What is a Gutsy Brand?
Some brands just seem to ‘get’ people. They appear to connect in all the right ways and have loyal, avid followers.
When we look at what they have in common, we see some similarities. We notice that they went beyond the superficial and the comfortable, that they dove deep to understand people at new, multi-dimensional levels, and that they acted on what they discovered.
Above all we see four repeating characteristics:
- They lead with empathy
- They demonstrate a pioneering spirit
- They stand behind bold ideas
- They seize opportunities where others see tradeoffs
At GutCheck, this is what we call a Gutsy Brand, and we love to help tell their stories to inspire others to follow their example.
What’s New From Gutsiest Brands
Unicorn Brand with Tracey Halama
Tracey Halama experienced the life-changing results of Vital Proteins firsthand and became an avid fan when it was still just a business idea her friend and Vital Proteins founder, Kurt Seidensticker, had in 2013. Drawing from her own experience with the product and sticking with a consumer mindset, Tracey has helped oversee the success of the unicorn brand, helping it achieve over 100% growth year on year in 2021 and be acquired by Nestlé Health Science Group. In this fascinating episode, Tracey talks with GutCheck Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, about why more women should be in leadership roles, learning from failure, the importance of a growth mindset and not being afraid to take risks.
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Tracey had the ‘Midwest work ethic’ instilled in her from a young age, starting when she waitressed in high school at a local diner in Michigan. She spent her early career in management in the technology sector, working for Fortune 100’s like IBM and Dell before a chance meeting with an old friend at a networking event set her on a new career path. Tune in to this episode to hear Tracey discuss how being in the right place at the right time helped Vital Proteins create a brand-new product category, the importance of authentic leadership, and why she relates to Erin Brockovich. And yes, they do talk about Jennifer Aniston.
Tracey Halama currently serves as the CEO of Vital Proteins, overseeing the day-to-day business operations, and growth strategy of a high growth billion-dollar brand, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nestle Health Science. Tracey has been with Vital Proteins since the inception of the company in 2014 first serving as a board member, then as Senior Vice President of Sales, Chief Revenue Officer, President and now CEO of the trendy wellness brand. Prior to Vital Proteins, she spent 20 years in management in the technology industry working for Fortune 100’s like IBM, Dell, as well as several Silicon Valley startups. She is a founding member of Chief, the women’s empowerment and networking organization, is an active speaker on both leadership and consumer products topics and serves on multiple boards, including wellness/beauty brands and a Chicago based nonprofit organization. In her free time, Tracey enjoys hiking, gardening, spending time with her two teenage daughters, and their mini Goldendoodle and Vital Proteins Chief Puppy Officer, Ollie.
She Deserves More with Orion Brown
Being a Black woman entrepreneur, Orion Brown has faced volatility and change throughout the course of her career. Orion likes to joke that she is like a cat with nine lives, except with nine careers. After being pre-med in college, she pivoted and started her career working at JP Morgan Chase in project management. After business school, she discovered an interest in brand management and worked at Nestlé, Kraft, and Hasbro before taking a vacation that changed everything. Her founding of BlackTravelBox was the direct result of having a problem, knowing the solution, and going out and making it happen (although there’s a little more to it than that!). In this truly inspiring episode, Orion sits down with GutCheck Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, to share her adventure of building a business, how her personal experience helped identify a huge opportunity in the personal care space, and why she thinks travel is self-care.
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In this fascinating episode of the Gutsiest Brands podcast, Orion shares her passion for creating truly inclusive products, why she thinks Black women are powerhouses, the importance of knowing what you’re willing to lose, and the lessons in conviction that helped her stand boldly behind her new idea. Plus hear why Orion thinks Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind best represents her career journey, why the brand she first remembers from childhood is Sun-Maid Raisins, and which brands she thinks are the gutsiest.
Orion Brown is the Founder & CEO of BlackTravelBox®, a premium clean beauty brand targeting women of color. She is a brand strategy consultant by day with over fifteen years’ experience dynamically leading cross-functional teams across multiple industries. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she led brand strategy for Oracle, led consumer brand marketing efforts for the Transformers and My Little Pony digital brands at Hasbro, and she spent the bulk of her brand career at Kraft Foods. There she led marketing, management, and operations initiatives across several beloved global brands. She received her Bachelor of Arts from The University of Chicago and holds an MBA from Duke University. Orion is a lover of travel and food, spending most of her free time outside of career pursuing the best of both.
Sail Away with Ellen Bradley
Before becoming Chief Brand Officer and SVP of Marketing Communications at National Marine Manufacturers Association, Ellen Bradley admits she had no idea what they did. Now, on behalf of their 1,300 member companies, Ellen leads the Discover Boating brand, oversees marketing and communications for its 12 boat shows across the United States, and helps share the recreational boating industry’s voice as it engages with its many audiences – from boaters to investors to policy makers. In this episode, Ellen joins GutCheck CEO, Rob Wengel, to discuss NMMA’s gutsy marketing campaign, finding the right lens to speak to your audience through, and why she thinks being real is the key to success.
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Having started her career in journalism, gradually moving into public relations and eventually marketing, Ellen has always loved words and storytelling. In this fascinating episode of the Gutsiest Brands podcast, Ellen offers a unique view of brands and marketing – diving into using lifestyle marketing to unite different audiences, discovering the root emotions of people in your community, and developing an authentic voice. She also reveals the first brand that she remembers connecting with as a child was Whitney Houston, the book that has influenced her the most recently in both her work and personal life is Death by Meetings, and the things in pop culture – including TikTok and sports – that she finds inspire her work.
Ellen Bradley is the Chief Brand Officer and SVP Marketing & Communications for National Marine Manufacturers Association, the leading trade association for the North American recreational boating industry. She recently led the re-brand of Discover Boating and creation of its new campaign, “See You Out Here”, working with current boaters to invite the next generation to experience the joy of life in, on and under the water through stories of real water enthusiasts. Ellen volunteers her time across the outdoor community and sits on the boards of directors for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Water Sports Industry Association. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two small children, and can be found boating on and running along Lake Michigan.
Live the Brand with Todd Smith
Before becoming CMO of Traeger Grills, Todd Smith spent his early marketing career at the Coca-Cola Company working on brands like Powerade and vitaminwater, then later at EXOS, focusing on creating the best consumer experiences to engage their audiences. In this episode Todd sits down with GutCheck CRO, Jess Gaedeke, to discuss Traeger’s fascinating campaigns that put consumers in the driver seat, how inclusivity plays a role in marketing, and why Todd feels like he can relate to Forrest Gump.
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Todd remembers when he was nine years old, and Nike launched the Air Jordans. His personal experience as a consumer and the community feeling the product and campaign created is what he attributes to launching his interest and ultimately his career in marketing. Engaging with a brand on a personal level (or “living the brand”) and creating memorable consumer experiences has been a key driver to Todd’s success. In this insight-packed episode of the Gutsiest Brands podcast, Todd explores building and changing the brand experience through empathy, why being opportunistic can get you ahead, and the importance of living the brand when it comes to successful marketing.
Todd Smith is the Chief Marketing Officer at Traeger Grills and former Chief Marketing Officer at EXOS and Group Brand Director, vitaminwater/glacéau at The Coca-Cola Company. Traeger Grills has been revolutionizing BBQ grilling and outdoor cooking for over 30 years with one simple, all-encompassing cooking solution. Todd is a results-oriented and experienced brand marketer with expertise in brand strategy/positioning, CPG, youth/lifestyle marketing, product & packaging innovation, design, advertising & communications, interactive/social media, field marketing, and sports & entertainment marketing.
Light Bulb Moment with Irena Todd
From the initial spark of an idea, to participating in the Telluride Venture Accelerator and ultimately launching a successful brand, Irena Todd, has a fountain of knowledge and advice for entrepreneurs. Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Fresh Monster, Irena left Unilever and working with brands like Axe and TRESemmé, to pursue a light bulb moment. Tune in as Irena sits down with GutCheck CRO, Jess Gaedeke, and hear how empathy starts from a personal place and should go beyond the superficial, why you shouldn’t be afraid to pave new paths, why she thinks women make great CEOs and entrepreneurs, and more!
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After becoming a parent, Irena Todd had a light bulb moment and realized there was a need as well as an opportunity for more all-natural products for kids. Taking lessons she learned from her time at Unilever, she and her business partner co-founded Fresh Monster, bringing empathy to the forefront of their business strategy, and launching an affordable, natural hair and body care brand designed and formulated just for kids. We are thrilled to have Irena as our guest on the Gutsiest Brands podcast, exploring how to lead with empathy in building a brand and company culture, the ongoing challenges female founders face, plus how to ride the rollercoaster (of entrepreneurship) without getting sick.
Irena Todd is Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Fresh Monster, a fast-growing personal care brand with a mission to get kids clean without toxins, tears or breaking the bank. Fresh Monster was selected for the Telluride Venture Accelerator, Burt’s Bees Launchpad, was featured in CNBC, Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal among others, and most importantly is universally loved by kids and parents. Before diving into the entrepreneurship waters, Irena managed some of the world’s largest personal care brands such as Axe Hair, TRESemmé and Degree. She also spent several years in strategy consulting at Deloitte advising brands in the tech, food, and personal care space. She is a symphony junky, surfing enthusiast and avid reader.
Live Together with Paul Howarth
Passionate about helping people understand people and giving people a voice, through his companies, Akumen and Pansensic, Paul Howarth helps clients understand and gain insights into consumer experiences to help them improve their brand strategies. We are excited to welcome Paul to the Gutsiest Brands podcast to dive into branding, discover how data can lead to insights, and learn why bees teach us important life (and business!) lessons.
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In this episode, rather than looking at brands through a traditional marketing lens, listeners will get a unique non-marketing perspective from Paul Howarth, on the importance of understanding human experience to create connection, as he sits down with GutCheck CEO, Rob Wengel. Listen in to hear why Paul thinks branding means belonging, why he believes that something is always ‘lurking’ below the surface of the data, why the freedom from frustration is key to reaching people, how meaningful connections can save lives, and why money isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a brand value.
Paul is passionate about helping people understand people, giving people a voice, healthcare, and especially mental health, through Akumen Ltd. A relentless innovator, designing software has become the vehicle for his restless mind. With over a dozen applications written for all walks of life, from Cattle Nutrition to Hybrid Text Analytics, Paul has spent his lifetime finding ways to do things better. He is passionate about making a difference, and not just in data analysis. Through his extreme beach cleaning project ‘Healthy Oceans’, Paul spends his spare time removing pollution from inaccessible areas of coastline. His technology aims to combine/ harness data with the physical efforts of individuals actively assisting beach clean-ups, to create a healthier world. Paul hopes to reach 6 tons of plastic by his 60th birthday early next year.
The METAIL Economy with Joel Bines
Regarded as one of the world’s leading operational strategists with a 30-year track record of improving performance at retailers, brands, and consumer companies, we are delighted to welcome Joel Bines, author of The METAIL Economy, to the Gutsiest Brands podcast to discuss being revolutionary, the demographic of one, and why your customers MUST be your north star.
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Joel Bines is managing director and co-head of the global Retail practice at the business consulting firm AlixPartners. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading operational strategists with a 30-year track record of improving performance at retailers, brands, and consumer companies. Among the media that look to him for analysis are The New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, and the Wall Street Journal. Joel is the author of The Metail Economy, a book on business strategies to thrive in the me-centric consumer revolution.
A Story Behind Every Number with Nick Graham & Brigette Wolf
With fantastic stories from Mondelēz International’s brand family – including Cadbury and Oreo – Nick Graham (Global Head of Insights & Analytics) and Brigette Wolf (Vice President, Global Head of SnackFutures) sit down with GutCheck’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, to discuss Mondelēz International’s groundbreaking innovation, authentic LGBTQ+ community engagement, and the need to remember the people behind the data.
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Nick is the Global Head of Insights & Analytics for Mondelēz International, Inc. (makers of brands such as Oreo, Cadbury Dairy Milk, LU, Milka, Toblerone, Sour Patch Kids, and Trident) where his team uses a blend of data science and deep human insight to drive better business decisions. He has over 20 years’ experience in insights & analytics and prior to joining Mondelēz in 2021 spent almost a decade with PepsiCo in both global and local market leadership roles .
Brigette serves as Vice President, Global Head of SnackFutures, Mondelēz International’s innovation and venture hub which launched in 2018 as part of the global snack leader’s growth agenda.
SnackFutures focuses on building and growing well-being and premium brands through a model of Invent and Venture. In her role, Brigette is responsible for fueling the company’s innovation pipeline by creating and launching SnackFutures brands as well as identifying and solidifying strategic investment opportunities. Brigette also oversees the new start-up engagement program CoLab, which launched in 2021 to discover and collaborate with emerging entrepreneurs.
Brigette has been with Mondelēz International for 7 years, and in that time served as the Senior Director of Global Platform Innovation for the Gum & Candy and Biscuits categories as well as the Senior Brand Manager for Global belVita innovation. Prior to this Brigette was with Kraft Foods for almost 10 years having served as the Global Innovation Manager for Oreo and the Brand Manager of several of the pizza and meal brands.
Holding The Door Wide Open with Denise Woodard
There is so much to unpack in our latest Gutsiest Brands podcast where GutCheck’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, sits down with Denise Woodard, Founder and CEO of Partake Foods. Listen in as they talk food allergies, diversity and inclusivity, grassroots campaigns for change, and Denise’s connections to Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Beyoncé.
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Denise is the Founder and CEO of Partake Foods, a natural food company that was inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies. Launched in 2017, Partake’s first product — delicious, better for you, allergy-friendly cookies — can now be found in more than 8,000 retailers including Target, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Whole Foods Market.
Denise is the first Black woman to raise more than $1 Million publicly for a CPG food startup. To date, the company has raised over $7.5M from investors including HER, Rihanna, CircleUp Growth Partners, FF2032 and Marcy Venture Partners.
Prior to launching Partake, Denise spent a decade in consumer packaged goods at various Fortune 100 companies, most recently as the Director of National Sales for Coca-Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands division. She lives in New York City with her husband, Jeremy, and daughter, Vivienne. She graduated with her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA from Arizona State University.
Find Courage through Emotion with Brandon Larson
You’re going to find so much richness and insight into what it means to be gutsy and to truly lead with empathy in this interview between Brandon Larson, Director of Brand Strategy & Communications at Microsoft, and Jess Gaedeke, CRO at GutCheck, we recommend you stop reading this intro and go straight to your favorite platform to listen in!
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Brandon describes his career as brand strategist as working “at the intersection of strategy, technology, and psychology” which enables him to make an impact by pairing the digital experience with an understanding of human behavior. Brandon has helped to transform some of the world’s leading companies as well as launch them.
This Is Your Life with Lauren Wang
Jess Gaedeke, GutCheck’s CRO and former Nielsen Leader, sits down with Lauren Wang, the founder and CEO of The Flex Company – the top-selling sustainable period-care brand that is blazing a trail by making periods more comfortable – to talk entrepreneurship, gutsiness, empathy, and influencing.
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In perhaps our most empathy-forward discussion yet, Lauren Wang shares her inspiring story about how, after suffering for 15 years with infections from menstrual products, she decided to change the status quo, not just for herself, but for menstruators everywhere. Listen in to discover her obstacle-strewn path to success, her challenges in moving from D2C to mainstream retail, and, fascinatingly, how she convinced people who don’t menstruate to put their money behind her and her product.
Lauren Schulte Wang launched The Flex Co. in 2016, with the dream of transforming the lives of people with periods. After suffering from chronic infections for 15 years related to tampon use, it dawned on Lauren that it was time to change the status-quo. She set out to create period products that were more innovative, sustainable, and made for the 21st century.
Lauren frequently speaks on women’s health and entrepreneurship, and has been featured in TechCrunch, The New Yorker, WIRED, The Washington Post, and NPR.
Lauren is a member of YPO and a graduate of Y Combinator, and she gives back to her startup roots by mentoring entrepreneurs through both organizations, as well as with the Norrsken Foundation. Prior to founding The Flex Co., Lauren spent over a decade marketing leading consumer brands for companies including Coca-Cola, Upwork, and IBM, and advocating for issues she’s passionate about. She was the first in her family to graduate college, working full-time to earn her business degree from Georgia State University.
How To Grow Companies with Kristin Luck
Jess Gaedeke, GutCheck CRO and San Francisco 49ers superfan, speaks with serial entrepreneur Kristin Luck, Founder of ScaleHouse, President of ESOMAR, and ‘cat with 13 lives’, about scaling businesses, empathetic entrepreneurship, the benefit of female investing representation in male-dominated industries – like porn – and procuring silverware from Denny’s!
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You’re going to laugh a lot and learn a lot in this wild conversation with Kristin Luck, who was once fired from Dairy Mart before going on to build and scale three technology companies with private equity backed exits! Listen in to discover how a now leading kombucha brand disrupted the market through an empathetic approach, why it takes guts to grow and scale a business, the importance of having a strong brand evangelist, and why, with 85% of purchase decisions being made by women, the investment community could benefit greatly from having more women in senior roles.
Kristin Luck is known for building innovative technology led companies that scale quickly through non-traditional sales and marketing techniques.
She serves as an advisor and growth strategist to a slew of cutting-edge marketing and analytics technology and services firms through her growth strategy and M&A advisory firm, ScaleHouse. She is a founder focused on helping fellow founders and executive teams scale and monetize their businesses and works frequently with firms in international markets to execute their entry into the U.S.
Kristin has consistently driven triple digit YOY performance improvement to leading marketing tech and services firms including The Harris Poll, Voxpopme, CanvsAI and SightX. Her work has been recognized in both the commercial (Fast Company, Forbes) and academic press (Research World, Journal of Brand Strategy) where she explores emerging marketing and growth strategy trends. She is consistently ranked as one of the top 100 sales and branding experts to follow on social media.
Irrational Expectations with Karen Howland
Jess Gaedeke, GutCheck CRO, former leader at Nielsen, and current turtleneck aficionado, speaks with Karen Howland, Managing Director of CircleUp Equity (a tech-powered investment platform) about which brands she believes have guts, which she feels a special connection to, and why we should have irrational expectations in business.
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In this unique episode we take a look at how an innovative investment firm is using a blend of technology and human experience to help entrepreneurs stand behind their bold ideas and pioneer new paths.
Jess and Karen show how being grounded in empathy and creating highly personalized experiences lead brands to sustainable growth, and how Circle Up invests in companies that have traditionally been denied access to capital.
Karen joined CircleUp in 2018 and serves as Managing Director. Before joining CircleUp, she served as an independent consultant providing financial services to small-to-mid sized consumer-centric companies. Prior to that, she spent over 15 years at top-tier international investment firms, including Citadel, Barclays Capital, and UBS where she held positions in the Investment Banking and Equity Research divisions focusing on the consumer and retail sectors. Mrs. Howland received her B.S. from Tulane University.
People, Purpose, and Provenance with Craig Dubitsky
Rob Wengel the CEO of GutCheck, founder of Experience Innovation, and iced tea drinker extraordinaire sits down with Craig Dubitsky, Chief Innovation Strategist at Colgate-Palmolive, the founder of Hello Products and likely the friendliest guy you’ll ever meet.
Craig is obsessed with design, transformational brands, and elevating the everyday things around us.
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In this inaugural episode, Craig and Rob take a spirited and fast-paced look at the importance of being human-centric in designing and marketing everyday products.
From how method soap was launched to the reason why his favorite book is an anthology of design patents, Craig reveals why every touch point between a brand and its audience matters, why being rooted in empathy is so important, and why you should reject those who tell you that you can’t do something.
Craig is obsessed with design, transformational brands, and elevating the everyday things around us. He was an early investor and board member in method, the co-founder and creative lead at eos Products, the CMO of Popcorn, Indiana, and a board member of the Art Directors Club. He is Chairman of Lexicon’s Advisory Board because he digs names and was named to Advertising Age’s Creativity 50 as one of the Most Influential and Innovative Creative Thinkers and Doers. Craig’s a lover, not a fighter, and started Hello Brands because he was tired of hearing about a war in his mouth.
Bucking The Trend
See why, as humans, we love brands that demonstrate they are willing to go out on a limb, go against the flow, and dare to be different.
Seeing The Results
Following an empathy-first strategy does not mean you need to choose between people OR profits. Discover the real life results.
Doing What It Takes
Dive into the four key components it takes to be a Gutsy Brand and explore brands that have been highly successful by following these principles.
Are You Ready To Be Gutsy?
It’s not always easy to go out on a limb and put people first and foremost in your decision making.
At GutCheck, we empower research and marketing professionals with the insights they need to stand boldly behind their recommendations, and guide strategies that help bring their brands into more authentic connection with the people they serve. This is something we call Agile Human Experience Intelligence™.
We’d love to talk with you about how we can enable your brand to be gutsy through the power of Agile HXI.
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