Minaje Ormes is the chief marketing officer at phone service disruptor Visible. The company uses Verizon’s network and an all-digital platform, plus low-prices, and emphasizes transparency. Ormes came to the company after almost seven years at YouTube, and throughout her time there was the company’s head of global media and later global head of partner marketing.

We sat down with Ormes to talk about starting a brand marketing plan from scratch and how she handles the visibility that comes with the chief marketing officer role.

Can you talk about taking a fully digital product into a physical space?

I think about this kind of like building a relationship with people, whether it’s new friends you make or new colleagues. Increasingly, how we connect and how we communicate with each other are through digital and social channels, but at the end of the day, there is a person behind it, which is why we wanted to experiment with showing up in someone’s life in the physical, tangible way. 

What’s the hardest part of marketing a brand from scratch?

To build momentum from 0 to a 100—on top of the value proposition and the product itself that we’re selling—which is the $40/month, unlimited everything on Verizon’s network, the product offering itself is so strong that it completely stands on its own—when we are introducing a new brand with it, we have to think about, how do you show up in a way that is unexpected, intriguing and getting somebody to notice you, frankly, because there is so much going on now out there. For us to ask someone’s permission to notice us, check us out, maybe even try us out as a member, we know it’s not an easy task. We wanted to make sure that we make that introduction as easy and as simple as possible.

As a leader and a boss, how do you take your hands off the wheel and allow your team to do what they need to do?

I’m self-aware enough to recognize that I’m good at what I do because I can see the big picture, but I care about the details, because, it’s all in the details. I started to realize in the past few years—my years at YouTube and now, here at Visible—for me to be the best I can be and be there for my team to empower and enable them to do what they need to do every day, we need first to set some parameters.

Especially in this business, where we are training to be a disruptor brand, we are trying to learn the rules so that we can break them. [We find] clear alignment around the goals and objectives, and we are trying to do—leaving that communication channel open not just to pass information back and forth but be honest with each other about what can we do better. Therefore, the way I think about team building is that every single person on my team is a better expert at what they are doing than I am. Because then they get to do their part and contribute to a bigger picture. It doesn’t make sense for me to try to do every single thing. My job is to set the vision and the parameters and let people do what they are here to do.

And, finding what works often involves making mistakes.

Yes. Because we are all so conditioned, especially in corporate culture, to be perfect and never make mistakes. To never own up to it because it’s a sign of weakness. Whereas in high-growth and innovation culture, it’s the exact opposite of what you need to do. You need to try a bunch of stuff out, fail fast and learn. But, one thing that we don’t talk about enough is that you need to feel safe to fail fast, so creating the culture in the environment from the very beginning, and not losing sight of it as you grow, is incredibly important.

Do you primarily do most of your marketing in-house, or do you also have an agency that you work with?

It takes a village, so I have a team in-house who manages our brand voice, the social and how we think about staying closer to the product and the customer service element of it. But, we also work with creative and media agencies and think about how we’d want to show up out there, how can we leverage their creative but also, the buying power of the media agency to holistically think about where and how we show up. I believe that it’s not just about creating cool TV spots, but it’s about where you buy your media that speaks as a brand.

How important is social in marketing Visible?

For us, the premise of the business pushes us to be 100 percent social and digitally-focused all the time. Even coming from environments like YouTube—some brands were using YouTube better than YouTube was.

Because our entire member journey from finding out about us to signing up for service and handling relationships with us is all digital—we have to double-down on [social] and for people to feel like there is somebody human behind that.

Can you talk about the importance of visibility in a CMO? Do you find that difficult or is it something you settled into?

Yes, it’s going to be a constant work in progress, frankly. I’m 39, I’m turning 40 this year, and I feel like this is the first time in my life that I’ve felt so “me,” which is cool. It took a long time because growing up in Korea; there were very singular expectations about what success looked like. And even here in the States, there was more flexibility and cultural acceptance; still, the definition of success and leadership seemed pretty singular.

I had to think about, well, “I want to succeed here, but I’m not like this other person that they’re showing as a model; how do I find my voice, but still be perceived as a successful person.” That took a lot of work, but I feel like I walked away with the gift that nobody can take from me. It is a gift to be able to be “me” and being in a professional environment, where [Visible’s] values are very closely aligned with mine, and I have no doubts about why I’m here and what I’m here to do and how I am showing up every single day.

Does the visibility thing come easily? No. But once I figured out what my passion points are—to be able to talk about how I got here and my career journey and what challenges I ran into, how I got through it, maybe, someday, that’ll help somebody else—it all became much easier.

I ask that question because I’m always interested in a marketer’s journey, coming from different sectors like business, technology, PR, marketing and so on.

If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be in marketing, I’d be like, “Ah, you’re joking,” because I don’t like talking about myself, I don’t like being in the limelight, and I can’t possibly sell something I don’t believe in. A lot of times in your career you’ve got to do that and you learn something about yourself. The way that I ended up in marketing is the storytelling aspect of it.

I went to film school. I wanted to be a producer and find people’s stories and one of the projects I worked on at Tribeca film festival was funding underserved voices, like women, people of color, and that stuck with me because it also spoke to my personal experience of having been an immigrant [moving here] in my teens. In retrospect, all of this makes sense, but from there, looking forward, I couldn’t have told you [I would end up in marketing].

Can you talk about the accountability of a head marketer to justify budgets.

Marketing departments exist to help the business grow. I take that responsibility very seriously, in terms of everything that we do, that’s a part of setting the right goals and north star so that we all know that we are serving that goal of business growth. But I also know that I can’t do this alone. For a business like this to grow, growth doesn’t mean go out and buy more advertising; growth means you have to build that experience and put equity back into the product, and the customer service experience.

What I’m selling out here has to match up in the delivery of that experience of what we have. I take my role in two parts, it’s about standing up a brand and how we talk and show up in the world, but it’s also about how you infuse that spirit of the brand into our product and the customer service experience. Our agents are the brand; our product experience is the brand, so that’s incredibly important to me to be able to influence the whole business.

You had a ‘transparent’ music box at SXSW, in which attendees could record their own song. What was the core message of that activation?

It’s a transparent box and as you can see in our ad copy to our products, the offering is pretty straight-forward, and that’s what we want it to be. That speaks to the kind of relationship we want to have with customers. The second thing is of course [goes] back to the fundamentals of our product offering, because switching your phone service isn’t actually a light decision—you’ve got to think about it, you’ve had something for a long time, or maybe you’re a part of a family plan, or tied to somebody else’s account, you’ve got to pay your phone off—there are a lot of things that are in the way.

We want you to notice us and be intrigued enough and have the shared experience with something you already care about, which in this case in the background of SXSW. It’s the music that you walk away with [creating] a bit of a different emotional experience. It’s not just a transactional element of, “We are trying to sell you something, and it’s all about the dollar sign.” It’s a great package and we want to be something more.