Brand Story, Episode 4

Judith Trumbo

Building Authentic Connections

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Episode Summary

Judith Trumbo, CEO of VMRC, talks with our president, Steve Gilman, about creating community, identifying and positioning your brand’s differentiators, and the importance of authenticity.

As a leader of an active living retirement community, Judith knows it all comes down to one thing: building a true sense of community. From the staff to the residents, instilling a sense of love and connection is key to meeting VMRC’s brand promise to live well, age well, and end well. For brands in competitive markets like theirs, Judith shares why creating a caring environment, a dedication to authenticity, and sharing stories can set you apart.

Episode Highlights

Building a community is about love. For many industries, staff doesn’t do it for the paycheck, they do it out of a love for the audience they serve. In retirement communities, it’s the sense of community that makes for a dedicated employee and a happy audience — its residents.

Your personal brand should align with your organization’s brand. As a leader, your personal philosophy and values should align with the organization you serve. Judith’s personal philosophy is to help people live well, age well, and end well, which she has tied into the brand of VMRC.

Know what makes you unique. Judith says that every successful company must know what differentiates them, and ask themselves: How do we leverage this? Likewise, she says to identify your core competencies and ask: How are we going to magnify these?

Write it down. Something that Judith did when she first started at VMRC was “JT Jottings,” where she would write down resident stories and experiences as she made her rounds through different departments. Doing this helped clarify to her what VMRC is really about, and what it should aim for every day: Helping people to age well and live fully.

Use storytelling and analogies to communicate to your stakeholders. After experiencing something as traumatic as the Coronavirus pandemic, Judith uses the analogy of coming out of a flood as a way to get her team inspired to work together for a common purpose.

Vary your storytelling style. Every brand wants to sing their story from a mountaintop, but due to today’s busy lifestyle and short attention spans, your audience may not have time to receive that story. Depending on the platform, mix up your storytelling to include shorter soundbites to get your message across.

Be authentic. At VMRC, community is a big part of their brand story. Years ago, when they could have built retirement homes on a plot of available land, they instead created a farm. This farm supported their brand identity of health, wellness, sustainability, and community, which further amplified VMRC’s authenticity to its audience. Community doesn’t stop at the gates of VMRC: They offer the land for use by other community groups, like the high school’s cross-country team.

Leadership is a continual learning process. Judith says throughout her career she has grown more reflective and contemplative about her leadership style and realizes mistakes she’s made along the way. Instead of worrying about your mistakes, Judith urges you to use them as a learning experience and make changes where needed.

About Judith

Judith Trumbo

What She Does

A creator of community and connection, Judith is CEO of VMRC in Harrisonburg, VA.


Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community

Words of Wisdom

“Connections. That’s really what it’s about. And people will sniff out if it’s manipulative, so what you’re cultivating has to be in an authentic way. “

About Steve

Steve Gilman

As the President of Gravity Group, Steve is passionate about helping brands reach their goals through honest, creative marketing and powerful brand stories.

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