033 | Personal Branding – For Bootstrapped Entrepreneurs, With Connie Chi

Today I will be talking with a tireless entrepreneur, Connie t. So Connie is an impressive entrepreneur. She’s a TEDx speaker, author, co-founder of cutiecon and founder and CEO of the chi group, which is a marketing and branding agency, humanizing lifestyle brands. As an avid speaker, speaker, Connie regularly speaks about entrepreneurship, brand experiences and humanizing brands. He’s been featured and quoted by Business Insider American Marketing Association, US News World Report, Reader’s Digest, Yahoo Finance, Herald Tribune, BuzzFeed, thrive global and many more. Connie also hosts a podcast called the brand Academy podcast where she shares her secrets and insights on marketing and branding. She’s also written a book called branding without a brand, where she shares her expertise on taking your brand from zero to hero. When no one knows you. Connie is calling graduated from Baruch College in NYC major and marketing and advertising communications, certifies and certified in diamond grading and neuro-linguistic programming, which is NLP. We are happy and honored to have Connie here amongst us.


Welcome, Connie.


Hi, how are you? Thank you so much. I’m so appreciative for you guys, and taking the time and having me on the show. I can’t wait for our conversation, while the pleasure is all ours.


Alright, so let’s dive in. Before we get to the nitty-gritty details of branding and marketing, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background so that our audience can get to know you better?


Yeah, sure. So I actually started my career in corporate. And I spent about 16 years working in the diamond industry. So I was working for a lot of these wholesale diamond miners. And I did that for 16 years, and I started to be really you’re unhappy. And I realized that I wanted to start my own business. Right. So basically, that’s how the bug started, I guess the entrepreneurial bug started. And fast forward. I’ve had three failed businesses under my belt. And I’m very grateful for those. And I’m just working on my business. I’m out there speaking on the circuit about entrepreneurship, about the brand, marketing, brand experience. And yeah, as you said, I wrote a book. And we’re thinking of working on a second book. Basically what I have, yeah,


That’s great. So before we dive into your success, success, and you know, the current business that you’re running, let’s talk about your failed businesses. How did that happen? And, you know, what were the lessons that you learned from that? And tell us a little bit about that?


Yeah. Wow, there was so much that I learned, yeah, I think, as an entrepreneur, it’s like, you have to fail out of a business or two, right? Because that’s how we grow from that. So originally, at one point in my life, I was thinking to myself, well, I want to be a life coach. So I started a life coach business. And I realized that I’m not cut out to listen to people’s problems all day long. So eventually, that just kind of died out, right. And then I moved on. And I thought to myself, what, what else am I good at? Right. And being that I come from a luxury industry, I thought, well, I’m just going to do luxury concierge services. And because I didn’t have the connections as far as how to get the clients. So that business went under as well. And then fast forward, you know, I decided I wanted to do marketing, for yoga studios, okay. And what I realized was that there’s not a lot of opportunities there. It’s a very small segment, that kind of marketplace. So, unfortunately, that also failed. And, you know, throughout this journey, I learned that, you know, a lot of times as entrepreneurs, we put our self-worth, into our businesses, and this is part of the journey, you have to be able to accept failed, and losses, to be able to really shift your own mindset and to grow from that. And I think that’s like, the biggest lesson is to really understand that failure isn’t really a failure, right? It’s a lot of learning that requires you to go through and grow.


Yeah, for sure. Yeah, if you don’t make mistakes, or you don’t have failures, they’re not very many opportunities to learn.


Yeah, yeah, I agree.


All right. So the name of the show is bootstrapping your dreams. And we have a lot of entrepreneurs in the audience who want to bootstrap. And so you know, this concept of building a recognized brand, you know, from nothing from zero, very attractive, and it aligns well with what we are talking about, in general, in our podcast. So tell us a little bit about that, like, how do you go about building a brand from zero to hero?


So when it comes to building a brand, first and foremost, you know, it’s a lot of work, it’s consistency, that’s the key. And in the beginning, nobody knows you. So how do you go about it? And I think for startups, especially entrepreneurs who don’t have the budget, the best way to start it is through doing co collaboration, right? So co-branding opportunities. So basically, what you do is you go out, and you find another brand, that you can collaborate together to offer almost like a new product, but each one collectively has their own expertise. And I think the best way to do this is because, you know, a lot of times, we’re always struggling in the beginning, we’re like, how do I get new clients? Right? How do I get my first client? How do I get brand awareness and build brand equity? But when you partner up with another brand, hopefully, you find one that’s non compete. So you guys can create something interesting, and therefore expand your marketing efforts collectively. So that’s the first way that I would always suggest a lot of startups go look at.


Yeah, that makes sense. So now, you know, I skipped ahead a little bit, but I think it will be really good to share your views about what a brand is, because I think a lot of people are a little bit confused about, you know, what a brand is, when we talk about brand, they just sort of have this misconception. And I’m guilty of this, you know, a few years ago, I thought a brand is basically just a logo, and you recognize that logo. And, you know, that’s all the value that the company’s, you know, providing in terms of their own branding. So can you speak a little bit about that?


Oh, yeah, absolutely. And you’re right, a lot of people get this idea of branding, confused, right. And branding isn’t just about your logo and a website and your colors, it’s actually a lot more that goes into the aspect of branding, you have, you know, what you call the brand experience, which is also part of branding, because as a brand, you create some sort of experience for your customers at every given moment. And that’s something that’s really important. And then that also segues into Well, how is that experience on a digital front? how we met experiences as an offline in-person front. So that also determines part of what the meaning of your brand is? And on top of that, your brand’s personality who is your brand? You know, it’s not just okay, this is my business. Here’s my logo. And bam, you’re good, right? No, because you have to almost create, like a personality, and then identity for your brand as a person, if you think about it.


Yeah. Yeah. All right. So it’s, it’s, it’s much more than a logo like it’s a, it’s a holistic experience that you’re sort of giving to your customers, and even to, you know, your competitors and other factions in the society. That’s awesome. So now, tell us a little bit about your brand story, your journey with your own company, how did you realize what your brand is? You know, and how did you create the group?


Yeah, so, you know, along the way I was, I was also in a place where I just couldn’t figure out how to connect better with my customers, our clients. And I actually took a personality test. And really, first of all, I have to get to know myself first, because I am essentially not just the face of the brand, but the creator of the brand. So I needed to understand who I was, from a personality aspect. And then, you know, once you take that test, there are actually 16 different brand personalities on the marketplace, you know, every brand falls into one or more of the 16. And once you understand which personality you are, then you become better at serving your clients. So for example, if we look at Johnson and Johnson, you know, they’re known for what the baby products, you know, some beauty products, things like that. their brand personality is more along the lines of the caregiver, you know, Harley Davidson, they do these bikes, right, but everybody or a lot of people love these bikes, and they fall into the rebel category. So once I took this personality test, what I realized was that the primary personality for my brand is a rebel, and then followed by the lovely, and then my hero. So that’s the three different personalities that my brand hope.


Nice, nice. All right, and then sort of, you figured out your personality, and then you aligned it with the brand’s personality or the other way around and, and started to build the brand in your image. Is that is that correct? Understanding?


Right, exactly, exactly


All right? And how I mean, did you use the same tactics as in collaborating with other brands? Initially? How did you? Like, how was that journey for you?


You know, when it comes to my own agency collaborating with other brands, what I like to do is I like to look for opportunities that are outside the box, right? So it speaks to the rebel side of me. And, you know, I want to collaborate with brands to create these different experiences that people probably wouldn’t even have thought about. So that’s basically, you know, I look for specifically outside the box opportunities. Nice, nice.


All right. And now, you know, you have a personal brand quantity and, and your company brand, the Chi group. How, how much overlap, do these brands have? Like? Are they the ones like the same brand personality? And everything sort of aligns between them? Or are they different in some way?


They actually have a lot of similarities, right? Because I am the one that has created this brand. So a lot of it spills over into the business as well. Yeah, very similar.


Okay. And in your book, branding, without a brand, you have a quotation, which says, to know, me, is to know where I have been. So can you explain that a little bit more?


Yeah, sure. So, you know, my background was that I didn’t come from a family of massive wealth. But I’ve was fortunate enough, where my parents did teach me the value of thinking outside the box, right, getting creative. And most importantly, I’d say, my father taught me a lot about experiences, and the value of what experiences mean, whether it’s good or bad. Yeah, so that was probably the foundation of what I came up with the concept of humanizing brands because our brands are essentially an experience to our customers. You know, so, on top of that, I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. That’s all I know, most of my life was just watching all my family members who build businesses, build businesses. And that was something that, I guess was ingrained in me. And then on top of that, being a rebel, I’ve had some very interesting, you know, life experiences to add to that. Nice, nice.


All right. Okay, so you brought up the rebellious part a few times. So tell, you know, where does that come from? Like, was it from your past experience or your teenage years? And how did you incorporate that into the brand?


You know, I think that comes from a very strict household, right? Yeah, I grew up. I grew up, you know, in a strict household. And of course, you know, the whole concept of being an overachiever was just kind of like, that was the theme. Right? as an agent, as an agent, entrepreneur. That was what you know, we were taught as children. Right. overachieve, you have to get the triple-A plus the one a plus isn’t good enough. Yeah. So, you know, with that kind of pressure as a child growing up, you eventually, you know, you think about this, and you’re like, Well, where’s the fun in it? where’s the fun in life? Because you’re so busy chasing the success outcome that you’re forgetting to really live life? Yeah. And that’s basically where the rebellious part of me comes from. Because, you know, I think when we get to experience life to the fullest, yeah, our terms is, there’s something beautiful there, because no one’s really telling you how you’re supposed to feel how you’re supposed to act, how it’s supposed to look like, you get full control to create all of that. So, you know, that’s basically where it comes from, for me, and, you know, and I look at it the same way in business, right? When you go and you work in a corporate job, you’re told you have a sales quota, you have to use this by X amount of time, I have a deadline, we have a meeting every other five hours, something new, you know, and it’s frustrating for me, because I don’t like to function like that. So I think the best innovation and the best inspirations come from our experiences, where there are no rules because you have that opportunity to be childlike and play, right. And when you play, you have these ideas that formulate, and when you play with others, you have inspirations become, you know, brilliant ideas that become movements that become a global change.


Yeah, you know, very well said, and it completely resonates with me, because, you know, I had similar experience in my childhood, like, I grew up in a very strict family, Eastern Indian family. So, you know, there’s a, there’s a lot of overlap between Chinese values and Indian values and how kids are brought up in our families. So being strict, you know, being a strict family, I also sort of, you know, grew this rebellious streak in me, so I can completely resonate. And, and your point about experiences is, is again, very, very important. You know, whether it’s a negative or positive experience, we were talking about failures earlier, that’s also an experience that you could take it in a positive way or a negative way. And then, you know, it’s an experience that adds to your life, right.


Oh, I totally agree. Absolutely. Agree. Yeah.


Awesome. All right. Now, let’s talk about, you know, maybe your opinion about some of the prominent brands that we see around us, like, you know, maybe Pepsi, Coca Cola, KFC, what do you think about these brands? I mean, what, what is good about them? I mean, I think most people know what is good about them. But what do you think about how they build their brand? And what are some of the things that they could have improved upon?


Yeah, I mean, if we take, for example, the KFC brand, right, the story of Colonel Sanders, I think it’s one that many, many of us can relate to, from an emotional aspect, right? He was selling chicken on the side of the road during the Great Depression. And that story of an underdog who ultimately wins, always captures a lot of our hearts, right? we as Americans love the underdog stories. And brands that have a story that rich in history is one that will also resonate with a lot have customers because there’s a trust factor there. But most importantly, when it comes to brand stories, many people make the mistake, and they make these stories about their brand. Right? When in fact, you have to build in there, it’s about the customer in some way. If we look at Coca Cola, and you go on to their website, all they talk about is the customer about how they can create an experience for the customer. And I’m sure you’ve seen this, but I think it was like what a couple of years ago, they had this campaign where you can have your name on a coke bottle. Yeah. And that goes back to about their customer. Right. So you know, I think your brand story has to be really important in the part that it has to incorporate your customer. And I think both the brands do it very, very well in their own unique ways. So it’s definitely you know, I think kudos to them, because it’s, it’s not easy to build brand equity to the status as they built it, and they’ve done a great job.


Yeah, that’s a unique perspective, you know, incorporating your customer in your stories. That’s quite unique. So thanks a lot for sharing that. Now. The next one is a little bit controversial for some people. What about the apple and Steve Jobs in particular?


Yeah, and I’ve heard all different types of opinions on this. Personally, I think Steve Jobs as the brand story, he created a product that is simple. But it also gives users an option, it gives you the ability to customize, right, so the story is basically made things very simple for the consumer. And it definitely resonates with their niche demographic. So we as humans, we want options, right? You go to McDonald’s, you have a small, medium large fry, we want options. So what they did is they essentially, and this was brilliant, they essentially created a device. That is, let’s be honest, all you need this for is just what to make a phone call dial in and dial out, they gave you an option, you can do FaceTime, you can do a text message, right, you can now do all kinds of fun things with it. They’re using facial recognition software, so you can opt to use it or not. Right. And then of course, because they give you all these options amongst options, and you can customize, then it becomes a different set of challenges. You know, there’s the debate about the security and privacy and all that kind of stuff. But overall, I think as a brand, Apple has definitely created something that is super amazing, you know, incorporating the simplicity, and also a balance of customization into one little device.


Yeah, you know what? So now, as you know, now that Steve Jobs is not there, do you think they’ll continue to, you know, build that build upon that brand equity? Or do you think it’ll, it was basically Steve Jobs who built the brand and now, Apple needs to watch out.


I’m seeing that Apple will still try to stay true to their original creation and voice and you know, the concept about it, but I do see that they’re also moving a little bit away from it as well with each year. So it’ll be interesting to see how that kind of plays out. You know, I do think that that simplicity and customization concept will still bear true. Going, sorry.


Alright, cool. Now, you brought up, you know, as humans, we need options, so, and you also talk about humanizing the brand. So what do you mean, exactly, by humanizing the brand? And why is it important?


Well, look, at the end of the day, our businesses are serving customers who are what humans, right. So in order to create these brands, you need to be able to resonate with your customer. On some kind of level, you have to connect to the human spirit. So that’s why you know, I say humanizing a brand. And when I, when I mentioned that it’s because with us, and people, you know, if you go anywhere in the world, emotion is a very universal language, right? Anyone who’s smiling in the world, you don’t need to know the language, but you know, they’re happy, you know, somebody who’s crying, you know, they’re sad. So, essentially, you want to build some kind of personality into your brand. And that’s why it’s called humanizing brands, right? I think a lot of people, when they start their business, they’re like, Hey, I have a business brand, my product is cheaper than our competitors. And it’s going to do X, Y, and Z. But, you know, when you create that experience of humankind of personality to your brand, you now have a dialogue, you have a conversation, you have another set of feedback that you get. So that’s why humanizing brand, is the theme for our agency.


Awesome. And so I mean, that implies that you need to know your customer really well, isn’t it? Like? I mean, otherwise? I mean, it’s going to be one-way conversation almost.


Yeah, yeah. So you know, I talk about this a lot with a lot of my clients is, you know, when it comes to knowing your customers, you, it’s not enough for you to just know their demographics, right? Oh, my client is 25 years old. She’s married with 1.5 pets, and 2.5 Kids college-educated has two cars over home. Like that’s not enough anymore? No, I, I really encourage our clients to really do some homework, and go out there and understand your customers, pains, their wants, their desires, their dreams, their hopes, What language are they using? What kind of words are they using, what kind of phrases as using this describes all of this, because not every customer is going to be for your particular brand or business? So that’s what you need to really go out there and do the homework to get to know who these people are. And that way you can start humanizing and being on a level where you can truly connect with them.


I see. And so that brings up an interesting sort of logistical challenge where, you know, let’s say for if somebody wants to start a startup, and they haven’t got much yet, how do they go about, you know, getting feedback from their customers, future customers. And in many cases, these entrepreneurs don’t even know who their ideal customer is. So how do you get around this problem? To start off with?


Well, you need to first figure out, you created this business to solve a problem, right, which most I think most entrepreneurs, created businesses to solve certain problems were out of their own frustrations of not finding a solution. Yeah. So you start there, and you feel you’re out. Okay, what problem am I solving? And whatever that answer is, then you think to yourself, okay, this problem solving, who will benefit from the problem solving, and you start to build outright, what your customer base is going to start looking like. And, you know, honestly, as a startup, they don’t have all the money to do market research, and, you know, groups and things like that. So, what you can do kind of like a workaround, I’m giving you my secrets. Now, you can actually go on to sites like Quora, or Reddit, or even onto social media, right? And start asking questions. And people will tell you, which they will give you responses. And they will, you will start to end up seeing a lot of words being used over and over and over again. So that’s probably going to be a very grassroots kind of way to do it. It’s going to take a little bit more time. But it’s worth getting to know your customer.


Yeah, for sure. That’s, that’s great advice. Right there. So I mean, this, this can be done on the cheap as well, it doesn’t need a lot of investment, other than some, some your own for your time, and sort of, you know, taking action and getting that feedback. So, so thanks a lot for sharing that. Now, can you share any success stories that you’ve had? Not not only with your own brand but some of your client’s brands? And maybe what lessons can be learned from them?


You know, the biggest thing with startups that they go through all the time, and I see this so many times, is they go through this whole paralysis analysis thing, where they want to research and plan and contingency above contingencies. And that right there is these are the biggest killer for a lot of these brands that just they just don’t go off the ground. Right. So, you know, I think like startups, that’s the one thing to try to avoid, yes, you want to plan you want to budget, but you don’t want to spend two years budgeting and planning and then ask yourself why you don’t have a business? Yeah. You know, so that’s, that’s going to be the first key that I will say my biggest lesson that I think even I myself learned, when I first started my own brand, I spent 6,7,8 months planning and it just, it never got off the ground at some point, or it just didn’t work. You know. So when it comes to successes, I think there’s so many I have so many different fun success stories that just stand all throughout. But I will have to say my proudest one and that thus far, is we recently started to work with an actor in the movie, john wick three, have you seen the movie?


Probably not.


Okay, so he’s one of the actors in the movie. And we eventually what we did is we help them create a co-branding opportunity. So you know, he’s got a chance to work with Reebok, you can have a chance to work with Yamaha sports. And it’s just really interesting, because, you know, it’s definitely something that if we look at him as a brand, we can take him as a business. And he’s going through the motions of the CO branding, the CO collaborating, you know, those are some fun successes that I have along the way with my job.


Awesome. That’s great. And let’s talk about you brought up social media earlier. And you know, a lot of brands use social media, in some cases exclusively, to get their name out there. So what is your opinion, how important is social media versus some of the other traditional channels and how things are changing? Over the years?


Look, social media, Is that necessary evil, right? If you think about it, you know, it’s, it’s I say evil, because it’s a time sucker, especially for startups and entrepreneurs who are just starting over launching their business. But it’s also necessary in order to get the word out there. And, you know, the problem with social media is that everybody’s creating content. It’s a very noisy marketplace there. So as a startup brand, you’re mashed in with a whole other set of other brands who are trying to do the same thing. And you can get lost in there, especially when you’re starting out. And that’s the thing that that happens often. Right? So you know, I think it’s necessary for, for us to have social media. And I think the best way to think about this is if you are in a very noisy marketplace, and you’re not able to stand out, you want to start thinking about where can you go? That’s not as noisy but still has the eyeballs. Right. And you brought up traditional media. So I noticed, I know people are going to laugh when I say this, but you know, right now, there’s really not a lot of people doing like mailers. Yeah, right. And it’s that that’s super, it’s very old school. So as you can see, I’m dating myself, that that might be an option, that might be something interesting to look at and see how you can utilize that that might even be cheaper. Right? As opposed to buying, let’s say Instagram ads or Facebook ads, you know, especially in the beginning, you want to really make sure that your dollar is stretching, and you’re getting the most out of it. Yeah, yeah.


I heard this direct mail method from some other marketers as well. So do your point, like, you know, that they’re saying, like, look for opportunities where there was little competition on direct mail is, is a good way to go about it at this stage?


Yeah, yeah, it definitely is. And, you know, I just think using social media is just a way to kind of solidify that message continuously over and over again.


Awesome. And in the same tone, what do you think about social influence? Have they been in news lately with some scandals? So what do you think about them? And the role they play?


Yeah, I mean, I have to say, I love them. I think what they, what they do is very creative. A lot of them are beyond creative. And granted, definitely beneficial to consider working with influencers and with influencers. Again, because you’re on a budget, there are actually different types of influencers you can work with, obviously, you have the celebrity influencers, like, you know, the Kim Kardashian, so the world, they’re looking for, you know, sponsorship, and it’s expensive to work with them. So, I think that, as a start-up entrepreneur or business, you want to start looking at working with nano influencers who have like 1006 thousand followers, they’re willing to post for free in exchange for products or services, or maybe even micro-influencers. You know, there’s, there are so many different ways you can work with them. And I think they’re really good to help you build brand awareness, initially, and also to build any kind of awareness about what your brand is doing.


Awesome. All right. That’s great. Now, is there anything else that I haven’t asked about marketing or branding that you may want to share?


I know, I think you’ve touched on some really good points. Actually. They were really great questions.


Awesome. That’s great. All right. Now, before I let you go, can you tell us a little bit about your company and your products and services and how you help entrepreneurs build their brands?


Yeah, sure. So I’m actually the founder of the Chi group, like you mentioned, as we are a marketing and branding agency. And what we do is we create experiences. That’s our sandbox. So I like to create these fun, unique, different experiences for brands, especially in the startup space. Those that are just unique and customized to what they they’re looking to do. We also do some brand management as well. So we do manage some of these brands, whether it’s CPG brands, whether it’s, you know, actors or influencers, we’ll do consulting, we do pop up experience, we do advise, like we do a lot as an agency, the other company that I co-founded was called the cutie con. And this is something that’s going to be launching next year in July of 2020. And it’s basically it’s a massive Expo with everything huge from food, tech, fashion, beauty, toys, media, you name it. So it going to be a two-day event open to the public. And yeah, it’s exciting stuff that we’re working on. And that’s great.


So is it an offline event? Or is it online?


No, it’s going to be in an Expo Center. So it’s offline in your city.


Cool. That’s very cool. And then, for the Chi group, like, do you work only with big brands or big, big companies? Or? Because as I said, like, we have many startup entrepreneurs in the audience, like, do you think they’ll have the means and budgets to work with you?


Yeah, so we work with both big and small brands and startups, with the startups, we do have creative ways that we can collaborate together. And again, it depends on how much budget they have, depending on what they’re looking to do. You know, there are always creative ways to work together. And that’s my role.


That’s great. Okay, so what I’ll do is I’ll get those URLs for your websites and add them to the show notes so that people can reach out easily, and contact you.


Thank you so much. All right.


Great. Thank you so much for being here with us and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom. I’m sure everyone got a lot of value out of this interview, and they’ll be incorporating them into their branding and marketing strategies. Thank you.


Thank you. I appreciate that.



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