s, but I also work at night a lot, which might sound like you have no workplace balance, and you’re a workaholic. But I find that coming home from a day full of meetings and social interactions, and then when I walk in the door I have two young children that just fill up my house, have even more energy, and more life, and more dynamism.

And so once they go down, everything just kinda quiets down and my brain quiets down. So I find an hour of work, a hour or two of work at night, not every night, helps me kinda process the day and do some deeper thinking, and be a little more proactive than reactive.

And also just kinda clear the slate a little bit, it’s not really clear, but help prepare for the next day. And then another day, we have it is just, and it’s not daily, it’s more a few times a week, just making sure that I’m getting my endorphins going, and doing some sort of exercise.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, I know you’re very much in athletics, so [LAUGH].

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: So tell us a little bit more about drive-by. Describe what you mean by that, your daily drive-by.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, so maybe there’s a project you’re working on with a colleague, and you had an idea on your commute, and that you just wanted to share with them, and it didn’t be a formal meeting, and it didn’t need a ton of discussion, but it’s, hey, I was thinking, maybe we try x, y, z. Cuz I think drive-bys help you sort through challenges without being tethered to a PowerPoint, or a Word doc, or project brief. Before it even gets into that phase, is there enough creative thinking and creative brainstorming happening before you jump into execution?

Kathy Cunningham: Right, yeah.

Laura Wolf Stein: I think drive-bys just help ensure that there’s trust and camaraderie with your coworkers.

Kathy Cunningham: It’s just checking in-

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: Throwing something out there, thought of this, thought of you. Now how about a favorite, do you have a favorite marketing innovation? There’s so much changing, so much going on in marketing, and you’ve had experience, big events, small events, non-profit and consumer. What’s your favorite marketing innovation right now, and how are you using it?

Laura Wolf Stein: That’s a tough one for me. One tool, there’s so many tools, and sometimes you can be on tool overload. And I often feel like our team is we should do this tool, we should do that tool. And sometimes you just have to pause and make sure that you’re not relying to heavily on tools, and still have to put human thought, and you still have to come together and build a plan. But we’ve recently implemented WRIKE, W-R-I-K-E, which is creative review software, product management software.

But we implemented it to ensure that our team could tackle just the sheer volume of creative that was going through the system without having to do it all in Outlook, and also ensure that we had the proper reviews and approvals. So it certainly made our marketing team more efficient.

We’re able to service our partners across the organization and outside the organization. So the beauty of it is you might have a board member, or an event chair that involve in the decision making, but they have another job, well WRIKE has been a tool. We can get their comments in, and keep the projects moving without having to kinda wait for a four paragraph Outlook email to come late. So it’s really helped us get more efficient, and it’s helped us implement our new creative review and creative brief process. And then Sprout Social is another tool that we’ve implemented-

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: For our social media management, which is great for getting our posts written and scheduled, but also keeping our finger on the pulse of all of our metrics.

Kathy Cunningham: Yes.

Laura Wolf Stein: And also knowing what’s trending, and how do we build our post to break through more?

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, Sprout Social is great. That’s one of the tools that we use too, and it’s amazing how many innovative tools there are out there to help us process all of this stuff that we’re doing.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: When you mentioned WRIKE, we use a program called-

Laura Wolf Stein: Uh-huh.

Kathy Cunningham: Which is very similar to that. So everybody knows where the project is, and who’s assigned to it, and where it is. And people can comment on it, and it’s a place to store all the information about all the creative, so those are great.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, I had great success using Basecamp and WRIKE in the past. And the great thing is you don’t have to be a super user-

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: To be a contributor, or to use it. So it’s good if you have one or two super users on the team who can serve as the admin, and can be that central resource.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: But not critical.

Kathy Cunningham: That makes a lot of sense. Let’s shift gears just a little bit. And I’d like to talk with you about mentoring. It’s so important these days, mentoring, and we’ve all had mentors. You’ve talked about your 20 year career. I’m sure in 20 years, you had some mentors. And are there one or two lessons that you learned, and that you’ve applied, that have brought you to today and made you the successful business person you are?

Laura Wolf Stein: Your mentors don’t always have to know that they are your mentors-

Kathy Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Is one.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH] Secret mentors, I like that. [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, or they’re just people you look up to and admire. I mean I’m sure people like Cheryl Sanberg, they are mentors to many, many people they’ve never met.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: And that’s also the beauty social media, is that you can get nuggets, and get
examples, and get motivated by leaders without having to have an intimate relationship with them.
It doesn’t always have to be two way.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah.

Laura Wolf Stein: And then find mentors in unexpected places. I had a shift about three years ago
when there were younger, less experienced people on my team who I realized I was learning a ton
from. And so in my own mind, they were my reverse mentors, even though they were thinking they
were getting mentorship from me, I was really getting mentorship from them.

And I’ve always had more success with informal mentoring than formal mentorships. Although, early
on in my career, Sony had put me into a program called Women Unlimited. And I was matched into a
great mentoring group with two other peer mentors, and then two professional mentors. And so
there were three of us, one was from Intel, or from Cisco.

One was from Microsoft, and there was me from Sony. And then we had the head of CRM at Disney,
Betsy Wanner, who was our professional mentor. And then we had an independent brand strategist,
Denise who was our other professional mentor. And the five of us had a great chemistry, a great

We spent a year together doing intensive monthly mentoring sessions.

Kathy Cunningham: Wow.

Laura Wolf Stein: And Denise remains not only a mentor, but she was the connection to my job at
Skills, my prior marketing role, really all came from a connection with Denise, who was a
professional mentor of mine. So you never know how these mentoring relationships can transpire
over time.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, boy, you gave us several great examples of different kinds of mentoring.
So first of all, there’s mentoring from people that don’t have an intimate relationship, whether they
may not even know you, you may not even know them. And then you talked about reversed
mentoring, and these are people That are younger than you and maybe less experienced, but there’s
still so much you’re learning from them.

And then there is the informal mentor, and then a formal. Boy it sounds like you had a great
experience with this formal mentoring through Sony.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: Fantastic, thank you for sharing that. Laura do you have any advice for women
that wanna get into marketing?

Laura Wolf Stein: Try to become a functional expert first.
Marketing is an overwhelming discipline, it is so vast, there are so many functions. When you talk
about a marketing mix, talk to five people, it’s gonna look really, really different. But I can tell you,
there’s gonna be 20 to 30 disciplines on every sheet, depending on who you talk to.

I would advise women to master a function first, and then go master the next function, and then
master the next one. That was not my path. I grew up as a generalist. I’ve always had my hand in all
parts of the marketing, above the lines, below the line.

Weighing on the broadcast commercials, but also weighing in on P-O-S materials and hang tags, and
exactly what the features and benefits are of a particular product. So that’s been great but I
certainly can see the benefit of functional mastery, first as way up.

Kathy Cunningham: Can you give us an example what would somebody start with what would be a
place to start with for functional mastery?

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, you know I think customer research is a great place to start.

Kathy Cunningham: Love customer research.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah, research and insights. That’s where it all begins.

Kathy Cunningham: Right.

Laura Wolf Stein: So going to work for a research company or an insights company or work on a
research team, because then you get the voice of the customer.

But you also get that quantitative approach, that statistical approach, the analytical approach.
Where in every, conversation you had you always need the rationale, and the number and
justification to help sell your creative ideas in. And so if you start from an analytic, quantitative place
but also a place that put the voice of the customer at the very top.

It’ll help guide you into different functional areas. And I think there’s lots of entry-level roles in
customer research and insight and there’s tons of different agencies and companies that you could
work with on the brand side and also on the agency side.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, that makes a lot sense.

There’s so much to the discipline of marketing, and so many different areas that you can be an
expert in. There’s media, there’s creative, there’s account service, there’s research. Now even inside
media now, there is digital there is traditional inside digital I was talking to a company the other day
and all they did was Facebook.

That’s all they did, so there is a lot of opportunity to get very much into a small niche and really
learn that and then use that as your starting point. To excel in marketing.
Laura Wolf Stein: Absolutely, I don’t think, brands and marketing groups want to spend dollars with
agencies that are good at everything.

They want to know, what are you famous for?

Kathy Cunningham: Um-hm.

Laura Wolf Stein: Don’t tell me you can do everything. Tell me the one thing you are expert on, and
let me partner with you on that, if your expertise matches my need.

Kathy Cunningham: That makes a lot of sense.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah so my advice would be become excellent become an expert, become a master
of a few disciplines and then figure out how they translate and how they work with other disciplines.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah I think, and then bringing it all together is so interesting too, when you
have a bunch of people that have master the certain disciplines within marketing and advertising.
And then bringing them all together and coordinating all of that Is really a skill as well too, because I
think you have to make sure that you’re all pointed in the right direction as well.

So integrating all of that information and making sure that when the outgoing message goes out
there in all of the touch points that it’s all coordinated to.

Laura Wolf Stein: Absolutely.

Kathy Cunningham: So that’s a science in itself.

Laura Wolf Stein: That’s a disicpline within the marketing umbrella in itself. There are roles that are
innovative marketing managers.

That was really my role at Sony when I moved to the electronic side is to sit in the center of the
marketing mix and ensure that it was all going against the same objectives. And that’s a discipline
being a planner, a strategist, being in charge of the budget and then being that kind of cross
functional expert.

Kathy Cunningham: Yeah, sitting in the center of the marketing, because I love that phrase. One of
the things I noticed in reading your bio is that you have, I believe it’s daughter,s and you said in your
bio that you’re raising little athletes. So I know that sports is really important to you personally, it’s
been important in your career and in your marketing so I’d like to know if, my last question for you
is, if you could tell us maybe what role sports has played in the development of your leadership

Laura Wolf Stein: I always played team sports, and I think as an adult it’s more of a general athletic
lifestyle. It’s more individual, so yoga, running, hiking, walking and the team thing, I think is really
critical. Cuz you need more than yourself to get a goal accomplished, and other people feed you, and
inspire you, and have strengths that you don’t have.

So I think teamwork, and knowing that you need a team to win has been huge for me. And also just
sports I think gives you energy, and helps you think a little bit more clearly, I always think more
clearly after a sweat.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: I think it’s also, sports has reminded me that it’s not just about playing, it’s often
about playing to win, so what are you trying to win?

What are you trying to accomplish, what’s the end goal? So you’re not just participating, you’re
participating with a purpose. You’re trying to accomplish something and that’s been a key learning,
and then also that there’s always more you can do, right. A season ends, a race ends, and then
there’s the next season, there’s the next starting line, there’s a new skill.

You wanna change positions, so there’s kind of an endless opportunity for learning.
Kathy Cunningham: Yeah and participating with a purpose, bringing that competitive mentality to
business is really important and I think particularly for women to have that edge and to have a goal.
To know that you’re doing this for a reason, what’s the end goal?

Laura Wolf Stein: Yep.

Kathy Cunningham: There’s a lot of great lesson in there.

Laura Wolf Stein: Yeah.

Kathy Cunningham: Laura in closing, do you have any marketing resources in your books, or
podcasts or anything that you would recommend?

Laura Wolf Stein: Sure so Denise, who I mentioned earlier who’s really a brand expert, wrote a book
a couple of years ago called Brand is Business and then she recently came out with Brand Fusion.
Which is all about Intervene your cultural values with your outward brand and that’s how company
are more successful when the people on the inside are in touch with the impression and the brand
that you are trying to communicate to the outside. Or I think Denise is always on point and has great
understanding of how brands operate and then wrote a book called Extreme You.

She’s a great leader in the sports industry. She was a Nike executive, went on to be the president of
the Gatorade brand, was the president of Equinox and now is the president of Flywheel. And she Is
someone that I’ve learned a ton from and consider one of those distant mentors.

So I’ve met her a few times and she has an ability to help people focus on failures as learning points.
And don’t be afraid to talk about your failures and don’t be afraid to debunk them and break them
down and analyze them, and need them to kind of fuel the next accomplishment and fuel the next

And I think there’s so much literature now on mindset and wit and determination and the power of
positive thinking and all that. And there is so much in there that I relate to, that perspective shifting
can often be the unlock you need to accomplish something.

Kathy Cunningham: Those are great words of wisdom, and thank you for leaving us with that, and
especially the part about your failures and making sure that we’re looking at those and we’re
learning from those.

Because there’s a lot to be said right now for social media. Everybody is looking at the front of the
house, you know? This is what I look like when everything is going well.

Laura Wolf Stein: Right.

Kathy Cunningham: But everything doesn’t always go well and we need to know and we need to
learn from our mistakes and so-

Laura Wolf Stein: Authenticity is the buzz word in marketing right now, and it means being honest.
Not being afraid for people to see how the sausage is being made.

Kathy Cunningham: [LAUGH] Great place to end the conversation. [LAUGH]

Laura Wolf Stein: Sausage factory.

Kathy Cunningham: Laura, thanks again for your time-

Laura Wolf Stein: Thank you, Kathy.

Kathy Cunningham: -and for your wisdom and for sharing all of that with us today. It was very interesting. I
appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

Laura Wolf Stein: Thank you.

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