My guest today is brand strategist, co-author of upcoming book Your Personal Career Coach, and Ironman athlete, Christy Noel. With a demanding career in marketing and branding, Christy took up running as a way to unwind from the long hours at the office. This hobby quickly turned into a passion for competing in Ironmans, and the extensive training and commitment also benefited her productivity and effectiveness at work – while working fewer hours and staying healthier. Her experience underscores something I encourage clients constantly – that having a passion outside of work will make you a better leader! We also discuss the latest and greatest in brand strategy, the elusive ROI of marketing efforts, and the importance of ensuring all external communications are on brand, not just your sales pitches.


Episode 30: How Ironman Training Led to Greater Professional Success with Christy Noel

Shani Magosky: Hello, Leadershifters and welcome back to The Leadershift Show. I am joined today by Christy Noel, who is joining us today from Manhattan Beach, California which is one of my favorite places in the country.

Christy Noel: Oh, thank you, Shani. Thank you for recognizing town. It’s pretty beautiful here, I can’t complain at all.

Shani: It’s phenomenal. So Leadershifters, let me just give you a little background on Christy and why I’m psyched to have her on the show today. Christy is a brand strategist and marketer, and that is relevant for anyone in any organization. Even if your functional area isn’t marketing, there’s no one that isn’t touched in some way by the marketing and branding of the product or service that your company or organization is involved in.

Christy is also a budding author, she’s got a book coming out late this year or early next year that she co-authored with her father, called Your Personal Career Coach and it’s full of stories about how to be successful in careers and shared from 25 other folks, and it’s going to be really interesting. The other thing I think is really admirable about Christy is, she is a former Ironman athlete and that takes a type of discipline that I personally find inspiring. So, welcome to the show, Christy.

Christy: Thank you, Shani. I’m really happy to be here, thanks for having me.

Shani: My pleasure. Before we get started, I want to explain why I am dressed a little more casually today than I normally am. I don’t know if you can see it fully in the screen so I’ll stand up a little bit. I have a shirt on that says, “I love Twitter Dublin.” Before my interview with Christy, I was on a call with my contact at Twitter Dublin, they’re one of my big clients and so I wore this shirt as part of team spirit. And as I was going to change the shirt to do the podcast, I was like, “Wait a minute, we’re going to be talking about branding and marketing and if nothing else, Twitter is a huge brand success story and they are in the marketing niche.” So I thought, “You know what? This fits the theme of today, I’m going to keep the damn t-shirt on.” [laughs]

Christy: I love it.

Shani: Now, when we talk about leader shifting, it can encompass a whole lot of different variables. Leaders have to shift their strategy and tactics, and their team composition, and their mindsets and so forth. In an area of business that I think has really made a huge shift over the past 10 or so years is branding and marketing which is, obviously, your wheelhouse. Let’s start off with some of the biggest shifts that you helped your clients navigate from a branding and marketing perspective.

Christy: Sure, happy to, Shani. If you think about marketing and branding, especially if you go back when it was really advertising, it was just how do I get my product or my service out there and let people know that they need to buy it and what’s the price. It was often a commodity, “I’m just going to see what’s available and I’ll buy which is the best value or the best price or something.” People don’t necessarily look at brands that way anymore, they want a relationship and that’s where I think brand really comes in. “Who do I feel really good about?” Whether I’m buying this refrigerator or I’m having a coach. “Help me, I need to know that there’s a connection there from an emotional level.”

So the branding has really come into play which is why you see large corporations on social media, trying to create a relationship with their consumers through Twitter, or Instagram, or whatever social media platform it is because– all marketers and branders have to know that and going with that shift of the mindset to know it’s not just about having the best product or the best price anymore. You need to establish a relationship because nobody wants to do business with somebody they’re not– they want to feel good about their decision and that’s an emotional decision more than it is about a price point or a features and benefits set.

Shani: Absolutely. Do you still face any resistance to digital marketing or mobile marketing, or do you think that the resistance to that is long gone?

Christy: I think the resistance is gone. I think how to best use it is still a learning phase for some corporations and some personal brands and people– there are so many social media options and they each have a different niche and a different strategy behind them and so-

Shani: Sure.

Christy: it’s often, “Do I do all of them? Do I do all of them only so well? Do I focus on a couple of them and do those really well?” Larger corporations have the ability of having a social media department, so they probably have people focused on each one of them. For smaller companies, and individual brands, and solopreneurs, that’s a little more challenging. And the algorithms are constantly changing so trying-

Shani: Yes.

Christy: -to stay on top of that is more challenging. I think everybody knows they need to be in the game but winning the game or being really good at it, that continues to be a challenge. And quite frankly, we don’t all know the mystery behind the algorithms so we’re kind of learning and you think you finally got it like figured something out, and then they shift it. It is a bit of a challenge but I don’t see that the resistance for people getting into social media these days, it’s just how can I best use it and what’s my own strategy for being successful in it.

Shani: Yes, It’s funny as I listen to you talk about algorithms after talking about personal relationships. It almost seems counterintuitive, and then here we are, turning our personal relationships yet they’re managed through algorithms.

Christy: No, you’re absolutely right. It is, yes. It is a little bit convoluted, I think.

Shani: Yes. I mean, the juxtaposition is kind of funny. My question is, what do you recommend to your clients in terms of how do you establish those personal relationships over platforms that are– you’re essentially speaking to millions of people? What’s the technique for really mastering that?

Christy: Yes, no. It’s a fair question and I would say, it’s one thing to share information and that’s what I think everybody’s good at, it’s the dialogue beyond that, that becomes the challenging part and the time-consuming part, so I understand why that can be challenging. But it’s making sure you’re responding to comments that you are commenting on other people’s posts or looking in the target audience that you want to be in and being involved and engaged in part of the conversation, and that is not just a one-way relationship.

I would also advise that don’t try to be in all the platforms if you don’t have the bandwidth to do it. It’s better to focus on a couple and be really good, and really involved, and really active in those than to spread yourself too thin over several of them and just kind of be halfway. I was going to say half-assed, I don’t know if I can say that on the podcast. [laughs]

Shani: Oh, you can curse on my show, girlfriend. No problem. [laughs]

Christy: I had a feeling with you, Shani, that that was going to be okay. Yes, so that’s really what it’s about. That’s how you see the successful influencers in social media are very engaged and that’s why, and that’s what people are looking for now.

Shani: Right. What would you say to a client who is fascinated by shiny objects? Thinking that the way they’re going to have the conversation is through doing something crazy, zany, new versus just having an authentic dialogue. Is there a benefit to one or the other?

Christy: Well, shiny objects syndrome is real and I’ve fallen into that trap as well. I think the first is to recognize if it is a trap. If you’re going to go all in and you can actually fall of– I’ve had people say, “How do I go viral?” I said, “Well, nobody starts off by saying here’s our go-viral strategy.” If I knew, I’ll be doing it, right? We’d love it but that’s just not how it works.

Things go viral organically because there’s something in it that excited people and they wanted to share it, so doing something crazy, zany is good if you’re going to follow through it and it will get attention but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to go viral. You want to just try it and drop it, and go play with the next shiny object. You have to be all in but if it’s different– all of the successes of things that have gone viral were usually started because they were different. But I would not say go in with that strategy to go viral but just to break through and maybe do something different. Maybe it’s a different approach for your own brand to grab attention or do a rebrand and say hey maybe we were used to be a little bit more corporate and stuffy but now look at us we’ve got a different attitude or something. That’s all fine but again it’s you just don’t do it once and walk away and that won’t work.

Shani: That leads me to a related thread which is the intersection of corporate culture and grant. Culture as everybody who listens or watches me knows is really one of my passions and I think that an effective powerful culture is what paves the way for business success and not enough companies pay attention to it. Having a great internal culture is only part of it though. It’s also how do you translate that culture into external branding so that there’s alignment between the internal culture and the external culture brand perception. How do you do that?

Christy: Well, I agree with you and culture is so important just for the morale and having a successful company but because we’ve been talking about social media that’s also why it’s so important. Because if your employees are happy and they’re totally excited about your brand they’re going to share that on social media and so you have these brand ambassadors from your own employee group. Now it’s not just the corporate communications or the marketing department doing it. You have tens of hundreds of thousands of employees saying all sorts of positive things and being in the dialogue as well. If you don’t have a good culture they’re not doing that or even worse they’re participating in a negative way not in a positive way.

Shani: Then they see their shitty Glassdoor reviews.

Christy: Exactly. Corporate culture is even more important now because it used to be- well, it was just not a good place to work and nobody was happy, now they’re sharing it. If it’s not a nice place to work and nobody’s happy; the world knows about it.

Shani: Right. People vote with their wallet.

Christy: Exactly. We’ve seen brands struggle because of one employee had a bad experience with an airplane passenger or something and everybody hears about it now you’re thinking I don’t know, do I want to fly them or not or do I want to go to that store or not? It’s kind of what we’re talking about before you want to have a positive corporate culture anyway, you don’t want to feel beholden that you have to make it a good culture just because you want people to be not saying negative things on Glassdoor. There is a truth to that and that it’s people are vocal they’re sharing their feelings they’re sharing what they’re responsible. They’re sharing what their experiences are.

Shani: Customer-clients experience with brand could evolve anything along the line or any area of business within a company. It’s obviously ideal if there can be some consistency to how the various interactions with someone maybe in collections has the same corporate culture vibe as an interaction with someone in sales or in any other area.

Christy: Exactly. If you think about the sales process somebody probably started with a sales call with a county executive once they signed up they probably went to an account manager or some type of client services person if they have any problems they go to customer support. As you said if they’re in billing issues to find they’re talking to somebody in finance. That should be consistent as far as a positive experience is somebody that’s helping you trying to do their best to help you all the way through and every touchpoint it’s a positive experience. It’s not out of joint like wait a minute my sales rep is so nice but then I went talk to these other three departments and I don’t know what happened there. It’s not that hard to do it right and it’s really easy to screw it up and make it [crosstalk]

Shani: Absolutely. Leadership just, let’s pause and really underline the importance of this and the communication that is not just between you and customers but also has to take place internally to match the impact you want to have on customers. I’ll give you just a quick example, one of my best friends was hired some years back by a very large bank financial services institution that had done a bunch of different mergers.

They did something really smart because they realized that they had customers who were getting communications both written and email communications from three or four different business units that were all under the big corporate umbrella and they had different messaging they had different tones and therefore different breathing. That is confusing as hell for the customer and on top of it a lot of the communications were legalese speak which was not consistent with the brand that they were trying to build through all these acquisitions. They were trying to build a consumer-friendly brand and even though it was a big bank, friendly interactions with your local bankers.

They were trying to really give off that vibe of we’re approachable we’re friendly and yet a lot of communications they were sending out to their customers were full of all this bullshit legal language so totally inconsistent. They hired her to overhaul all the communications not only get rid of all of the duplications and overlaps but also to put some of that legal stuff which can be necessary in a high regulated industry into plain language. If you’re not thinking along those lines about how to overhaul communication internally and externally to align your brand and your culture, you’re missing the boat.

Christy: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. If you look at companies that especially if they have videos maybe they have videos about the company or the product and they’re fun and lively and light-hearted and then as you say but then I get this notice that’s legalese and I don’t even know what. That part goes through your social media too. What’s your tone of voice in your social media in your corporate videos in your communication. There’s ways if you’re as light-hearted and fun you can still talk about legalese at least opening it up with that light-hearted have fun and then say or you could even say hey sorry this is a legalese piece, we have to do this and we know it’s going to be boring, but hey get ready. Strap in [crosstalk]. It doesn’thave to sound like the corporate attorney wrote it and nobody else touched it. There are ways to still do your financial information or your corporate information or your legal information and still be on brand. You just might have to be a little bit more creative.

Shani: Let me ask you one more thing which I know is a hot button to this day which is ROI on marketing efforts.

Christy: Yes, indeed.

Shani: Obviously, there’s lots of different metrics and data that can be gleaned from social media interactions and so forth but how do you recommend that your CMOs that are clients present that to the c-suite to prove that the marketing dollars that they are spending are yielding fruit?

Christy: The age-old challenge of marketing dollar ROI and it becomes even muddier when you throw in social media and some of the organic work that we do through SEO and things like that. What I would say is it’s never going to be a perfect ROI but there are other metrics you can track. You can track engagement, you can track your web stats as visitors and clicks and links and stuff like that. If you do paid advertising on social then there are some metrics there but I think it’s something like even in social now what we have done historically is we look at that as one of several touchpoints. It’s not the conversion point. We can generate a leave but that doesn’t necessarily go straight to a sale on social.

There’s still several touchpoints but it’s an opening often for awareness. That’s the approach that most CMO– if you’re looking to have a perfect model with an Excel spreadsheet that’s going to show some dollars on this, that’s going to be challenging. It’s just all part of the marketing mix and so your overall ROI should fall into the numbers or if it’s a percentage of sales or however you create your marketing budget. You need to doing it, you just can’t necessarily say well we responded to all those tweets and therefore, we created X number sales. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Shani: It’s never going to be a factory where we can measure the exact return on investment or return on asset in the same scientific way.

Christy: Yes. The nice thing about social media is they do give you all sorts of metrics to measure engagement, and shares, and likes and things like that, so you can show growth. It said engagement 17 times here in the last 30 seconds, but it’s true.

Shani: That’s what it’s all about, right?

Christy: Yes. That’s what you’re measuring. You can use that information to see what resonates with your audience, so if videos do well or light-hearted jokes or funny GIFs or pictures or something. You can use that to align your strategy more so that you get more engagement and all that information. Again, take another touchpoint to hopefully lead to the sale, but it’s an investment that you have to make whether its staff or time or a consultant or an agency but it’s not something you can avoid even though you can’t have the perfect number.

Shani: Yes, I got it. I want to shift a little bit here and talk about your Ironman experience. One of the reasons it interests me so much is, first of all, just the discipline that it takes to train for those things doesn’t even seem human to me.

Christy: Thank you.

Shani: I’m in awe and thematically, having some balance between work and your other life is so important. I think not enough hardcore career people have something that they’re really passionate about outside of work. I’d love to hear how you got into it and how you managed to have a senior level career and devote the time it takes to train for an Ironman.

Christy: I can talk about this all day. Thank you for bringing it up. I got into it because of pretty much what you just said, Shani. I was working too long, too many hours. I had a gym membership that I wasn’t using and going to. I called up a friend of mine and she had moved to Seattle and told me about this female triathlon series that was in Seattle.

I said, “You know what? The only way I’m going to get out of the office is to have a goal.” Signing up for this triathlon is I think going to be my goal. It has really forced me to train. We did that together and had never done anything. Yes, I’d run a little bit and I swam as a kid, I knew how to ride a bike, but I never done anything competitively like that. We didn’t know what we were doing.

I started training out of booked triathlon for women and in a way, I went and loved it. I had a wonderful time. That one was again all women so it was very supportive. It was not competitive. It was, “You go, girl,” wherever you turned and stuff like that. I did that for a few years and at the same time, my stepdad had started to get in triathlons as well. He did a Half Ironman and an Ironman. He kept saying, “Well, you should do that with me.” I was, “Okay.” Saying okay not even knowing what I was saying okay to. Next thing I know, I’m training for a full Ironman. What I like and why I like discussing that, other than it was an incredible day is that all the things that you said. It requires time management skills. It requires commitment. It requires dedication.

You don’t get the opportunity to say, “Yes, I don’t feel like working out today.” You really have to say, “Whatever’s on the schedule, I’m doing it whether I feel like it or not,” and it does and because the training is so intensive, you don’t get the opportunity to say like, “I’m working late tonight. I can’t go to the pool.” It has to be pretty big to keep you from out of that because you’re going to be showing up at the starting line of an Ironman if you’re not trained. It becomes dangerous.

Shani: Did you find yourself more effectively managing the time you were at work so that your productivity skyrocketed?

Christy: Yes, exactly. That did help me because I could get distracted and work long hours, but I wasn’t always productive in those hours. They were just hours spend there and then I’d work and get something up. I was really forced to say, “Okay, I’ve got to be at the pool by 9:00 o’clock, so I’ve gone to be out of here by 7:00 o’clock,” to make that happen and what needs to be done and make sure I got everything done off my to-do list. It really has improved my time management skills, not just for training but for being focused. I work and realizing that there’s only so many hours of focus days. You can put it into four hours, or eight hours, or 12 hours but you’re still probably only getting those same number of focused time.

Shani: Right. Well, what is it, is it Peterson’s principle or something like that that the tasks expand to fill the amount of time allotted to do it?

Christy: Exactly. I tell people it doesn’t have to go full-on to an Ironman, but if it’s something, whether it’s a 5k or if it’s a walk, or if it’s a Zumba class or something, it’s great to have the goal to get you to force yourself to get out of the office or to stop working and make sure you do balance your time. Maybe it’s coaching your kids’ little league team or being a Girl Scout leader or something to really force you to get what needs to be done, but also know that there’s life outside of that office.

Shani: Hundred percent. Leadershifters, if you don’t have a passion outside of work, go get one immediately. It’s so important to have that balance and to have something else that lights you up and is going to fulfill you in life. Not to be morbid but do you want it to be on your gravestone that she worked 14-hour a day or he was a really good vice president. Do you want it written on your tombstone like she was really passionate about whatever it is. That’s really what life’s all about and it makes us better at what we do at work and more productive. Lastly, let’s move on and talk about this upcoming book that you have. I’m super excited about it, so give us a very quick sense of how it came together and what’s going on there.

Christy: Sure. Thank you. I’d be happy to. Real quick, in my career, I’ve worked primarily for men and with men and had some typical female bumps along the road of learning curves. I have had this envisioned to write a book to help other women to fast-track through some of the mistakes and issues that I had. The notes to me and my dad had a similar aspiration to write a book to help young people overcome some of the learnings that he had in the business world when he came up as the first person in his family to go to college and have a professional career with no real mentors. We both had these aspirations on the side and came together and realized, “Well, we could do this together.”

Hence, your personal career coach. We call them stories because it’s first-person stories about our experience. It’s not just an instructional type of career advice book. It’s a book full of different stories by 25 or 26 contributing authors of our own experience. Some of them are successes and some of them were failures or learning experiences, let’s say, to share with other people their short stories so you can come in and read just one.

You could read a chapter if you’re getting ready to interview on the interviewing chapter. It doesn’t have to be cover to cover. You can pick it up when you need it and the lessons learned are through our experiences. It’s a little more fun. A little easier read, so we’re really excited about it. It’s been really fun to work with our contributing authors because we have people with totally different backgrounds and experiences and sharing because they want to help other people succeed and avoid some of the things that we’ve all encountered.

Shani: Yes. What are just a couple of the favorite themes in the stories because it sounds like there’s quite a lot of them. If you could just pick out one or two that really stand out to you as your favorites.

Christy: Yes. Well, we have a lot of great information on job interviewing and job searching. One of the ones that I share is that I thought I had a great interview but it turned out I blew it. The trap that you get into when you think it’s going well but it’s not. I share some stories about balancing work and pleasure and getting caught in the trap of spending too much time at the office and not enough time with family and friends.

One of the things I like is this idea of- because we touched on it, working longer and harder versus actually working smarter. I was the one putting in all the hours and at the office late. All I was doing was getting recognized as the person that was there for the long hours while other people were working much fewer hours and getting rewarded and I thought, “Well, that’s not fair.” It’s because they had the productivity. They were selling, they were closing, they were doing these things that was rewarded. Nobody cares. At the end of the game, nobody cares how many hours you’re there. They care what the results are.

Shani: Hunderd percent.

Christy: I had to learn that lesson, hence the changes that I made in my life. Sitting at the office for 14 hours a day doesn’t do anything, except for, “Well, Christy is there 14 hours a day.” I didn’t want that on my gravestone. Working with your bosses and managing people, having integrity, they’re all really great lessons for anybody that’s looking to have a career in the corporate world.

Shani: I love it. I love that it’s written with stories. Nothing drives me crazier than pedantic business books. This sounds like it will be a lot of fun to read. You have to let me know when it finally gets published, so I can announce the publication to the Leadershifters so they can pick up your book.

Christy: I’d be happy to. Thank you very much.

Shani: We have a lot of great takeaways from our conversation today. I just want to do a quick wrap-up. First of all, brand strategy, folks, no longer just about- one of the future benefits of your brand. Branding is all about dialogue and conversation and engagement and communication, not just with your customers about the product or service, but also all of the communications that your customer may be getting. It will involve also internal conversations about how any functional area is communicating with the world at large.

I thought it was also interesting when we talked about- I like that you called it shiny object syndrome. Well, sure, that could be a winning strategy that goes viral, but it’s not something that you can ever predict. Really the best strategy is to be on brand and keep having those conversations and the authenticity and the vulnerability that you show as a brand. That’s actually what tends to garner consumer loyalty more than some cool filter or something like that.

Lastly, this whole piece about finding something to be passionate about outside of work, to give you that discipline, to make you more productive and to make you a more whole human being so that you do show up as your best self when you are working. Thanks for leading us to this conversation. How can people reach you if they want to know more or want to hire you to be a brand strategist?

Christy: Well, thank you. Yes, I’m at C H R I S T Y N O E L dot com. All my contact information is there and a little bit more about me.

Shani: Terrific. Thank you so much. Leadershifters, thanks again for joining us on The Leadershift Show. We’ll see you again next week. In the meantime, if you have any grand ideas for other fabulous people for me to interview in The Leadershift Show, please reach out and, of course, all of our various and sundry social media outlets where we hope we are generating fun dialogue and being on brand, which for me is all about fun and reverence and practical business tips. Love some feedback on that whenever you have it. Thanks again and see you next week.

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