Episode 78: Why Marketing Is Important, With Nancie McDonnell Ruder


What You Will Learn:

  • What considerations seven-figure business owners should make toward their marketing efforts, and what commonalities Nancie sees in businesses in this bracket
  • Why a consistent message is key especially for anyone in a sales role, and why spreading your marketing efforts too thin is a common pain point
  • Why “brand purpose” is the first and most important thing an organization needs to identify and clarify, and why having a clear brand purpose can help both internally and externally
  • Why understanding your value offering and defining the “who, when, what, and how” come after you’ve defined your brand purpose or your “why”
  • Why partnering with a market research expert or conducting your own market research can help you best identify your target audience and what they’re looking for
  • Why building out your internal marketing team and expanding your research can help you identify thought leadership opportunities to expand within your space
  • Why difficult times like these should be exactly when you dial up your research, sales and marketing, even as you cut back in other areas
  • How studies have shown that 70% of US consumers want and expect to hear from the brands they care about during the global pandemic, and why nailing your messaging is crucial
  • What common denominators Nancie has seen in businesses that successfully made the jump from small entrepreneurial efforts to well-marketed organizations
  • Why Culture and Brand are two incredibly important sides of the same coin, and why it is important to recognize and address your company’s cultural challenges


About Nancie McDonnell Ruder

Nancie McDonnell Ruder’s 25-year career began at the Leo Burnett Company where she worked in account management and strategy for Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, The Gap, Lexmark Computers and Hoerchst Marion Rousseau. Nancie founded Noetic Consultants in 2002 with the goal of becoming an effective extension of their clients’ teams. The word “noetic” is related to one’s intellect and thinking, and Nancie chose this name for the company because it reflects the team’s commitment to helping clients strategically think through their challenges so that, together, Noetic and their clients can take the actions necessary to get to the best possible outcomes. Noetic’s clients have included Samsung, PepsiCo, Nike, Marriott, Mayo Clinic and Discovery, Inc. Nancie is also the author of Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: How Senior Marketers Scale the Heights Through Art and Science, and the creator of the Noetic Art & Science Assessment™. Nancie is actively involved in many industry, education and community endeavors.




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I’m excited to introduce our guest. She is Nancie McDonnell Ruder. She is the Founder and CEO of Noetic Consultants, which is a marketing consultancy based in the Washington, DC area. Nancie has been up to this for quite a while now. It’s been many years since they’ve been helping companies with their brand, strategic marketing, marketing plans, and everything to do to promote their brands and help their companies grow. Welcome to our show, Nancie. We’re very happy to have you here.

Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.

Tell us what I missed in your introduction. Give us a little bit about Noetic Consultants because you’re going to describe it way better than I try to.

I’ll start with the name. Noetic is a word you can find in the dictionary, but people don’t use it in daily speaking. It means to think, to know, or to add insight. That’s the crux of what we aspire to do for our clients. Our core services are consumer research, be that qualitative or quantitative, brand strategy, as you mentioned, training and coaching, and then outsourcing marketing services.

Across all of that, we are trying to help people figure out their who, what, and how. Who they are as a brand, who they serve, what they’re offering that’s distinct in the market, and then how they’ll both equip their people internally to know how to act as that one brand entity consistently and cohesively together. Ultimately, getting that out into the marketplace.

I love the use of the word noetic in your name. I was unfamiliar with the word. Thank you for describing that to all of us here. Our audience is full of seven-figure business owners who are trying to figure out all of the transition work from entrepreneur to CEO, and there’s a bunch of business-building things that happen in that space.

Perhaps not coincidentally, there is some marketing maturing that’s also going on for these business owners that you’ve seen quite a lot. Let’s talk about some of that transition time for seven-figure business owners. They’ve figured out how to grow their sales to that point, but maybe they’ve never done good marketing work. What is that marketing work that they need to start doing at that stage and what are some of the common things you’ve seen that’s challenging for them?

We do work with companies, big and small, with companies that are coming into that seven-figure or they’re somewhere between $1 million or $2 million gross upwards to $20 million. We’ll start in that space. When they typically come our way or we come their way, they realize that they do need to grow up the marketing function. They may not have any marketers on staff, but typically, they’ll have maybe 1 or 2 people. They might be doing some things on social media. They might have dabbled in various channels, and they start to realize for a number of reasons that they need to figure it out a bit better than that.

A couple of things that come up are that they realize that their leadership team or their folks generally are not speaking consistently about who they are and what they offer. People are using different words. They’re going about a different way. That can be problematic in many ways, particularly in the sales function.

Do the salespeople with consistency understand in the hardest working way what makes us distinct? Who is the focus of who we serve? With some success, which they’ve had in their growth path, it is a typical struggle of trying to serve too many people of different types of audiences. In marketing speak, we talked we talked about your target audience. Some people speak about it in terms of having personas, which is a more artful way of looking at how to bring to life who your audience is.

It’s a very typical pain point that when you start to get into that level of growth, you are spreading yourself too thin. If you are talking to too many audiences and are forever one, you’re really for no one because you’re not doing any of it well. You’re scattering those resources and that focus. It does come back to helping these companies figure out their who, what, and how.

EEP 78 | Why Marketing Is Important

Why Marketing Is Important: It’s a very typical pain point that when you start to get into that level of growth, you are spreading yourself too thin. And if you are talking to too many audiences, you’re really for no one.


The who is as much about who they serve and who they are going to commit to, and be, as much as possible, narrow about who that audience is because if you’re committed to a specific audience, you can serve them well. You can get a lot of loyalty and evangelical people about your offering. It’s as much about who you serve and who you are. In the space of who you are, that’s defining yourself as a company and some of the core components of that, first and foremost, are your purpose.

There is a lot of content out there these days about purpose, and there’s a reason behind that. As we got into the crisis, it became that much more important that customers understand. People want to understand, “Why are you there? Why are you taking up space as a business?” However, as importantly, the people inside the company need to understand, “Why am I here? Why are we all here? What are we working toward?”

Brand purpose is the first and most foundational thing to figure out. To make that tangible, in our case as a company, our brand purpose as Noetic is to help. Companies figure out how to be their authentic selves as a brand. That’s to make it tangible. Having that North Star helps people inside the organization be able to rally around it and then helps people outside the organization understand why they should pay attention to you.

Having a brand purpose helps people inside the organization rally around it and then helps people outside the organization understand why they should pay attention to you. Click To Tweet

It’s equally important that you then walk the talk of who you’re saying you are. From there, with your brand purpose, then you want to figure out things like your vision and where you want to go. Your mission and how you’re going to get there? Your corporate values define that target audience. These are the various components that we typically help companies sort through.

Ultimately, there’s not a lot of words attached. You want this to be very clear and very succinct, but to get there is a bit of a journey because, as a founder or a leadership team, you have a gut sense for these things inherently, but there’s always going to be a poll to want to go to more rather than less. Defining a brand is the art of sacrifice. It’s about getting it down to the essence because customers don’t want to work that hard to understand who you are. It’s not about being reductive about who you are, but being clear and concise, you give people something to grab a hold of and be able to remember.

Nancie, I appreciate you talking about the brand purpose. Everything you said was great, but what you don’t know and those who have read our blogs over and over again are smiling because you rattled off a bunch of the things that we start with companies with. We always start with purpose because if you’re not clear on why you’re doing this, it gets hard to make a choice.

You use that guiding star analogy. Jim Collins and many others reference that as this guy is getting a star. If you don’t know what that purpose is, it’s hard to make trade-offs and investment decisions. We all have limited resources. At the end of the day, we’re trying to utilize them for the most impact and we need to get clear. I love how you talked about getting narrow and you got to say no to lots of things so that you can say yes powerfully to the few core things that you want to be in represent. That’s amazing.

Our work to help business owners get clear on purpose is the beginning of the work that you do in brand work with them. That’s where you start, which is awesome. Once you get them clear on purpose, all this course stuff around purpose, their vision, mission, and target audience, what are some of the other things that they commonly get stuck on? Once they get cleared on that stuff, is it then smooth sailing with their marketing from there? What are some other things that are coming up for them?

Going back to that framework of who, what, and how it gets you the spectrum that you need every time. All of the stuff that we’re talking about has to do with who you are and who you serve. In the what space, this is where you’re defining that distinct offering that you could talk about in many ways and you can make many different promises. You want to make it very clear what is that one distinct thing that you do well. You can then back that up with many different proof points of why it’s true.

You might dial up those proof points or reasons to believe that offering. Some people call it a value proposition. You might dial up some of those proof points more with some customers and others or be louder about this or that in different channels or have your salespeople emphasize different things and that’s all fine as long as it’s still backing up that one distinct promise that you’re ultimately making.

That’s getting the who then and the what to find. The how has to do with how you are going to mobilize now what you’ve defined on paper to make sure that it’s happening with consistency and clarity. This how work is how are you getting it out in the world? A big piece that companies and leaders often lose sight of and don’t realize they’re skipping past is how you are going to get your internal folks to get it.

It’s so that as you go out in the world into whatever channels you’re using, social, PR, digital marketing, or whatever you’re doing out there, it’s about your people being able to carry that message. It’s so they’re living the brand and acting as the brand when they answer the phone or when they’re interacting with customers. It’s not just your sales and marketing people who need to understand it. Everybody needs to understand it.

At Noetic, we emphasize the inside to the outside so that you’re sure you’ll be able to activate successfully. In the external world, it’s trying to look very objectively about what are going to be the hardest working channels to get to this audience that you have gotten honed in on rather than jumping to channel or assuming, “We need to do some PR and social. We need to be at this trade show or that trade show,” but stepping back and saying, “Where do these people spend time. How do these people get their information?”

You then let that drive you strategically to channels because, as you might imagine, one of the challenges when you’re a company of this size, $1 million, $10 million, or $20 million, is finite resources. You don’t want to spread thin in the promotion of trying to do all these things. You’re better off doing a few channels and trying to have good metrics and do them well. That’s where having a very strong marketing plan comes in the how.

You're better off doing a few channels and doing them really well. Click To Tweet

You have touched on it without using the words, but when you described who you are as Noetic at the beginning, you talked about market research and analysis. It sounds like this is probably an area where you help clients get clear on where is this target audience. What are they looking at? What do they care about? What are some of their behaviors? I talked to people in customer success or market research, and it’s always outside thinking.

We got to get their viewpoint to bring in to design our solutions. In marketing design, it starts inside and then it goes outside. We’re going to be clear on who we are and go out. We’re going to be clear on who they are and what they want to hear. That connection is the one that we’re trying to understand and design for. That’s it’s a powerful combination.

In the research space, one of the things this size company oftentimes leaders will say to us, “We haven’t done any research. We talked to our customers, but not like that.” There is this sense of like, “We don’t have our act together here.” It is very common that you can get to this growth stage and you haven’t done any proper research with your customers.

The great news is that you can do pretty robust things these days without having to do super sophisticated studies. An example of that is social listening. There are many great tools out there and ways in which you can gather good data about what people are saying in your industry, maybe even specific to your company. It depends on how much people are conversing about you, but certainly about your industry.

EEP 78 | Why Marketing Is Important

Why Marketing Is Important: There are many great tools out there and ways in which you can gather good data about what people are saying in your industry, maybe even specific to your company.


You also can get a great deal of very helpful information from some of your most loyal customers, who are often surprised and hesitant to ask that kind of thing. However, a customer will give you 30 minutes and answer a handful of questions that can give you tremendous insight to help you define things like backing your way into, “How does that feed to our purpose or how does that feed to how they view our distinct offering?” You do need to get out there in the world and see what the world thinks in that audience about you and not just what you think from the inside. As you said, it’s that combination that will ultimately get you there.

I know you’re right. Most of our readers are probably having the same thing go through their head where they’re like, “We haven’t done a lot of sophisticated or proper marketing effort. We haven’t done research. We know our customers.” They start to think about the ways that they’ve always dealt with customers. “We’ve been in business for years. We know how to sell our stuff.”

However, there’s a new game that you’re talking about where we transition from talking to individuals and trying to sell individuals to talking through targeted and narrow, a broader group of targets at the same time. It’s not a broader target, but you’re trying to find that target audience out in the noise, a sea of noise out there in the marketing world. How do you get very clear and distinct messages that will resonate with them? It’s a new level of maturity in a marketing function that all of our listeners are probably having to take those steps.

I will also share because I do find that sometimes people feel like they’re coming to the confessional and they’re like, “We haven’t done any research,” or, “I don’t have anybody doing marketing inside the organization,” or whatever is their confession, but it’s very common. You get where you get, and then it’s about taking this to the next level. However, the power when you are able to define these core elements, the power of it is, “Yes, it’s for your marketing, but to the point you’re making, it’s so much bigger than that too because it becomes a filter for strategic decision-making throughout the organization.

It does unleash that power and focus. It gives everybody in the company a much clearer sense of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. The other thing that was coming up for me was that you were talking about who you serve and what matters to them. When you do that research in certain industries, you do it in a modest fashion, but let’s say you talk to a good handful of customers.

If you take the time to ask them about, “What are their biggest challenges? What are they struggling with? What are they concerned about?” It also breeds a lot of opportunities for how you can serve them more deeply. They feel good about the asking and oftentimes, we also see that as offering good fodder toward what could be some good thought leadership that you might be able to do in the space.

For example, in renewable energy a few years ago, one of the big struggles was that many of the companies that renewable energy companies were serving were struggling to understand renewables. It’s a tricky space. How do I get into it? Our company has a goal of being more clean. How do we do it? There’s a topic that you can run with that you can bring into your marketing that you know would offer value.

By listening, be it social listening, talking to your customers, a combination of both, talking to prospective customers, and having some creative ways of getting to them, it gives you a lot of ideas about how to serve the people you’re already serving and how to even go about the marketing you might do.

Social listening gives you a lot of ideas about how to serve the people you're already serving and how to go about your marketing. Click To Tweet

I think that probably set apart many of your clients through the pandemic when everybody’s wondering what to do. In order to stay relevant, you have to go out and ask. You go to go out and find out. If people are sitting on their precious resources not wanting to spend because of a pandemic, how do you make sure you’re one of the businesses that they will spend on because they see you as so invaluable to what they’re trying to do? However, if you don’t know what they’re trying to do or what matters to them, it’s hard to be positioned as the company that does.

I’m so glad you’re the one to raise that, and not me because I will sound like the fox in the hen house, but in a downturn, in this case, a whammy of a downturn, you need to dial back on many things in terms of your expenses, but research, sales, and marketing are the things you need to dial-up. It’s exactly why you’re saying I’m going to say that because of what we do.

That’s not self-serving at all, Nancie.

However, it’s true and the research part of it, all the more because things have been changing so quickly. What is of concern to your audience now, maybe a lesser concern and bigger concerns? There was never a time when staying enclosed with your audience hasn’t been more important.

For anybody who’s had any measure of success in the last few months, it wasn’t by pulling back from understanding your audience. It was by getting closer to them than you’ve ever been, understanding what matters to them, and making sure that your solution matched and that they knew it. There was more investment, as you said.

There was a study done early in the pandemic, so I’m sure the numbers have only gone up from here that showed that 70% of US consumers want and expect to hear from brands they care about with relevant issues that they care about. This was in the Extremely Agree column. It’s because people have all of this fear and uncertainty on what better way to get a handle on things and to have people with expertise in a given area helping you know that they care about your needs. It’s as basic but as profound as that well.

Fewer people are turning to sources that may have been the traditional sources. Fewer people are turning to religious sources and, understandably, are turning to the government for answers. It’s been a mess, and I think businesses, especially respected brands, are getting more attention. People are looking to them for answers on matters that they may have previously looked at other sources.

I think business is driving more of the conversation, but they’re getting more attention from their brand loyalists on what should be happening. How should we view the world? How do we stick together as a community? I may have said a bunch of gibberish right there, but I feel like there are trends moving towards businesses having strong opinions relative to their purpose, their brand representing that, and people being able to count on that.

EEP 78 | Why Marketing Is Important

Why Marketing Is Important: There are trends moving towards businesses having very strong opinions relative to their purpose.


Oftentimes, we will talk about the silver linings of the difficulty that we’ve been in. One key silver lining that I think is foundational to what you’re describing is that, as a nation, we have become aware of the importance of small businesses. Small businesses are fighting for their lives. People hear it in the news all the time and I think there’s a newfound respect, passion, and interesting concern about ensuring that small businesses can continue to exist.

Customers are more invested in the brands that they are actively participating in. I’m choosing my words carefully because there’s been a tremendous amount of change in that space, like people’s behaviors and people who stopped going to the grocery store that they were loyal to for years and years. People who grew loyalty to a specific brand that they’d never used before. There’s been a lot of shifting, but with that said, people have a deeper passion for the brands that they are aligning to. I think that ties to what you were saying about this new seat that businesses have especially small businesses in the minds of their customers.

People have a deeper passion for the brands that they are aligning to. Click To Tweet

We could probably talk about that for hours. Before we wrap this up, Nancie, I would love for you to reflect briefly on some of your favorite clients to work with. What made them so great? I’m asking this question poorly, but the ones who have had success in getting clear on their message and going from saying yes to lots of people and lots of audiences to getting clear and moving forward making that transition. What did some of those clients have in common in how they viewed the world and how they partnered with you as their chosen partner to help them with the work? What are some of the common denominators for the businesses that have successfully made that next-level marketing jump?

I think there are four key things. Number one, being learners. This means the people who are coming from companies of this size are not marketers in their careers. They come from their health care, tech, CEOs, or COOs. They need to have a certain level of interest in learning the marketing function. It doesn’t mean that they need to understand it deeply, but they need to understand how it works in terms of those core components that we talked about. Those who have that love to learn aspect do well with that.

Maybe even the openness to learn and not just look for it.

They soak it up like a sponge and they’ll be like, “Help me understand what brand purpose is and why do I need the target audience to be more narrow and focused?” Openness is a great way of saying it. Secondly, being ready, willing, and able to make those tough choices. That sacrifice part of, “We could be for these people and these people. We could have our purpose be that we’re this and this. Be careful of the and, the, therefore, and these words that are the glam on.

It’s hard to distill it down. Having the fortitude to be able to make those tough choices because, at the end of the day, you’re going to have some data that you’re going to collect. You’re going to have a collaborative experience of not sitting down yourself and writing it down. You’ll get input, but there is art and science to it. You do have to get artful at the end of the day and make some tough judgments on where you’re going to go, even though you have other people’s input and data. Having the fortitude to do that and then having the ability to lead by example.

This third thing is having the leadership team walk the talk themselves and people see like, “They’re serious about this. We are going to talk about our purpose, but we’re also going to use it in how we work.” Also, seeing that happen over time so that the rest of the company understands, “I need to do this too. We didn’t only do an interesting marketing exercise, we put it over there and proceeded as we were.” It’s leading by example.

Lastly, holding oneself and everyone else in the team accountable for what that plan is going to be taking it out into execution, and measuring it over time. Also, being brand-driven and caring for it. It’s a day in, day out chip away to make it happen. Brands aren’t built overnight. They’re built over time and every touch point that you have inside or outside the organization is building it up or tearing it down.

It’s consistent with it. It’s making it more inspired or it’s eroding it, hurting it, or inconsistent with it. Holding one’s self and the organization accountable and any partners accountable to, “This is who we say we are, and we are going to march forward being that,” walking the talk. Those are the big things not. It’s not a long list, but it’s a robust list.

That’s a great list and it’s long enough. It might be a little tricky for me to remember, but I’m going to give it a shot. Being open and willing to learn was the first one. The second one you talked about and this is a big one. It’s making the hard decisions. I have to narrow it down. I don’t like narrowing down, that’s why we don’t do it. Next is the example. It’s lead by example, and then the last one was around executing the plans, sticking to them, and being committed fully. The accountability to do who we say we are.

Everything you talked about is very consistent with what we teach them, but all of our focus is internal on the culture, like purpose, values, mission, and all of that stuff. We talk about culture and brand being two sides of the same coin. One is this internal view and the other is external view, but it’s the same thing. I love your very holistic approach from start to finish. It’s all about who we are, who we’re serving, and how we like to do that.

Everything I’ll say about culture and brand, I agree. You need the two sides of the coin. If you have a culture that doesn’t have the ability to do the four things we said like it doesn’t have an openness to learning, isn’t good at accountability or isn’t good at making tough choices, it is more of a struggle and sometimes can be too much of a struggle. You can’t have antibodies in the culture that are going to fight where you’re trying to go. They say culture eats strategy for breakfast and it’s true. One of the things to be very honest with oneself about is what are going to be our cultural challenges with making this happen and how we can proactively address them.

Some companies don’t have any cultural challenges. People are all for it. They want it. However, if you do have barriers in that space, try to proactively manage for that so that you don’t end up later wondering, “What happened? We did all this work.” Let’s say you’re culture is terrible at accountability. You do all this work and then nobody’s adhering to it, including leadership. That’s one of the things we talked about, “Let’s talk about your culture.”

Nancie, it’s been fun for me. Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom and insights.

I appreciate you having me.

If people want to learn more about Noetic Consultants learn more about you or connect with you via social, what are the best ways for them to find you?

Our website is NoeticConsultants.com. You can find us on LinkedIn at Noetic Consultants or Nancie McDonnell Ruder. I’d love to hear from any of your readers and if they have questions, thoughts, or what have you. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram @NoeticConsultants.

Nancie, it’s been a pleasure. For everybody reading, please check out NoeticConsultants.com. I think you’ll be very pleased with what you find there. Nancie, you’ve been a great guest. We need all of you readers to spread the word, not only because of Nancie’s interview but because we’re bringing great guests. We are here to help you grow.

We are here to help you in your seven-figure growth journey. Share it, like, and subscribe. Do all those things to make sure that more seven-figure business owners are getting the help that they need and that you all need to scale your seven-figure business successfully. Thanks for reading and catch us again next time.


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