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EPISODE 3: Meet Your Co-host, Marie Parks

by Oct 6, 2020Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • Jessi + Marie – a decade of friendship
  • What Marie loves about North Star
  • How interviewing brilliant doctors propelled her to do what she does now
  • How marketing + development converge in North Star
  • Aligning logic, emotions, & expertise to get results
  • One of Marie’s fave North Star projects
  • Dreams for the future
  • Fun facts!

This episode introduces Marie, North Star co-founder and Jessi’s fellow word nerd. 

Marie started her career writing grants for a large non-profit, where she honed her skill of crafting compelling content that moves people to action. She talks about how that experience propelled her to do what she does now in helping CEOs capture their brand voice. 

 

You’ll also discover: 

  • What Marie loves about North Star
  • How marketing + development converge in content creation
  • How to align logic, emotions, + expertise {to get results}
  • What Marie learned from a fave NSMS project

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice podcast, where we're digging into how you can create personality driven content that connects and converts. I'm Jessie.

Marie:
And I'm Marie. We're the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates, from the words you use to the stories you tell, so you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Jessi:
Welcome to episode three of the Brand Your Voice podcast, where I get to give Marie a taste of her own medicine. So on the last episode, Marie interviewed me so that you can get to know me a little bit better, and now I'm going to throw some questions her way so that you can get to know her, her expertise, her background. Just as a quick refresher, we started this business back in 2010. We were already close friends. And we've managed to over the course of, at the time of this recording 10 years, not only maintain that friendship, but also grow a thriving business. So before we continue forward and talk about brand voice and content creation and copyright and all the good stuff we want to dig into with you, we want to make sure that you really feel like you know us. So anything else you want to say before we dive in Marie?

Marie:
Be gentle.

Jessi:
I'll do my best. So let's go ahead and start nice and broad with just... What?

Marie:
I think I'm developing a persona here who's a terrified person. Go ahead.

Jessi:
So let's start off with what you love about North Star.

Marie:
Yes, many things. So I think what I love most is maybe something a lot of business owners would say, which is the fact that because we're a small company and we've designed ourselves to be pretty agile, we're able to see a lot of change pretty quickly over time. So whenever we see that there's a way we can adjust something to make life a little easier on our clients or a way that we can make our process more in depth without necessarily taking up more time, or we can help our team have more resources and information, we can just make it happen. It's not exactly snap the fingers and make it happen, but it's pretty close to that. And so I think as a result, we've developed a company that is very adept at continuing to respond to our client's ongoing needs while also getting much more specific on exactly the way that we can help the most.
If you're a person who knows about Mike Michalowicz's book Clockwork, you're familiar with this idea of the queen bee role. So this is like the role that everything protects and serves within the company. And for us, it is really nailing the brand voice of our clients and then creating content to support that brand voice. But really the brand voice itself, that's it, that's the central hub around which everything else rotates. And so we're able to be responsive and make sure that we can continually refine that process.

Jessi:
Yeah. And we talked a little bit on the last episode about how we... Maybe it was the first episode. We talked on one of the past episodes about how we didn't really know we were doing brand voice at the very beginning, but it's developed over time. So looking back at your professional history, even before North Star, can you tell us a little bit about how that professional history has helped contribute to what has become the focus of North Star?

Marie:
Yeah, for sure. Well, it's funny because I think that one of the reasons I really value this agility of North Star is because my first job right out of school was for a massive nonprofit hospital in Houston. And so as you can imagine with an employer with 13,000 employees, it's not exactly the most agile thing in the world. So I think that's part of why I really value this. But I think anybody who's worked at a big company has experienced that. But I really appreciated that job. And I learned so much. I had excellent, excellent coworkers and mentors and friends there.
What I was doing is grant writing. So I was a foundation, the hospital's foundation or their nonprofit wing, I was their development writer. So that meant that I was writing proposals. I was writing stewardship reports. And I never took a single pre-med class ever in my life. And here I was trying to justify to donors why they really needed to give $5 million to endow a chair of transplant research or something where I didn't know anything about this. And so I had opportunities to go speak with these insanely brilliant people, MD/PhDs who had come to the largest medical center in the world to make their career really serving patients and talk to me about things that went way over my head. And I would sit there with my little recording device and I'd be feverishly taking notes. And it was such a welcome challenge to interpret something very complicated and complex and make it something that was approachable, and not just approachable, but persuasive, heartwarming, really encourage someone to take action, a lay person who like me probably had no medical background. Maybe they were interested in giving to the hospital because their father-in-law had had a successful heart surgery there, or something like that. These were the reasons people were invested in the hospital.
And so I really learned from that, that if I can write persuasive language around this complex topic, and also by the way in philanthropy, if you spend $10,000 on something today, you're expecting to get something in return, right? A really fancy couch or maybe half of a car or something. I mean, that would be silly. But whatever. You're expected to get something in return. In philanthropy, the stuff that you're getting in return, it's much more amorphous. It's a sense of like accomplishment and a legacy and maybe if you're lucky, naming rights on some something or other, a door, a room, I don't know. But for the most part, it's not the same kind of transactional giving that you see in a paid offer. And so I was like, "Man, if I can do this and I can really help people understand what I see as the value in this complex thing, and they're actually not technically getting anything in return, maybe I am okay at this whole persuasive writing thing and maybe I can help other people with it." And so, yeah, that was my journey. I was a nonprofits writer for that hospital and later for a museum in Houston where Jessie and I both were working at museums at the same time and we would meet each other for lunch in a nearby park. It was a lot of fun except it's very hot. And yeah, that's really kind of where I got my professional start.

Jessi:
I always love hearing you talk about your time as a grant writer, because as someone who comes from a marketing background, it's such an interesting parallel world. It's so similar, but just a little bit different. And I think one of the things that I really appreciate about our partnership is that we have been able to de-silo those things, whereas for anyone who's worked in the nonprofits sphere or who's worked for a museum or something like that, you probably know that often development and the nonprofit side of things, grant writing and all that, is very separate from the marketing side of things. Not always. Sometimes there are organizations where they managed to combine those well. But often they end up separated.

Marie:
Yeah. I have stories. I won't share them. That might incriminate people.

Jessi:
So moving right along then, let's talk about North Star and how you brought all of that to North Star and continued to develop your skills and whatnot. I'd love to know a little bit about what you have learned in the time that you've been working full-time for our company.

Marie:
Yeah. So I think what I brought to North Star, at least initially, was this idea of these three modes of persuasion, really in practice. A lot of people think about nonprofit writing and they think about like, "Oh, this had animals, oh, tugging on your heart strings." And yes, emotional persuasion is absolutely a form of persuasion, and it's valid, and for many people it is extremely effective. But that's not really all it is, especially when you're looking at this hard science I was looking at. Emotion's only going to get you so far. And so I also had learned how to take that logical side of things and put it together and also really lean into the expertise. There's a very real sense, a legacy of excellence at these Texas Medical Center Hospitals, where I was working in the museum where I was working, and also for our clients. That they really put excellence as one of their values. And it's really how they showed up for their audience.
And so I think it was just so great to see all three of those modes of persuasion being able to be applied for our clients right away. And it's so much better than seeing it in an English class where you're just kind of learning these weird Latin phrases about logos and pathos and all of this. You're actually seeing it happen and you're seeing it work and convert. And it's all done from a sense of alignment. And so I think that's where I came in as able to say like, "Yes, I can leverage these modes of persuasion, but it's not inauthentic, and I'm not pulling the rug out from under somebody." It's all done from a sense of sincerely wanting to help someone and sincerely having a product or an offer at the end of this email, this piece of copy that really can actually help them.

Jessi:
Yeah. So when you had to bring that into North Star and really start thinking about North Star as your full-time source of income, this was, what, about five years in? Three? Five? I don't even remember. I think you went full-time in 2013?

Marie:
Something like that.

Jessi:
Yeah. So about three years in, maybe three and a half years in. So I'm curious, what were some of the sort of biggest pieces that you brought over and the things that really you were thinking about the most during that transition into full time?

Marie:
Yeah. So a lot of it was how does the work that I'd done apply more broadly outside of the nonprofit sector? Because we did, especially early on, but even today, had some nonprofit clients, but we were gathering other clients too who were in the for-profit sector, and being able to serve them with a sense of authenticity as well. I think the other piece of it was all about relationships. So I was constantly reminded as we were trying to land clients of the importance of those relationships. But that also was very much present on my mind as we were delivering content for them, to say it's not just about me landing's client and getting through a relationship, it's about me helping them create that same sense of relationship with their audience so that they will also feel like they understand what they're all about and they feel really great about working with them.
So a brand voice was not something that I had really put words around at the time, but I knew from the very beginning that relationships are all about authenticity. It's about vulnerability and trust. And so a lot of the stuff that we go through with our clients now in our True Brand Voice framework, this is stuff we were going through with our clients to make sure that we could really deliver content that would achieve that for them.

Jessi:
Yeah. So do you have any specific projects or project types that you can pull out that you've been a part of over the years that really just sort of feel like a strong example of that, or some of your favorites that you've experienced?

Marie:
I remember, this isn't a project exactly, but it was early on we did a lot of free challenges for our community. And I remember in some of those, talking about how you really can create a conversation even when we're looking at a static piece of content like a landing page or a sales page or even an email. Email, it gets a little easier, because it's easy for somebody to hit reply on that. A landing page, not so much. In proper practice, a landing page or sales page really only has one link out and that is to the payment portal. So it's a little hard for somebody to actually have a conversation. But we really embrace this idea of conversational writing early on so that the reader would really feel like their considerations were being taken into effect. So a lot of this has to do with having market research and a real understanding of who your audience is on the front end. And then a lot of it too just has to do with these sort of copywriting tricks, like asking questions and leaving space in the copy for someone to respond. So I think that's been a lot of fun and something that we continually implements for our clients.

Jessi:
Very cool. Yeah, I agree. It's always fun to find new ways to spark that conversation, even if it doesn't appear to be a conversation on the surface and really get people to think about it in different ways. So on the last episode, I talked a little bit about my vision for North Star and where I see it going. So I'm going to throw that question back at you and ask you what your sort of dream is for this business moving forward.

Marie:
Yeah. So I really do believe in the value of this brand voice process. I've seen it be insanely beneficial for our clients over and over again. And so obviously we want to continue providing that for our clients, but we want to democratize this a little bit more and make it more accessible, thus this podcast, by the way. And so I think it's really getting this idea out there. Because this is such a roadblock for entrepreneurs, it's such a bottleneck for them, thinking that they have to be just spending all their time with their head down creating content. And even if they're not in a position where they're ready to hire it out, just helping them be a bit more strategic about it and making sure that they feel grounded in what they're creating so that it can actually have an ROI for them. So I think that's huge. And also what you were saying Jessie about also helping other content creators, whether they're a freelance writer or an agency owner or something in between, helping them become more effective at serving their clients. Because honestly, the process that we've come up with I think is just too impactful for us to keep to ourselves.

Jessi:
Yeah. I agree entirely. And as much as we would love to, we can't work with everyone on the planet who needs content support. So getting it out there. Okay, time for the fun questions. [crosstalk 00:16:24].

Marie:
These are all fun.

Jessi:
Yeah, they have been. But I want to know a little bit more, or I want the audience to know a little bit more, because I think I know the answers to most of these questions.

Marie:
You could definitely open a credit card in my name you know so much about me. They'd be like, "Time for the security questions." You'd be like, "I got this."

Jessi:
I think we actually quizzed each other on security questions once.

Marie:
We did.

Jessi:
Hopefully we never turn on each other. That would just be bad.

Marie:
Yes.

Jessi:
So where are you from originally and where do you live now?

Marie:
Yeah. My life has been a series of westward expansion moves. That sounds awful. I'm not expanding. I'm just migrating. So I grew up in North Carolina and spent my life there really until I went off to college in Houston, which is then the city that I lived in for 10 years after that, enjoying way too much Tex Mex. And that's where you and I met. And then I also met my husband there, and we then started traveling full-time. We traveled all over the US. This was during kind of the early days of North Star. And eventually settled down in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jessi:
Absolutely. So if you ever need any full-time RV advice, Marie is [inaudible 00:17:51].

Marie:
Getting more outdated by the year, but...

Jessi:
There's a whole different conversation about how we managed the business while you were traveling full-time.

Marie:
Although what's interesting is just recently you were pulling the revenue numbers for the different years, and as soon as I stopped RV'ing, things started going up because I actually had the other half of my brain to give to this business. It was fun. It was just all consuming.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think there is a way to make it work, but we were not necessarily there yet. So you said you're in Albuquerque now. What is your favorite thing about Albuquerque?

Marie:
I love so many things about Albuquerque. Okay, I'm going to calm down for a second here.

Jessi:
We should have just talked about Albuquerque this whole podcast.

Marie:
Well, growing up in North Carolina, I had four distinct seasons. And then I moved to Houston and it was hot and hotter and then one week of cold weather kind of. And that's when I realized how much I really value that. So, hey, we have four seasons here. They're beautiful. They're a little different from North Carolina seasons. So in the fall, there's not that many leaves to change color. There are a lot of trees here, misconception. Mostly cottonwoods it seems. So it's not like that many fall leaf color explosions, but we do have hot air balloons in the air, which is amazing and really cool and unique. It has a mountain that is over 10,000 feet tall, and I'm literally looking at it out my window right now. And I can't even tell you how giddy that makes me. I've lived here now for three years and I'm still hyperventilating at the fact that there's a mountain that I can hike anytime right outside my window. Oh boy, it's so cool. There's a lot more to say. But if you're in the area, look me up.

Jessi:
I think that leads right into my next question, which is what do you enjoy doing for fun outside of work time?

Marie:
Climbing that mountain. I love climbing that mountain.

Jessi:
But not rock climbing.

Marie:
No, like walking up. Rock climbing is scary and is for Jessi. She's way braver than I am.

Jessi:
However, we do go on frequent mountain hikes together when we happen to be in the same state.

Marie:
Yes. So definitely hiking, especially hiking with my dog. Love that. Love camping. Any type of camping will do from backpacking to car camping to glamping, I don't care, I'm in. I love to read. I love to write. I write fiction, mostly fantasy and science fiction, a little horror, I'm dabbling in there. And what else do I love? Video games as well. Are you sensing a theme if you listened to the last episode of this? And travel, travel, definitely. Again, it's COVID times, so a lot of these things aren't happening right now. But that is something I enjoy.

Jessi:
So, because travel is such a theme in your life despite the fact that not much is happening right now, what is one of your favorite places that you travel to?

Marie:
A lot. I think one of our happiest memories collectively probably was when Jessi, you and I took a trip to Vancouver, BC. And we were there for business. We were there to do some business strategy and planning, and there's a whole story and saga around that trip. But wow, it's beautiful. Those of you who live in Vancouver, I hope you realize how very fortunate you are.

Jessi:
Totally.

Marie:
But yeah, just the combination of the mountains and the ocean right there. It's relatively easy to get to, at least from the States. You can literally just drive it. That gorgeous road up to Whistler is just a delight. We love that Capilano Canyon bridge thing. That was amazing. If you've never been there, you're like shut up, I don't know what you're talking about. Anyway, you should go, it's great. The food's good too. I have a lot to say about Vancouver. I'm pro-Vancouver.

Jessi:
That's a good place to be a fan on. Was there anything else you want our listeners to know about you before we sign off?

Marie:
Okay, I think we should clear the air and just let everybody know just how nerdy we are, which is the fact of how we met.

Jessi:
Okay, so we're going there.

Marie:
Yeah, let's do it. Yeah, so the year was '09, and I was just out of school and pretty much just went apartment to work, to apartment to work. And I was kind of itching for friends. And so I went online and happened to find this forum for a children's book series that I had been completely obsessed with in my childhood called Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, the incredible Newbery Award winning author. And it's by the way about children who turn into animals in order to fight an alien invasion of Earth. Huh?

Jessi:
It's amazing.

Marie:
It's awesome. It's so deliciously '90s. Anyway, I found this person on this forum who sounded cool and interesting. And then a few months in, we realized we both lived in Houston and we were the same age, within a few months really. And we were like, "Maybe we should meet up." And internet friends were a scary thing back then, and so we met at a mutually neutral Panera Bread. And within six months had built a business together.

Jessi:
Yeah, we kind of went from like zero to 60 as far as our friendship was concerned. But it's similar on my end. I was living in Houston, and as I mentioned on my episode, I grew up in Ohio, Didn't really know anyone and didn't really have a friend group, was like, "Hey, let me look up forums," because forums were still a popular thing back then that pertain to things I'm interested in. Animorphs is one of them. I found Marie there. And the rest is history.

Marie:
We're still big fans, by the way, of Animorphs and each other.

Jessi:
And that's why we have a friends first policy, by the way, as the last thing I think to mention before we sign off. Because a lot of people start businesses together. Some are friends beforehand, some meet each other because they're looking for a business partner. And however that business partnership starts, we believe, at least in the terms of our partnership, that it's important to put the relationship over the business. And so we do have that friends first policy, and we hope that as you listen to the episodes, you get a ton of value, practical things you can do in your own business around creating this content that converts, creating personality driven content, all of this stuff. And we hope that the relationship aspect is never lost. Because that is really at the end of the day, the most important, with the people that you work with, with the people that you serve, with the people that you hope to serve in the future, all of the above.

Marie:
Awesome. Thank you for being gentle with me, Jessi.

Jessi:
You're welcome.

Marie:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice podcast. Make sure to visit our website, Northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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