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EPISODE 8
Owning Your Message with Cassandra Le

Cassandra Le (she/they) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American, immigrant living in Spain. She’s also a brand strategist and copywriter. She believes business and marketing can be fun and can be used to help historically marginalized communities build generational wealth and rock the system (read: BURN IT DOWNNN!). For 10+ years, she’s been creating content across all mediums (written, graphics, audio, video, photo, etc.), and through her business, The Quirky Pineapple Studio, she’s worked with small businesses around the world in English and Spanish—helping them share their story, connect with their community, and drive sales with content marketing that is enjoyable and with less manipulation. When she’s not working, you can find her exploring her new home country, looking for bubble tea, or watching movie trailers on YouTube to movies that she’ll never watch in real life.

Website | Instagram | LinkedIn | Podcast

 

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Cassandra Le (she/they) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American, immigrant living in Spain. She’s also a brand strategist and copywriter. She believes business and marketing can be fun and can be used to help historically marginalized communities build generational wealth and rock the system (read: BURN IT DOWNNN!). For 10+ years, she’s been creating content across all mediums (written, graphics, audio, video, photo, etc.), and through her business, The Quirky Pineapple Studio, she’s worked with small businesses around the world in English and Spanish—helping them share their story, connect with their community, and drive sales with content marketing that is enjoyable and with less manipulation. When she’s not working, you can find her exploring her new home country, looking for bubble tea, or watching movie trailers on YouTube to movies that she’ll never watch in real life.

Website | Instagram | LinkedIn | Podcast

Discussed this episode:

  • Cassandra’s relationship with feminism
  • How Cassandra’s personal background influenced her to create a culturally competent studio.
  • What looks different when you bring cultural competence into marketing.
  • Liberatory marketing vs. lifestyle marketing
  • Real-life examples of predatory marketing (why they work and why they’re bad)
  • Thinking outside the gender binary in copywriting
  • A non-gendered, culturally competent approach to creating an Ideal Client Avatar
  • Non-manipulative approaches to copywriting
  • Website design for accessibility
  • The conditioning that has those with marginalized identities “playing small”
  • On letting go of external validation and owning thought leadership
  • The ickiness of a “bro” approach to thought leadership
  • Navigating discussion social justice as a business owner
  • What it means to run an anti-capitalist marketing business
  • Ethically hiring and paying a global team
  • A sustainable approach to business growth and working with clients
  • Thoughtfully considering neurodivergence and disabilities of clients

Resources mentioned:

 Learn more about accountability coaching with host Becky Mollenkamp at https://beckymollenkamp.com

Becky:

Thank you, Cassandra for being here, I’m so excited to chat with you today.

Cassandra:

Likewise, I am super excited for this conversation. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Becky:

Well, I’m going to start as I always do, which by now everybody’s like, yeah, yeah, we know. I’m going to ask you about your relationship with the word feminist. And I always give the caveat, it’s okay if it’s like a complicated one or not a good one.

Cassandra:

For me, it was kind of like understanding what feminism actually means. I think I read about it a lot, and I probably subscribed to a lot of feminist ideals growing up, but I didn’t necessarily have. the word feminist or even to understand the different concepts of feminism to even call myself a feminist. I think when I was younger, I said things like, I believed in women’s empowerment. I believed in speaking up for yourself. I believed in just gender equality. And then gradually I learned, oh, I am more of a feminist than I thought. And then I learned about the word intersectional feminism, and I think that is more of the word that I would subscribe to. I think for me, when people use the word feminism, I want to also make sure that they are including Black women or indigenous women, Black trans women, and all of those. And if they’re not, then we don’t share necessarily the same ideals of feminism.

Becky:

We’re so on the same page, and shout out to Kimberly Crenshaw. Whenever we talk about intersectional feminism, it’s important to mention her name as she was the person who really coined that phrase and really brought our attention to it. And absolutely. And you say on your website, the thing that I think I first found you from was like your About page. Somehow I was searching like feminist business owners and trying to find out who’s out there. So I totally randomly found you, but on your website, you clearly say like, if it isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism, which is definitely what I subscribe to as well. So I knew we were going to agree, which is great to learn. And so I’m gonna start this conversation talking about cultural competence because one of the first things I noticed beyond our shared dialogue around feminism was that you sort of bill yourself or put out front that you are a multicultural, multilingual and fully remote studio. So why is cultural competence so important to you, but also important to your clients? And then what I’m really most interested in and I think other people will be as well, is how does that show up in your work? Like what does that mean to run a culturally competent business or to do marketing in a culturally competent way? How is that different than traditional approaches?

Cassandra:

Cultural competence is important to me probably because of, well, on a personal level, just like the relationships that I have and in my personal life. So originally I’m from the United States, specifically Virginia. In my household that I was raised, I was raised with like a Vietnamese culture in the house, and then outside I was raised in the United States culture. And then after graduating from college, I moved abroad to Spain where I currently live and then I saw like another mix of cultures, and now I am in a relationship with a Spanish person. So our household, again, is a mix of cultures. And on a personal level, like just being culturally competent and understanding not just like culture in general, but understanding how to communicate with people across cultures, I think is super important. And I think that’s why for me in the business, especially because I work in like communications and marketing, why we really center being culturally competent. And then in regards to our clients, our clients are also… I don’t know if they would call themselves culturally competent, I think they are, but they actually focus on culture themselves in different ways. So whether it’s that they actually are intercultural intelligence experts and facilitators, or they work on company culture or specifically in DEI, so they are bringing in culture anyways into their business, maybe on like a organizational level, but they kind of also work worldwide. 

Becky:

When you you think about what that looks like in practice, what does it look like to be a culturally competent marketing firm, right? What does that actually look like in the ways that you’re showing up differently?

Cassandra:

I am gonna maybe answer this in a roundabout way because I’m not totally sure how to like directly answer it. So I know there are a lot of marketing firms now, maybe not a lot, but in my world, people who are talking about being non manipulative marketers or ethical marketers or ethical copywriters, which I think is very important. Don’t wanna be an asshole and manipulate people to buy. And we take in those concepts, but we, I think, go a little bit further because I think when we’re talking about ethics and non-manipulation and things like that, it’s still coming from what you mentioned in the beginning about the United States cultural lens, the dominant culture, basically. And what we do is we look at it from all cultures, well I can’t say that I know all cultures, but we try and look at it from like different lenses of different cultures, whether it’s like a community-centered culture, an individualist, collectivist, somebody who is more direct, a direct communicator, an indirect communicator. We talk about it from like a work culture perspective. We talk about it from capitalist perspective, and I think that is really important, especially because we are so global and because we work online. We don’t want to unintentionally like push something onto other people through our marketing, especially with like different marketing tactics that are very like popular, which end up coming from the United States, but if you kind of copy and paste that marketing strategy to a different culture, it’s not going to perform the same way. And then what you end up doing is you almost end up re-creating a specific culture that this strategy was taken from in a different economic system. That got like really theoretical…

Becky:

Theoretical is great. I like to just understand where people are coming from. And that to me is what… When I hear that culturally competent marketing, my mind goes to exactly that, that too often, especially I think Americans, but that’s also just the lens I see the world through so maybe this is the case of other places as well. But I think when you are in a more dominant culture, there is this tendency to sort of think the way we show up is how everyone shows up. And we just, you know, that you talk about things in the way that makes sense to your worldview without any thought as to how it might land elsewhere. And there are some companies that are wholly American companies, right? They’re not online. They’re just in their local communities. And they need to think about just that culture, right? Even if they’re speaking to different cultures within that community, they need to think about that. But when you are operating online and able and willing to work with clients all over the globe or customers all over the globe, it is the responsible and ethical thing to do to think about how will this message land to somebody somewhere else who’s coming from a different culture? But I don’t see a lot of people talking about that so I think it’s really interesting that you are. And do you feel like, is that related to what you talk about your liberatory approach to branding, copywriting and content marketing, or when you think about a liberatory approach, does that go even broader than the cultural piece? Because liberation is one of my values and so I really love it and I’m curious what that means to you and your work.

Cassandra:

When I’m talking about liberatory marketing, I kind of almost use it as the antidote to lifestyle marketing. And quickly lifestyle marketing, for the people who may not know, is when you use like different, well it sounds like what it is, you use like different lifestyles to market to somebody so that they basically, like you try and inspire them to have the same lifestyle and make a purchase because they also want to live that lifestyle, which was really popular when WeWork, if anybody knows WeWork, they did it when they were building out their co-working spaces and they had their co-living spaces and all of this stuff. So I use liberatory marketing as an antidote to that to not market to lifestyle. And it’s more of a, I’m going to give you all the information that I have, and it gives you the opportunity to make the decision yourself. So you basically are free to decide, because you have your own agency to say, okay, this works for me or this doesn’t work for me. That’s kind of how I approach it.

Becky:

That’s really where I’m headed and we’re going to go more into the weeds around these issues because your website is a treasure trove of helpful content. Speaking of giving people all the information, boy do you ever, and I will be linking to a whole bunch of posts in the show notes. So if you hear me talking about a post, you can find the direct link to that in the show notes, but I also recommend just like, go look. Because there’s so much in there about doing this differently, doing marketing differently, and I would say better, right, in a more ethical and liberatory fashion. So I’m gonna just sort of go through some of your posts as a guide for our discussion because they were so good. So one of the big things that I think I’m hearing you talk about inside of what you’re saying here in this sort of lifestyle messaging and the traditional methods that we’ve used is manipulative copywriting. And to quote one of your posts, you said, ‘traditional marketing techniques have unfortunately taught us that copywriting should be manipulative, exploitative, and mess with our audience’s emotions all for the sake of a sale.’ And some of those things that you mention are scarcity, and I think everyone’s gonna be like, yes, I know all of these and I’ve been told to do all of these. Scarcity, false urgency, forced feelings of inferiority, binary thinking. So those are the like big tents, like the big hallmarks of what this manipulative copywriting looks like, but I’m wondering if you can give me like just some examples that you’ve seen. You don’t have to mention any particular brands if you don’t want, but, or you can, I don’t care. But talking about some specifics of how this actually looks in practice, and most interested in maybe some of the sneakier ways that maybe it’s happening, that we just have all become so numb to that we don’t even necessarily recognize it as such and that maybe we’re perpetuating without meaning to.

Cassandra:

Okay, so I have, I think two examples that come to the top of mind. One of them is actually from, I’ll name names because they’re a large company. I don’t think they’ll come for me, I hope. It’s Hootsuite. So I don’t know if you know Hootsuite. It’s a scheduling platform. So on their blog, they actually have, I think they have various pop-ups, but this is one of their pop-ups. When you go to close the window, a pop-up appears and as soon as I read that pop-up, I was like, this is manipulative to its core and it’s very shame-filled, it’s almost like guilt tripping, and to me, it read as patronizing. So I can’t remember all of the copy that they said, but it was like this really short pop-up that wanted you to get a free, I think 60-day trial of their platform before paying. But the way that they approached it was, I think their header was, ‘Well, this is awkward. We could have sworn that you wanted to beat your competitors on social media. I guess we were wrong,’ or something like that. ‘We’ll just leave this offer for somebody else.’ And yes, it’s like very catchy and punchy and technically good copy because it like grabs the reader’s attention. It kind of like keeps you on the pop-up reading, it really, really pushes you, I think, to take an action. The only thing is, it’s a little bit sucky because it’s definitely guilt-shaming you. It comes off as super patronizing. I did a little synopsis about this in my email newsletter because I was saying, you know, if you’ve ever dealt with somebody who was like a patronizing mentor or boss, who kind of was like… Well, I told you to do this. Like, I told you so. I told you this was gonna be bad. That’s kind of how the copy read to me specifically. I don’t know if anybody else felt like that, but I was like, no, not okay. So that’s one example.

Becky:

I have seen those so many times where it’s some form of, so you don’t want this? What’s like basically what’s wrong with you? And it feels so gross. But I think it’s that like it, it plays into the shame-y stuff that we’ve all been given, right? That, oh, I’m, uh oh, what’s wrong with me? There’s something wrong with me. And so even though it feels yucky, you can feel yourself like being pulled into it. 

Cassandra:

Yeah, and I think what they wrote is similar to like the Black Friday sales that try and get you to buy something extra because technically we all live in a capitalist world. And within that, that generates extreme consumerism. So like we always feel like we need more. And I feel like in the underlying tone of that copy, whether we realize it or not, it is extreme consumerism in a sense, because maybe you’re fine. You don’t really need such a robust tool. Hootsuite also is a little bit expensive, in my opinion. And it’s kind of just sucking you in to be like, what’s the sale? Like it’s 50% off, why won’t you do it? Like it’s an easy buy. And that kind of plays into just kind of more for more, really, when we don’t need more. We have lots of things that work already. So that’s one of them. The other example is, oh, I was just talking about this with another friend. So I saw another copywriter share about this on their stories, I won’t name them, but they talked about messaging for your offer.I know in the online world we always want to give like tangible results to our offers, the benefit, the value. We want to say like, you can make XX amount of money after, you’ll do this in XX amount of days. And I personally don’t like that in general, but this person kind of switched it and they were like, well, the reason why you don’t want to do that or you feel bad or you feel like afraid to market that way is because you actually don’t believe in your offer. And that to me was a little bit off putting only because you just don’t know. There are so many factors. How can you? How can you know?

Becky:

And those both, I think, go into that forced feelings of inferiority piece that you’re talking about. And I love that you share those because I think so many of us know the scarcity and the urgency, the false urgency. We’ve seen those, but that those the ones that I do think are a little more insidious, sneaky and also damaging, are those ones that are playing into those shame-y kind of feelings. It’s so yucky. When you think about the binary thinking, how do you see that showing up?

Cassandra:

So this is more like, oh, it’s my way or the highway. There’s only one way to do something really kind of like affirming binary stereotypes. So actually in one of our other blog posts called “Femvertizing, how marketing can uphold the gender binary,” we kind of actually went into how femvertizing back then really spoke to a women female audience and tried to get them to be more prevalent buyers or whatever. And yes, the campaigns worked in their day and age. And now I’m thinking, oh, but it still upholds the gender binary because it’s not from the women’s perspective. It’s from another person, man, usually, man’s perspective of what they think, you know, a woman would want. And I’m like, hmm, still upholding the gender binary because you didn’t ask.

Becky:

Speaking of that post you talk quite a bit and I’ll link to that one and I have another as well, and probably others, talking about inclusive copywriting specifically around gendered copywriting, and I know this is an area obviously that lately has been getting more attention and rightfully so and thankfully so, right, that it is getting that attention finally. But for people who maybe are just now kind of coming around to saying like oh, I guess I shouldn’t just be saying ‘hey girl’ and you know lady bosses and that sort of thing, what are some tips you have for them on how to begin to do that deconstruction of what they already have and rethinking how to show up with their copywriting in a way that is more inclusive and not so gendered?

Cassandra:

So I think it comes down to when you’re doing your ideal client avatar. So most of the time when people are doing their ideal client avatar, they kind of go with what me and my friends call the census marketing style, which is age, gender, household income, religion, brands that they shop at, blah, blah, blah. This is where I would bring in our culturally competent lens. And this is something that we actually do with our clients where we walk them through understanding what is the culture around their ideal clients? And then also not just the culture that their ideal clients have, but the culture around your specific offer or service or program. Because whether we realize it or not, our services, our programs, our offers shift culture because we’re trying to do something different. And we need to understand what that shift looks like and what it means for somebody who wants to live that type into that type of culture, what that risk looks like for them when they actually make that purchase to do something. So I think if you do that, then you kind of forget about gender because it’s not really prevalent because now you’re looking at more of like the human aspect of the person. And then we go into like their specific identities, not necessarily like woman of color, Catholic, Muslim, or anything like that. It’s more, oh, they consider themselves an introvert. They consider themselves a party animal and an introvert. Those are like the types of identities that we would go through and then figure out, okay, what are the words that they would use? That’s how we can really talk to them in your copy without gendering it. And thinking about, okay, what are some of the beliefs and thoughts, stories that they have around making this investment? Once we know that, then we also tie that into the copy so it’s not necessarily gendering it, it’s really just talking to the person.

Becky:

It’s really easy, it’s sort of the easy way out to just say, well, I work with women. But that is like saying I work with feminists, right? There’s differences within that. You can’t just say I work with women and think that you’re speaking to a very specific person. So all of the ‘hey girl’ language, whatever, I think often I hear people say, well, but I work with women. Okay, well, what you’re talking about is, who are these women? What do they care about? And are they actually all, do you only work with women? Are there many maybe non-binary folks who would actually very much fit the type of person you’re talking about, who you would probably ideally love to work with, but you’ve been excluding them only because it seemed easy to say women. But that is, women is such a giant umbrella to throw out. Whereas what you’re talking about, I love, it’s just so much more nuanced and specific. But nuance is a thing that seems to be difficult for people, right? And I think when we’re talking about copywriting, talk about marketing, nuance is the thing that trips people up often. As you start to go down this path of saying, I wanna do things differently and better, the “traditional,” and I’m using air quotes, methods, are not nuanced. They are easy, right? They’re simple. They’re oversimplified. And when you start to think, say, I want to do things in a more nuanced way, I think what a lot of us start to fear is, can I do that and still make money? Can I do that and still make sales? And you had a blog post called, “Is All Copywriting Manipulative?” And so I want you to answer your question. Is it? And I hope the answer is no. And if the answer is no, let’s fingers cross hope so, then what are some ways to approach this differently?

Cassandra:

No, I don’t think all copywriting is manipulative, with the caveat nuance here that it depends on, I suppose, who is writing it and what lenses they bring in and what awarenesses they have around their own identities, privileges and oppressions, I guess if we wanna say that word. 

Becky:

Can we do it differently? And if so, like, how do we start that? Because if you’re speaking to someone who was like me or my other people I know who are feeling that way. I can’t do this differently and still be successful. What encouragement can you give them about how they can do it differently and still be successful?

Cassandra:

Okay, so this is probably not what people want to hear, but I’m going to say it. It takes a while. It takes time. I think if you do need to make quick cash right now, then there are other factors that play into if you can, or if you should or should not, whatever it is, write in that style. I mean, I can’t pull things out because for me, within like brand, this is coming from my brand messaging perspective, with like brand messaging, brand building, and it’s like marketing all layered together. I wouldn’t be able to tell you like, oh, change this one thing and then you can still be successful and make sales. We would really have to go to the core of the business. We would have to look at. What is your brand message saying? We would have to look at what are the relationships that you have with your audience, with your clients, with your community members. If we wanna make quick sales or lots of sales that are smaller, then we would have to look at things like, okay, well, maybe you just start marketing whatever you’re selling longer so that you can build up and give people time. If you’re talking about making sales for like a larger-ticket item, let’s say like an actual service or a coaching program or something like that, that’s like $1,000+, this is now thinking, okay, well, maybe what you need is like a longer piece of copy that kind of walks people through and then to like individually invite them and get on calls and all of this.

Becky:

Does it boil down to showing up more authentically? Like what is the general like if you give you that high-level kind of what it boils down to the difference between these manipulative tactics and this more liberatory approach, what is that? What are the key differences in how you’re showing up? 

Cassandra:

Okay, two things. First one, I think being really clear on your ideal clients, not just the census style marketing avatar that we talked about earlier, but like really, really understanding them and like their viewpoints and where they’re coming from. And then also really understanding the offer that you have, like inside out, upside down, reverse, flip it, switch it, whatever. When you know those two, I think that kind of removes that manipulative, like fear-mongering, I’m just going to push type copy because you’re really grounded in what you offer and what you do. I think those, that would be one. Another one is writing in a more invitational way and less like a, you don’t know what you’re doing, come to me, let me help you way. A more invitational way is just kind of like presenting concepts and like feelings to people. I guess like an example I can think of quickly, let’s say we were selling socks. No, maybe not socks. Let’s say we were selling containers, plastic containers or eco-friendly whatever containers, because you wanna organize your closet. And let’s say you needed quick sales like right now to sell these containers. A manipulative approach for copy could be something like, oh, there it is again. You said that you were going to organize your closet, but here you are thinking like you don’t have the time and you don’t know what you’re doing and it just becomes a whole mess again. This is why you need XYZ type of organization system because you know that you just can’t trust yourself to keep it organized. That would be manipulative copy. It still does a job of getting people to purchase because people would be like, oh, shit, yeah, I do need that. A more liberatory approach, I think, talks on the feelings differently. So it could be more like, oh, imagine walking into your closet and you know exactly where 2019’s Christmas ornaments are because you want to show grandma who’s visiting, this one picture that is just gonna bring up lots of memories for the conversation that you’re having. That’s like a totally different feeling.

Becky:

So a lot of it then is just about being honest, being real and being like, honestly, to me, it feels sort of like the golden rule of marketing, which is like speak to your audience the way you want somebody to speak to you because none of us likes being spoken to or sold to and the other ways we’ve talked about. But it can be challenging because we’re so used to those ways that we often think, then what do I do? And sometimes it really is as simple as, no, really like you’re having a conversation with a friend about how you can help them. As simple as that. The other piece that I wanted to talk about from one of your, I’m not sure if it’s in your blog post, actually I think it might be your website copy, but you talk about accessibility, website design accessibility specifically. Maybe there was a blog post about that I think I might link to. But you highlight some of the ways that you can, like some simple ways to just think about web design in a way that makes it more accessible for folks who may have some sort of differences in the way they process information or can see things or whatever. So I’m curious specifically for your company and your own website, how has the way you approach your own web design evolved over the years as you’ve done more on learning and learning in these issues around accessibility and inclusion?

Cassandra:

So the first website that I had, I think I was going for aesthetics, as one does. So I worked with somebody who, they were great. I don’t know if they actually took into account accessibility, like true accessibility, but my website was like beautiful and very customized. And then gradually when I did, well, really when I learned and then unlearned a couple things, I worked with another website designer, website developer. They are Sara Obando and Cameron, and they run the company Stargazed Studio. They’re awesome, they’re friends and clients of mine, and then I became friends and clients of theirs. They actually bring in a lot of accessibility and user experience into this. So when we work together, like I brought in a lot of like the copy and stuff, and then they brought in other things, really like other factors to me that I also didn’t really take into account. There’s simple things to me, like when we were doing copywriting and functionality of website, yes, they even talked about like making sure that colors are okay. They do a colorblind test when they design the website. They also double check on like, I guess just alt text always as well. Like we do alt text for images and stuff when we do website copy. They also kind of go in and like double check all of that. So they brought in a lot of actually the accessibility stuff for me. We don’t actually do web design over at the Quirky Pineapple, but we work with people who are awesome and they do it.

Becky:

Yeah, I noticed you were talking about it and I didn’t think it was necessarily the work you’re doing, but I was curious in your own journey because it’s definitely a learning edge for me. I mean, that is one of the, you know, I think we all are on lifelong journeys here, right, of unlearning and learning and there’s always room for growth. And I know that’s an area where I definitely want to do some more growth because my website is in that place of, I think it looks great, but I’ve never really examined it from a place of accessibility and what that would mean. And so I love that you’re thinking about that. And even if it’s not specifically your work, bringing attention to that, because it is another component of what does this look like to do business differently and to really think about the humanity of all folks and not just people who are showing up in the same way we are. So thank you for bringing attention to it. And I’m not asking you to speak as an expert on that topic, just curious about your own journey. One of your values is taking bold action, which I love. And you say one part of what you said about that is that you ‘don’t play small in your accomplishments, achievements or message.’ That was like, yes, I love it, because aren’t we so conditioned as non white, non men to especially for you as a non white person and then for me as a non man, we are so conditioned into learning to play small and to talk small and to diminish ourselves. So I love that, and it tied really nicely and what I was just saying ties really nicely into another blog post I’m going to link to because I love it, which is about three thought leadership examples to avoid being a bro. And I know that so many of my clients as a coach of feminist founders, working with them on often a lot of quote unquote mindset issues, which I would say mindset issues are really more about conditioning issues, right? But one of the big things that they have when they start to think about thought leadership and stepping into that thought leadership role is there’s like this intimidation. These feelings of I’m not an expert, even though I know they are, right, all the confidence things that come up that we often don’t see with the bros. And I think it’s because a lot of those bros have fucked us all up around what it looks like to be a thought leader and what it means. So. I don’t know that I have a really great formulated question here, but I’m just really curious for you what comes up as you start thinking about playing small and thought leadership and bros and quote unquote imposter syndrome and all of that, what’s your message in that arena?

Cassandra:

So many things. Let me, let me think. So imposter syndrome, twofold here. I think it is, I mean, I feel like we all feel it. Do I feel like it’s a real, real thing? Sometimes I question it because I’m like, I think it’s a system actually that made us think that we have imposter syndrome, and then it keeps like reaffirming it.

Becky:

I’m going to link to the Harvard Business Review article that changed everything for me from a few years ago that said, stop telling women they have imposter syndrome. Because yes, we don’t tell men who have self doubt that it’s imposter syndrome, right? It’s a very gendered sort of thing that happens. So I agree with you. It’s systems. Go on.

Cassandra:

I’m kind of like, I get it. I sure feel it sometimes. And then I have to remind myself, I was probably made to feel that way. So that’s one side of this. Feeling small, I think. So I come also from like what I mentioned in the beginning a Vietnamese American background and also an Asian culture. It’s very, I guess normal, and also kind of stereotype now that Asian women are docile and quiet and small and we kind of just listen and do as we’re told. And I think I grew up with that message a lot, consciously, unconsciously, I don’t know if my parents or family knew, which was just funny because later on in life, my mom would always tell me things like, speak up. If they get your order wrong, go back. I’m like, okay, mom, which one is it? Um, but I guess with that, we always don’t want to like take up so much, I guess, space. Um, a lot of the times when we look up things like saying small, um, it’s like we outshine other people. We don’t want to outshine other people and all of that stuff. And to me, I think it’s more of our need to want to belong and when we conform and kind of just play it safe, play it small, and kind of do what everybody else is doing, it’s more easy to feel like we belong because people now accept us and make space for us because we’re easy to be around. Whereas if it’s the other way around, you kind of put yourself in a position, I don’t wanna say to not belong, but to feel friction of belonging. This is my experience. I don’t know if I’m pulling things and people are going to be like, what the heck? No. But I’ve always felt like if I stay small, I belong and people will accept and love me. If I go big, I have now intentionally chosen to leave this community. I might not be accepted anymore. I might not be loved anymore because it’s too much for somebody. And I think what I’ve been exploring specifically through this year and a half of therapy and my own journey, I have the option to give myself that. I have the option to give myself acceptance and belonging and love. And this got very deep, not marketing. But I think it still all applies.

Becky:

I love it. Go deep. We don’t have to just do marketing because what you just said is so powerful and I think really important for people to hear. that you have the option to give those things to yourself. We don’t have to look outside of ourselves for those things because I think it still ultimately does play into marketing because when we talk about thought leadership, one of the reasons I think so many folks with marginalized identities aren’t doing it is all of that stuff we’ve internalized about needing to be quiet, to downplay ourselves, to diminish, to play small, and the fear of the external response. So that keeps us from putting ourselves out there and being those leaders and being loud and being proud. And then that unfortunately then just maintains these systems and not to put the blame on individuals because it’s the systems that are doing to us. Right. And then, but that’s the systems protecting themselves. And one of the pieces of that liberation process is how do we show up differently. And so I think the deep is a part of that. It’s part of, it is part of marketing because I don’t think you can change the way you’re approaching marketing without getting to that place because otherwise the fears are too real. So keep going because I love it.

Cassandra:

Okay. Cause I’m like, is this a personal development podcast now? So let me continue this little self-love journey. Well, yes, so after therapy, I’m still in it, but after more sessions, and I had my own grieving moment, actually. I had to grieve an identity that I held onto that I thought was just getting me to where I needed to go and all of this stuff. I let that person go-ish, working on it. I gave or I am now actively trying to always give myself that acceptance and love and like appreciation. And I think that has made it so I’ve detached myself from the outcome of thought leadership. So I now just stand or like am in this message that I have. If you don’t like it. Yes, sometimes, of course, I want to be liked, but if you don’t like it, then that’s okay. If it’s not for you, that’s okay. If my family comes and my friends come and they say something to me now, before I think it would really hurt me, and I would always kind of be like, why can’t they just be happy for me? Why can’t they just be there for me? What I said before, I gave it to myself instead of, you know, looking for my mom, my dad, my sisters to be like, ‘good job. This is awesome.’ I know that it’s awesome. Of course, it’s always great to get acknowledgement, but I know that what I’m saying is my truth and what I’m doing and how I’m living is in alignment with my values and I’m at peace with that. And that I think really fuels my thought leadership. That was like very roundabout, but you know, it is what it is.

Becky:

It was perfect and I love it. And to go back to the bro piece, how is that the way everything you just talked about, how is it different than that bro thought leadership that you’re sort of helping people say, I don’t want to be that. How is what you’re doing different or how is what they’re doing different?

Cassandra:

I think with bros or people who are making grand claims, it just ends up, to me, this is what happens when I consume that type of content. I feel like it starts harboring feelings of lack in myself. I’m always like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Or it shocks me to the point of oh, I got called out like, oh, this is something that I need to explore, but not in a good way, not in a compassionate, hey, human, yeah, we fuck up sometimes, but I get it. It’s like, dude you fucked up. I’m going to point it in your face and rub your little nose in it because you don’t know better. And I feel like that is like that bro-y type thought leadership that just, it like garners a lot of views and impressions and eyes, but if you think about it, what type of community have you created around that?

Becky:

It doesn’t feel good. It goes into scarcity and shame. Those are two of those big key hallmarks, I think that you’re talking about and neither of those things feel good. Okay, so the last blog post I want to mention, and again, go check out the blog, so much good stuff, but I’m just I’m going to stop here, which is “getting political: four tips for bringing activism to your social media.” Because talking a little bit about some of this stuff where, you know, sometimes I want to show up in a way that is like burning it all down and calling out this kind of crap I see and all of that. But then also sometimes there’s like this fine line, like you said, between genuinely showing up, whether it’s in response to something like that or the news that’s going on, which also it feels like every day there’s something that I need, I feel this need to like be angry about or talk about or make it clear that I don’t believe in this or that I, you know, where I stand, where it can, it’s like, how do you do that and balance out against this like appearing performative, right? Or genuinely being performative. And that can, on social media, it feels like it gets amplified by a million because there’s this like 24-hour news cycle, right? And the need to feed the beast and constantly be posting. Um, and I thought you so smartly said, as you’re talking about, like this, that pressure, that balance between showing up, but then also not even wanting to be performative and all of that, where you said, ‘Holy shit, there’s no way to win this.’ And I think there is that feeling that often people have where it’s like, if you step into the minefield, then are you gonna get called out? Are you gonna say the wrong thing? Are you gonna have people accusing you of being performative? Are you being performative? You know, all of it, right? Where some people, and I see this really like, people I know that really have strong value systems around these issues who are just sort of opting out of the conversation because it feels too big, too scary, too difficult. So when you have people who are really like, let’s forget the people who don’t care because they’re not listening to this and it doesn’t matter what they think. But those people who really are committed to running like an equity center of business, who care about humanity, how do they navigate the minefield? How do you navigate the minefield?

Cassandra:

Hmm. Oh, that’s another nuanced question.

Becky:

We have time for nuance here. That’s why I want these to be longer episodes because I want us to be able to have nuance. I don’t want it to be like, here’s your three simple tips because that doesn’t work. Like give me nuance. I love nuance.

Cassandra:

Before I answer the question, I want to ask a rebuttal question, like a true consultant. My question is how comfortable are you losing something? Whether that could be sales, whether that could be clients, whether that could just be email subscribers, followers on social media. Like, really answer that question first, because if it, I think impacts like your actual safety, physical safety, and then also like your livelihood, I get it, maybe it’s okay. Um, there are other people who can step in because this is like a community effort. 

Becky:

I just want to point out that is, as you mentioned earlier around that acknowledging your privilege. And I think that is one of those first steps in that journey is like being able to sit with and get honest about your various privileges of all your different intersecting identities. What privileges do you hold? Because the more of those you have, the more that, I feel, I’ll say this as somebody who has an awful lot of privileged identities. I feel like the more you have, the more privilege you have, the more responsibility you have to step up. And the less privilege you have, then I think the more responsibility you have towards your own safety and comfort. We all need to protect our safety, for sure. But I think it can be an easy cop out for some people, an easy way to excuse themselves, not even cop out, but an easy way for them to justify an excuse for themselves, oh, but it would cost me money. Yes. But how much privilege you already have around money. And if the answer is that, is it will cost me money, I can’t feed my kids, then that’s a very different story, then it’ll cost me money, so I can’t like buy my summer home. That’s a very different conversation. So I love that you mentioned privilege earlier, and I wanna bring it back to what you’re asking here, because I think that’s such a great question to ask, and even that question then becomes pretty nuanced.

Cassandra:

Yeah, because I really feel like there are people who want to say things and they are, and then it sometimes, I don’t want to say it hurts, like their bottom line, because technically it doesn’t, because we all live in a capitalist world, so whatever. But I do think asking yourself that question first, especially around physical safety, is really, really important because I don’t want somebody to like come out all of and like, you know, full blown, taking down the system on social media, and then they’re not really in a place where they are physically safe. That puts them at risk. So want to say that first. And then after you answer that question, really, really honestly, I would start to maybe push the boundaries of your comfort zone. I don’t think you need to go out saying, ‘fuck the system, burn capitalism, fuck the patriarchy.’ I got to that after years of saying, ‘I don’t subscribe to this. This is not how I wanna do business.’ Now I can put on my website, ‘we are an anti-capitalist marketing agency. Yes, that’s ironic. but it still works.’ But it took me maybe like three-ish years of doing a lot of work to kind of like test first, see what I feel comfortable with, test again, see what I really understand and like subscribe to, and then get to that point. So I would start small, you know, like share. I don’t know, I don’t know what. People could say at this moment, because I can’t think about it, but start small with pushing that comfort zone around like activism. And again, social media activism is one thing, it’s very important, but start having that conversation with like your partner, with your children, with your family, with your clients. That is also another way to do business differently, and then using social media to actually like amplify that. Like you can have the conversations first.

Becky:

I love that you talk about going slow and testing the waters and that it doesn’t have to be everything overnight because I think that you can sometimes feel that pressure that like, I have to get it all right. I have to talk about everything. I have to do it all and I need to do this perfectly and you can’t and you’re always gonna mess up. And it has, I think doing some of that, going back to the deep work, doing some of that internal work of being able to say, I’m gonna love myself no matter what. And again, all the privilege inside of that. But for those who have the privilege to be able to speak out knowing that you can then give yourself that love when you face that inevitable backlash that may come, right, but that you’re gonna be able to hold love yourself through that. And if you hear my dog, she’s having a dream. So I just want everybody to know that me well show. And it’s adorable. And she’s, I guess chasing the bunnies or barking at something right now. Okay. I don’t want to go too deep into capitalism, but you did mention burning it all down. And I love that. Because the primary focus of the episodes with C.V. Harquail and Toi Smith are really around like capitalism and feminist economies. So go back and listen to those because they’re great, but I do want to ask one question because you just mentioned it and you put on your website, ‘I think business and marketing can be fun and can be used to help historically more marginalized folks build generational wealth and rock the system. Read burn it down.’ That’s what you said there. And so I’m wondering how you because you just mentioned to a marketing business that’s anti-capitalist and for some people that sounds ironic. How do you balance all of those things around making money, right? Having a profitable business, amassing some generational wealth and balancing that out with like the harms of capitalism and greed and the more, more of it all. What does that tightrope walk look like for you?

Cassandra:

So, great question. I think it’s really being honest about what my needs are. My needs are like right now and then what my needs are and what like my vision is for my personal life in like 5 years. I will plug in my partner here. So my partner does, he handles our bookkeeping. And he actually is the one that helps me figure out like, money stuff. And we had to have a conversation really early on about, you know, how much money do we actually need? What is actually possible for us? Like, what is the goal here? Do we want five houses on the coast of the Mediterranean? Maybe we don’t, but maybe just one house would be awesome, with a garden. And that is what we could start with, and then from there we can decide. But just being realistic with what I actually need helped. And then also having really, I think, transparent conversations with the people that we work with, whether it’s like on the clients. So of course we want profitable services. So there is that, so we have at least a cushion. But then also on the contractor side, because we work with several different contractors, talking to them about like, hey, this is what we are able to pay at this moment. Are you okay with that? And like, if we can’t offer like what the minimum is, what it should be, should quote unquote, in my mind, if we’re working online, because technically the internet doesn’t have borders, so yeah. That goes into a whole other thing, so maybe I won’t go into that, but just being realistic about like, okay, what we can offer somebody, if they’re working with us, and seeing if they’re okay with that. If they’re not okay, like giving them the option, you know what, it’s not. Or revisiting that conversation every like three to six months to be like, hey, is there a way to bump this up? Is this an equal exchange of time, money, whatever? And not being afraid to do that, I think is really important.

Becky:

Well, I don’t want to stop you from going down that road because I am actually interested in that journey because I think where you’re probably going is around. how we pay folks who live in other parts of the world where I have seen, and I’m sure you have, a lot of exploitation of labor, where it’s such a great steal. And that’s some of that bro marketing stuff I see out there is this like, well, just hire somebody in the Philippines who will work for like $2 an hour, or whatever the crazy rates are that people are paying, as if that is like something that we should aspire to doing because it’s a savvy, smart move to pay people an abysmal wage. So I’m gonna guess that’s where you’re going a little bit, am I right? Because if so, I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you navigate that as well, because you are operating this global world, and I know that you work with people in other parts of the world where maybe pay rates are different, but how do you balance that? And how do you walk your talk, you know, as a feminist, when you look at hiring people in other parts of the world?

Cassandra:

I guess because we operate online, usually traditional business is operated within borders and frontiers and all of that stuff. And then the international multinational businesses can have hubs in other parts of the world, which then if you work for, for example, Deloitte in, I don’t know what country, Spain, your salary is not going to be comparable to somebody who works for Deloitte in the United States because of just cost of living and all of that stuff. Now if we apply that to the world of online business, this rule, technically, in my mind, and I don’t know from an economist perspective, if this makes sense, but this rule can’t be applied because our online businesses are free of borders, are free of like frontiers and all of that stuff. We work in a space that isn’t on land, on sea. I mean, we are, but like our work lives on the clouds of all of these servers. So how can you value somebody’s skill sets, if they’re the same skill sets in the United States at like 20, 30, 40 dollars an hour, and in let’s say the Philippines for example at three, four, or five dollars an hour. How can you do that? And some people are like, no, it makes sense because like the, um, their cost of living is a lot lower. You know, four to five dollars is enough. and that would set them up for a long period of time. But now we also need to think about education and more, I guess, long-term stuff. So let’s say, for example, this person in a different country, the Philippines, wants to invest in an upskilling course or a program and they want to do it with somebody who is based somewhere else. Let’s say they’ve been following this person or this company in the UK for a really long time and they want to join their specific course. How is your $4 an hour really helping them to make an investment for their upskilling, for their education if that program is worth 200 pounds? Like that. doesn’t make sense. So now if we are perpetuating this pay cycle like that, especially in the online world, we’re creating an education gap for people who work in digital spheres, who work in tech. This is my belief, I don’t know if this is right. So if whoever’s listening to this and you’re like, well, it doesn’t work like that, Cassandra. Enlighten me because I don’t know. But this is kind of like my reasoning around that. Yeah, I’m gonna stop there for now.

Becky:

I agree with your reasoning very much so and I think other folks that I’ve had similar conversations with for the podcast also are showing up that way that it’s really important to pay people a living wage, and that living wage needs to be reflective and in line with the kind of living wage you would pay yourself. Now it doesn’t mean that you have to pay, you know, obviously people that are working for you, you know, you have different skill levels, different experience levels and all of that and you and you may have different responsibilities as an owner. So you’re paying yourself more. That doesn’t mean that we want to create and perpetuate these like thousand fold pay differences between ourselves and those that are working with us. So I’m very much aligned with you on that. And I like that. And I think that’s part of that conversation around how you’re navigating the capitalist waters as an anti-capitalist. Because I think that’s something that’s, when people get to that place of, this system sucks, it’s broken. I don’t want to be perpetuating this. And yet, I can’t escape it. I live inside of capitalism. And the reality of my life is I have to make money to pay my bills and to survive, right? So we can’t fully check out of capitalism. So what does it mean to be an anti-capitalist? inside of capitalism? What does it look like for you? So one of the other things that I noticed and how you’re walking your talk, and I think it relates to this anti-capitalist ideas, is on your website, you say, ‘rest is important to our team and we do not expect our clients or team members to respond if they are currently participating in self-care or rest activities. We prioritize our people first before we try to keep up with capitalist standards of production.’ And I’m like a major rest advocate and I love that. So that’s another way that I see that you’re doing this. The way it sounds like you’re trying to pay people is the way you’re doing it. Are there other ways that you’re sort of walking your talk as a business owner in the way, like, not just in how you’re delivering your services, but in how you’re actually running your business?

Cassandra:

I think a lot of the times it’s more around sustainability. I guess there are a couple ways to take it. Some people might talk about it in more of an environmental sense. This is something that I actually want to explore more, the environmental sustainability aspect of the Quirky Pineapple Studio. We just have not gotten there yet. But more sustainability on capacity, time, and energy. I think that is something that we really take into account with our clients. A lot of our clients are neurodivergent. And then they also have chronic illnesses. So a lot of the times the strategies that we come up with for content or social media, or just like brand building in general, really take into account sustainability and like going slow and really creating relationships instead of trying to like capitalize on something as quickly as possible. Um, we’ve run into like some people who don’t necessarily subscribe to that. And that’s okay. It’s just like a different strategy and like marketing model. Um, but we just know like those people wouldn’t be our ideal clients because we, I mean, good things take time. And if we’re not going to pay for ads, cause most of our marketing is organic, then it really takes time to build it up and sustainably nurture it.

Becky:

I’m curious is that, the fact that you know about your clients having that they’re neurodiverse and or have chronic health issues is that something they’re volunteering to you because they know the way you’re showing up in the world or is that part of your client onboarding for you to learn about the fullness of a person’s experience so that you can make your marketing work for their full life?

Cassandra:

It’s part of our onboarding experience. So when a client signs on to work with us, we actually send over a welcome packet that details all of the tools that we use and then how we’ll be using it. So we share a lot about expectations, boundaries, and all of that stuff. And then also within that welcome packet, we ask them if they have a, I forgot what the wording was, but we ask if they have like a chronic illness or something condition, mental or health condition that we kind of should know about. And they can answer yes or no. And then we ask if they are comfortable, if they would like to share what it is. Sometimes clients say yes, and then they don’t answer what it is. But then it comes out in conversation because eventually it just happens. And then other clients will share with us. So I think one of our clients, she shared that she has dyslexia so when we’re presenting information to her or when we’re having conversations, she just shared like, oh, it just takes me a little bit longer to like wrap my head around concepts. Or if you share something with me and it’s like full-on text without anything broken down, like it’s a little bit hard for me to read and to fully conceptualize and understand because it’s just like my brain just doesn’t work like that. So we found different ways to kind of accommodate that so that it helps our clients kind of understand something better and then also just makes our work better.

Becky:

As I’ve said in other episodes, like the big sweeping ways are so important, obviously if we want to create systemic change, it’s going to go well beyond the individual and I don’t want to, I never want to make systemic issues an individual issue because that is where, that’s what the systems have done to us and what gets us off track, right? And these little things make a difference. They do add up, right? It does show that you’re showing up differently in the world. And that does make change. It may not be the big change that we ultimately need, but it is still change. And what a wonderful example. And that’s what I want to highlight with this podcast is like, these examples of the small ways that we may feel when we feel that moment of like, why bother, this is all too big, to remember that yes, the big systemic change that needs to happen is really big and none of us are gonna do it alone and we’re not gonna do it tomorrow. What we do have control over is how we are showing up and these little ways, like those small things you’re doing are huge. All right, let’s finish up. by having you share with me a resource. I love resources, I love learning. As I have shared, I have growth edges, you do too. You mentioned your growth edge right now is around sustainability from that environmental perspective, which is another of mine as well. And so I love learning. What’s a resource, it could be a book, an educator, a podcast, it could be anything that has either been really helpful to you in the past or that is something you’re exploring right now?

Cassandra:

A book that was really helpful to me in the past is this book called, “Care Work,” by ooh, let me see if I can pronounce her last name, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

Becky:

I will definitely find this and share it in the show notes, just so everyone knows, like, it’ll be in the show notes so you can find it, but I appreciate you giving that a valiant effort.

Cassandra:

So it’s a book about dreaming about disability justice. And that actually, when I read it, like, completely blew my mind of just like, just understanding more about how we can be accessible for disability justice. My partner has a chronic illness, so it’s something that I always knew and was like aware of, but just understanding it from really seeing him again, through that, I was like, oh my gosh, so I’ve been doing you a disservice. I am so sorry. Now I can fully understand, okay we should find different ways to help each other in partnership, life. And now that he is part of the company, just with the business stuff. So that book, I think, is really, really great for anybody to read.

Becky:

Well, because I mentioned earlier that is my, one of my big growth edges is around accessibility issues, I will make sure to add that to my own reading library because I definitely wanna learn more in that area. So thank you for sharing it. And then the last thing is an organization that you think is doing great work in the world that you would like to highlight.

Cassandra:

I have a couple, so I’ll pick one. There is one, I believe it’s a nonprofit in the United States. It’s called the Vietnamese Boat People, and it’s a nonprofit that kind of highlights and highlights Vietnamese refugees from the Vietnam War, and also connects the diaspora. And they have a fun card game. I don’t know if it’s a card game. I call it a card game. It’s more like a conversation card prompter that comes in English and in Vietnamese so that you can approach your family and ask about those difficult questions and kind of just understand more because I don’t know if most people know this, but I mean, if you are a child of refugees, talking about the past is not really something that most people do. But as I’m getting older, it would be nice to know more about my family before they became my family. And yeah, and then they also do other things where they highlight different stories, they host community events. I think they host a, what is it called, I don’t know what it’s called, but they invite speakers to share about their stories and just how they basically blend previous generations to this new generation through storytelling, and I think it’s a really great organization.

Becky:

And it is a nonprofit because I just looked it up and you can make a donation, I will make a donation to say thank you for your time for being here. I really appreciate that. And encourage anyone listening who’s gotten something really valuable out of this conversation as I know I have to go visit Vietnamese Boat People. And I will put the link in the show notes, but it’s vietnameseboatpeople.org and go donate. And to say thank you for your time and for all the wisdom you shared today. So thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Cassandra:

Thank you so much for having me. I love this conversation. I honestly could be talking about this like all day.

Becky:

Me too. And that’s really why I did the podcast, because I just want to have an excuse to have more of these kinds of conversations. So thank you for playing along and being a part of it. I really appreciate it.

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