Today, I spoke to M.P. Mueller, who is the President at Door Number 3, as well as the New York Times “Branded” blogger. In this interview, M.P. talks about the survival rate for companies that don’t have brands, lessons she’s learned from running a small business, and more.
Between a dragonfly’s life (for months) and a worker ant’s life (1 to 3 years). Okay, there are some who last longer, but they get stuck in the commodity bucket, which limits their long-term growth and profitability. Consumers want, more than ever, to attach themselves to something they believe in and something that provides value for them.
A brand must speak the company’s truth—something consumers can rely on, expect. If there’s no brand, there’s no truth, and consumers won’t trust it. What a brand does is provide security and familiarity while conveying its most cherished, authenticating assets. A strong brand and culture not only attracts loyalty, it greatly impacts recruitment—with one you can attract the best and brightest and that translates into superior products and services. Without a brand, a company is a mere shell and can easily be replaced by the next newer, shinier shell.
Out of all the campaigns you’ve worked on for clients, which one was the most interesting and rewarding?
At this point in my career (and life), the campaigns that are most rewarding are those that create social change and support non-profit organizations that are making the world a better place. Those people who are devoting their lives to creating positive changes are heroes to me. Selling X widgets (insert product or service here) for clients pays the bills but pro bono work feeds the soul. We are in the business of using pictures and words to create change and with your first Dorothy experience—realizing that each of us has the power in their own soles to make a difference—-it’s very gratifying and a bit addicting.
At the top of that list is work we’ve done for A Glimmer of Hope, Austin Humane Society and a campaign for The Allies of The Alamo the membership group that supports the historic mission’s preservation. We’ve also helped the Breast Cancer Resource Center with materials to raise money. They are an amazing organization that helps women going through breast cancer and have a special place in my heart for all they did for me during my personal jog with the Big C.
What lessons have you learned from running a small business?
Leading a small business has brought opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. Entrepreneurs tend to be (unduly methinks) venerated in the US….special powers seem to be ascribed to business owners. (But sure, we’ll take that!) As a result, I’ve gotten to connect with and know so many interesting people. Truly has enriched my life. The learning experience never stops. Some days, though, I wish for fewer growth experiences that come in the form of a challenging client or employee situation. I’ve learned the importance of finding talented people with a similar vision, values and complementary personalities to partner with.
“An organization, just like relationships, needs both accelerators and brakes to be successful.”
I’m a charge ahead type of person and sometimes chafe at the brakers, but truly value the much-needed balance they bring to the organization. This past January, after running the shop for 15 years, I went on a one-month sabbatical. It wasn’t really a surprise how much my identity was enmeshed with my business, but I realized how lucky I was to get to go to a place every day and work with funny, interesting, motivated people. I think also the first 10 years of my business I was playing office—-acting and doing things by the book. True success comes when you show up, leave that confining mental box at the door and give yourself permission to do things differently.
Your company offers social media services. Should every company get involved in online communities?
If communicating with a customer base is important to your business, then yes. More and more consumers are voting with their dollars. They will chose to work with and purchase from companies who listen, share their values and have great products and services. Social media allows a company to engage people as never before. It’s important that, in their dialogue with consumers, companies provide content that is valuable to their target audiences.
If a company decides to do social media, they should make a plan with strategic objectives and commit time and staff to doing it for the long haul. If you are building a strong brand voice, assign a person internally to manage the dialogue and train them on the brand voice. Twitter and Facebook are great way, inexpensive ways to do market research—-to find out what people are saying about you and your competitors. I wrote a blog post for my Branded column in the New York Times addressing this question for small business owners and there’s a bit more info there on the topic.
Has your personal brand had a positive impact on the company? Does the CEO have to be a brand?
Everyone looks to the CEO to set the tone, tempo and path for the company. A good CEO should communicate well their values, their vision and establishes the company’s culture. If a company has secret sauce, it’s in their culture. A positive one is responsible for the success of a company; a negative one, it’s downfall. The thing makes me happiest about my company is our culture…open, curious, encouraging big thinking and fun. All of which makes for great work, happy staffers and clients. I think people would say I have a personal brand and, yes, I think it is mirrored in Door Number 3’s culture.
And, your last question, Dan, leads right back to the first. You planned it that way, didn’t you? The CEO doesn’t need to be a brand, but I think successful leaders live a commitment to something bigger than producing a good product or service at a good price. But will add a caveat: even if it’s very positive, a CEO’s brand can get in the way. We changed our agency’s name five years ago, took my name off the door and replaced it with something that all employees could take ownership of, Door Number 3. My goal was to attract, keep and retain really smart people. To do that, I don’t believe the owner’s name is on the letterhead. Everyone looks at you in a meeting and unduly gives you credit for the work. And, if you are not in a meeting, clients don’t feel like their are getting the best attention. You can’t keep good people around like that. Now our staffers call themselves Doorkeepers and takes terrific initiative, and ownership in everything that comes out of here. And that’s scalable. The culture is the same, only the credit gets spread around.
M.P. Mueller is the President at Door Number 3. As President of the indie-agency, M.P. has many responsibilities including client relation, business development, staff recruitment and maintaining the agency’s unique culture. Her chief task, however, is to provide the guiding light and inspiring vision that allows the agency to continually develop award-winning, impactful campaigns for brands and organizations of all sizes. M.P. does all of that with her trademark smile, and magnanimous personality, which is as big as the state of Texas itself. But, as a believer in experiencing all one can, in 2008, she bought a ranch. Door Number 3’s success, and M.P.’s lack of ability with a pitchfork are proof that she made the correct career decision. M.P. is a resident blogger for The New York Times. Her blog, “Branded” is part of their “You’re the Boss: The Art of Running a Small Business” series.