049: Navigating Personal Branding and Demolishing Imposter Syndrome with Stacey Piefer
Join us as Stacey Piefer shares her transformative career, from journalism to purposeful, personal branding. Discover the power of mentoring, authenticity, and Stacey’s mission to banish imposter syndrome on the University of Houston campus. Unveil the truth in advertising and explore the evolving landscape of marketing through the lens of a perpetual student of life.
Key Points + Topics
- [2:50] Stacey Piefer is an alumnus of the University of Houston (UH). She attended the Communications school and got her degree in Communications and Public Relations. Before communications, she began in broadcast journalism. Even though she ultimately pursued a different path, those two years in journalism beautifully set up her career trajectory. She’s had an incredible metamorphosis of her career coming full circle, back to UH today.
- [4:05] Born in Alvin, TX, a small town of about 14,000 people, Stacey’s first steps into higher education were at Alvin Community College. They had a great journalism course, and, as it turned out, Stacey was a natural at broadcast journalism. She received some feedback from local news reports noting how good she was. This gave her confidence and intimidated her. She was a freshman in college all of a sudden being faced with a lifelong career path; it was intimidating. This encouraged her to do some self-assessment, and she realized journalism was not what she wanted to do long-term, so she found her way to the School of Communications at UH.
- [08:46] The definition of a mentor is very broad. Stacey gives others the permission to define it for themselves in whatever way is most impactful in someone’s life. There are three key features of a good mentor to Stacey:
- Just be kind. Kindness is free and can have a great impact on others. It can help people feel like they matter, and that’s an important piece of a mentor’s role.
- Be an “influencer,” but not in the social media sense. She believes we’ve forgotten how important it is to influence others. Being a mentor is so much about being an influencer in a way that makes a difference in the mentee’s life. It isn’t always the most extroverted individuals who make the best influencers. The more reserved people can influence in different ways.
- Be less of a teacher and more of a listener. Many times, mentees just need a sounding board. They need to ask, “Is this normal? Am I the only one dealing with this challenge?”
- [13:50] By virtue of her position as a career development specialist, Stacey views herself and her colleagues as mentors. At Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, the career development team all has different ways of approaching the students they’re working with. There have been times when a student starts to work with you, and they just don’t match up with your personality. But somebody else on the team meshes with them perfectly. There’s no ownership on the team. They all mentor in different ways, and the ultimate goal is always what’s best for the student.
- [15:45] When Stacey first graduated from UH, she went into Public Relations. It was different than what she was hoping it would be. She began working in conditions she felt unprepared for and discovered she simply did not enjoy working with the media. She was working for a PR agency in New York at the time, whose specialty was employer branding and recruitment. The branding team was managed by two very different individuals, Mark and Paul. One was very laidback; the other was more high-strung. She went to them and confessed she didn’t feel like PR was where she needed to be and wanted to break into the world of branding. They were great. They brought her in on branding projects, shared knowledge, articles, and education with her, and checked in to see if she was making progress on her goals.
- [20:45] When Stacey began working at Savage Brands (a Houston-based branding agency), they were on a journey of purpose-focused brand building for themselves and their clients. In addition to building purposeful brands for the customers, they also helped lead the employees to find their purpose. Jackie Brydon was the Chief Purpose Officer and would have purpose sessions with all employees. It was really like therapy. The first word she “gave” to Stacey was “express,” and it was very unexpected. Stacey didn’t feel like it fit her. She ruminated on it for quite a while (years) and eventually called Jackie back and asked if it was weird that she didn’t really connect with her word. She said it wasn’t weird at all, and they went through another session of purpose-finding. This time, the word they landed on was “guide.” And she knew that was it. Jackie said she’d been focused on WHAT she did so that she couldn’t uncover the WHY behind it all. She now wears the title “guide” proudly, so much so that the word and its definition are the first sentences of her LinkedIn bio.
- [25:30] The cornerstone of personal branding is authenticity. You HAVE to be who you are. Finding your personal brand doesn’t mean you have to jump off the walls and be crazy, exciting, sexy, and professional. You need to find what makes you unique. You’re not one-dimensional. Your brand shouldn’t be either. There are many aspects that make up your personal brand.
- [28:30] Stacey has a goal to eradicate the phrase “imposter syndrome” from the UH campus. When she hears students say they “have imposter syndrome,” she gets very frustrated. It means that someone, somewhere, told them they should feel that way. It’s not a new term. When counseling a student, Stacey first defines the word. An imposter is someone who pretends to be something they’re not for nefarious gain. Is that what you’re doing? These are students. Their job is to learn. If learning makes you an imposter, then we’re all imposters because we’re all always learning. If anyone else makes students feel like an imposter, they’re the real issue. No one is supposed to know it all. The phrase can be psychologically dangerous because it erodes students’ confidence. So much of it is like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when they pull the curtain back to reveal the “wizard” behind the curtain. Stacey wants to pull the curtain back to show that confidence is built and everyone is learning.
- [33:59] Consumers are not dumb. They know when a message, brand, image, etc., doesn’t feel right or true. Truth in advertising – it’s an old adage that remains very true today. Some will say it’s becoming harder and harder to see authenticity with AI and social media complicating things. While it may be getting more difficult, Stacey believes customers will continue to see through it. Just be honest and tell the truth.
- [36:50] Some view marketing and advertising as inherently exploitative. Stacey knows the company’s mindset when planning their marketing is critical to avoiding that. There’s even been a trend recently termed “the rise of the anti-influencer.” To think all advertising is disingenuous is a jaded view. Presently, the chasm between Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing is greater than it has ever been. There are no influencers for B2B. The Kardashians aren’t selling pipelines. They are selling clothing and makeup. Stacey believes there’s a sort of maturity gap when it comes to being an informed consumer. It’s not an age thing; it’s based on the experiences you’ve had as a consumer. Some people will learn the hard way. Ultimately, the experience of the consumer as they make the purchase decision is what businesses should care about most in their marketing.
Guest + Episode Links
Danny Gavin Host
I’m really excited for our very special guest, Stacey Piefer. She’s a senior career development specialist for the graduate team at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston and, as most of you know, that’s where I went to school and also still teach there, and that’s where I know Stacey from. So really exciting that she’s here. As the senior career development specialist, Stacey guides and supports people and businesses as they navigate a world where competition is fierce, but the end game is worth the fight. Before she moved to helping students, she had over 20 years of work in corporate branding, business communications, consulting and strategy. Finally, she’s an aspiring writer and working hard to have a published work within the near future, and I’m really excited for that. Today we’re going to talk about mentorship, personal branding and authenticity in marketing. How are you?
Stacey Piefer Guest 01:21
I’m doing well, Danny. Thanks so much for having me on. I’m really excited to get started and talk about these topics. Really. I really have a lot of passion about mentoring others and being a mentor and having been mentored myself, so I’m looking forward to sharing your thoughts.
Danny Gavin Host 01:39
Super and it’s been so cool to see your transformation. So just to let listeners know so I know Stacey because often we were put on a panel at the University of Houston where we would speak to really large marketing classes and give them sort of a sneak peek into the world of marketing. And often Stacey and I were on the same panel and that’s how I originally met her and when she was working in the corporate world, and it makes so much sense that now she’s actually at the University and helping people. So it really is a pleasure to have you here.
Stacey Piefer Guest 02:08
Thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, it’s kind of interesting, danny. I was thinking about that stay, how long we’ve known each other, and it feels like it hasn’t been that long. And then I actually counted the years and it’s been nearly nine years since you and I have met and we’ve been working together and interacting with each other, so it’s been a minute and I, you know, speaking to mentors, it’s so funny when you cross paths with people along the way in your career journey, how, even if it’s just for a moment in time, it’s easy to find and learn from others. So, and you’re one of those people that I’ve learned so much from, so this is a fun conversation to have with you.
Danny Gavin Host 02:42
Cool, thank you. I can’t believe it’s been nine years. It feels like it’s been shorter, but time does move quickly. So, stacy, let’s turn back the clocks. Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Stacey Piefer Guest 02:53
Yeah, so I am an alumnus of the University of Houston Before it was Valenti.
I did graduate from the College of Communications with a degree in communications and public relations, and that’s really where I got my start. But the funny fact is that even before that I started my career in broadcast journalism and that really, even though I did not pursue broadcast journalism, that really set me up just that two years experience of being in broadcast so beautifully set up my career trajectory in a way that I had no idea would come into play. So I really have had a metamorphosis through this career journey, starting in my education, to look back and see how that has impacted my career, moving forward to where I am today. So, I got so much out of my time at U of H in being in such a diverse environment with so many diverse people and so many diverse members of faculty who impacted my career trajectory. So that’s where I started and that brings me here today. It’s full circle because I’m back where I started my collegiate career. So that’s exciting to get back to the school, for sure.
Danny Gavin Host 04:04
Can you think of any experiences or stories, both inside and outside the classroom, that were impactful in directing your path? Think when you can look back today and think of anything.
Stacey Piefer Guest 04:14
I actually started out a couple of semesters at junior college and because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. But I was very fortunate to live. I originally come from Alvin and Alvin Community College had this amazing radio station and broadcast degree and so I started my first couple of semesters there and what I found out is that I was actually really good at broadcast journalism. I was really comfortable in front of the camera, I was really comfortable being in my own skin and I had some feedback from local news reporters saying you’re really good at this, which was impactful to me in making me feel really confident from a very early age of a potential career. And it also scared the heck out of me because it was kind of the first time when you’re a freshman in college or 18 years old and someone says to you wow, you could do this and make a career out of it. It was kind of this moment of like, well, that’s really cool, and then you turn around and think, well, that’s terrifying, because now, all of a sudden, I’m 18 and I have a career in front of me. So that feels weird.
Even though I knew I was pretty good at it, I also knew I didn’t want to do it long term.
So seeing and hearing from these people who were icons, especially in the local media market, kind of pick you out of the crowd and then going through that feeling of saying I don’t really know that this is right for me though long term, was an interesting way of really kind of navigating through conflict at a very early age and navigating through career conflict at a really early age.
So I was grateful to have that feedback and then at the same time I was also grateful of it kind of pushing me at a very early age to say step back, take an assessment and figure out, is this something that you really want to do? And thankfully I found out really early on it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do more of the business and strategy side of communications, which is what led me into U of H, being able to get that really hardcore business slash communication strategy down and pursue that line. So from a very, very early part of my career in my academic career I had this experience that where I really thought I was going one way and then it completely shifted to it in a totally different way, which again kind of brings me where I am today, kind of going through that stage of where I’ve been and where I’m going.
Danny Gavin Host 06:48
And imagine going from like a junior college to like the big campus of U of H was a transition. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Stacey Piefer Guest 06:55
I was born and raised in Alvin, texas, so kind of having that moment of feeling like I really want to get out and going to the big city, so to speak, even though it’s only 40 minutes away, was a tremendous experience. Because, again, going back to the diversity of the campus, alvin’s small, it’s only 14,000 people and a lot of the students who I graduated from high school with they did go on to UT, a&m, you know, sam Houston. They at least left the area and for a moment it did kind of feel like I was being left behind and that I made the wrong choice in having to kind of took a step back to figure out things academically before I moved forward. But I always knew, especially, that Houston was the place that I wanted to be because of. I knew it was going to open up my role for me, and you’re 100% correct, walking on the campus for the first time ever was a little bit of this overwhelming experience.
But I also knew from day one orientation this is where I wanted to be, because I looked around the room and there were students who looked completely opposite of me and they were in opposite colleges and they had different career goals and they had different aspirations and different life experiences. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I knew that’s what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be, and I also knew I wanted to do it in a large metropolitan market. I didn’t want to do it in just a college town, you know, so to speak. So I think having that access to the city was a huge impact for me and feeling like I was in the middle of it all, coming to campus for the first time, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
Danny Gavin Host 08:46
Yeah, it sounds like the perfect recipe. Stacy, how would you define a mentor?
Stacey Piefer Guest 08:49
I think that the definition of mentor is really, really broad and I actually give people permission and the empowerment to define it in the way that you feel like you’re most impactful to someone’s life, If it’s for a moment in time or if it’s long term. For myself, I feel like mentoring is a combination of a couple of things. First of all, I think it is just being kind, Kindness is free and it really is impactful for someone. You see someone and you offer them a smile. You say, hey, how’s it going today? It could change their world. So something as simple as a kind personal reading is a way to just make someone feel like they matter. And I think a mentor really their role is making people feel like they matter, that there is room for them to take time to help develop and grow someone.
I also think another word for a mentor is influencer. I think in today’s world we use that term influencer as like wear this necklace and go buy it, but I think we’ve forgotten how important it is to influence others and to really carry yourself in a way that others feel that they can emulate that or that they can help ask questions how did you get where you’re at? Why do you do this? How important is it to you to do that? I think that mentorship is so much about being an influencer in a way that makes a difference for people. And then my third definition of a mentor is really less of a teacher and more of a person who is available just as a listening, a soundboard.
Sometimes in this world especially, I know it’s very different for when I was 18, 19, 20 in college than it is now, and I think sometimes you just need our students, especially in young professionals, just need someone to say is this normal, Is this something that makes sense to you?
I feel this way. Is this normal, or am I the only person who’s going through this? So I feel like a soundboard is another term for a mentor, where you can just be that person to say let me give you a different point of view, or let me help you think about it in this way, or let me suggest to you you learn from this experience and take it from this perspective, as opposed to just taking it in the moment. I think a lot of times we need to have someone, just from a third party, say let me give you a different point of view and a different perspective. I tell students all the time I’m like you know what. I’m not the repository for all knowledge, but here is a path that you can consider. Here is something for you to consider and then make your own choices and judgment.
Danny Gavin Host 11:48
You know, that trio of definitions was really good. I want to just dig a little bit deeper into the second one because I think it’s something we may have touched on before, but not really. But I feel like the concept of an influencer and having that responsibility right. It’s kind of like lots of people are mentors and they don’t even know it, and you are an influencer and people are watching you and it’s important to keep that in mind and you don’t realize how you can affect people both in a positive and negative way. I just think that’s something important that we all have to remember.
Stacey Piefer Guest 12:23
Absolutely, and I encourage my students. Now you can tell the students who are right for that position of influencer, and they’re not always the loudest voice in the room. They’re not always the person who is going to be the extrovert. They don’t have to be. They can impact in other ways and I feel like I take my role as a mentor very seriously as well, because I want to make sure that I’m setting an example and I’m setting a role model example for either professionals or students to say this is an option for you to consider how you want to show up in this world, not only in the workplace, but in your personal space as well. How do you want to show up?
I think that’s the biggest thing that I impress upon our students and I push on our students is saying how do you want to show up in this world and really think about that? This isn’t about professional success. This is about personal success as well, and I feel like that’s for that influencer piece of it really comes in. This is about how you personally want to show up in this world and, like it or not, we bring our whole selves to work every day. We don’t just bring that professional side, we bring our whole selves, and you have to determine how you want to show up in order to be a whole person inside and outside the office.
Danny Gavin Host 13:50
Do you feel like a career specialist has to be a mentor in order to be successful? Or do you feel like some people just do the job within the box and maybe don’t go out a little bit further? And I’m not saying you should throw any colleagues under the bus, but I’m just wondering what do you think about that?
Stacey Piefer Guest 14:06
I think, by virtue of this position, you are a mentor. I think that it’s impossible not to be a mentor in this position. I know here on the graduate team here in Bauer, we all have a different way that we approach our students and, with that being said, we also all learn from each other about how to approach students. I mean, there have been times where you have a student who comes in and you’re just not gelling with them. It’s just like there’s something that’s just that’s not quite working, but there’s somebody else who has a different approach and it works beautifully for them. And there’s no pride of ownership here. It’s like we want to get our students in the place that they need to be to be successful, and if that means it’s not I’m not someone’s bag, that’s OK.
We learn from each other and we also rely on each other and I think, by virtue of this position, we all mentor students in a way that might be different from each other. I mean, I sometimes tend to be a little too like rah-rah and yay-yay enthusiastic, and there are some students who are like you’re too much for me, lady, I don’t know that I can come with us any longer so they tend to prefer someone who’s a little bit more low key, and that’s OK. I totally get that. So I think, by virtue of this position, we have to be a mentor. I don’t care if you’re here at the University of Houston or UCLA or the University of Texas or the Ohio State University. I think that if you’re in this position, you are automatically playing the role of mentor in some way, shape or form.
Danny Gavin Host 15:45
So now let’s dig into some of the mentors that have been influential in your life. I know there are two former colleagues who are instrumental in shifting your path from PR to branding. Why don’t we talk about them?
Stacey Piefer Guest 15:55
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know and, danny, you’ve heard this story a couple of times, based on our history being on our panel together. When I graduated from U of H, I went into public relations. I went in thinking PR was one thing and got into it and it was something a little bit different than what I was really hoping for and I wasn’t one of these people who was like, oh, pr, that’s being a party planner for all the big corporate parties. I didn’t have that mindset. But it had that aspect of media relations and working with the press and working kind of in these conditions that I wasn’t ready for and, to be quite honest, I did not enjoy working with the media. I just didn’t enjoy it. Even though my entire collegiate career was focused on doing something in the media communications world. I did not enjoy working with media. It just wasn’t for me. And I had the virtue of working for an agency that was based out of New York. It originally was called the Pernard-Hodess Group and then it went down. It went to HODIS, went to rebrand it to HODIS. Our specialty was employer branding and recruitment, marketing and recruitment, communications and employer choice, cultural development, and that’s really where I started moving into my branding part and the marketing part of my career. But I went into HODIS as a PR person.
I met these two gentlemen who brand the employer branding practice within HODIS, Mark Hornegan and Paul Arseneol. They were very opposite gentlemen. They kind of were. You know, one of them was very laid back and the other one was a little higher, stronger. You know, one had this vast knowledge of history and he was a total history nerd, self admitted. The other one was super into music and they were from the same generation, they were very similar in age and I talked to both of them and I said look, I am not feeling this PR thing any longer and I really want to start giving my career. Can the two of you help me break into this branding world and help me learn what branding is? And it was almost like the first time the two of them sounded identical and they just immediately said, yes, of course. How do we help?
From that point forward, they were great in helping bring me into projects that they were working on. You know, I wasn’t even in a position where I was working a little bit over time because I just wanted to learn at what they were doing and how they were doing it and what are the questions that they ask and what’s the heart of branding and how does it connect to marketing. And it was the two of them that really kind of brought me along and would you know, call me if it’s been a couple weeks and say how are things going? Have you had a chance to work on any other projects? Do you need me to pull you into something else? Or one of them would just say hey, I saw this article.
I thought you’d be interested in it. Take a look at it, let’s, let’s set up a time to talk about it. And it was great having these two people who, I felt like, really took me under their wing. In a way, they molded my career in a way that I don’t even think today. They have any idea of how impactful it was.
Danny Gavin Host 19:15
We’re going to have to share this episode with them.
Stacey Piefer Guest 19:17
I actually am. I was thinking about that. I was like I’m going to have to send this to them and just let them know how it was my experience with the two of them that really kind of set me on the path of where I am today and I look back on it and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world of learning at the heels of these two very influential men within that organization and really just their kindness in saying, yeah, I’ll go out of my way, 100%. You know, you call me, I’ll call you. We keep up with each other and let’s get you where you want to go.
And after working with them, my next natural step was outside of this kind of multi-dimensional agency and going into a very specialized branding agency, which is what brought me back to Houston and working at Savage Brands being a brand strategist. So it really was. You know, it wasn’t just like what do I do, you know, how do I approach this or what do I do with this topic. It really was life-changing and being able to learn from two people who had very vast experience and then also very diverse experience and two, two somewhat diverse ways of approaching brand and marketing issues. So that was great to learn from them from that perspective as well.
Danny Gavin Host 20:35
So talk about branding. We’re going to now move into personal branding. So really interesting. The first line in your about section on LinkedIn is the definition of a guide. To quote a guide is a person who guides, especially one hired to guide travelers, tourists, hunters, etc. To many, a guide is a much more organic, human feeling title than a career coach. Why did you feel that was the first word you wanted associated with you?
Stacey Piefer Guest 21:01
So I love that question because that brings me to kind of this metamorphosis of my career, the next chapter. When I started working at Savage Brands, they were embarking on this journey of developing an agency that was focused on purposeful brand building and working with companies who were interested in defining what their purpose is beyond building shareholder value. A lot of people have heard of conscious capital movement and have read Simon Sinek start with why and Savage was, and still is, very much steeped in this idea of building purposeful brands and as an employee, we also had to kind of learn how our purpose made a difference. When I first started, we went through this process with Jackie Dryden, who is the architect and the chief purpose officer of Savage, and you sit down with Jackie and you go through this series of questions and it’s a quasi therapy session. It really is, and everybody told me before I went in, it did mine. When I started there, like you know, you could laugh, you could cry, it’s just, it’s a lot, it’s really a lot of self assessment and we went through the process.
I was kind of like, okay, we went through the process and the first word that Jackie came up with for me was express and I was like that wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be something bigger and better than the word express was like. I don’t even know what that means and I ruminate on it. I kid you not, Danny, I ruminated on the word express for like three or four years, wow, and I was like I can kind of see where it might fit my purpose, but not really. And finally I called Jackie and I said is it weird that I don’t really connect with my purpose word? And she said no, it’s not. She said what are you feeling? And I said Well, express is even a word that I use often. I don’t know what it means, and so she said let’s go through it again.
So we went through this purpose exercise again and by the end of it she said your purpose word is guide. And I said oh my gosh, you’re right, it is guide. And I said what I said why didn’t I get there the first place? And she said it’s because you focused not on why you do what you do. You focus on what you do Communication, expression, marketing. She said you were so stuck in the what you do you could not get into why you did it and when I had that, that a-ha, that, just that Tiffany moment, I thought, yeah, it is, my purpose in this world is to guide others and whether that is a Fortune 500 company or whether that is a graduate student who is changing a career and is not exactly sure that they’re doing what they should be doing, my role in this world is to guide others and it is certainly a word that I feel connected with and it’s a role that I feel connected with.
I feel connected to being a guide, if you want to get really flowery about it, almost like you feel like a Sherpa, sometimes helping some of our students kind of find their way. And one of the things that I impress upon so many people in personal branding is that you can really, you really do have to find your why on, what is driving you and why does it matter and why does it matter to other people outside of what we are? And it wasn’t until I went through that second experience with Jackie in finding out my real true purpose word that I. It was my a-ha moment in so many aspects of my life, professionally and personally, of really feeling true to who I am and embracing that side of me of being a guide and that’s why it’s important for me to share it with others is to say you know, this is kind of my role and I wear that proudly.
Danny Gavin Host 25:18
I love that. I think we just made the whole podcast with that story. Kudos to the writers who helped me for digging that out, I’m glad. I would imagine your background in PR would also have placed a strong emphasis on personal branding. How would you counsel someone who worries their personal brand will be too professional? Kind of like cold, bland, lacking uniqueness.
Stacey Piefer Guest 25:41
Well, I think the cornerstone. I think you would agree, Danny. You’ve been in this world long enough also to know that there is nothing better than authenticity. You have to be who you are in order for everything to fall into place and be authentic. Personal branding does not mean you have to jump off the walls and be this hyper person that just cannot sit still and you’re into all of these different things. That’s not what personal branding is. Personal branding and branding in general is really your authentic self. It’s who you are.
I think when people stop worrying about whether my brand is exciting enough, Is it sexy enough? Is it going to get enough attention, I think as soon as you stop worrying about that, you start to figure out what makes it unique and why it’s unique and what makes your brand stand out from others, Because brand is multi-dimensional. It’s not just one aspect of who you are, it is a combination of a lot of different aspects that create your brand. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who’s a luxury real estate agent. He’s thinking about going independent. He said I think I’m just going to name my company just my first name incorporated or limited or whatever it might be. What do you think my brand should be, I said, well, you are the brand. You are the brand. That’s the thing. You have to figure out what that brand means In lieu of everything else. You are the brand. There is nothing but that.
Finding out what it is that makes that up is where I think a lot of people get kind of way late on this personal brand thing. Personal branding isn’t for me, because I’m not super extroverted, I don’t have an interesting background, I can’t stand on my head and juggle at the same time. I think that as soon as you take the worry out of it, then you start to really figure out who you are and what your brand is. No one takes anything else away from this podcast episode. Take that away, please. That you don’t have to be this super gregarious, outgoing crazy person in order to make impact with your personal brand. Your personal brand is who you are. Embrace it and build from that. I guarantee you everybody has a unique personal brand. They just have to take the worry out of feeling like it’s not cool enough.
Danny Gavin Host 28:25
Moving one degree away from that, definitely not to contradict with what you’re saying. One of the intentions of good personal branding is to encourage the perception of oneself as an authority in their field. Even that you typically work with college students, how do you challenge their likely imposter syndrome or feeling like they don’t have enough experience to be considered an authority figure?
Stacey Piefer Guest 28:44
Okay, first of all, you just absolutely touched on a topic that I am so incredibly motivated. My goal is to eradicate the word imposter syndrome from the campus of the University of Houston. I hear students say that they have imposter syndrome and it absolutely sends me into orbit, not because they feel that way, but because someone somewhere along the way has made them feel like they need to feel that way. When I hear the term imposter syndrome from our students, the first thing I do is I define the word imposter. Now, keeping in mind that imposter syndrome has been around for what it’s not new. It’s been a concept point for what I’ve seen, you know, for the past 56 years. But I define the word imposter which is a person who pretends to be something they’re not from the various games. And I asked my students they said are you intentionally deceiving people from the various games? And they’re like no, they say no, of course not. I said exactly You’re not an imposter, because imposter implies you are trying to be something you’re not in order to deceive others and gain something that’s not rightfully yours. You’re a student, your job is to learn, and I said quite, and I always say quite honestly, we’re all imposters. Then If that is your definition is different from mine. We’re all imposters because we’re all learning and you know, to me, anyone who makes someone feel like they’re not on the same level, or they don’t have the knowledge or they don’t have the experience, anyone who makes someone feel that way, they’re the ones who have the issue, quite honestly, because they’re not being real with themselves.
It’s impossible to be an expert in every single aspect of the work that you do, because this world changes so rapidly and our world changes very rapidly. In the marketing world especially, look at technology in the advent of AI and things that are. Every minute of every hour of every day is growing and evolving and becoming something different. My gosh, danny, when I mean, how often in the marketing world are we like oh, we have to learn a new platform. What does it do? How does it work? What’s the algorithm? Who is this for? Is this for consumer marketing, business to business? Don’t know, you have to dig into it. And that’s just our world of marketing.
And so for students who are in this rapidly changing environment and feel like that they’re supposed to, as an intern, know it all, my goal is to help remove that burden from them. You’re not supposed to know it all. No one wants you to know it all, otherwise you don’t need to be an internship, you don’t need to be an intern, you don’t need to be in an internship. So it’s almost like you read my brain. You read my mind, because that word imposter syndrome, I think it is dangerous. I think it’s psychologically dangerous and I think it is something that we need to eradicate from our marketplace, because it’s just not true In my opinion. It’s just not a true way that you should expect to show up in this world and in your job, because what is one of the number one skills that companies are looking for? Constant learners, and if you’re not constantly learning, then you’re not fitting that skillset bill, which means the imposter thing needs to go out the window.
Danny Gavin Host 32:25
So you don’t even want to tell someone. Hey, it’s okay to feel imposter syndrome because I know, right, I was like, yeah, we need to just throw that out completely.
Stacey Piefer Guest 32:34
Absolutely, because that erodes students’ confidence so badly. And when students come into the office, one of the things that I’m careful of not to my students is just be confident. Well, if you’re not confident, you can’t just turn around and be confident. You have to feel. Confidence has to be built. And in my mind, and keep it in mind, I’m not a psychologist, I don’t know what I’m talking about from a mental health aspect, that’s not my role, that’s not my area of expertise. But just being in this professional world, being a professional and seeing what the ends in the outside corporate America really looks like, everyone’s kind of making it up along the way. You know, you-
Danny Gavin Host 33:22
People don’t realize that.
Stacey Piefer Guest 33:23
Right, right. It’s like you know, it’s really like the Wizard of Oz and pulling the curtain back once you’re there and you’re working and you realize not everybody doesn’t know all the answers, and so for me, I tried to not invalidate. I don’t want to. I don’t want them to feel like their feelings aren’t important or they don’t matter, but I want to try to change their mindset in a way where that imposter piece of it is just not valid, especially where our students are in their career.
Danny Gavin Host 33:54
Love it, so I think we’re two for two right now. That’s good, all right. So moving on to authenticity in marketing. So what does it mean to you to be authentic in marketing?
Stacey Piefer Guest 34:04
I believe that consumers, whether it is a consumer of messaging, if it’s a consumer of images, online, social media, website advertising, person-to-person, one-on-one interaction audiences are not dumb. They know when something doesn’t feel right, when something doesn’t gel, it’s just not landing. They’re just not that naive. I believe that there is, you know, that old adage truth in advertising. Right, it’s still. You know the reason why, the reason why things become old statements is because they’re true, and there’s nothing more true in the marketplace and in the marketing and the branding world than truth in advertising. You can tell when someone is not really on the up and up with what the reality is. And to me, authenticity. I know that they’re saying it’s harder and harder to see people being authentic through you know again, I go back to AI through this. You know this world of art? You know you could make anything be an artistic masterpiece nowadays because all you have to do is ask a chat GP to do it. It’s getting more difficult, but I still believe that consumers are going to see through it and they’re going to ask the question: is this generated from a place of getting to someone’s heart in their mind, or is this just generated through? Let’s check a box, and I don’t care if you use AI to do it or if you’re using your own noggin to do it.
People are going to tell whether or not the audience. It’s in the audience’s best interest to hear it, see it, feel it, touch it, taste it, smell it. So to me, authenticity is as natural as literally just being honest and telling the truth about what you know. What’s the reality? We don’t live in a super realistic world nowadays and I think people are even more suspicious when something doesn’t pass the smell test. I think they’re going to. You know people are going to question it and they should. You know I’m fascinated by AI and it scares me to death at the same time. So it’s like I try to dig into it and really figure out what’s going on in that world and create kind of this mythology around a lot of what people say. Do it right, and there definitely should be a healthy dose of skepticism that goes into everything that everyone says and does and writes, because I think that people are going to get better at knowing whether or not something that they’re hearing or saying or reading is really on the up and down.
Danny Gavin Host 36:47
I’ve spoken with my colleague, one in particular, a couple of times. How you know, she’s married to an engineer who often harps on the capitalistic stereotype of marketing advertising and I know in your previous life you worked with a lot of oil and gas folk and engineers. So some people view all marketing as exploitative and disingenuous, like its only purpose is to convince people to spend money on things they don’t truly want or need. How does a company avoid being viewed that way with their marketing?
Stacey Piefer Guest 37:15
I think it’s the mindset that companies take when it comes to marketing and branding and communications Without it. First of all, I believe that marketing and branding is a critical business function and it’s a critical component of how businesses run. I think there is this very jaded view of saying that marketing and branding really is not for anything more than just to make people buy things that they don’t necessarily need. I think that there’s a new trend. Maybe her husband should check out the rise of the anti-influencer, the people on social media who are saying don’t buy this pen, let me tell you why. And then they go well, there isn’t what you don’t buy. The pen that got a million likes the other day because the one person used it says the greatest thing ever. There is this rise of the anti-social media influencer to really push that truth in marketing and branding and really help people not feel like they are spending time and money on things that they shouldn’t. I think there’s a real difference between, now more than ever, the chasm between B to C marketing and B to B marketing, I think is so it’s greater than it ever has been because there is that rise of the influencer. There are no influencers out there who are telling people the Kardashians are not selling pipelines. So when you get like business to business marketing, it’s still this very specific goal in mind of selling a very specific product with another company needs. But they are out there selling different products, whether that’s clothing or makeup or what have you, and to me that chasm is so much greater that it really is about being an informed consumer. I think we have the power as the audience and the consumer to really dig in and do our research and know what it is that we need versus what we want. And there’s a maturity gap I think of. How do you become an informed consumer? And when I say maturity gap, I don’t mean that as an age. That’s not an age thing, that is just a growth and experience thing, and some people learn the hard way that they’re spending money on things that they don’t need.
But I think that branding and marketing there certainly are here to stay because the marketplace is so competitive. There is no other way to really get messages out to the masses in the same basic way that advertising became king is to get it out to the masses. And where it becomes different is the experience of the consumer After they decide they’re going to go through that buyer journey and take a chance on something. What is that experience? Was it a positive experience or was it a negative experience? That’s the basics and I think it still rings true today.
We may have other competing voices that are a little bit harder to drown out than 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, but at the end of the day, it’s still about the experience for your consumer, whether it’s in the B2B space or the B2C space. I think some of the individuals who do have more than a healthy skepticism around branding and marketing they probably have a little bit better savings than the rest of us do but there still is that necessary that need to include branding and marketing as that critical business component, and I think it’s more companies approach branding and marketing as this is business strategy as opposed to. This is the nice to have that we need to put forth. So our banner is bigger at the conference. It’s a different mindset and when the companies who really bring it along for the ride at the table, it hits differently than the companies that are just looking at it. As I want the brightest, shiniest banner and the coolest website, it will hit differently.
Danny Gavin Host 41:34
So another key element of communicating authenticity as a brand is actually by listening. How does a company go about doing the listening and showing its customers that it’s doing so?
Stacey Piefer Guest 41:44
Actions speak louder than words and I hate to sound so pedestrian, but it’s really true. I hadn’t experienced not that long ago with a hair product that I bought and it’s a small company out of Miami and it was this dumb thing. I bought it online. I was familiar with the product. It wasn’t the first one I had used but it was this whole free shipping for a product over a certain amount and it was free two-day shipping and I waited, and I waited, and I waited and it never came. I mean, it was weeks and weeks and I called and I emailed, and I Called, and I emailed, and I called and I emailed and no one ever responded to me and finally the product arrived and I thought this is great because it’s a great product and I will never purchase from them ever again. They will never see another dime of my money, not because it was late, but because I didn’t get an answer. I didn’t have someone who was willing to have a conversation with me.
It makes all the difference in the world. It’s the same thing in the employment and the career process and the recruiting process. Students who are applying for the jobs and they go through the interviews and then it goes silent, you know. And they, they, they come to us and I say I don’t know what’s going on at company a, they ghosted me. You know. It’s the same thing that’s left an impression on their minds as well. The last time I applied for a job with them, I went through this process, they took my time and my effort and then they never called me again and that didn’t feel good. So I think that we’re in this world where companies really have to work over time in answering the call of their consumers and their audience.
And you know, I think that they will find that most people just want to express themselves, but the experience wasn’t great.
They just want to tell somebody and have someone hear it and, and Whether or not it changes the experience, at least that person can walk away and say well, at least they listen to me. And I think that there’s an unrealistic nature about that as well, because people will complain about anything and you know whether it’s valid or not. There’s a lot of these expectations, expectations not being met in the consumer space, where people feel disappointed by that, and I think that it’s a difficult prospect for companies. Feel like they can answer the call every single time. But there are certainly situations where, when you’re starting to get kind of those repeat messages from your consumers that this is not working for us and it’s over and over and over again, eventually you have to address it. Otherwise you’re just going to be living in this world of the one and done consumer, where they’re going to buy your product, they’re going to have that same experience in their out and you’re constantly going to be working in that cycle.
Danny Gavin Host 44:33
You know it’s funny as a kid oh, and this was pre-internet days I would always laugh like the back of the cereal box, like said you know, if you had a problem, call 1-800. Or like the back of like you know, tinfoil, like why would anyone ever call? But it’s funny, but at least you had a number right. These days We’ve got all these like online companies. A lot of them don’t even have a number right.
And it’s like yeah, it’s like, ooh, maybe we should, you know, turn back the. You know, look, look, look in the past and see how maybe some companies did it and it worked.
Stacey Piefer Guest 45:00
Yeah, you should think about that as well exactly what’s oldest, new again and and actually helps. It actually works. I agree, it’s it. You know I’m not the type of person like I’m not gonna go on someone’s Instagram page and like blow them up. I say you know you’re you stole my money, but you know it, it it does. You can kind of see how, when the social media Storms, can we get out of control where people just get so frustrated, you know they do go on to their Instagram and they do say things that they’re. That is just gonna, you know, really Decrease the brand equity and and really damage some of that reputation. So you know, there definitely is in companies best interest to just say something and do something, even if it’s the bare minimum. It’s better than nothing at all.
Danny Gavin Host 45:45
All right, stacey, it’s time for our lightning round. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna mention a category and you’ll let me know what comes to mind first.
Stacey Piefer Guest 45:53
Danny Gavin Host 45:54
All right, number one sports team.
Stacey Piefer Guest 45:57
Oh, Houston ashes go strolls.
Danny Gavin Host 46:00
We’re in the running.
Stacey Piefer Guest 46:01
Oh man, they need to get together though.
Danny Gavin Host 46:03
All right Musician.
Stacey Piefer Guest 46:04
Jack White really. Yeah.
Danny Gavin Host 46:07
Have you been a fan forever?
Stacey Piefer Guest 46:09
For a really long time. Yeah, as a matter of fact, I’ve seen him. I’ve only seen him in concert twice, but it’s been two different incarnations, so it’s been him as a solo artist and him with one of his bands, the Ray Contours. So Actually it was the. The last concert I saw before COVID lockdown was Ray Contours, and the first Concert I saw after COVID, was Jack White as an individual, so as a solo artist.
Danny Gavin Host 46:34
So Wow, that’s so cool, Love it. We’ll have to talk more about that later. Okay, um food.
Stacey Piefer Guest 46:41
Food type of food.
Danny Gavin Host 46:44
Yeah, let’s do type of food.
Stacey Piefer Guest 46:45
Um well, you can always get me. If someone says we’re gonna go eat Thai food, sushi, vietnamese, korean, any type of Asian cuisine, anyone who says that I’m there, I’m going. So.
Danny Gavin Host 47:00
Number one unknown Houston spot.
Stacey Piefer Guest 47:03
Oh, I think it’s probably not necessarily unknown but underrated. I think it’s the Houston Arboretum. I mean, if you ever go in, the goats are there cutting the grass. It’s like the best thing ever, it’s. It’s just the funniest thing to be in the middle of the city and see these goats eating grass.
Danny Gavin Host 47:25
Yeah, especially during the winter like oh my god, it’s the most beautiful place to be and you kind of like you can’t even believe you’re in Houston anymore.
Stacey Piefer Guest 47:31
Yeah peaceful, it’s just yeah Peaceful.
Danny Gavin Host 47:34
Yeah, of that. And then finally a fiction book.
Stacey Piefer Guest 47:36
Um, let’s see. Well, my favorite fiction is I like a lot of paranormal but also crime novels. So my absolute favorite fiction book has been the Alienist by Caleb Carr. I mean, it kind of has every, every aspect of it of both that scary thriller, horror, genre. Um, it’s also a period piece because it takes place in um early 19 1900s New York City. So Um kind of Jack the reverse style for not familiar with the alienist by Caleb Carr.
Danny Gavin Host 48:11
So Stacey? Where can the listeners learn more about you and the university?
Stacey Piefer Guest 48:14
Yeah, well, um, I’m pretty active on Linkedin, as is the rest of the Baur College of Business, which is where I am. We’re all very active on Linkedin and please check us out. Check me out on Linkedin, because I’m constantly posting and outlining about something that I hope is impactful to somebody in this world. That’s the easiest place to find me and to find us.
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