The Mercury Creative Group – Uncover and Define Your Unique Brand Story

guest: Justin Bieganek

On today’s show, Joe welcomes Justin Bieganek, founder and brand advisor of Mercury Creative Group! Justin and Joe dive into Justin’s entrepreneurial journey and the spark that ignited his own business. Find out what happened when Justin became his own client and the team walked through their branding process together. Discover what sets Mercury apart in helping organizations uncover and define their unique brand story as Justin shares insights into what makes branding successful and why it isn’t always what you think it is. Plus, learn how Mercury has been trailblazing the remote work scene since 2008, proving that distance is no barrier to collaboration and innovation.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to mind your own marketing business podcast, where we explore marketing trends and technology, gaining insider knowledge from the industry’s best Fjord is proud to present mind your own marketing business with host Joe Barsness.

Thanks for joining us on the Mind Your Own Marketing Business Podcast. I’m Joe Barsness from web and software development team Fjord. And today on our show, we’ll be talking with Justin Boganek from Mercury Creative Group. Welcome to the show, Justin. Hey there, Joe. Thanks for having me. Yes, absolutely.

This is a long, well, I guess not a long, long time in the making, but we’ve known each other for a long time. And I can’t believe you haven’t been on the show yet. Yes, I’ll, I’ll, I agree with all of the above. All right. So you know, as always, I like to jump in the show and learn a little bit more about our guests and how they came to be in kind of this marketing, advertising, creative group.

And so I’d love to hear just a little bit more about your background and how you ended up leading the Mercury creative group. Sure. So I started out of college pursuing a degree in graphic design and I completed my design communications degree at the university of Minnesota. And just as that was happening, this web was coming to fruition.

So the ability to create and design websites was pretty new. And of course that’s dating myself, but I wanted to figure out. How can I use this? What is this? I’m very curious. And this is the way of the future. So I got a job at a ISP, Internet Service Provider, and I was helping them design and build websites.

And to be completely honest, I was Like learning on the fly, but it was very easy to sell websites and to build websites. And I was there for about nine months and funny stories. I was actually a freelancer or a contractor. So I didn’t know what that really was, but I liked my paycheck or so that I was getting until I was talking to my dad one day and he’s like, tell me a little bit more about that check.

And so I was telling him the amount and I was like, I was feeling like a big, big shot and he’s like, Contractor, you need to be saving half of that and putting that away. And I’m like, what, that isn’t much of a paycheck anymore. I need to rethink this career. I’ve been a little bit after about nine months, I was seeing a lot of things, both good and bad.

And for me, I felt this is something I can be doing on my own. And I wanted to build something. I grew up, my dad owned a John Deere implement. So I was helping him. Kind of run the business from age eight to sweeping the floors to ordering parts and, you know, doing all those things. So there was a little bit of business was in my blood.

So I jumped and created my own business and kind of grew it now to where I’m at 25 years later, where we’re a much more brand centric organization. So I’ve taken my graphic design. Uh, talents and expertise and from building logos and brochures and identities and really working with companies on a long term basis to help grow their business, really learn the ins and outs of what is this thing called brand and how can it really help affect in a positive way the organizations that I was working with.

So the graphic design, uh, roots and degree really helped me. Get into the business that I’m in right now and really perfect that craft and to, to use all those skills in a much bigger, broader way to really help the people that we serve. That’s it. That’s it. I mean, it’s an excellent story about how, how you can quickly jump.

I’m very similar. I, uh, I, I worked at a large fortune 500 here in Minneapolis for about 18 months and then jump ship to kind of start my own thing. Um, and so that’s a very, it’s very apparent when you’re used to small businesses and then jumping into a very large business and realizing it’s not for you quite quickly.

Um, but it’s in our blood. I feel, I think on yours, there is this, this need or this draw and we don’t maybe always know where it’s going to take us or what we’re going to be doing. But that is, that’s also a unique skill set and talent, um, that we, we, we possess. Yeah, absolutely. Tell me a little bit more about Mercury Creative Group and what you all are kind of the best in the world at, how you got your name, because I knew you before you had that name, um, so I’m personally interested in that story, um, because it’s similar to ours, likely, um, in that the first one was last name related, um, and, and just kind of what your focus is these days.

Yeah, so a little history, everybody that’s listening. So I met Fjord as we were, uh, we had another development partner. We were building a lot of websites and so we needed another development partner. And a good colleague of mine referred me to Fjord’s and they came on as, uh, another dev partner, but they also built one of our websites years ago.

So that, that history, I would say probably 10 plus, maybe more years we’ve been working together. Um, and again, just a shout out to like partnership community, um, uh, other owners working, uh, together and like sharing our networks is so powerful and so helpful. Um, so Mercury Creative Group is a, I set a brand centric, uh, organization earlier, and what I want people to think about is lots of organizations where they’re for-profit, uh, or not for-profit, like trade associations, for example.

Their content, their messaging, uh, the website, their logo, all of their elements are inconsistent. They’re probably outdated. Uh, the messaging isn’t even on point and leadership is also lacking in. Talking about that organization clearly and succinctly and simply we come in and help really redefine the organization’s purpose from the inside out so old school value proposition really taking the organization’s through working sessions to really discover that brand.

We don’t actually create brands. We really rediscover the brands for the organizations that we work with, but we get it down on paper. We get it, those words down to, uh, a very simple structure that organizations can use to build the foundation for the right communications for the right brand elements. A lot of it is, is our name on point?

Is it time to change our name? So it’s actually relevant and can connect with our audience. And then speaking of audience. Who the hell are we talking to? Who do we want to connect with? Who do we help the most? That’s the number one place to start for many organizations is to really figure out that one person that you, you help the most.

It makes so much, everything that you’re doing so much easier from again, creating that name to what are the communications that we need to communicate that will connect, uh, with that ideal audience, that ideal buyer. So, um, as a graphic designer. That’s some of the end products, right? The logo, the, the creative look and feel the website, all of those pieces, that package that comes together, but we start with the brand first and that helps drive success for everything else that we do out into the marketplace.

Got it. Oh, that’s so cool. That, and some of the work that you all do, is there any particular vertical or I know you do a ton of different branding things, but anything that you’ve seen a lot of success or has led to more things and, and any sort of niches that you, that you all have? Yeah. One of the areas that we are the best in is working with trade associations, especially, uh, locally and nationally, and using our expertise to really help those organizations reinvent themselves, come to that one or two word essential value that really helps not just the leadership, but when we’re working with associations, there’s always a, a board of directors.

So another leadership group that isn’t always consistent. So they’re changing yearly or sometimes every couple of years. So. Creating a framework or our brand guide that we create that keeps them all. Clear and consistent in an alignment and building that unity from the inside out. That’s a really special piece that we have that we’ve, um, been working with for 20 plus years in that industry.

The other industry is, uh, the architectural engineering construction. Uh, industry. So really helping with a lot of construction organizations and engineering organizations do the same thing, but on a for profit side. So we’re working with bigger budgets, bigger resources and teams internally. So those are really the two areas that we thrive in.

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s fun to be able to take your learnings and continue to grow those different areas. And I know you do a ton of different, different things, but, um, it’s still cool to, to, to be more of an expert in a couple specific areas as well. Focus on me. Yeah, exactly. And, and, um, You know, one thing that is my, my favorite thing to do after we learn a little bit about you and your organization is to talk about the opportunities that your career that your position has given you.

So I’d love to hear, like, what are your favorite things about the work that you do and Or like how you do that super effectively. Yeah. Um, there’s so many things. Uh, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ability to take these organizations through major transformation. So it’s, it’s difficult getting everybody in alignment and clear with where the organization is going to go, but having those difficult conversations that bring everybody together are a challenging, but A, we thrive in it, but to see them come together and agree and really lock arms to make change and then to be with them a year or two down the road to really see the transformation, see the growth, see the change that they’ve done from the inside out and the success that they’re having.

That’s, that’s huge. The flip side that is really exciting for me right now is as I’ve grown the company, my focus is not so much client facing anymore. And my focus now is it’s my team. My team is number one. How do I help them? How do I support them? What did they need? How do I help break down some barriers or solve problems that they’re working on?

Cause. They’re now my team that’s working with our clients and they’re kind of the front line. So I, whatever I do to help them, I know that they’re going to be serving my client super well. So my focus, uh, in the last probably five to six years is really growing my team, building my team, supporting my team, uh, and just figuring out new ways to help them.

And that’s proved, proven huge for our growth, especially in the last couple of years. Yeah, and kind of leads a little bit into my next question, which is my curiosity for how did, how did Mercury Creative Group get its name? Yeah, that’s a fun story. So I’m gonna, uh, open up and be vulnerable as in I started my company using my last name, Begonia.

Yep. And I thought it would be pretty clever and cool to actually do the phonetic spelling of it because no one can pronounce my name. So I thought, let’s do it phonetically, right. And so it was begonic strategy and design that wasn’t so successful in getting people to pronounce the name. So I didn’t do my research and my homework and test it before I went out into the market.

But let’s advance 15 years into the history of my business and realizing all of this branding work we do, I need to run that same exercise on my business, my organization. So I brought in one of my trusted brand strategists at that point and ran that whole process on us and took my entire team through that process.

And. It was super enlightening to be the client on that side and go through a lot of those difficult conversations to really nail down what is our value proposition and what is our essential value after all of these years. Um, and. What came out of that was a, the, the clarity of what we really do and how to, that was like, we built on our focus and got very clear on that.

And that’s why we’ve grown so much to where we’re at today. So that, that works be the buy in from my team to be part of that process and to. Create the new name to have that ownership, uh, moving forward was also a big win for me that I didn’t think Um, so that process was, uh, super enlightening and it was, it was a game changer for the growth in my business as well.

So we changed from the organic strategy design to mercury creative group. The really fun part is mercury or begonic is Polish and that means messenger. So. Back in the day, my ancestors were actually bringing messages from village to village. So I guess old school, uh, postal, uh, uh, U. S. postal service in a sense.

So, um, that gave us inspiration for Mercury, which is the God of messaging. So there’s a nice little play on there, but it kind of brings back to my heritage. Uh, so there’s, there’s, that’s kind of the fun story. So I’m keeping that. But I’m also, I have a name that can go beyond me. My goal is not to, I want to leave this company to my team and to be able to exit out and leave that legacy.

And it’s much easier to leave with a unique name that isn’t tied to the actual owner. I mean, it is indirectly, but it’s not Begonic anymore. So. Well, I’m glad that you did something very similar to, or we did something very similar to what a branding agency did. We were Barsanus Solutions, which, for everybody who knows, is founded by my brother.

Um, but obviously we have the same last name, so it’s related there. And we came up with Fjorge from, uh, Um, our name is, is the name of a town on a fjord in Norway. We wanted to be fjord, but Accenture bought a company in the UK called fjord. Yeah. And so we weren’t going to win that battle. And so we combined that with the fjord with the word forge or.

You know, kind of crafting something. Um, and so that’s how we came up with it. So, uh, lo and behold, uh, we’re kind of in the, in the same boat. Um, that’s a really grown up, right? Yeah, that move. And like, and we own that, that name now even more than, than our, our last name. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was about the same time to Justin.

It was pretty close. Cause I think when I started talking to you guys, It was your last name. Yeah, probably. It probably was. Um, uh, all right. And so to, to get to know you even, even better. And I, I really want to ask you this question. I ask it a lot, but it’s my favorite one and it is. What is, since you, you are in this branding world and you’re in this small business world and you own this, this group, what’s the coolest thing that, that what’s the, the thing that’s like, you think is like, Oh, it’s so cool that we get to do this, like both business wise and, and just running a business and, and, and maybe an experience that you’ve had with a client or something like that.

Like, what’s the coolest, cool stories that you tell, um, to others, anything stand out? Well, the lucky thing that we get to do is reinvent organizations. So to be part of that transformation and to help guide, uh, organizations through this major chain and, and see them, see them evolve and grow and really, really thrive is that’s, that’s awesome.

Uh, branding the city of Rochester has always been very fun and like close to my heart as to actually, we just took on a big city and took this organization through a major transformation as well. We brought 14 departments who were siloed and this was in the middle of COVID. We had like 40 some people in, uh, on our zoom, uh, a workshop and to be able to have those conversations virtually, but to really dig deep into what is unique about this organization that is a city.

Um, and to, to narrow it down to their one thing and to see. Um, the buy in from all the different departments and to see it get incorporated, uh, throughout the entire city to have the city administrator and the mayor really take ownership and, and use the words that we have built to see the visuals everywhere in the town, that’s a, that’s a fun project to, to celebrate.

And I guess for us as creatives, we get to see that end product too, whether it’s a shopping bag and they’re walking out across the street and you see that, um, or it’s on a city bus or it’s on some major signage, it’s, it’s fun to see that end product that we work pretty hard to get to as well. Oh, that’s really cool.

We’re both from Minnesota. So I’m assuming you mean Rochester, Minnesota and Rochester, New York, correct? Yep. Yes. Got it. And for most listeners are probably in Minnesota as well and would assume that but Rochester, Minnesota is where the Mayo Clinic is in town of about 100. 120, 000, 200, 000 about, Oh, is it really?

Okay, I could be wrong. Anyone can correct me. I’m totally, but Rochester, New York is next in line. So, yeah, good. Good. You have experience. You have experience in Rochester. Yes, we do. You can, you can, that is really cool that you get to see kind of the, Oh, that’s something we did. That’s something, you know, that, or even like an, I imagine some of it’s like the next iteration and maybe you.

Like, Oh, they took kind of our brand feel and look and applied it to this situation. And I either like, or don’t like what they did with it, you know, we’re pretty, uh, we give them some pretty, pretty strict, uh, guidelines and work to use because consistency is super important, uh, out in the marketplace.

Cause the minute you are misrepresenting your brand or you’re not being consistent in the things that you’re doing, people start to question and Uh, get a little confused. So, yeah, yeah. You got it’s self discipline for those organizations for sure. Which, which is another thing I always like to, since we, we do talk to like different types of marketers, but I love hearing from branding folks, what the misconceptions of like branding refresh.

Like what the value is that it adds. I think people go, Oh, it’s just a little bit of fluff when they’re not kind of in this world, what do you feel like people, like the mis common myths or misconceptions about branding might be a lot of the misconceptions really are. And it’s even in our own market, uh, is what is a brand and people think a brand is a logo.

They’ll think it’s your tagline. They’ll think it’s, uh, what’s printed on your apparel. It’s not, that’s a small element. Your logo, your name are, are some of those core brand elements, but your brand is really that one thing. That one thing that you do better than anybody else. And how do you communicate that out to the world?

And how do all of these branded elements like your name, logo, tagline, your website, the messaging that’s coming off your website. Um, how do your salespeople talk about your organization? How do, how does the owner pick up the phone and talk to somebody? I don’t know if anyone uses the phone anymore, but that, that communication is also part of the brand.

And it’s the sum of all those pieces that come together that will lead one a positive way or a negative way for that brand, which is, uh, any business or organization. Yeah, that’s, yeah. And, and, you know, based on it, it is hard to think about that, that it’s, it’s every interaction is a brand interaction.

And I know people have seen that, but it’s, it truly is that way. And it’s not just a logo or a tagline. Yeah. Correct. It’s, it’s why are you buying Nike instead of Adidas? If the, you know, product is very similar. Um, you know, all of those elements go into something like that. Yeah. I need people to, we’re all emotional beings.

So we connect emotionally to another person or Uh, a thing or this brand. So that’s why you see some of the big brands that are very successful. Um, they know what their one thing is and they know who their audience is. So they know how to talk to them and have them self align. Yeah. And, and here’s a question.

I know, I know from, from a brand person like yourself, you have a, a fully remote team, and so how do you, how have you created that brand, a strong brand and culture and collaborative spirit, but yet be fully remote? Yeah, we’ve been remote since 2009 and had an attributed team and it, for me, it happened very organically.

And I had two designers early on. And we were in an old warehouse, so it was, it was loud. It was a cool space, but it was loud if there was two people on the phone. So I had one designer asked to work from home one day and I thought, why not give it a shot? And, uh, that was Wednesdays when he’d come back in and Thursdays we would quit meet and kind of go over a lot of creative, um, over time I found that.

That was much more effective. He was getting more done, less time on my part in, in reviews and scheduling. Then I had another designer, his wife had got a job at Bemidji. So he asked if he could work from home Thursdays and Fridays. And I was like, absolutely. Like, like, why not? You’re awesome. And. That has worked, that worked very well.

And we kind of implemented the same thing. And then when the 2000, like 2008, 2009, uh, crunch hit, we got rid of our office. Uh, we weren’t there that much, so we weren’t using this, this space. And we’ve been remote distributed ever since. Uh, we did meet one day a week and it was probably a year or so after we were doing that, we’re like, we don’t need to do that.

We know how to meet on a regular basis, uh, remotely. Um, we were still meeting for our clients in their offices. So we were seeing each other. So we would have those connections. So it’s been part of our culture for a very long time and get into COVID. Like we’re already, we can run and do this. And, um, you know, there was still learning for us going through COVID now, cause we’re in so many meetings on zoom.

But what we’ve really learned and implemented is doing monthly state of the office meetings. So they’re just one hour. Everyone can get a little update from me and Emily on what’s going on in the office. Um, I kind of on a bigger picture, but then we’re spending time getting to know. Each other and doing some really kind of fun, not work types of things.

Uh, we have quarterly meetings and then we do a yearly offsite, which is three days or we bring everybody in. Um, and not everyone’s in Minnesota. So we fly everybody in and we pick a really kind of unique, cool place that people wouldn’t typically go to. But it’s easy for us to kind of all hang out and we get work done, but the focus really is connecting everybody, uh, in person and being able to spend that time together, getting to know each other.

And that’s been, uh, Extremely successful for us. Uh, we also implement EOS, so we’re big fans of EOS and as well as you guys. So it’s, that framework also helps us to keep a cadence and accountability. So it’s really kind of the combination of those things and trust. I trust my team, like I, we give them work, uh, how can I support them?

How do I get out of the way, um, to let them do their thing. And I know if there’s anyone struggling or if there’s someone that we maybe need to, uh, to help or cause the work may not be getting done or there’s, you just know it’s there. So as quickly as you can. Can talk about it and find out where things are at or how to help anybody and we’re a very collaborative helpful team.

So if anybody raises their hand, we’ve got five people jumping in to help. So there’s a, there’s a really nice, uh, um, It’s a team culture. Um, it’s not a family, it’s a team. Um, you know, we’re, we’re still small, so we have to move quickly and adapt. And, uh, the ability to do that together and wear some multiple hats is that’s, that’s been fun.

It’s been, we’ve been very successful. Um, and it’s not going to change for us. Yeah, no. And I, I mean, now that memory is kicking in, um, I remember you all as being remote before remote was a thing and that being very unique in 2012 and 14, probably, um, and great to see that you’ve kept it strong and it’s not as uncommon nearly anymore.

Um, and the technology keeps getting better and better and easier and easier. Um, but it’s great to connect in person too. And so you’re, you’re covering that. So man, just great stories. You can’t beat the in person, uh, connection. The, the ability to, um, share ideas and to sketch in front of each other and to whiteboard next to each other and to, to just be in the same place talking through things is still the most effective way to.

To collaborate, to create, um, and just be together. So, uh, you can’t be virtual all the time. It’s very important that you do get together, but you can be very strategic about that time. So it’s used effectively and my team wants flexibility. They want to be with their family more. They want to be with their friends more.

They want to pursue their hobbies. And I have that ability to give them that, um, in the, the, the surroundings that we have. So it’s, that’s, it makes me feel really good. Yeah, no, so, so cool and so great to see it, uh, all come to fruition and, and, and, and also be a little bit, a small part of the story is, is, is fun for us as well.

So you’re still a part of that story. So yeah, absolutely. Um, well, Justin, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for, uh, today on the show. Um, thank you so much for joining us and would love to do it again sometime and look forward to, uh, continuing the, the long partnership. I agree. Thank you for having me.

And, uh, yeah, I’m happy to continue the conversation anytime. Absolutely. All right. And to our listeners, uh, the best ways to find more. About Justin and team, uh, you can go to mercury creative group dot com or search for the same on linked in and thank you to all of our listeners for joining us. You can download episodes of our program by going to Fjorge dot 📍 com slash mind your own marketing business or by subscribing to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud and iHeart Radio

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