How a Sticky Brand Was Born — with Jeremy Miller and Sarah Young

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Podcast

Any business of any size can grow a Sticky Brand. In this episode, Sarah Young chats with Jeremy Miller about where Sticky Branding started and its evolution to today.

Jeremy shares the core principles behind Sticky Branding. When your customers know your brand, like it, and trust it, they will choose it first. That’s what it means to have a Sticky Brand, and that’s what we want you to find in our Sticky Branding Podcast.

Jeremy Miller is a Strategy Coach, bestselling author, and the founder of Sticky Branding. He works with organizations from around the world to create branding and growth strategies that slingshot their businesses forward.

Sarah Young is a Strategy Coach and author. She guides Sticky Branding’s clients to create marketing strategies that move the sales needle.

In This Episode

  • Jeremy Miller’s journey of growing up in a family business and how his parents approached passing on their legacy.
  • The journey of Sticky Branding and how it’s evolved over the past 10 years.
  • Why Jeremy believes that branding is not about ideas, but rather action. Strategy without action is just dreaming.
  • Advice on writing books and how to choose yourself first.

Show Links

Transcript

– [Narrator] Brand X, brand Y, brand Z. Not one sticks. Watch it again in slow motion.

– [Jeremy] Welcome to the sticky branding podcast. In this show we are unpacking how companies grow sticky brands. My name is Jeremy Miller. I am the founder of Sticky Branding and host of the show. Today we’ve got a new part of this podcast. A new series where Sarah Young and I are going to be doing deep dives into branding, strategy, growth and really any area of curiosity. And the hope of this is to get into those richer conversations beyond the interview that we can learn from. And so Sarah let me just take a pause and let you introduce yourself. Who are you, and what do you do other than we know you work at Sticky Branding?

– I’m Sarah Young and I’m a strategy coach. I grew up in southern Manitoba and have lived all over the place. I’ve worked for corporate startups and everything in-between. And my favorite part of branding specifically is working with the teams. So I really enjoy the coaching elements and bringing what I know to their situations. I’ve been in everyone’s shoes before so it’s really fun to overcome those obstacles and work to achieve their goals.

– Wonderful, and we’ll get to know the audience will get to know you and our work as we have more of these episodes. But why don’t we dive right into the deep end. You’re gonna take lead today and ask me a bunch of questions. What do you want to explore and go dive deep into?

– I’m pretty excited about this. I think I really just want the audience to get to know you better Jeremy. I have really enjoyed over the past two years to really get to know your history, how you guys overcame the 2008 recession. But more importantly just who you are as a person. I think that this could be a lot of fun. And the first thing I’d really want you to share is you came from a family business. Then you wen out on a limb, you started your own thing. Where did you get the bravery to do that, and how did your parents react?

– I think like many entrepreneurs. You are probably destined to be that. I remember when I was in high school I told my mom, “When I grow up I’m going to take over the family business.” And I think she panicked a little and went, “Oh that’s nice dear.” And then she went and talked to a few of her friends And both my parents talked to other family business owners. And they got some advice. And the advice was, “You don’t want to create a lucky sperm. You want to give your children some guidelines on how to join the business.” And so, my brother and I were told that if we want to someday join the family business that we had to get a University education. We had to work in the real world for at least four years. And we had to have relevant experience and the business needed us, it had to need us in order to come in. So there wasn’t just a guarantee that because my last name was Miller I was going to be able to join the business. But it was my dream to do that. So four years to the day I left my job working at a large software and technology company and came in as the director of sales and marketing. And that drive to be an entrepreneur, to build a business, to be doing this again and again, I think that’s just who I am. It’s packed into my DNA.

– It definitely is. You are a full-time entrepreneur. I guess my biggest question right now that I’d like you to share is what do your parents think of Sticky Branding now? It’s been ten years. Do they still give you advice? Do they edit your work?

– Yes, they actually read and proof every piece of content that goes out this door. Every Monday night at like seven or eight o’clock at night they’ll be getting a text message or call going, “I have a blog post for you to read. It’s got to be sent out by five am the next day.” So they’re part of that routine. They are my advisors. They are active advisors. They have been the whole time. So but they are your typical parents. They are endlessly proud and the push me. But they love to see everything that’s been created.

– Amazing! Yes, they are amazing people! Why Sticky Branding? When I first started I was so curious. You’re an author, a speaker. It’s definitely different from your family business. How did you I guess think of it and then go for it?

– In terms of the name or what do you mean?

– Just in general, it’s very different than recruitment. So why Sticky Branding? Did you just fall in love with branding while you were at Leap Job? Where did it come from?

– Well it came out of two parts. It actually came firstly from the creation of Leap Jobs. So the company, the family business was originally called Miller & Associates. And when I came into the company we went through a really challenging period of time that we were coming out of the recessions and the tech wreck of the early 2000’s. And we were an IT staffing business so the dependence on technology as a growth area was key for us. And I came into the company around 2004 and we thought we had timed it to a point where the marketing was recovering and we would be in a booming state. But at the end of that first year, it didn’t come together. It actually got so bad in that year that we implemented pit time where we had my sales team and I doing six hours of outbound cold calling every single week. And I hate cold calling. It is the absolute worst. And I remember sitting down with my parents at the end of that first year and saying, “If this is what it’s like to be in a family business, I can’t do it! I should go back to the software industry.” And my dad said to me and he gave me the best advice I think I’ve ever had which is, It’s not about the business you’ve built, it’s about the business you’re building. What are we going to build next? And that gave me permission to take a step back and look at our industry, look at our market, look at our customers. And what I noticed is, we didn’t have a sales problem, we had a branding problem. And it was when people went online we looked like a law firm or accounting firm, and they couldn’t distinguish us from any other staffing firm in the market. And so that’s what triggered me to get into branding. And you can see behind me, I’ve got all these books and if you are listening to me on audio. If you’ve ever seen me do any of these videos I’m always standing in front of these stacks of bookcases of books. And they’re all these branding and marketing books that I was reading back then but they were all around these big companies like Apple, NIKE, and Starbucks. And I was a small business. I had a marketing budget just not a vast one. So I was trying to fit how do these principles work for us? Well to compress the story a little bit. What we did is a total rebrand of the family business. We changed the company name from Miller & Associates to Leap Job. We repositioned the company from IT staffing to sales and marketing recruiting. And we embraced digital marketing very early in 2004 or 2005. And it took off. Our sales just accelerated and grew year after year after that rebrand. But where Sticky Branding emerged from was really out of that. The first thing that happened was our large customers noticed what we were doing in digital marketing and asked, “Can you help?” So I started consulting and advising large companies companies on how they could create demand generation departments. Essentially, lead generation functions that combine digital marketing and sales to feed to sales force. And we created a sales force design consulting business inside the business. Now the second place that this all started was in the succession period of time. We had a consultant come in around 2007 and we were going through the idea of me taking over the business. My brother was looking at it at that time too. And the consultant said to me, “Jeremy if your parents gave you a half a million dollars, would you buy shares in the business?” And I said, “Well of course. It’s my duty. I’m the eldest. I have to do this type of thing.” And he went, “Well, that’s stupid.” And I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “They just gave you a half million dollars and you’re just gonna put it back in the business without even any thought? Why don’t you go make a financial plan and come back.” And so 90 days later I came back to the family counsel. Came back and said, “I’ve looked at it and based on what I’m seeing in the market and what I want. No, I wouldn’t invest in this business.” And it was in that moment that triggered the birth of Sticky Branding the business. Because then my parents were just relieved. They’re like, “Okay we’ve got a plan where Jeremy’s not going to take us over. What’s next?” So we began packaging and preparing Leap Job for sale. And we took the sales force design consulting business and that got spun out to form Sticky Branding. And for a period of time I actually ran both businesses until I was able to sell Leap Job in the end of 2013.

– Wild! So what were your emotions at that time? Were you panicked? Were you excited? Just working 24/7? What did that look like?

– There’s a fairly long chunk of time in there. That’s five years. So it’s, it was up and down. I can tell you near the end though running both businesses concurrently. It was exhausting and it was really fractured. Cause you try to compartmentalize that all right today in this period of time I’m working on business A and then the other days I’m working on business B. But the things that happen in one company start to go over to the other. And even if you’ve got separate teams and separate activities going on, trying to compartmentalize that in your own mind and keep them separate, at least for me, was really really hard. And so it was so relieving and took such a weight off my shoulders once I was able to sell the family business. But it was a fun period too because you had that combination of the entrepreneurial drive of creating something new. Selling a business is a ton of work and it’s exhausting but at the same time it’s really thrilling especially when you close the deal. So it had all the elements of the emotion under the sun.

– Such a wild ride. One of the favorite stories that you’ve ever told me is kind of how you got into the Sticky Branding book. Was it intentional? Did you always want to be an author?

– Oh yeah I’d always loved it. As soon as I started blogging and seeing the impact of the writing Back before digital marketing was digital marketing, every article I wrote generated a new customer. The return on investment was like 10,000 dollars for 500 words. It was awesome! And I’d always thought that I’d want to write a book but I didn’t believe I had a large enough platform. And so I had these metrics that I’d found on the internet that said I needed to have a Twitter following of 50,000 and and email list of 25,000 and all these different things. And I looked at what we had and went, “I’m not even in the right league. We’ve got to keep building and building.” Anyway so I wrote this little book proposal that I shared with a person in the industry, but then I set my belief that well I need to have an audience before I could market this book. And she went, “Are you ridiculous? You’ve got the largest branding group on LinkedIn. Y you’re reaching several thousand, I think it was like 10,000 email subscribers. And you have 10,000 Twitter followers. You have this great platform, but more importantly people like the work that you’re doing. Just get your head out of your ass and go do this thing.” And I was shocked and so then I pitched the book and I got these book deals that came in and I was like It melted my mind that you know what if you’ve got an idea it’s better just to go for it than to wait to get to some preconceived notion of where the starting line is.

– Love that advice. Here’s another question that I’m curious about. Looking back. Let’s go back five even ten years. What advice would you give yourself from now til then? That’s a hard one because the successes that we have today are largely built on the challenges that we’ve gone through. I look back to last year when we created crisis marketing. And I’ve said this many times. I felt like I’d been preparing my whole career for that moment in time. Because I grew up in a family business that was highly recession prone. And when I joined the company in 2004, we were planning for the next recession. We didn’t know when it would happen. We didn’t know what would trigger it. We just knew through our history that it would happen. We’d gone through these reinvention periods within none of the family business, but all of the work we’d done in Sticky Branding. And that allowed us to react within days of the pandemic and launch crisis marketing and help client in a very meaningful way last year. And so in many ways I wouldn’t trade the journey in any way. The only thing I think I would tell myself though is the need for documentation and process. And that’s something that I’ve learned later on that if you look at so much of the work that we do with our client’s it’s very process driven, it’s very execution driven. We didn’t learn that until several years in. So it was this constantly reinventing ourselves just because we weren’t actually creating any standardized intellectual property. We weren’t writing down our models and methodologies in a repeatable way. But it was when we learned that that we really accelerated as a consulting practice and so this would be the only thing that I would probably teach myself earlier on was get to documentation and process as soon as possible.

– What about for everybody that looks up to you? They watch your stuff. They read your books. They visit the blog. I hear it all the time. What advice do have for people like yourself? A coach. Someone who wants to write a book. What would you give them in the beginning?

– Well just making my ego feeling a little bit bigger right now. Thank you! I think the advice and I’ve given this out many many times. If you’ve got a book in you, write it. There is nothing stopping you. You don’t need permission to have a publisher publish you anymore. You can literally get a Kindle book out there in any time any period. One of my good friends Brendon Lemon, he’s written I think three Kindle books right now. And he’s prolific in what he does. He’s got two podcasts and he’s doing all this content and creation. And he’s funny as hell. And he’s so good. But he has no barrier. And I think that’s the brilliant thing is. You don’t need permission to do this. If you want to write a book, write a book. If you want to grow a business, grow a business. The only person that’s going to stop you, is you. So how are you going to get out of your own way to execute on your dreams. Because if you really think about it branding isn’t about great ideas. And entrepreneurship isn’t about great ideas. It’s about the ability to execute on your ideas. It’s that translation from dreams and ideas into action. And when you’ve created that product, when you’ve created that thing that’s actually where the journey starts. And you’ll often see this that you might have better ideas than other people, but they’re the ones that bring it to market. And you’ll be like, “Oh I could have done that so much better.” Here’s the thing. They did it! So if you want to compete and win, you gotta do it too!

– I love that advice. Epic. Another question I have is so I came on about two and a half years ago and you’d done your solo entrepreneurship thing for many years. What was that experience like on your side? I know what it was like for me. But was it a hard transition? Would you suggest it to others? Has it enriched the experience?

– Well to give context. So I ran a team under Leap Job and in that period of time I got burnt out on management. So when I was forming Sticky Branding it was my goal to run as a consultant, as an author, a speaker. To chase ideas. To have that freedom. And I loved it and I got to do what I wanted to do and create books, and speak, and travel and do a ton of great ideas work. But I really did miss the the building side of business. Being a consultant I don’t think is truly a business owner. You are a consultant. You’re trading time for money. And when you have staff, when you have employees, when you are building something that is beyond you. It’s a different mindset and approach. And so, I was ready to do that in 2018 and so in writing “Brand New Name”, that was a key goal. Was to be able to bring on and grow Sticky Branding into a business similar to what I had known before. And we’d been in this journey now and the teams growing and our process and results are changing. And as you know, we are planning out now two and three years of what’s next. So this is the most fun I’ve had and I forgot how much fun it is to build with other people versus just doing it on your own.

– 100%. I think it’s really exciting to kind of join forces and minds and battle back and forth and have those ideas. And talk things through too. It’s really exciting. One of the things I noticed just from my experience working in many different companies. Corporate to startups to all different industries. is that often times leaders have trouble kind of letting go of the reins and empowering their employees. But you do that amazingly well. And you work with all of our clients, and I do too, but you specifically work with leaders to empower the team to kind of thrive and embrace the rules and go after the goals. So what advice would you give to other business owners? How does it work for you? How did you discover that that’s the kind of the way to go to get things done?

– Part of what burnt me out on managing and why I went to being a consultant after I sold my family’s business. Was that the way that I was taught to lead from my parents generation was very top down. It was very command and control. And that didn’t work for me. I didn’t enjoy the experience. I didn’t like to be that kind of leader and that’s what I was taught and what I knew. But what I’ve learned is by working with really great clients and leaders and entrepreneurs that there’s so much more effective ways to build a business and brand. And so our philosophy over the last 10 years have really been shaped on these ideas of co-creation. How do you unlock the genius of your employees. Especially the creative genius of your employees to solve complex problems. But it’s also been how do you develop your people so they are able to let’s say quote unquote own the challenge, own the task. And as you grow a business there are clear revenue plateaus. We’ve used these as framing tools within our consulting work where when a business triples in size. Say they go from one employee to three to 10 to 30 to 100, etc. Every time you triple in size the infrastructure and expectations change. We call it the law of three and 10. And so going from one to three and three to 10 are massive shifts for a leader. But the same is true when you go from say 100 to 300 employees. They’re different businesses and different mindsets. You’re essentially going from a solopreneur to a tribal leader to a management culture to an executive culture. And so to do those leaps you have to change. And where a lot of this came from was some core advice that I’d been given from a mentor growing through Leap Job and even into Sticky Branding. He always used to say to me, “The ability for a business to grow is dependent on the ability of an entrepreneur to change.” And so being able to learn to change to empower your employees your managers to help you grow the business to have that shared vision to have those shared results. Is actually a key learning and experience that every leader has to go through. Some do it very naturally and others have to struggle with it. I struggled with it. But I’ve seen the other side and now I’m an incredible advocate for it. That I think it is the best way to run a business. Is that you’ve got these awesome people working for you, and what I admire so much within Sticky Branding’s clients is we work with people who are really great leaders who share that philosophy. And that’s what makes their businesses thrive. It’s not their great ideas or the power of a CEO business owner. It’s the ability for the business owner to step back to allow other people to rise.

– Yeah, no it’s pretty amazing to watch the companies transform. And even the relationships between the leaders and the team itself, is pretty cool.

– Yeah, yeah it makes everything that much more fun.

– 100%. Once last question if I can sneak one in. What’s something that nobody knows or I’m sure the audience doesn’t know about you? I know that you’re a big wino. I know that you like to go biking. But what’s something else that you can share with us?

– Wino. Wow, I can’t even believe I’m being called that. I like good wine. Let’s put it in context. What does somebody not know about me? I don’t know. I’m pretty open. I’ve got two cats and do do the stay at home cat dad. This has been forced on me because of Covid. Mountain biking and snow boarding are my sports. Probably the one thing that people don’t know about me is, I can’t golf. I literally suck at it. And I get out of trying to learn by telling people that I shoot a 100. And they’re like, “That’s totally cool.” And I’m like, “I do a 100 every nine.” And they’re like, “Well, you don’t have to come with us!” And so I haven’t been on a golf course in over a decade because I keep using that line. Maybe I’ll learn. But who knows.

– We can go together. I’m just as bad. So we can go together.

– That sounds like fun. Well we’re heading to the end of today Sarah. So thank you. We’re going to make these into a series. We’re going to be doing more of these. And if you have topics or ideas that you would like us to hit on. Questions that you would like us to go deeper onto. Send us a message. You can reach us on all the social networks at Sticky Branding or visit us at stickybranding.com. And thank you for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to us wherever you get your favorite podcasts. These episodes are all available up on YouTube. So again, subscribe there so you get a notification every time they’re live. And visit us at stickybranding.com for more ideas, best practices and services on how to grow your business into a Sticky Brand.

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