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Omaha Magazine

Ask. Listen. Deliver.

Mar 21, 2024 02:56PM ● By Kara Schweiss
Ask. Listen. Deliver.  Mary Ann O’Brien’s Strategy for Success OBI Creative b2b feature april may 2024

Mary Ann O’Brien

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

In late August 2023, the Greater Omaha Chamber inducted five people into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. Mary Ann O’Brien was one of those vaunted five, with the Chamber stating: “Her insatiable drive to find new and better ways to market and grow a business is matched only by her reverence for understanding the customer’s needs.”

Drive, indeed. O’Brien’s achievements as the CEO and founder of OBI Creative, the thriving advertising agency and marketing strategy firm she launched in Omaha in 2001, are too numerous to list. The public recognition came as no surprise to the people who know her well.

“She has always had innate curiosity which fuels her fire to move fast and dream big,” shared Kari Ketcham, Chief Development Officer for Ronald McDonald House Charities in Omaha and O’Brien’s former college roommate.

“Her brilliance shines through her focus and deliberate execution of her visions. I have really never seen anything like it. When she is passionate about an idea, she gets curious, learns, and makes it a reality. She also has a generosity of spirit and believes in the potential of everyone she meets. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she has a genuine interest in people, which builds trust and loyal relationships.”

O’Brien described the Omaha Business Hall of Fame induction as “truly an honor.”

“I think I’m the youngest inductee, and I think I’m the youngest woman inductee ever,” she said. “I actually get nervous bringing it up, because I’m like, ‘Did it really happen?’”

O’Brien is nationally recognized as a thought leader in her sector, particularly for her O’Brien Voice of the Customer™ and Voice of the Employee™ studies. OBI Creative is research-based and innovation-driven, she explained. It’s certainly award-winning. Above all, however, high ethical standards are paramount.

“Probably the award that I am personally most proud of is the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award we won in 2018,” O’Brien said. “We should be winning awards for great advertising…but how we do it with integrity really means a lot to me and makes me love this team. You can count on OBI. We say what we mean, and we do what we say; and whether we have a contract or not, if we make an agreement with you, we’re going to do it. That, to me, is integrity.”

Creativity is certainly important in marketing and branding, O’Brien continued, but so is solid data and thoughtful implementation. “It’s not about getting an ad out; it’s about getting an ad with the right message and the right offer to the right people out,” she said. Or, to put it another way: “We don’t use ‘hope’ as a strategy.

“It’s the difference (of) having a broad, strategic view of marketing, as well as how to execute. So, the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how.’ We’ve always been very data-based marketers, so very interested in customer insights. And we let those insights inspire the marketing plans that we put together, the media plans we put together, the creative campaigns that are developed.”

“She’s all about getting down to brass tacks and understanding what really matters to the people in the arena, crafting marketing strategies that have traction, and bringing out the best qualities of a business,” Ketcham said. “Mary Ann has a keen ear for the voice of the customer, which makes her an incredible listener and helps her get to the heart of helping clients.”

That kind of listening is not only a quality for which O’Brien is known both personally and professionally, it’s also a focal point of her new book, “Ask & Deliver: Discover the Heart of Your Business by Listening to the Voice of Your Customers,” published by Forbes Books in December 2023. The book’s message is a simple formula for successful marketing: Ask customers what they want from your business. Listen to what they have to say. Deliver that experience.

The publisher’s description calls “Ask & Deliver,” available through multiple online and retail sources, a “must-read for anyone who’s ready to put their customers at the center of their business and take that business to the next level.” Readers have been giving it positive reviews from the start, with one Amazon customer observing, “The book, akin to a page-turning adventure, resonates not only with seasoned entrepreneurs but with anyone navigating life’s varied landscapes.”

Since 2018, O’Brien has served on the Forbes Agency Council, which has an invitation-only membership of successful public relations, media strategy, creative, and advertising agency executives. That association helped get her foot in the door with Forbes Books, O’Brien said, but she still had to pitch multiple concepts in a competitive process for a publisher that selects a limited number of titles per year.

“I didn’t want to self-publish,” she said, adding that although “Ask & Deliver” is the culmination of O’Brien’s long-held dream of publishing a book, the project—which she launched in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—was more challenging than she had expected.

“But I’m so grateful I did it, because it commemorated the work that we’ve done,” she said. “I hope it’s easy enough for people to grasp the importance of what your brand really is, understanding your customer experiences, and making sure that you’re really delivering on the things you want to be delivering on as a company.”

Publishing her book and being named to the Omaha Business Hall of Fame aren’t a finale, O’Brien said. She and OBI have many busy days, months, and years ahead.

“I do a lot of visualization. I think a lot about the future. I want to be sitting at the desk of another CEO who has a huge challenge that we can help them solve. I love big challenges when it comes to communications, and so I want to find more opportunities, I want to find and be around some of the greatest thinkers with the biggest challenges and have OBI help them solve their problems,” she said. “I am pushing myself and my team to make sure that we can be the best fiduciary for our clients and help drive communications for them. I think it’s not just about communications, it’s about business…I want to keep helping other businesses grow.”

Mary Ann O’Brien’s book, “Ask & Deliver: Discover the Heart of Your Business by Listening to the Voice of Your Customers,” is available from most booksellers.

Visit books.forbes.com/books/ask-deliver for details. For more information about OBI Creative, visit obicreative.com

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2024 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe. 


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