Get a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make Incentive Solutions possible. To read Part I in the series, about President and CEO Mark Herbert, click here.
Nichole Gunn’s office, situated in the corner of a hallway, is rarely ever quiet. Walking by, you can usually hear ambient music, animated discussion, or the muffled tones of more serious conversations. But at this exact moment, at 9:30 on a Thursday morning, the only thing you can hear is the scratching of pens.
Nichole Gunn, VP of Marketing & Creative Services at Incentive Solutions stands in front of the whiteboard, pausing for a moment. Her B2B marketing team, which Nichole Gunn has handpicked over the past few years, sits at rapt attention, scribbling notes. Six mood boards—mockups of potential homepages, part of Incentive Solutions’ rebrand—are taped to the walls.
Behind them, across the back of the office, a row of prints from Kevin Eslinger’s Alice in Wonderland series look on. The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledee and Tweedledum—equal parts colorful and dark. In their center, Alice, in her blue dress, is unimpressed—although there is a touch of idealism about her. With blonde hair and blue eyes, you might notice she bears a striking resemblance to her owner, standing at the whiteboard.
The Pursuit of Perfection
The six mood boards, taped to the wall beside the whiteboard, are the culmination of countless drafts. In the marketing drive, they bear names like Modern_Design2_v17 and Experiential_Design1_v21. Nichole Gunn has a reputation for having exacting standards and pushing her team to constant improvement, even if that means stepping outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes her revisions may even seem capricious until she casually mentions mid-conversation how those changes tie into a marketing campaign for a new vertical in 2020.
When Nichole speaks, she speaks quickly. Some of her coworkers tease her from time to time for the rapidness of her speech. But if you get to know her, you realize it’s merely symptomatic of someone whose mind is constantly following hundreds of threads and countless variables. Nichole is someone who recognizes the value of time and the need to be able to change courses at the drop of a hat. ‘Agility’ is a word that comes up frequently in marketing meetings at Incentive Solutions.
“Savannah,” says Nichole, “turn off the surveys. We’re not sending these out like this.” Savannah Bobo, a digital marketer, opens her laptop, taps several keys, and clicks her mousepad.
Earlier in the week, the mood boards were sent out to several dozen of Incentive Solutions’ clients, as well as other B2B marketing professionals in Nichole’s network, for feedback. A second survey was originally scheduled to go out today.
Nichole Gunn’s other quirk, besides her quick speech, is her constant movement. She paces in front of the mood boards. Stopping, she tears two of them down—months of work—crumples them up, and throws them in the trash. “You can ignore these two. That leaves four. Guys,” says Nichole, “we have to listen—this might be the most valuable feedback we’ve ever gotten. You can’t take this type of feedback for granted.”
You can tell by the tone of her voice that Nichole is a little frustrated but, more than that, passionate about the quality of work leaving her department. “When we got the surveys back, what was the number one criticism people had?”
“Too much copy.”
“Too much copy,” repeats Nichole, as she writes it on the whiteboard. “Guys, I can’t impress on you enough how important it is to really think through the user experience. You have to make it really, really easy for people to find what they’re looking for.”
An Eye for Detail & Distaste for Status Quo
Eleven years earlier, when Nichole Gunn was brought onto Incentive Solutions by founder and former CEO, Steve Damerow, it was for a purpose: To systematically examine processes and come up with solutions for how Incentive Solutions could improve its B2B marketing and its communications with rewards program participants.
Her role didn’t win Nichole any friends during her early years at Incentive Solutions. People get attached to their comfort zones and routines, even if those routines can be improved upon—especially when suggestions for improvement come from a newcomer. That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots at the time. Founder Steve Damerow and Mark Herbert, who would go on to become Incentive Solutions’ President and CEO, recognized Nichole’s drive and took a personal interest in her growth and development.
Mentorships and lifelong friendships were beginning to form. And Nichole had the weekends to look forward to, when she, her husband, Jeff, and their two dogs, Aayla, a German Shepherd, and Jesu, a Doberman, would explore trails and natural slides. Pictures of all three adorn her office, as well as little Gose, their most recent addition, an Australian Shepherd who just turned a year old. (Nichole Gunn and her husband had to have Jesu, Nichole’s Valentine’s Day present her first year with ISI, put down last year).
And while change can be slow and requires persistence and unwavering belief, Nichole Gunn was beginning to see growth—both personally and within the company.
Growth & Positioning Incentive Solutions for B2B Marketing Success
On a personal level, Nichole Gunn’s early years at ISI were formative. Incentive Solutions is a company predicated on learning and focused on growth. With Damerow and Herbert’s encouragement, Nichole’s vision for the possibilities of her personal future expanded. She realized that instead of a pre-defined path that included going back to college to earn a master’s degree, she could take charge of her own education, taking online courses, attending conferences, and gaining certifications in digital marketing.
Always driven, Nichole Gunn had her eyes set on bigger things. B2B companies, even today, are notorious for lagging behind traditional marketing practices, especially when it comes to digital marketing. Incentive Solutions in the late 2000’s was no exception. When Nichole Gunn began pushing for ISI to take their B2B marketing into the digital era, Damerow sat her down in his office and told her: “OK, you’re passionate about this, you understand it. Let’s move in that direction, and we’ll get you the certifications and the necessary knowledge to back up those suggestions.”
That creative freedom paid off. Taking ownership of Incentive Solutions’ web presence, and utilizing a combination of SEO, digital ads, and compelling content, Nichole Gunn was able to position Incentive Solutions at the forefront of digital marketing within the incentive industry. She was able to drastically improve web hits and digital leads for both Incentive Solutions and LoyaltyWorks (an incentive industry heavyweight ISI acquired in 2009).
Modernizing Organizational Culture
Never one to rest on her laurels, Nichole Gunn pushed for improvements to organizational culture as well. On her way to Director and, eventually, VP of Marketing and Creative Services, Nichole Gunn led successful campaigns for maternity leave, a more relaxed dress code, and remote workdays to offer her coworkers the occasional respite from Atlanta traffic.
Today, in addition to managing Incentive Solutions’ B2B marketing and communications, Nichole Gunn is instrumental in the product development of Incentive Solutions’ in-house incentive technology, and for helping plan the strategic direction of the company.
But, at 10:15 AM on a Thursday in March, all of her attention is focused on the rebrand.
Building a Brand
Nichole Gunn pauses in front of Experiential 1. “Our feedback on this one was generally good, but it’s still way too wordy. We want to make sure we’re getting to the point. And make sure you’re getting with Jerrell (Jerrell Jenkins, SEO Manager) for the keywords. We want to make sure we’re ranking for the right words.
“These two are close,” Nichole says, looking over Experiential 2 and Modern 1. “We just really need to make sure we’re hitting on our differentiators. If the people we surveyed say we’re not making it clear what we have to offer, and they work with us, we’re in trouble.”
Nichole Gunn recounts Incentive Solutions’ points of differentiation with her team: unique rewards, full hands-on support from ROI-certified teams of account managers, communication specialists, and software developers, a commitment to keeping all of the design, development, and updates to ISI’s incentive technology in-house.
“OK, here’s the deal,” says Nichole. “Who has plans tonight?” The members of her marketing team look at each other, don’t say anything. “Do what you need to do to clear your calendars for today. It’s going to be a late night. But if we can get these four perfect, we’ll let the board vote on Tuesday. That’ll give us this weekend for any revisions.”
Nichole glances at her notes, which, by now, extend from corner to corner of the whiteboard. “Does anyone want to take a photo before I erase the board?”
“I have everything,” says Daley Serpico, senior multimedia designer. “I can type them up and send them to whoever needs them…. Man, I was so sure you’d like these.”
“Daley, dear,” says Nichole. For a moment her whole demeanor softens, offering the occasional, very human glimpse at Nichole, the way she is, perhaps, when she isn’t responsible for pushing company initiatives through. “It’s not about what I like. I wouldn’t ask you to rework these if I didn’t think we could make it better.”
Nichole Gunn walks over to her desk and opens her purse. “Here, take my card. Get yourselves something to eat tonight. I have an offsite meeting at six, but make sure you’re sending me everything as you go, section by section, to speed up the approval process. We’ll reconvene here at 9 AM tomorrow to go over everything, and if we do a good job, I’ll get you out of here early—in time for the weekend.”
The B2B marketing team is packing up to leave. “And guys,” says Nichole, “make sure you’re leaning into each other. I promise you, things will move so much quicker if you work on this as a team. Each of you has your own unique perspective, and by really taking the time to sit down and put those together, I think we can create something really special.”
The impassioned note is back in her voice. Perhaps recalling her early days at Incentive Solutions, Nichole Gunn recognizes how valuable it is to be surrounded by passionate, supportive people who are good at what they do. She knows that isn’t something you can take for granted.
Interested to see the culmination of Nichole Gunn and her marketing team’s rebranding efforts? Keep an eye on our homepage in the coming weeks!