Maria Ross, founder of Red Slice, works with entrepreneurs and high-growth companies to help them “build a brand story that stands out, that attracts the right customers, and that really accelerates sales.” She started her company after working in technology marketing for a variety of B2B and B2C companies, gaining experience in PR, website development, lead generation, brand story development, communications, and sales enablement.
Along the way, she realized that many marketers had lost sight of what she considered a critically important component of the job. “I launched Red Slice brand consultancy because I was really frustrated with the fact that a lot of marketers forgot that they were talking to people,” she says. “And their excuse was, ‘well, it's B2B marketing… we don't have to be emotional, we don't have to create a connection.’ But we now know from all the research that's been done since that time, that that's crazy.” Ross teaches her clients how to build empathetic connections with customers to engender lifetime loyalty.
Shortly after she launched her company, in 2008, Ross had a life-changing experience that would radically impact her own brand story: a ruptured brain aneurysm that could have killed her compelled her to change the way she worked. “I had to really focus on one thing at a time because I had cognitive barriers,” she says. “And that enabled me to really do better, higher-quality work for my clients. And I brought that story into my brand story.”
Six months after the aneurysm, Ross went back to work and she did not try to hide her health issues from clients. Friends and colleagues asked if that was wise — would clients trust her if they knew she was recovering from a brain injury? But she was determined to be transparent. “By showcasing who you are authentically, you attract more of the people you want to work with,” says Ross. “I ended up attracting a different caliber of client. They were like, ‘you're a survivor, you've got moxie, you're not going to take any guff. We want to work with you.’”
“The [Newsweek Expert Forum] community is just amazing. They’ve really tried to bring contributors into the fold and see us as people and as valuable assets.”
Ross says her professional and personal experiences have driven her to focus on empathy and authenticity when working with clients. She even wrote a book on the topic — The Empathy Edge: Harnessing the Value of Compassion as an Engine for Success. “My wheelhouse is about brand, message, story, and how you’re actually walking your talk,” she says. Often, she says, brands try to be all things to all people because leaders are afraid of limiting themselves and leaving money on the table. The result, says Ross, is that they end up being “nothing to anyone. Your brand has to take a stand based on your values and how you do business,” Ross says. “And the more that you clearly put that out there, the more it's a beacon to the right kinds of customers.”
When working with clients, Ross stresses that building an empathetic culture as part of the brand can drive performance and success. It starts, she says, with hiring the right people and then measuring and rewarding them based on the company’s values. For instance, she says, Airbnb’s brand culture is about “belonging anywhere” — a value that applies not only to guests staying at Airbnb properties but to employees, from an inclusivity standpoint. “They have operationalized that value,” says Ross. “They have criteria on their performance evaluations around belonging and how you have exhibited helping others belong on your team and in your workplace. Everyone knows that the value is actually truly important to the organization.”
A professional keynote speaker, Ross has contributed articles to many publications but says that Newsweek Expert Forum appealed to her “because it’s at the intersection of business, culture, and technology. I love the cachet of the brand.” She also values the connections she’s already made through the forum. “The community is just amazing,” she says. “They’ve really tried to bring contributors into the fold and see us as people and as valuable assets.”