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FB Live: How to Build Your Company’s Brand and Personas

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Who doesn’t love an unapologetic marketing truth teller? No one. That’s the definition that Katie Martell gives herself. Consultant at Katie Martell, On-Demand Marketing, Katie is a genius with all things B2B brand building, buyer personas, and inclusivity in B2B Marketing.

We caught up with Katie on Facebook Live, where she gave incredible advice and insight on all of the above. She also tells a pretty cool story featuring Johnnie and Jane Walker Whiskey.

You can also see Katie in real life on the keynote stage at the 2018 #FlipMyFunnel conference. Check out the transcript from her interview below to gain her marketing wisdom.


Nikki Nixon:                           And we are live. What’s up funnel flippers? This is Nikki, and I’m here with Katie Martell, who is one of my favorite humans on the planet. Not just my favorite marketer, my favorite human.

Katie Martell:                        You say that to everyone. Please.

Nikki Nixon:                           Katie and I go way back, probably about at least three years ago when this whole ABM, #FlipMyFunnel movement took off. How’s it going, Katie?

Katie Martell:                        It’s going great. I’m on a Facebook live. This is both exciting and dangerous. I’m thrilled.

Nikki Nixon:                           I know, right. I love when you posted hashtag hot mic. It’s like oh boy, here we go.

Katie Martell:                        I’m usually good about shutting off the mic pack when I speak for that reason when I go backstage.

Nikki Nixon:                           Katie has worked in a lot of different companies, and now she is an entrepreneur with her own company, at Katie Martell, On-Demand Marketing. She’s running her own show and doing a pretty dang good job of it. We’ll dive into that in a second.

No Nonsense Approach To B2B Marketing and Sales

Nikki Nixon:                           Katie, the first question I have for you, and one of the things most intriguing to me about you is, you have a very no-nonsense approach to B2B marketing and sales. Tell me, where does that come from? Have you always been like that? Or did that evolve over time?

Katie Martell:                        I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic about most things in my life. You know, people say here’s the path you’re supposed to be on, and I’ve always been, “Well, I’m going to go my way.” You know? I think that serves me pretty well as a marketer. One time a couple years ago, a colleague called me, in a blog post, an unapologetic marketing truth teller. And I was like, “Oh that’s it.” And I now wear that. It’s on my Twitter. It’s a kind of personal branding mantra for me. It’s an aspirational state of being because I think we live in a world of hype, and when you’re very aware of the mechanisms behind marketing, you tend to be pretty skeptical about how it all works.

Katie Martell:                        It’s a healthy dose of skepticism though. With unrelenting optimism.

Passion For Brand and How It Drives Demand

Nikki Nixon:                           I love it. I love it. That’s awesome. Let’s walk through your career a little bit. You were the Director of Buzz at Dunn and Bradstreet. Which is super interesting that that is a role. What did your time there teach you about the importance of a company’s brand on their sales? Because I’m sure that buzz was part of it. You weren’t just there to create noise. It had some business impact.

Katie Martell:                        Yeah it’s funny, I was actually never part of that in DNB. I was at NetProspex before it got acquired.  2006 was when the company was founded as NetProspex, and I joined as employee number 12.  Little tiny baby company. And it was great. I was company’s first marketer. I was right out of college. I had no idea what I was doing. And I promise I’ll answer your question about brand, but I think it’s worth knowing the context. 2007 was around the time where HubSpot had just really started, and Martech … Back in the day, Martech was about 150 technologies. It was a smaller world, but it was still quickly evolving. I remember going to the interview, and I had no idea what Martech was.

Katie Martell:                        I had no idea why anyone would need it. But I remember falling in love with the passion of the founder at the time, Gary Halliwell. And I didn’t understand a word he was saying in the interview. He was talking about crowdsourcing, and verification, and all the stuff that does matter to a buyer of business data, but at the time, I’m just thinking, “This guy’s so passionate about this, he clearly knows it’s going to help somebody. I have to be part of it.” And I kind of said, “Yes.” A lot of smile and nodding. You know? And the way they had found me was actually on Twitter.

Katie Martell:                        They needed someone to run their social media and they were looking for a recent college grad who knew how to use Twitter and they went online they found me, sent the note on LinkedIn and, it was the height of the recession, so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll take this job.”

Katie Martell:                        You know, no agencies were hiring, I didn’t know what I was going to do, so it really was an accidental, I think, brilliant path, because it really threw me into the deep end of: here’s a start-up that operates in a highly commoditized industry, we were selling lists, and eventually we got more sophisticated with data management tools and things like that, but it was a list company in the midst of a very crowded space, so to us brand was everything. It was the only thing that separated us from, at the time Jigsaw, which is now Data.com, which I think just went away, ZoomInfo and a million off-shore vendors who would spam you and say, “Hey, do you wanna buy a list? Do you wanna buy a list?

Katie Martell:                        Our brand is the reason people kind of signed on board with us. We had a value, we were doing concept marketing, and not knowing what we were doing. But we were trying to add value to a list provider beyond the data, and we had a lot of fun doing it. It gave us a personality, and when our salespeople were making those phone calls, it allowed someone to say, “I’ve heard of you, I like you guys.” That was enough to kind of, I think, start the conversation and help them gain some affinity and eventually close the deal.

Nikki Nixon:                           Yeah, you know what’s interesting about that? I’ve heard a lot of people, I knew some former NetProspex folks, and one of the things that they always said was that they loved the culture there. They still love the culture at DNB but they really love the culture.

Impact of Internal Culture on Brand

Nikki Nixon:                           Do you think that internal culture has an impact on the company’s brand and the way that it spills over externally? Is it possible to have a bad company culture and have a rock-solid external brand?

Katie Martell:                        It’s funny, I think it’s a short-term farce. In other words, the internal culture of the company comes across in every single interaction you have with someone. Whether it’s at a booth, on a sales call, whatever. You’re getting to know the company by all these individual touch points and I think culture in NetProspex was accidentally a thing that lead to our success. We just wanted to create a company that we enjoyed working at. We had a lot of work-life balance, we had a lot of fun. It was also a really hard hustle, we were expecting a lot from people.

Katie Martell:                        We expected A players, that was all part of the expectation, but that led to this universal sense that this is who the brand is and every person was enabled to carry that. Some brands I think try to just add, “Okay, we are a fun company.” They kind of mandate a culture, doesn’t work that way, right? I think that the brand is ultimately a promise that you’re making and if the employee’s aren’t living up to it, well, it’s a promise broken. The same applies to product.

Katie Martell:                        Often the press release sounds great, but my interactions with your product and your team say differently. That gap is so huge for some companies, I know everyone watching, you can think of some companies, “Okay, they say they’re this. We all know they’re all this. Down to their core.”

Pivoting Your Brand

Nikki Nixon:                           Yeah. We’ve seen that actually a lot in the ABM space as well. Especially where some companies are modifying their solutions where they previously haven’t been an ABM company but they want to play in the space.

Nikki Nixon:                           To your point from a consumer standpoint, or from a buyer’s standpoint that’s what they’re looking at, like, “Okay, I’ve always know this company as X, do they really do this for ABM or is this just something that they’re saying on their website.”  I think there’s a lot of that happening right now. I think maybe the point there is you have to evolve your brand as you evolve your product. If you’ve always been, say, a list management company but now you’re doing different types of data services, if you’re known as a list management company than you’re probably not going to able to sell those.

Katie Martell:                        Not right away. Not without backing up, I think. I believe in a pivot. I’m a start-up girl, pivot all day. You have to pivot with purpose and pivot with verification that you know what you’re doing. So take the extra mile to make sure you’ve got customer stories to back up what you say you’re doing. Take the extra mile to make sure that everyone in your team talks the ABM game. To your point ABM is so hot right now and companies in MarTech are so crowded that they’re like, “Okay that’s hot, let’s go in this direction.”

Katie Martell:                        That’s such a misguided reactionary approach and for some companies it works, because their solution does help ABM, they just never called it ABM. For many others, I hear you, it’s an empty promise and it’s going to change next year. Let’s wait to see what the big buzzword of 2019 is and I guarantee those companies will be on that bandwagon next year.

Real Talk: How Do You Improve Your Company Brand?

Nikki Nixon:                           Right, well next is coming all the GDPR solutions. Also the AI and machine learning category. I think a lot of our audience is kind of in this place. So what advice would you give to a B2B marketer who is in a company that either doesn’t have a strong brand and they’re trying to meet these goals that they’ve been given by their senior leadership, or they have a strong brand but their brand message doesn’t align with where their products is today. Maybe those are two different questions but I’m curious what advice you would give to those folks.

Katie Martell:                        I first start by saying, right now, that brand matters more than ever. Especially in markets like with NetProspex where commoditization is what’s happening. It’s never been easier to start a company, our Martech base is an example of that and barrier to entry is very low, so that creates a lot of noise. If you’re of the mindset of, “Oh we really don’t need a brand or it’s the logo and colors who cares,”  I would implore you to think about how the buyer is looking at your entire industry.

Katie Martell:                        And buyers like to look at you like you’re the same as all the competition, even though you know that you’re different or you know better. Whatever. The brand is that initial where do I put you, decision. So if you’re not prioritizing it, think about doing so. When you’re ready to start changing it, evolving it, protecting it, whatever, be true to yourself. To our point earlier, if the internal company values are one thing, don’t promise something different in the brand. Tap into what that is, that’s actually pretty unique.

Katie Martell:                        We were quirky at NetProspex. We liked to be kind of funny and a little bit humble, although we had a little swagger, it was just the nature of the people of the company that allowed us to be that brand externally. That’s what worked, so be true to yourself. That could mean that you’re very stodgy and buttoned-up and that’s okay. Be who you are otherwise it’s a complete gaffe and I would also say, have a very clear point-of-view. I think a lot of companies forget that the buyer, the individual bombarded with options is basically looking to understand what you stand for, what you stand against. So have a point-of-view and do it in your unique way. Sounds easy but it’s actually really hard to operationalize into actual practice.

Nikki Nixon:                           Yeah, particularly if your company is larger and there’s a lot of people involved because then you have to bring all those people together and you run into this whole change management thing, so I hear you, there’s a lot of complexities.

History of Buyer Personas

Nikki Nixon:                           Alright, so now we’ve got a rock-solid brand, let’s jump ahead a little bit. You were also the CMO at Cintell and for those that aren’t familiar with Cintell, it is a persona development software. Is that the right description?

Katie Martell:                        Sure.

Nikki Nixon:                           Okay, so that’s Cintell’s brand. That’s my perception of it. So what did your time there show you about how B2B marketers are approaching persona development?

Katie Martell:                        Yeah, it’s funny you asked. I loved the opportunity to be involved with Cintell as a co-founder and CMO. CMO of a five-person company. But I played the role and it certainly was eye-opening because the software itself worked in this persona management, persona development space so in our attempt to go understand our buyers and the world that we lived in so we got to know a lot about personas. We studied the history of it, I must have talked to hundreds of marketers. Qualitative surveys, quantitative surveys, we did so much research into personas in the MarTech, in the marketing industry that it’s fascinating to me to learn the history.

Katie Martell:                        I’m just going to go historian for a minute.

Nikki Nixon:                           Go for it.

Katie Martell:                        Elbow patches on my blazer. They started in software development in the late 90’s, Allen Cooper he wrote a great book called, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. And in that he talks about personas as a way to design software

Katie Martell:                        In the early 2000’s it moved into buyer personas this same idea of building an archetype. Get to know it and use that as the foundation for all your segmentation and all your messaging. Fast-forward to 2018, 20 years later it’s a must-have. It’s an absolute staple in say a serious decision’s framework. It’s absolute foundation of everything you do and it’s funny that in 20 years, at least we thought at Cintell, but the persona never evolved past a PowerPoint document or a pdf that you’d slap up on the wall and be like, “Okay, go do your job, these are your personas. Go for it. Companies obviously struggle to use them and to integrate them into their processes and to operationalize them.

Katie Martell:                        That’s what Cintell tried to address. We wanted to build a software that integrated into your segmentation, into your content development, use publicly available data, initiate learning, all this really cool technology to inform the persona, to help you build better personas. That was the story, that was the kind of vision. What I learned, and the reason that the company never really took off and that we didn’t find traction, I’ll be very honest about this, is that most marketers still need help creating the personas. They’re aware that personas matter, overwhelmingly aware. We got so much attention because people wanted to fix their personas.

Challenges With Building Buyer Personas

Katie Martell:                        The issue is in the actual development. It is so hard for a company to admit that they don’t know everything about their buyer. The fundamental truth about companies is that we don’t know everything about our buyers. That’s a terrifying confession.

Katie Martell:                        I think the major opportunity right now still exists in helping companies with persona development, helping them really create personas that are beyond job-title, industry, light level segmentation really getting into motivations, goals, all-that. I believe a technology can’t solve that problem, I think this is a cultural shift as well as a skills gap that exists for many marketers.

Katie Martell:                        It’s just not a skill that comes very naturally to a lot of marketers or companies. Marketers are the ones that are the advocates for the buyer, typically. Salespeople know it because they work with them, but the knowledge sharing is where it really breaks down. Once you get over that fear of I may not know everything, then it’s a question of well how do we translate these insights into training, campaign segmentation, campaign development across hundreds of marketers. One day someone will come back and build a tool where that is solved but let’s all start with getting personas right first.

Updating Your Buyer Personas

Nikki Nixon:                           And you know it’s interesting, we’re actually going through that right now with #FlipMyFunnel. The reason for that is because we’re obviously pretty close to the market but what we also realize is that the market is evolving so fast that our understanding of the persona a year ago and what their needs are is obsolete at this point.

Nikki Nixon:                           So now we need to go back and talk to practitioners again and understand what are their pain points. We’re doing a lot of marketing interviews, we’re working with our UX team here at Terminus to also do that because they’re working on the same things, so it’s kind of funny because it is like a partnership with our product as well. Or our product team, but we’re really doing it just to understand what are the pain points of a market or space.

Katie Martell:                        That’s great. And that’s great that you see them as living..

Katie Martell:                        You’re constantly updating. That’s what the point is of the persona. A lot of times the persona is very much out of date. You talked about a one year cycle, a lot of companies we’re interviewed said that every five years. It’s interesting to me to hear you say that the rate of change is accelerating to one year, it just means that you need to constantly be checking and gut-checking what you think to be true.

Nikki Nixon:                           It depends on the industry too. If you’re in the legal industry, no offense to any of the lawyers that might be listening but it’s just not as rapidly changing, I mean the laws and stuff like that are but if you’re in an industry that doesn’t change as fast then you can probably get sway with a bit of a longer cycle but if you’re in a rapidly changing category or one that’s growing or starting then it is changing fast because people are just trying to figure this out.

Katie Martell:                        Exactly, and their priorities are changing. Yeah its fascinating and it’s the reason that the persona will always be this conundrum and this enigma.

How Many Buyer Personas Do You Need?

Nikki Nixon:                           Right, so I’m curious, can you get away with just a single persona? We talk about a buyer persona like it’s just one person but is it really just one person or do you need to map out the entire buying committee?

Katie Martell:                        Well it depends if you’re on stage at a conference, giving the, “you must do this,” or if you’re actually in the trenches doing it.

Nikki Nixon:                           You know, obviously, if you have zero, then one is way better than zero. If you have one, you go to two. For B2B, for ABM, for complex sales, get to know the people in the deal. You know that you have to map out the kind of committee, I don’t think that it’s a pre-requisite that you have these beautiful, deep personas on every single person that touches your deal because that’s just not realistic, what are you going to do with all that information? You need to know enough to be dangerous, enough to make good decisions, in sales, in content, in marketing and that’s good enough. Move on.

Katie Martell:                        I’m, again, from the start-up world. I believe in moving quickly. Doubt is better than perfect. Continually seek to learn more, but don’t get held back because you’ll never get to it if you look at like this giant research project that has 10 personas. I’ve seen companies with 30 personas.

Katie Martell:                        What’re you going to do with 30 personas? And that’s from me, so there’s reality and then there are the visions and I’m not a skeptic and not an optimist but somewhere in between.

Real Talk: How Do You Actually Build Buyer Personas?

Nikki Nixon:                           Where do you get started? Because sometimes it can feel daunting, it can feel overwhelming, so where do you get started?

Katie Martell:                        It’s actually very simple. Go talk to buyers. Go talk to real buyers. I hate to be so cliché, I hate to do it, but we learned a lot about how companies approach persona’s. They sit in a room, they make it up, they use their institutional knowledge, they might talk to salespeople.

Katie Martell:                        And I know, you’re saying ugh because as a marketer this is not where good insights come from, but you’re busy, we are stressed, we have no budget, so that’s sometimes the best companies can do. I implore everyone to just go talk to real buyers. Go to a trade show, and have a meeting. Join the sales team on a call. Take them all out for dinner and talk to them. And if you’re at that point where you’ve done that research and we have that baseline persona that you’re proud of, then I encourage you to go look at the activity in your systems.

Katie Martell:                        Go look at how these segments are interacting and behaving in your specific domain because that’s going to be really fascinating and kind of validate what works, what doesn’t. That can be really helpful in building out these personas even more.

Katie Martell:                        And it’s data that you have right now, you don’t have to go out and find out, you don’t have to go out and pay for it, it’s in your systems right now and it’s untapped potential.

What Breaks Katie’s Heart About B2B Marketing Today?

Nikki Nixon:                           So, we’re going to go a little bit deeper here. Katie, what breaks your heart about B2B marketing today. You work with a lot of different clients…

Katie Martell:                        I do.

Nikki Nixon:                           …and I’m sure there’s probably that one thing that you’re like, “Oh, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Katie Martell:                        How much time do we have? No, I’m just kidding. Everyone knows that I tend to have a lot of opinions about what companies can do better and it’s only because I’ve seen them do better, right? I look at everything with optimism. That’s the core of who I am. I will say right now, I’ll just say the most recent frustration for me, because there are many. The most recent is, this actually sounds… I don’t think people expect me to say this. I think that companies have the potential to be a lot more confident in their expertise.

Katie Martell:                        Now it might sound counter-intuitive because most companies lead with hyperbole and exaggeration and this and that but I’m actually finding that many of my clients, and maybe this is just the nature of who gets brought to me, or referred to me. They have this amazing, untapped expertise. They know their industry and their buyer and the solutions and the problems better than anyone and I see them hide a little bit of that leadership, that thought leadership and the reason for that I think comes from, again, all the same reasons you’ve talked about. They’re busy, they also don’t want to take risks, they kind of want to let the product and let the customer growth happen organically, which is exciting because that means you have a problem which is actually solving a problem.

Katie Martell:                        The issue is that you’re limiting your potential for growth and if you want to be a market leader you have to act like a market leader. You have to set the tone for the category you’re in and it’s hard to do if you as a founder, as a spokesperson, as a brand are holding that back from fear of … you know, a sense of humility to be honest. Humble, one of my favorite clients is Canadian and I’ve said to them, you are way too Canadian. Take it from the Boston girl, you have brilliance here.

Katie Martell:                        Tell the world. Don’t be afraid to share your expertise with the world. It’s actually not going to come across as offensive as you think it will for buyers.

Katie Martell:                        It’s not going to turn buyers off, it’s going to attract them. It’s going to close that gap, between you, the market, and the buyer and attract the people that are kind of turned-on by your vision. It’s a very powerful thing and I wanted to strangle the neck, I’m like, “You have so much to offer, tell the world. Fly.” You know? It’s a process of just getting it out of your head. You know me, I work in the realm of communications, of content, and PR, and events, and buzz and social.

Katie Martell:                        All of that can be completely useless. It’s noise, but when there’s this kernel of brilliance, that’s when those channels really light up and that’s when those channels really become the tools that help companies break through, grow. It’s really where good founders get to become market leaders and that to me is just the best thing ever.

Nikki Nixon:                           Do you feel like that’s the case with both fast growing companies and also enterprise companies?

Katie Martell:                        Yup. When you’re an enterprise company, you’re big, you’re real big. You have a lot of risk adversity because you’ve got a lot of people that you need to not piss off but I think that there’s risk in not continuing to push the envelope because now, all of the upstarts can move faster than ever so … there’s that great stat that I’m gonna misquote that some percentage of fortune 500 companies from the 50’s are just gone.

Katie Martell:                        Because right now it’s difficult to maintain market leadership.

Nikki Nixon:                           It brings home the point that you can’t just retain market leadership accidentally. You have to be intentional about maintaining that position of leadership, even if you’re massive you continue to push the boundaries because you never know who’s going to be coming up behind you.

Katie Martell:                        It’s just the pace of innovation causing everyone to be on equal or uneven footing but that’s also real exciting because it means that if you’re smaller, if you’re David up against Goliath we were that at NetProspex, NetProspex was the David, DNB was the Goliath and we ended up being acquired by them.

Katie Martell:                        It was a fairytale ending that nobody saw coming back in 2006 when we started because you were so much more nimble and you wanted to grow so quickly that you’re just on this trajectory that takes you somewhere. It’s really exciting.

Inclusivity in B2B Marketing

Nikki Nixon:                           I really want to get to this next part because I think that it’s particularly interesting. It’s something that’s not talked about nearly enough. We’ll call this segment Jane Walker.

Katie Martell:                        Yay, my favorite topic.

Nikki Nixon:                           Give us a little bit of context on Jane Walker for most people, unless they know you personally, probably don’t know much…

Nikki Nixon:                           About Jane Walker and hopefully Johnny Walker is listening today.

Katie Martell:                        So for those of you that are still watching, buckle up. So, Diageo is a beverage/liquor company and they make a lot of different brands. One of their brands is Johnny Walker and they have Johnny Walker Blue, Johnny Walker Black. Johnny Black is my favorite drink. My favorite scotch, my favorite blended whiskey and I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time. I get gifts all the time that are scotch, I am the scotch and a Johnny Black super-fan.

Katie Martell:                        This year for women’s history month, Diageo announced a new campaign to make Johnny Walker, Jane Walker. The Scotch was the same blend, the same recipe because God forbid you touch the Scotch. It was so good. But what they did, and I actually have the bottle, is they made the logo a really dapper looking woman. Jane Walker, not Johnny. Has to have a plug somewhere right?

Katie Martell:                        So, this is the Jane Walker logo and it was a limited time partnership, limited time kind of promotion, and I initially was like, “Oh no. Oh no. My favorite, favorite drink in the world. People know me for loving this. I was initially very skeptical, because I tend to be kind of critical of gimmicky Femvertising, and I was worried that this was just another example of a company kind of just making a move to pander to women. To be clear, part of a narrative around international woman’s day, and luckily, thank God I dug in a little bit, I sought to understand what was behind this campaign

Katie Martell:                        And it turns out that it’s actually more than just updating the logo itself and the box, it actually was a series of initiatives to support woman’s equality, so the company, the CEO signed an agreement to be part of a group of CEO’s that lead diversity initiatives in their companies, things like bias training, et cetera. They have very vocal female leadership team. It’s a great kind of executive team made of women, half of their blenders of the actual whisky are female, which is a huge, huge deal in the industry and they were donating some money to organizations that support women like She Should Run and some other ones, so it was a lot of actual action for what I was worried was just lip service to women, so I was like, “Phew.” I wrote an article about it and the article just basically said how should we respond to this campaign and I laid out the fact that it actually does support women in a few different ways.

Katie Martell:                        And then Diageo sent me this bottle, this is actually from Diageo to say thank you.

Katie Martell:                        See you soon and thank you guys.

Nikki Nixon:                           Awesome, thank you.

Editors Note: Katie wrote an amazing post on LinkedIn about inclusivity in marketing and how you can gauge a brand’s level of inclusivity in addition to how genuine their efforts are. Check it out here.

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