Forward with NACCE

Part One: Unveiling the Power of Branding and Differentiation, with Wendy Coulter

July 12, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Part One: Unveiling the Power of Branding and Differentiation, with Wendy Coulter
Show Notes Transcript

Join us for an insightful discussion on the importance of branding and differentiation with esteemed leader and branding expert, Wendy Coulter. In this episode, Dr. Corbin engages in a captivating conversation with Wendy about the true essence of a brand and how it extends beyond logos and taglines. Discover the secrets to creating a powerful brand that leaves a lasting impression and learn how differentiation can significantly impact the value of your business. Don't miss this episode packed with valuable insights and practical tips for entrepreneurs and business owners.

Ready to move forward with NACCE? Learn more about the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship.

Follow NACCE on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Watch this episode on YouTube!

Wendy: You know, one famous saying that I love is that a brand is what others say about you when you're not in the room.

And I think that that really encompasses it, right? Like when we think about even our own personal reputation, that's exactly what it is.

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. It's a steamy summer here in the Raleigh, Cary area, but we're really excited to bring a breath of fresh air to the studio today with one of our entrepreneurs. I'm Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of NACCE. It's my pleasure to welcome, an esteemed leader and friend to the show, Wendy Coulter.

So Wendy, how are you doing today? I have my, my hummingbird on in honor of you. So, why don't you start us off and just let us know a little bit of how you're doing and, and a little bit of who you are.

Wendy: Thank you Becky. Well, I'm doing fabulous. Like you said, it is quite steamy outside this morning, but it is beautiful, beautiful sunny day and just excited to be here with you. Thank you so much for having me. On the show today. I'm excited to share a full, a few tidbits of my story over the last, 28 years, and I'm just excited to be here with you, another esteemed leader who I've witnessed as well. So thank you.

Becky: Well, thank. You so much, and I've really been looking forward to this conversation. We have listeners around the world. We've reached, over 61 countries. We've reached, nearly a thousand cities. So not all of our listeners are really an aware of, of NACCE and, and kind of where we're situated. But just to give people context, I'm sitting right now in, Cary, North Carolina in, at our headquarters office.

So we're about. probably eight or nine miles from North Carolina State, university. And I know that is a little bit of where your story begins. So why don't you talk to us about maybe the early days when you were a, a college student and, and what did you, what, what motivated you? What were you interested in, and how did that kind of set you on the path, to your career journey?

Wendy: Absolutely. So, I'll go back a little bit further than my college days though, because it kind of sets the stage. So I grew up in a family shoe store, and entrepreneurship is deep, deep, deep in my jeans and my bones. I grew up singing on the radio, which I'm not a great singer. I played the guitar, I rode on the elephant in the, the annual parade, in our small town where my father had a shoe store. and that was for, you know, a good bit of time in the, in my early years. 

As I, as I got older, I had my eyes on NC State. part of that had to do with basketball, which I'm a little ashamed to admit, but we were doing great back in the eighties and, I wanted to go to NC State and, had my, my eye on the architecture program at State.

So I went through that program at School of Design, very difficult program to get into, very difficult program to go through, and I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I learned how to think like a designer, which is so much about solving problems. And what I always say about, my time in school of design is that it didn't just teach me how to be a designer, but it taught me how to think, and think about the problems that I solve in my business every day.

So I received my degree in architecture and a second degree in industrial design from NC State. And as I got out into the workforce, I realized that neither one of those things were really immediate enough for my crazy brain that just like wants things to be done really quickly. And so I ended up, working for a small school of the arts here in the Raleigh area doing set design and essentially learning how to promote the company.

And so I learned how to do marketing, not only in the family business with my dad, but also when I was on my first job out of college.

Becky: That's, that is great. And as you were talking, I was thinking about driving around NC State over the weekend and their flags that they have up saying, think do, and it's interesting to me because NACCE'S mission is, to foster entrepreneurial mindset. So to think like an entrepreneur, whether you ever start a business or not, and to take innovative action.

So in a sense, we, we all are sort of aligned to that, but I, I'm just very interested, to learn a little bit more of, building on what you talked about, your family history and what you studied. when did it start to become apparent that you might start your own business? Did you always think about that or did it happen when you were in more of a traditional job?

Wendy: I was in a job with the nonprofit and things were not going too well, and I was starting to realize that from a, from a standpoint of culture and really more core values that I was not aligned with the organization that I was serving. And so, much to, the chagrin of my family, I left that job without another one and I, went on a job search.

As I was searching for a job, I found my way into a Cary Chamber of Commerce Expo, and it was over at the fairgrounds here in Raleigh and I met my first three customers there. So I start, I kinda, I always say I started in a gig economy before it was a gig economy, you know, so I was doing some freelance work and trying to figure out if I was going to land in a job, but I really was not so passionate about the careers that I had set myself up for in college as much as I was about marketing and the work that I had started doing in that first job. 

And so I signed on three clients. I just pretty much said that I could do what they asked me to do, and they hired me on the spot at the Expo. and so, you know, I owe my start to, Cary Chamber of Commerce event. So, go chamber. I'm always a fan, and we'll talk a little bit more about that. but I also just owe a world of thanks to the three, very kind gentlemen who gave me a chance that day and, asked me to do some work for them. And we have had some great relationships for many, many years. 

It just was a fabulous start. And I think that it was always what was in me. Like, I think I wasn't really meant to do anything else. I can't imagine, especially at this point, going to work for someone, but being a part of, a team, leading a team and going through the change every day that entrepreneurship is all about, I just thrive in that space and I absolutely love it.

Becky: Yeah, and it's really your passion. And I think about, you know, people say, let the genie out of the bottle and I'm, I'm right there with you. Like, I could never be like squished back into that bottle because once you really have that ability to, you know, connect with networks and so let's talk for a few minutes about the Cary Chamber because I have sort of an interesting connection with them as well.

It's a more recent one. the last three or four years, a few years before the pandemic, NACCE was looking for a new home. We were incorporated in Massachusetts, so we are more in the northern part. And the board empowered me to, to move the headquarters wherever I wanted, which is such a gift, really.

And so we looked at all kinds of different places. We looked at Tampa, Florida. We thought about, maybe somewhere in Texas, even, you know, to be in the middle of the country and, and landed on Cary. principally because, I have to say that the Cary Chamber, I, I, got to know Howard, the, the former CEO who is just fantastic and got to know the, the current CEO and.

I cannot tell you how welcomed we were into the community. They sent, you know, they set up a dinner and, and Wake Tech ended up leasing us space. So, so they've been a fantastic partner. but it's kind of like you is, is finding that right network, but also putting yourself out there. Cuz I didn't really know how to relocate, you know, a company either.

But I was like, if I find the right people and I know I'm a learner, I can make it work. So one of the things that we have worked on together is really being able to give back and serve on the Cary board. So why don't you tell everybody, what that's like. So you remember for years and years and now, I believe, are you the first woman chair or was there another one before you?

Wendy: I am not, there have been several women chairs, for me, but not many. And

Becky: Okay.

Wendy: so traditionally there have been many more men in leadership at the Cary Chamber. Like I said earlier, I started my journey with the Chamber. it's really where my business began. And then shortly thereafter, I became what's called an ambassador.

So that ambassador program that we have today at the Cary Chamber goes back many, many years. And it was a way for me to get out in the community and meet new businesses that were coming into town. and it really did help me be able to grow my business and get to know the players in the community, new business owners who were coming along and really feel like I was a part of that wonderful network that you have become a part of in recent years.

And over the years I've, I've worked on a lot of different things. I've been a vendor to the Chamber, so I've actually worked with them on marketing projects here and there. I've served on several committees, some of the subcommittees of the board over the years. I've served on the executive board once before becoming, chair, and then now as chair, am leading the executive board and the board of the Cary Chamber.

And. I just think that it is, a wonderful, very friendly chamber. I've actually been, members of, my company has been a member of probably six or seven different chambers in the area. and Cary is, you know, that Chamber is just the one I can call home. It's where I have, the strongest relationships.

They're the most friendly. They help, they, you know, they have a, they almost have a, well, they definitely have a servant leadership style of their own, that translates to my core values and what I try to do every day in serving my community. And so it's just been, it's been fantastic, and, as many different leadership opportunities as I've had over the years.

And I've served on many, many boards. I generally don't serve on less than four or five boards a year. This one really just is where I have felt the most ability to learn, the most, brought into a fold and a part of a community. And, really like the best transitions to, my former chair, who came before me.

Rick Stevenson is right, has been right there by my side all year this year. I see myself, helpings Moss Withers, who's going to follow me in the same vein. and I feel like we have such a cohesive transition program at the Cary Chamber as part of our board, and I'm just really, I admire that, that's something that had to be set up for many, many years.

Um, but yeah, I was excited at the beginning of my year. I got to say that I, have a board of 21 and 11 of them are women and 10 of them are men. And, that's, that was a big deal to me, to, make sure that we are bringing a diverse perspective onto the board. Whether that's men and women or different cultures or backgrounds.

And just making sure that we're reflecting the needs of all of the different, people in the community. So,

Becky: Yeah, that is such an accomplishment. And you know, we've spent a lot of time on this program talking about, diversity, equity, inclusion, and the multi-facets of it. I think there's. 36 plus dimensions of that. And I felt that too. And, and I, I remember when I met you a few years ago, one comment that you made to me that I always remember is I said, this is so fantastic how it's become so diverse and it doesn't happen by accident.

It, it means really, you know, rolling up your sleeves, recruiting the right people that have that aligned vision and purpose, not just. You know, check a box. But you said to me, at that time, you may not remember this, that you really appreciated all of the men in your life that had given you opportunities.

And I think about that sometimes because I think of friends that I have who are black or, you know, African-American or some other ethnicity and they talk a lot about allies and I think all of us can be great allies whether we necessarily fit into a specific demographic or, or category. And, and I just really appreciate that about you and I wanted to turn our conversation for a moment.

This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about that connects to what you are mentioning about branding. And so, you know, a lot of times I think probably average people think branding is, you know, a jingle and a logo and what's your brand? But the way I think about it, And the way I think that you think about it is in a much deeper, way.

So, Wendy, share a little bit about what your view of branding is. Maybe a little bit about, hummingbird your firm, cuz I wanna find out how and share with our listeners, how do you help people really plug into their brand and communicate it out in an authentic way.

Wendy: So it's always funny to me because, a lot of people do talk about brand as a logo or a name or a tagline, and those are certainly elements of a brand. but a brand is really the promise that you make and the promise that you live. You have to live that promise. You know, one famous saying that I love is that a brand is what others say about you when you're not in the room.

And I think that that really encompasses it, right? Like when we think about even our own personal reputation, that's exactly what it is. And so a brand is a promise, and it's what other people say about us when we're not in the room. Now, hummingbird takes a little bit different perspective and it's, it's always interesting in industries where there are a lot of different people doing different things, and marketing happens to be one of those industries.

And we have a lot of graphic designers and copywriters and SEO people and other digital marketing folks, and we have people like me who are in branding, but even within branding. There are a lot of different, ways that we go about doing things and, creating a process that works for our, customers.

And, you know, from where I sit, it took me, many years of owning my own branding firm to really come to terms with what my own brand is. I think I, I had a reputation and I had a reputation that I was very proud of, but I didn't necessarily have something that really made me stand apart from others and, and be, and have unique differentiation other than Wendy's personality and the way that I approached projects.

And so, and it took many years. So I'm, I'm 28 years into business and probably over 20 of those. I was more the, the company that did it all. We were a full-service firm and that's how we positioned ourselves was as a full-service firm. and I would listen to all kinds of, of podcasts and leaders who would speak, who would talk about niching.

And I never could figure that out for Hummingbird or for myself because I love the diversity of what I do. And so I didn't want to get stuck in a box. I wanted to always be able to learn and change and share. and so over the, the last probably 10 years, I kind of Got a new perspective and it was actually the result of a woman who you and I both know, and her name is Jackie Roth.

And I give her a lot of credit for this. I think you know though, some people give you ideas and you either run with it or you don't. And I happened to run with this one. It's been extremely effective. But Jackie called me up one day and at the time she was a M&A expert and she was helping, people buy and sell their businesses.

And she called me up and she was working with a lot of people in the manufacturing space and we happened to be working in that space a lot at the time too. And she said, Hey, Wendy, you don't know me, but I would love to have coffee. I have an idea for you, but I think would be amazing for your business.

Jackie had been on my website and she had research that we were working in the manufacturing space and then also in some service, some service spaces. And she said, I wanna explain something to you that I think will make a difference in your business. And she said, when I go to work on an m and a for a company, we look at different factors that affect the value of the business.

And differentiation is one of five factors that directly influences the value of the business. now there's a software that Jackie was using at the time called Value Builder. And within Value Builder, if you want to go look that up, this, the name of this differentiation is called Monopoly Control, and the idea is if you differentiate tightly enough, Then you basically create yourself a monopoly in what you do because you do it different enough from everyone else in your space that it makes you that unique.

and so Jackie's thought process on that was, you know, when do you need to remember that? You're not just impacting sales through a marketing activity or you're not just implementing, marketing tactics that a company thinks they need, but at the end of the day, if you help them create differentiation, which is what she knew that we did through looking at our website, you actually impact the value of the business.

And that just amazed me. Like it, I was stunned. I, I almost couldn't speak, which is kind of crazy because I never could not hold a conversation and I just kind of sat back into a thoughtful space that I do not get into often and said, this is it, you know, that is exactly what we do. We sit down with business leaders; we learn their goals.

Generally the majority of times that businesses, are having a struggle in a sales space, and sometimes even in an HR and operational space, it goes back to the fact that have, they have not really thought about how to differentiate themselves and their businesses. And when we can help a company do that, we actually help to increase the value of that business.

And so there's a white paper about this on our website. Jackie was interviewed, by Dame Byers, who is a CPA. And he does, business audits, business valuations, and then Cindy Anderson, who is also an M&A advisor, all three of them are interviewed for the white paper.

And, there's some great statistics in, you know, just how much of business can increase its value just through understanding how important differentiation is and finding their way to that.

Becky: I love that. Wendy, what's the, what's your website so people can look that up.

Wendy: Sure it's 

Becky: Okay, perfect. I think that is so powerful and sometimes it's, it's, it, it, it's a little thing that kind of resonates with you, but it is a huge thing and, and it's, it's interesting you mentioned Jackie and I'm feel like I'm only scratched the surface on really amazing, authentic, you know, caring women in this community. 

Thank you so much, Wendy. That was such a great conversation. There's so much left to talk about. So let's leave it here for part one of this first conversation and join us next Wednesday where we'll continue the conversation and talk about, some other tips and, and some stories as we continue with Forward with NACCE.