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Successful Marketing is Uncomfortable

Erin Quick is Director of Brand Expression with Stoke Strategy, a Seattle-based brand design company. Stoke Strategy is known for helping client organizations become known, understood, and different. Smart, Savvy + Associates learned of Erin’s personal success story gained by applying her marketing skills to herself. We dug a little deeper to get the secrets of her success to share with our network of marketers.


Marketing is hard. With advances in technology, there are so many more mediums available to choose from than a decade or two ago. More choice equals more pressure, as information swirls around us wherever we go (and even when we just stay home). There is an urgency to get the message out there, quickly, and be heard.

The easy route is to put out the fail-proof product. "It worked last time, let’s run that again…." But taking the “safe” path isn’t synonymous with success. If we truly want our marketing efforts to succeed, we have to work harder, and get uncomfortable—because “same old” doesn’t cut it in our world of endless streams of information all vying for our attention.

Branding + Gut Instinct = WRONG

In marketing, the first gut instinct is to be the same, because it is so comfortable, especially when there is urgency to act. “Same” might mean the favourite strategy or tactic you’ve always used, or adhering to an unwritten template for comparable brands in your industry. Working on brand design with her clients, Stoke Strategy’s Erin Quick frequently hears:  “But our competitors are all doing this….” Her response checkmates their gut instinct:  “Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?” Erin's mantra:

“Be more afraid of being the same than of being different.”


Erin’s Story: Branded for Babies

Erin’s case for ignoring what your competitors are doing and daring to be different was proven in a very tangible (and heart-warming) way when she took her professional knowledge and applied it to her personal life.

After several futile infertility treatments, Erin and husband Jaime decided to pursue private infant adoption. The process includes posting a profile photo and information for expectant mothers to browse through and choose potential parents for their baby. Erin’s first inclination was to go all out: a professional photo shoot and some serious prose about their ability to love and raise a child.

Erin’s instincts were nixed when she had an “a-ha moment” of recognizing herself in many of her clients’ shoes. She had been prepared to put out a profile exactly the same as their “competitors.” She quickly switched gears, went for a quirky photo and a light-hearted profile. Instead of cookie-cutter statements made in other couples’ profiles (Loving, adventurous, stable couple hoping to add one more blessing to our lives.), they ignored the status quo:

erin and jaimeJaime dreams about…

  • The Mariners winning the World Series
  • Erin's death-by-chocolate-chip cookies
  • Starring in the movie, Rockstar

Erin dreams about…

  • *frozen* Thin Mint girl scout cookies
  • Aunt Lucille, who taught me to knit and drink gin
  • The Levis I plan to steal from my sister's house

15 Days from profile to baby

The results of not listening to her gut: Erin and Jaime’s adoption profile went live on February 23. By February 25 multiple birth moms had reached out. They were chosen by a birth mom on March 4, and their baby boy was born on March 10. A fluke? Unlikely. When they were ready for baby #2, the repeated the process and went from posting to picked in 52 days, despite initiating the process during the chaotic Christmas season.

Get Uncomfortable

There’s a fine line between generic and being appropriate for your market. Find that line—push harder to be different. It’s important not to go full rogue and “go places” where good taste should never go. Avoid crossing the line with solid research and analyzing metrics from current and past campaigns to shed light on the boundaries of uncomfortable. Testing and focus groups can provide different perspectives to check for negative connotations and avoid a major publicity gaffe.

Erin and Jaime have maintained relationships with the birth moms of their children, and were able to ask point blank, “why us?” The results were exactly as Erin had strategized. For all the honourable sentiment behind many profiles, they rung hollow. It was impossible to remember which profile was which: they all looked and sounded the same. Erin and Jaime were different, and in a good way – they were memorable.


Marketing IS hard. Do you need to get comfortable with more digital marketing techniques so that you can start to get uncomfortable? Smart Savvy Academy offers our Extreme Makeover: B2B Edition workshop to help you assess, renovate and update your B2B marketing mix. Contact us to bring this workshop in-house for your team!


Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.


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