Does a product make the brand or a brand make the product? It’s a question that feels more relevant today than ever before, with so many evolving ways that companies engage with consumers and that we, the consumer, choose which brands we want to support.
It’s also a question that Natalie Bowman loves thinking about. As the Managing Director of Marketing and Advertising for Alaska Airlines, she sees a brand identity as more than just a recognizable logo. It’s an avenue into people’s lives and the shared experiences that bring us joy.
Given Natalie’s impressive track record in the marketing world, we figured there would be many who’d love to pick her brain on the industry, so we’ve gone ahead and done it for you. Below we’re sharing her career journey, brand advice and — because how could we not — her top three travel essentials.
Darling Magazine: You’ve worked in marketing for a long time. Land Rover, Nissan, Neiman Marcus, Microsoft, and now Alaska Airlines. What do you think drew you to the marketing industry specifically over other career paths?
Natalie Bowman: I read a lot of magazines growing up (YM, Sassy, Seventeen) and when they profiled women and their careers there always seemed to be a Lawyer, a Doctor and a Marketing Exec. I didn’t want to wait through 6+ years of college so Marketing Exec seemed like the best option for me.
DM: Forgive the pun… but what led to you landing at Alaska? What does your job entail there and what excites you most about it?
NB: I oversee Brand/Creative, Advertising, Media, Social and Sponsorships. At some point throughout my career, I have worked in each of these areas so this job is the perfect compilation of everything I’ve done in my marketing career. It is so much fun to work on a brand/product that brings so much joy to people’s lives. Travel is such a human and emotional experience, being a part of people’s lives in that way is rare in the marketing world.
I found out about the role through a Facebook connection. I knew instantly that it was my dream job.
DM: Can you share any goals or some of the vision behind Alaska Airlines in 2018? Why should the Darling reader be as equally excited as you are?
NB: Alaska is one of the most beloved brands in the Pacific Northwest and in 2018, we want to win over more fans all along the West Coast. We want to share what the people in the Northwest already know – that we are different from other airlines, we take things personally and we take care of you. If you live on the West Coast, we can get you wherever you need to go (usually non-stop), for a fair fare and the perks are endless: amazing service, free chat, free movies, best fruit and cheese platter in the sky, a very generous Mileage Plan…I could go on.
Travel is such a human and emotional experience, being a part of people’s lives in that way is rare in the marketing world.
DM: Brands have so much pressure placed on them nowadays. Good design, a thriving social presence, authentic engagement — almost like a brand is expected to be a living, breathing person. Do you experience that pressure, or do you have some advice for someone who might?
NB: I apply this pressure to my team probably more than anyone else. Our standards for design and being ‘Instagram-worthy’ are very high. We want every moment and every interaction — whether it’s a headline, décor at an event or a social post — to be shareable and remarkable. It’s important to spend the time and money on what will garner the most notice. Be selective about where you invest and where you don’t.
DM: What does it mean to bring a brand to life? What would you say is the difference between a living brand and a stagnant brand?
NB: I think stagnant brands are those that don’t allow themselves to appear to have any humanity. Brand purism is one thing but I think people want to see personality and authenticity from brands. The beauty of our brand is we are rich in humanity both in terms of our employee base and our guests.
DM: What would your advice be to someone who wants to follow in a similar career path? IE: How can someone differentiate themselves in the PR or marketing world when it feels like there is so much competition?
NB: I would start by majoring in what comes easiest to you in college. My marketing courses were the easiest college courses for me, by far. It just came natural so I knew it was the right choice. Just like in relationships, if it’s too hard or takes too much work, then it’s not the right fit.
That’s not to say I didn’t work hard — I’ve been working hard since I was 15, but the work isn’t draining my soul, it’s work that invigorates me because I am good at it. Once you get into a marketing role, being adaptable and open to new opportunities will help you become a more well-rounded marketer. I accepted positions in experiential events, digital and social so that I could learn a new area. I credit those roles for helping prepare me to be a marketing leader today.
Just like in relationships, if it’s too hard or takes too much work, then it’s not the right fit.
DM: How do you know when it’s time to transition out of one position and into something new?
NB: When you aren’t learning something new or you are doing the same things you did last year, I would say move on. But I have a very high tolerance for change, I thrive on it. Others may be more comfortable with some continuity and routine.
DM: If you were given a free flight, childcare and the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world today, where would you go?
NB: I would find a small snowy village in Europe and rent a cozy cottage like in the movie “The Holiday.”
DM: Bonus question. What three things do you never fly without?
NB: I always have a scarf and lip balm and I always wear comfortable closed-toe shoes. My current go-tos are ankle boots.
Images provided by Alaska Airlines