My special guest, Zahra Cruzan, is a cross between a therapist type and a marketing whiz and she happens to make every conversation really fun! In the episode, you will hear stories of how she came to be a brand strategist and the CEO of her own company, Brand Author, and you will hear her wise words about why branding is so important to the success of any company. Stay tuned to get a bunch of bonus lessons from Zahra on how to maintain an attitude of positivity and possibility in any endeavor that you choose.
Zahra Cruzan is the founder and chief brand strategist at Brand Author, a premier branding firm in Texas that specializes in food and beverage and product branding. With over 15 years of brand and marketing experience, Zahra’s work has won international awards for content strategy, and she speaks at events across the country on how to transform your business into a brand. When asked about her passion for her work, Zahra says, “The best part of my day is the unexpected byproduct of the work we do. Our intention when we began Brand Author was to help the world find and fall in love with impact-driven brands. In doing so, we find we also help reignite our client’s passion for their own brand – and that just makes my day.”
• [7:50] Zahra shares how she helped CEO’s fall back in love with their own brands.
• [8:54] “It's just, it's just a sign that something's out of alignment. It's, you know, your brand and your vision are just out of sync.”
• [11:19] “Ultimately, your marketing is only as good as your brand.”
• [12:54] Zahra talks about entrepreneurship and parenting being two of the things that will force you to grow.
For more information on the Make Time for Success podcast, visit: https://www.maketimeforsuccesspodcast.com
Connect with Us!
Dr. Christine Li -
To work with Dr. Li on a weekly basis in her coaching and accountability program, please register for The Success Lab here: https://www.procrastinationcoach.com/lab
Zahra Cruzan -
A recording of a bonus training on becoming the Chief Visionary Officer of your brand. https://www.maketimeforsuccesspodcast.com/visionary
Christine Li 0:01
Welcome back to the Make Time for Success podcast. This is episode number 82. There are some people in life who you just connect with immediately and for me, Zahra Cruzan was one of those people. She's our special guest today. And you're going to hear her stories of how she came to be a brand strategist and the CEO of her own company, brand author. You're also going to hear her wise words about why branding is so important to the success of any company. And you're going to get a bunch of bonus lessons from her on how to maintain an attitude of positivity and possibility in any endeavor that you choose. For me. She's a cross between a therapist type and a marketing whiz and she happens to make every conversation really fun. To Zahra's company brand author is a premier branding firm in Texas that specializes in food and beverage and product branding. With over 15 years of brand and marketing experience. Zahra's work has won international awards for content strategy, and she speaks at events across the country on how to transform your business into a brand. I can't wait for you to meet my good friend Zahra. And to learn from her. Let's go listen to this episode, together now.
Hi, I'm Dr. Christine Li, and I'm a psychologist and a procrastination coach. I've helped 1000s of people move past procrastination and overwhelm so they can begin working to their potential. In this podcast, you're going to learn a powerful strategies for getting your mind, body and energy to work together so that you can focus on what's really important, and accomplish the goals you want to achieve. When you start living within your full power, you're going to see how being productive can be easy, and how you can create success on demand.
Welcome to the Make Time for Success podcast. Hello, my podcast friends. It's Dr. Christine Li. And today I'm feeling really good. Because I've my friend and colleague Zahra Cruzan, here to share with you her expertise to her amazing and wonderful personality. And I think the audience and I are going to learn a lot from you today. Zahra, welcome to the show.
Zahra Cruzan 2:31
Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's so good to see you. It's been too long.
Christine Li 2:35
It's been too long, we had a lot of catch up talk. And we actually are sipping from the same mug that we got at the conference that we met way back when before the pandemic. And it's good to hear that Zahra is doing well. Zahra is a brand strategist and the CEO and founder of brand author, which is a company based in Texas. Can you tell us a little bit more about you your work and the business that you run?
Zahra Cruzan 3:06
Yeah, so we are a branding firm. And basically, what that means is that we take that area, you know, separate from all the marketing and the sales. And we really focus on creating that brand infrastructure, so that we can create that foundation that then goes into the marketing and sales and everything that that we talked about. So that's our jam. We love creating really strong foundations for brands, helping CEOs and visionaries to articulate all that genius is in their brain and putting it into a tangible, living, breathing working business where you can create buy in, so we're really excited about that.
Christine Li 3:47
Okay, lovely. Can you describe or explain how did you end up in this line of work and being the specialist of brands?
Zahra Cruzan 3:56
Yes. So how much time do you have? We have a lot of time, so it's a windy road. So I actually didn't go to school for branding. I went to school. For biology, I was a pre med major. And, you know, my senior year, I decided that was not the path for me. It was not something I was gonna do. And at the time, I was working at an insurance company and I and I continued working there. And I started working in the marketing department sales. So I did marketing and sales, you know, for over a decade. And my husband who's a chef. He graduated from culinary school, we moved to London for his externship, we came back and he said, You know what, that was a completely inspiring opportunity for him and he said, Hey, let's open a restaurant, you know, marketing, IMO cheffing. And so let's do this thing. And so we did and we had a restaurant for five years and And during that time is when I first noticed, one of the big disparities between how the fortune 500 companies that I work for handled branding and marketing, and how me and my startup crews handled branding and marketing. And even with a corporate background, there is a difference. And I think the thing is, is that there isn't a real solid understanding of brand, even amongst marketers, it is this elusive thing. And so if you don't have an agency of record, who's you know, got a whole team working on that for you all the time, it can be that thing that just kind of gets forgotten, and it gets skipped over and it rushes to marketing, and sales. And so then I surprisingly, got pregnant with my son, who I talked about all the time. And we made a choice at that time was that you know what this restaurant life is brutal. We're not going to keep putting in 80 hours a week. And so my husband went back to corporate and I was a stay at home mom and I started working in my field doing copywriting and I got an opportunity, I got a request to ghost write a book. And so that started me down the path of ghost writing. Well, the books that I wrote were for personal brands, and brands and companies that were telling their story, like how Company X did this, or that, you know, the story of. And so as I'm doing these hours of interviewing and writing these books, and listening to how these brand leaders and visionaries, worked and functioned, things just started to kind of very slowly, because I'm not that bright. Click. I said, you know, what this is it like these light bulbs started going off, I said, you know, this is the framework, there is a framework here that a lot of small to medium sized businesses are missing. And it kind of just keeps them stuck. And so immediately, I do what my scientist training taught me to do. And I made my, you know, my hypothesis and my experiment, you know, and I went out to all my friends who owned restaurants and things like that. And I said, Hey, can I try this? Can I try this on you? Will you let me we'll be my guinea pigs. And they did. And so I started doing it for friends, and just kind of freelancing on the side. And we saw that it did work. And it had tremendous results. And so I eventually just started bringing my crew together and finding great people to join the team and brand author, the agency was born. And so that is my very convoluted windy path to branding.
Christine Li 7:39
Okay, great. And what do you love about it? Why does it light you up to be able to help people and companies to find their core story?
Zahra Cruzan 7:50
You know, what's crazy is, when I started, I, the intention was to help the world fall in love with these brands, these impact driven brands, and we specialize in a lot of companies that are really focused on sustainability and making positive impact that have give back, you know, sectors. And so we just thought, man, if more people knew about these awesome, amazing, intentional brands, the world would just be a better place like, this is what business is all about. But what I found that was even more touching, I think, is how these CEOs fell back in love with their own brands. And I don't know how many people out there listening can identify with that CEO burnout, you know, where you started out, loving what you did, and who you did it for, and how you did it. And then just slowly, it kind of gets eaten away. And all of a sudden, you kind of have this, you know, the world versus me, the customers versus me, my employees versus me. And you know, just slowly, you kind of lose that passion, that love for what you do. And it's just, it's just a sign that something's out of alignment. It's, you know, your brand and your vision are just out of sync. And if we can help, you know, reconnect, and bring alignment there. As a CEO, you're able to just fall back in love with what you do, and do it with a sense of purpose and intentionality. And I think that's the thing that the secret little gem that that ended up being just more impactful than, than anything else.
Christine Li 9:20
You sound like a procrastination coach for business, people to get unstuck. I'm wondering what is your theory or observation of why people neglect this area, in some ways, or let it go on worked on for a while, even though they might not be benefiting from that delay? I guess why do people stay stuck without defining what their brand is? Yes, I
Zahra Cruzan 9:51
think it's actually kind of a lack of awareness and a lack of clarity on what branding is. So I think most people I mean in brand is one of the most overused words in the world. Like, it's crazy, everything is a brand. You know, no matter what you do in business, you know, you somehow offer brand services. And so it's really a hard thing to kind of grasp. And there's also a lot of Whoo, that's kind of attached to it. And so a lot of people who are in business and CEOs are very practical, pragmatic people. And so when you look at, you know, brand versus marketing versus sales, the things that they gravitate to are the numbers or the ROIs are the moneymakers. And so branding is kind of this creative process to them. And, and it's not something that they think they're good at, it's not something they think, is that important, it's not something that they can see, you know, a tomorrow ROI from. And so, you know, it doesn't really seem to hold as much value. And I say that, because the clients that we do get, oftentimes are ones that have run successful marketing and then hit a plateau, they're ready to scale and they can't break the barrier. And so they know, like, we're doing the right things in marketing, we're doing the right things in sales. And yet, we're stuck, you know, and so then they have to go back and rework the problem. And then sitting there in shining lights with spotlights is your brand, you've got to go back and look at the brand. Because ultimately, your marketing is only as good as your brand. And your brand is what builds that asset over time. And so if you're running your business with just straight up hustle on marketing and sales, it's basically as a company like you're living paycheck to paycheck, without putting anything aside, you know, for growth and asset and equity for later to make marketing, less expensive, and less labor intensive over time.
Christine Li 11:47
Gotcha. So that makes a lot of sense. And I imagine that the people who are focused on numbers, and if those of you are listening, don't know what ROI means its return on investment. So yeah, you need to have an entire system that's built so that the whole system functions so that you see a return on your investment. And you're not constantly sitting at plateaus, or feeling like why isn't this working? I see very much the parallels between what you're doing and kind of personal development work. I'm also curious, what kind of personal development work if you don't mind sharing? Did you have to do to thrive as a CEO and leader? And what kind of self belief stories did you have to work through and maybe fix?
Zahra Cruzan 12:39
Oh, wow, well, this answer might be even longer than the first. I'll try and keep it short. Um, gosh, so much. I think that probably you were just talking about this before the before we started recording, entrepreneurship and parenting are probably the two things in life that will force you to grow. Because there's just no other way. There really isn't. And, and so I think for me, there were a lot of things. And I think that, first of all, I had to learn how to separate fact from story, which I know sounds probably a little bit crazy. But you know, I, you know, we've all heard that, you know, fear is false evidence against reality. But it's amazing how often we do it. It's amazing how often we take a fear of something happening. And in our mind, it becomes a certainty. And it's a possibility, but there's also 1000 other outcomes that are possibilities as well. And, you know, we went through the James Wedmore program, and one of the things that that taught me really was, and I was on this call with him when I remember, I was just throwing at him thing after thing. I don't have a list. I don't have money for an ads campaign. I don't have time I have three weeks, and I'm just giving, you know, this frustration point of and he's like, well, so then if you don't have anything, then why even bother trying? You know, and that just kind of stopped me and made me think about it. He says, Okay, so now that you're done, what do you have? What, what do you have in your tool belt? And that I think was one of the most powerful practices for me, because it forces you to see the other side because I think sometimes we have this negativity bias, or maybe not everybody I certainly did. And I always think of doomsday prep, you know, Doomsday planning, worst case scenario, you know, but I seldom think about best case scenario. I can picture my whole you know, company going up in flames and us living under a bridge but do I picture myself on an island somewhere, you know, with my dream team less often So until you intentionally make that as much a practice, and so every time, you know, I'm not really good at not instantly going towards case scenario. So what I've had to train myself to do is to get better, at best case scenario thinking too. So if you have that thought, instantly replacing it with, or this could happen, something really great and fantastic. And I think for me, that's been a big one.
Christine Li 15:24
Thank you for explaining that that story, that recollection, but also just why this is so important, because we do have some, I think, natural, somewhat natural tendencies in terms of which direction our brain will take us. And the end of your story was a lesson to everyone here, that you can actively shift that direction to your benefit, that you don't have to be a negative prepper. All day long, those thoughts may still come in. And that might be your skill, actually, your great skill is to anticipate problems and worry about the future, but that you may not want to burden your future vision with just a Negative Nelly kind of story telling ability you want to add well, like what about that island? And what about that big team? And what about that financial success and impact that I've been hoping for? So thank you for being so lovely in the way that you described it. And I really like the term negativity bias. I think we're trained by society, by parenting by schooling by media, to really be worried about everything that's about to happen. And it's only the universe's existence, that is the biggest constant positivity reminder, we just tend to ignore the bigger messaging sometimes.
Zahra Cruzan 16:56
Yeah. And I think that, you know, we started this actually with my son with a gratitude journal. And so he's seven. So sometimes it's words, and sometimes it's pictures. And you know, it just kind of depends on what he's up for that day. But it just kind of reminds us all to think of all the good. When I feel myself go into the entrepreneur, I just made a big decision. Holy smokes, you know, what, if it doesn't, you know, you just kind of stop yourself and say, but what if it does, and you just start to recall evidence of wins that you've had, like, remember that time that we did this, and we pulled through it, remember that time we didn't think this was gonna happen, and then we made it happen. And you just kind of start to remember. And I call them evidence anchors, you know, just going back to your own history, and thinking of ones that you have things that you've done accomplishments, that you've made, things that remind you that you're fully capable, and the universe wants you to have, it's not against you. There's no one out there with your face and a target on it. And it just kind of reminds you to do that. And I think for me, it's that it's having those emotions and those flood of emotions that come with fear and anxiety, and then just stopping it, you know, just saying, okay, whoa, it's spiraling, and just starting to battle it with the positive and the evidence, and the what if it works out fantastic. And sometimes it's just taking a moment taking a breath, and intentionally making yourself do it that kind of gets you over the hump.
Christine Li 18:25
Great, great, great, great, let's take his Aras advice, and do this next time we feel stuck or super stressed about the circumstances that we're in because we can't avoid stressful circumstances, but we can regulate our mindset. And our approach, which is a great technique, which I fully endorse, I fully endorse what Zahra was saying is are can you also speak about what you've seen in your clientele, or perhaps yourself in your business? of fear or reluctance of being unique of standing out and making that big dent in the universe or making that big announcement or impact?
Zahra Cruzan 19:07
Yeah, so I think it's common because there's a safety and numbers. And so when you start to kind of step out onto that ledge, you put yourself in a very vulnerable situation. You know, and as entrepreneurs, we live in a very vulnerable existence, right? It's all on us. It's, you know, there's a lot of pressure, there are some times and the thing that I see most often is the difference maker is when you make it about the mission, like when your vision is aligned with your brand. It's not about you anymore. It's about the movement. It's about what the world needs from you. And you're playing a role in the greater good, and that role happens to be leader. And so that means you got to be the one to step out and lead But I think that where I see, some of the CEOs that we work with that have had the most tremendous impact, and that just are able to create these stunning brands are the ones that understand the difference between control and leadership. And that is you can't control the outcome. You can't control how it's going to be received. But they consistently lead and they're not worried about the control. They're not worried about what people are gonna think about them. And I think that is a huge difference maker. Someone said that to me, once even and I remember that helped me with my speaking engagements. Because I used to be terrified. I still am not the most comfortable or eloquent speaker interviewee when interviewer even it just, it's, it's, you know, not the talent God gave me. But I used to get terrible stage fright. I mean, like, cold sweats, stage fright, just awful. And I wouldn't do any recorded videos. And I was so in my head about it. And then somebody just said, it's not about Johann, it's about the message that someone needs. And if you can just focus on that, then nobody cares about your hair. Nobody cares about the tone of your voice, or how many catchphrases you use or you know what you look like on camera, it's just, you know, just being of service. And if you can focus on that piece, and you're in alignment, and you feel confident about what you're doing. And you make that the focus, it helps you from focusing on the insecurities or the imposter syndrome or anything you might be having going on inside of you.
Christine Li 21:41
Beautiful, you have a way with words. So I am going to counter your your self statement that you are not God blessed with speaking ability, I think you have a beautiful way of communicating and being yourself at the same time and educating us all. So thank you for these beautiful lessons about the importance of branding, but also the importance of really taking the time to investigate what is your core story and reason for doing what you're doing, whether you're a company or an individual, I think, and also knowing that the negativity can be balanced with just a few new thoughts and with a little bit of an elevation of your belief in what you're doing. Oftentimes that helps, too. So thank you for being a visionary leader, and for teaching us today. Is there anything else that you would want to share today with the audience?
Zahra Cruzan 22:42
Oh, gosh, through the question, I think, just keep at it. Wherever you are, whatever you've got going on, if you've been called to leadership, if you have a heart's desire to start a movement, be a part of a movement, lead a movement, do something, don't stop, even if it's just a tiny step, just take that step in faith and know that you were called to do it for a reason. Yeah,
Christine Li 23:10
go for that. All right, how do our listeners get in touch with you and or work with you?
Zahra Cruzan 23:17
Okay, so you can reach us at Rand author.com. And we have a link there where you can either send us a message or set up a consultation. And of course, on social media, we are there brand author on Facebook and at Brand dot author on Instagram. And that's pretty much it. If you're in San Antonio, Texas, you can just swing by and have a cup of coffee with us. We do that all the time. So and we make good coffee. Here wasn't the complaining time.
Christine Li 23:47
Sounds good. I think you also had a training video to share with our audience.
Zahra Cruzan 23:53
Could you describe what that is? I do. So basically, it's a video on visionary leadership and how to step into that role. And it really just kind of walks you through the process of the concept of branding and that theory of magic brands. And it really makes it more tangible and practical, so that you can apply it to your own strategies for brandy. And so it's absolutely free. And I will give you the URL link it's make time for success. podcast.com/visionary And if you head over to that URL, you can download the video and I hope that you get some value from it.
Christine Li 24:31
Okay, lovely. Again, it's make time for success. podcast.com/visionary Zahra is a visionary. She has beautiful hair. You were mentioning here before. She's a wonderful woman and friend. Thank you so much for spending the time with us today. Zahra. I wish you all the best for your family, your business and your life.
Zahra Cruzan 24:53
Aw, same here, Christine. It was a pleasure.
Christine Li 24:56
Thank you so much for being here. Bye. Bye and everyone who's listening today? If you enjoy the podcast and the interview with Zahra, please do me a favor and take a few minutes to go to wherever you're listening to this podcast and find out where to leave a rating and a review. I would so appreciate your support for this podcast. Just let us know what you like about the show. I'll see you next week. Bye.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Make Time for Success podcast. If you enjoyed what you've heard, you can subscribe to make sure you get notified of upcoming episodes. You can also visit our website maketimeforsuccesspodcast.com for past episodes, show notes and all the resources we mentioned on the show. Feel free to connect with me over on Instagram too. You can find me there under the name procrastination coach. Send me a DM and let me know what your thoughts are about the episodes you've been listening to. And let me know any topics that you might like me to talk about on the show. I'd love to hear all about how you're making time for success. We'll talk to you soon
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Zahra Cruzan is the founder and chief brand strategist at Brand Author, a premier branding firm in Texas that specializes in food and beverage and product branding. With over 15 years of brand and marketing experience, Zahra’s work has won international awards for content strategy, and she speaks at events across the country on how to transform your business into a brand. When asked about her passion for her work, Zahra says, “The best part of my day is the unexpected byproduct of the work we do. Our intention when we began Brand Author was to help the world find and fall in love with impact-driven brands. In so doing, we find we also help reignite our client’s passion for their own brand – and that just makes my day.”