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Episode 8

Innovation & Thought Leadership In The Physical Branding Space

Vinessa Lullo
Marketing Director at MC Group | Icon
Adapting To The "New Normal"

Our guest speaker, Vinessa Lullo, has more than 15 years of marketing and product development experience. Her team prides itself on customizing products and services to meet the demands of customers. However, a recent merger and the COVID-19 outbreak drastically changed their business. Vinessa shares how her company became extremely nimble and changed processes to customize products, marketing and sales to meet new customer needs and safety requirements.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • How physical branding has changed due to COVID-19
  • Navigating a merger during unprecedented times
  • Evolving internal processes to better respond to external changes
  • How marketers can help the sales team respond to customer needs
  • Shortening a long sales cycle
  • Delivering a proactive, rather than reactive, marketing strategy
  • Increasing awareness and increases safety with physical branding
  • Upcoming trends and opportunities in physical branding

Full Episode Transcripts

Paul Roberts: Welcome to another episode of Leader Generation by Tenlo radio, a show where we help B2B and CPG marketers generate data that turns into money. And our host Tessa Burg is the VP of UX and Technology Strategy at Tenlo. Tessa and her team at Tenlo have collaborated with data science, software and marketing experts in the last 10 years to develop and continuously evolve. How a test and learn approach can effectively and efficiently help clients bring new products to market, accelerate leads to the funnel and test new communication and sales channels.

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Leader Generation. Today, we have Vinessa Lullo, Marketing Director at MC Group Icon. We’re going to be discussing how innovation and thought leadership has evolved in the physical brand space. Vanessa, thanks so much for being our guest today.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah. Thank you guys for having me and this is great.

Tessa Burg: So on our past episodes, we’ve been interviewing sales and marketing leaders and learning how they’ve had to quickly evolve and change since the pandemic. That is extremely true in your space of physical branding. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to MC Group Icon.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah, so it’s actually a pretty straightforward story. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and graduated from Dominican University, which is a local school here. My background’s actually in fashion design and merchandising with a focus on business marketing.

Vinessa Lullo: So shortly after that, after graduation, I was awarded a scholarship for Fashion Group International, which moved me to London for a little bit. I came back here, got my first job as an assistant buyer where I fell in love with consumer products, moved around the country a little bit. And then an offer from MCI kind of came across my desk. Now this was prior to the merger, so it was just Icon, but I’ve been with them now for the past six years as their Marketing Director. And we’ve done some pretty amazing things, but definitely the merger is ramping us up. So it’s going to be some good times. But funny tidbit that I share is that obviously Icon and MC are both signage companies, but growing up, my dad owned his own signage company and I would work beside him meeting vinyl for lettering fleet trucks. And now I’m back here.

Tessa Burg: That’s awesome. That’s definitely a term I’ve never heard before.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah. It’s fun. It’s where you literally take a little pin and you pick out all of the insides of the O’s and the P’s and anything that has a hole in it.

Tessa Burg: Oh my gosh. What a great start. So when I did the merger occur between MC group and Icon.

Vinessa Lullo: So last September, September 2019 is when we announced it. It obviously had been in the works for quite some time. Both of our leaders have a lot of respect for one another. So when it came to it, it just was a natural combination of the two companies and they wanted to work together. So it was a great fit.

Tessa Burg: The timing is amazing. So you’re just getting used to conjoining these two companies then the pandemic hits. What were some of the synergies that helped you evolve as, physical branding was changing so quickly?

Vinessa Lullo: So it’s really funny, like you said, September came, the winter went and then where we are in Corona season. But we had obviously our sales team remote for a lot of, for both sides of the company. That just worked out. And then when everything started shutting down our sales team and our marketing strategy definitely had to evolve into what can we offer our clients, what are they looking for and what can we quickly deliver to them?

Vinessa Lullo: So it’s interesting because with all of the retail spaces or facilities or locations shutting down for our customers, their number one priority is their customer safety, right? So if a bank has to stay open, what were we able to do? We were able to offer plexiglass division so that customers could stay in contact with their bankers or for instance, pharmacies. That was a huge one.

Vinessa Lullo: We do a lot in the spaces of pharmacies and retailers that have pharmacies in them. So we had to deliver very specific requests for them on how people can get their prescriptions or how they can actually deal with a pharmacist. So we were able to really quickly restructure ourselves to be able to deliver on those needs. And it was a really great collaboration between… Now we’re one company. We don’t refer to ourselves as two separate ones, but it was a really great collaboration between all sides of the team. So it was product development, it was manufacturing, it was our sales team obviously, and it was also marketing getting the collateral out there and putting it up for people to see and know that they could come to us as a resource.

Tessa Burg: That’s awesome. That takes so much alignment. And since the products themselves are time sensitive, it becomes even more important to shorten the sales cycle. That’s something we talk about all the time, like how do we get this sales cycles shorter? But in this case, it’s going beyond signage and brand. It’s going towards the brand wants to stand for protecting their customers. So what were some of the things that you did to shorten that sales cycle and get those products out into who needed them quickly?

Vinessa Lullo: Well, definitely kudos to our sales team and definitely kudos to our operations team because without them being nimble and flexible, we wouldn’t have been able to get going on what our customers needed immediately.

Vinessa Lullo: So taking a step back from Corona for a minute, and COVID what we’re doing now, since the merger is we restructured our entire marketing team, right. We restructured our entire marketing strategy. So we were definitely, I would say we were preparing for something like this, not necessarily a COVID, but definitely looking at shortening the sales cycle from a marketing perspective because our sales cycles right now can go anywhere from six months to a year or longer.

Vinessa Lullo: So having these workflows set up right, having the content creation, being able to quickly know what our customers were looking for, put it on a piece of paper, put it through social media, put it through a workflow for an email blast, really targeting that.

Vinessa Lullo: We were able to educate our customers a lot quicker and then have them come back to us. So they already were armed with the information they needed. They just needed to know what we had to offer. And we were able to get that to them in such a short amount of time.

Vinessa Lullo: So that shortened in the scheme of COVID sales cycle, that shortened that. Going forward, we don’t know what the world’s going to do. We have no idea what two weeks is going to bring her or a year from now. So we’re definitely educating ourselves and putting processes in place so that we are able to be armed with all of the information and the products that we can get out there working with our entire organization.

Vinessa Lullo: So I think we’ve done a great job. I’m kind of patting ourselves on the back, but we’ve helped a lot of our customers achieve what they were looking for in the short run. And I just hope that we can continue doing that down the road with a new marketing initiative and everything that’s coming out of the merger.

Tessa Burg: That’s awesome. There was all this rapid change. Luckily you were in this process of already looking at how these two companies come together to align. How has the pandemic or really physical branding evolved and what is going to be MC Group Icon’s role now, or how would that evolve even more in the future? So it’s not just what they need now, but what can branding be for your clients?

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah. So it’s really hard to say, right? Because going back to the day to day, we have no idea, but all we know is that our customers care about one thing and that’s their customers, right? They need people in the doors, they need to be able to interact with them. Obviously the transactions need to take place. So we need to be that flexible, nimble partner that they can go to for whatever they need.

Vinessa Lullo: We are so fortunate to have, an executive leadership team that understands what is important and what’s important to our customers. Our biggest thing with, and I can’t give too much away because we’re going to be launching our new brand and website, but our whole mission and coming together seems to be well rooted on both sides, right? We both share the same customer centric approach. Our sales team, our operations team, everybody has the customer in mind.

Vinessa Lullo: So really whatever they need is going to be, what we can provide or we’ll work hard to figure out a solution that will best accommodate their needs. Currently right now, what does branding look like? It looks a lot different. It moves away from just a general letter set on the outside of a building, our directional signage, or I’ll get back to directional signage in a minute, or your standard maintenance proposal or construction RFP.

Vinessa Lullo: What does it look like? You walk into a store, you immediately have a plexiglass or some sort of graphic telling you, you need to wear a mask. You need to go on this door. This door is shut. Everything is directing you. So our whole take on way finding has changed a little bit. We’re doing a lot for hospitality. We’re doing a lot for grocery. We’re doing a lot for banks in terms of arrows and directing people in the safest way to where they have to get so that they can make sure that their transactions are done correctly and safely. So we’ve put a lot out there, especially on LinkedIn with what we’re offering. And I think it’s just great. It’s great how we’ve responded to it again. Nobody knows the future, but we’re getting there.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. I feel like everyone’s so busy. I don’t know if you’ve had time, but have you been able to get any feedback from your clients or is that something on the radar to sort of see, and what has their reaction been to this kind of new form of physical branding, or what have they been seeing from their customers coming into their locations?

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah, so our sales team are in constant contact with their point of contacts with our customers. So any feedback that we’ve been getting is, things are changing and they need to adapt and they need to change with them. So our answer to that is what can we do to better serve you? You have to adapt, we have to adapt. So how can we do it together? And what’s the best possible output that can make people feel comfortable coming into your location, whether it be a bank, a grocery store, even a convenience store at a gas station. People want to feel safe and know that they’re in good hands. So how can we team up with them? I don’t have any hard and fast responses from a customer or, I haven’t really dug into the sales team for those, but I’m sure that what we’ve given them, the need for it is only going to increase. So I think all has been good up until this point.

Tessa Burg: So there are a lot of marketers who are targeting a similar space. Restaurants, retailers, banks have been mentioned hotels. What if some of the things that have worked for you from a marketing perspective in getting in touch with clients and what kind of do you have any tips or tricks for, that people can take away when they’re looking at targeting these industries?

Vinessa Lullo: So that’s super interesting that you’re saying that because we’re going to take a step back from the actual service solutions that we’re offering. And just let you to know that with this came and entirely blown up version of a marketing strategy, right? So taking a step back from before the merger, both teams were really reactive and we didn’t have enough bandwidth and we didn’t have enough time. It was coming from a really small marketing department.

Vinessa Lullo: Our sales team was really driven and rooted and providing best-in-class customer service. They worked really hard to keep customers happy. They would come to us, they would make a request we would deliver on it. Beyond that there was no real time to implement a great strategy or change our thought process. So throughout this entire merger, and then throughout the pandemic, we’ve completely shifted from an outbound to an inbound thought process where we are going to be their resource. We are going to be the thought leaders in these industries and we are really going to hone in.

Vinessa Lullo: And so we have created this great marketing strategy. We’ve worked with a lot of different agencies to develop content that’s going to be going out there. It’s really just putting the time and effort in. And as you know, I’m still learning how to do that in this inbound mind shift, mindset shift. So it’s going to be interesting how I take people’s learning initiatives and I translate them into what we’re doing too, because it’s one big learning curve for all of us right now. Because again, with the pandemic, nothing stays the same, even though we shifted to this inbound, it would be target trade shows. Whereas the trade shows there’s no trade shows anymore. How do we get in front of our target market?

Vinessa Lullo: Where’s our general audience hanging out? How are we going to do this through paid media? Are we going to do it through webinars? Are we going to do virtual events where we can really do experiential marketing and have something last. My tips and tricks would just be, keep an open mind, keep learning, read everything you can because people are doing some really creative, cool stuff. It’s just, it’s never been done before. What do we? Everything that we did before is going out the window, we have to really just be flexible and nimble and deliver our new solutions.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. I love that. It’s almost just like your clients have had to redefine really what signs mean for them, your redefining, how to be there in the right moments to give them the resources and the information they need to make decisions.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah.

Tessa Burg: You’re right. It does take a lot of testing. I feel like we learn over and over again is there is no silver bullet.

Vinessa Lullo: Yep.

Tessa Burg: Be awesome if you could just do one thing and get all the leads, but it’s iterative and it changes and evolves with the target audience themselves.

Vinessa Lullo: And daily. There’s nothing that stays the same throughout the day. We’re so fortunate that because of the merger we’re able to offer this expanded suite of offerings. We’ve always had on both sides, a great signage history, a great repaired maintenance history. Icon brought to the table, a construction division. And then on the MC side, we brought this growing and evolving energy solution.

Vinessa Lullo: So our customers can really hone in on any one of those or if they need a full turnkey approach, we can offer that to them. But it’s how do you get it in front of them? Right. It’s how do you make them see that we can be, from concept to completion there one stop shop? So it’ll be interesting. I mean, I definitely think that we’re accompanied to watch for the next year and really after the launch, see how it’s going to evolve and see where it takes us. But that’s the exciting part of it, right? It’s stepping back from the solutions and really seeing how we can engage with the customer.

Tessa Burg: So you’re doing a lot of testing with inbound and getting the content out to your customers, getting closer to their needs. What are some things that you want customers to start coming to you for now that maybe they didn’t before the merger or before the pandemic, now that you’ve shown that you can turn around the solutions so quickly?

Vinessa Lullo: Yes. So I think we want to be their resource for them. My goal in this is to really put out a lot of just research and show them how they can get a return for instance, on an energy program. How can we be the cost savings police? What can we do to save them money where they’re able to put their best foot forward, look their best, be best in any aspect of it, but what’s the research behind it? That’s what people I think want to see. They want to know what the numbers are. They want to see data. And I think having those data points where we were missing that before is really what’s going to be important. So coming to us as that data research partner, knowing that we are going to have the metrics to back it up and that we’re really going to be able to dive in a little bit deeper than just surface level selling, I think is going to be incredibly helpful to them.

Tessa Burg: That’s really fascinating. What are some examples of metrics that really sell physical branding?

Vinessa Lullo: Yes. So you can run. I’m in no way the expert here, but we have a ton of people on our team that can speak so intelligently on wattage hours. I don’t even know if I’m saying that correctly, but how lighting can save you money, if you can retrofit your signage or your interior lights or your exterior parking lot lights, how much are you saving on your energy usage?

Vinessa Lullo: We have an entire controls team where I was just talking to one of our team members the other day, and she was super intelligent on us. But you walk into a grocery store and everything is dark in your freezer section, but then when you walk in and you open the doors, the light comes on. So that’s energy savings right there because the lights aren’t on all the time, it’s just this really great view from the top, how you measure what people are doing.

Vinessa Lullo: It’s almost measuring patterns. It’s really providing them an outlook into how their customers are shopping or what times are most important. Or even we find it, this is an old school example, but for daylight savings, we do night audits where we’ll drive around to see, we have a team that does this, but drive around to see if a customer’s signage is illuminated at night for after daylight savings. Is their branding showing their best or is it dull and dim and their sign needs to be cleaned for fall and winter. There’s all of these different avenues that they can take to ensure that they’re coming out of the gate, looking in their best at any given time, summer, spring, winter, fall.

Tessa Burg: That’s awesome. So physical branding now not only means just a sign, but it means how do you use the lighting? The way the sign is positioned, the way it’s led to communicate the values that you have for the customer. So they feel safe and that feeling comes from what they see and what they experience. That is really cool. So we are going to take a quick break for a message from our sponsor, Tenlo Radio.

Paul Roberts: And that’s a good place for a break. We’ll be back in a minute. The global pandemic has changed marketing and sales as we know it to plan and prepare for what’s next sign up for a one hour remote digital readiness session with Tenlo. We’ll talk about opportunities to align your digital marketing tactics to your business goals. Plus you’ll receive a digital readiness playbook with immediate next steps to execute measurable digital marketing tactics, to drive growth. For more info and to sign up, go tenlo.com. And now back to our show.

Tessa Burg: And we’re back. Vanessa, thanks so much for your time so far. In the last few minutes that we have, tell us a little bit about, from a marketing and sales perspective, what are some of the data points or what are some of the trends that you’ll be looking for to help inform what’s next for MC Group Icon and really what’s next for physical branding as a whole?

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah. So because of the merger, we have this great team put together now, and what we’re doing is we’re looking at internal communication. Can’t give you necessarily hard and fast data points on it, but we’re looking at internal communication, external communication. How are we interacting with our website? How has our website interacting with other outlets around there? Who is going to be our source for getting our message out there.

Vinessa Lullo: And again, this is going to come after the launch, which is going to be happening in the next few months. So it’s going to be really exciting to see where we’re pushing this and the whole avenue of lead generation and really finding our targets. That’s what’s exciting right now. Right? Because it’s something that we weren’t doing before. We were just doing a lot of outbound and we were going to the trade shows and we were doing our due diligence to research our customers that we found there. But now it’s a whole new world it’s opening at this gate up to and unlimited amount of people that maybe we haven’t touched before. So it’s going to be interesting. It’s definitely going to be a fun project and we’re really looking forward to it. But after the launch, I can get a little bit more into what we’re looking into in terms of strategic moves.

Tessa Burg: I said, well, I would have to be a guest again.

Vinessa Lullo: Yes, couple months.

Tessa Burg: Oh, that’s perfect. So thanks so much again for coming on the show, I think this has been wildly interesting and I’ll definitely never look at a sign the same way.

Vinessa Lullo: There’s a lot that goes into it. People just drive by and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I know.” But then you really think about it. What goes into it? And it’s fascinating.

Tessa Burg: It is. And I’m glad that we’re at this point where your brand’s stepped up and said, it’s more than just what the store looks like. It’s how people feel when they’re in here and what can we do to you make this as easier transition as possible.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah.

Tessa Burg: Thanks so much for being on the show and we will be talking to you again soon.

Vinessa Lullo: Yeah. Thank you for having us. We appreciate it.

Paul Roberts: You’ve been listening to another episode of Leader Generation by Tenlo Radio. Be sure to subscribe on tenloradio.com.

Vinessa Lullo

Marketing Director at MC Group | Icon

As the Marketing Director for Stratus (previously MC Group | Icon), Vinessa manages and executes multi-platform marketing campaigns for Fortune 100 to 500 companies in three divisions: Signage, Maintenance, and Construction.

Vinessa is best known for strategically launching comprehensive marketing programs, internal and external branding, streamlining processes, rejuvenating company cultures, and implementing cost-saving measures to increase revenue.