Asset CEO Ryan Cassin joined the Innovator’s Edge Podcast to discusses how he got involved in the world of personal branding, along with the importance and challenge for CEOs to build brand trust and defend it against constantly evolving reputational risks. Hear how companies and their leaders need to listen to consumers and respond effectively to build, manage and protect their brand.
Transcription of the podcast below:
Wayne Allen; Welcome to a series of conversations brought to you by insurance, thought leadership, and it all innovators edge focused on innovation and the insurance industry, and the transformation that’s taking place as a result. We’re joined today by Ryan Cassin and the founder and CEO, asset agency. Welcome Ryan
Ryan Cassin; Thank you appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Wayne Allen: Ryan, I wanted to get you on the podcast, for a lot of reasons. But at the top of the list, you have a very interesting background, relative to personal brand building. And I’ll get you to talk about that in a minute. But I think it’s an important topic, or an important thing to bring to the attention of the executives and our audience. Because the value of a personal brand, for an executive these days probably cannot be understated. It’s super important. And I think it is beginning more to have an important impact on the value of the businesses and the companies they work for. So I’m super glad that you’ve carved out time to join us today. And so Ryan, why don’t you start off by just giving us a little bit of your history? And how it is that you came into this business of helping people grow and build a personal brand?
Ryan Cassin: Yeah, absolutely. So as you mentioned, CEO of asset and we’re a strategic communications agency that helps leaders in the public eye, build their personal brand, and ultimately help them build trust at scale. And where we came to, to take on this challenge, it’s a new and growing challenge for executives and CEOs is our experience in political campaigns. So we have eight years of experience in business, helping members of the US House members of Congress, US Senate, and statewide elected officials in all 50 states with their political campaigns. And so if you can imagine an environment where personal brand is both critically important, but also one of the most challenging environments to make a credible case for why an individual is the right person to be an elected representative.
There’s no more difficult environment than politics, there’s a whole lot of doubt, a lot of suspicion, a lack of trust. Your entire campaign is about telling an individual’s story and showing their values, their heart, the things they care about the vision they have for the future, and enrolling others in that vision.
Ryan Cassin: There’s no more difficult environment than politics. There’s a whole lot of doubt, a lot of suspicion, a lack of trust, and your entire campaign is about telling an individual story and showing their values, their heart, the things they care about the vision they have for the future and enrolling others in that vision. And so we saw that, you know, of course, this is huge in politics. And you understand that every 246 years, there’s going to be an election where the dynamics of a personal brand, who a person is and what they believe and their vision for the future are going to dictate to a large extent outcomes an election, but the world is becoming more political. And we see it every single day.
Ryan Cassin: And in fact that the timing here is actually really, really fantastic. Given that the Business Roundtable I don’t know if you saw this just on, on Monday, yesterday released a new document about the purpose of a corporate Corporation. And it was signed by 181 leading American CEOs from companies including I mean, Chase, American Airlines, Amazon many, many more. And for your listeners, a number of CEOs from the insurance agency as well Aflac progressive USA, a New York Life. And there was a notable exception State Farm actually opted not to sign this document, it was one of just a handful, a small handful of companies that chose not to sign on. But really it the in redefining the role or the purpose of a corporation. They’re saying, it’s no longer just purely sort of this Milton Friedman notion of maximizing profits, it’s taking a look larger, a wider look at the role of leaders in a corporation and the corporation itself, and what it should do.
Ryan Cassin: So beyond, like I said, just maximizing profits, they say, every stakeholder is now essential. So you have you know, things that are suddenly would be considered co activism now being brought into the mainstream, very much like taking on issues like worker pay the environment, you know, it’s sort of a reframing of corporate spending and responsibility much, much more broadly. And so we’re seeing this massive trend as everything becomes more political, and that you have dynamics like the angry mob, where people can sort of organize in minutes and affect change at the highest levels of corporations either through calling for the the removal of a high level executive, or by boycotting a brand. We’re taking everything that we’ve learned about politics, and we continue to operate in politics and work for a number of elected officials across the country. And helping leaders in the public eye in corporations now grapple with this new environment, this new reality.
Wayne Allen: Well, so you, you beat me to the punch, right? Because one of the things I was going to bring up was the was this business roundtable thing. And Jamie Diamond Well, I guess, the poster boy, or at least the face of that thing, and it’s an incredibly complex shift, right? Because you know, there’s a lot of shoulders sit around, say, Hey, you know what I made investments based upon the fact that you were going to run that company for my benefit. And all of a sudden, you’re telling me that that’s not necessarily your primary goal. But but at the same time, I think what what Jamie and the other guys, or other people at the Business Roundtable were acknowledging is that, you know, the corporate value is more than just money, because as you pointed out, a lot of damage could be made to corporate value in seconds through social activism, social media, and the life right.
Ryan Cassin: That’s absolutely right. And I think that you are seeing this among the largest, the biggest the publicly traded businesses and, and companies right now. So the group of business roundtable companies that sold up signed on to this are certainly the leaders. But there is undoubtedly, a larger trickle down effect that’s going to involve all businesses, small, medium, and large. This is, this is a cultural play. So it’s a move to strategically position these companies ahead of where they see the greatest likelihood of threat to their business in the future. And I think the way that that manifests itself, in my political perspective, is that there’s a real fear among these big businesses that Donald Trump may not be in the white house in 16 months time. And he’ll be replaced by someone like an Elizabeth Warren or someone who has adopted her type of language about attacking big business and making that a big part of their campaign message. And so I think this is a little bit of anticipation of potential changes. And they’re sort of laying down a very bold marker, that businesses evolving and moving forward and staying ahead of some of these likely attacks that will at least even if a democrat doesn’t win the white house in 2020, will certainly be a big part of the national conversation in 2019 and 2020. campaign.
Wayne Allen: Right. So the fact that executives leaders with take positions that are quote, unquote, political in nature is a little bit of a dicey game, right? Because by definition, there are going to be people that believe or agree with your particular political bit, or, or you’re leading, and others that will not. And when you talk about the customers of a business, how does it executive walk that fine line line of being aware of their personal brand, and what it means to the company, and potentially, you know, chasing some customers off because they make a political statement that they don’t agree with?
Ryan Cassin: Yeah, it’s extraordinarily challenging. And there are a number of examples of it working out really well. And many more examples, it seems a bit working out very poorly, I think that what you’ll find is that the smart boardroom will demand political advice and consultant support in a way that they haven’t in the past, because this is a new reality. And so if you look at a 2018 study, 64% of customers around the world are now buying on belief, and that’s a 13% increase in just one year. So belief values, consumer politics, all of these sort of things are coming together. And, and driving purchase intent. I mean, another study showed that 43% of customers say a brand’s position drives their purchase intent. Well, 44% say it’s the same for product features. So belief and belief in the brand of what it stands for is at parity already with the features of a particular product in making a purchase decision. This reality exists today and I think brands, businesses, and leaders who sort of bury their head in the sand and try to ignore the trend do it at their own peril. You know – we think that there’s a big trend here at play here, right – So power has changed. And I think the book New Power gets this dead on. Od power had the ability to force compliance, but new power creates influences by building community. And that’s the big change, again, just referencing back to politics.
Ryan Cassin: Nowhere is it more clear that personality and personal brand has changed the nature of power, and personal brand’s ability to build community around an individual leader, Donald Trump and on the other side of the aisle AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). So both of them are the most powerful voices in the political space, on Twitter, by a large margin and for AOC. That’s especially impressive because that means that she has surpassed Barack Obama by a factor of nearly three now. It means that those individuals are no longer subject to their party’s collective ability to shape and control, like past high profile leaders were. You have Donald Trump who’s reforming the republican party in his own image, and AOC who’s undoubtedly pulling the Democratic Party further and further to the left. This notion of community also manifests itself with brands and something we call sort of the angry mob. And it’s any group that can organize and minutes and achieve critical mass within hours.
Ryan Cassin: So the angry mob typically comes in demands big and practical change resignation of a CEO boycott of a brand. And what they do is they form community very rapidly and then use that voice that collective voice to leverage media pressure and make change happen. So I’ll give you two concrete examples of where that’s happened just in this past month, thousands of tweets, attack Stephen Ross, who’s the majority owner of Equinox and Soul Cycle, and instantly enough, the Miami Dolphins but Equinox and Soul Cycle sort of are positioned as these progressive, inclusive brands. But Stephen Ross is hosting a fundraiser for Donald Trump and the angry mob mobilize so quickly when they caught wind of that that Equinox put out a statement distancing themselves from their own Chairman from the the business that owned the majority stake of Equinox. So that kind of very quick action where people were tweeting, calling into their local fitness club, saying that they want to cancel their membership, applying media pressure and getting a lot of buzz in a short period of time. It has the potential to create big change.
Ryan Cassin: Similarly, Tim Cook this past month went on the offense. And so Apple, again, sort of that very progressive, inclusive type of messaging and their branded, tweeted that he was heartbroken about what’s happened in the country, and called for action following shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and those received over 8500 retweets and 45,000 likes. And so you’re seeing, you know, brands that say, Well, what are our values? And how can we make sure that our CEO or our leadership is a vessel of those values, even potentially, to the detriment of some customers who don’t see eye to eye and agree? And for us, the way we look at that, as we say, all right, well, who strategically thinking who are the advocates in the adversaries to the brand? Who are those two critically important audiences? And how do you make sure that all of your messaging and your behavior as a brand engages your advocates? Well, understanding that you’ll never be able to get your adversaries in this new environment on board. A perfect example is, is Nike, it was widely reported that they lost three and three quarters billion market cap in the wake of running, they’re just do ads with Colin Kaepernick. But their actual sales jumped 31% since the campaign run, so there’s the sort of short term backing off and loss of value, but longer term, there was a huge increase in sales. And it just fundamentally comes from Nike’s understanding of who their advocates and their adversaries are. They knew that Democrats and in this case are 14% more likely than the average American to buy Nike shoes. And Republicans are 12% less likely. So rather than try to sort of take the Michael Jordan notion that everybody buys shoes, Nike is entering this new era of political and CEO activism that values and beliefs factor in as much as any other aspect of selling shoes, and signaling to their audience that, you know, they’re on their team, and enrages their adversaries. But that has the additive effect that it further emboldens and engages the advocates because they see the people who are upset, and those people don’t think like them may not believe the same things they do may not come from the same places or from the same socioeconomic status. It all has a tightening effect for the advocates to be more married to a brand.
Wayne Allen: But it is possible for executives in that context to go a little bit too far. Maybe a lot too far. Yeah.
Ryan Cassin: Absolutely. And there are examples of brands who have made big sweeping changes without thinking about the second and third-order effects. Delta certainly comes to mind when they made a decision to that that put them at odds with most of the elected officials in the state of Georgia where they’re headquartered around the second an amendment, and there’s definitely risk associated with it.
Ryan Cassin: So I think that again, this is where having more politically experienced voices are going to become part of the sort of standard team, you know, you have PR, you’ve got your marketing, you’ve got your general counsel. And I believe that having a political voice at the table is going to help brands navigate these new issues. And I think it’s also largely undefined. It’s a difficult space and brands and CEOs are feeling it out wayfarers a great example of this. Just in the last few weeks, it was revealed that Wayfair was selling significant amounts of their inventory and their merchandise to government contractors who were outfitting detention camps on the Texas Mexico border for illegal immigrants. And so there was a boycott Wayfair, or a Wayfair walkout Twitter account that was created, there were thousands of tweets, 24,000 people are following this wayfarer walkout account, there’s a lot of demand that way fair stop selling their products, their merchandise to the federal government and the CEO came out and said that they’re not a political entity. They’re not taking a political side. And I think that’s a luxury that brands just don’t have anymore. You can’t simply say that, well, we are simply in business to sell to the people who want to purchase from us. You’re seeing this in examples like Wayfair, but all the way up to big time multibillion-dollar government contracts with the Pentagon. brands like Google stepping out of bidding for these large contracts, because their employees don’t believe that what their will be working on is going to affect the greater good as they see it.
Wayne Allen: Yeah, that’s a reordering of things for sure. If there’s a couple of new wants to see, I want to make sure we get before we before we conclude, Ryan. And one of it is just seemed logical to me that companies don’t build community people do. If that’s true, it just … magnifies the impact that an executive can make with a properly built brand. And then I want you to – I’d like you to respond to that. But I’m also like you in the same breath to differentiate brand building from reputation management. Maybe there’s no difference. But I have a sense that there is a difference. And I’d like to see you draw that distinction.
The notion of reputation management, I think on the surface on its very face, is sort of a ridiculous notion that your reputation is something that can be massaged and managed. It says to me that you have all the wrong incentives and all the wrong ideas in place. It’s part of more of a PR play than a genuine effort to engage a community.
Ryan Cassin: Well, I mean, I’ll start with the second part of that, if I can, the notion of reputation management, I think on the surface on its very face is sort of a ridiculous notion that your reputation is something that can be massaged and managed. It says to me that you have all the wrong incentives and all the wrong ideas in place. It’s part of more of a PR play than a genuine effort to engage a community. I think you’re right. I mean, the role of a leader, a CEO of a company. Now I think of any size truly is to be a leader to the people that he or she impacts. And that includes suppliers, that includes customers, that includes employees, of course, so strategically, think taking a step back and thinking about what are my responsibilities? What are my brand’s values and its place in the world? And how can I make sure that I’m communicating those in a way that is authentic and meaningful and does create community, I think we have a weakening of institutions. I mean, I’ve certainly seen it in our work on the political side of the house – we have a weakening of institutions. Things that were strong and could be counted on in the past are now being either doubted or eroded.
Ryan: Corporations I think, are one of those things that still sort of fill that void, where they’re still the touch place for the community in our world, and so CEOs have a responsibility to step up now. There’s an expectation that they step up to be authentic and to communicate – it’s not just purely a how do we play defense. I think that that’s the wrong way to look at it. I think the right approach is one where you’re methodical and thoughtful and strategic about how do we position your voice in the larger conversation. So you can lead that industry conversation, connect with the customers in a meaningful way, show the great work that your company is doing, whether it’s the community impact that you have, donations that you might make, an impact that your product has on the customers’ lives, and listen. I think that’s all often the big missing piece of something like reputation management. It assumes that you’re just sort of doing this old power broadcast model, as opposed to the two way street, that if you don’t listen – you’re missing out on the entire benefit of these digital platforms. And you’ll be perceived as inauthentic and ultimately ineffective.
Wayne Allen: And this is just this is incredibly fascinating to me, you know, in the insurance industry, it is a huge deal these days, probably in every industry, but particularly to the insurance industry, because it’s kind of a new concept for them around this customer engagement. And they want to create this two-way street communication. But I’ve always kind of told this joke that, you know, not everybody wants to communicate with their insurance company is kind of like I don’t necessarily need a relationship with the guy that did my colonoscopy, I just don’t need that. But, you know, the point I think you’re making is there may be a need for customer engagement relative to claims or whatever, just because it’s the right way to do it. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s efficient for the consumer. But the two way street of engagement, really is not about the ministerial task of claims and Policy Management and all that kind of stuff. The real concept of customer engagement stops, starts rather, it starts in the CEOs office, right? Because that’s where community is built. That’s where a relationship is created and it’s based upon this notion of a brand building and putting the face of your CEO and your executives in the place of the company. And that’s what creates this notion of trust. Is that a fair assessment?
Ryan Cassin: Yeah. And I think that’s very well said. And I think, again, we can just look at what happened with the Business Roundtable this week, as a great example of, even if you don’t necessarily agree, this is the expectation moving forward for business in this country. And I think worldwide, that this is, this is the trend, and we’re seeing it, certainly in large business right now. But I think it’s going to affect every size of business. And it’s just a matter of time. And so it’s an opportunity to get ahead of the trend, and to be better situated.
When heaven forbid, the angry mob might come for your company, that you’re better prepared to read and respond to the situation in a way that you’re listening to the people who are upset and have a problem, but also protecting your business, protecting your career, making sure that you’re addressing the situation in a way where there’s a positive outcome for everybody involved.
Ryan Cassin: So you know, when heaven forbid, the angry mob might come for your company, that you’re better prepared to read and respond to the situation in a way that you’re listening to the people who are upset and have a problem, but also protecting your business, protecting your career, making sure that you’re addressing the situation in a way where there’s a positive outcome for everybody involved. And really, I mean, that’s sort of the definition of politics, right is ultimately you’re trying to get to a point where everybody, you’re on the winning team, and you’ve done everything that you need to do to make the case that your way is the right way.
Wayne Allen: Ryan, I want to thank you for your time. This has been incredibly interesting to me, and I hope it will be to our audience. And it just in case anybody wants to reach out to you and connect with you. How can they do that?
Ryan Cassin: Yeah. Easiest Way is visiting our website asset agency. com.
Wayne Allen: All right. Thanks Ryan. Appreciate your time.
Ryan Cassin: Thank you so much. Appreciate you
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