The more a brand acts like a real person, the better it is received. That's particularly true since the pandemic started and customers lost patience with business jargon and manufactured words of support. And as the climate and sustainable practices become more important to people, they increase in importance for brands, too.

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"From younger Millennials to Gen Z...they are all increasingly placing an emphasis on working with brands who share their values," says Purna Virji, a former journalist who has lead programs for Microsoft and now works at LinkedIn as a content strategist and senior content solutions consultant.

You could say she knows what she's talking about. And Marketing Smarts was lucky enough to have her as a guest.

Brand DNA has multiple sides to it, she explains: "You have your customer brand, which is how your consumers and how your partners feel.... Then you have your talent brand, which is how your employees and prospective new hires think about you as a place to work. Then you have your corporate brand, which involves how your key stakeholders like influencers, investors, government orgs perceive your organization."

Everyone can name a company that has great products but also has horror stories revolving around its employment practices. Likewise, some companies are great places to work, but it's hard to get excited about their product. The brands that win are those that focus on both areas and wholly shape their brand DNA, says Virji.

The episode also dives into why drawing from a larger bank of ideas for content marketing is more appealing than shooting out straight product updates and news all the time.

Purna has also co-created a Sustainability Summit at LinkedIn called Sustainability Forward: How Brands Engage. In addition to sharing some details on content strategy, she will be hosting a special fireside chat with Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela to hear his approach to the sustainability conversation. Register now for free!

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.


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Full Transcript: Become a Trusted Voice in the Sustainability Conversation

George Thomas: Today I'm super excited about the conversation that you get listen in to, because we're going to be talking to Purna Virji. Purna is a globally recognized content strategist and senior content solutions consultant at LinkedIn. That's right, a LinkedIn person dropping mad value today.

Purna has been named by Adweek on their young influentials list, was crowned the search personality of the year by the US Search Awards, and was named by PPC Hero as the number one most influential expert in the world. Purna is a columnist and top rated international keynote speaker who regularly speaks at conferences such as Adweek, The Next Web Conference, and Inbound.

Prior to joining LinkedIn, Purna led global learning and thought leadership programs for Microsoft. An award-winning former journalist, Purna is an avid traveler, aspiring top chef, and enthusiastic tennis player in her spare time. Let me just say we got some of that spare time today, and this conversation is going to give you actionable tips, thoughts, and words of wisdom. Without further ado, let's go ahead and get into the interview.

When we start this conversation, because obviously they saw the title, they were skimming through wherever it is that they're listening or watching this, how to become a trusted voice in the sustainability conversation. Let's just cover this… Sustainability conversation, what exactly are we talking about right there?

Purna Virji: What I really mean by the sustainability conversation is so many marketers want to talk about some of those amazing efforts that are going on in their company, or they may be hearing questions from their audience about how they're leaning in to embrace more climate friendly goals or sustainability behaviors, or how they can teach others to be more sustainable. It's any of the things that fall into that, how companies can talk about it externally on platforms such as LinkedIn and other social media.

George: I love this idea of talking about the good things that we're doing as companies. I also like this thing of being able to enable other folks to talk about the good things that we're doing as companies, which we might get into later in this conversation.

Here's the thing. I also like to let people know at the beginning of the show, is this for me? Inevitably when you're talking to marketers, they're like, "I'm B2C," or, "I'm B2B," there's some acronym that gets thrown out there. This conversation that we're about to journey on over the next 20, 30, 40 minutes or so, is this B2C, B2B, B2G, is this everybody, who should really turn up the radio, lean into the monitor, however they're digesting this content, who is this for?

Purna: It is for all organizations, B2B, B2C, B2G. If you are trying to reach out to people, then I would say pay attention because of how important sustainability and climate change is to people around the world, as the Edelman Trust Barometer Report shared recently as well.

George: Here's the thing I want to dig into. You shared a presentation that you do. While it's talking about the good things that you're doing as a company, I think there's a framework, a couple of things, even a matrix if you will, in there that I want to unlock for the audience. Because if you're going to talk about the good things that you're doing, there's this word that you almost have to have with your audience. That word is trust. Purna, when you think about the word trust, when you think about business trust, and you think about we're in 2022, how important is that for companies to be focusing on and have some type of measurement or matrix, plan or strategy for building business trust?

Purna: 100%, it's so important. There are dozens of research reports that come out every year that talk about the importance of trusted organizations. We've seen time and time again that the most trusted organizations, the ones that make a difference to their consumers' lives or within society, are the ones that get rewarded with more business, more loyalty, more recommendations, you name it.

We see this being especially important with the next generations. If you look from younger Millennials to even Gen Z, the growing next business important generation, they are all increasingly placing an emphasis on working with brands who share their values. I think trust is getting more important and not less.

George: I have to agree with you. It just is the name of the game, trust. A lot of people, a lot of businesses, a lot of marketers, owners, whoever, they don't necessarily have a thought process or strategy around this. Some do. Don't get me wrong. I saw something that you like to talk about and it really tickled my inner strategic person.

Actually, it's two elements. You talk about brand DNA, and you also talk about the trust triangle. What I want to do is unpack first what the heck is brand DNA, or how can companies, the listeners, the viewers out there start to think about brand DNA for them, and again kind of around the sustainability conversation?

Purna: Brand DNA is essentially the very essence of who you are. Let's break that down. Every organization really is made up of three core dimensions, and they're all different aspects of your brand that come together to really resonate with your overall audience.

Think about this. You have your customer brand, which is how your consumers and how your partners feel about your brand. Then you have your talent brand, which is how your employees and prospective new hires think about you as a place to work. Then you have your corporate brand, which involves how your key stakeholders like influencers, investors, government orgs perceive your organization.

If you layover all of those three, the overlapping area, the core, the heart of it is your brand DNA. It's the reason why you exist, it's what sets you apart. Focus on that. Especially in a conversation like sustainability, which has both rational and emotional overtones, you want to be able to communicate this consistently through a blended content journey that reaches all three of these core audiences.

George: Listeners and viewers, if you're sitting here right now like, "Oh. I've never overlapped those three," or, "I really don't know what my brand DNA is," this is a great first action item, a first step to try to dig in and do an exercise where you can figure out those things that set you apart. By the way, those things are probably going to be connected to the special things that you're doing out in the world.

The fun part about this is attached to this brand DNA that the viewers and listeners need to implement or understand or put a layer into is this thing that you talk about which is the trust triangle. Let's just start with that. What the heck is the trust triangle that people can start to lean in and use?

Purna: This is a super cool concept that I saw. They had talked about this concept of some incredibly brilliant researchers had broken down that there are three core elements of trust when it comes to audiences and organizations. It really falls down into three areas, which are authenticity, empathy, and logic. If you can shine in these three core areas, that's how you can really connect and allow people to get to your core brand DNA.

It's so important. I can't stress this enough. We can't be siloed anymore. Marketers, HR people, your consumers, your prospective hires, it's all merging. We all want to work for the company whose products we really love and like, and we know that they're a good and trusted company to work for. These are the brands that do well. Try to think about connecting all of that and being a unified branded approach.

George: I want to go off the beaten path for a second, because the trust triangle—and by the way, you can pick one or whatnot here, but some of these, if you say transparency, you say authenticity, people like are like, "Those are great buzzwords." I don't want people to think about these as buzzwords. Pick one of the layers of the trust triangle and explain your thoughts around the dramatic importance of not looking at it as a word, but the actions around it. Whether it be authenticity, transparency, or whatever, lean into that and give the audience a deeper look into that.

Purna: Let's lean into authenticity, because that's really the heart of everything. Yes, it's such a buzzword today. I hear you. Everyone is like, "I'm authentic. I'm transparent. I'm this." What it comes down to is to go beyond corporate jargon, go beyond the expected post, and show the heart of who you are as a brand and talk about why you exist. Peel back the layers, because if you don't do it on your own, consumers are going to do this for you.

Time and again, we're seeing companies digging deeper. You can say, "I believe in diversity and inclusion," or, "I believe in sustainable manufacturing practices." People are going to go and check out your board. Are you really diverse? People are going to go and dive into some of your manufacturing practices. We are no longer just willing to accept things at face value. People care. There is such a genuine increase in what people are concerned about. It just takes a couple of clicks to get to the heart.

When you're talking about things, there is so much content that you are competing with every single day. What do they say? You're scrolling 300 feet a day just on your phone alone. What's going to stand out? Certainly not the corporate jargon or the sea of sameness that everyone else is talking about because it's the safe thing to do. Don't do that. Go deeper. Share the why behind the what that you're doing. Don't just post to post. Show how you walk the walk.

I'll give you an example of that. Red Hat is a tech company, and they shared recently how they updated their entire company's SWAG store that they call Cool Stuff. They said that every product here is going to be sourced from a minority-owned sustainable company. That's just showing how they're really walking the walk and taking the actions that go beyond just saying what they believe in.

George: I love that story. That is great. It's interesting because I know me personally, I see things like that and I'm like I want to be involved, too. It almost starts to create this tribe mentality based on the trust that you're actually generating. I will say, viewers, listeners, I don't know if you heard Purna say, but my ears perked up, that you scroll 300 miles a day or something.

Purna: 300 feet, yes.

George: That's a lot of scrolling. 300 feet, even that is mind-blowing to me. I've never really thought about what's the actual measurement of the scroll, whatever platform you're on. That is absolutely amazing.

Purna: That's how tall the Empire State Building is, or Big Ben in London. That's how much we're scrolling. Not the Empire State. Sorry. It's the Statue of Liberty. You're scrolling the Statue of Liberty every single day. There are some good muscles in our thumbs now.

George: Now I know why my thumb is tired at the end of the day. I'd love to tie this back to business. I love the fact that you told a story. Sometimes people learn by pain. Right? We get into these situations in our life when we're like I learned some good lessons from that, I hope I don't have to go through that again.

Having a trust triangle or focusing in on the brand DNA for your company, what problems does it help a company either solve or not fall prey to? You don't get this hurdle because you have these things in place versus you were trying to run the race without them.

Purna: I'll ask you a question. You don't have to say the answer out loud. Can you think in your head of a company that you're like, "I love their product/service and how they operate, but I would never want to work there. I've read all of these horror stories about how horrible they are to work for." You can name one.

Conversely, think about a company that you'd be like, "I'd love to work there. They're a super cool company, but I would never consume their products/services. I don't believe in it. I'm not a fan of it." We can think of some of those as well.

Then if I ask you can you think about a company that is your dream company, you'd love to shop from there, you'd love to work there. Do you feel the different sense of warmth and the goodwill?

George: Oh yes.

Purna: Who do you think is the one that's going to succeed in the longer term? Like most people, we want to choose, even as a consumer, you'd be more likely to choose the one where you believe in that company, you'd want to work there, you read all the good things about it. By focusing on your brand DNA, by thinking about your brand wholistically and trying to build the trust and the rapport and that engagement with your audience, I think that you can answer that question yourself with those questions I asked you.

George: It's so interesting. I love the fact that you just used the power of questions to the person that's actually interviewing you. That was amazing, by the way. There is literally a visceral response when you start to compartmentalize those things into the different ways that you told that.

What's interesting is I keep popping into when we're talking about brand DNA and the trust triangle, transparency and authenticity, I keep bumping into this thing of these are really the elements of our reputation. Whether it's an individual human or a group of humans that are a company, we all have this reputation. I'm super curious when it comes to what the viewers and listeners can do to continue to build trust, but more importantly manage their reputation over time, is there some wisdom that you could share around protecting or managing that reputation?

Purna: I would say right now let's talk about building your brand and what stands out. I like to think about the three Ps of building brand. Before I do that, I want to share why it's important. Building brand can take time, but it can really pay off. What it can help you do is to build brand salience. There are different levels of awareness with a brand.

There's fame, so think Coca-Cola, everybody knows about it. You think about Coca-Cola in many different purchasing situations and outside just in pop culture references, too. Then you have awareness, which is people don't think about you all of the time, but they know who you are and you come up in time when people want to purchase. If you're like, "I need a tissue," you're going to think of Kleenex. "I need to photocopy something," you'll think of Xerox. Those are the ones that try to happen. You want to be the brand that gets it right.

Especially in B2B, not everyone is in the market to buy at any given time. We have more people out of market. You need to build your brand to build those memory and recalls so that when they are in the market to buy, you're the one that gets thought of.

How to do that, I'll go back to the three Ps. First is personality. Let some emotion through. You can do humor. There's lots of different ways to showcase who you are as a company. I will reinforce, if you're a B2B brand listening, that B2B does not have to be boring. If you're considering LinkedIn, LinkedIn is not that suit and tie network that it was a few years ago. Don't be afraid. Bring something memorable, recall.

I remember Microsoft had this post where they were showing a modem connecting to the internet, and it was almost a picture that you could hear. It's still brand appropriate and safe, but it builds this little moment of engagement.

Then you want to think about your purpose. Especially sustainability, that ties so well to that. What do you believe in? What's your mission and vision when it comes to sustainability? Share that. That's your second P.

The third P is your people. Whether that's your executives, whether it's your daily employees, showcase them. An organization is not just this nebulous, nameless, faceless thing. It is a living, breathing organism that is made up of the people that work there. Showcase them. It's helpful for both your marketing and your talent brand and your corporate brand.

Let's say you have an employee who came up with a solution to make some of your packaging a little bit more environmentally friendly. Tell the story. How did they think about it? Why did they do that? How did it end up working out for your company? Or maybe somebody tested something at home, like a little garden that they did at home to try to save some miles or air miles from some of the produce. Share those things. They're interesting, compelling, human, relatable stories.

These are your three Ps that can help build brand recall.

George: By the way, viewers, listeners, I hope you realize that was probably a good rewind point. If you break down those three Ps for yourself, for your business, and really take time to put strategy around each of those, amazing things will happen for your business. Trust me. Here's the thing. This is like a perfect storm brewing on this episode because we're talking about brand DNA, we're talking about the trust triangle, we're talking about being able to actually manage your company reputation, and you mentioned in that last part when you were talking about the three Ps the word story and you mentioned social, too, you mentioned LinkedIn and sharing these stories.

It unlocked my brain and I want to ask this question because I think it's important for many of the listeners who have either been on the content train for a while and are getting tired or haven't jumped on the content train yet because they don't know the importance of it. The question simply is how does content creation and the content you create and stories come into play with everything that we've talked about thus far, as far as reputation, trust, brand, all of those good pieces?

Purna: Oh my goodness, content is at the very heart of it all. Isn't it? When your prospect has not purchased but they're still doing their research, what shows up? Your content. So, your content has to do the job of your very best salesperson, your very best company representative. In B2B especially, if you're looking at that, the sales journeys are so much longer, 90 days on average.

People will consume a lot of content, especially if you think of who is looking. So often we can get into this trap of thinking that our decision maker is just the person who signs the contract. That's not the case. There's a whole buying committee of people who influence the decision. Some people will do the research, some people will share, some people will weigh in. All of these people are doing research as well online, and your content has to represent your organization in the best possible way it can. That's where you can do that, tell your brand stories and share updates in a way that's engaging to your audience.

I think the one thing that I always say that is my number one advice, if you remember only one thing from today, remember this; it's all about what your audience wants to hear. Think about them. What are they caring about? What's important to them? Make sure you're sharing content that aligns with that.

The other advantage is that you'll never run out of ideas if you're always letting your audience lead and guide you on what they want to hear about.

George: I love the idea of a bank of ideas. I love that it's tied back to the humans that you actually are serving. Here's the thing. Because we're talking about content and we're going down this direction, I think this is a perfect opportunity to tie another piece that I know you like to talk about into the conversation we're having. What I don't want people to do is hear the word content and think that I'm just talking about their marketing messages. Right?

One of the things that you like to talk about is big ideas versus simple marketing messages. I think, honestly, it's because it ties back to something you said earlier in the episode about explaining the why of the what and who. Starting with why, if you will. Wax poetic for me a little bit about this idea of big ideas versus simple marketing messages.

Purna: That's a great question. Very often companies are like, "We have this update. Let me put it out there," or, "I launched this new product. Let me put it out there." That's great. Yes, you should put out your marketing messages. This is not saying kibosh them. This is saying make sure you're adding on additional elements to your content, too. No one wants to just listen to marketing messages all day. You don't want to be hit over the head with an ad all the time.

Think about your actual audiences. Especially your higher level decision makers, they're being bombarded by content all the time. What's going to help and resonate with them? Help them. Maybe it's showing them a new way to look at something that they may not have considered. Or give them resources to solve a potential issue that many people in their ilk have. Talk to them about potential challenges that are coming up and give solutions on how you could solve them, things that they hadn't considered, hadn't thought about. Maybe they're struggling with trying to do that, too, and your execs are really great.

That's where your employees and your executive thought leadership programs can shine. There's some research that shows that as well. In fact, Qnary is this company that releases this awesome research report every year that talks about how people react to executive presence in social media and executive storytelling. They showed that in 2021 over 51% of people will be likely to believe an executive's account speaking to something versus the message coming from the company or the brand account. Think about that, too. You want to try to get your messages out from different sources.

George: I'll tell you, that last statement of 51% stat that you threw out there, it makes me think about, I'm pretty sure it was Mark Schaefer that I heard at Social Media Marketing World one year say the most human companies will win, which means if the humans are actually delivering the messaging, then it's humans and humans. I love that so much.

One of the things I want to try to do on the Marketing Smarts Podcast is give people actionable places to start. If we rewind a little bit and we go back to the brand DNA and the trust triangle, what are maybe one, two, three tips that you would want to share with the audience of as they get started, they haven't built this yet, they haven't implemented it, what are a couple of tips that you would want to share with the viewers and listeners?

Purna: The number one I would say is start with who you are. Find your why. If you can find that why, then you'll be well on your way to finding your content whitespace. Think about this. First is what sets us apart, what makes us different? Put that down.

Then you're going to have what does my audience want to hear or need to hear. Then you can put down what do I really need to say or what's a message that I need to get out. If you can find that little overlap area, you've found your little whitespace to be seen, to stand out with messages that will resonate with your audience and have impact to your business. So, I would say number one is start with your whitespace.

The second thing is think about your content journey from your customer's perspective when they find out who you are to want to get to know what you do and your expertise to then making a decision, your entire journey. Make sure you have content that resonates with your audience at every step of the way. It's very important. So many brands will over-index on bottom funnel or over-index on brand and forget to do all of the other steps. Balance it throughout. That would be my second big step.

Again, keep going back to what does my audience want to hear, what's important to them. Then go and look at what's unique for you to stand out.

George: So many good tidbits of information, so many great pieces of actionable items that the viewer, the listener can actually use, hopefully have written down, have rewound. Whiteboard sessions are ahead. I want to wrap it up. I have a couple more questions for you, but we'll wrap it up. You've already given like 30 minutes of massive value to the audience, so we thank you for that. I know they're thanking you. They're digitally applauding you right now, Purna.

When they go down this journey, I'm curious what does the end result look like? Meaning what does success look like? How do they know or how can they start to see it's working?

Purna: There's a few different elements. If you take a look right at the very brand, it's brand sentiment. How do people think about you? What do they feel? For the key topics that matter, what's your share of feed in social? Are you coming up more? Are you standing out? Are you being seen as one of those top visible companies, top followed companies? It's all of that, it's your engagement with your brand, it's the clicks to your website, it's your leads, and so on. It runs the full gamut, but everything really ties up.

Keep this in mind, if you're B2B especially, 95% of your audience, according to Binet and Field Research, is not in the market to buy right now. This is an investment that you need to be making in building your brand, in building those memory recall structures. Then of course, with bottom funnel, those are our sexy metrics, those are the ones that we know well and follow right from our clickthroughs to our cost per acquisition to all of our conversion rates, etcetera.

George: Road map to reporting. Again, a rewind spot in the interview. I'd like to end this way, other than in a minute I'm going to give you the opportunity to let the audience know where the heck they can reach out, where they should connect, how they can get more of you, the awesomeness that is you. I always like to ask this last question. By the way, it could be around sustainability, it could be around any of the other topics that we talked about, or it could go completely sideways and be about just general life.

Are there any final words of wisdom that you want to leave with the Marketing Smarts Podcast community?

Purna: I would like to leave a little message of encouragement. So often we'll hear from content marketers around the world that there's only so many hours in a day, there's only limited resources, we're exhausted, how do we consistently come up with content to be always on. I want to please reassure you that you can reuse, you can recycle, you can build your own sustainable content strategy. Sustainable for you, not to do with the climate.

Reshare. If something was done really well in the past, remix it into a different format and share it, or reshare the exact same thing a few months later, maybe with something updated. Edelman Trust Barometer Report, they come out once a year, it's super successful. They don't do it 10 times a year because it is successful.

Do your research, understand what your audience wants. Create something once that will be great, reshare it, remix it. Curate versus create all the time. There are a lot of ways that you can remix and reuse to not be working all the time but have your content be working all the time.

George: Yes. I love when that content goes to work. I love that play on words, that was absolutely amazing. Last thing. Purna, if people want to connect with you, if they want to ask questions or just get more of you that is awesome, where do you want to send them?

Purna: I'm obsessively on LinkedIn all day, and not just because I work there. I have been before I wanted to work here. I'm also on Twitter, @PurnaVirji. Catch me there, I'm super happy to connect and talk shop anytime.

George: What a great episode. There were so many lessons learned in that episode. I'll tell you, there's multiple rewind spots. Hopefully, you have your notebook out, pen out, and you are taking actionable steps to grow your business. As we end this podcast episode, make sure that you tell a friend about this episode. Share it with the world. Obviously, you can leave us a rating and review, we always love to see those.

One last thing. When I hit the stop record button, Purna and I were talking about there might be folks who want to dive into this conversation more. The fun thing is in the show notes you'll see a link where Purna is actually co-creating a sustainability summit at LinkedIn called Sustainability Forward, and it's all about how brands engage. In addition to sharing some details on content strategy, more than we covered in this podcast, she'll also be hosting a special fireside chat with Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela to hear his approach to the sustainability conversation. If you liked this interview, if you want to keep learning more about business and content and all of those good things, Purna would love to invite you to register for free. The link is in the show notes.

Folks, that's the end of this episode. Remember to be a happy, helpful, humble human. We'll meet again in the next episode of Marketing Smarts.

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