Ep 14: Best Practices For Marketing Success
Erick Dickens, Co-Founder and CEO of Kadenwood, shares with Scott Harkey
What makes some marketing ideas fail and others succeed? One of the bestpractices in marketing is persistence. Scott Harkey’s guest today is Erick Dickens, Co-Founder and CEOof Kadenwood. Erick discusses withScott how he managed to pull off a multi-dollar project other companies failedin. That’s because he was persistent in getting and analyzing the data heneeded to make it work. Join in the conversation and witness Erick’s marketingjourney. You’ll come out a better marketer! Tune in!
I've got a good buddy here. Erick Dickens is CMO of Purity Organic, former CMO of King’s Hawaiian, and other well-known brands. Erick, thanks for coming on.
Thanks for having me.
We're going to jump into this. You and I've had so many discussions at ANA and other places about some of the campaigns you've been a part of. What's one that sticks out or one of your favorite campaigns you've been a part of?
For me, the campaign I've done was the Hide Your Roll campaign with King's Hawaiian. It's gone on for a few years now. That probably stands out as my favorite because of the success we're able to drive with a brand that had been around for so long and people weren't able to identify with the brand name. They knew the product and they would refer to it as those Hawaiian Rolls in the orange bag but they didn't know the brand name and there was some real insight that we built that campaign around that worked.
We would pressure test different ideas throughout the years to see if maybe we should change direction and nothing stood up to that original campaign idea quite the campaign of Hiding Your Rolls. It was based on the insight that people would buy the rolls, specifically mom, for a purpose, whether it was a holiday or a family get-together. They originally buy what they need, but then by the time the event comes around half of them or all of them would be gone.
For people reading, when you went to King's Hawaiian and I've seen you speak about this at ANA, whey went from what in sales to what in sales after you left?
It's a privately held company, so they don't disclose specific sales information but they were right around $200 million in revenue when I joined and they were more than double that when I left. The total years that I was there was five, but probably 4.5 years of actual working media behind the advertising.
A consumer packaged goods company like King's Hawaiian should grow 5% to 10% a year.
The category growth is negative. We were growing double digits in a category that was declining.
How the hell did you do that?
It’s a good partnership with marketing and sales. It wasn't just the advertising. It was having the sales team that was capable of working with the accounts to promote the product in a prominent way. When people would see the advertising, they could respond to it, get reminded in-store and make the purchase. Plus, at the center of it all, the product is amazing. The product has been amazing since 1950.
Those rolls are so damn good.
The family does a great job of managing the quality, the product, the manufacturing process, and all those things. It's just an amazing product, so it all starts with that. If you don't have that, there's only so much people like me and you could do about it. The close collaboration of a sales and marketing team working together to get the message out to consumers in a compelling way based on a real insight is for me is what made it work.
How did you find that consumer insight that catapulted?
We did some traditional research but all that did was validate what the family already knew. The family has been making the product since 1950. The owner is the second oldest son of the founder. He'd been involved with the business from the beginning. They knew these different things about consumers and also having the restaurants helped because you get to interact directly with your consumer a lot, even though they're in regional markets. They let us know how consumers reacted to this brand and we took that and validated some things through more traditional research means and we ran with it, and it took off.
Was the consumer insight irresistible?
At the base of it, it's an irresistible product. Irresistible to the point where as soon as the product would get in the house. In fact, in some cases, mom would eat it on the way to the house. It's one of those unique products where even though on the surface, it seems it's a commodity, it's a bread product, people have tried it no differently.
You did a Super Bowl a few years ago. Talk about the Super Bowl ad. That's pretty cool. A small family bread company. It's not that small but in comparison to some of the other large CPG companies.
That was clearly the biggest mark we had made with the brand. We had done the Oscars two years prior to that and it was based on media knowledge like TV. People have been talking about the death of TV for a while. You and I even had this conversation before but there are certain components of TV and how do you define TV. I heard you talking about an episode you watched. You probably didn't watch it on your phone, I'm assuming.
There's still compelling content out there that people view on TV.
If it’s OTT, it’s TV.
We're not talking about the big three networks anymore. That's long past. There are also different ways to leverage TV like live sports and news. Even those have their challenges. They can be expensive because that's where people are still watching TV live. The Super Bowl, the NFL has gone through some challenges but the Oscars is a live event people watch. The Oscars have its challenges as well. We had done the Oscars twice around this philosophy of if we're going to be on TV, we want to primarily be on live shows or news. Also, there's one exception, I like the Discovery Networks now, the Scripps Networks. People tend to watch those without DVR because they have so much content. In some homes, they're people’s screensavers, “Let’s keep HGTV on all day.” We were gravitating toward those mediums or those shows.
The Super Bowl came about because we had done the Oscars twice and frankly, we were looking for a bigger audience. We went for it. We went for it in a bit of a nontraditional way, because, frankly, the size of our business, we can't afford to do it the way most Super Bowl advertisers do it or a well-funded, venture-backed group or a private equity group would do it. We didn't necessarily have millions of dollars to spend on creative and we didn't have a sticker price to pay for the ad itself.
My philosophy has always been, “The cost of media is the same whether you have incredible creative or it's garbage.” I've always approached creative development with the mindset of, “We're going to create an ad that can stand up against the Super Bowl talent.” We didn’t know we were going to be in the Super Bowl but the ad that we showed wasn't developed to be a Superbowl ad. It was developed with that level of quality and engagement in mind so when we had the opportunity from a media perspective to buy the Super Bowl ad. We bought it two weeks before the Superbowl. We had created and we had confidence in it. That creative, which costs us a fraction of what the other creative was and it was only a 30-second spot.
In USA Today, they don't distinguish between 1-minute, 2-minute, and 30-second spots. In our 30-second spot, we had no union talent and it was our normal run-of-the-mill creative. It finished Number 16 out of 68. It was a top 20% creative on the Super Bowl and for us, it was our normal state of affairs but it played well in the audience. It had a significant impact on the business that year mainly in terms of our overall brand awareness. It still stands out as the biggest thing that this brand did.
In your mind, Superbowl advertising, you’d do it again. You'd recommend people considering it.
It can work. For us, we were a brand that had been around for a long time but had relatively low brand awareness. For us, it made sense. Did it make sense for us to do it every year? No. We had a multi-year impact out of that spot. People still reference it but that speaks to the creative quality. If the creative was not memorable or if it didn't engage with people, then it would have been a huge waste of money. Making sure you have good creative for me is where it all starts. I could see all sorts of reasons why you would do a Super Bowl spot.
If you're in that same situation with King’s Hawaiian was in where it was a brand that had been around for a while, but people didn't know about it outside of certain regions, or if you're a startup and you're trying to make your mark. That's a little riskier because you have no idea what type of paybacks you're going to have in media. It could eat up a lot of cash early on. We saw that during the dot-com boom where everybody was doing the Super Bowl.
It worked out well for GoDaddy.
It did. They became the business model for a while.
You have a history in your career of making bold moves and you've been a big proponent. Even contrarian in the industry about television and the scale that you get from television. Even back in LifeLock, what you've done with The Apprentice and with Kraft. I'm sure you've had a big broadcast television experience. What sticks out in your mind of bold moves paying off?
For me, the boldness comes from needing to make a medium that is a big deal. Even if it's in decline, it still has the reach that far outweighs other mediums in isolated areas. The bonus comes from a need to be able to make the investment worthwhile. I got involved in The Apprentice with Mark Burnett back in 2006. He was on season four at the time.
This is, “The Mark Burnett,” the Survivor Mark Burnett, one of the biggest producers in the world.
It was Kraft’s first big integration on The Apprentice. In fact, when I went to propose this, I was an associate brand manager on Grape-Nuts. I was launching a line extension of a 100-year-old cereal brand. It’s not the most popular brand.
I didn't know you did The Apprentice at Kraft. I just thought it was LifeLock.
I got to know LifeLock through The Apprentice. The first Apprentice episode I did was for Kraft Foods for the Grape-Nuts brand cereal. It was great. We could talk about that for a while. It was an entertainment agency that brought the opportunity to my attention. I was aware that The Apprentice was an effective tool. Before I was working at Kraft, I was in the military. We watched the show and the day after the show would air, a different product would show up in my house. I ask my wife, “Where did this lime-flavored toothpaste come from? Why did you buy this?” She's like, “It was Emeril Lagasse. He was on The Apprentice last night. I thought it was interesting. It was only $3 or whatever, so I picked it up. I thought it was cool.” I saw the power of it long, even before I was in the industry.
When the opportunity was presented to me, I was interested in pursuing it but this was 2005 Kraft. I was working in Tarrytown, New York and I was intrigued by how Kraft is not known to be a progressive marketer. Kraft has everything figured out, so when I took over the launch of Grape-Nuts Trail Mix Crunch, I was issued the product, the media plan, and basically, “This has all been thought out for you. This is our formula. This is what the launch is going to produce in terms of revenue. You just need to manage this. Don't get cute.”
“Don't screw this up.”
I'm not a grass watcher.
That's not going to fly with you.
I was intrigued to try something different and I had a management that was supportive of trying something different. The rubber met the road when they said, “This Apprentice thing seems interesting but first, prove it out for us.” It wasn't one of those things where I could say, “This is a good idea.” I did case studies on every product that had been featured in The Apprentice up until that point. There were eighteen different brands.
I did case studies on everyone and I partnered with my internal Nielsen folks and had them do some research that was far beyond my ability. I even did this in secret because other people in the company had been attempting to do The Apprentice before and failed. I was like, “A lot of people have tried to do this before and they haven't been successful, they're certainly not going to want to see me be the first one.” I created a shadow team within the organization. We called it Project Tower after Trump Tower and I had a salesperson, a consumer insights person, our research analysis from Nielsen, and a consumer promotions person.
We were brainstorming on how to pitch this internally. As we were going through the case studies, I gave them the list of all the different brands, the Nielsen folks and they went off and ran a bunch of numbers. They came back and we had another meeting and they said, “Erick, I know you have a lot of heart for this but it's not going to work out.” I was like, “What do you mean?” They said, “It's not like you can be on the show. The data is all over the place. Some brands did well and some brands did worse.”
I was like, “I'm not discouraged by that. I want to know why some did well and why others didn't. Let's see if we can isolate those variables.” After some eye-rolling, because it was more work, we found out we were able to develop a list of dos and don'ts based on what certain brands had done to succeed and what others had not done or done to fail. These were big brands. These were like Nestlé, Mars, and Pepsi. These were big brands that were investing in the show at the time with mixed results.
They screwed up execution on the show.
It was different stuff. Sometimes it was a matter of picking the wrong task on the show. What I discovered is if you're a brand and you have the contestants do a sales task, they're not going to be talking about your product the whole episode, they're going to be competing for sales. Whereas if you have them do a marketing task, where they're developing a commercial, radio ad, or whatever, they're spending the entire episode talking about your brand.
Also, the inside and what makes it so great.
All of these different variables made a difference. In some cases, the brands had a huge demand but their supply chain wasn't prepared for it because it was a new launch and originally, they weren't anticipating all of this demand that the show would produce. Their supply chain started shorting customers and the customers were like, “We're canceling your display.” In those cases, the brand's volume went down, because they had displayed that they couldn't deliver against and they had to wait several months for the supply chain to recover.
We developed a list of dos and don'ts, which meant now you're not spending what it costs to be on the show. If you're going to do all these things and do it well, you’re not talking about a couple extra million dollars. That’s how I presented it to my leadership at Kraft. I said, “We should do this and I don't think we should pay sticker price. We need to spend this level to do all these things and these are all the things we want to avoid.”
Management was impressed but then they threw it back on my lap. They're like, “We told you that you had a budget and what that budget would generate. If you want to do this, knock yourself out but you have to substitute what we have planned for you and use that budget to do this in lieu of doing those other activities that we know are basically guaranteed to generate the volume.” They put it back on me. I had to take that risk. I reallocated over $3 million of a $10 million budget and put it in one hour of television. That $3 million was going to buy me over a month of media.
Media that you knew exactly the return.
I did it.
Would you have been fired if it didn't work out?
I don't know. I thought I might. Most Kraft marketers come from the top five MBA programs. They've come off the heels of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in their education. The last thing I was doing was flying reconnaissance planes for the army. Before that, I flew Black Hawk helicopters, so I was like, “The worst-case scenario for me is I'll go to the Grand Canyon and fly tourists if this doesn't work out.” I thought that. I said that to my wife. She laughed at first, but she was like, “I can see that happening if you're wrong.”
Do you have to have that mentality as a good marketing person, whether you're a CMO or director? Is that what separates the good from the best?
I can tell you that if I had been playing scared, I never would have done it. If I had been trying to simply manage my next promotion or manage my longevity at that particular company, I never would have thought to do this. What I was trying to do was what I thought was absolutely best for that business if I owned it.
Would you become a CMO if you didn't take those risks early on?
No. There's no way. I might be at a VP level at this point because of longevity or I would have been fired long ago. That was my mindset. I truly believed it was the right thing to do. That’s what gave me the conviction to do it and also knowing that if this doesn't work out, I went down swinging. I'll have to move on and find something else that better suits me.
Did it work?
It worked. When Kraft forecasts a business, they do so with expert precision. You know within a percentage or two how the business is going to perform barring some major disruption. That Grape-Nuts Trail Mix Crunch line extension over-delivered budget by 80%. That $3 million substitute didn't just hold up to what it was supposed to deliver. It created enough of an impact for that brand and enough excitement with the retailer that we were able to nearly double the size of that business the first year.
I'm sure you leverage self-space and all that with your salespeople.
We did. I also invested in News America. We unveiled the product that week the show came on. We use this as our own Super Bowl ad. When people see this The Apprentice episode, it's going to be a blitz in stores. People are going to go to the store the next day and see the product for the first time.
In a big corporate company Kraft or P&G where people are like, “Good job.” Were some people pissed off?
I didn't hang around.
On to the next, what's the next stage?
I had moved by the time the dust was settling. I had moved electively to Arizona so I came in to work for what was then the Dial Corporation, which was acquired by Henkel because I was in Tarrytown, New York. I was living in Hopewell Junction. It was about 46.5 minutes North. Kraft had decided to move the post cereal division from Tarrytown, New York to East Hanover, New Jersey, which was going to make me have to move.
My wife wasn't super thrilled after I moved her from Texas to New York and about living in New York. She was less thrilled about moving from New York to New Jersey. I grew up on the West Coast, and I was looking to get further west. When the Dial opportunity came up, it wasn't California, but it was Arizona, which is also a beautiful place to live and it was on the West Coast, I took that opportunity but people at Kraft were excited about it. A lot of my contacts are still from there.
What a way to leave.
It was well-received. People loved it. It did wonders for the business but there was some disruption from that because the move caused a lot of us to scatter. I came to Dial and did two episodes in one year. I wasn't even planning to do that. It's because of the success. I was telling people, “I did this last year and it was a cool thing.”
Still to this day, you probably don't know this but Brad Casper, our CEO at the agency still has The Celebrity Apprentice thing. I'm sure you did the thing. He got the little plaque as he was CEO and it's still in his office.
I managed his episode and that's how I got to know Todd at LifeLock because LifeLock was spending a lot of money on advertising and The Apprentice made sense for them. They had explored that opportunity independent of me. I didn't know anybody at LifeLock.
At Henkel, you were doing Right Guard.
I started out on Renuzit and Soft Scrub in the personal care businesses and I moved to Right Guard when Dial acquired that brand. For people who know Henkel and the products here in Arizona, getting put on that Right Guard team at the acquisition was a special thing.
It was huge. Big NBA sponsors. That was the crown jewel brand of Henkel.
It was an important brand, so people inside the company knew that it was a big bet for the company for both Dial and Hankel. They were putting an A-team together. To get picked up for that felt good.
Were you the brand manager for Right Guard?
I was and we did an Apprentice episode on right guard to launch a new sent Right Guard Fast Break. It was an NBA-centric skew. We did a The Apprentice episode with Clyde Drexler and Scottie Pippen. That was fun.
You're working with Trump and the whole deal.
By this point, Mark Burnett recognized the Grape-Nuts episode because he knew Kraft had been reluctant to do an episode and they did another one. They did one with him on Martha Stewart after that. He recognized that something was different over there. I got introduced to him at one of the after-parties and we became friends after. I thought we were friends. He's funny because he goes, “What did you do over there?” I explained to him the whole case study thing and he goes, “Can you share that with other people? Would you mind if I have my team reach out to you and help them get other brands to understand how effective this product can be?”
I'm like, “People don't get it?” He’s like, “No. They don't. If they do get it, they don't have the data and they certainly don't have the persistence to do the work you did to figure out why it works, why it doesn't work, or why it might be right for them.” I had no problem helping him and that's how I got introduced to Todd and his team. Todd's team was doing an Apprentice episode. The producers were concerned that maybe some of the things they were looking to do weren't going to work out for them.
The producers want everybody to succeed. They want the brands to do well, so they connected us. They said, “Let's all go play a round of golf.” I'm not a huge golfer, but I'm good enough to navigate the course. His then head of marketing asked me, “I can't offer you a job. You're working at Henkel and I don't want to be inappropriate. Would you help us out with some phone calls, and maybe give us some tips here?” He goes, “We do this thing at the Masters. Have you ever been to the Masters?”
I'm like, “No.” He goes, “If you help us out, would you like to come to the Masters with us?” I was like, “Sure.” I gave him some tips. It was technically consulting. They invited me out and they had this house they rented at the Masters. Todd and all of his board members. I'd never known Todd. We got to know each other and for me. It was an incredible experience. I was never that into golf but if you see the Masters live, it changes your perspective.
It sure does. I got back. It’s quite the show.
You saw a good one. I got to know Todd and his team through that experience and that's how I got introduced to them to the point where Todd decided, “I want to bring you into my marketing team because we're looking to go public in the next several years and we need some blue-chip thinking to help us get there.”
This brings me to my next point. We talked about the different types of CMOs. Can you explain? You're talking about how there are two types of CMOs? Can you go into that? This is a good segue because you've done both. You’ve been able to wear both sides of the hat.
From my perspective, I divide CMOs into two categories. There's a corporate CMO, where you're more conservative, you're managing a message, but you're reporting results back to a leadership team and you're spending a lot of your time managing. You're managing your team, agencies and a lot of times agencies might even be managing you in my perspective and that's okay. In many cases, if your skill is more on the business and analytical side of marketing and you're not so much in tune with how to generate creative, you probably need to let the agency lead you.
Are these Fortune 500-type companies? Is this the P&Gs of the world?
It is, but it's not only them. There are smaller companies that have this mentality too. It's a matter of how risk-averse you are. I'm not saying that a corporate CMO is the right fit for a smaller company, but it might be based on what the management's goals are or what the personality of the owner is. If the owner is not one of these people who's willing to take big bets, the last thing you want is what I consider an entrepreneurial marketer in the mix because they’re going to drive you nuts. Somebody like me is coming in and coming up with all these bold ideas and telling you to spend money you've never spent before on things that you have no idea how to measure. You just have to take a leap of faith and trust that it's going to work out. That personality is not going to work for somebody, even if it's a smaller company that maybe they should be doing those things.
Marketing people need to go into the organization and evaluate their personality, their risk tolerance, and the company they're going into and make sure those are in alignment.
Most marketers, I would argue, have a corporate mindset. That's the MBA training, which I have. I went through all of that and I understand it. The corporate marketing mindset is to manage the brand responsibly, deliver on a budget, it's a 3%-year growth model. If you get a little bit above that, everybody's happy, but don't try shooting for the stars. Keep everything moving, smooth and keep us out of trouble.
Publicly traded companies that have quarterly financial goals. Big hits, high and low aren't good. You want a steady Eddy reality.
Even within those companies, especially if it's a portfolio company, there might be brands that need some action as opposed to just being managed great. Grape Nut was an example of that. We had a little bit of liberty to take some risk on that because the brand wasn't that big, to begin with. The risk of the downside for the company wasn't all that great.
LifeLock, Todd is an entrepreneur at his finest.
It's not hard to convince Todd to do both things. If you're not doing both things, you're not going to be around for long. What was fun about that experience for me is it was a perfect fit. I didn't know going into it. I was a little nervous going into it because I'd been with Kraft, Henkel, big established and stable companies. It was exciting to go into an opportunity that was pre-IPO where there might be some exit. For me, personally, I was like, “This is neat. I might make some money here.” It’s exciting and I didn't have to move. I was still living in the Phoenix area but what I discovered over time is the culture of that company and the accelerated growth nature of this stage that business was in was a fit for me and that's when I was convinced. I'm like, “I need to be in companies that are looking to grow.”
What growth are we talking about in LifeLock?
Double-digit growth every year without even blinking, almost to the point where it was expected. All growth tends to slow, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't start now looking for new paths that are going to generate that type of growth. People throw a lot of buzzwords or a lot of data at you. They'd say things like, “We're the fastest-growing this or that. Do you know what I think of the fastest growing? The smallest.” My son who's six years old at the time, is the fastest-growing member of the Dickens household but he’s not necessarily the person I want leading anything. You can find opportunities to create accelerated growth in any organization if you focus on the right area. Even in established businesses, there are places you've identified that are growth opportunities and it takes that type of mentality in my mind to aggressively pursue it. If you try to manage it, it's not going to happen unless you get lucky.
What would you tell a marketing person going out in the world if you’re like, “Here's what you need to know?”
You need to have an analytical mindset. Analytical marketers and creative marketers can both succeed. For me, the sweet spot is a 50/50 mix but that's based on people who are different not. For me, if I'm looking to hire marketing talent, I love a 50/50 mix because you can lean on them heavily for the analytics but when it comes time to come up with a big idea, they're going to have a seat at the table. It’s frustrating for me when I'm managing a team when I have people who, frankly, don't have that creative ability, but they're lights out on the analytics. I don't have those people in the creative process because it's not fun for them and it's not an opportunity for them to excel. It's a challenge because creatives are fun but you have to have the right people having those conversations because if you don't, it's going to get weighed down.
It’s the left and right brain person. The business acumen, are those table stakes?
If you don't have the business acumen, you need to know why you're doing what you're doing. You need to have the awareness of how to be accountable for what you're doing because, without accountability, it's reckless.
I’ve seen a lot of that.
That's why CMOs have two-year lifespans.
It's from 18 months to 24 months. The CMOs now have a tough job.
I was at King’s Hawaiian for nearly six years but the mindset was, “We're doing this.” One, it makes it easier when you're working directly for an owner. You're spending his resources, knowing that if I'm not allocating those resources that go in his pocket, it's a personal thing. Approaching it with that mindset, like, “I'm going to make these bets for you. You have to look me in the eye and I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that these bets I'm making on your behalf are going to deliver what I've committed to you.”
What is keeping marketers up at night? In this day and age with so many different media and formats changing, in some ways, it’s easy to grow companies now more than ever but it's also, in some ways, extremely difficult.
The economy has helped a lot of marketers sleep. I was doing the stuff back in ‘07 and ‘08 and when businesses weren't growing. Growth wasn't in the cards for a lot of businesses. Right now, the economy is helping. In my opinion, the economy is masking a lot of terrible marketers and people might be getting promoted on the fact that their business is doing well. The other thing in marketing is if you're generating growth, that's a great number. “Is it a great number? What do you measure it against? How much greater could it have been if you were much better at what you do?”
I tend not to try to measure my success for a given year based on what my performance was the previous year. I try to measure it against what the actual potential is like, “What could this possibly be?” It all ends up with the consumer. What's the addressable market? How many consumers are there? What's the reasonable amount of times you could expect a consumer to purchase this item? That's where I start my potential conversations. This is what we should be able to achieve. Financial resources and time are the only two things you have to manage if you are convinced that there's an achievable market out there. If you have distribution at the retailer, you have to manage that as well because you want to do something doesn't mean they're ready to do it.
Is that CPG training? Are those Kraft and Dial training?
For me, Kraft was the baseline training. Frankly, Kraft was a little more sophisticated. Henkel evolved. When I got to Henkel, it wasn't quite as sophisticated as what I had experienced when I was a Kraft but they came along, especially as Henkel introduced more discipline and Brad.
He was in P&G. Is P&G similar to Kraft? Those are pretty similar.
Brad was instituting that when I got there and like anything else, it takes some time but he was of like mind. He knew where we needed to be and we did. We got there as a company. At LifeLock, they're a different story. LifeLock was not a CPG. There was no brick-and-mortar place to buy the product. For me, there was a little bit of a learning curve, because it was a direct response. On top of that, there was no sophisticated budgeting process in place.
I've heard. I love the budget, “How much do we need? Let’s go.”
“How much are we going to spend? We'll keep spending and if we run out, we'll tell Todd.” It’s not too far from the truth but it was exciting. It also meant that everybody had this shared sense of community and commitment. It's like, “We've got to make this stuff work because our survival depends on it.” That’s a whole different mindset.
Everybody's accountable. In terms of agencies, you've worked with a ton of agencies throughout your career. What makes that relationship special? The world now with consultancies and you're hearing a lot of different messages out there. What makes an agency-client relationship special? How do you cultivate that?
Trust. Covey wrote The Speed of Trust, but it's true. When I was in the military, everybody had to trust each other. Everybody's there for a shared purpose and there's not a business component where there's self-interest. Trust was a little easier to come by. In the agency world, for me, it all comes down to trust. I put a premium on relationships, probably more so than other people, because I depend on agency partners for collaboration. For me, I get turned off the minute you have this formal, “We're going to sit on this side and you're going to sit on that side. We're going to do a brief. You're going to then give me another brief back to me and we're going to have this formal exchange of ideas. You're going to go off into a hole and create something and I'm going to have to judge it based on the brief. If I don't judge it based on the brief, I'm being unfair.”
I understand why that process is in place because you need to have a baseline in order to function especially, not every marketing, brand, or company has the same affinity for what the creatives are doing or appreciation. For me, I like to be involved more. It's not from a matter of control, it's for me to be able to seek first to understand. I want to know what the challenges are, so I can help. I also like working with top people. I don't like the model either, where there's a lot of layers in between the brain and the agency, where you have account executives working with junior account people on the management side. That's where misunderstandings happen.
You have very senior-level people at the top of publicly-traded agencies. As you get down the scale, you have junior people that work on some businesses. You've told me that early on and I get it. There are so many talented people scattered around finding you’re A-team which you've always been against the trend of, “I'm not going to have a full-service agency. I'm going to have some in-house. I'm going to have some A-players,” and you're going to put your Special Forces team together from what I've seen.
I've collected a tribe of people that I trust and I don't always work with people at every company but they'll come back. There are people that I worked with at Henkel and Kraft that didn't make sense when I was at LifeLock but then when I went back to King's Hawaiian, they were there and that trust was there and we were able to pick up where we left off. For me, I have to work in an environment of high trust and high capability. I know that works for me. If I start getting back bogged down in the process, it stifles creativity and stifles what we're trying to do. I like people to have shared interests. I want people to be motivated. If the financial component is what motivates them, let's solve for that. Honestly, as I'm sure you've experienced, that's not always the case. People like to have fun. They like to try new things and that's not everybody's cup of tea either. I've had people who work with me who were like, “This is too much.”
Is it too much fun?
They don't see it as fun. They see it as, “This is risky. I don't know where this is going to go. It's not predictable.” I've had people on teams where it's not the right fit for them. When I start to expect that out of them, it's unfair to them because they’re not a fit.
You've talked a lot about being a fit in terms of personality fit and not a lot of people talk about that because that's the nightmares of getting the wrong fit, whether it's agency client, marketing person, board, CEO or CMO. You're right on there.
There are people that aren't good but that's not the norm. In my opinion, I operate from the standpoint that everybody's good at what they do. I know that's not always the case but I try to operate from that standpoint. If something's not clicking, it's because it's not the right fit. I may be the one who doesn't fit or the team member doesn't fit. It doesn't mean they're not smart or not capable, they're not capable in this environment.
At some point, it becomes unfair for me as a leader to expect certain things out of them. It's not going to work. I'm slow to hire. Sometimes I get criticized for that because I take a long time to hire people. Even when I do, it doesn't always work. Team fit and agency fit. I never shot marquees. People are like, “We're at this agency and we have this.” I don't care. Who is going to be working on my business? I want to meet that person.
Do you think the military can train corporate people? When you talk about trust in the military and trust in corporate, I feel like they're so different. I can't wrap my head around military trust and agency marketer or CMO, marketing director and marketing team. What am I missing here? Is there something even different people can learn from the military?
I wasn't just in the military. I was a commander of a flight unit, both Black Hawk helicopters and reconnaissance planes flying somewhat Black Ops down in South America. That's a group that is handpicked. That’s where I got spoiled by working with highly capable professional people who are selfless. They’re willing to give their lives for a cause because they believe in it. There's an interdependency that is rare where everybody is expected to do their job really well and everybody trusts that you're capable of it, or else, you wouldn't have been selected to be in this unit.
When you've had an opportunity to work in an environment like that and see what type of things you can accomplish, things that should have resulted in failure or disaster that didn't because of the capability of those people and the way that team operated convinces you how important it is. I got an opportunity to experience that during wartime in the military as a commander. When I left, I was frankly addicted to that. I wanted to recreate that experience in the business environment. When I was more junior, that wasn't in the cards. I had to accept that I chose to change careers, go with the flow, and learn the ropes. When I started getting put into leadership positions, that training from the military kicked in.
I'm of the belief that if I'm responsible for something, I'm 100% responsible for it. That also means that if a decision is being made, I'm going to live or die by it but I'm also not going into a situation and let other people make decisions that I'm not willing to take accountability for. For me, it doesn't mean I don't like to delegate. In fact, people have criticized me for delegating a little too much but it's because I've been able to establish teams I trust. Why wouldn't I delegate to people that are highly capable and better than I am at doing certain tasks? I have to have that trust there, both with the individual as well as the team as a whole, and that goes for direct employees, as well as agency resources.
How do you find the traits of people like that? What do you look for?
There are certain backgrounds that bring that out. One of the things I look for is people who have finished first in something. For me, there's an order of magnitude difference between a person who finishes first and a person who finishes 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and top five. When I see a resume and it's like, “I was in the top 10%.” You were among the best and I'm not criticizing that but when I'm looking for somebody, somebody finished first. The person who finished first, they were also among the best, but they did some things, and they had a discipline about them that caused them to finish first. People don't finish first all the time. I look for opportunities and you can find people who've been in sports. Sports is a good way to find that or academic success. We're not talking about the top 10% or honors, the valedictorian. You and I both know if somebody is a valedictorian of a school, they did things you and I weren't willing to do.
That's a great point.
I look for traits like that.
It could be in a career or athletically.
It can be anywhere. It can be in your church or anywhere.
You know it when you see it.
Somebody who's been willing to take ownership and dedicate themselves to a result, because you don't finish first and something unless you're committed to it.
That, for me, solves it.
That's a big trade. I thought you'd give me five. It’s one thing.
It varies. I had a team member who was a Color Guard band member. It doesn't matter what the experience was but that person was the emergent leader in their group. It's a mentality.
That's what you're looking for. That's why it takes a while to find out if someone has it.
If you're in a high-performance environment, there's going to be pressure and people who have finished first and things can handle pressure. I create environments where there's a sizable amount of pressure, but it's not for any purpose other than to achieve greatness.
You’ve thrived on that pressure.
I do, but not everybody does. That's why it's important to make sure you have the right people, because all the things we're talking about, all these different pioneering things I've had the opportunity to do in my career. They did not come without teams and people dedicating themselves to something bigger than themselves. The business incentives don't necessarily allow that to be the norm. People are trying to manage their careers. It's like, “I don't care if this product succeeds or not. I need to get through this, manage my piece of it and get promoted. When I get promoted, I'll probably move on to another brand so what do I care?” If that's your mentality, you will have a successful career, but you may not ever do anything great.
I've seen you at Expo West. You almost have your team. You can tell that they might be somewhere different, whether it's a sports sponsorship person here and there and you've almost collected this talent resource. They're all at different places but that's your group that you can go to at any time.
The thing is, we've all become trusted friends. Even if I decided to stop working tomorrow, these are the same people I'd want to go hang out with. It doesn't start out that way. Everybody started out as a stranger but we've pressure tested each other along the way.
That's good advice, especially for people coming up and given career advice a few times and been like, “That's how to be a professional.” Everybody talks about brand and branding. Sometimes as marketers and I'm guilty of this, we get a little soap boxy about the brand and the consumer insight. What is your thought about the psychology behind consumer insights and brand? Is it a formula or is there some art and science there?
When I was an undergrad, I was in a business class and I had to write a paper on something that I thought was absurd at the time. I didn't even understand it. It’s one of those topics that stuck with me and the question that I had to write or defend was, “Are brands living things?” The first time I saw that question, as a student, I was probably twenty years old, I was like, “What are you talking about? Is a brand a living thing?” I probably wasn't thinking about it as deeply as I should have but working in this industry, that question became clear as to why. You could defend it in both ways. I chose to defend it, that it was a living thing. The way I defended it was talking about it in the sense of, “Brands are born.”
There are brands right now that will exist, Scott that you and I don't know about now. They haven't been created yet, or they've been created and they haven't said anything yet. Brands are born and brands are grown. Brands are maintained and, in some cases, brands die. Brands, to me, are very much a living thing and like any other living thing, they depend on other living things to survive. You need to create a connection. I love the connection between marketing and psychology and all those different things. You read how well-adjusted people have exposure to communities.
People in isolation don't tend to be as healthy, so brands are the same way. Brands need to create identities, as people do during adolescence. You create an identity and you leverage that identity to connect with people that you can form deep relationships. As a manager of a brand or in some cases, a creator of a brand, you need to be thinking about your brand's ability to do those things in order to succeed. If you think of it as a living thing and that it has to be born, it has to create relationships with other people or other living things, if you're mindful of the needs, then you can work your way to making sure that's what happens.
“Brands, like kids, are expensive,” as Todd would say. He told me what it costs to build a national brand. It costs $100 million.
You can either do it 1 year or 10 years, but it's going to cost you $100 million.
That's an expensive child.
If you're bad at what you do, it is going to cost you $200 million.
That's what social media has done in a lot of ways too. They've further been able to make brands human.
The brand talks back.
Human characteristics with brands now, more than ever are living breathing organisms. I love how you talked about that connection. We talked about it. Frank, in the last episode, talked about empathy. The biggest trait he would look for in a writer and a creative director is understanding empathy and how to connect with the consumer and people in general. That's what it's all about. It’s almost like the brand’s oxygen is connection. Thank you. This is good.
I appreciate being here.
Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.
Addiction is awidespread disease that affects millions.
A powerful episode with Emmy winning journalist and author, Brandon Lee.