HBO’s Bernadette Aulestia knows how to sell a powerful brand story

Flight Templates are templated flights, or sets of questions, written by some of the world’s preeminent business leaders. With Flight Templates, Balloon users get unparalleled access to seasoned perspectives and proven business strategies across all areas of business, including leadership, product, marketing & sales, innovation, employee experience, culture, and more. This feature is part of a series on The Insight that profiles Balloon’s Flight Template authors.

If 23 years in marketing at HBO has taught Bernadette Aulestia anything, it’s the power of a strong brand story.

“When your brand story feels authentic and organic in your relationship with customers, there’s a trust that’s built,” said Aulestia. “Whether you're a large company like HBO or whether you are a small startup, that dynamic never changes.”

After spending more than two decades helping HBO grow, Aulestia pinpoints her career at the intersection of creativity and profitability. She was the President of Global Distribution at the media behemoth until June of last year, when she moved out of entertainment and into a more entrepreneurial space. While she still works with some entertainment brands, her portfolio as an adviser, investor, and board member is quite varied: Aulestia serves on the boards for Denny’s and Angeles Investors, advises companies at Inkwell and Encantos, and is a limited partner at Portfolia, a VC firm that focuses on funding early-stage, POC- and queer-founded startups. Throughout the years and across all industries, Aulestia knows that digital content marketing can play a huge role not only in building a loyal customer base, but also in revenue generation.

“Consumers have shifted now to when they shop, they’re not just purchasing a product, they’re creating a relationship with a brand that says something about them as a person,” Aulestia said. “So a lot of brands have begun to understand that in order to really connect with and grow your customers and margins, you need to go beyond just giving people a 20% discount.”

Aulestia’s four-part flight template series, Modern Digital Marketing, guides teams through some of the most crucial discussions around digital marketing, brand definition, and revenue generation.

  • Brand Planning and Storytelling
  • Digital Marketing: Understand Our Audience
  • Customer Retention and Lifecycle Management
  • Identify Employee Development Opportunities

Although Aulestia’s series is housed under a digital marketing umbrella, she noted that such a broad term doesn’t quite capture the value of her flight templates.

“At its core, my flight template series is about storytelling,” Aulestia said. “It doesn't have to be visual storytelling, like at HBO, but every brand has a story to tell. And if you tell it in the right way, you can connect with customers, and that gives you avenues back to revenue generation.” 

The power of a distinct brand story has never diminished, even as industries—and our culture at large—have shifted. Throughout her tenure at HBO, Aulestia watched the entire entertainment field grapple with the move away from ad-based models to the subscription economy, which has only further emphasized the need for companies to prove the value of their products and get consumers to re-up, month after month.

Now, virtually every industry is in flux, and most companies need to update their brand stories in order to compete. However, Aulestia also sees this era of change as an opportunity for deepening customer loyalty, capturing what Aulestia calls “adjacencies” or offshoot audience demographics, and, ultimately, making more money. She also predicts that the exponential digital boom and all the 2020 disruptions will be an equalizer between big companies and small ones.

“Now that everything is digital, the barriers to your consumers are lowered, so every company has a chance to engage with customers on a very personal level because they’ll be on a very personal device,” Aulestia said. “But you still have to make that initial connection, so the question is, what do customers say your brand says about them?”

Check out Bernadette Aulestia's Flight Template Series

Former President of Global Distribution, HBO