Meet Brandon, our very own Picasso of PowerPoint

06/09/2021

Meet Brandon, our very own Picasso of PowerPoint

By Katy Nally

Meet Brandon, our very own Picasso of PowerPoint

Image by Guangyi Li

What do Hawaii, Gears of War, and PowerPoint all have in common? They’ve shaped Brandon Conboy into the designer he is today.

Though he’s a Seattle native, Brandon grew up with close ties to both Hawaii and Guam. As a kid, he flew to Oahu several times each year to visit his grandparents. It’s where he learned to keep a mellow head— as his dad calls it—and the value of being calm and collected. That cool, island attitude would come in handy as Brandon carved out his fast-paced, multi-faceted design career.

At Washington State University, Brandon earned his first bachelor’s degree, this one in fine arts, allowing him to continue dabbling in all things design—from photography to illustration. When he graduated, Brandon landed a dream gig doing quality control for the Xbox game Gears of War. As a game tester, he honed his eye for graphical issues like incorrect textures in backgrounds. While the job satisfied his love of video games, it didn’t push his design skills as much as he had hoped.

Brandon made the courageous move to return to WSU for a second bachelor’s degree—this time in digital technology and culture. He even asked the dean to overload his schedule so he could graduate faster. After graduation, Brandon landed at Silver Fox and got his first glimpse into the world of corporate presentations.

When his colleague—who went on to design Satya Nadella’s presentations—showed him the possibilities of PowerPoint, “it was like watching someone play piano,” he said. In no time, his own PowerPoint skills went from zero to 60, as he provided round-the-clock design support at Microsoft conferences. Brandon loved the life of an event-bound designer, traveling once a month to work on-site and cashing in on perks like front-row seats to see Macklemore.

By the time he reached 2A, Brandon was a PowerPoint pro with a sharp eye for design and the ability to stay cool while juggling multiple projects. When asked what are his favorite kinds of assets to work on, Brandon reflects, “I enjoy projects that allow me to create custom graphics, such as key art and cover images; decks and blog posts give me a chance to create something interesting.”

These days, you can find Brandon lending his creative eye to projects ranging from everything to social cards and eBooks as well as PowerPoint and blog posts. Looking for a design experience that brings calm to the chaotic, look no further than Brandon Conboy!

3 lessons from Top Chef about B2B content marketing

05/26/2021

3 lessons from Top Chef about B2B content marketing

By Nora Bright

3 lessons from Top Chef about B2B content marketing

Image by Thad Allen

I started my job at 2A the same week Top Chef: Portland premiered. Though I love to cook, I somehow missed the popular cooking competition until quarantine, and have binged through more seasons than I’d like to admit. While we’re all at home just trying to get by, there’s something inspiring about watching the show’s chefs strive to achieve their dreams.

While watching the premier I was struck by the parallels between creating a winning dish that will delight the Top Chef judges and crafting a content marketing piece that will make potential customers hungry for more. Here are three lessons from Top Chef that can be applied to B2B content creation:

1. Don’t forget the challenge

It’s heartbreaking when a contestant makes an incredible dish but ends up on the chopping block because they lost sight of the challenge. Like, thanks for the truffle mashed potatoes but how does that relate to Edo-period Japan…?

In content creation, it’s essential to keep your eyes on the prize. Whether you’re generating leads or educating customers, your content must help you achieve your business goals.

2. Highlight what makes you special

A common pitfall for Top Chef contestants is to cook food that seems worthy of a win, instead of the food that brings out their passion and unique stories. Adrienne on Top Chef: Colorado struggled when she tried to mimic other contestants, and finally got the attention of the judges when she got back to her roots.

When crafting content, stand out from the competition with assets that convey your company’s unique expertise and brand.

3. Be realistic

Foie gras terrine. Chicken Ballantine. Handmade ravioli. These are all dishes that got Top Chef contestants eliminated who weren’t realistic about time constraints.

Creating content can be time- and resource-intensive. Instead of good intentions leading to something sub-par because you lack the in-house resources, how about bringing in 2A?

Does this mean my many hours watching chefs vie to become culinary champions was not all for naught? It’s hard to say, but I sure did learn a thing or two about making great work, whether that means salt-crusted snapper or an ebook on the merits of cloud-native applications.

Image of Ryan with a mountain and cruise ship in the background

05/19/2021

Ryan—an adventurous spirit cruises into 2A

By Forsyth Alexander

Image of Ryan with a mountain and cruise ship in the background

Image by Brandon Conboy

“I didn’t want to get complacent.”

Ryan Walsh was working as a client services analyst for a financial firm in 2014. He enjoyed asset management and helping customers, his earnings statements were solid, and he had plenty of time off. Many financial analysts in his position would have cruised along, enjoying the good life. But not Ryan. It was time to change things up before complacency set in.

And that’s how he and his wife ended up in Seattle, he as an MBA student and she in the speech pathology program, all part of a new adventure that would eventually lead him to 2A.

Choose your own adventure

Ryan comes by this sense of adventure naturally. When he was young, his mother struck out on a new path with her own medical transcription company, and Ryan learned a lot from her. His love of new and daring experiences plays out in every aspect of his life. It includes enjoying video games full of quests and excursions, and not only trying the different foods available in Seattle with his wife, but also introducing some of it to his two-year-old son. He and his family also take walks all around Seattle just to see what’s out there. Then, there’s his excitement over cutting-edge technology like IoT, digital twinning, and augmented reality (AR).

But his interest in technology is focused on how it can help people and customers. For example, he recently told me, “IoT is an incredibly exciting field – the use cases I’ve seen in my short time here have been incredibly varied, seemingly limitless, and have the potential to solve so many problems and improve people’s health, experiences, and lives.”

“Don’t just stand there, say nice things to me”

This quote from “Push,” by Matchbox Twenty, one of Ryan’s favorite bands, sums up how Ryan took his innate ability to relate to customers and their problems and applied it to his career. With MBA in hand, he embarked on a great adventure with a cruise line. He helped with the launches of the line’s iOS and Android mobile apps, co-branded credit card, gift card program, flight sales tool, and immersive cruises. He also designed and implemented organization-wide customer feedback management capabilities, including improving a web feedback program so that they could research and adjust ways of working based on customer expectations and needs.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Ryan led a cross-functional voice of the customer (VoC) team to understand how COVID-19 affected customer behavior and sentiment. This included researching booking, purchase behavior and willingness to travel. He also examined pain points, trends, opportunities, and potential business drivers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic eventually became too much for the cruise industry.

Welcome aboard, Ryan!

You can’t keep an adventure seeker like Ryan down. In June 2020, he said bon voyage to the cruise line and joined 2A as an embedded consultant, serving as the business manager for two different sales teams in the Microsoft IoT organization. He’s thriving in this role. “I’m assisting the field with reporting and insights, helping drive process and organizational transformation, documenting and communicating best practices so we can better serve our partners, and identifying compelling ways to tell our IoT story. Most of the time, we’re working on 20 different things, and I have to ruthlessly prioritize. I get to identify what’s most impactful and work on that.”

At 2A, we’re glad to have our modern-day Indiana Jones aboard as he designs great adventures for his IoT teams at Microsoft.

Wonder Team activates to deliver superhuman marketing solutions

05/12/2021

Wonder Team activates to deliver superhuman marketing solutions

By Liz Mangini

Wonder Team activates to deliver superhuman marketing solutions

Image by Thad Allen

While chatting with a Microsoft marketing lead recently, I heard about a presentation challenge that’s all too common. She told me it was difficult to create slides that serve two purposes—supporting presenters and flying solo without commentary. Either the deck would be too dense and full of text, or lack enough information for readers to understand the story.

She asked me, “How do I provide enough context, tell the full story, and frame it all on a limited number of slides?”

At 2A, we get it!

When it comes to solutions, the 1970s extraterrestrial superhero duo comes to mind—The Wonder Twins. They activated their superpowers by touching hands and saying, “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” Zan metamorphosed into a form, and Jayna into a shape. Together, they solved any problem and always saved the day.

Although 2A storytellers and designers may not be from another planet, their creative expertise is out of this world! Storytellers magically form ideas into impactful copy and designers shape concepts into appealing visuals. Together, they transform words and shapes into a compelling story that resonates and drives action.

In fact, 2A is composed of more than the Wonder Twins (storytellers and designers). We have a Wonder Team, which also includes whip-smart, innovative consultants, program managers, and developers.

Whether you need help with a pitch deck, case study, video, eBook, or messaging framework, the Wonder Team works with you to understand your challenges and goals. Then, we strategize to come up with simple, innovative solutions that empower you to deliver successful business outcomes.

Do you need a Wonder Team?

We are ready to activate!

Cats off to a new kind of eBook

04/28/2021

Cats off to a new kind of eBook

By Katy Nally

Cats off to a new kind of eBook

Image by Brandon Conboy

Welcome to the feral world of eBooks—where even the way you write “eBook” can get catty (is it ebook, Ebook, e-book, or eBook?!) First off, many clients confuse eBooks with whitepapers. The former delivers a high-level taste of your product while the latter provides a technical deep dive. And once you finally sort out the deliverable you want, there are many ways to get eBooks wrong, leaving customers disappointed that they handed over their email addresses for a supposedly juicy asset.

The biggest mistake? Content that sends readers straight into a cat nap. They’re longwinded duds. The main points may be there, but readers had to slog through 20 pages to find them. And the next biggest mistake? The story doesn’t connect to the reader’s needs. Without relevant context as to why someone should care, m-architecture diagrams—no matter how beautiful—just won’t land.

Our eBook breakthrough: informative ≠ boring

eBooks can be exciting! Ours take you on big cat adventures and still land the main points. Fancy Feast that! For instance, in our eBook about a NoSQL database, we thought, how about a cat hotel to explain the nuances across database models and entice the audience to dig in—right meow!

While we could write cat puns all day long, for an eBook to land, it has to be built on a solid framework.

Our eBooks are like catnip because:

  • We break down tough concepts: Technology is complicated, but your audience shouldn’t need a PhD to understand how your product works. We break down the technical concepts—and sometimes bring in the purrfect metaphor—so anyone can understand how it works.
  • We grow the flow: There’s always more to the story than just product specs. We keep readers engaged with a narrative that’s easy to follow and doesn’t break the flow with a million marketing benefits or buzzword soup.
  • We put it in context: If the audience doesn’t know why they should care, then a marketer somewhere should be fired. We frame the benefits of your product in a way that resonates with the reader.

So how about an eBook as thrilling as a laser pointer darting along the floor?

Take the leap and land safely with 2A.

Back to the future, Part Lin

04/22/2021

Back to the future, Part Lin

By Forsyth Alexander

Back to the future, Part Lin

Image by Rachel Sacks

2A embedded consultant Lin Martinez’s three favorite movies are Back to the Future, Parts 1, 2, and 3. How she ended up at 2A has an intriguingly similar storyline. Lin came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 27. In 2008, she started working for a Microsoft vendor, happily collaborating with clients on clear scopes of work and then focusing on projects. In an interesting twist of fate, she met Renato Agrella, future 2A founder and partner. They bonded over their shared Latin American connection and established a friendly, professional relationship because they kept bumping into each other at events.

During this time, she also met Laura Templeton. Laura is now an ace 2A consultant, but in those days, she was a Microsoft consultant. Laura hired Lin for her contracts, and Lin switched projects. Little did Renato, Lin, or Laura know at the time what this would mean for Lin’s future.

Time for dancing in the streets—or the YMCA

Lin loves music, especially Juanes, Shakira, and Carlos Diva, and she also loves dancing. In a recent conversation, she told me about how, in Colombia, every holiday is celebrated with dancing and music. “In Colombia, we start the party in the day, and before long, everyone is dancing—sometimes in the street—and it doesn’t stop until very early in the next morning, after people run out of energy,” she told me.

So, when a move to California offered an opportunity to use her love of music and dancing in her career, she grabbed it. As a wellness coach in Redwood City, she learned Zumba, became an instructor, threw her heart and soul into healthy living, and began teaching senior fitness classes. This path led her to a role at the YMCA of Silicon Valley, which took her right back to Washington. There she became the Healthy Living supervisor in 2017 and the Director of Health and Wellness at the Greater Seattle YMCA in August 2020. Then, COVID-19 hit.

Making her way back to you, 2A

Running a health and wellness program during a pandemic became pretty much impossible, and the YMCA cut back on staff. But nothing keeps Lin down for long. Throughout her career changes, she had kept in touch with Renato. When he learned she was in the job market again, he offered her a position at 2A. That’s how she ended up back with Laura and back at Microsoft, helping its Dynamics 365 partner team tell stories through customer successes.

“It was amazing. I didn’t meet anyone in person, and I still haven’t, but we get things done anyway,” she says.

Her positive attitude: Es más fuerte, es más fuerte

In Juanes’s hit, Me Enamora, he sings, “Es más fuerte, es más fuerte,” which translates as “it’s much stronger, it’s much stronger.” This describes Lin’s positive attitude perfectly. When the pandemic kept her from her usual health and wellness routine, she found new joy in walking her dogs, Pinky and Hannah, on a trail near her house. Pinky and Hannah are never far from her side—sometimes you can see them in conference calls—and they keep her grounded and smiling.

“You never know what the future might hold. But if you work hard, help people, and enjoy what you do, something good will always be waiting around the corner,” Lin says. 2A couldn’t agree more—it was great that Lin was waiting around the corner to come “back to the future” and join us right when we needed her.

Image of a baby pushing a toy ruck on top of the planet earth

04/15/2021

Life stinks without diapers

By Mike Lahoda

Image of a baby pushing a toy ruck on top of the planet earth

Image by Guangyi Li

Let’s talk about diapers.

Not being a father myself, I’ve never actually changed one.

But if you’re a new parent like several of our 2A staff members, you’re likely waking up at odd hours of the night to sounds of wailing and whining on the baby monitor that you now instinctively know translate to “change me.” Or maybe you can vividly recall how your once-tiny human laid on the changing table in front of your sleep-deprived eyes. And now you’re in awe at how much they’ve grown, and how much more they’ll continue to grow.

Thinking back, were you at all concerned about whether or not you could afford a fresh diaper to wrap your precious cargo with? Studies show that up to 36 percent of families struggle to afford diapers. This can lead to high rates of depressive symptoms among new moms, as diapers, unlike baby food and formula, are not covered by programs like WIC or SNAP.

You may be wondering why this B2B marketing company is blogging about diapers. While, yes, we are trying to contain a few messy projects right now, really this is a celebration of Evelyn, Lucy, Maren, Nolan, Oliver, Rowan, Ruth, Sophia, and the 2A babies we’ll soon welcome into the world.

We invite you to join our rapidly growing 2A family in supporting WestSide Baby—a Seattle nonprofit that provides essential items to children in need by collecting and distributing diapers, clothing, and equipment like car seats. We’re glowing with the pride of new parents to share 2A’s sponsorship of WestSide Baby’s annual Beyond the Basics event that enables the organization’s extraordinary impact in our community. In addition, our team donated a total of 5,930 diapers to help keep kids safe, warm, and dry.

Diaper need stinks. Change it.

A rallying cry for case studies

04/06/2021

A rallying cry for case studies

By Kelly Schermer

A rallying cry for case studies

Image by Brandon Conboy

At my house, pillow talk includes the future of driver-less cars and basic income,” says Tracey Whitten. In one quote, 2A’s program manager in charge of customer stories pretty well sums up her passion for technology and her activist approach to storytelling. It’s a rare combination that’s a serious boon for our clients when it comes to crafting the best story for case studies of all sizes and shapes. (And, trust us, each case study is its own special snowflake.)

Tracey’s got an unquenchable thirst for stories that started long ago. Even before joining 2A, she used interviews to broaden her understanding of those around her and the process of writing to sharpen and share her own ideas. From a journal to a blog, from classwork to her everyday job, Tracey relies on the basic tenets of storytelling to learn what makes others take action socially, politically, and financially—which is exactly what we need to get to the heart of every case study.

In college, Tracey earned a degree in organizational communications and a minor in legal studies. The plan at the time was to pursue employer law to help improve poor working conditions for underrepresented employees. But who needs law school to affect change when you’re as creative and engaged as Tracey?

In the years since she graduated, Tracey has built up communities and expanded her resume through positions that speak to her multifaceted talents. From organizing labor unions and communities for social change, to helping a tech startup get off the ground, to launching a civic engagement technology platform, there doesn’t seem to be a challenge Tracey can’t tackle. And through it all, she weaves her passion for understanding, honoring, and telling the stories of those around her. 

In her new role at 2A, Tracey heads up our case study practice. Considering the number of client requests for these stories keeps doubling, we couldn’t be more excited to have her join us! With her dogged commitment to ensuring all voices are heard and her technical drive to plan, organize, and execute against a deadline, Tracey’s our ace in the hole for turning out high-quality case studies that satisfy partners, customers, and solution providers alike.

Wondering who has the breadth, depth, and drive to get the most out of your story? Meet Tracey!

Image of an elevator with cacao beans, leopards, and exotic birds e

03/24/2021

Elevating Stories #7: A virtual tasting with CRU Chocolate

By Forsyth Alexander

Image of an elevator with cacao beans, leopards, and exotic birds e

Image by Thad Allen

It was Feb. 19, the day of our Elevating Stories and chocolate tasting with Karla McNeill-Rueda and Eddie Houston of CRU Chocolate, and my chocolate had not arrived. Knowing I was going to blog about this event, I wondered if I would be missing something elemental during this talk. As it turns out, the experience was as rich and rewarding as the chocolate I later received and enjoyed.

Caution: border crossing

Karla is from Honduras, a part of the Latin American world that is rich in oral storytelling. My partner has similar skills. He is descended from the pre-Aztec indigenous people who have lived beneath the volcanoes of Citlaltépetl, Iztaccíhuatl, and Popocatépetl in the state of Puebla, Mexico, for centuries, and who speak Nahuatl, an ancient language spoken by Mexicans and Central Americans. Everyone I’ve met from his village of San Miguel are amazing storytellers. My partner’s account of the harrowing trip he took to arrive in the U.S. is a beautiful tale of adventure, suspense, quick wits, and survival. As Karla kept us enraptured with the story of cacao, it dawned on me that it was about crossing borders, too.

We learned that cacao originated in the upper Amazon basin in the Andes; however, it didn’t stay there for long. Just as ancient Andeans left the area that is now Peru to move northward and as ancient people also made their way to the Andes, so did cacao. It was grown and adopted by ancient peoples from Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and other Latin American countries. Karla explained that, over time, cacao and the drinks they made with it came to have special meaning to the indigenous people. For some it was ceremonial; for others, it was a way to share a treat with friends and family.

So how did cacao and chocolate get to the U.S. and Canada? Karla said that the conquistadors fell in love with cacao while ravaging and pillaging Mesoamerica, so they took it back to Spain with them. Spain is where they began adding sugar to cacao to make it sweeter, and that was the predecessor for cocoa and, eventually, bar chocolate. When Spanish settlers traveled from Spain to their settlements in the U.S. and Canada, they brought their beloved chocolate.

As I watched everyone on the call try the drinks, I had an epiphany. The story of chocolate is the story of the Americas—one of crossing borders and sharing. Most interesting of all, however, is that the story hasn’t ended.

Coming full circle

I live outside of Clinton, N.C. (population 8,600), a place that for centuries has been dominated by a white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, tobacco-growing culture. Once perceived as dying, it is now thriving, thanks to Latin American wanderers. On our rural road dotted with family farms, our neighbors on one side are Puerto Rican, and our neighbors on the other side are El Salvadoran.

If you visit El Mercadito Hispano in Clinton, you’ll meet shoppers from Honduras and the Dominican Republic who came here under protected status to work and raise their families. The doctor who performed life-saving surgery on my partner in 2015 is part of a growing Venezuelan community. My partner’s masonry apprentices are Guatemalan. Mexicans from Chiapas and Michoacán work in construction and in the sweet potato fields. They have enriched this area with new traditions and new attitudes.

We are all chocolate

I think more people should get to know the story of cacao. It’s a great example of how our expanding cultural diversity is not a threat but a promise. It’s our nature to wander, no matter our origins, and chocolate reflects that. Think what would have happened if no one had migrated in and out of the Andes. We never would have gotten to experience the joy, wonder, and deliciousness that is chocolate. So, let’s hear it for the wanderers—past and present—who have given so much to this world, and for CRU Chocolate, which uses the history of cacao to shape our experience with chocolate. 

Image of Mike in a neon blue and yellow suit next to a license play that says

03/18/2021

Mike—the fresh prince of marketing

By Katy Nally

Image of Mike in a neon blue and yellow suit next to a license play that says

Image by Thad Allen

I always feel a certain kinship with a fellow East Coaster. And beyond that, Mike Lahoda and I both arrived in Seattle—sight unseen—after cultivating an appreciation for the West Coast mostly through pop culture and 90s TV shows. So, in the spirit of our childhood understanding of the sunnier side of the country, I bring you this employee spotlight about Mike, our newest consultant, entirely based off the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (Many thanks to Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff for this 1992 track.)

Now this is a story, all about how
Mike came to Seattle and made us say “wow”
I’d like to take a minute, so sit right there
I’ll tell you how he became a marketing ace—it’s rare!

In southern New Jersey, born and raised
In the suburbs is where he spent most of his days
Chillin out, biking, walkin to school
While chasin his friends, and actin real cool
When he got an idea, “Let’s do some good”
He started planning ways to help his neighborhood
He studied philosophy and got his bike in gear
Then he moved to Seattle to start tutoring for City Year

The mountains were calling, and when they came near
Mike was ready to climb—he had no fear
If anything they proved he could take on a dare
And he thought, “What’s next—nonprofits? You got it, I’m there”

Mike climbed up through the ranks at a homebuilding biz
His MBA classes made him a marketing whiz
But he still wanted more—to grow with a team
So he joined 2A
now he’s living the dream