A member of our own team, Jessi Bixler brings a unique perspective to AJi as a previous client and current Customer Experience Manager. With an invaluable ability to assist new and potential customers on their goals and strategy through digital initiatives, Jessi’s passion for digital marketing is contagious. Having a strong working knowledge of the construction and manufacturing industries, she has steered a number of large and small scale projects including website modernizations, extranet development, custom applications, CRM implementation, automated workflows, social media best practices, marketing and content strategies, video production, email distribution and executive-level reporting.
- Dig deeper. Take the time to connect with people who have no direct impact on the project or service provided. This may be an opportunity to build brand relationships, uncover gaps in a process, or generate positive reinforcement for a job well-done.
- Be relatable. Marketers work directly with the customer, stakeholders, executives and other employees who contribute to what is needed. Take 5 minutes to explain to the guy who makes countless batches of paint, or the woman who signs the checks, or the intern sitting at the receptionist desk who is scared to make eye contact why the video/graphic/email/brochure. We all want to be a part of something bigger.
- Ask Questions. Ask questions that may be unrelated to the project at hand. Understand fully the big picture, but include the purpose so people on the other end of the questions don’t feel threatened.
Marketing: MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute are excellent go-to sources. LinkedIn Pulse is also a good way to thumb through shorter posts waiting in line for coffee.
Entrepreneurship and Development: For sources and inspiration, Harvard Business Review and Mashable are great reads.
Health and Wellness: Taking care of one’s self, expanding consciousness and finding a deep sense of peace and love is an important part of balancing life’s challenges.
Welcome to the Midwest Marketing Show, my name is Jeff Julian, and I'm here with a very special guest, and I always say special guest, but that's because I have a lot of them. But Jessi is the new member of our team, and she's a former client. And so, Jessi joins us, she joins me to work on our customer experience team, but I've always gravitated towards her because of her interesting background and her passion for reaching the accounts that she works with, and using digital marketing to do that. So, Jessi, how you doing?
I'm good, thank you.
Great, well, it's awesome to have you here with us, and I know you'll probably be a part of the show now, and we'll have you co-host, or maybe just host on your own, so you're excited about that, and so am I. But, could you tell us a little bit about how you got started in marketing, and your background?
Sure, so, I graduated from Northwest Missouri State with a degree in interactive digital media. Actually, with an emphasis in visual imaging, so, it sounds really fancy, it's kind of like a major and a minor combined, so, you take some mass communication classes, some art classes, and some programming classes. So, that's the basis of the degree, and then your emphasis is which classes you take more of. So, with visual imaging, I took more art classes. I thought that graphic design sounded good, and all of this was way before Facebook and Twitter and any social media, so my plan was to go work for a magazine, and do some layout work, and maybe some design, I wasn't a strong designer, but I am very organized, so that's kinda what drew me to the degree. So, after college, I got a job doing some graphic work for a label company in Omaha, and ended up coming to Kansas City shortly after, and had a job doing some sales, until finally I landed a job for about seven years, at a local manufacturing company. And that's really where my roots with marketing started. My job, primarily, was to facilitate the website. My title had digital or electronic in it at the time, so...
So, it was mostly the website, but anything that was really digital, so we had some data sheets, we had a lot of, again, prior to apps being the hot-button item that they are now, we had some online tools. So, that was kind of my job, and so of course, that... I had my fingers in a little bit of everything across departments. And then prior to joining AJi, I also worked for a construction company on the modernization of their website, as well. And went from a large marketing department to a very small marketing department, and so, similar industries, and similar responsibilities, so, it's been fun so far.
Cool, yeah, and so that's where we met. We worked on a website with you, and worked directly with you for about a year. And so, the minute you were available, I jumped on it,and I was like, when we were reading over the notes, I was like, "Oh, this is what your degree was in. "And this is where you went to school."
You went a little backwards.
Yeah, I didn't do any background check with you at all when we hired, I'm just like, "Jessi's awesome, "I wanna bring Jessi onboard." So, I know a lot about your background just from working with you, and the background of our company of course, and that's usually the next question. But, what are some of the day-to-day activities you have at AJi, and what's gonna make you tick here?
Yeah, so, what I'm looking forward to with AJi is just working with multiple clients, so, like I mentioned, traditionally, I worked with one company, worked on website modernization, and then other digital related tools, so, I'm excited to be able to take my knowledge with implementation for one client, and apply that to multiple clients, so having the unique perspective from the other side, from the client side, and really just understanding everybody's needs, and it's ever-changing, every client's different, even when you're working with one company, every project's different, everybody's needs are different. So really, just taking the time to listen, and learn about clients, and what's going on in Kansas City, and I just think it's really exciting, and I'm excited to talk to more people about that.
It is fun, I mean, we've definitely adopted more content marketing, the approach of reaching a wider audience, but, a lot of what we do is truly account-based marketing, it's the select clients we have, and we only have a handful, we're not a very large organization. So, even thought we talk with a lot of people, those accounts that we truly target with all ranges of marketing, we have to know a lot about them. So, we go to a meeting where we're talking about trucks, big rig trucks, and then we go from there to a hospital, and talk about what hospitals are engaging with, from the external side, and the internal side. The veterans' organizations we work with--
But it's cool to see 'em cross over too, is there's a lot you wouldn't think that a hospital and a trucking company would have some overlap, but it's really interesting to see how their goals align, but industries are so vastly different.
Yeah, exactly, so we can always pull from what we learn from each of the clients. But, why do you think you gravitated more towards the digital marketing, versus the print marketing, 'cuz you said you wanted to go into magazines, so, what brought you into the digital side?
I think it goes back to it's ever-changing, and there's always something new. I certainly am not an expert on all facets of digital marketing, if I was to toot my own horn, I would say that my strength lies in just understanding people, just taking the time to listen. I don't know everything there is to know about SEO, certainly not programming, certainly not graphic design, I know enough to be able to talk the talk, and to be honest, I have no interest in that. I like to be able to talk to the people that are doing the designs, and the people that are doing the programming, and I like to be the liaison between them. So, same kinda thing with my role here at AJi, is being the liaison between the client, and then our team internally. So, I think that digital marketing lends itself very well to that, there's always something new. Content marketing is, obviously... it's becoming a little bit cliché, but there's a lot of industries, and companies that are not familiar with those terms. So, being able to educate them on that, I think is really important, so I like the ever-changing aspect of it, and I like having my hands in a little bit of everything.
Mhm, and yeah, the frequent deliveries you get, the ability to interact with people when they are interacting with your work. It's something you don't get in print, I love print, I would jump on a magazine as soon as we can. But, I do like the fact that we can change the way people are working with us on a consistent basis.
[Jessi] Yes. Change. And that's what's cool, too, is the digital aspect, there's so many tools at your fingertips, and data, and again, I don't know everything there is to know about data, but to be able to take metrics, and analytics, and all of this data, and do something with it, and make better decisions, I think is so empowering. And not to the scale of changing algorithms and things like that, but just being able to make conscious decisions, conscious business decisions, then impact your strategy, overall, and then see how... That's what marketing does, it's not just throwing together an ad on a paper and putting it in a magazine. Marketing impacting the overall business, I think it's just really exciting.
Yep, absolutely. So, what have been some of your implementations that you've put out, and that you've considered successful?
Well, we, at the manufacturing company, it was a very large website, a public facing website, an intranet, we had some public facing tools that allowed customers, or customers' customers to be able to customize a product, and add colors, stripes, text to it. It was a little bit tchotchke, but that was the purpose of it. We dug a little bit into app development, I've done a website modernization, websites from the ground up, small scale, multi-million dollar companies, smaller companies... So, I've pretty much run the gamut, at the last company I was with... we dug into a little bit with the business units on some of their out-site more traditional marketing aspects, so, really just a little bit of everything.
Yeah, and that was a lot of operations that you were doing there, and not so much marketing, but really, like, business structure, and finding out how units work together, and when they don't work together, facilitate the conversation.
Yes, and that's tricky.
Yeah, oh yeah that's tricky. Especially when, yeah, when you know it has to happen. And that's one of the interesting things I find about marketing, is that we are so... The department is changing, and because we are adopting the customer, we're one of the first to truly adopt the customer from an experience standpoint. We're sales, wanna adopt the customer from a closing deal standpoint, and to help them purchase items from us, but we see the customer a little different. That changes our role in the organization significantly, we're more at the helm, looking out with the periscope, versus, being in the back shelving.
Right, and you can't be afraid to drive that, too, and that's a little bit tricky for me, too, because marketing and sales will interact, but, traditionally, they don't feed off of each other. Sales usually needs a brochure, or a flyer, they need something from marketing, so it's kind of a handoff, but you start to see the change, and marketing is helping sales understand what their sales process is, and really put facts and figures and terms to their sales cycle, and at what stage of the sales process is this customer, and what do we call them, and how does that translate to what kind of material they're gonna receive, or what kinda language we're going to use with them. And helping to educate them, because I think a of times they're used to just asking and receiving, and responding to a need that they have to make a sale, or to get something for the customer, and so we're all striving for the same thing. I think that's cool, too, is being able to work with them, and educate them on the people that they're talking to, so that they can also make better decisions for prospecting, and things of that nature.
Mhm, and I'll probably kick myself for using this example, but, this weekend, one of my credit cards ended, because of the chip, and so they gave me a new credit card, and you get those notices, "Hey, you need to update your "billing statements on these," and one of them was Life Time Fitness, and, I'm a member of another gym, but we always kept our rate, so we did the $10 a month thing, and it lapsed, and so I wanted to get it fixed, but I was like, "Eh, let's just cancel the account, "we're not gonna go back there for a while, "we've got our own home gym now." So, I called the guy, and I said, "I would like to cancel my account," and he said, "You can't do that on the phone, sir, "you have to either write us a letter, "or go to one of the locations," and I said, "Well, I don't wanna go to the location, "because no one's gonna be there," and this is a sales process, right? I know they're doing this because they wanna keep me on as a member, and if they can add a few barriers in front of me, that will help the sale continue. The problem is, in today's era, that kills the customer relationship. That makes me dissatisfied, well I loved the gym, I would go back there, I was even willing to lose the rate, and come back at a different time for a higher rate. Because I enjoyed Life Time Fitness, it's a good gym. But at this point, I'm not excited about that. And so, we get back, I get another call saying, "Hey, I need to update my credit card," and now I have a balance due, and I hate having a balance due, so I go into the location. And I have to wait there for about 30 minutes. There's somebody there, but there's not enough people there to help me. There's sales guys walking around, they would help anybody who's interested in joining the gym, but an existing customer, a satisfied person with the brand, just "It's not you, it's me" kinda thing... Wanted to stop the payment, and move on, and so, I go out to social media, and I'm like, "Hey, Life Time Fitness, I'm standing here waiting." This is why I don't like it, right? This is that new economy of, "Oh no, they're starting "to interact with us," and their responses were, "Sorry, we just can't do that over the phone." And I'm like, "Oh wow, this is bad..." And this is where we see people needing to move, and we see the shift of the customer service, and the customer relationship needing to go to the marketing side of the house versus the sales and support side of the house. Because people are so vocal now. The fact that I could go out to Twitter, and say something, and people are listening to me saying it, that causes a company to have to reconsider the way they interact with people.
Right, well, it's customer service, too. And, I think sometimes sales, and marketing people, too, get so wrapped up in what they do, that they think, "Oh, customer service, "I make the sale," or once the job is closed, then, "Customer service can handle that," but there is a huge element of customer service and relationship building, and your example made me think of Friends.
[Jeff] Oh yeah?
When Chandler goes in to cancel his membership.
I don't remember that one. Usually I'm spot-on on Friends.
Pretty sure, I think it was Chandler. It was a good one.
Yeah, so, I mean, just... We need to modernize, we need to reconsider the way we approach the customer, because, unlike those tactics we used back in the day, because we could do so in private. We could mistreat somebody in private, we can't do that anymore.
Right, well, and I think sometimes folks think that there's a strategy behind it. Like your example that you gave, "Well, the longer that he's gonna wait, "maybe he'll just leave." Or, "The more hoops that we have to jump through, "then they're not gonna cancel." And it's, I mean, people are honed in to that, they see through that, there's no strategy behind making someone upset.
Exactly, so my response, my last tweet to them, and I haven't heard a response back was, "Is it because your technology is out of date, that you can't cancel my account on the phone? You know, because then it's like, 'cuz that's the only viable option in the world that would mean that I can't call somebody and they can't click a button that says cancel. They have to be that antiquated in technology. Or, they're trying to do something sneaky, and something sales-y to me. And that's just not cool. But anyway... So, on for the threes. So, what are three tips you would give for helping people kind of correlate their business strategy and their marketing efforts together?
I would say, "Dig deeper," is the first one. So, the example that I would give for that is... We had a project going on recently here in the Midwest, and it was a large construction project that was literally in a community's backyard. And of course it can be noisy, and dirty, and sometimes odd hours of the night. But, I went out to take pictures, and I saw some people in lawn chairs sitting in their backyard, watching. And it was a pivotal moment for the construction process, so, cool stuff was going on. And so, I could have easily just walked away, I mean, they are not paying my paycheck, I'm not paying their pay... They're not involved in the process whatsoever, but I put my camera down, and I walked over, and just talked to them, and asked them how they were, and how it was going, and if they feel okay about the construction, and luckily for us, everything was fine, they were were really excited about it, it was a cool process to see, so that was great, but, again, kind of hearkening back to your example, they could have easily said it was horrible, it was loud, the people are rude, there's trash all over, and, I could have responded like Life Time Fitness, and said, "Sorry," and been on my way. But, that's also an opportunity, so if they would have responded, that's tangible information that I can take back and give to our company, and give to the superintendents or whoever's onsite, and we can make changes, because I'm sure that that's probably not the first time that that would have happened, and that's not the first time that happened at Life Time Fitness, too. That directly impacts your brand, and as a marketing person, you should be able to recognize that instead of stifling the bad chatter that's going on. So definitely, dig deeper into what the real issues are. And then, I also think, is being relatable, it's that kinda humanizing aspect, it's not putting ourselves on a pedestal because we're in marketing, or sales, or whatever our role is. At the manufacturing company, and the previous company that I worked for, there's not a whole lot of women in those industries. So, there's certainly some hurdles there to overcome. Which, it's fine, and I don't mind a challenge, but I think being relatable to other departments, and just taking the time to talk to the person that's sweeping the floor, or writing your checks, or making paint, or welding steel, whatever it is, to just say, "Hey, I'm taking pictures because "we're gonna put it on the website, are you okay with that?" Or, "This is our goal for this brochure, "this is the kind of person that's going to be getting it," because we're all in it for the same thing. So, we're working for the same companies, they wanna know that they have a part in what they're doing, and I don't think that a lot of people take the time to do that, either. So, I think that that's important. And then, the other thing is, don't be afraid to be emotional, I'm a hugely emotional person. I'm a crier, and sometimes I throw out an occasional cuss word, and I'm completely okay with that, and one of my good friends, and previous colleagues, he would say to me often, "Okay, Jessi, "now take that, and take the emotion out of it, "and tell me again," it used to make me so mad, because I thought that he was... I thought that I was being put down for being emotional. But now looking back, going back to the theme of our discussion, is it's an opportunity for me to change. And, it's an opportunity for me to say, "Okay, it's okay to be emotional, but scale it back, "and understand where that's coming from, "and if it's coming from the right place, "or if it's coming from the wrong place, "and being able to regurgitate that in the right way." And I think that emotion is humanizing, and it shows passion, and I used to think that... that my passion was being stifled, and this should be a good thing, and you should see how much I love my job, and how much I want this project to go through. And it is, it's just being able to change that, and spin that for the right way. And maybe even verbalize it a bit, too. So, for me to be able to tell my colleague, "This is why I'm so emotional," that was part of me being able to work through that, and better articulate that, so... Yeah, I think those are my threes.
Great, yeah, I mean it's funny, when you're in marketing, it is very hard not to be emotionally attached to everything.
[Jessi] Mhm. Very, very, very.
People, or, the project, or the part of it, because we are called to relate to somebody who we don't work with on an everyday basis, that we're trying to pull in, so we have to figure out ways to empathize and so we have to put ourselves in their shoes, we have to deal with their frustrations. That's one of the things I think we bring to our team, is that when software production goes on, it is truly a sausage factory, you don't necessarily wanna see all the parts, because things don't always come together the way that they need to in the end product. And it takes a good team of experienced people who can go in and say, "Look, there's a physician that's "gonna come out of surgery, he's going to have either "the best surgery he's had, the worst surgery, "or somewhere in between, and he's gonna sit down with "this app, and he's gonna try to get some information." And that's the experience I want you to think about when you're designing it, because for the developers, they see pixels and places on the screen, and stretchy points, and they're trying to solve all the technical aspects of it, it's hard for them to get emotionally attached. And so, it really helps for marketing folks, and product development folks, and sales folks to understand the emotional side of it.
Right, well, and I also think, too... One of the other criticisms that I've gotten in my career is, "She just asks too many questions." And I kinda laugh at that, because I think that's a good thing, and going back to your physician's example, if you don't ask questions, like we talked about before, it could be a matter of life or death, and I did have an experience, again kinda hearkening back to being able to change your process, where I was speaking to one of the departments internally, trying to understand their process, and their procedures, and how they operated, and I could tell I was getting the raised eyebrow, like, "Why is she asking me these "questions, this has nothing to do with the website, "or the page that I just need her to put together," and so I took a timeout, and said, "The reason that I'm asking these questions "is 'cuz I wanna fully understand what your process is, "what you're doing, what kinda challenges you have, "the questions that might come up "from your perspective, and then also maybe from "the user perspective as well, "so that I can help answer those questions for you, "maybe involve you minimally, "not have to go to you when the developer has a question, "and again, be that middleman and that liaison." So, after that everything was fine, but I think, to the person who had said that I ask too many questions, they're missing that. And, ironically enough, they're in sales, too, so...
Exactly, and I mean, we all get to the point where, especially in sales, that we think we hear the problem, and we stop listening.
[Jessi] Exactly. Huge.
Because it's like, "I'm not gonna ask you anything, "and I'm not gonna listen to anything you say, "because I think you need this."
Right, they already have in their mind what product or service they think that you need, and so everything else just washes through.
Great, well as we wrap this up, where do you find influence in the region and then worldwide?
As far as marketing, I read a lot, I looked on LinkedIn a lot, I definitely go to the Content Marketing Institute, anything, really, books anywhere, so, I love just gathering data and reading a little bit about this and that, here and there. I love, on LinkedIn, reading about entrepreneurship, and development, I go to Mashable, Harvard Review. I love Mashable because it's a little bit educational, and a little bit mindless chatter, which I think is good to have that balance. And then, also I focus a lot on health and wellness, from a mental standpoint, I think with all of our busy lives, whether you're in sales and marketing, or making paint, or whatever you're doing, I think mental health is important, so I read a lot of Eckhart Tolle books, and Deepak Chopra, and meditation, so, I think finding the equal balance with everything we do is really important.
Cool, awesome, well, we're glad to have you on board, and I can't wait to bring you in on some of the future shows that we have.
I'll be on the other side next time.
Yeah, exactly, you get to sit in this chair. Well, thanks for coming out.