My Origin Story


The most powerful words
 
 
Last year I wrote a longer form description of my background and work and never shared it here. Is it important to share our story? When I work with companies, I often explain how your story allows people to connect with you. Your story also creates culture.

Businesses talk about their origin story – what got the core team together, how they identified the opportunity for a product or service. Your culture is how you draw energy from the past and day-to-day to create the future.

Whether you're a founder who set out to create a solution for a gap in the market, or a grown up company, at some point the story you tell needs to catch up with your work. But it's not your story that people care about (as much), it's their story. What kind of new story are you helping them create?

Story is a necessary internal conversation for branding. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? How is working with us meaningful? When you're reimagining: How do you feel? I have these and many more questions for you and your customers and partners (your ecosystem) to stir the conversation into the core of what matters.

This my public conversation with myself about how my brand evolved (and what it means for what is possible for you.)

My origin story

I’m a linguist, business strategist, and meaning maker and advise companies all over the world on value development and value communication. They're the necessary ingredients to an intentional culture@work.

What follows is a collection of tassels that form my personal narrative.

My first public speaking at the age of six saved my textbook. They were talking about replacing it. I got up on the podium at the school meeting with heart beating, and asked the assembly, “have you read it?” The room went very still – I told the story that clinched the deal.

Even at an early age I felt compelled to speak up, share evidence about the “user” perspective to help people make decisions. I observed and deconstructed how engaging communication worked constantly – from the 5-minute shorts with no dialogue on TV, to popular ads.

 

I believe in getting at truth

the way of the scientist:

gather evidence, look for regularities,

form theories explaining observations,

test them, and update them

when new evidence is available.

These days I spend my time writing and helping busy executives learn what works through evidence – leveraging the power of observation and conversation – and apply that understanding to their brands, products/services, and business.

When you work on improving observation and conversation you find and spotlight value. You do this if you want to make a real difference in people’s lives.

 

Business advisor

While most of my marketing colleagues pursued a more linear career path, I followed the questions – identifying the real cause of business disconnects and customer experience issues. My curiosity led to better questions, and insights on the type of obstacles that got in the way of growth.

Soon, I specialized in repositioning older brands that had lost their identity (and internal purpose) and technical and science-based products in search of new growth; streamlining complex businesses for different client groups; helping highly technical experts and scientists communicate to everyday people; and scaling operational processes, technologies, and capabilities to meet new challenges.

I noticed that clients came to me for help with things like:

 

“We're the 800-pound gorilla in our industry, and our ‘air support’ branding efforts are often lagging our smaller, much more aggressive competitors. We could use your help!”

 

“I build communities for companies, but my business development letters are not working. Can you help me?”

 

“I’ve built an amazing cognitive computing engine to analyze text-based feedback. It’s got collaboration and case management tools, but many consultants and organizations that could be using our technology don’t know how much better our output is. How can we attract them?”

 

“We’re technical founders with an amazing product, but we need to make some changes and we’re struggling with the demands of our roles and the impact of what we plan to do and say. Can you jump in?”

 

As an opportunity seeker, I’ve worked in five industries and across different cultures; not only I could help these clients, we could design actionable solutions together by finding the right questions to ask.

Executives don’t always have all the evidence, and evidence is often not updated on a continuous basis. You know the feeling if you've even driven when there was thick fog – a very normal occurrence in the Great Valley of Emilia-Romagna, where I grew up. You see outlines, or shadows of things. When instead, you want to see crisp contours.

Over the years, I’ve worked with senior operational leaders in global businesses with challenger brands and in highly technical and scientific fields and crowded industries.

I’ve worked with executives and companies including Target, AnheuserBush InBev, NBCU, GE, Sungard, KPMG, Allstate, UBS, Willis Towers Watson, and GlaxoSmithKline. I have innovated and built service portfolios for digital agencies, including PMX Agency, and Empathy Lab.

This is what people have to say about our collaboration:

 

“Thank you for being the soul of Liminal… for extracting the essential qualities of this group and giving voice and direction. And, for challenging us to be deeply honest and open with those companies we serve. This thought leadership evidences the big issues we are not scared to tackle. Well done!”

Jack Smith, Partner, Liminal Consulting

 

“When our company was rebranding, we had no idea where to begin. We knew that our current product name was not getting people excited about our technology and our business, and we wanted to make a meaningful change. Valeria talked us through several different strategies for rebranding and helped us map out key metrics for success with selecting our new brand. Her advice was invaluable, and we saw the positive effect of our new name immediately. I would highly recommend working with Valeria to create a brand that highlights your company.”

– Elsa Swanson, Cofounder and CEO, Synotrac

 

“Valeria brings an amazing depth and breadth of knowledge to bear on marketing strategies and systems. I can’t say enough about her ability to create marketing programs that reflect a coherent strategy and deliver great results. Brand innovation, marketing strategy, community building – she can tackle it all and create offerings that deliver for the clients and the agency. It is a pleasure to work with her.”

– Barbara Frontera, Data & Analytics at Perks Consulting

 

“Valeria has high credibility and trust rating from senior management. Her understanding of the critical role of communication to product success has added tremendous value to the organization. Additionally, her unique ability to act by giving to others growth, development and success makes her a unique and valued advisor and friend.”

– Faye Patterson Ciccotto, PSA Consultants

 

“Valeria Maltoni is one of the most talented, knowledgeable and recognizable people in the social space. At Powered, we collaborated on many strategic consulting projects for clients. These strategic engagements all converted to ongoing retainer based programs and have positioned our company as a key contributor and trusted partner in the development and deployment of social strategies. Valeria has a great deal of experience and is immersed in the social/digital space. There are few people with her breadth of knowledge and passion for the discipline. Valeria is a great peer and colleague and has helped to mentor many of the junior staff members. I look forward to the chance to work with her again.”

– Steve Kleiberg: Head of Accounts, Dachis Group 

 

I’ve also presented at major conferences, including SXSW interactive in Austin, CES International and WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas, Digital Age in Sao Paulo, Re:Think in Oslo, Inbound in Boston, Content Marketing World in Cleveland.

This is what attendees have to say:

 

“I first met Valeria when she was a featured speaker during a Business Marketing Association event. During this particular presentation, I was impressed with Valeria’s in depth understanding and thoughtful approach to corporate culture, branding and marketing, as well as an articulation of how vitally interconnected they are. Valeria knows how to cut through clutter to express her points with real world examples, wonderful humor and ‘no bull’ directness. It’s been an honor getting to know and interact with Valeria since our first meeting. I’m always so impressed with her passion for learning (she is forever discovering new insights) and her ability to humanize problems and situations, applying her deep knowledge of psychology and behavioral learning practices.”

– Tom Alexander, Senior Brand Marketing Executive

 

“I invited Valeria to present to SOCAP International, the global community of customer care experts, on social strategy for customer-centric businesses. Her expertise in strategy and the design of digital, social and physical services came together to inform the audience on what she calls “the value of promises,” and what that means to leaders on the front line of delivering value to companies and consumers. In her inimitable style, she pushed the boundaries of our thinking about the intersection of commerce, culture and relationships.”

— Lisa Oswald, SVP Customer Service, Travelzoo

 

“I watched Valeria present on 'What’s Next In Marketing' to a room packed with founders of early stage companies. Her session was part of Boston’s FutureM series. The combination of the 'futurist' event and the entrepreneurial crowd could have proven challenging given Valeria’s forward-looking subject. But not for her. Her session was packed with fresh examples — no 'United Breaks Guitars in her speech' — that triggered an equal blend of learning and laughter. Valeria owns the room — not by talking most loudly, but by knowing exactly what the audience needs, and giving it to them.”

— Joe Chernov, Chief Marketing Officer, Robin

 

“Valeria Maltoni is an engaging marketing communications expert who skillfully interacts with audiences of any type, from general marketers to C Level executives. She consistently adds new thought provoking ideas in a clear and concise manner instead of all too familiar regurgitation of the same old information. Valeria’s passion to see businesses succeed is only outdone by her knowledge of how to help them actually achieve this.”

— Chris Berger, Asst Vice President, Corp. Communications, Atrium Health

 

“I attended a panel on social media and public relations moderated by Valeria at BlogWorld 2010. Valeria did a fabulous job probing the panel with interesting questions. What’s more, she also handled the toughest part – keeping the flow of the conversation moving – extremely well, while adding her own expertise to the conversation in a constructive way. I thoroughly enjoyed the panel, and would happily recommend Valeria as a moderator.”

— Dave Fleet, Senior Vice President Digital, Edelman Toronto

 

As an idea-to-insights person, I'm also known for rolling up my sleeves, working at client sites and user group conferences to zero in on value.

My work as an early adopter of digital technologies has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Business Week, Inc., Advertising Age and other A-list publications.

 

Creative use of questions

In 1999, I came across the first print issue of Fast Company magazine. A year later, I started an affinity social network in Philadelphia on their site with live events for the local business community. It was my introduction to blogs and online conversation.

I started writing every day at Conversation Agent in 2006. It felt scary to put my ideas out there, outside a company process. My experience building the Fast Company community was invaluable fuel.

A few weeks in and I was hitting a nerve and starting to get readers and meet other bloggers. Fast Company then invited me to have a column on customer experience syndicated on the home page – I was one of the first expert bloggers.

Blogs became hugely important when companies started adopting social media, building communities, and investing in content marketing. My blog attracted inquiries from business leaders in many industries. It became the catalyst for joining one of the first social media strategy agencies, Powered, and then Empathy Lab, a high growth user experience design firm.

It also attracted major publishers in the U.S. when it inspired talks at major conferences.

 

I founded Conversation Agent LLC in 2015

to help brands grow in the digital age.

 

The name comes from an observation:

that online and in the real world, story, credibility, and behavior are linked and in constant conversation with customer outcomes / experiences through feedback loops

Agent is “an active and efficient cause.” Like in a scientific discovery.

The intentional conversation of story with credibility, and behavior is thus an agent of change in individuals, organizations, and the community. This is how we adapt and build a purposeful and more sustainable what's next.

The practical application is much simpler–I help companies evolve and grow up, not just grow.

  • A startup needs to go from 0-60, like a well tuned engine, possibly a Ferrari, and get off to a good, solid start.
  • A mid-market and high growth company needs refocusing and right-size messaging with a focus on the right things to keep everything run smoothly as it differentiates while it grows bigger.
  • A large company wants to reacquire the agility of a startup, sometimes find its purpose again, integrate acquisitions, tell a new story, maybe position a business unit where a spinoff makes more sense.

These are all examples of work I have done. What about you? Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, if you're not feeling it, yet, ask yourself:

Is your culture intentional? Is your narrative alive or manufactured? Are your conversations transformative or tokens? Do your customers believe you create value and appreciate it? Are you building community as you connect with your network of partners and collaborators? Are people collaborating on the inside? 

They're different examples of the same kind of questioning work:

Is our story serving us? Do we back it up with the experience? What narrative are we embracing? Are we performing like a fine-tuned engine (purpose and true north), without too much reliance on aerodynamics?

Bridge the gap between walk and talk. As Enzo Ferrari said, “aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines.”

I learned that product / market alignment is super important, and similarly alignment in culture, language, and story with intent are critical to performance. I work with organizations to find and shine a light on value using the scientific way of getting at truth. With research and evidence, empathy and experience.

I’d be delighted to get to know and help you succeed.