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Author: James Nieman

The A-List Podcast: Episode 018 with Sandy Greenberg and Terri Meyer

This week on The A-List Podcast, host and DiMassimo Goldstein CCO is joined in the studio by Sandy Greenberg and Terri Meyer, co-founders of TERRI & SANDY, an award-winning, brand-igniting agency that was recently named Ad Age’s Small Agency of the Year.

Before founding their own agency, both Sandy and Terri left their creative marks on some of the biggest agencies in the world, helping to build some of the most iconic brands, including Mars, Kraft, Campbell’s, Disney and Nestlé. Along the way, they’ve won virtually every industry award, including twelve Effies. Terri and Sandy’s work has permeated popular culture, and has been featured on TBS’ Funniest Commercials, Conan, CNN, The View, Fox News, Access Hollywood, and Today.

For just under an hour, Terri and Sandy tell Tom all about starting their own agency, why young creatives struggle with strategy, the importance of building a strong client relationship, and so much more. Full episode and show notes below!

Show Notes

  • [0:00 – 1:42] Intro
  • [01:43 – 4:03] Terri talks about growing up in St. Louis, and how she knew she wanted to be an Art Director from as early as age 15.
  • [4:04 – 7:17] Sandy talks about moving all over the East Coast during her childhood, and getting her first gig at D’Arcy in St. Louis.
  • [7:18 – 9:51] Sandy and Terri recall how they first met, and why it took some time for the two to become friendly with each other before eventually becoming partners.
  • [9:52 – 14:07] What it was like being a female team in the early 90’s, and why politics are the dark side of advertising.
  • [14:08 – 17:39] The two creative mavens discuss each other’s strengths, why loyalty is so important to a good partnership, open communication, and screaming until you laugh.
  • [17:40 – 21:46] The two discuss some of their early work together, like the Twix “Oh Yeah” spot, and why young creatives struggle with strategy.
  • [21:47 – 28:33] The story of Sandy becoming Terri’s birthday present, remembering the wisdom of Richard Levenson, and the importance of not burning bridges.
  • [28:34 – 32:39] Terri and Sandy talk about starting their agency 7 years ago, and how not having a plan took them from a couch at Terri’s house to on office on Broadway.
  • [32:40 – 39:10] Building a great client relationship through honesty and listening.
  • [39:11— 41:00] Growing an agency culture.
  • [41:01— 44:08] Terri and Sandy talk about some of the favorite campaigns they’ve worked on, including Avon’s “This is Boss Life”
  • [44:09 – 50:00] How advertising has changed since the Mad Men era, and why agencies need to unite more to give back.
  • [50:01 – 50:52] Outro

 “The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter

Inspiring Action Brand of the Month: Duolingo

Photo from Business Insider

After he sold his second company to Google, Luis von Ahn received a phone call.

It was Bill Gates.

The richest man in the world, and co-founder of Microsoft, was personally recruiting the young computer scientist to join his team.

But for von Ahn, joining a world-changing company wasn’t enough. Like Gates, he needed to create his own.

So, the Guatemalan-born web wizard —who has become famous for combining humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone — founded Duolingo, a free, science-based language education platform that is now the most popular way to learn languages online. And while von Ahn’s portfolio consists of several successful ventures, Duolingo is likely to be his masterpiece.

Von Ahn’s passion has always been rooted in the world of academia. A graduate of Duke University, who later received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon, where he now serves as a professor, he knows the education system all too well.

Both sides of it.

He’s seen the prestige of the world’s most elite universities, and the wealth that feeds them. He’s also experienced the resources, or the lack thereof, of the schools in a developing country. This side, sadly, is much more prevalent globally, and it’s the problem von Ahn has made his life work to solve.

In countries like Guatemala, education does not bring equality to social classes, as some may think. It does the opposite. Those with money can buy themselves an education, while those without it can barely read and write. This system sets up career barriers that are almost always insurmountable, and only widens the divide between the upper and lower classes.

By launching Duolingo, von Ahn was taking a seat at the intersection of technology and human behavior, inspired to create a product that could change outcomes in more permanent and integral ways to tackle the global-scale problem of language learning.

The mission was simple: make language education free and accessible to everyone all over the world.

Why language?

Of the 1.2 billion people in the world learning  foreign languages, 800 million of them satisfy three properties:

  • They are learning English
  • The reason they are learning English is to get a job
  • They are from low socioeconomic classes

For these individuals, learning a language can be the gateway out of poverty, but doing so can cost up to $1,000 dollars. Without the money, and no other alternative, the odds are unfairly stacked against them. To change those odds, von Ahn would first have to change behaviors.

Behavior Change Marketing

Learning a language is difficult. Everyone wants to do it, but most give up. The key is making it a habit. Duolingo could never work unless a user visited it regularly, so the success of the company hinged on it becoming a regular behavior, which also meant dislodging other long-held behaviors.

And change, according to world-renowned behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, “comes not from the inside, but the outside. If you want people to lose weight, give them a smaller plate. You have to change the environment.”

For von Ahn, the environment was technology. How could behavioral design be used to  prevent the poor retention rates of other language-learning softwares? How could he reinvent the teaching process to make it a memorable experience worth the consumers’ time?

You gamify it.

American psychologist and behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, once said, “No one really cares whether Pac-Man gobbles up all those little spots on the screen… What is reinforcing is successful play, and in a well-designed instructional program students gobble up their assignments.”

As the work of behavioral economists has shown us, consumer decision-making is not just about the availability of information. Instead, it’s about how that information is framed and delivered. By framing language-learning as a game, von Ahn was applying behavioral design to keep consumers coming back for more.

He and his team incorporated gameplaying elements to increase engagement. Like other mobile-game apps, Duolingo is friendly and fun. It uses images, video clips, and the microphone on the mobile device to not only help you learn words, but to recite and write them as well.

Behavioral science has proven that marketing efforts that activate goals have a much greater impact on consumers. Duolingo rewards right answers with “points.” Consecutive daily lessons can help the consumer build “streaks.”

“It’s like a video game, where you have to do something every day or you lose your rank,” says Gina Gotthilf, VP of Marketing and Growth for Duolingo.

The streaks give you  virtual currency that can unlock bonus skills or purchase outfits for the game’s mascot, a green owl named Duo. Von Ahn picked an Owl because owls are associated with wisdom, and chose to make it green as a joke on the company’s co-founder, Severin Hacker, who’s least favorite color is green (seriously).

An educational resource that’s actually enjoyable to use, Duolingo combines fun with function in a way that no language-learning platform has before.

A major point of differentiation amongst competitors like Rosetta Stone, other than the price, is DuoLingo’s use of Artificial Intelligence. In his research, von Ahn discovered that the hardest part of learning a new language is overcoming the fear of sounding it out in front of others. With AI chatbots, DuoLingo users can practice without pressure, preparing them for real-life conversations without the awkwardness and anxiety that come with the learning process.

The performance data also allows Duolingo to measure how effective different teaching methods are. If a person makes a mistake, or even hesitates to answer a certain question, the app registers that behavior, and will serve a new series of questions to help that person overcome that difficulty.

The Duolingo team has conducted thousands of A/B tests exploring the biases and cognitive shortcuts that affect how people absorb and process information. In doing so, they continue to build on their mastery of behavioral techniques, analyzing how millions of people learn at once, to create the most effective educational system possible, and then tailor it to each student.

For example, if Duolingo wanted to know if people learned faster when being taught plurals before adjectives, or vice versa, they would simply split the next 400,000 users into two groups and test each. Once they have their answer, they can implement it across the entire platform. This allows Duolingo to get smarter and more efficient as the company grows; and it’s working. A recent study by the City University of New York shows that 34 hours of learning a language on Duolingo is the equivalent of an entire university semester learning that same language.

Today, with over 200 million users, it is the most downloaded educational app in the world. In the United States, there are more people learning languages on Duolingo than there are in the nation’s school system.

Outside the U.S., entire countries like Costa Rica and Columbia have adopted Duolingo into every public school that has access to the internet, and the company is currently working on creating offline platforms for countries that do not have stable or reliable internet connectivity.

Von Ahn wanted to show the world that true equality  exists only when money cannot buy  better educations; and, while he’s just getting started,  he realized his impact when he received news about a familiar friend.

Bill Gates used Duolingo to learn French.

The richest man in the world and kids in developing countries – both using the same educational tool to learn.

Now that’s inspiring action.

 

Desiree Cortez Wins 2017 SmartCEO Brava Award

We are so proud to announce that earlier today, DiMassimo Goldstein CFO and Partner Desiree Cortez was recognized as a winner of the 2017 SmartCEO Brava Award!

The Brava Awards program celebrates high-impact female business leaders who set their companies on the path to tremendous growth, and no one is more deserving of that honor than Desiree. She is a fearless leader who brings an unmatched enthusiasm and passion to everything she does, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that her hard work is being recognized by the rest of the industry.

In addition to being agency Partner and CFO, Desiree is also the head of our human resources, finance and operation departments – but even that would be selling her value and importance to the growth of this agency short. For 12 years now, she has been instrumental in helping establish DiGo’s position as the lead behavior change agency for life-changing marketers. We simply would not be where we are today without her.

Internally, there isn’t a better representation of our agency culture than Desiree. She puts our core values of love, courage, and understanding at the center of everything we do, and the team is better for it. Whether it’s our weekly meditation sessions, salad bars, quarterly internal surveys, or our buddy lunch system, Desiree has had a hand it all.

She has a passion for helping people grow. A former intern at the agency herself, she helped establish our internship program, which over the years has evolved into a cornerstone of our company. She creates the training materials for all new team members, ensuring that they are both prepared and comfortable to contribute right away. For team members who have been here for years, her door is still always open for mentorship. Desiree goes out of her way to make sure that every person within these walls knows that they are valued member of the team, and works hard to help them realize their potential.

This latest award marks yet another accomplishment in Desiree’s already inspiring career — which she wrote about on this very blog last year. But above all of that, she is a rock to her family and an incredibly active member of her community. We are so lucky to have her.

From all of us here at DiMassimo Goldstein, Congratulations Desiree!

Behavioral Economist Wins Nobel Prize

Thanks to the brave and brilliant contributions of one renegade, economic theory as we know it has been changed forever.

Richard Thaler, the world-renowned behavioral economist who has long challenged the standard economic model, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize earlier this month. His work, which Nobel Prize committee member Peter Gärdenfors simplified as “[making] economics more human,” has influenced our education system as well as government policy.

Thaler joins a small list of behavioral economists to win the award. Robert J. Shiller was among the winners in 2013, and Thaler’s longtime collaborator and friend, Daniel Kahneman, shared the award in 2002. Though they won before him, it is Thaler who is widely credited with bringing behavioral economic theories to the mainstream.

Thaler has dedicated his life to helping people understand how individuals make choices so that they can be led to make better ones. His best-selling book, Nudge, was the culmination of decades of behavioral science research, and was written to prevent people from making mistakes that can negatively affect their individual and collective well-being. That’s an inspiring mission, and one that resonates with all of us here at DiMassimo Goldstein.

We use behavioral change marketing to drive growth in brands and businesses that change lives for the better. We study the work of behavioral pioneers like Thaler to become experts at providing our clients with the strategies they need to drive profound behavioral change in the areas of healthy, wealthy and wise. Understanding human behavior is key to empowering brands to provide their consumers with a self-actualizing experience, — and that experience is what will ultimately inspire them to make better decisions and form more empowering habits.

This has been our mission for 21 years, and it’s never been more important than it is today.

We applaud people like Thaler for continuing to push the conversation forward, and for persuading more people to pay attention to human behavior. To read more about Thaler and his work, check out this article in The New York Times.

Congratulations on the honor, Richard, and keep up the good work!

Bringing Weight Watchers Back From “The Brink of Irrelevance”

From AdAge:

“When ANA President Bob Liodice introduced Weight Watchers head of marketing today, he didn’t hold back when describing just how poorly Weight Watchers was doing in early 2015 – it was “at the brink of irrelevance.” Quite an introduction for Maurice Herrera.

In fact, January 2015 was one of the company’s worst January periods ever in terms of signups, says Herrera, who had joined the company just three months earlier. Timing was crucial, because the first quarter accounts for more than 40% of the company’s business, he notes. People were looking for other ways to lose weight, including wearable fitness trackers and Paleo dieting, resulting in Weight Watchers subscriptions dropping 25 percent year-over-year that quarter, Herrera recalled. Its stock skidded from $25 to $7 per share, he said, and fell even further that summer. Herrera had to lay off about 25 percent of his team of 30 or so people.

Herrera and his slimmed-down team, with agency DiMassimo Goldstein, came up with a more consumer-centric approach. “Since everyone believes that they have a unique challenge, it’s critical for them to look at Weight Watchers and see a bit of themselves in the brand,” Herrera says. “We needed to create a brand identity that felt accessible and relatable as well as aspirational.””

To read the rest of AdAge’s live blog, click HERE.

Last week, Maurice Herrera, the Head of Marketing for our inspiring action client, Weight Watchers, had the honor of speaking at the 2017 ANA “Masters of Marketing” event down in Orlando, Florida.

The event, which boasted over 2,500 attendees, is one of the biggest and best gatherings for senior marketers in the country.

Herrera was invited to speak about the transformative journey that Weight Watchers has enjoyed these past two years.  Together, with Herrera and his team, we’ve taken one of the country’s most historic brands and brought them back into the national spotlight, leading to seven consecutive seasons of brand growth. We couldn’t be prouder to be their agency.

Now that’s #inspiringaction.

The A-List Podcast: Episode 016 with Bobby Hershfield

This week on The A-List Podcast, host and DiMassimo Goldstein CCO Tom Christmann interviews Bobby Hershfield, Partner and CCO at SS+K. Hershfield started his career in account management before eventually shifting over to copywriting during his time at Wieden+Kennedy, and since then he has spearheaded the creative for some of the world’s biggest name brands such as Dell, JCPenney, Target, CNN, and Johnson & Johnson.

Listen in as Hershfield talks about what makes an all-star account person, working with former A-List guests Eric Silver, Ty Montague and David Angelo, and why he ultimately took a pay cut to become a creative. Full episode and show notes below!

Show Notes

  • [0:00 – 1:19] Intro
  • [1:20 – 3:59] Hershfield talks about what it was like moving around a lot as a child, how he had to adjust, and meeting new people
  • [4:00 – 5:18] How Hershfield first discovered advertising from a Tom Hanks movie
  • [5:19 – 6: 53] Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, applying to letterman, and graduating in a recession
  • [6:54 – 11:01] Getting his first job at DDB in account management, being let go and having to work as a video store clerk before finally getting another job at Chiat\Day
  • [11:02 – 13:29] Working with Eric Silver, Ty Monague, David Angelo at Chiat\Day
  • [13:30 – 17: 34] The first “virtual office” and taking creative classes
  • [17:35 – 19:00] What makes an all-star account person?
  • [19:01 – 23:31] Hershfield’s mentors in account management, the feeling you get after he was let go, and the story of how he hung around until he was rehired
  • [23: 32 – 27:00] Accepting an offer at Wieden+Kennedy, the difference between New York and Portland, and how the culture at Wieden focused on the work and not the lifestyle
  • [27:01 – 31:19] Moving to New York to take a pay cut and shift to the creative side
  • [31:20 – 35: 24] Thinking irresponsibly and the different line of thinking you have to adopt to be a creative
  • [35:25 – 39:44] Working Albert Brooks for his first commercial
  • [39:45 – 43: 35] What it was like working under Ty Montague and the benefit of tough love
  • [43:36 – 47:20] Managing a team, being a mentor, and when you know it’s time to become a creative director
  • [47:21 – 53:47] What Bobby looks for in a young creative, what made Gerry Graf a special teacher, and the many advantages of attending Adhouse
  • [53: 48 – 54:43] Outro

“The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter

The A-List Podcast: Episode 015 with Omid Farhang

In the fifteenth installment of the A-List Podcast, host and DiMassimo Goldstein CCO Tom Christmann is joined by Omid Farhang, the chief creative officer at experiential agency Momentum Worldwide. Over the course of forty-five minutes, Farhang quotes the Wu-Tang Clan, talks about growing up as the child of an Iranian cowboy, and shares some of the most valuable lessons he learned working under and alongside the biggest names in the industry. Full episode and show notes below!

  • [0:00 — 1:36] Intro
  • [1:37 — 8:05] Farhang tells Tom about growing up the child of an Iranian cowboy, and the pressure he felt to become a doctor or a lawyer
  • [8:06 – 11: 53] How Farhang discovered advertising, and the emotions that ran through his head when he first walked into the Chiat\Day office
  • [11:54 –  18:14] How the Honda “Grrr” spot inspired him to go into advertising
  • [18:15 – 20:55] Wanting to be a writer and going to ad school with a sense of purpose and urgency
  • [20:56 – 22:55] How the definition of titles is changing in the industry, what he learned from the Wu-Tang Clan, and how he has been influenced by comedy and hip hop
  • [22:56 – 27:25] Starting as an intern at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, living in a basement, and the benefit of writing 200 headlines
  • [27:26 — 31:18] The lessons Farhang learned working as a young creative on Miller High Life
  • [31:19 — 36:12] Farhang walks us through his plea to Alex Bogusky for a full-time gig and why he dropped out of ad school without a job
  • [36:13 – 38:37] The interview process toward becoming a first time CCO, Momentum Worldwide, and the power of an honest business relationship
  • [38:38 – 41:00] Working with the children of NBA superstars for SAP’s “The Simple Report”
  • [41:01 – 46:00] The benefits of freelancing, releasing ideas into the wild and experiential advertising
  • [46:01 – 47:50] What “Malicious Obedience” is, and how young creatives can avoid it
  • [47:51 – 48:45] Outro

 “The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter

Inspiring Action Brand of the Month: 23andMe

If you could give people access to their own DNA, and interpret what it could potentially mean for their health in the future — would they change the way they lived? Would they exercise more? Make alterations to their diet? Stop smoking?

Would they change the way they behave everyday?

That’s the bet that Anne Wojcicki waged when she started 23andMe, a world-changing, first of its kind direct-to-consumer genetic testing company that aims to shift the way we think about healthcare from its current diagnostic model to one based on prevention.

Before launching 23andMe, Wojcicki had already led a successful career as a health care analyst on Wall Street. This career path also came with a front-row seat to the red tape and lack of action that was plaguing the health care industry. Convinced that America needed a more efficient and more consumer-focused way to treat illness and invent drugs, she decided to pioneer a path forward. By founding 23andMe, she made championing that change her life purpose.

It’s a mission that landed her on the front page of Fast Company, accompanied by the bold headline “The Most Daring CEO in America.”

“We’re not just looking to get a venture-capital return.” Wojcicki told Fast Company. “We set out with this company to revolutionize health care.”

23andMe’s $999 saliva kit, which was delivered right to customers’ doorstep, allowed consumers to track their ancestry. It analyzed their DNA, tested for 254 health risks, and alerted consumers on their susceptibility to certain diseases – all without having to go to a doctor. Just a few weeks after submitting your kit, the results would come in with tips and guidance on how to reduce those health risks. Wojcicki was using technology to shorten the cycle of optimization.

Having this type of information could potentially spur people to make healthier lifestyle choices. Learning that you are at a higher risk for a certain disease, simply because of your genetics may propel you to mitigate that risk by making changes where you can, like quitting smoking or beginning to exercise more.

After a blazing hot start, the company’s personal genome test kit would go on to be named “Invention of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2008 – just two years after the brand was launched.

More venture capitalist funding came pouring in, and 23andMe drove the prices of its tests down from $999 in 2007, to $399 in 2008, to $99 in 2012. The product was intentionally being sold well below its marketplace cost, because the real growth potential, and the world-changing impact that comes with it, doesn’t lie in the saliva kits.

Instead, 23andMe was steadily building a gold mine of health and DNA data by building on its wide community of consumers – a valuable commodity to pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and even governments.

Each consumer is asked to participate in research, with a clear majority of them providing consent. All of the information gathered is under anonymity, with no individual data being sold. Through partnerships, this aggregated data could now be used to research and discover cures for diseases that spring up from troublesome genetic mutations.

23andMe was disruptive. It utilized technology to supplant an ingrained habit with something that didn’t formerly exist. An entirely new experience – and one that was less expensive, more convenient, and more consumer-driven.

And the disruptive brand is one that is met with confusion, uncertainty and resistance – and, in November of 2013, that resistance came by way of the FDA.

With a harshly worded email, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanded 23andMe to withdraw all its tests for genetic risks related to health from the market – limiting the company to providing information about ancestry and ancestry alone.

23andMe had failed to communicate with the agency and meet their compliance standards – leading their health analysis to being terminated due to the USFDA’s growing concern of inaccurate results — and the consequences that come with it.

And while its popular ancestry product has brought us hundreds of heartwarming stories, like this man who gained an entire family from conducting the test, Wojcicki founded 23andMe with a higher purpose in mind.

She and her company were in a difficult spot. Following the moratorium, sign-ups had dropped by more than 50 percent. The company was barely surviving on their ancestry services. This was a sink-or-swim moment.

But Wojcicki was a challenger, and 23andMe was a challenger brand. She started the company with a vision, and she wasn’t going to separate what they were doing from why they were doing it. This was simply another problem she had to solve – and when you have an inspiring idea, nothing is insurmountable.

If 23andMe was going to survive, Wojcicki would have to find a way to cut through the red tape. With her back against the ropes, she and her team began working closely with the FDA.

Two years later, in 2015, the FDA granted 23andMe approval for a different kind of testing. This test would be focused on “carrier status” reports, which tell you if you have a copy of a mutated gene for a disease like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. The mutation would not affect the consumer directly, but it could affect their future children. Still, 23andMe was not authorized to tell the consumer about their personal risk.

A far cry from the 254 tests the company used to offer, the FDA decision was a still victory for 23andMe. It was the first step in the right direction, albeit a small one.

Determined to lift that bar even further, the 23andMe team continued to work closely with the FDA, and earlier this year that hard work was finally rewarded.

On April 6, 2017, the FDA came out with a press release allowing the marketing of 23andMe Personal Genome Service Genetic Health Risk (GHR) test for 10 disease or conditions, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

This was a groundbreaking moment. The first direct-to-consumer test authorized by the FDA that provides information on an individual’s genetic predisposition to certain medical diseases or conditions.

Until that moment, the only way for people to get such genetic tests was to see a medical professional. Now, 23andMe consumers can log in to an online account and see their report and its interpretation. Behaviors were being changed.

Wojcicki discovered that she had to work with the FDA, rather than against them, to really drive that change. And in doing so, she proved that there is a market for direct-to-consumer health care.

The door is now open. The FDA has established new and less rigorous guidelines for approving at-home genetic testing, which will allow other direct-to-consumer health companies to enter the market with less resistance. Plenty of competitors are already waiting in the wings.

Today, the company is still growing rapidly. Its products have been used in several research projects, including studies on female fertility, depression, Parkinson’s disease, and even nail biting.

With a current valuation of $1.1 billion, the company now boasts well over two million customers. This past June they were ranked #4 on MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies List – right behind Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Behavior change is hard to create – but courageous marketers who obsess over helping people make more inspiring decisions and live more empowering lives will stop at nothing to do so.

Anne Wojcicki is that type of inspiring action marketer.

That’s why 23andMe is our Inspiring Action Brand of the Month!