In the ever-evolving world of business, there are individuals who stand out for their exceptional vision, unparalleled expertise, and unwavering dedication. One such luminary is Andy Cunningham—an accomplished author, CEO, and entrepreneur who has left an indelible mark on the realm of branding and marketing strategy.
Andy Cunningham’s journey is a tapestry woven with remarkable achievements and transformative experiences. From working alongside industry legends like Steve Jobs to founding her own successful companies, she has carved a unique path that continues to inspire entrepreneurs and professionals around the globe.
As an author, Andy Cunningham’s insights and wisdom have been captured in her acclaimed book, “Get to Aha! Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition.” This literary masterpiece serves as a guidebook for anyone seeking to build a strong and distinctive brand that resonates with their target audience. With her expertise in strategic brand positioning, Andy Cunningham has revolutionized the way businesses approach marketing, empowering countless leaders to unlock their true potential.
At the helm of Cunningham Collective, a strategic communications and marketing advisory firm, Andy Cunningham continues to guide and empower leadership teams with the tools necessary to position their companies for success. Her proven framework, refined through collaboration with numerous enterprises, ensures that each brand she touches achieves winning results.
This interview dives deep into the brilliance of Andy Cunningham, exploring her early career journey, the pivotal moments that shaped her approach, and the invaluable lessons she has learned along the way. Through insightful interviews, we uncover her unique perspective on brand positioning, marketing trends, and the future of entrepreneurship in the digital age.
Discover the strategies, techniques, and philosophies that have catapulted her to the forefront of the industry, and gain inspiration to unlock your own brand’s full potential.
The path to success is illuminated by those who dare to think differently, to challenge the status quo, and to forge new frontiers. Andy Cunningham embodies this spirit of innovation, and her transformative contributions continue to shape the landscape of modern branding.
Get ready to be inspired, enlightened, and equipped with the tools to navigate the ever-changing tides of the business landscape.
What was your first entrepreneurial venture, and what lessons did you learn from that experience?
Technically, my first venture was my Public Relations firm, Cunningham Communication. It became a nationally recognized high-tech PR firm with a client list that defined Silicon Valley in its earliest days. I learned a lot about leading a business, balancing professional success with starting a family and everything in between.
But I think my first entrepreneurial experience predates Cunningham Communication. It was the opportunity to step up and lead the Apple account as a twenty-something go getter from Chicago. Regis McKenna–marketing guru, my first boss in Silicon Valley, and life-long mentor—assigned me the Apple account, which meant working with and for Steve Jobs to launch the Macintosh. Although I was stretched beyond my limits, I persevered and played a small role in helping Steve Jobs change the world. And although this was more of an intrapreneur experience, the lessons I learned working on that account shaped the entrepreneur and leader I would later become. I often joke that I graduated from the Steve Jobs school of marketing, because the experience had such a profound impact on my career and life.
I think the lessons learned are best encapsulated in the values I developed for Cunningham Communication, which still hang in my office today as I inspire my current employees to work and behave in the same way.
The Cunningham Way
- Challenge the status quo: Just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do it. Think big. Think different.
- Have the courage to say no: Not every opportunity is a good one. Know your worth, know your limits. This is important for everyone, but especially the women out there.
- Adopt a game-changing mentality: You have a better chance of changing the world if you believe you can. But you also have a better chance of winning the game-whichever game you might be playing-if you adopt a game changing mentality.
- Mentor someone: Mentorship is key to personal and professional growth. But you don’t have to establish an official mentoring relationship with someone to learn from or teach them. Steve Jobs was one of the best mentors I ever had, and he never knew it. Don’t think of yourself as a boss or a manager, think of yourself as a mentor. Because when one person grows, we all grow.
- Maintain personal integrity: Values, both personal and corporate, are critical for maintaining integrity. Be clear about your own values and seek out companies and teams that share them. If you are ever in a situation in which your integrity is being put to question, refer to Lesson 2.
- Treat people fairly: This is the golden rule. Treat your customers, employees, peers, board members and everyone else in your ecosystem with respect, transparency, and fairness. Do this, and the experience of working with you will return ten fold throughout your career.
- Take intelligent risks: Recklessness is rarely a sustainable path to progress, but avoiding risk altogether is a sure-fire way to stay stagnant.
- Be a team player: All boats rise with the tide. Teamwork makes the dream work. Insert whatever cheesy saying works for you. But business is a team sport and you cannot win if you play alone. Hire for holes in your own skillset, surround yourself with intelligent people, get out of their way, and support them when they need it.
- Keep others informed: Gatekeeping information is the opposite of being a team player.
- Play an active role in the industry: This lesson came directly from Regis, who advised me to be not only an expert in PR and marketing, but also an active member of the industry I served: tech. Being seen as an expert in your craft is great, being seen as an expert in your client or customer’s space is better. It keeps you at the cutting edge of innovation, improves your work tremendously, and buys invaluable credibility.
- Appreciate new ideas and new technology: Don’t be one of those people who looks back on their life and career with rose colored glasses, thinking “everything was better back in my day.” Learn from the next generation, embrace change, try new things, and take intelligent risks.
- See the forest as well as the trees: Train yourself to see the big picture and the details.
- Contribute at every juncture: This is important for everyone, but especially for people early on in their careers. ABC! Always be contributing! Even if your contribution is asking questions, taking invaluable notes, following up with action items—there is always an opportunity to contribute. Picture yourself in a meeting, with your team or client, if you get up to go to the bathroom, you should be missed.
- Find possibilities where others don’t: Let optimism and enthusiasm drive your actions. There are always many reasons why something can’t be done, and many people saying “no we can’t,” be the person who says “yes we can.” Believe in the power of possibility and watch progress happen.
- Strive for the highest quality always: This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning. I like to say, the best marketing you can do is great work.
- Help others win: This applies to your teammates, clients, customers, and anyone else you can think of. When you’re developing products and programs, you need to consider how you’re helping others win. The best brands help their customers win. The best leaders help their people win.
- Perform miracles: I used to tell my team “All I ask for is a miracle a week.” It sounds like a lot of pressure, but I firmly believe if you truly adopt the lessons listed above and behave accordingly, you can perform miracles. You will go above and beyond. You will come up with new ideas. You will be a driving force for progress. And you will outperform others in your same position.
What inspired you to write the book “Get to Aha!” and what message or insights did you hope to share with readers?
When I say positioning is the epicenter of great marketing, and great marketing is the epicenter of great business, I’m trying to communicate the critical role marketing plays in business success and growth. At its core, marketing is a Holy Grail effort to influence opinion and change behavior so that companies can sell more stuff. There is a plethora of technology and tools available to help marketers on this quest, but the technology and tools simply aren’t enough to move the needle on their own. You have to know exactly who you are and why you matter as a company to win in the market. I wrote Get to Aha! to provide marketers with a framework that helps them answer those questions. I wanted to give people a simple yet strategic way to define a position that gives their business the competitive advantage necessary to rise above the noise in today’s world.
I hope readers walk away with more than a clear, philosophical understanding of what positioning is and why it matters; I want them to have actionable takeaways that will positively impact their businesses. Whoever the reader is, I want them to take this framework to the rest of their team and use it to drive alignment, examine the market, and create a robust message architecture that tells the world exactly who they are and why they matter.
Can you tell us about the vision behind the Cunningham Collective and what led you to start the company?
I truly believe that positioning is the epicenter of great marketing and great marketing is the epicenter of great business. I also believe a lot of people skip over positioning because they don’t totally understand it, underestimate its value, and/or mistake it for brand design. In fact, at Cunningham Communication—a renowned high-tech, PR agency of the 1980s- 1990s—I started every engagement with strategy. I saw PR as the tool we used to get execute strategy and get the message to the public. When I sold that firm, I had a non-compete and decided to start an agency that focused solely on what I deem to be the most important part of the marketing and communication process: brand positioning. I knew that if we could empower leadership teams with a strong position and a robust message architecture, they could change the trajectory of their companies and increase their value immensely. And that’s exactly what happened! I have seen my positioning clients skyrocket to success based on the work we did together.
How do you approach decision-making in your ventures, and what factors do you consider when evaluating potential opportunities?
I tend to approach every decision with optimism, open to the possibilities every opportunity presents. I am a doer and an explorer. I move fast and pivot quickly when need be. I try to bet with conviction, take intelligent risks, and challenge the status quo. I like to consider how an opportunity will help others win or change the game entirely. I learned a lot of this from working with Steve Jobs. His mission was always to advance humankind, and in so doing he tried, failed, persevered, told the market what it needed, and ultimately changed the world. I’m driven by a similar vision and therefore surround myself with people who think a little more rationally than I do. If I have a great big idea, I review it with my team so we can think through finances, operations, resource allocation, etc. But ultimately, I’m a big believer in trying new things, iterating for progress, and eventually getting my business, my team, and myself to the best possible destination through trial and error.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind as an entrepreneur, and what impact do you aspire to make through your ventures?
I’ve always believed that my personal purpose is to help bring innovation to market. I am fascinated by human ingenuity and technology’s potential to change the world. My contribution to world changing innovation? Helping brands effectively communicate who they are, what they do, and why they matter.