Ly Tran 0:00
Finding a point of personal connection to consumers. So brands always come to us and, you know, they they know themselves inside out, but they don’t really know their consumers. So we really like to let a collective you’re gonna hear some pawns but really put ourselves in our potential audience’s shoes and empathize with their mindset.

Anne Bibb 0:27
Welcome to Unexpected Journey, the show where each week top professionals share work wisdom and life lessons about their careers and what they have learned about human experience in the workplace. I’m your host, Anne Bibb. Today we are joined by Ly Tran, the founder of Stiletto Collective, a minority woman owned business and creative media cooperative. With her collective, Ly helps brands of all sizes elevate their authenticity, story, and creativity through media and data. With over 25 years of experience in the advertising industry. Ly has been recognized by AD ages Women to Watch campaign usahs Digital 40 over 40 and has spoken at numerous conferences, including CES, South by Southwest, and more. Before we begin, don’t forget to subscribe and leave your comments below. Now let’s get started. Welcome, Ly. I’m so glad to finally have you here.

Ly Tran 1:30
Thank you. Thanks for having me, Anne.

Anne Bibb 1:33
I would love to hear about your background and how you got here from the marketing industry and starting starting this Stiletto Collective.

Ly Tran 1:42
Yeah, that’s that’s a long story. But

Anne Bibb 1:46
it’s a long story. Good story. You know, I

Ly Tran 1:50
yeah, I first generation Vietnamese. So there was a lot of expectations on what I should be when I grow up. But I don’t know if I was born to be a contrarian. I’m the second to five. And my older sister did everything that was expected. She was studious, and she became a PhD pediatrician, she’s celebrated her fields. And that just wasn’t me, I wasn’t going to be a lawyer or pharmacist or a doctor, I always felt a creative bent. And I always loved how presidents or actors could communicate and, and the power of communication. So and I felt that early on, I think I remember watching news and seeing Connie Chung and even entertainment sitcoms and trying to understand what advertising was in some of these sitcoms. But really, it started there where I sort of knew what I wanted to do. And at that time, I knew I was going to be in communications. There was no internet, I went to the public library asked to be taken there. And started looking into schools outside of Texas. I’m from Texas, that had communications as a strong offering. And wound up in Boston at Emerson College, decided to get an AED degree, got the AED degree started my career. So I’m one of those rare people that knew kind of what they wanted to do studied it and still doing it.

Anne Bibb 3:26
That is so rare. So many people I talk to they’re like, I wanted to be a fairy, or I wanted to be a veterinarian, or, you know, and it’s just like they they got here by mistake, or because they fell in some in love with something else along the way. So you are, you know, a unicorn and that you knew what you wanted to do and to be so young and still manage to follow that same path in that same journey. It’s, it’s very interesting. Yeah.

Ly Tran 4:01
And I I liked it. I knew where I wanted to go. But you know, just to kind of balance it out. I I, over my career, I have celebrated people who are the exact opposite. So in the ad agency business, which I really love, I feel like where you get the most well, not always, but where you see a lot of innovation or people that aren’t even in the business. So it’s the it’s like the dichotomy of I really knew what I wanted to do. I studied it, I feel like I’m good at it. And then there is this other side of it, where people don’t even have that degree. One person who I work with, you know, was a molecular biology biology degree major. But isn’t the ad business doing nothing related to his degree but really successful in the ad business so I celebrate both sides of the coin.

Anne Bibb 4:59
So You’ve mentioned a few things here. Why don’t we just kind of help everybody understand what is stiletto collective? What services do you provide to clients?

Ly Tran 5:16
Yes, so stiletto collective where a year and a half old. So I’d like to say it’s a startup business still. But we’ve grown pretty fast, all through referral, and stiletto collective were two choice words combined. I knew I wanted to do my own thing. So it’s a celebration of women owned. But Collective is over the years of being in the business 25 plus years, I really have met a lot of great talent. And so the idea is that the collective is a curation of that talent. So we’re kind of like the we work of ad agencies, where we have on demand teams for clients. So when people ask, what do we do, what will we do anything that you need us to do? Because we will take that challenge and assemble a on demand team of talent that we the prerequisite is that we would have had to work with you in the past. So there is that where our clients know that if you’re coming to the leadership team, and you’re working with us, and we’ve vetted and work with other talent in our collective that you have a great team versus what’s flawed about the ad business is there’s a lot of freelancers, and some of them, you know, agencies don’t even work with. So it’s a little bit of a gamble. So it’s a little collective, essentially, as an on demand ad agency.

Anne Bibb 6:46
From that standpoint, can you give us some examples of some successful campaigns or projects that stiletto collective has worked on in the past?

Ly Tran 6:54
Yeah. One that is kind of timely to the inception of filetto is actually a company based in Australia. It’s Illume health, but it basically came to the States during COVID. And they basically create these at home tests. So they have different things. And they’ve done like pregnancy tests. But for COVID, they were one of the brands, which many people can’t name a brand. But they were one of the brands in the home COVID test category. So for me, what is special about that is it as an advertising person, marketing person is given the opportunity to help market a product that didn’t exist before in a category that didn’t exist before, at a high velocity, speed. And then really, the other purpose is really helping out during a pandemic. So it’s a product or service that actually was useful for the consumers. And it wasn’t that we’re just trying to sell something to sell something, it had purpose. So what was nice about that is working with the client, where as this collective, they basically, you know, it’s a new category, new product, it was a learning for everybody consumers, the brand accompany. And so with the collective, they were able to kind of come to us and say we have this problem first, we know that there’s all this other stuff later, most agencies want to tackle everything and have a nice retainer and, and work it that way. But they came and said, we basically just need more awareness. So can you help us find the right partnerships and help sell in the right partnerships? So as a collective, we basically said, Yes, we can. And one of the first projects that we worked on, which was just a project was, Mark was coming up with the COVID pill. So how to, you know, we basically figured out a good partnership, and put together the marketing pieces that allowed e loom to basically say to mark we should kind of do some co branded work together in retail stores online to help consumers understand what they need to do if they feel like they are exposed to COVID and how to basically help prevent spreading it. So that was, you know, a big brand with Merck, a new brand coming from Australia to America and just being part of these partnership collaboration moments and so, as a collective we kind of came in, sort of like a SWAT team helps them create the narrative help them determine what the cost parameters should be for the partnership. And then from there, it was okay, we can help with business structure, what about just now direct to consumer so then creating kind of that pathway for for the brand to enter in a new market, understand the market understand and who to sell to. So then it became a larger discussion on, you know, classic marketing, who do we need to talk to? There are all these players in the space, the US government is giving away for free. So just creating those differentiating points, and, you know, it’s not a sexy client, you know, like Coke. But for me, it was start it was it was indicative of the clients that we want clients with purpose. Clients were where we were seen as business partners to help their business, not just creating ads, and then helping kind of tell that story to the right consumers. So you category new product.

Anne Bibb 10:40
So in this type of a situation, or really with any of your clients, right, how do you approach finding that brand’s voice and then developing a cohesive message across so many different platforms? Because there, there are so many different ways to get that message out today? You there’s tick tock. There’s television, there’s movie cinemas, there’s print. I mean, you’ve got so many different ways that you need to get that message out to consumers now.

Ly Tran 11:18
Yeah, so we have an approach. We believe in a brand story. We believe that you have to know the end at the beginning. So you have to kind of know what your what your what the end pages in your book

Anne Bibb 11:35
before you last page first? Yes,

Ly Tran 11:37
yes. So near the end at the beginning. So we we really tried to work with the clients to get their first a lot of people just come with the with a fill is like, this is what I need, help me get there. You’re like, no, that’s not really what you need. So that’s sort of the first principle, then it’s essentially finding a point of personal connection to consumers. So brands always come to us. And, you know, they they know themselves inside out, but they don’t really know their consumers. So we really like to stiletto collective, you’re going to hear some puns, but really put ourselves in our potential audience’s shoes and empathize with their mindset, you know, what would trigger them to even connect with us within a story. So we try to find that point of personal connection. But a good brand doesn’t just sell to a consumer. It’s part of a culture, it’s part of the fabric of a community. So from there, where I feel like we try to help brands Elevate is we then look at, you know, what elevates, what does the brand offer that elevates to a more universal connection. So, you know, with Illuma, as like one example, you know, the simplest way to talk about it is, the point of personal connection is you just, you don’t want to have to go to the doctor, you are kind of at home. So what is the easiest solution to find out if you’re healthy or not? If you’re healthy, you don’t want to spread it family and friends, coworkers? So it’s as simple as am I pop, you know, will I test positive? The universal connection is really more of how do we how do we bring health care to consumers fingertips? So it’s kind of looking at the bigger picture of a brand. And of course, you know, the bottom line and sells but no the end at the beginning, I think a brand’s mission is really clear for companies, but when they try to execute it through advertising and marketing gets lost. So the point of purse connection, empathizing with a consumer, that’s classic marketing, it’s our spin on it. But what we always try to do is bring it back to elevation, which is finding, again, that universal connection, because we’re all in it together. And we’re all in it to, again, help a community help a society put a stamp on culture. So that’s that’s the overall approach.

Anne Bibb 14:24
You know, I’m curious, you mentioned the impact of being an Asian American and business owner. Could you share some of the specific challenges that you faced and how you overcame them?

Ly Tran 14:36
Yeah, I was, you know, this month is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage and there’s a lot more in there today, but so, I was listening to somebody talk at a conference and he is in the business of advertising and it’s, he was telling his story that you walked into a meeting, an advertising meeting. And instantly, you know, the potential client, the client was basically like, oh, nice to meet you, and made the assumption. He was the analytics guy. And basically, he’s like, No, I’m the creative guy. I was always bad at math, creative guy. And he was expressing, like, That was classic stereotype and the businesses that, you know, the Asians within businesses, they’re just the data scientists. They’re just the number crunchers. And another person was talking about she she was in a high finance position, and she was in a room and was asked to go get coffee, because they just assumed that being minority and female in this room meant that she was an executive assistant.

Anne Bibb 15:48
The unconscious bias NACA Yeah.

Ly Tran 15:51
Yes, a lot. And, you know, I think growing up in this business and experiencing a lot of those, for the most part, I felt like I had just accepted it, and kind of, oh, that’s just the way it is. mentality. And how that has impacted me as, you know, I think I just basically tried to bury it like this. This is just what society is just kind of like, have to do a power move and, and move on from it. And

Anne Bibb 16:23
is that how you are handling it? Or how you feel like you have to handle it.

Ly Tran 16:28
That’s how I used to handle it.

Anne Bibb 16:30
So you used to handle it, but it’s how you’re handling it now?

Ly Tran 16:33
No, no, I’m not handling it that way now. And so I really, for me, it’s in moments like that really kind of addressed again, in a very kind of Frank, polite, gracious way, but not not letting it kind of glide and not trying to create confrontation. So which is it’s hard to do. But if it’s a dress, it kind of just perpetuates. You know, I so difficult topic, I think, but it makes some people uncomfortable. To be, you know, honest, uncomfortable to it definitely does. Even if the question is still love, you know, where are you from? Sometimes I get anxious when someone asks me not in a business that you’re like,

Anne Bibb 17:25
I’m from Austin, Texas. Where are you from?

Ly Tran 17:27
What do you what are you asking? Exactly? And it’s always really interesting when I answer it that way, like, Oh, I’m from you know, I’m from Houston, Texas. But I currently live in Austin, but to talk about being a Texan, really? And then

Anne Bibb 17:43
do you do you actually respond and say, Where are you from, as well? No, I

Ly Tran 17:47
guess. What’s always interesting is usually the next thing that that is said is like, No, I meant, like, what is your background? And, you know, it’s not a very common thing to ask people when you

Anne Bibb 17:58
I’m curious, what would happen if you turned around and said the same thing? I’m a Texan. What is your background?

Ly Tran 18:05
You’re saying, hey, you know, my name is Lee Tran Tran is a very common Vietnamese last name, just like you know, Smith. Jones is and just kind of just trying to teach that culture of ham, Vietnamese and Tran if you ever see that is an indicator of that if you just wanted to know and be educated about it, but know yes, I’m from I’m from Texas.

Anne Bibb 18:31
That’s very kind of you to educate them on the you know, on your last name and what that might mean. If they see it again.

Ly Tran 18:41
Little doses, little doses of education.

Anne Bibb 18:44
Along those lines, how can other businesses better support and uplift minority owned businesses in their communities?

Ly Tran 18:58
I definitely think it’s about little doses of education. Obviously being a patron buying that way understanding kind of the ownership when you walk into a local mom and pop the funny thing is, you know people like talk about oh, like this what you think is a business that would be owned by a certain ethnicity is really not owned by it. So there could be a an Asian restaurant as an example. And but it’s really not owned by an Asian family or, you know, an Asian company,

Anne Bibb 19:36
a Tex Mex restaurant that is not owned by

Ly Tran 19:40
exactly. So I think it’s just kind of doing your homework, if you really want to support it, just you know, supporting that small business owner who doesn’t always have the means, you know, getting the small business loans that other people can. So just being aware and being a patron of Do the right businesses.

Anne Bibb 20:02
What about how to if you know, how do organizations find those minority owned businesses, such as stiletto, to be able to support them. And I’m not talking about the restaurants and the mom and pop shops, I’m talking about ad agencies and other types of businesses that the larger businesses use as vendors.

Ly Tran 20:28
A lot of states have this. But Texas has basically a subito, depending on the city that you live in, I call it subito, or hub. But if you are a minority in business, and you’re certified, you’re automatically added to a database. And you can just go on to this free website that states usually our cities and look for it. So it’s that simple, just going to it and it’s being it’s nice to be certified, right? Because you can, you can make all the claims that you want. So it is a process, I went through it, it’s government, it’s a bit rigorous, you know, like they do in person interviews, even during COVID. So, that’s a starting point. But I also feel like it’s just, you know, it’s we’re in, we’re in a high tech, where everything’s at your fingertips, just just do a search. Be conscious of what you’re looking for. And if you really want to help support, then just do a search and try to validate it yourself.

Anne Bibb 21:29
Yeah. So one of the other things that starting your own business has, I know, for myself, several other individuals has has been interesting. Is that is the impact of friendships. Hey, can you do this? Hey, can you do that? You know, what don’t? Can you do it for free?

Anne Bibb 21:56
How do you balance personal and professional relationships? When you’re starting a business?

Ly Tran 22:06
Yeah. So you know, this? I’ve I don’t know that I have I know this,

Anne Bibb 22:14
which might be why there’s a question here.

Ly Tran 22:18
I don’t know if I have all the answers. And I feel like, you know, Chief, and our core has helped me navigate some of it, but and I hate that I think about Rockefeller and a billionaire. But always knowing that I wanted to open my own company. I think that I’m an entrepreneur, entrepreneur by heart, but I think he had like a line that was something like friendships founded on business is better than a business founded on friendships. And it was one of those where I’m like, wait, like, What is he trying to say like, which is better like wait. And I feel like it’s a chicken or egg thing where a lot of a lot of stilettos current business has been through referrals. And it’s referrals through old colleagues that became friends or, you know, old clients that have become friends. And I think that’s a testament to, to my reputation, but it also creates a dynamic where, when things maybe aren’t perfect, navigating that is tricky. And I think I go back to the Rockefeller in that quote, because when you do business with family and friends, I mean, family and friends, it’s organic family is, you know, something you don’t get to choose. Friendships are organic. But in both situations, like you would never want to hurt anybody, like they’re your friends and your family. But when you meet people in business that become your friends. I think the first expectation is that we’re, you know, we’re gonna disagree and we’re gonna fight for ideas, and we’re gonna fight for budgets, and we’re gonna, you know, we’re comfort competitors. And so they’re usually in business, there is a, you know, upfront friction that you work with. That is a choice that you chose to do. So the friendships that happen through business, I think, are can be sometimes stronger than your, your organic friendships and your family. But and that’s what made me realize that you know, working with a friend working with my significant In other words, when there are problems, it’s okay to kind of be very transparent and kind of have a difficult conversation that that in the end, isn’t that difficult because we had been through a lot of other difficult things before. With, you know, with clients and work situations.

Anne Bibb 25:20
So Lee, why would anybody why would anyone want to get in touch with you? And how would they get in touch with you?

Ly Tran 25:27
Reputation is, is why you would, and proving out the model of the collective in a business where everyone’s still fighting for retainers. And you kind of, you’re sold a leadership team, but in the end, you might get like a B team, or people they just hired to fulfill a role. So why you should think of a collective and that idea of an on demand team is it’s about reputation, it’s about it’s about the work that you do your past work your past relationships, and we’ve only grown that way. But if you’re a person out there looking for somebody new and want to take a leap of faith, you can basically go to stiletto or li at stiletto and stiletto can be misspelled all the time. So just make sure you

Anne Bibb 26:31
those links are below guys. You’ll see those links below. So hopefully you’ll see it and you won’t misspell it.

Ly Tran 26:40
But yes, and there you there are there is another Slidell collective out there that is very fun. I think that there is a certain type of business, and it’s on Facebook. So that’s just just recognize that that’s not our sole collective.

Anne Bibb 26:56
That is good feedback. You are the ad agency. Not a fun one. Not the fun one. Hey, we have fun, but not too bad. Marketing kind of fun.

Ly Tran 27:11
Yeah, yeah. Not that kind of madman fun. Madmen fun. Got

Anne Bibb 27:15
it. Yeah. Lee, thank you so much for joining us this week. Really appreciate you and always enjoy our time together. Same and everybody else. Thank you for joining us. We look forward to seeing you again next week. As we wrap the episode up, we would like to take this time to thank you for joining us this week on unexpected journey. Our guests information will be linked in the episode description along with a link to our company website, remote and our hosts website and Please don’t forget to like subscribe and share on your favorite podcast app and on our YouTube channel so that you never miss an episode and we can continue to bring them to you. Let us know your thoughts on what we discussed in the comment section. And once again, thank you for joining us. We hope to see you again next week for another episode of unexpected journey.


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