Stacy Husk has a long history of brand strategy in the corporate space and is now helping small businesses find and communicate their brand. In this interview, we discuss what exactly a brand is, how it can benefit your business, and some first steps you can take to identify your brand voice.
Adam Lowe: So today, I’m sitting here with Stacy Husk from Stacy Lane Consulting. Stacy, how are you?
Stacy Husk: I’m good. How are you, Adam?
Adam Lowe: I’m great, thanks. Can you take a minute to introduce yourself? Tell me a little bit about who you are, and your background, and what you do, and how you help people?
Stacy Husk: Yes, that’s a great question. So I’ll give you a little bit of my background, ’cause I think that directly impacts on how I help people and the why behind it. Ultimately, I explain myself as a farm kid from Iowa. My dad was a farmer, my mom was a schoolteacher, and what that meant for me were a few things. One, I got a front row seat to what being an entrepreneur looked like, carving out a path, and the second piece, it really formulated my ideas on why small businesses are important, why they need to be supported, and I grew up in a really small community where people ran those small businesses. It wasn’t the small business themselves, it was the people, and so I think that has really shaped who I am as an individual, and always my goal of helping people. I think that’s kinda how I fell into the small business world.
Adam Lowe: Great. So what about your background to get there?
Stacy Husk: That one, that’s not as much fun. But yes, my actual background is within corporate America, so when I started out of college, I went to work for Hershey’s, and I worked in a sales capacity. I was a retail sales rep, so that meant that I was blitzing stores and I got very familiar with that retail world, and then also the sales piece of things. I later took a position in the customer sales executive position role, where again, I was doing sales, category insights and more dabbled into the people management and then finally, I moved into General Mills.
Stacy Husk: That’s where I unearthed my real passion, which was within marketing, branding and event planning, and then I was really fortunate to get to work within General Mills’ portfolio. They have such iconic brands such as Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms and then Betty Crocker, Old El Paso, Cascadian Farms, and so what I loved as a marketer and brander was understanding the unique objectives of each brand, but then also understanding the origins and the belief and the value systems behind those brands, and then really being deliberate about articulating those beliefs in a unique way for each one of those brands. That was really my training ground at first. It’s kind of baptism by fire. You’re drinking from the fire hose, as they say, and you’re learning a lot, but after you settle into your role, you realize that there are frameworks even though the landscape is different each time, you constantly go back to the framework, ask yourself the same questions, and try to create marketing plans that uphold the brand’s objectives.
Adam Lowe: So then what was your journey from that corporate America to helping small and medium size businesses with their brands and their marketing and their strategy?
Stacy Husk: Yeah, to be honest, it was totally need-state. I had, similar to you, I had started in photography. I was called into photography simply because I’m a mom, and I loved the camera, and I wanted to give that gift back, but ultimately it kind of transformed and I started talking to business owners, whether it be for head shots or products, and realized that branding is kind of this intangible thing that small businesses really struggle with, and so I naturally fell into it and one client became two clients and three clients, and then I started to realize that I have a lot of traction and a lot of insight and experience to help these small businesses really articulate what the four corners of their brand was, and in doing so help differentiate them in the marketplace and help them uniquely position themselves to service their clients, and so that’s kinda been the journey.
Adam Lowe: So a lot of people don’t understand what the word “brand” means. They hear brand and they think it’s a logo, or they think that it’s something iconic like Coke or Pepsi or Cheerios or Lucky Charms or something like that. In your world and in your words, what does a brand mean and why is it important for any business, and particularly for a small business?
Stacy Husk: Oof, that’s a big question. We’ll start with the fundamentals. So many times people come to me and say, “I need a video. I need a brochure. I need a business card.” Those are marketing tactics. What branding is, is branding is who you are. Marketing is how you tell people who you are. Most people speed through and say, “yeah, yeah, I got that. I know who I am. Next.” And then I’ll ask a very deliberate, loaded question of then, “Well, who do you think you are?” Right? Isn’t that super hard to articulate?
Adam Lowe: I still can’t do it.
Stacy Husk: Right, yeah. Who do you think you are? And not in a challenging way, but just, please inform me.
Adam Lowe: Who do you think you are?
Stacy Husk: I don’t know. I’m on the spot, right? Now do that for a company that is not a person, it’s an entity that you’ve built. You are part of that, but trying to explain in a very concise way of who you are is invaluable, because once people understand who you are as a person, they buy into what you do. Brands are the same thing. So many people say, “Okay, create my brand.” It’s not about that. I don’t create your brand. I underscore the most important parts of who you are, and then together, we talk about that, and we then talk about key visuals or campaign ideas that can bring that to the page, but it all starts with who you are, what is the belief system that fuels your company. What is the culture, what is the why behind what you do? If you can’t articulate that, you’re not ready to do your marketing. A lot of time it’s just sitting down in that discovery phase and trying to tease out the core components of who you are as a founder and bringing that forth to uniquely position you, and not in some sort of farce capacity, but in a very real, authentic and engaging capacity.
Adam Lowe: That’s almost like brand therapy.
Stacy Husk: Yeah. Yeah. I like it.
Adam Lowe: You’re a brand therapist.
Stacy Husk: I’ll take it.
Adam Lowe: I imagine there’s other components to that as well. There’s the discovering who you are, but then there’s also understanding who your target audience is, who your clients are, and how does branding fit into all that?
Stacy Husk: Yes, that is a great question and an interesting question. There’s a couple ways to think about this, but ultimately as a brander, what I believe my job is is to be a matchmaker. So many times I meet with clients and they pick a demographic, and they say “yeah, that one. That’s the one who I want to talk to. That’s who I’m going after.” Yet, their core values and systems and what we call brand voice doesn’t register with them. It’s a complex conversation of saying, find your tribe. Find who you’re authentically already well suited for. Find your match, and that’s a lot of the conversation of branding as well. Your ideal client is who we’re talking about, but those characteristics often live inside both you and them. Does that make sense?
Adam Lowe: Right. It makes total sense. A lot of this stuff, it sounds really “woo-woo”-
Stacy Husk: Right.
Adam Lowe: It’s really hard to take action on some of this stuff. So I’m just wondering are there any tools or processes or techniques that you have for helping to find who you are and who your ideal customer is, aside from just trying this, trying that, and feeling your way through it? What do you recommend for somebody that’s trying to find their why?
Stacy Husk: Right. Well, finding their why is a complex process, for sure. There are three statements that I ask people to go through, and for whatever reason, when you ask people what they think versus what they believe, those are two different things. So often times I have a question that says “I believe,” and just to answer it. And then the next question is, “My purpose is,” and then the third question is, “My pursuits are.” So by answering those three questions, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you might have several different answers, or bullet points if you’re like me, for each one of those three, but that helps you drill down and better understand why you do what you do and what you feel is your purpose or how you can help and serve the people that you do.
Adam Lowe: So when you’re asking those questions, you might want to be thinking about how to answer them as yourself, not necessarily as your business?
Stacy Husk: Yes.
Adam Lowe: ‘Cause your business is just a reflection of yourself.
Stacy Husk: Right.
Adam Lowe: Okay.
Stacy Husk: Yes. It’s an extension of you.
Adam Lowe: Those are really hard questions.
Stacy Husk: I know, I know. They are, and so sometimes too, that’s why it helps to have somebody facilitate that. Again, so many times people just want me to put together their visual systems, right? They don’t put the informative why or the emotion behind it, but we all know, especially in this digital world, that visuals speak volumes, but if you don’t know what you’re trying to convey, you don’t know the why and the tone, you can’t have an impactful message.
Stacy Husk: So it has to start with those questions, and so what I suggest is if you don’t want to bring in a third party like myself or other agencies that do this piece of it, sit down with a really good friend. Just write it out and then somebody who knows you, that will call you out and say, “Mmm, you say that, but you hate doing that,” or “You say that, but that is not you.” So sometimes we need someone to hold up the mirror, that self reporting is only so accurate, so start there and then bring in the people that know you, and bounce those ideas off of them. As you state it, don’t be afraid to refine it. Don’t be so quick to stake claim to that is who you are, listen to those people that know you best and make sure that those statements are a reflection of you, because words are so powerful.
Stacy Husk: So be deliberate. Be sacrificing. If four words that you have on the page are words that stick out to you, sacrifice one of them. Get the top three. Drill down to the biggest pieces of you. After you have that, that creates the framework. Ultimately what that is, it’s a truth test of your filter, that now your marketing materials can go through that filter and every time you have something that you want to create, a video or a business card or a tactic of any type, you now look at your brand voice or filter and you understand what it needs to convey, ’cause now you understand in a very clear, concise manner, who you are.
Adam Lowe: So a lot of people think that defining a brand and going through these kind of exercises are really only valuable for big businesses and that it’s too intangible for a small business, somebody that’s on a tight budget, somebody who’s just trying to get things done. Can you help me explain what going through this process, what it’s going to do for somebody that is a solopreneur or somebody who is running a very small business and just struggling to make ends meet?
Stacy Husk: Right. I’d say two things. One, it is your point of differentiation. You are nimble. You are quick. You are in tune. That is so special. You are not watered down. It’s not dissolved. You are front and center, and so your brand voice can be super loud, because it is so authentically you. So if you understand the power of what you put out and you only get leads back in that are so in tune to what you’re saying and what you can provide, that removes a layer of inefficiency. Does that make sense?
Adam Lowe: It does, yeah.
Stacy Husk: I would say that’s what makes it so powerful, is the optimization in that connectivity now happens. People buy from people that they know or trust or say, “That’s my person.” It’s a validation, it’s an opt-in. It’s these are characteristics that I support, and so your brand personality, voice and construct is very important for that process to happen.
Adam Lowe: It’s kind of like how they say the riches are in the niches, so this is almost figuring out what your niche is, not just in the product that you have, but in the way that you serve customers and who those customers are.
Stacy Husk: Right.
Adam Lowe: Really, really understanding that so that you can get hyperfocused on making sure you’re providing the best service or product for them specifically.
Stacy Husk: Yeah.
Adam Lowe: So why is it important for a small business owner to concentrate on branding instead of the day to day activities that they’re trying to do to run a business?
Stacy Husk: Right. Branding is about opt in from other people. It is the subconscious connection pieces, so you think what you’re doing is just putting out materials and you’re hoping to come back, but instead, you’re engaging in a conversation Every single item that you put out is an extension of you, right? So if you treat every piece of marketing that way, it should have an accurate reflection of who you are. Why? Because it’s a refined, optimized process, so although branding sounds a little bit intangible, or branding sounds like something only big companies can do, it’s very much the opposite. Sole entrepreneurs, or individuals or smaller companies often have a better line of sight of who they are and what they want to accomplish. They might need help unearthing the bigger vision of that, or articulating that and putting language to it, but oftentimes they’re clear, they just haven’t gone through that process of stating it and selecting the brand visuals in a response to that very piece. Instead, they’ve selected brand visuals because “I like that color,” or because “That was only a dollar on Camba” or whatever, but now, you have this really robust idea and everything is informed, because now you understand who you are and who you’re talking to.
Stacy Husk: It’s the difference of coming into a room that is a huge auditorium and say, “Hey, everybody listen to me,” versus walking out of that auditorium, going down the hall to the left, and be like, “My friend, you’re in here. Hey.” That’s the difference. Now you can be effective, so that’s what branding does.
Adam Lowe: That’s especially important for small businesses, because we don’t have the resources to market and put ourselves out there to everybody. We’ve gotta be very laser focused on who our target is.
Stacy Husk: Yeah, and we got into business because we like doing what we do, and I think we all have a place where we can really shine and having people who see that inherent value or communicate the same way we do is important to happiness. You can work with a lot of people that you’re misaligned on that, but that’s not going to bring you joy. Wouldn’t you just want to work with the people that you know that you can help and that understand the value provided in the way in which you provide it? High five. I’ll work with those people all day long.
Adam Lowe: Yeah, how many of us small business owners work with clients that we absolutely don’t like, or we would like to only work with the clients that we resonate with. Why are we attracting the people that we don’t like? It seems to me that finding that brand voice and identifying what your brand is and who your audience should be helps you to attract the kind of clients that you’re looking for so that you’re not dealing with the people that you don’t want to be working with.
Stacy Husk: Right. Exactly.
Adam Lowe: I like it.
Stacy Husk: It’s a matchmaking service.
Adam Lowe: It all comes back to matchmaking.
Stacy Husk: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Adam Lowe: Cool. Anything else you want to throw out about branding? Any tips or tricks or advice that you want to give to businesses on how to define their brand or what to do with it once they have some idea of it?
Stacy Husk: I think the answer is it sounds so simple, but writing it down, and once you have it, bringing it to every meeting that decisions are being made on materials or key messages or basically the things that you do. It really is important to always hold yourself accountable, that this is who we are, so therefore it informs the why on everything you do. I would say just state it, and then make sure you’re having it present or you’re presenting it to the people that are doing your copywriting, who are creating your logo or your topography or the people who are going to be in charge of your email marketing. It’s really crucial that they understand it, and it’s so many times just glossed over if you don’t have it written in front of you and everybody holding hands to uphold it and believe that that really is a declaration of us, or a declaration of you.
Adam Lowe: Yeah, that writing it down is so powerful, and I hear that over and over again, not just with what you just said, but I had a mentor once tell me that I should write down my goal for the next 12 months and put it on a sticky note right there on my bathroom mirror so that every morning when I go to brush my teeth, I see that every single day and I’m reminded of what my goal is and what am I gonna do today to achieve that goal, very similar thing, every time you write an email, every time you write a blog post, every time you talk to a customer, you might need to think consciously about your brand voice and about the message that you want to send across, because branding is, like you said, so much more than just a visual or so much more than a couple words on the website. It’s every single interaction that you have with a customer.
Stacy Husk: Absolutely. Absolutely. Everything speaks on behalf or your brand, everything. So you want to make sure that it’s saying the right thing.
Adam Lowe: Kinda like making sure I brought you the right flavor of sparkling water today.
Stacy Husk: You did so good. Your brand says “I care. I’m empathetic to what you need.”
Adam Lowe: It says I know you hate ginger, even though you’re wrong.
Stacy Husk: Yes, well.
Adam Lowe: So I brought pineapple instead.
Stacy Husk: Yeah, and I’ve never tried pineapple.
Adam Lowe: Now you have it.
Stacy Husk: I know, look at you, striking innovation.
Adam Lowe: All right, so are we ready for our lightning round questions? These are fun.
Stacy Husk: Okay.
Adam Lowe: They’re fun for me, probably not for you. All right. So you know I’m a huge book nerd.
Stacy Husk: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Adam Lowe: If you could gift one book to everybody that you meet, what would it be and why?
Stacy Husk: It’s a gut-wrenching book, but it’s so good, and it’s called The Last Lecture. Are you familiar?
Adam Lowe: I’m not.
Stacy Husk: Oh my goodness, ultimately it’s about a man who is a professor and he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and so it sounds like, “Oh, that’s terrible,” but what it gets for him is this immense amount of clarity of the points of his life that have been so important, and it’s just written so well and with such optimism and beauty of life, that it’s just amazing. It’s an easy read. It’s not very many pages, but it is gut wrenching. Do not read it on the plane or anyplace you don’t want to be seen crying in public. It’s a really good book.
Adam Lowe: So don’t get the audiobook and drive down the street tearing up.
Stacy Husk: Yeah. People will wonder, they will say “Wow, that person is having a bad day,” when in reality, you’re just being reflective.
Adam Lowe: Okay.
Stacy Husk: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Adam Lowe: And what’s the biggest mistake that you see business leaders or business owners making?
Stacy Husk: Thinking they know it all. Not asking for help, or I know this is gonna be deep and this is why you call me the brand therapist and not just the brander or consulter, but I think there’s the Shakespearean quote, somebody’s gonna listen to this and I’m probably quoting it not exactly right, but it’s “Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves, or else we’ve lost ourselves in our oaths.” Sometimes we are so quick to say this is the path, and then it turns out to not be the path, and instead of turning around or going down another path, we feel that we must continue, and so I think it’s way harder to do that if you strategically position other people in your life that can either hold you accountable for what you’ve said, and hold the mirror up to help you navigate that, so just asking for help and thinking that you have to have all the answers.
Adam Lowe: Somebody once said that the world is full of dead squirrels that couldn’t make a decision.
Stacy Husk: I like that. I like that.
Adam Lowe: I had a squirrel run across the street on my way in here today, so it just made me think about that. ‘Cause it did that, it started going this way and then turned around and went the other way, and I’m like, “stupid squirrel, and decide on a direction.”
Stacy Husk: Buddy, go, go.
Adam Lowe: Right. Just pick a direction and go. All right, so what’s one tool that you feel like you can’t live without?
Stacy Husk: Well, I would say keeping these three questions in mind, so it would be a framework, but it is what is it? What does it do? What does it do for me? Answering those three questions on your material, making sure that yes, you know who you are and yes, you’re communicating effectively and your consumer can answer those three questions clearly and concisely.
Adam Lowe: So when you say “What is it? What can it do? What can it do for me?” You’re saying that in the consumer’s voice, not necessarily the business?
Stacy Husk: Yes.
Adam Lowe: Okay, got it.
Stacy Husk: Yep.
Adam Lowe: I’ve heard you say this plenty of times before, and it makes total sense. You want to make sure that you’re always thinking “what’s in it for you?” That’s the most important question.
Stacy Husk: Right, as a consumer, not as a business owner.
Adam Lowe: Yes, exactly.
Stacy Husk: it’s about them, not you, in that conversation.
Adam Lowe: And then, if you could have lunch with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Stacy Husk: Aww, that’s a good question. I think it’d be my mom. I miss her. She lives in Iowa and I live here. Where do I live?
Adam Lowe: You live in Minneapolis.
Stacy Husk: In Maryland. I used to live in Minneapolis. And so yeah, it’s just nice to have that connection. I’d say my mom.
Adam Lowe: Family’s important.
Stacy Husk: It is. It is, and it’s nice just to go recharge the batteries, and sometimes you have to have this huge production, where I have to get my husband and two kids on a plane, and then we get there and so it’s not relaxing, whereas if I could just walk down the street and be like, “Mom, let’s go to the coffee shop,” I think that’d be nice.
Adam Lowe: Yeah. I like that. And then tell me a fun fact about yourself that people might not know.
Stacy Husk: I don’t know. Why don’t you tell them a fun fact? Just kidding. I’m worried where that might go. A fun fact about myself. This is so silly. I like to by bananas in bunches of five.
Adam Lowe: That’s more weird than fun.
Stacy Husk: I don’t know. It’s weird.
Adam Lowe: Why five?
Stacy Husk: I just feel like it’s a magic number, and it bothers me, because you know how you go to the banana section, and you’re like, “Who pulled off that one lonely banana and left it there without any friends?” It was me, because if you get too many they go brown too fast and nobody eats them. If you get too little, then you wake up in the morning, you’re like, “Ugh, I could really go for a banana.” I feel like five is the increment that works for me.
Adam Lowe: That’s the magic number.
Stacy Husk: Yeah.
Adam Lowe: You can’t take the lonely banana and stick it in there with its unripened friends to help it ripen faster?
Stacy Husk: Nope.
Adam Lowe: That’s too complicated?
Stacy Husk: Yeah. I just like the organic nature of it.
Adam Lowe: And they all have to be in the same bunch, you can’t have like a bunch of three and a bunch of two? That would be wrong?
Stacy Husk: It’d be wrong. Yeah.
Adam Lowe: Perfectly reasonable.
Stacy Husk: Thank you. I think so.
Adam Lowe: Yeah, makes total sense to me.
Stacy Husk: I’m gonna ignore that look that you’re giving me.
Adam Lowe: I had to give a presentation this morning and somebody else had to introduce me, and they had to tell a fun fact about me, and it was a little bit embarrassing.
Stacy Husk: Oh, see that’s why when I said, what do you think? And then I quickly retract, because I didn’t want to be in that exact same scenario. So what’d they say?
Adam Lowe: I’ll tell you offline.
Stacy Husk: Perfect.
Adam Lowe: All right, so then last question is where do you expect your business to be in the next 12 months? I know you’re still trying to grow and find your voice, but where would you like to be in 12 months? Where would you like to see yourself in 12 months?
Stacy Husk: You know, it’s interesting, because I find myself going through a lot of these exercises with different people, and the part that makes branding fascinating to me is that it really is all about people, and it’s really all about the connections, and it’s about the language we use to make those connections or the visual, and in that process I just really enjoy getting to meet entrepreneurs and I really enjoy understanding their journey, so I think over the next 12 months, I myself would like to look into additional courses where maybe I could better myself to be a coach in that arena, I wouldn’t say business coach by any means, it’s much more of a smaller scale of just trying to say “Good job,” to bear witness to what they’re doing, and to challenge affectionately and to hold them accountable. I really like that piece. I think I’d like to explore that a little more.
Adam Lowe: Yeah. And you’re really good about that. Any time we sit down and have a conversation, I always walk away and I’m like, “Wow, that was super, super insightful.” Yeah, it’s just amazing some of the things that you say and I don’t even think you realize you’re saying it in the moment. Of course, sitting here doing an interview, everything’s a little bit more awkward. I’ve got some great outtakes that I’m gonna have to find a way to clip into this somehow. Not just the outtakes of us talking and the projector falling on our heads.
Stacy Husk: The blooper reel
Adam Lowe: Yeah, the blooper reel, exactly, but just some outtakes of a conversation where you were talking to me specifically about some of the challenges that I’m going through.
Stacy Husk: Yeah.
Adam Lowe: I think I’m gonna have to find some way to incorporate that in here.
Stacy Husk: I like that.
Adam Lowe: Yay.
Stacy Husk: You can hold me accountable.
Adam Lowe: I will. And so finally, how can people reach out to you if they want to either work with you or say thank you or get more information?
Stacy Husk: Or want a hug.
Adam Lowe: Or if they want a hug.
Stacy Husk: I’m a hugger. You know, I think my super savvy friend Adam will find a way-
Adam Lowe: I’m Adam, by the way.
Stacy Husk: That Adam will find a way to put my contact information in the notes, comments.
Adam Lowe: Yeah, so I’ll put them in the show notes.
Stacy Husk: Show notes.
Adam Lowe: I’ll get your email address and your web site and all that stuff in there, ’cause I know you’re still building out some of that foundation.
Stacy Husk: I am. Yes, so thank you.
Adam Lowe: You’ve been working with people for how long now, and you’re like, “Ah, I just need to settle on an email address. I gotta get my website up.” The awesome thing is you’re out there and you’re helping people and you’re doing stuff. It’s like the cobbler’s kids have no shoes.
Stacy Husk: I know, it really is, it really is. I need to take time to work on my business, not just in my business, as my business advisor tells me.
Adam Lowe: Cool. Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today and to talk with me for part one of the interview.
Stacy Husk: Part one, part two and part three.
Adam Lowe: Part one was what, like two weeks ago, and we finally managed to finish this up today. I really appreciate you coming back out here so we can wrap this up.
Stacy Husk: Yeah, it’s always a pleasure. Awesome. I’m gonna take my sparkly water.
Adam Lowe: Yeah, you take your sparkly water and get out of here. All right. I’ll talk to you soon.