Get to know Gavin Baker, Founder of Baker Marketing Labs, as he joins Chris on We Built This Brand. In this episode, Gavin shares how his early experiences in social media management and running a start-up shaped his career in the world of branding. Dive into the process of taking his own company through a major rebrand and discover valuable, actionable tips for entrepreneurs building their first brand. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from an industry expert and gain practical insights into the world of branding. Tune in and let Gavin and Chris guide you on your brand-building journey.
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(01:18) Gavin describes how he got his start in Knoxville as an up-and-coming entrepreneur
(03:13) The lessons Gavin learned from his first job at a start-up called Abunga
(07:33) Gavin’s experience being the first Social Media Manager hired in the restaurant industry
(14:40) Gavin’s first foray into public speaking and though leadership
(16:36) How Gavin’s experiences led him to entrepreneurship
(20:04) The story of how Gavin’s first business Greenlight competed directly with ConvertKit
(22:02) How Baker Labs differentiates their marketing firm
(24:08) Gavin shares how Baker Labs got their name, and the lessons he learned on picking a website URL
(28:07) Gavin discusses the visual identity of a brand and how that played into the rebrand at Baker Labs
(32:24) The approach to branding that Gavin takes at his firm and why it’s similar to the mythology of the flying fish
(39:35) Gavin’s advice to an entrepreneur who is trying to figure out their brand for the first time
(44:19) Gavin describes the pitfalls of asking the wrong people for feedback when developing branding materials
(45:29) The brands that Gavin is loving right now
Gavin Baker is the President and Founder of Baker Marketing Laboratory, an award–winning digital marketing agency in Knoxville, TN that helps clients in the healthcare industry better serve their patients and customers. Gavin also works as an adjunct professor in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, where he leads a 400-level Brand Management course. As a respected individual in the healthcare marketing sphere, Gavin has been featured as a guest on various podcasts and radio shows, including HealthcareNOW (Nationally Syndicated Radio), Medical Practice Trends, Doctors Unbound, and Made Right Here. He sits on the Forbes Agency Council as well, where his marketing advice has been featured in multiple articles published on Forbes.
- Baker Marketing Labs: https://bakerlabs.co/
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Chris: Welcome to the podcast. As always, I’m your host, Chris Hill, and today we’re talking with Gavin Baker, the President and Founder of Baker Marketing Labs. This was a great conversation that I had with him and I really enjoyed talking to him about how he got his start in the field of marketing, the Wild West days of social media marketing, back when he was just starting to become available for businesses and people were trying to figure it out, and of course, how he built his company, Baker Marketing Labs. Honestly, he had some great insights on how to build your brand and build your business, and if you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur or even if you’ve been at it a while, I think you’ll get a lot out of this conversation that we had. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Welcome to We Built This Brand. I’m your host, Chris Hill. And with me today is Gavin Baker. Gavin, welcome to the show.
Gavin: Man, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.
Chris: Happy to have you and happy to be talking to you today about the things that you’ve done at Baker Labs and your history, your background, and your career growth. So, excited to talk about all that today. All right. Well, to start off with, would really just love to hear from you, like, your background, where you came from. I know originally, you’re from St. Louis, Missouri. How did you get to Knoxville?
Gavin: Yeah, that’s a funny—it’s a question. And it’s a good—I am from St. Louis. I grew up in northeast St. Louis in a suburb there called Florissant. And it’s really just a testament to relationships. So, I went to school in Pennsylvania for undergrad and, you know, played lacrosse in college, graduated—it’s a spring sport—kind of graduated, wasn’t sure I was going to do, kind of lost the conference championship. And I had a friend from high school who—actually before high school; Middle School—who said, “Hey, I’m moving to Knoxville, I’m taking a job there. And do you want to help me flip a house? And oh, by the way, I’m bringing a boat and the house is three minutes from the lake.” And I said, “Sure.” [laugh]. And his name’s Andy. Andy and I have done lots of projects together before, so it’s not as weird as an example as it might sound. But I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had some career ideas, but I wasn’t sure and, you know, I grew up in St. Louis where my dad’s a college seminary professor. They had moved to a different town after I graduated high school—my brother and I did—so we, you know, we grew up in St. Louis, but we weren’t from there. And then they moved and so there really wasn’t any reason to go back. So, then that makes it into question about where do you go [laugh]. So, that’s how I ended up in Knoxville was that.
Chris: Awesome. And it looks like you got your start working at Emerald Youth Foundation, and then moved into, it looks like, is a startup? Abunga? Tell me about Abunga.
Gavin: Yeah it’s startup. And so, I moved to town and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. So, I started coaching lacrosse at Farragut High School and had a great time doing that. Loved the team loved the relationships I got to make from that. But ultimately, it was really just trying to figure out what was going to do career-wise.
Economy was doing fine, I mean, all these things were great and ended up landing an internship with Emerald Youth, which was a great experience. And then after that, I ended up working at a startup called Abunga. And Abunga was an e-commerce bookstore, we sold books online. And the idea was, we’re going to do it in a way that is safe for families. And it was a fantastic learning experience.
And honestly, I got to do some things there that I still look back and think, that was silly. In the sense of, we were, you know, almost a results-only work environment. We had an office, but it’s very small team. I got a lot of freedoms and autonomy and responsibility there. Just as a quick story, I remember eventually, kind of fast where I started marketing, some things happen inside the company, ended up being asked to run the company. And so, I’m—and I completely underqual—I mean, not even underqualified, like, zero qualification. Like, negative qualification.
Chris: You had a bachelor’s degree in business, though.
Gavin: I had a bachelor’s degree in business. I know how to read. And you know, I like books, you know? And that’s where we landed. And so, and I remember sitting outside in the afternoon—and this is, like, 2007, 2008, right. Like, no one’s working outside in 2007, 2008.
And I’m getting off this phone call with another book retailer that we were talking about, basically a partnership with, and I remember getting off the call with the CEO of that phone call and thinking, “Does he know that I’m 23?” Like, “Does he know that?” Like, I don’t know. He didn’t act like he knew I was 23. And then the second time was like, “How cool is this?” I’m sitting here, you know, on my Blackberry, when no one, you know, wasn’t really a normal thing to have a Blackberry.
Like, I said these cool things. But I got to learn a lot. And ultimately, it was a baptism by fire in lots of ways. But we spent a lot of money, we did a lot of neat things. And money isn’t always the measure there, but spending a lot of money enabled us and me to see some things.
And ultimately, I learned a lot about technology. And I always liked technology, but I learned a lot about technology there. I learned a lot about margins and about partnerships and about even internal relationships and just all of that. It was a very much a trial by fire and really set me up. It didn’t set me up well for my next couple jobs because it ruined me as an employee.
And so, I was so used to the freedoms I had that they were not—I didn’t know they weren’t normal until I went [laugh] other places, and they were like, what—that was not normal—those weren’t normal at all. But it’s really interesting too from a—and then we’ll get to the brand questions—but from a brand [perspective 00:05:50], because we got to try some really cool things, we got to think through what how does this influence people? I mean, this is—we’re shipping books.
It’s like, well, our colors were this bright orange color. It’s like, what does it cost to get bright orange boxes? Which is very normal now, right? Chewy has got bright orange boxes, I mean, you—but it wasn’t I mean, Amazon had just put their little, like, smile on the boxes. Like it wasn’t a normal thing. And our stuff shipped in brown cardboard boxes.
And so, it was like, could we do this different? Would that impact the margin? It would be way more expensive, but would it actually have an ROI to it? So, we got to experience and try some things.
Chris: That’s cool. That’s really cool. And having that experience young, I can definitely relate to, like, all of a sudden, you’ve got that taste for, “I can run a business,” and then you go into your next job and you’re not. And it kind of feels limiting? Caged? I don’t know how to explain it, but I know the feeling.
Gavin: And I don’t know that it was a—again I think all things happen for a reason. It was the steps that needed to happen. It really is my, even in the agency we have now, it’s like, well, we hired two—I mean, in my career, part of what I’m able to do is say, like, I’ve hired six, seven different marketing agencies in my career. Which is pretty rare for an agency owner to be able to say that. Most haven’t done that.
I mean, we were paying—you know, at that time, we were paying the firm $25,000 a month, right? Like that’s, I mean, that was a lot of—I was I was that was significantly more than I was making, you know? But I’m like I know what that looks like. I’ve been on the other side of the table; I know what that looks like. And honestly, we do things today at Baker because of experiences I had then as a client. So, it’s formational.
Chris: Yeah. It’s amazing what you learned along the way. So, you moved on from there, you moved on to Ruby Tuesday. And I was looking through your LinkedIn and one thing I realized is, like, you came onto the scene, being a social media manager, probably when it was the first time that position was even available. Would that be accurate?
Gavin: Yeah. So, I was the first dedicated social media manager hired in the restaurant industry, right? When you think of the majors like Olive Garden, like those fast casual, kind of, that was the first one. Which, you know, there’s a reason for that. And it wasn’t my [prominence 00:08:02] in social media. It was… really that they were trying to do something different at Ruby, trying to accomplish some growth.
And they needed to, right? They had to be different because of some of how the industry economics work. And they had to do some things and so we can touch on that, but it was fascinating because the—I go from this small startup—that’s basically losing money. I mean, we were not making money. That’s why I left because we closed it—and you we got to Ruby Tuesday, and at the time, our marketing budget was at $82 million a year.
So, we’re spending a million-and-a-half a week, you know? [laugh]. Like, we weren’t spending anything close to [laugh] that at Abunga. But again, went through the agency hiring process, got to interview in vet some of the—you know, and at a company like that, I mean, people want to work with you, right? And so, we were getting the best and the brightest out there to say, “Hey, we want to be part of Ruby Tuesday’s transformation and change.”
And it was interesting too because learned a lot about—you know, talk about branding—the power of a brand. I was there at a time when they were coming—they were reinventing who they were, but there’s a store, a location, visual identity, and honestly wasn’t resonating very well. And that was part of the challenge of why social media was—could help social media to help solve this. Because it was a—there’s a disconnect that had begun and they were trying to solve it.
Chris: Yeah. And you were on the front lines of that too, which is really cool. So, you got to see that social digital transformation of the brand. Did you learn anything like—you mentioned earlier, like, taking things throughout your career—was there anything key there that you learned that you took with you as you went on?
Gavin: Yeah, of course. Yeah. There are a handful of things. One was just the nature—like, [unintelligible 00:09:50] like, big company politics. I didn’t learn a lot about politics in that sense, but just understanding about how big companies operate, right? So, my experience of that point had been at small companies.
Well, one of the biggest challenges for Ruby at that time, and probably lots of companies, but that I still see today, even with our clients is that technology and marketing were vertically different. And when you start applying to tech social media, and then now SaaS products, right, you think about, like, a HubSpot or an ESP, like, an email service provider like, maybe that’s—whether it’s a Mailchimp, or it’s a lot bigger one where actually an ESP, the problem is they’re still not on-premise. And so, it’s like, well, who owns it? Is it technology? Is it marketing?
And we ran into these challenges all the time there because it’s like, well, technology, social media is technology. Like, yes, but it’s not technology that you control; it’s technology that you use. So, does that mean it sits in ITC or does that mean it sits in the marketing seat? And again, it sounds really silly, but at a big company where there are divisions that handle those—or departments—it becomes a—maybe not a turf war, it just becomes a real question. Because somebody’s got to be responsible for it.
So actually, as a result, my seat went back and forth. My team went back and forth I was on, was part of the digital team, and then it was part of the technology team and then it was part of the marketing team. So, I had 11 desks—10 desks in 11 months as they tried to figure that out, right? But that’s a real—so part of what I learned is like, that’s a real thing. In small businesses, it’s not, but in big enough ones, you know, where these resources sit is actually an important—and if you want to affect change, or do something different, you still have to understand those pieces, otherwise you won’t be successful because you got to understand, well, who’s actually making the decision and how does this impact other people and what needs to happen on those pieces?
Chris: Yeah. It’s was kind of the Wild West then, so that always made social media fun.
Gavin: Oh, it was. I mean, like, the reality too have even some of that technology-wise is, like, sometimes really smart people make… I don’t know, I don’t want to say bad decisions, but they make decisions that they don’t always understand the impacts of. So, example there: I mean, literally, you think about a Dilbert cartoon and you think about, like, just the stereotypes [unintelligible 00:12:04]. So like, when I worked there, this server that hosted the website was literally in the basement of the headquarters—which they called the support center—but of the headquarters. And so, when we sent an email out through our email tool to a million people or whatever, all those people would click a link that went to a coupon and that coupon was hosted on rubytuesday.com, which lives on the server in the basement of the headquarters, right?
So, you know, look at just basic conversion, click-through rates and whatnot, all of a sudden, the internet at the office goes out because it can’t support that many people clicking. You don’t have the bandwidth, right? So then, you know, an effect that is no one can email at the headquarters, the customer support team—which is handling all the people who’s got complaints, right, across the nation internationally—their technology is internet-based, it goes down. So, you think, all we need to do is—but we need to email customers. We’re trying to drive them into stores.
And so, that became a battle. Well, I know it has to be here. And, like, and to be honest, our website was not complex, right? It didn’t do anything special. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, right? It just, you couldn’t buy anything on it, you couldn’t book anything on it. It just was a really pretty brochure in lots of ways.
But still, that alone was a—we were able to get it done. A fantastic boss—I had two different bosses there and my the first boss there was a fantastic team builder and she was a fantastic get-it-done person. And she was able to effectualize the political capital to get in moved. And that enabled us to do more. But man, it was it’s just silly. You think—and, like, Rackspace exists. It wasn’t, like, there weren’t options. It was just, you know, we’re a big company, we’re a big, private publicly-held company; we need to do it this way. It’s like, is it the right choice? So anyway.
Chris: No, that makes total sense, and having been, literally in the telecom industry as you’re at Ruby Tuesday—that’s where I was at the time—and you may remember that because we met a few years later and had conversations about all that, but yeah, I remember seeing that technology come up and all those challenges. And it’s crazy because a lot of that stuff’s in the cloud today and you would never think about oh, we’re hosting a website on the server at our office.
Gavin: You would never think.
Gavin: I mean, that’s even, like, Abunga. I mean, Abunga, what we spent… I don’t know the total amount that we spent but millions probably. But what millions are spent on, today you could literally go to shopify.com and say ‘sign up’ and have. Better than we had, right? You could have reminder emails and abandoned cart emails and integrations with shipping and billing. I mean, all this stuff, we had to build on that. So, I mean, like—and I when I say ‘we,’ the development team; I did nothing. But, like, still, like, it’s amazing what just that technology progress can enable that you wouldn’t know otherwise.
Chris: Yeah. And so, you went on from there. And you moved over to Moxley Carmichael. And I think that’s when I like to say, like, you kind of came into your own a little bit more. Like, that’s when you started teaching at UT, that’s when you started doing some other, like, thought leadership stuff, public speaking. At least, that’s when I started to notice it anyway.
Gavin: Yeah. So, I had done—I have been doing public speaking my first public speaking gig was actually when I was at Ruby Tuesday. Which was actually a really great opportunity because everyone wants somebody from a company like that. Like, I actually was talking to someone recently who was leaving a company, I just said, “Hey, if you like doing that kind of stuff, that is something that may not come to you as much.” Because at the end of the day, they’re really getting—you—I—because my experience was, I thought they were trying to get me.
What they were really trying to get logo, right? They wanted the logo to put on the website or include. And that turned out to be true for that individual as well, right? They’re speaking [clicks] down. But for me, I was able to speak at some national conferences when I was a Ruby.
And I’d talk about social media, talk about what you’re doing. And then that translated when I went to Moxley, I was probably speaking through them, either on the news or on the radio or at a local chamber or at, you know, some version of that, [PRSRA 00:16:17], AMA, you know, something like that, you know, almost probably twice a month. Which was really effective. I mean, it was very helpful to me as an adult, just learning to be in front of people and do those presentations and prepare the presentations.
And then I think it also helps to build up a lot of my, you know, just knowledge here locally, right? I mean, I don’t know that—I feel like I knew a decent number of people through some of the things I’ve done, but that really helped, I think, probably lay a lot more groundwork and seed work than I probably even, you know, appreciated at the time.
Chris: And again, like, that’s when I think I really first heard your name. So, that’s why it sticks in my head that, like, oh, that’s when you—okay. But that’s cool.
Gavin: I mean, yeah. I was there, I think two years to the day, almost. And like, that was a—I mean, I spoke a big chunk of my time was spent speaking at non-profits and for-profits and classes and business groups and yeah, all the little civic—not eve little, but just the civic group that exists to, you know, the hospitality groups, and just, I mean, all of these things, and just kind of bring in bringing the what is social media and how does it work and how can it affect you. Or whatever the topic was, but it typically was around digital marketing or social media.
Chris: So, you move on from Moxley. You end up—this is you starting your own business, right? Greenlight?
Gavin: Yeah, so I really started Baker Labs at the time, first. So yeah, so I started Baker Labs, which really was just a, you know, a consultancy. It was just being a freelancer-ish kind of thing. It was just me. And which I couldn’t have done without my other experiences, right? I mean, it all stacks together.
So having, you know, been Abunga, having been at Moxl—I mean, been at RT, and then at Moxley, those things all kind of coalesced together to say okay, great. This is what I would want an agency to be like. This is what I want—if I was a customer, this is I want my marketing to be like. This is the pieces. And, you know, part of being at part of—being at Abunga really gave me a technical underpinning. Like, I really began to understand how all the pieces work together.
So like, I wasn’t coding, I wasn’t doing any of that, but I was learning to understand how they all came together, right, this intersection of, oh, this impacts that. And then I was able to take that as I went forward in [role 00:18:30]. And in a marketing capacity, being able to really understand those things was actually pretty valuable because then when I was able to get to doing my own thing, I was applying technology in some ways. And again not complicated technology by any stretch, but even just that understanding of oh, like, you can embed a tweet this way. Like, which sounds really silly, but to a lot of people, they didn’t even know that was possible or understand that.
And so, started Baker, you know, got some clients, and got it rolling and was, like many things, it’s not impossible to get going as a freelancer without—you only need so many clients, right? Because they all pay you enough and it’s fine. Getting into becoming an agency became more complicated. One of the things that I wanted to do is have a productized business. It’s like, okay, great. What can I do?
So, at the time, I was spending Monday mornings, or Mondays as my strategy day. I would say, “Okay, what is something that I can build from that thing that we’re doing that isn’t doesn’t require my time and we’re not just selling time?” You know, we never did hourly billing, so I went—going back to the thing I learned from Abunga, one of the things was, we got billed hourly. We got billed by—as a PR firm, we got billed by the increment just like an attorney, right? So, I get this bill—so you think about twenty-five thousand dollars of hours, right, even at a decent hourly rate—you know, we get this bill, you know, and it’s like a novel. And it’s, you know, just single line of what everybody’s done and why.
And when we were happy, man, the bill was the bill. And then as soon as we stopped getting results, we’re looking at that balance and wait a second. Why did we spend $3,400 on document preparation? And it’s like, when they don’t know. Like, that’s just how it’s got billed, but they don’t—I mean, at the end of the day, they’re also not auditing all of that.
And like, again, it’s not about the firm. It’s just, that’s the nature of ni—so I’m feeling nickel and dimed. And honestly, we did a similar thing at Moxley. We did—they were very clear on, like, billing by hour, by increment.
And as a customer, I think you feel nickel and dimed. You’re like, “I wanted you to do the thing, but I didn’t want to know it was going to cost an extra—” you know? Or you said yes to it and then, you know, 60 days later, you get the billing, like, “Holy smokes. Why’s it cost that?” We feel powerless or mad, or all these other emotions because you wouldn’t have said yes to it if you knew it was going to cost what it cost and all that kind of stuff.
So, we don’t do hourly for that reason. Even to our detriment at times. We do project-based billing because we don’t want a client to fill nickel and dimed. So anyway, all that said, so started Greenlight. And it ultimately was not successful. I haven’t written this and so it’d be an interesting [audio break 00:21:17] we come back to it later, but there’s a guy named, I believe his name is Nathan Barry, and he has a business called ConvertKit. And ConvertKit and Greenlight started at the same time. And actually, at the very beginning, Greenlight had more revenue than ConvertKit. Because he’s published, he does a lot of publishing of his revenues. And I remember thinking—and he got, I think got ready the point to really [unintelligible 00:21:41] close ConvertKit because it just wasn’t [performing 00:21:43]. And we started—but ultimately, Greenlight didn’t take off what it supposed to do. It was supposed to just be an email marketing company, done for you email marketing, and just didn’t work out. It was too hard to get the traction we needed, so just we ultimately just kept—the more we tried to get clients over there, the more we got clients who paid way more money on the Baker side and it was like, okay. And so, it doesn’t really exist any shape or form at this point.
Chris: That makes—this really cool because actually ConvertKit’s who I use for my email marketing and stuff for HumblePod. So—
Gavin: And that’s taken off, like, a friggin’ [unintelligible 00:22:17]. I mean, it is—the growth he has is amazing. In some ways, it’s a good parallel to, like—literally, I don’t know that the dates were exact, but, like, they’re pretty close, right? And mine was a done-for-you service and his was a originally a service just like a MailChimp type of thing. And then they verticalized into, basically, you know, bloggers and podcasters and personality-type people. And it’s been incredible. So.
Chris: Yeah. That’s really cool, man. I mean, it’s, you know, it stinks that didn’t work out, but it’s still, like, it’s a good learning experience and you learned a lot and it sounds like, you know, it was at least worth the experience. So.
Gavin: Oh, for sure. A hundred percent. Yeah, I mean, we—Baker—I mean, Greenlight was fine as a bu—it just never grew to what we thought it would be. That’s all. So.
Chris: Yeah. Gotcha. Because, again, I think I remember having a conversation with you, or somebody about Greenlight at some point. So.
Gavin: Yeah, [unintelligible 00:23:09] became MailChimp [X 00:23:10]. And we went down the email path pretty heavily because I think email is a fantastic tool. It’s underleveraged by most businesses. But yeah, we went down the path, but it didn’t ultimately pan out the way we needed to. So.
Chris: Yeah. So, you’ve got Baker Labs going. It sounds like one of your key differentiators from other agencies is that you do the productized service? Would that be the right way to say it productized or—
Gavin: So, what I would say for us, we just call it retainer-based service or flat fee. What we typically do with our client—probably the biggest differentiator between us and most agencies is that we really take a done-for-you model to the hill. So, we’re saying, “Hey, we’re going to do it all.” And so if—honestly, like in a sales call, I’ll say, “Listen, if you want to have a social media agency, an ad agency, an SEO agency, a web design firm, a design firm,” like, great. We’re not going to fit.
Because we can do all those things and more, but what we found is that when we’re—when we play a spoke of the wheel, we’re not as effective because we’re just used to having all the spokes, and it just doesn’t—we’ve got too many questions about the whys and the whats and the hows, and it just becomes it becomes ineffective. So, we—and most people, the right people—say, “Man, that’s what I need.” I want one point of contact, I want one person who I know is going to be for me, you know, thinking about my business, think about the work we’re doing and not trying to navigate, I got to make sure I tell this person that, you know? And so, that’s where we tend to win. And so, we look at it, and say, “Hey, one plus one equals five,” right? Instead of being three, it’s five because you’re powering it all together.
And we have the flexibility to say well, let’s swap a resource from here to there. Let’s go from, you know—let’s put more and ad spend versus this over here. Or let’s—this is working on social, so how can we apply the same idea to SEO—or something like that—if we’re all together versus it being separated. The other piece of that, too, is most of our clients, they come to us when they know they need to accomplish something but they don’t know how to do it. And so, our phrase tends to be, “We help you unlock the growth you deserve.”
And we normally say like, hey, most of the clients are saying, “Hey, I know we can grow, but I just don’t—we’ve tried these—we tried ten things and none of them worked. And we need somebody that can help us figure out what that path looks like.” And that’s where we were able to apply our knowledge and our skills for that thing to happen.
Chris: That’s great. So, why the name Baker Labs? Baker, I can gather pretty easily, but why Labs?
Gavin: Yeah. Honestly, so it goes back to some of the questions we’re talking about in the pre-show about just like, how do you say it? What’s it look like? It was the shortest URL that was forward-looking I could get right. So, baker labs dot co.
Now, I would tell anybody, listening, that co is horrible to use if you deal with normal people on any kind of basis. Because almost everybody—I have—it’s probably cost me millions of dollars, in the truest sense because people refer people to me and they’re like, “Hey, I got your email, but I changed it. To dot com because I thought you had a typo.” It’s like, “Yep. Not a typo. That’s not my email. It’s not my name.”
And so, it is a legit problem. Now, if it’s only clicking, that’s fine. But when you have to say it ‘dot co’ or ‘dot C-O’ looks like a mistake, particularly someone who’s not super familiar with, kind of, URL extensions and the differences of them. So, that’s why it was Baker Labs. It was the idea of a laboratory, test facility idea of what to do with it.
And from a branding perspective, we’ve actually switched. So, we rebranded, I think it was two years ago, to Baker Marketing Laboratory, which you can—you won’t be able to see it because it’s on my bottle and sideways, but Marketing Laboratory. And the reason for that is, as we’ve gotten further along, we’ve done more and more inside of the healthcare vertical. And so, one of the things that became confusing in healthcare is that labs are a real thing in healthcare, right, but we don’t do what they do. So, you know, what was a differentiator at some point became a confusion point, right?
They’re like, “Well, you’re lab? What kind of lab are you?” It’s like—because you’ve got, you know, almost every medical field has labs of some kind, and we were kind of being, I don’t know if lumped is the right word, but—and so, it became okay, great. Let’s—and at the same time, our clients were just referring to us as Baker, right? Which at a personal level, was a little funny, if I want to call it’s like, “Baker’s going to do this and Baker’s going to do that.”
But our team kind of leaned into it. They didn’t seem to care. And so, it’s like, well, if they’re going to call us Baker, let’s not try to push it. So, you know, then we could cut Marketing Laboratories, so we could still have labs would potentially make sense. But that’s where—and that would get ‘marketing’ in. So, that’s why the name is that now, was to help facilitate those two things.
Chris: Yeah. It seemed—I mean, too, have that positioning to have, like, I’ve always loved that about your brand is that you do talk about the lab—laboratory—lab—
Gavin: Yeah, lab.
Chris: —getting the words all mixed up—labs, laboratory, as we say, in the south, I guess. But Baker Labs, I’ve always liked that about you guys that you have the thought to say this is really our target audience within the name of your business and I think that’s been a really cool feature of your branding. So, that’s neat. That’s neat. When you rebranded has your—I’m just r—this is kind of a random question, but like, has your coloring, color palette always been the same or did you change the colors, too? Because I’ve noticed color change.
Gavin: Yeah, we changed everything. So, we changed the visual identity of the brand itself, we changed the color of that as well, and then the name. And really I think that’s an interesting—like, a lot of times when you think about branding—and so I teach a class on brand management, and it [unintelligible 00:28:57] UT’s school of business and a lot of the students there, depending on where they come out discipline-wise, they think of branding or even brand management as just the identity, right? Just the color, just the logo, what’s that mean?
And the reality is that it’s far broader than that, right? Like, the brand is not just the color. It’s the feeling you get. It’s the experience you have. It’s the who they are, kind of, side of things. And even maybe even how it activates with you, right? We talk about brand promises and it’s like the biggest threat of a brand promises that brand promises don’t live inside of the organization that makes it; they live in how the consumer receives it, right?
And so anyway, so we changed everything. Yeah, so we switched. This is actually probably easiest to see. So, that’s my iPod’s case. So, we switched to a B and an L with this color that we call it Electric Mint, and it’s kind of this, like, really bright, aqua-y color.
We changed the visual identity for a couple of reasons. One was honestly this: I wanted something that could go in a hat or go on a shirt because our old logo just functionally was long and wide and so it made it hard to put on stuff. And so—versus, like, being able to put this on a vest or on Yeti. And we wanted to do those things, right? We sent—we were actually just on an onboarding call today with a client. It’s part of our onboarding. We send a onboarding package, which has—we’ve got hats and Yetis and shirts and stickers and notebooks, and we send that as part of onboarding.
And she gets on the call, first time [unintelligible 00:30:20] she’s got the hat on. She’s like, “I’m ready. Let’s go.” And it was just such a cool experience. She’s wearing this, like, teal, aqua-y hat that’s ours. But that was part of it was how do we, one, get a logo and a visual identity that’s more aligned with who our target customer would find valuable?
We weren’t getting negative feedback about what we had. Actually, a lot of people liked it. It just was, I wasn’t proud of it, right? I knew it had been kind of created on a shoestring just to get it done and I was like, we need something that’s actually more professional and is more representative of the work we do. And the reality is, by that time, we had probably rebranded I don’t know 30, 40, 50—we’ve done the work ourselves plenty of times. We just had never done for ourselves.
And so—which is actually the hardest work to do, right? It’s hard to do it for yourself. And so, that’s why we—so we change everything at that time and went to the bright green. Which has been its own challenge, like learning, right, we picked a great color. The challenge is it doesn’t exist when you’re trying to buy swag. There’s a choice we made that was a little bit I don’t know if it’s poor, but if you were to—to me, part of branding is consistency. If you were to look at our swag, all the blacks are the same, but all the kind of the electric mints are different. Because Yeti has a color that’s close, right? A t-shirt company has a color that’s close. You can get it if you can specify it, but fairly often, you can’t specify those things with that with the scale we’re at.
Chris: So, I feel your pain when it comes to branding and colors [laugh].
Gavin: So, what would you say, on a personal level that annoys me because if you were to spread our swag out on the table, it’s all going to be a little bit different. Some is going to be the color of my shirt, some is going to be here—you know, it’s like—and again, it is what it is. There’s you know, I don’t know that our customers or our clients are most people we talk to are really thinking about it. People listening to this podcast may think about it and notice it, but it’s not as normal. But they do think something that most people recognize, the feedback we get from our stuff is—because I do think part of a brand right is more than just the color right? It’s about what it stands for. It’s the values behind it.
So, like, one of our values is craftsmanship. We also want to be seen as authoritative and strategic, right? And so, for example, when we sent out our—when we rebranded we sent out to our clients, like, a welcome back box, kind of announcing it, and the feedback I got from most of them was, “Man, I’m really—I was really excited to see that you—” is a water bottle we have, but, “—I was really excited to see that you guys had Yetis,” right? I think that just makes a powerful statement about how much you care about your work that you give out Yetis, not give out Arctics or Ozark Trails or, you know, some other kind of non—like, you know… we’re aligning with the Yeti brand versus just picking an unnamed, you know, cup, whatever, those things are a tumbler, right? They probably work relatively the same, but the impact that had was because we’re investing in the more expensive choice, they felt like we were aligned with a kind of a more valuable decision. Which is kind of silly sometimes, but still, pricing is branding and so that pricing piece, the value what that Yeti cost, they knew and they felt more kind of seen in that process. So, that’s why we use it today, actually.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a good point. I mean, people don’t always think about the price involved in something. But it shows in, like, if you’re giving that to someone, it’s going to feel more personal if you do something that’s expensive versus just something just to do it.
Chris: I got a charcuterie board for a client recently, just as a thank you for working with them and it came from a very specific deli in Portland, Oregon, as opposed to just like, you know, whatever the run of the mill, you know, charcuterie comes from that people get the yeah, all the sausage and stuff. So—
Chris: —really meant a lot when it comes like that. So yeah, it has an impact on the people that you work with and your clients, and that really matters. So, how does branding—how do you approach branding with Baker Marketing Labs? So, are you actually going out in—like, I guess you’re helping clients with their branding as well. So like, do you have an approach to that? Tell me about what how you do that?
Gavin: Yeah. So, with most of our clients, we will—so this is—we have this—it’s hard to see on here, but we have these fish, right, they’re kind of like the Patagonia fish, and we believe that, you know, going back to what we call our clients—they’re looking for this semi-elusive thing, right? They want growth and they know it’s possible, but they don’t know how to get there. We started to think about that riff on it and realize that’s a lot like a mythology flying fish, right, this idea that if you think about to, you know, sailors and Portuguese sailors kind of conquering the world, right, they came back and told people that fish fly. They’re like, “No, they don’t.” You know. And they also told them, like, the world is not flat. They’re like, “Yes it is.” Right?
So, you know, [laugh] there’s, it would, but the reality is that fish do fly. But the way they fly is not the same as the birds fly. So, the way a fish flies, they go down deep and then as they get deep, they accelerate out and they spread their wings. And that going down deep and then flying out, which is what this kind of envisions, right, is it they go down deep and then they fly out. And we want to do the same thing with our clients and help them do that.
So, when we start, we start with a strategic marketing plan, we spend—we go deep with them to figure out what needs to happen. A lot of times out of that, we cover, one of the questions we really walk through is, like, are you happy with the digital identity? Is it going to fit where you’re going, right? And the answer can be yes or no or I don’t know, right? That’s fine. There’s no wrong answer to it.
But a lot of times, that’s what starts the question is, like, well, we’re going to make these investments in marketing. Should we be making these investments on the visual side of things, right, or the naming side of things? And because oftentimes, what ends up happening is, Chris, they’re no longer—they look ahead and say, “Okay, a year from now, our revenue is going to be this; our customers are going to be that. Does this logo that we created ten years ago still match who we’re going to be?” And if it’s not, that’s where we need to then begin to go through the process of changing visual identities or changing names or whatever it be to do that.
Sometimes that’s also tied into brand core values. And we got a client right now, we’re doing some core value work. Because they don’t have that showcased anywhere. They have them intuitively, but they haven’t gone through and said, “Okay, these are our core values that we want to be known for and we want to experience.” And every company has different core values because they’re all different. We’re all different.
So, in our world, we walk them through that and then that becomes the process of saying, “Okay, great. Is the—” you know, and at the end day, too, I think one of the mistakes that a lot of companies make is they don’t think about their customer. It’s like, what is your customer really need, right? Who are they? What do they need to expect, right?
So, do they expect it to be a certain color or a certain size or a certain type font? You know like, would it mean to them? Because we [audio break 00:37:14] end of the day, brands become do become attached to that way. So, the process we walk through is a little bit more than just the visual. It’s also how do these other pieces happen?
And then we go through great, how do we represent them, right? So, if we do a brand audit for most of our clients as they onboard, they’ve got, you know, 30 different colors and font and choices and you know, from their shirts, their hats to their print materials, to their logos on the websites to vehicles, I mean, all that stuff is just a mishmash of inconsistencies. And, you know, one of our points would be, that should all be consistent, right? You’re saying something, right? So, I mean, think of it, if you one of your core values is intentionality or precision, right, and the guy getting in the car, or the woman getting truck has a hat on that doesn’t matter their shirt name or color which then doesn’t match the truck which hasn’t been matched to the invoice, does that line up with precision? Like, probably not?
Does everybody notice that? No. But do some? Yes. And so, that’s where I think sometimes a third party like us—or any third party—could say, “Hey, you’re not—let’s go through and make sure all these things align.” And you can make a decision at that point if you want to fix all of them. Because the reality is, particularly talking about branding and rollout involved in all of that, that gets pretty expensive, right?
Signage. I mean, that’s why, you know, even when I was at Ruby Tuesday, they rebranded before I got there and there’s still lots of stores that have the squirrel tail, right? Just, like, because the cost of the signage is pricey.
Chris: Yeah, I think the brand consistency thing is really important. I mean, I notice it all the time, but I’m also in this space, in this sphere, I think about my own business, my own brand as we’re doing things, and even this podcast, like, how we brand the podcast and how we make sure that colors and fonts and things are specific. But yeah, it has a subconscious level of influence on people’s decision-making habits and I think that it’s really important. So, that’s really cool that you approach it like that and you help your customers with that. So, thinking on your experience, your professional experience and everything that you’ve done, what is some advice you’d have to other people that are starting a business and maybe thinking about their brand for the first time?
Gavin: I think where people naturally start when they think about brand is they think of colors or logo and the reality is that the brand is far more intrinsic to just that, right? It’s about what do you stand for? I think it’s the Hamilton quote, right? If you—where it’s if you—what does he say in Hamilton? “If you stand for nothing what will you fall for?” Or something that. Like, it’s Hamilton to Burr.
But the point is, what we stand for is actually more important probably than just what it looks like, right? So, the ability to recognize, visually recognize a logo is value. But I think there’s also a piece of that as saying, well, who do we want to be? Or what do we want people to perceive us as, right? And then if we create those standards, then we can evaluate where we don’t align with that, right?
And so, like, for example, for us. We want to be seen as customer-centric, we want to be s—when we’re working with somebody—customer-centric, we want them to understand that we care about who they are and what’s going on in their world. From an external perspective, we want them—others to view us as, like, strategic, not just implementers. The reality is a good chunk of work is implementation, right, is doing the tactical day-in, day-out work of marketing, of writing copy, of running ads, evaluating the performance of this, like, that’s part of our job. But we don’t want to just sit at that layer, right? We want to be higher than that.
And I think where most people maybe don’t think about is, where do those things fit, right? And then how do those little pieces tie together with all that? How does someone perceive getting something, right? You know, we had a client once who they used to have a weekly meeting with their clients, their customers, and they presented everything in a embossed leather-bound journal. And it was expensive. But these people were spending millions of dollars.
And he’s like, I want them to understand that we recognize that they’re spending a lot, right? And so yeah, it’s a lot of money with this journal together, but the end of the day, it’s—we want them to understand we care about this, so we definitely care about the details of their project, right? So, we don’t want them to feel like we’re just, you know, careless, right? And that can we even the quality of paper you printed that on, right? Yeah, like, again, it’s—and you can go to the nth degree, but I do think people should be thinking about it.
So, if you’re starting a new company, couple things I think most people waste too much time on, unless you’re doing e-commerce, your website doesn’t really matter. You do need a website, right? So, don’t take that to say you don’t need a website. You need something, right? You need an online presence, but you probably can waste a lot of time trying to get your website right, when in all reality, that’s not what’s going to propel you forward in most cases, right?
You need to have a presence so that people can find you, but if they’re not looking for you, that means you have to go—you got to do some other methods to get them there. And that’s actually better to spend your time on then, you know, spending a lot of money on a website, a lot of time building a website when you could be out actually producing value that way. And the other thing about branding or creating is, it should be intentional, but doesn’t always have to be final, right? So, [it doesn’t have to be 00:43:03] the last thing you do. Unless you’re printing it on, you know, 10,000 pieces of paper or something, I mean, at the end of the day, you can change.
And so, that may be a freedom from a decision point of, like, hey, it doesn’t have to be final. You just need to get it—because done is better than perfect, sometimes. And I say that—craftsmanship is one of our core values. We care a lot about the details, but sometimes you can get hung up and you don’t move something forward. And so, if you’re star—particularly if you’re starting a new company, that can be you know, the hardest thing.
We actually just went through this, we’re starting a podcast, right, and the name was the biggest thing, right? What’s the name? What’s the right name? What’s—you know, it was all these considerations. And it’s like, we have to pick something otherwise, we’re never going to go without picking something.
And it should have attention to it, but the level of it’s—the expo—there’s always the impact or there’s the exposure—I have a business coach that talks about that—and the impact of it being wrong or the exposure of it being wrong is so low, compared to the impact of it starting, right? So, you [might as well 00:44:03] start it and figure out the name later, right? Or some version of that, right? So, it’s—and that’s our own experience, but like, you know, whatever that is, if they’re starting something, like, going is probably better than waiting, right?
Chris: Yeah. Getting it shipped, getting it out there, sometimes you just have to say, “All right. We’re done. We’re moving on.” I mean, even starting, We Built This Brand, we were hemming and hawing about the name and what it should be and what—maybe we should do something else and position it a little differently. And like, at the end of the day, it’s like, well, we’re never going to get through this if we keep just talking in circles. And eventually, we had to move.
Gavin: And actually that’s what you talk about, too, like, then the positioning is the other side of it, right? So, when you think about our brand, the positioning is where do you fit with other brands inside of that, right, or inside your consumer psyche or however you want to think about the positioning. But brands don’t exist in vacuums and so then you have to then say, okay, how do we compare to others or, you know, in terms of quality or value or exclusivity or, you know, whatever it be. And I think the reality of what you’ll see too, is that a lot of times, particularly small businesses, think, “Well, brands don’t really matter,” but we have a client, I mean, they got acquired by private equity and I mean, he would tell you—he told me—he’s like, “We would not have been bought for the valuation we got if the brand that you helped us build hadn’t—they told us that. ‘we paid what we paid because of the professional and consistent brand presence across all of the locations.’” And before they came to us, there were nine or ten, disparate logos and sizes and names and it didn’t look cohesive or professional. And that was his an—I mean, he’s like, “We wouldn’t have sold for what we got without that.”
And so, I think that’s the power of it at scale is—because brands are—provide safety, they reduce friction, right? Even if you don’t recognize it, if it looks, you know, nicely done and fits who you think it’s supposed to be, you feel comfortable, right? If you’re on vacation, most people don’t pick—this isn’t anything against random Mexican restaurants, but most people don’t pick random Mexican restaurants in foreign cities, right? Because they don’t—they can’t trust it because it’s not a brand. They pick something they recognize because there’s safety in that.
And so, I think, as you think about brands and people start, that is what is enabling, is it well-positioned, well-designed, well-named, it actually helps fuel your success. And sometimes where it ended up happening is, the person starting the business doesn’t value those things. But just because they don’t value those things doesn’t mean their customers don’t, and that’s the risk. They’re oftentimes not their customer. And the same thing can be true with your own brand, right? You’re not your customer and so they may not care as much as you care. They may not care about as much as I care. And so, you have to take both of those into consideration of, who are we going after, and what do they expect from this?
Chris: Yeah, there’s a lot of really good nuggets in there. Just thinking back through what you said, like, I think for me, the big thing is just, like, making sure that you ship and you get out there and you get it done. At the end of the day, you’re starting a business or starting a new brand, starting a new show, whatever, like, getting out there and just moving forward with it is going to do more than having that brand. But you know, the end of the day, the brand does matter, too, and I love what you were describing earlier about all that stuff. So, thank you, Gavin.
Gavin: The tension.
Gavin: And sometimes you need a third party to help you with that, right? And it doesn’t even have to be a paid third party, but it can be someone to just say, “Hey, is this—where—you know, what’s the impact versus the exposure?” I would highly recommend on the [print 00:47:32] side of things, if you are doing logo work, of not asking people around you who are unfamiliar with the process you’ve gone through what they think. Because that can derail things pretty quickly for most people. It’s a common reality; people do it all the time, but you get a bunch—you show your logo to—you know, you’re at Easter, Thanksgiving, whatever gathering and you show them and you’re like, “What do you think? Do you have a favorite?” And everyone else has got an opinion and, you know, it’s—you know, you end up—you leave confused, not empowered.
Chris: Yeah. That’s a good piece of advice for entrepreneurs. You know, if you’re going through branding, don’t just show it to your wife right off the bat—or your spouse. Like—
Gavin: But if you can show it to people in your target audience, right?
Chris: Oh yes.
Gavin: That’s actually valuable feedback.
Chris: Yeah. You want to get what do they call it—I always say fingertip close to your audience when you’re trying to come up with something new is make sure you’re actually getting their feedback, the people you want to talk to and sell to. So.
Gavin: Right. Otherwise, just, like, random acts of feedback. Like great, that’s completely unhelpful because you’re not the person I’m trying to reach.
Chris: Exactly. Awesome. Well, Gavin, last question. What is a brand that you’re loving right now?
Gavin: So, I think of two. I think of just attire, I think of [On Cloud 00:48:46], I think of [unintelligible 00:48:46]. Those are just brands I think are doing interesting work that res—is, like, resonant, right? Like it is affecting the people that they’re trying to impact at that level. I always love vehicles, so I think, you know, I love the iconic branding of Jeep, even what they’re doing with some of their, like, electric vehicles.
And I think, like, things, like, Rivian. They just have done a really great detail job down to, like, the branding of the key fobs and just the intentionality behind all that. Which I just think—and that resonates across the board, through their creative, through their messaging. It’s authentic, it’s realist—and they just they’re doing some neat stuff. So, those are a couple.
Chris: Yeah, that’s great. That’s awesome. So finally, thank you so much for coming on today, for talking with the audience, and talking about everything you’re doing at Baker Marketing Labs. It’s been great talking to you. Is there anything that you would like to promote or let listeners know about?
Gavin: Yeah, a hundred percent. So, we—I think if there are people who are walking through, okay, consideration of a brand or rebrand or even just where do we fit in the market? Should we do something? You know, we have a—the easiest way is to go to our website. We have a free consultation, and then I’ll ask some questions, and then they’ll sync us up with some time to say, “Hey, this is what we’re trying to accomplish and we’ll give you some professional feedback on what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.” You know, and again, it’s our perspective on it.
But that is something we were more than happy to do, I’m more than happy to do because I do think, again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and someone else in that process who can really help you—sometimes people, you know, miss the silliest small thing because they just, they’re either unfamiliar or they don’t know and that can oftentimes cause them pain that we could save him from. And so, you know, if that’s you, you’re like, “Man, I need some help,” we’d love to talk about that and guide you down the path of what you could expect or what you should do.
Chris: All right. Great. Well, thank you, Gavin, so much for coming on.
Gavin: Yep. Thanks for having me.