Episode 141: Mammut Director of Marketing Nicole Handel on Building a Culture of Creative Thinking
Nicole Handel, Marketing Director of Mammut, joins us on the podcast this week! Nicole discusses her journey from studying psychology to working in marketing, how she creates a creative culture on her team, allowing employees room for growth and exploration, and more. This episode will get you all sorts of fired up, take a listen!
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Nicole: I have never opposed a Friday to ski or run or an afternoon off, that kind of thing. I think we, we all, like I said, we're a young team and we all entered into the outdoor industry because we love the outdoors. And I don't think I realized before being in the industry, how uncommon it is even for outdoor brands to not, to not have those values of time, spent outside built into their company culture. And so that's really important to me. And that's something that, that we, we try really hard to make sure everyone has all the time they want and need outside. We're big fans of the, of the on the go meeting. So the chairlift meeting, the trailside meeting, that sort of thing.
Iris: Hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Outside By Design! My name is Iris Matulevich, I host the podcast alongside Lisa Slagle, and as always, the show is brought to you by WHEELIE, a modern creative agency and production company for the outdoor industry.
This week Lisa had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole Handel, Marketing Director at Mammut. Nicole shares so many insights in this episode, ranging from her path from psychology to marketing, her commitment to community and fulfillment on her team, allowing for exploration time, and creating a culture of creative thinking. This one is sure to get you inspired, let’s get to it!
Lisa: Cool. Well, Nicole, thank you so much for being here today. And the first question we ask everyone is to describe where they are and what they're looking at.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I am in Conway, New Hampshire, and I'm currently looking out the window at Cranmore resort, which is a small local mountain here in the Northeast.
Lisa: That's awesome. And you get to work remote, you work from home?
Nicole: Yeah, we have a base in Williston, Vermont. So sometimes I go into the office, but I am mostly remote.
Lisa: That's amazing. And because we've never met in person, for our audience and also for my personal information, I would love to know more about your story and how you ended up becoming the director of marketing at Mammut.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. So I had kind of… I took a sort of circuitous route into both marketing and working in the outdoor industry. I did not study marketing. I studied psychology. And I was always interested in people and obviously the behavior of people. So the interest in marketing, I think, was there from the start.
But after I graduated with my psychology degree, I started doing some sort of small-scale marketing projects. I was managing social media for some small businesses in Burlington, Vermont, which is where I went to college. And after that I had a couple of sales positions and that kind of propelled me into a sales position at Mammut.
Because I was working - not in the outdoor industry, but I was, I was in Burlington, Vermont. And like I said, Mammut has a base in Williston, Vermont, which is sort of just outside of Burlington. And I knew some folks who worked at Mammut. I had climbed with some of the folks who were part of the team. So when a job opening opened up in the D2C marketing realm at Mammut, I applied. And that was how I started at the company.
Lisa: Oh, that's cool.
Lisa: So how does your background in psychology influence what you do now in marketing?
Nicole: Well, I am a really big psychology nerd and I think that psychology is sort of everything and everywhere. So I think that as long as people or animals are involved, psychology is probably at the root of most things. So I think that psychology applies to my job just in that my job is to speak to people and to figure out what people need, what's missing, what is motivating to people, how to bring people in and really, I think that's what marketing is or should be.
Lisa: Absolutely. And do you also manage a marketing team?
Nicole: Yeah. So I have a really phenomenal team of four who I work alongside of. And we are, we're a pretty small company in North America. We do have a global presence, but in North America we're a small team. So yeah, I have the pleasure of working with four people on our - we actually don't call it marketing at Mammut, it's ‘brand and consumer.’ And the reason for that is we, like I sort of just alluded to, we really feel like everything about marketing should have to do with the brand, but also the consumer. So speaking to the consumer, meeting the needs of the consumer, that sort of thing.
Lisa: I'm very impressed that you're such a small team because Mammut does seem massive.
Nicole: We get that a lot. And actually, before my time at Mammut, or actually while I was at Mammut but in a sales role - so before I took this marketing role - the team was actually just two people and they really are a force. One of them has moved on and works somewhere else. But Ben, who was part of that two person team, is now on my team. And so we feel like we are a massive marketing team now because we had been so small for so many years.
Lisa: [laughs] I like that. I like that a team of four or five is massive now.
Nicole: [laughs] I know.
Lisa: That's impressive. In our survey, our pre-interview survey, I liked a sentence. I pulled a sentence out that you wrote, which is, “creativity is at the core of everything we do at Mammut.”
Lisa: And I'm just curious what that means to you.
Nicole: Yeah. I think that, you know, marketing can sometimes feel like this really trendy, buzzwordy kind of field where everyone, you know, has opinions about marketing and everyone thinks they have like, the next big campaign. I think that's probably the case everywhere, at all companies. But the challenging thing is that - and also because we are such a small team - I think it's easy to get bogged down in sort of everyday tasks and meeting deadlines, scheduling meetings, that sort of thing. And so something that I've really tried to inject into the culture within our team - and it hasn't been so hard to do because we have a very creative team and we're a very young team as well - but that's the notion that we shouldn't ever be too busy to be creative. And we shouldn't ever be too busy to, like, spend time thinking. ‘Cause I think like having time to think is maybe sort of a modern luxury, like many people are so on the go and there's always something to look at. Like, you could endlessly scroll for 24 hours a day and it wouldn't be that hard to do. So having time to just kind of think and be creative is something that I am really passionate about and really want to be part of our, our company and team culture.
Lisa: I love that. As the owner of a creative agency, I feel like there's never enough time to think, you know?
Lisa: So I wake up at- I wake up at five in the morning just to think for an hour about things that aren't related to clients or project work. And if I don't do that, I'm just scattered all day.
Nicole: I feel the same way. I have the- I don't know if it's a bad habit, but it sometimes can be embarrassing if I realize that that someone's watching - but I have the habit of spending… well, I'm notoriously early, everywhere I go. And I realized I probably waste a lot of time doing that, but for me, the importance of that is anywhere that I go, I show up early and then I'm in my car for like a good 10 minutes or so. And that gives me like 10 minutes in my day to just have the permission and the freedom to think, which, like you said, feels really important and also feels really hard to obtain nowadays. So yeah, I totally hear you. And I, I try to do the same.
Lisa: Do you schedule, like, no meeting thinking time or like a deep work time for your team? Or is everyone sort of… they have the agency to figure out what works best for their creative thinking?
Nicole: Yeah, both. We do have a monthly creative call that kind of, as soon as I took this role, I put on the schedule because our schedules do tend to fill up pretty quickly since we are a global brand. With time differences, we get calls scheduled for, for a lot of different times throughout the day. And so scheduling a time block for just creative thinking was one priority for me, but then yeah, I also give my team full and total agency to do what they need to have time for themselves, both professionally and personally.
Like, I, I have never opposed a Friday to ski or run or an afternoon off, that kind of thing. I think we, we all, like I said, we're a young team and we all entered into the outdoor industry because we love the outdoors. And I don't think I realized before being in the industry, how uncommon it is even for outdoor brands to not, to not have those values of time, spent outside built into their company culture. And so that's really important to me. And that's something that, that we, we try really hard to make sure everyone has all the time they want and need outside. We're big fans of the, of the on the go meeting. So the chairlift meeting, the trailside meeting, that sort of thing.
Lisa: I love that. I think that's really cool. And I am so excited to hear, you know, from your marketing side, such a rich infusion of creativity. I think that's awesome. And kind of rare.
Nicole: Thank you. We're, we're trying really hard. Like I said, I… it's all a work in progress and I individually definitely don't have the answers, to, to the question of like, how do we be more creative? How do we spend more time thinking? But, but we're trying.
Lisa: That's awesome. Also in our survey, you answered that your three values were community, growth, and fulfillment, which I love. I'm super interested to hear about fulfillment because that's a new one. I have not heard anyone say that. But yeah, what, tell me about those values, community, growth, and fulfillment.
Nicole: Yeah. So I have this hunch, that those three things - and with some others - are kind of at the core of like what humans need to thrive. Community being the first one. I run a small community run club here in Conway, where I live. And we… the focus is not on like running performance. The focus is on, “Hey, come move your body with us.” And we cater to the pace of the slowest runner. So whatever the slowest runners pace is, that's the pace the whole group runs. And we meet twice a week. And we've been doing this since December. And what I've noticed through that community run club is that people really shine when they have a community behind them. And maybe that sounds cliche because I think like that's, that's maybe sort of obvious. But even in… I think this is applicable to more than just a community run club. I think it's applicable to a workplace, a team, you know, most things in life. Like, humans are social creatures and community gives us the confidence, the inspiration, the support to achieve things that probably on our own, we either wouldn't have thought of or wouldn't feel comfortable seeking.
So community is really important to me. And it's something that I'm trying to foster more and more, both personally in my local community and at Mammut as a brand, like how do we create a community? Not just internally, but externally? How do we, how do we make sure our consumers know that they are welcome in our team and in our community? And how do we make them feel genuinely like that's the case? Like, no, really you can come ski with us. And I don't know what the answer is yet to that, but we're working on it and it's... I think it's my primary kind of value both professionally and personally.
And growth I think is, is pretty obvious. So you, you asked specifically about fulfillment and I think that might be obvious too, but fulfillment for me is a core value because. I think, you know, happiness is really important and really wonderful, but it's not the only thing that makes humans feel good. Fulfillment also makes humans feel good and it doesn't always present itself as type one fun, like things that are just purely, innately fun. Fulfillment for me is also all of the things I've done that maybe aren't so fun, but feels so good afterwards. And that's, I think how I've, how I've come to know myself as well, like really long runs or just really hard runs or learning a new sport.
Like I, I picked up snowboarding through splitboarding just a few years ago and it felt really hard as an adult to enter into a sport where a lot of people have experience from childhood. And that was objectively not fun. Like my first, I would say, two winters on a snowboard… I was like, man, I'm definitely not doing this because it feels good. It actually feels really bad. But that feeling of, like, badness, is so overshadowed by this feeling of fulfillment once things do become fun. And once things do kind of sort themselves out.
So bringing that into marketing and into my professional life, I think that looks like, you know, working - the sort of cliches that you might think of. Working through difficult challenges at work or figuring out how to build strength within a team. Like, those things probably aren't fun and they maybe don't induce, like, immediate happiness, but they are fulfilling. And I think that's a really important core value for me.
Lisa: And it does tie directly into growth.
Nicole: Yeah, right. Yeah. And I think all three of those things, like have some kind of cycle within each other and they're all related.
Lisa: So how do you, how do you bring this into your team? And how do you… yeah. Like how do you kind of like support the growth of others, as well as knowing that you have to work toward a goal because it's a workplace?
Nicole: Yeah. I mean for me, because I am pretty young for my role, I would say I certainly lack some years of professional experience, so it's not my priority - and, you know, this isn't, this won't be news to the folks that I work with - it's not my priority to be like the best marketer of all the outdoor brands, because I don't have the experience in that. And that's a pretty lofty goal.
My priority is to be the best team leader I can because that's something I probably can do. Like, that's something that does seem achievable. And so some of the ways that - not just me, but to give credit to Mammut as a brand, that's one of the things that we really prioritize.
And a couple of examples are, we have a wellness stipend annually. So everyone on the team, no matter the position, gets the same amount of money to spend annually on something. And the things that we see it get used for pretty often are like race fees. Someone on my team has done some pretty long ski tour races. And that I would say is like a, a strong way to help someone grow and fulfill is to give them the resources to go do things that promote growth and fulfillment. And things like time off policies. We have pretty liberal time-off policies. That same person on my team is about to take a month off to go skiing in South America. Things like that I think have to be kind of ingrained in company policies in the outdoor industry, because there is this kind of theme, I think, within people who gravitate towards working in the outdoor industry, which is that they want to go see- they're curious, they want to go seek things and they want fulfillment and they want growth.
And so the best thing that I can do, that we can do, that brands can do is give the resources and give the access to those people to seek those things for themselves. So. That's I think one of the ways that, that I bring those values into the workplace. And not - like I said, not just me. I can't really take too much credit here, but brands and systems within brands, I think that's what can be done as a first step.
Lisa: I love that so much. And I also am curious, on a personal level, because - so if someone leaves for a month to go on a ski trip, that's very exciting. How do you prepare for that as a team? Like, and hold their job position and logistically like, make sure everything gets done? Yeah. Do you have any magic secrets there?
Nicole: Yeah. You know, Lisa, I'll let you know in August when she gets back. [both laugh] But no, I mean, honestly I take three weeks off every year to go on a road trip with my dogs. And I, I'm kind of just leading by example because when… the last time I took this trip was last year and I had had managers and bosses in the past be really understanding of that need for me because it's, it's not so much like, ‘oh, I want to go on vacation with my dogs.’ It's more like, no, this is the reset that I need to show up and be more productive. I know that this person going on this trip is going to be so eager to make sure that all of her bases are covered both before she leaves and when she gets back, because it's pretty awesome that she gets to go ski for a month. And so I think honestly, the most basic answer I can give is that I have people on my team who I trust, and I'm not worried that things aren't going to get done. And I'll be picking up some slack for a month. That's for sure, the whole team will. But I know that she's going to leave us in really good shape. And I know that when she comes back, she's going to be super stoked and really ready to dive in. And she's probably going to have all of these new perspectives. So that's the, that's the kind of fluffy answer.
And then the more technical one is, we'll work together to put systems in place and I will… I will get more involved in the weeks leading up to her vacation time with all of the projects that she's working on and all of the contacts that she keeps in touch with. And we'll just do our best and something that I like to, that I like to remember is, we're not brain surgeons. No one's gonna die. You know? Like, it's okay.
Nicole: It's okay. If a project has to get deprioritized for a couple of weeks, while someone on my team is going out and living out this really fulfilling adventure. It's all going to be okay.
Lisa: I love that. And I think it's amazing that Mammut supports that and really understands what drives people. That's incredible.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you.
Lisa: Wow. So what, like, what's your day like at Mammut? I know that probably no two days are the same, but what are some of the things that you do in your position that really get you fired up?
Nicole: Yeah. Like you said, no two days are the same. UAnd like I mentioned earlier, since we are a global brand, some days have a really early start because, for example, for the Swiss team, they're six hours ahead of my time zone. So, you know, their noon is my 6:00 AM. So sometimes there are some pretty early work meetings. So sometimes the day starts early. But the average day in terms of like, what I'm doing, tends to be pretty high level kind of project management and overseeing. So our team, even though it is pretty small, does a really phenomenal job of like specificity in their roles. And that means that I end up kind of just looking things over, approving, confirming, giving more information, giving advice, lending insights.
And our team is responsible for a ton of stuff. So I'm directly responsible for our e-com in North America, we manage all of our social channels. We manage all of our partner relationships like resorts and retailers and brands. All of our DEI, sustainability initiatives, those are through our department. So my, my average day includes like a pretty wide range of topics and conversations. And that's something that I love about it because I get to be in kind of a million places at once, which I really enjoy. So yeah, it's a bit all over the place, but all really fun stuff that's like genuinely interesting to me.
Lisa: Yeah, it's so fun for me to speak to someone in your position because as an agency, we have this huge wide viewpoint of, you know, here's what brands are doing across the whole industry and other industries. And it's so nice to speak to someone who gets to dive deep within one brand and really, really, like, get into all of it from sustainability to DEI to social. So I think that it's always such a different perspective. Kind of what, yeah. What's your huge big picture takeaway on being able to dive deep inside one brand?
Nicole: Yeah, I mean, it's, it's really all I know. I've only worked for individual brands before, but for me it's exciting because I think, especially since we are pretty small in North America, it gives me a lot of… kind of autonomy to feel like I can make change. So if, you know, if I have a really great idea for like a DEI initiative - which, it even, I don't know, it, it feels like a little, I don't love using the term DEI because it makes it sound like like a PR thing or like a, I don't know, like DEI is just at the core of what we're doing and it's not like its own separate topic. Like we, we are considering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the things that we're doing. It's not like, okay, what's our DEI plan for this month. It's just what we're doing. But using that example, like, if I have an idea, or if someone on the team has an idea for a way that we can bring more people in to the activities that we make gear and apparel for, it feels pretty achievable and attainable to make actual change since we do work for a small brand in North America and a small team. And, and we're speaking to, you know, a, a fairly… not a targeted audience because you know, our, our gear, our apparel is for everyone, like the outdoors are for everyone. So it's not that we're talking to a specific audience, but it does feel like, being regional to North America we - and being, being a small team, a small brand, it feels like we have more ability to act on ideas, which I really like.
Lisa: What does that look like to act on an idea?
Nicole: Yeah, so it depends on what the idea is. Every- everything's a little bit different, but one example is we just in March hosted a learn to ski or ride scholarship in partnership with Copper Mountain Resort.
So the idea there - and this just came from someone on the team - the idea was, okay. We can identify a problem within one of our sports, skiing or riding. And the problem is that those sports are really inaccessible. And even if you have access to the gear, how do you learn to use the gear and how do you afford going somewhere that you can use the gear?
And so one, one action that was easy for us to take was we said, okay, a solution would be that we could pay for accommodations, dining, rental, gear, and instruction for a person and their plus one to spend a weekend at Copper Mountain in Colorado and spend that weekend learning how to ski or ride. And that was, that was easy enough to do because everything was happening at our kind of regional level. So we got in touch with Copper Mountain, who we partner with on lots of events and said, Hey, can we make this happen? If so, when's a good weekend? They said, yep, let's do it now. And we just kind of were able to activate on it. Whereas I think with larger brands or brands that don't have have, like, a regional focus, I think probably there are more hoops to jump through and that wasn't the case for us.
And that also speaks to the autonomy that we have from our, from our leadership. I'm not sure that I've ever had an idea that was shot down. We have a really strong culture of, “Yes. See what happens. Try it and see how it goes. And if it doesn't work out, there's probably a good learning there. And if it does, great.”
Lisa: That feels so safe.
Nicole: Yeah. Super safe. And I've said it a few times, but because we are a pretty young team, the Brand and Consumer team is the youngest team within, within the company. I'm 28 and I'm, I'm the oldest person on our team. Actually that's not true. Our, our avalanche safety manager is, is older than me, but regardless we are a super young team of people. Having a space that does feel safe to, to be creative and to make mistakes, I think is so crucial because for lots of us, this is the beginning of our professional careers and being able to try things and also learn how to deal with failures, I think that's so important. And I think these are the lessons that will stick with us. And this is the environment that allows us to learn those lessons.
Lisa: Oh, that's wonderful. And my kind of last question for you as we're kind of hitting the time mark here is I want to hear about your dogs. I want to know… I want to know, you referenced your dogs quite a bit in our survey. So I was curious kind of, yeah. What do, what do you got going on with your dogs?
Nicole: Yeah, this won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but this will be very easy for me to speak on.
Nicole: I have Bear who's a, he's an almost nine year old German shepherd. And recently… so I'm part of this, uh, talent development program that Mammut is running, which is another super cool thing about Mammut. There's a lot of support for continued education and personal and professional growth. So I just got accepted into this program and it's really exciting because it's a global program that the brand is hosting.
And one of the exercises was inspired by an Ernest Hemingway exercise. And it, it was tell your story in six words. And at first I was like, wow, brevity is not my strength. That will not be possible for me. But when I thought about it, I landed on the story of “girl finds dogs, then finds herself.” And it sounds really cheesy, but genuinely, I don't think I would have discovered the outdoors if it wasn't for Bear, my German shepherd. I was, I was in college and didn't really have too many hobbies. I sort of inherited Bear from a former relationship and was kind of trying to find myself, didn't really know what my place in the world was, but now I had this dog. And so I was like, okay, I should, I should try to hike a mountain by myself. It, it sounds really silly to me now, but at the time I'd never done anything independently like that. So every week I took Bear hiking. And that became like, you know, my first - like it is for most people - my first entry into the outdoors. And then I was like, wow, maybe Bear would like biking. And so we started biking. And maybe Bear would want to do something outdoors in the snow. And that's why I learned how to snowboard on a split board versus at a resort.
Nicole: And so all of these things, yeah. It just kind of revolved around him and like seeing what he enjoyed and what makes him happy and, and also learning to find joy and hard things outdoors through him. Like, when I first got into running, I just struggled miserably. I have really bad asthma. And I was like, I don't know if this is the sport for me, but I would come around a corner and Bear would be in the middle of the trail, tongue out, waiting for me. And I'd be like, man, this is, this is fun. Like it's a good morale boost.
And so, yeah. I just think that for me, dogs were really the entry point into the outdoors. And now I'm like a full-on crazy dog lady. Like, my whole life revolves around my dogs. And I also have a second dog. She's a puppy still. She is 16 weeks old. And she's a Dutch shepherd and her name is Roe. And she's yeah, she's someday gonna be doing all the same things that Bear does. So yeah, they take up a good, a good portion of my time. But I'm not really sure what I would do if, if that wasn't the case.
Lisa: I love that so much. Everyone at WHEELIE is obsessed with their dogs. So every single person has at least one dog who works at my creative agency.
Nicole: I love to see that. Great morale.
Lisa: Yeah. So yeah, we all love our dogs. And sometimes in the office, there's way too many dogs, but. Yeah.
Nicole: Not the worst problem to have.
Lisa: It's definitely a great problem to have for sure.
Lisa: Cool. Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to share with our audience?
Nicole: No, just to follow Mummut on Instagram, we have a lot of exciting stuff coming up in some of the spaces that I mentioned, sustainability, diversity, is also represented really well there. And is that the core of what we're doing, what we're saying. So give us a follow there. I think that's it. I think that's everything.
Lisa: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you, Lisa. Great to talk with you.
Iris: Thank you so much for tuning in to Outside by Design. This show is produced by WHEELIE - you can find us at our website, wheeliecreative.com.
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With that, I'm Iris. Thanks for being here!