In our latest conversation with marketing and communications leaders in the heavy industrial space, Jonathan Rowland spoke to Erik Rancatore, who describes himself as a “brand and creative strategist, data-driven marketer, visual storyteller” on LinkedIn, currently working as Director, Association Marketing, at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Give us a brief Twitter-sized history of your career so far.
How do you end up as a brand and marketing strategist? You start out in broadcasting, shift to public relations, spend time in both the sports and government-relations world, before shifting to content and multimedia creation. Does that seem ‘traditional’? Sure.
You’ve worked in a fairly diverse range of industries through your career. What have been the key communications lessens you have learnt along the way?
It’s so important to always start by listening. In all of the places that I have spent time during my career, I start off with a listening-tour, sitting with as many people as possible to learn as much as possible. Taking time to hear about the opportunities, the pain points, and the internal expertise allows me to build a marketing and brand strategy that can best reflect the organisation. I’ve found that prioritising the time to build trust among your colleagues has to be top of the list whenever you approach a new organisation.
What are your top tips for developing a communications strategy that makes an impact – especially in an industry that is not necessarily in the public eye?
Have a solid brand strategy. Not only can that help tie in your messaging, creative, and digital efforts, but it can empower your team to know what your identity is and what you stand for.That guidance can also help you be more aggressive and forward thinking about the opportunities that lie ahead, putting you in a position to be proactive instead of reactive.
You describe yourself as a “data-driven junkie” on your LinkedIn page. How do you use data to empower your communications strategies – and what tools would you recommend?
Every brand and marketing strategy should be informed with data. Whether it be looking at the success or weakness of a campaign or at potential market expansion opportunities, everything can be better executed when you have the right data at hand. It also helps set the right internal expectations. Team members can see how their work is directly impacting a strategy and use it as a chance to notice new opportunities.
There are so many great free sources out there, but I’d simply start with using the data in your existing channels more purposefully. Look at your website and social media analytics. Where are users spending the most time? Are they leaving at a higher rate? What are they engaging with the most on social media? Are their demographics that certain content pieces are resonating with? These are simple things to ask and look at as you make more strategic steps.
Brand storytelling… content marketing… inbound…. What do these mean to you and how important are they in the modern industrial marketing and communications world?
There is nothing more powerful than a good story (wasn’t that the line Tyrion used to wrap up Game of Thrones?).
Building a strategy with storytelling as your output is what helps connect your customer to your purpose. It doesn’t matter how niche or specialised that industry is – your audience is always searching and in need of that connection.
But that also gets to another interesting piece. So often we think of those that we want to influence versus those that are already connected to us. Let’s take LinkedIn for example. Maybe you have 5,000 followers on your company page. Are every single one of those people connecting and engaging with the stories that you share? Is it just a small minority? If not, maybe the story your trying to tell is to niche. Broaden the scope and try to connect with those that have already opted into being a part of your community.
Do you have any tips for managing a negative narrative and promoting the positive?
You have to embrace it all. What is so amazing about this particular moment is that brands and companies are being forced to be their authentic selves. If you know what your values are, if you know what you stand for, then you are in a position to manage those negative narratives that come through.
What opportunities (and challenges) do new media forms offer and how important are they compared to more traditional media?
All media are critical, and one piece is not more important than another. Our customers are all over the place, consuming news and content across all of these channels. What is really amazing and exciting is to build programmes that fit each of those outlets.
Sometimes you’ll find that the engagement is stronger in one channel over another, or you’ll find that your message is better received in another form. But what is most important is consistency. Look at your resources and where you can deliver regular updates to your audience.
Do you have a favourite story or campaign that you have helped develop?
While at the National Marine Manufacturers Association, we started a series called ‘Memory Makers’, where we document the behind-the-scenes stories of the people that make our industry possible. These are emotionally-driven pieces and showcase the personal connection that these amazing people have to their work.
When we released the first instalment, not only did we see a strong supportive response from our membership and the broader industry, but we saw the local communities where these pieces were produced embrace and share that story.
Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
I have been so fortunate to have worked and learn from some of the most incredible people. From Mary Beth Deady in my high school years, to my current colleagues (and former internship supervisors) Ellen Bradley and Kelly Kaylor. They all encouraged curiosity and have always been willing to help me progress in my career.
Eddie Brambila and Jacqueline Moreno gave me more bandwidth and encouragement than I deserved in my very first job. Without them, I do not think I would have ended up where I am today.
Finally, Bonnifer Ballard and Holly Arthur taught me the importance of listening and being strategic. They both fundamentally changed that way that I approach process and I’m so fortunate to have had the chance to work for them both.
How you turn off from the day job and relax?
It is pretty easy for me – and I’m a firm believer in a work-life balance. I have an amazing wife and a brilliant son. My favourite moments are in the things that we do together as a family, whether it’s a hiking day trip, exploring new restaurants, or building the most amazing tent that we can.
But, when we’re having our own time, I’m a fitness-aholic, enjoy reading, and spend endless amounts of time fiddling on the ukulele.
Based in the Greater Chicago region of Illinois, US, Erik Rancatore is Director, Association Marketing, at the National Marine Manufacturers Association. A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (BA Broadcast Journalism), and Northeastern Illinois University (MA Communications and Media), Erik has over a decade of experience in communications in industries as varied a nuclear power, cement and, now, marine engineering.
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