5 questions with EOS Marketing & Communications

From a sunroom in Atlanta to rainmaking in Africa: How Margaret Gearing connects with her audience

Margaret Gearing
Margaret Gearing likes honest stories, smart websites and songs by Eminem.

The garage claims pride of place in many great beginnings. Storied men from Walt Disney to Steve Jobs launched their companies with little more than a bucket of dreams and a bench.

So I find it fitting that EOS Marketing & Communications originated in an Atlanta sunroom. Named for the Greek goddess of the dawn and founded in 2005 by ad mavens Margaret Gearing and Susan Frost, EOS started with bright ideas aplenty (and even a coffee table). Seven years later, EOS' accoutrements are more lavish: their office boasts a "Collaboration Center" with a 25 foot writing wall, and their full-service roster of goddesses (and a guy) cover everything from cause marketing to design to media coaching. No matter if the space is great or small, EOS' motto, "new day, fresh perspective" abides.

They're all about connecting and inspiring their audience to take action. In my chat with EOS' President, Margaret Gearing, we covered EOS' approach to email marketing, nonprofits with global impact and more. It's an interesting agency succes story, and it's my pleasure to share it with you.

From desktops to iPads to QR, it seems we'll be communicating on an area the size of a contact lens any minute. So about that 25 foot writing wall — how does all that brainstorming fit in the incredibly shrinking ad space?
The board is a collaborative means to an end. Having so much white space allows us to explore every facet of an idea, and everyone gets to contribute. The belief is: everything is possible, let's just write it down. We identify the big idea much more quickly this way versus tomes and reams of data that distract from edgy thinking.

How do you maintain a brand's voice across the marketing mix while tailoring it to the audience and medium you're targeting?
We start our strategic program by trying to come up with the big idea — the compelling proposition that will engage people. We try to keep it at its simplest level possible; even if you were sitting down to explain this to your mom, you'd be able to easily describe it. The last thing we ever think about is the medium in which these things will appear. We base it on whom we're trying to reach, customizing the tactical tools that best reach them.

I'll give you an example of what we're doing for MillBridge, a real estate development in North Carolina, and how we're building Emma into it. For this project, we've taken a new approach. Instead of writing for MillBridge, we're having the people who live there tell MillBridge's story in their own voice. We're looking at Gen X'ers, Millennials and empty nesters. The common denominator amongst all three is the same: people want a sense of community. They want a sense of authenticity.

We've done video interviews with everyone, including the elementary school principal. The voice in that kind of message comes across honestly, and it's better than anything I can write. You hear an empty nester saying, "This is the home I've always dreamed about. Jim and I started out life in a little Corvair, and everything we owned fit in it. Today we live here in this beautiful home." The viewer is right there in her living room, listening to her say this. If I wrote that, you're just going to dismiss it as some marketing person making stuff up. With the testimonials, you really get a sense of who's living there today — funny things people say, and the personality of the place.

What we've done with MillBridge is an example of taking a traditional, single family home community and turning it a little bit on its head. This Christmas we had a Lighting of the Bridge event that tapped into the iconic, romantic nature of the bridge that runs through the community. It resonates with prospects who want to be a part of it. Our message is, "We happen to have a lighting of the bridge." We don't add, "… on a special night in December with sparkling lights that glitter through the sky." No. We don't do that. We just let people talk, and they bring it to life.

My intuition about the market today is that most people want one thing: respect. That you think their time is important enough for you to tell the tale well, and that you would humbly appreciate them being a part of whatever it is you're doing. Respect and humility go hand in hand.

People have choices so you have to walk in their shoes to recognize what's important to them. Which is why you have to keep a lot of tools in your toolkit. Different things resonate with different types of people. If you're pregnant, you want to be near great schools. Seeing a school principal in a MillBridge video makes you feel good about the community.

Once we have that little gem of an idea like, "The things that bridge us together," that's what flourishes and moves out into social, e-blasts, etc. Email will play a bigger role in our efforts for this North Carolina community because we will have prospects. And we will want to talk with them on a regular basis.

How does a real estate developer go about finding and connecting with new prospects?
Everything we're doing is driving people to the website to sign up. Period. The number one objective of our traditional media is to reinforce the brand statement on the website. It's not to do the sale. It's about allowing people to find the content they want, and view testimonials from others. Our belief is that we're going to have an easier time getting people to sign up or register once they are able to do this.

When I look at Emma and email marketing for MillBridge, I look at them as a link to getting the audience into a bigger experience which is the website, and ultimately into allowing us to have their name and letting us talk to them — not marketing to them, but talking to them.

EOS has a passion for giving back. Can you tell us a little about the work you've done, and share a tip for other nonprofits that are trying to inspire their audience to act?
We work with the Replenish Africa Initiative from The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (RAIN). The promise of RAIN is clean water. Africa is so huge as a continent that no one company can take on this challenge; it takes the efforts of many. Consequently, when we started that campaign, they wanted a donation mechanism built in. So we had to look at this from a different point of view: what's the simple, big idea that will make that happen?

The idea was to start a social water movement, supported by people called RAIN Makers. We developed a tagline to engage and excite our audience: "Drops of hope, waves of change." An emotional positioning immediately engages people.

We're trying to reach socially responsible people who care about the planet. And that happens to be the younger generation. There's a global consumer movement afoot, insisting that companies are cognizant of the natural resources they're using, and consequently do something meaningful to minimize their footprint and give back.

Email will play a part in this, but it will probably be small at first. We're starting the rollout in South Africa, and we know the penetration of internet across the continent is pretty low. So we're going to have to leapfrog and do things like mobile marketing. In the U.S., we can go out through email and blogs and other areas. Emma is built into our database now on The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation's website. Our ultimate goal is creating email followers in order to maintain close contact.

As you can see in our Daybreak email campaign celebrating the first decade of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, the photos are compelling, the stories are short and sweet, and you have a link to see the timeline on the website so it gives you a sense of what the bigger picture is.

My one tip for nonprofits is to get people to believe they make a difference. A lot of nonprofits ask for donations like it's a one-shot deal. The challenge is making people feel like they're part of a bigger movement, pushing that rock up a hill. A lot of it has to do with language — being completely transparent with a certain level of humility, and not asking for too much. Just whatever people can do. I read Wendy Smith's book, Give A Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World, before we started working on RAIN to understand how to help people find simple ways to make a contribution.

The other huge thing I've learned through RAIN is to show success and progress, and provide attribution to those who did it. The names make it real and bring it to life. Our map talks about who we're helping and how we're helping. Sharing results shows that the mission is happening now; it's real.

It took a lot of moxie for you to strike out on your own and launch EOS. What was your theme song when the going got tough?
Okay, I had two theme songs. First, Eminem's, "Lose Yourself." Its chorus goes like this: "Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip? You can do anything you set your mind to." The other is the classic Sting anthem, "Brand New Day."

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