Board-meeting-2013

Here are 50 Austin Marketers You Must Meet

You see these lists all the time, right? They can be anything from the 50 leading marketers under 50 to the top power marketers in a specific industry. But not just any marketer can join this list. Its members consistently display commitment, innovation and a startling passion for marketing.

They’re Austin AMA volunteers.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: Volunteering for Austin AMA isn’t glamorous. No one gets paid and while the organization is financially healthy, we have tight budgets. Instead of taking selfies with Barack, Austin AMA volunteers are creating and scheduling emails, checking registrations, scouting for sponsors and scouring analytics. (Heck, I’ve had days where I’ve finalized strategic growth documents and then alphabetized nametags.)

But Austin AMA volunteers consistently contribute their time and efforts in order to deliver on the organization’s mission to help Central Texas marketers lead, connect and grow. They are very serious about the organization and its members.

As president of the chapter, I am deeply grateful and awed by their commitment.

Why do they do it? The answer varies according to which volunteer you speak with. However, the ones that often bubble to the top are professional development, creating stronger ties with the local marketing community, expanding networks and just plain having fun.

I personally have been volunteering for AMA for more than a decade now. As a result of volunteering, I’ve not only added a wide array of skills and insights to my work arsenal but have also been privileged to become friends with truly smart people that always provide fresh perspectives and thought-provoking insights – all volunteers.

Volunteering for Austin AMA can be “job” that doesn’t always get the full recognition it deserves amongst members or guests. Let’s change that.

As this week is National Volunteer Week, I’d like to invite everyone to leave a comment on this blog post thanking Austin AMA volunteers for their contributions, sharing times when a volunteer has helped you or even just listing what some of your favorite Austin AMA activities are. Let’s share the love!

If you’d like to join this elite group of marketers, I invite you to visit our volunteer information page or email volunteer@ascendmarketingtesting.site.

Austin AMA volunteers: Thank you for all that you do. This organization cannot exist without you! 

Give. Connect. Fail. Edit. Repeat.

Michele FeriaThere were many omnipresent themes at this year’s SxSW Interactive. With Julian Assange and Edward Snowden giving virtual keynotes, online privacy was the most palpable SxSWi 2014 theme.  Some of the other topics and emerging trends included: wearable tech, brand experience, big data, mobile first, health monitoring, predictive marketing, the way we work, and augmented reality.

This was my first time attending SxSWi and the thing I learned quickly was that each person has control over their experience. As a marketer eager to hear from my peers and industry partners, I wanted to immerse myself in this overwhelming, crowded, tiring and frustrating, but mostly wonderful and invigorating, experience. For five days I was surrounded by passionate and smart entrepreneurs, marketers, programmers, innovators and brands. It was amazing! I left the conference each day excited about what I would experience the next.

It was quite a challenge for me to narrow down my experience and takeaways from SxSW into one short blog. The following is a summary of two sessions that I found to be the most memorable and valuable.

My first session at SxSW was Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote session, “How to Rock SxSW.”   This was the perfect way to kick off my SxSWi. As a Jersey girl, I had witnessed Gary’s evolution from wine seller to owning his own media company, and was familiar with his authentic and blunt-yet-passionate, East Coast speaking style. Gary is great at giving his audiences valuable and memorable tips. The top two for me:

Give.

“You all are #$@&%*! takers!” For the past few years at SxSW, Gary states, it’s been, “Hey, let me give you my business card,” “Download my App,” “Invest in my Startup.” As an antidote, he challenged us to start thinking about what we can give to SxSW, not just what we can get. Once you start giving to others (or teaching), you will be surprised at how much value you receive in return.

Connect.

“Say hello to five strangers.” SxSW isn’t just about the sessions but it’s about connecting. As Gary put it, stop trying to meet who you think are the right people for you to meet and just start connecting with people – even if it’s the girl standing in front of you on the taco truck line. As Gary put it, “When you stop strategizing about people’s clout and start acting like a human being, you will win.” Putting that advice into action I ended up meeting and connecting with a film editor who, as it turned out, works with my creative agency and one of our top clients.

The last (and other standout) session for me was, “Getting to Why: Great Brands Create Great Experiences,” by Yahoo! CMO, Kathy Savitt.  I was lucky to get a seat at this popular session given that there was a line out the door 20 mins before her session began! Using examples from Yahoo! and other large brands, she shared her “Road Rules,” which aim to help guide brands in creating great experiences. The “rules” that resonated most with me:

Fail forward. 

“I think failure is one of the most noble things that an innovator can do…It’s such an important way of finding out what works,” Kathy stated. “Failing strips away the inessential.”  She went on to mention how as a culture we have become so afraid of failing that we end up stifling ourselves. Big companies are probably the most guilty of this – “in an effort to make the perfect decision on the most ridiculous of things” big companies become stuck. If you are going to fail – and you will, we all will – fail fast, and learn from it.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

“Great brands are just as much about what they don’t choose to do, as what they choose to do.” Kathy mentioned how time is such a precious commodity and that brands need to edit themselves and be more discriminating.  Don’t lose the ability to edit yourself.  Avoid doing things just to do them.

Serve millions, cater to one.

“The trick for all of us is to figure out how to tell individual stories – how do you allow users or customers to become part of the conversation and have a personalized experience?”  She went on to illustrate how Yahoo! is focusing on personalization technology. This technology allows for the product to become smarter the more it is used – essentially, allowing the user to become a part of the conversation.

If you’d like to read more about my experiences at SxSWi 2014, have a question, or have a comment or additional insights, please share and post it below. I would also love to hear about your experience at SxSW.  What resonated with you?  What were some of the key themes you noticed or that caught your attention?

Michele Feria is the North America Demand Programs Manager at IBM specializing in Account Focused Marketing. Targeting specific roles and accounts she develops and manages unique client experiences. A proud Jersey girl, now living in Austin, Michele spends her time enjoying a good red wine, traveling the world and searching for the best pizza and Cuban food in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter @MFeria.

Small Change for Big Change: How Microfinance is Changing the World

by Lauren Evans

I love waking up every day. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for a non-profit that funds poverty alleviation in the developing world through microfinance. Microcredit is small loans given to the poorest of the poor with a focus on women, so that they can start or expand home-based businesses to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. It’s a way to fund the entrepreneurial spirit in the unbanked, to people that have never had access to credit. The average loan size across the projects we support is a mere $164, and with that, a woman is empowered to use her own creativity and energy to change her own life and that of her family. What seems like pocket change to many of us – just a little more than $2 a day – over the course of a year, can change a family’s life forever.

The Roots of Microcredit

“Microcredit ignites the tiny economic engines of the rejected underclass of society. Once a large number of tiny engines start working, the stage can be set for bigger things.” – Professor Muhammad Yunus

Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, a self-made entrepreneur himself, started microcredit back in the 70s by funding small loans to women out of his pocket. After seeing how seemingly small amounts of money could change a woman’s and her family’s life, Dr. Yunus started the Grameen Bank in India and Bangladesh with the objective of helping poor women break out of the cycle of poverty. His solution to world poverty is founded on the belief that credit is a fundamental human right and that with access to capital and financial principles, the poor will help themselves. Today, more than 250 institutions in over 100 countries operate microcredit programs based on the Grameen’s pro-poor methodology, placing microcredit at the forefront of a world movement to eradicate poverty.

The Power of Microcredit

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  -Ancient Chinese proverb

Microcredit is a powerful vehicle. Not only does it breed microentrepreneurs and business owners, it is a process where money is repaid and reloaned again and again, creating a sustainable benefit for future generations. It’s not a form of charity – it’s giving a hand up, not a hand out. Microloans give back to those who do not have access to traditional financial resources, since many banks do not lend without collateral or in small sums, and many times the cost of managing borrower’s accounts is too high for them to afford. 

I traveled abroad this summer to meet some of these amazing microentrepreneurs firsthand, and my experiences have forever changed me. Since returning to the states and reminded of how lucky I am in this life, I have thought more about my experience visiting the women in villages of rural India and the favelas of Brazil and the positive impact microcredit has made in their lives. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn about microcredit and realize its impact firsthand.

Opening the Door to Opportunity

The favelas (slums) of Brazil are very depressed regions that suffer under the absence of basic infrastructure for safe living: plumbing, access to clean water, sewers and everything else we know that are basic rights to the developed world. When we entered the favelas, we met a 63 year-old grandmother who sells catalog clothing and lingerie from her home to support herself and her family of 8.  The microloans she received have helped her provide for her family and to fix up her home. She’s pictured here at her future store front.

The next microentrepreneur we met with is a seamstress and candy-shop owner who uses the loan she received to buy the equipment and goods she needs to run her business. She has gone from a single mother without a way to support herself, to making 120% profit and supporting her two children to put them through school. Next, she wants to get a freezer to sell ice cream.

The entrepreneurial spirit in these women is amazing and inspiring. Before we left the favelas, we met with a hairdresser who is trying to recover from a string of tragic events.  A few years ago, she had a very successful salon business, but a landslide caused the house behind her to crash into her home and business. In addition to the destruction from the mudslides, looters stole much of her salon equipment and items from her home.  Even though she and her family were left with nothing, microlending has helped her to begin working again. Her family now has hope. They can see a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Witnessing firsthand this woman’s resolve and determination to make it in the face of such adversity really moved (and forever changed) all of us. It’s hard to comprehend how they are able to do so much, with so little.
 
The Group Lending Approach and Why It Works

Solidarity (or group) lending is a model that requires small groups of individuals (usually 5-6 women) to work together to receive and repay loans.  What makes this model work is that each woman’s personal success is reliant upon the group’s efforts to make their payments as scheduled.  The group is small to ensure the commitment of its members, but it’s also large enough to prevent financial collapse of the group when someone can’t pay. Solidarity lending allows microfinance institutions to handle more loans by reducing the time and cost of managing individual lenders. Rather than requiring collateral, these NGOs require each loan recipient to make regular payments and attend meetings. The group lending model is so successful because it allows people to obtain financing while also making the efforts larger than one person, and it builds community and strengthens the bonds that help to make villages stronger and the poor more successful. Pictured here: a center meeting where several solidarity groups are repaying their loans.

I’m moved by the positivity and determination of these microentrepreneurs who do so much with so little. I’m thankful for the good fortunes in my life, for the generosity I have been able to provide, and for the generosity of others. Let’s teach a man to fish. As marketers and global stewards, we can open the door to opportunity so that poor entrepreneurs around the world can change their own lives.