“My job is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the start”

I’ve set out to disrupt the influencer marketing space by reintroducing trust to brand relationships through my company, GRIN. We help brands create honest connections with influencers through a relationship-based model, enabling brands to nurture and own their influencer relationships. Allowing brands to develop relationships with influencers with the goal of becoming true believers and spokespeople for their companies. This leads to genuine endorsements and authentic influencer marketing.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Brown, founder and CEO of GRIN.

Brandon Brown is the founder and CEO of GRIN. With over a decade of experience in marketing, Brandon is an expert in developing and curating authentic relationships for the brands, partners and teams he works with. Brandon resides in Sacramento, California and can often be found supporting local small businesses or listening to his favorite podcasts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been drawn to the marketing space and began my career in action sports and consumer marketing at Red Bull. During my eight years at the company, I built one of the most extensive opinion leader programs (before “influencer marketing” and Instagram were popular) in the world for Red Bull. Through that process, I grew to intimately understand how to drive outcomes through “opinion leaders” as Red Bull calls them.

In the world of action sports, youth culture and music, the key to success is being genuine and real. I learned that the core problem influencer marketing solves is brand trust, and knew I could make a difference in the industry by focusing on a relationship-based approach versus the hyper-transactional model that was pervasive at the time.

I knew I had something more significant to contribute to the industry as a whole and took the next step in my career by founding GRIN. GRIN was created to bring real connection back to brands and influencers.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Unfortunately, many brands today think they can shortcut trust. They pay personalities to promote products they don’t actually use or believe in as a means to an end. Marketers traditionally have not had the patience and insight to give this marketing approach the attention and investment it needs and deserves. The result is influencer marketing that feels fake and inauthentic, breeding distrust (and anger) among consumers. The reality is, consumers don’t hate influencers — they just hate being sold a lie. The influencer marketing model is broken. I believe that trust is the secret to effectively building a valuable brand through influencer marketing. When people trust an endorsement and sense a real relationship, they’ll believe it.

I’ve set out to disrupt the influencer marketing space by reintroducing trust to brand relationships through my company, GRIN. We help brands create honest connections with influencers through a relationship-based model, enabling brands to nurture and own their influencer relationships. Allowing brands to develop relationships with influencers with the goal of becoming true believers and spokespeople for their companies. This leads to genuine endorsements and authentic influencer marketing.

This disruptive approach to influencer marketing results in authentic content and deeper trust with the consumer. Each relationship strengthens the overall influencer marketing program, creating a dynamic asset inside the organization and a rich network of authentic content creators to be used across the marketing mix.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are too many to count with GRIN. I remember back on my time at Red Bull and thinking that you can buy trust. I found out quickly that no matter how much you pay someone, you’re either a part of the culture or you’re not. Leading with money, without giving back to the community or person you’re supporting in a meaningful way, is a quick way to look out of touch and be counterproductive to your goals.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Personally, I have a handful of people I lean on for working through challenging issues. My family and close friends, along with my co-founders. In business, I have mainly sought out founder/CEOs who are in a position company-wise where I want to be in 2–3 years. Some people that come to mind from early on when GRIN was smaller are Ryan Denehy of Electric AI, Fred Stevens-Smith from Rainforest QA and Tyler Smith from Skyslope. The best piece of advice I received from all of them in various forms was to spend an inordinate amount of time on building the leadership team. To find functional leaders who map well to the culture and who have seen your scale before. I’ve spent a lot of my time doing that. It’s been the highest leverage activity I’ve done in the company to date, by far.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is positive when an industry has gone stale. When companies stop innovating and there are still problems to be solved, change is needed. Positive disruption benefits not only a specific industry, but all involved, and shines a new light on the possibilities that exist in a given space.

For instance, influencer marketing was inauthentic in the beginning. There was no brand trust, and companies were more focused on buying endorsements rather than creating real partnerships. By shaking up this mindset and bringing a new approach to the industry, brands are now more focused on building authentic long-term partnerships with influencers and creating more trust among consumers, resulting in greater revenue, better influencer and consumer relationships and a stronger, more cohesive brand image.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“My job is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the start”

  • This is around developing conversational capacity. Keeping an open mind in conversations internally and having the humility to truly see a new way or solution. Ask questions to find the best outcome. It’s hard to do and doesn’t come naturally to most — including me. That statement is a good reminder.

“Do you think? Or do you know?”

  • A lot of people make statements that are factually inaccurate based off of personal biases. This statement is designed to cut to the heart of that when discussing possible paths forward.

“Your level of success is directly correlated to the amount of pain you are willing to endure”

  • A little dark, but it’s true. There have been multiple times in our journey building GRIN where the logical path was to shut the company down but my business partners and I persevered. We’re now being celebrated publicly for the pain that we endured privately to get here. And we still have a very long way to go!

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

At GRIN we practice what we preach. We believe in creating long-term relationships with our customers and look to educate and support their process of starting, scaling and growing their marketing strategy with influencer marketing. That genuine desire to power the future of marketing has been the most effective strategy to bring in leads. We show that by creating content to help everyone who visits our website, reads a blog post, downloads an eBook, attends a webinar, and walks through a demo. It’s building that trust with what we put out that drives qualified leads.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m focusing on growing GRIN so we can push for more innovation and disruption within the influencer marketing space. An example of this — we recently launched a new dashboard reporting suite, offering the most comprehensive reporting available in influencer marketing. It allows brands to customize their reports, making yet another step of the influencer marketing process more personalized and authentic.

We have big plans for the future of GRIN, and more importantly, for the future of relationship-led marketing as a whole! Stay tuned to see what’s next.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson is one of the best books I’ve ever come across. It is a very simple concept, but very powerful. The idea is that success is built by doing small, little, mundane things over and over every day for a long period of time. It doesn’t occur in some sort of “breakthrough” moment — that’s a myth that the media perpetuates, but it’s not true. The way you succeed in a massive way is by doing crappy, boring things, over and over and over and over…. every day. It’s an incredible book that will change your life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You have to cross the line just to remember where it lays”

  • It’s actually a quote from a Rise Against song called Satellite. I think this is a bit silly, but I enjoy it. The point is that if you’re really pushing the limit, you’re going to piss some people off and make some noise. It’s better to take a stand for something and risk crossing the line versus holding back your beliefs. You don’t know where the limit is until someone tries to pull you back. You can always course correct, so stay true to what you really believe and push the limit. I think it’s applicable to almost everything.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would work with creators, athletes, tastemakers, musicians — all people who have a captive audience — and help teach them to bring honesty back to their brand collaborations. The truth is that influencer marketing has made brand advocacy, athlete marketing and all of the original human-touch disciplines inside marketing feel fake. It’s a little sad. Creators who have an audience should only collaborate with a brand that they believe in, products they actually use and should never lie to their audience to make money. That’s part of our mission at GRIN, to improve the buying experience through trusted endorsement.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: Brandon Brown

Twitter: @Brandon_Brown

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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