In this episode

When you’re a challenger brand that’s trying to get unfair market share, you need to things to succeed – a healthy amount of risk-taking and the agility to take advantage of the big guy’s missteps. Patrick Reynolds has a knack for developing these qualities in challenger brands in his career as a marketer. Patrick is the CMO of the customer data platform BlueConic. Prior to this role, he spent two years in an executive position for Mastercard. Patrick loves the challenge of unleashing the potential of challenger brands through ingenious marketing, branding, and positioning strategies. Tune in and learn how he puts his concepts into practice and how that has translated into business success.

About the Brand Enabled podcast & all episodes

About Patrick Reynolds

Patrick Reynolds is Chief Marketing Officer at BlueConic. Prior to BlueConic, Patrick led marketing for Mastercard’s Data and Services business unit. In 2019 Mastercard acquired SessionM, a Boston-based Loyalty platform where Patrick was Chief Marketing Officer. Prior to SessionM, Patrick ran marketing and strategy for two successful startups in the streaming audio industry. He also has client-side experience as CMO of a publicly traded retailer and has held multiple leadership positions with leading international advertising agencies. Patrick has contributed articles on digital transformation to Forbes, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat among others, and spoken at CES, NAB, and SxSW. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Read the episode transcript

In this episode, I’m here with Patrick Reynolds. I have an interesting episode focusing on a couple of interesting concepts, the first one being someone who has thrived in enjoying and working with challenger brands. That’s going to be a recurrent theme for this episode. There’s also this idea of a concept of what it means to gain unfair market share, which Patrick is going to explain to us. Patrick, it is great to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by giving a bit of a background on where you are and how you got to where you are?

First of all, it’s nice to be here. Thank you for having me. I am the Chief Marketing Officer for a customer data platform called BlueConic. BlueConic takes and organizes all the customer data that you’re collecting and makes it actionable so that you can take the data that you collect and reflect it back into the marketplace in the form of smarter, more intelligent, and more personalized engagement for the end customer. That’s what we do. I’ve been doing that for a couple of years.

Before that, I spent some time at MasterCard, leading marketing for their data and services organization globally. Before that, I was in the loyalty space. I was the CMO of a public company for a hot minute there. I started in traditional marketing but traditional B2C advertising. There’s a study of contrast there between how things once were, how they are now, and potentially where they’re going. It’s probably an interesting conversation.

Let’s talk about this first idea. You said that you love challenges and challengers. Talk a bit more about that.

There’s no fun when you’re on top. There’s only one place to go. I like brands that are not necessarily the biggest, best-funded, or at the top, but they’re smart, scrappy, and aggressive. They want to get to the top. The climb is where the fun is. The summit is great but the climb is where all the action is. I like doing that.

As a part of that, there is this idea of unfair share, which is to say trying to punch above your weight and gobble up more market share than you have any right to. If you are taking on the 800-pound gorilla, maybe you have the right to claim 2%, 4%, or something like that of share. We have an expression. Play with zeros. Let’s try to go from 2 to 4 to 20 to 40, and let’s see what that looks like. It’s this idea of outhustling, outsmarting, or outclevering your larger, more funded, and more superior on paper competition to see if you can get the better of them.

What kind of muscles do you need to develop in that world compared to when you are on top? Maybe talk about a few examples that come to mind where you’ve done that and how you did that.

There are twin disciplines that serve you best there. One is a willingness to take some risks. If you are the challenger, you are going to have to take some risks if you want to gain a share. The other thing is tremendous agility. You have to be ready for any misstep that the competitor might make or any opportunity that the market might make, whether it’s the economy or anything else, that you can gain an unfair share of if you’re in a position where you can capitalize on it. Speed is critically important. You are also willing to take a few shots. Even if maybe all the facts aren’t in, you’re going to roll the dice and see what happens thoughtfully. That’s a part of it as well.

Pick a story whether from where you work now or from your past where you’ve done that. Tell us that story and how you did it.

I’ve worked with a number of different challenger brands. One of my favorite stories is when I was working on a brand. I don’t know that they’ve left the United States, so apologies to international people who may be tuning in. It is a satellite TV brand called DISH Network. DISH Network is founded by one of the all-time outlaws of not only business but practically society. It is a guy named Charlie Ergen who was one of the first guys who personally put satellites into space. I won’t say by himself, but in a way that is so improbable. It was like Charlie Ergen here and NASA here. That’s a challenger.

Getting to know Charlie a little bit and his worldview, it became clear to me that very traditional marketing was probably not going to scratch any itch that Charlie had. When I was at Publicis in Seattle, I devised a campaign that got him to stop what he was doing and sit up straight. Eventually, he had a big smile. We weren’t sure if we were going to die or get canonized that day.

We came up with a campaign that said, “Cable sucks,” which had never been done in that bolder and daring way before. It was a calculated risk. It stemmed from an insight that for satellite to gain share, cable had to lose share. It is a zero-sum game there. Everybody has 1 of the 2. If you want to gain an unfair share or any share at all, you need to take it at the expense of the various cable companies in the United States.

Rather than talking about the features and benefits of satellite that made it at least comparable, if not superior to cable, we decided to take the emotional route. It was to say, “Nobody loves cable. Everybody thinks they’re getting hosed by it. Let’s call that. Let’s get people on our side, and then from there, we can get into rational benefits.” It was an emotional tactic to what had been more channels, greater clarity. That was the noise of the market before. We came out and had an audacious campaign. It did get some bull back as well, but they did have some very good results when it ran.

We know Charlie well being here in Denver. Is there also an aspect to this that when you play the challenger brand, you can’t use the traditional playbook?

You can’t. In that campaign, we did everything. We had out-of-home. We took every single DISH network installation van that was on the street and put cable socks all over it. It was a guerilla campaign from the top to the bottom. Whereas Cable lived off owning its channel, which is cable, we looked at it from a variety of different ways and came at them from all angles much like you would a much larger, better funded, and better-equipped competitor. It was pulled all the way through.

It’s interesting. You talk about being the challenger, but then, you also worked at a brand like MasterCard for quite a few years. When we were talking before the recording, from a brand standpoint, you would argue that MasterCard is one of those brands where they’ve invested a lot at that overarching brand level.

Everyone knows about Priceless. There was a lot written about it even in 2023 that MasterCard was going to drop the MasterCard from the visual identity because the overlapping circle symbols are so iconic. You, at the time, were working at one of the divisions as well. Talk about how the brand either helped or didn’t help when you were working down in one of the B2B. We associate a lot on the consumer side, but you were working on the B2B side.

You’re captive to your own success there. When I say MasterCard, you’ll say Priceless, or you might even hear about the mnemonic. MasterCard is very into the audio signatures as well. It is one of the world’s greatest brands, most valuable brands, etc., but 99.9% of humans on the earth think of MasterCard as a consumer credit card brand. That perception is evolving, but it is certainly, first and foremost, the Priceless company as it should be. If you look at their stock trajectory and everything else, that’s a good place to be.

If you, like me, are toiling to try to establish a B2B brand and say that you have a value proposition not only for banks and lenders but also for merchants and other kinds of companies, you have some explaining to do as to how Priceless plants into this. I can give you a marketing answer to that, but that’s the consumer part of the business.

Here at Data and Services, we have a trove of data on global transactions that no one else can equal. I can tell you about your business with a level of granularity and specificity that, in fact, nobody else could possibly do. Let’s talk about you and your customers, how you engage, what they’re doing, when they’re doing it, why they’re doing it to the degree that we can know that, etc. We have a whole raft of some of the world’s leading consultants that can give you the kind of market intel you need to gain unfair share from your competitors in the B2B world, etc.

It didn’t hurt us, but there’s always that, “What does this have to do with the Priceless component to it?” which is only fair. When you’re starting something new or something that is child to the parent, like all children, at some point, you want to come up from mom and dad’s shadow. That’s a little bit of the exercise as well. I would also hasten to add that at some point, ideally, those children come back and are happy to be affiliated with it, but at first, you’re like, “I want to do it my way. I want to be my own thing. I want to be the challenger, not the incumbent.”

When we were at Data and Services, we weren’t competing against Visa, American Express, or anybody else. We were competing with the world’s largest consultancies and the world’s largest technology companies. They had one thing that they did. They were focused on their area. We were spread a little bit differently.

Did Priceless provide in any way umbrella support or was it something that you had to put to the side because you had other challenges at the time coming in that you had to address and counter in a different way?

You certainly never had to explain the company that you worked for when you talked to anybody on God’s green Earth, but there’s this perception of, “MasterCard. Transaction.” For example, to a lot of merchants, transactions are equal expense. They think, “Aren’t I giving you guys enough money already along with transaction fees and such?” That is something that is like, “We have a whole other portfolio of things that we can add so much value to your business and do.” It’s a different conversation than a McKinsey would have to have. It’s a different conversation than an Adobe or a Google would have to have and so on and so forth. They are a little bit more monolithic. We were trying to dimensionalize and establish a brand.

The brand is talking about Priceless, but you have your customers saying, “What is the actual price? It’s not a reward.” When you talk about the first part of your career, your first CMO gig, you said that if you had the data, your CMO gig would not have ended.

That’s correct. This is in the prehistoric times when data was very scarce and loosely defined. At the time, we did have a data consultancy that we’d work with to go through sales data in that. They would come to us in a small army of people who would pack a conference room and they would talk about things that maybe happened two quarters ago. They’re like, “We’ve looked at all your transaction data. Here are some patterns that we see emerging.” That’s all well and good, but what’s going on right now?

If you take a look at the speed with which the world is spinning as you and I are recording this, we could talk about the Middle East. We could talk about Eastern Europe. We could talk about the geopolitical situation even within the United States, etc. Nobody has time for two quarters ago. There’s no insight that you’re going to give me from two quarters ago that’s going to help me today, the theory goes.

In the case of where I was, which was at a very high-end consumer electronics brand, we did not smell the danger until the wolf was at the door, the danger being people are starting to buy cheaper things and more disposable things. They are moving away from high-end audio in favor of portable. They’re saying, “I’m willing to take lesser quality for greater access,” i.e. iPods at that time and things.

By the time we worked out that that’s what was going on, to say nothing of the proliferation of phones where people would talk more than they would listen in their car, as an example, it was game set and match. There was nowhere to go. That was it. We had all these physical locations that were no longer needed. eComm was going to become the norm. Lower tickets, faster, and more disposable products would be the norm and still are now.

That industry has all but cratered. I don’t know that we could have done too much about it other than maybe change the form factor, maybe change the mix of products, etc. We may have forestalled the inevitable, but I don’t know that we could have gotten out of that box. We certainly would’ve been more prepared for the fight.

Remind us what brand we’re talking about here because we’re jumping about into different parts of your career.

It was called Tweeter Home Entertainment. I can’t tell you the amount of interviews I got in the mid-2000s on the basis of people thinking I had been the CMO of Twitter for a length of time. That was extremely helpful on a certain level but ultimately not helpful. Think of a high-end Best Buy or something selling $5,000 to $10,000 TVs, $20,000 to $30,000 to $50,000 audio equipment, and so on. All those things are gone. You have to have your head screwed on backward to spend that much on any of those things unless you’re the rarest of the rare. There’s no market share for that.

Talk about the importance of identifying strategically and then being able to track what would be a leading indicator. It is something that gives you that sense of what’s truly important. How do you identify what a good leading indicator is, and how do you use it?

One way to do it is the exact opposite. Work backwards. Find the things that are working, and then deconstruct, “How do we get to this place?” If you’re a retailer, you might say, “What else was in the basket?” Every time you see X, it’s accompanying Y. That would be something. You take those customers that are your most profitable, most frequent, or whatever the case may be, and then you start to look for lookalikes within your own database at first and then outside of your four walls afterward. Working backward is a good way to do it.

Anytime you see little anomalous blips of people who are coming to a certain area more often or people who are doing things in a way that had not been done historically, there are two components to that. You have to know in real time that they’re doing it. You have to ask for some historical benchmarks as to how they used to do it. All of that requires a sophisticated data operation.

I feel like when it comes to leading indicators or even single KPIs that organizations use, I don’t know about you, but in my email inbox or text, I feel like I get at least five emails a week where someone is asking me for an NPS score. What are your thoughts on NPS?

It’s a good indicator. It’s an indicator though. People vote with their wallets. I can pretty well tell how things are doing by deal volume, flow, and ticket size depending on what industry you’re in. That’s one thing. I do sound a little old-school in that regard, but people do vote with their wallets, in my experience.

NPS is a good, simple way for people to give feedback. It’s pretty lightweight and low touches easily. There are also things like G2 reviews if you’re in the software game. Here’s the truism. This is the same when they are talking about retailer software. The people who love you are going like, “They’re great.” The people who hate you will go on and on. The thing about G2 or any kind of peer reviews is they skew negative but they are a source of intel as well, so you do have to look at those.

You’re talking about being the high-end version of Best Buy. I saw Best Buy in 2023 at a conference talking about how they were thinking about NPS. What I thought was interesting was the importance of how you phrased the question becomes important. What they said was when they were asking, “Would you recommend Best Buy?” They were getting a lot of 4 or 5.

When they tweak that question to, “How do we deliver compared to your expectation?” The benchmark came down. All of a sudden, a 3 is, “You delivered on my expectation. I’m only going to reward you with a 5.” NPS is typically done on a 1 to 10 scale. All of a sudden, when you frame that question, the scores came down because you had to score higher to overdeliver.

Five is what I expect.

All of a sudden, it starts to become a lot more useful for them because otherwise, they were getting all these 7s and 8s when they were meeting expectations by changing the question.

Another twist on that same thing is that you can’t do this in an NPS framework but is along the lines that you described. This goes back to my days in advertising. The old strategy question is, “What do you want the customer to think, feel, or do instead of what?” The way that you would translate to NPS is, “How was your transaction today?” They’re like, “It was an 8.” It is then like, “How do you think it would’ve compared to an Amazon transaction?” That’s who Best Buy is competing against.

They’re like, “I could buy it on,” or “I could go into a store and get the thing.” “That’s great. I’m glad that the frontline service is good. I’m glad that the store displays were nice. The price must have been reasonable. Was that a better, worse, or identical experience to Amazon?” That’s the question that you need to tease out in that situation. NPS is not ideal for that.

That’s such an interesting insight because oftentimes, as brands, we think about it in our own context when in reality, you are one moment in an experience of their day. They’ve ordered something on their app to pick up at a Starbucks. They’ve ordered something that’s going to be delivered by Amazon in four hours. They’re not thinking about your brand in the context of your world. They’re thinking about it in the context of their life in general. That’s such a good insight.

When I was in the streaming audio space, a conversation that we would have quite a lot with typically radio people was that people don’t want just the songs they want. They want these humans around it, storytelling, all this other frivolity, and everything like that. The data did not support that. People wanted the songs that they wanted.

If you want to listen to Radiohead and you want to listen to There, There, first of all, it’s preferable to hear it when you want to hear it. I go to Spotify and I listen to it. That song sounds exactly the same independent of compression and all the other technical things on Apple, Spotify, or the radio. It’s the same content. The packaging has limited utility in most cases. If I need a new flat panel TV, what does it cost and how does it get into my house and on my wall? Those are the criteria. I don’t care. It’s the same TV, whether I get it from this one or Amazon

This conversation about data is a good segue to almost the second half of your career. In the first half, the challenge was you didn’t have enough data. You talk a lot about in the second half this danger that we have around worshiping false idols in the context of the amount of data that we have together. What do you mean by that?

In the first half, a lot of business was predicated on relationships. I am like, “You have to trust me, CMO of McDonald’s, that this campaign that we are doing is working because this is what we do for a living. We are the world’s leading experts in the creation of advertising.” We’ll talk to 8 people in 8 markets. they will attest to the fact, “That’s wonderful. I feel better.” It was silly and superficial then. It’s sillier and more superficial now, but there weren’t other good ways to prove the efficacy of things.

You were doing fine if the business was good. It’s the old correlation or causation. I don’t know which it is, but if my sales are up, I am assuming that the advertising for the marketing is working. Let’s use marketing for this case. If my sales are up, that’s great. It must be working. If my sales are down, it must be that you didn’t have a leg to stand on outside of relationships. That was then.

Today, you say false idols. People are thinking, “Has anybody seen my open rates?” or “Has anybody seen the number of downloads that we’ve achieved or the conversion rate from this stage to this stage?” That may or may not be interesting to anyone, but I guarantee you can’t take it to the bank. That’s the difference. When people were judging you, it was on the basis of how much was their deposit in their bank every day then. Now it’s these inside baseball navel-gazing kinds of marketing things that we’re getting very excited about. We don’t typically take the time to connect that to actual business outcomes.

Pulling this full circle like, “Let’s see where the business is humming, and then let’s look backward at attribution to see how we got to this place or what marketing contributed to that. Was it the decay of a competitor? Was it sheer demographics changing or whatever the case may be?” We think of, in some cases, marketing metrics as a terminus. They’re not. They are a means, not an end. Sometimes, we get that twisted in my view.

How do we deal with things that become harder to measure like brands? It’s more intangible. From a performance marketing standpoint, attribution has its own challenges around what part of attribution you measure. We know as marketers that it’s important to focus on the brand and the demand gen. How do you handle the brand part of it when it’s harder to measure or harder to translate into metrics or outcomes that the CFO can look at and understand as opposed to terms like brand equity that don’t mean anything to a finance person?

We have come a long way. Marketing is still a blend of art and science. It’s much more science than it has ever been, but there is still an element of art to it. I am elated that that is the case. Not everything can be explained. The brand is that ghost in the machine that has that. I can’t say why, but things get a little bit better when it’s good.

Having said that, there are things that you can do. For example, you can look at store or site traffic. If it goes up organically, that’s one thing. Inbound inquiries, media coverage, RFP submissions. There are a number of things that can be correlated. You can’t always say caused, but you can say correlated to the increased stature of a brand. There is partnership outreach. There are all kinds of things you could do. There is supporting premium pricing, which is one of my favorites. You can take a price move. If your brand is strong enough, you generally have that elasticity. If your brand is not strong enough, you generally will see some shrink. That’s another good indicator of that.

What I like about those examples is even if marketing doesn’t necessarily own some of those metrics, they’re all metrics that the business can understand. Somebody said to me, “You’re better off trying to tie marketing into a metric that they may not necessarily own but is accepted and recognized by the business rather than trying to introduce a metric that is fully owned that means less.” Talk about your role as part of the ecosystem even if you don’t own it.

That is such a huge insight. If nobody took anything away from all this jabber, that is what they should take away. It is a fool’s errand to think that you are going to teach your executive colleagues about marketing and they’ll give a shit. They, in 1,000 lifetimes, will never. They never will care enough or at all, to be very honest with you.

You have to adapt your language to theirs. They don’t care about MQLs. They don’t care about stage conversion, funnel velocity, and all those things. More customers came into the door. More people came to the website. Transaction counts got more frequent and basket size got larger. The churn was reduced. Returns came down. You can’t claim all of these things, but you can say, “Let’s look at the trends of the data when we did brand changes or when we ran a campaign.” You can then say, “This is correlation if not causation.”

In many ways, it goes back to the conversation about data as well. This was a key thing I heard. We are so focused on data and have forgotten the importance of storytelling around the data, and much of it is internal.

1000%. We struggle with the restaurant versus the grocery store thing where we are grabbing all these different things like, “I’ll take one of this and some of this.” We have stocked all the cupboards and everything but nobody has the recipe to make anything with these things. If you don’t have the experience, skill, creativity, or agility to say, “I got a new ingredient in. I could make something cool with that.”

In this case, that ingredient is a new data point. You are like, “I did not know that. Let’s spin up something on that. Let’s do a social campaign on that. Let’s do a customer testimonial about that. Let’s make that a speaking submission, an award submission, etc.” It’s one thing to have a lot of data and another thing to know what the data means. That third leg of the stool is the hardest one, which is how do you convey that meaning to a wider audience inside and especially outside of marketing and outside of your organization?

How much emphasis do you place on that internally with your own team? As a CMO who has a team, and you’ve probably got a mix of generalists and specialists, what are some of those skills and aspects of how you level your teams up?

We strive imperfectly to strike that balance between why BlueConic and how this feature drives value for your business, Mr. Customer or Mrs. Customer. Both of those things have to happen. If it’s, “BlueConic is wonderful. They have the smartest people. They have the best platform. It has the highest performance ratings,” that’s cool.

I have jobs to do though as a marketer. How can I find more lookalikes more efficiently at a lower cost? I need both of those things. They’re like, “BlueConic? I’ve heard of them. Tell me about lookalike modeling.” If it’s lookalike modeling, it’s like, “Whatever.” It’s never going to be upstate. You need to hold both of those things in the same orbit.

Can you talk a bit about lookalike modeling and how you do lookalike modeling? It has its foundation in segmentation and understanding customers.

Going back to prehistoric times, the whole notion of direct marketing at the time was, for lack of a better term, birds of a feather. If you lived in this ZIP code, you probably had this kind of disposable income. You probably had a family that was about this size. You probably had this sort of political leaning. That was the best that we had to work with at that time.

At a super high 10,000-foot level, that’s true. In my town, there is a persona to it, if you will, but if you go lower to the ground, you see that we’re quite different here. On this side of my house, coincidentally, I have a very young doctor. On this side of my house, I have an older gentleman doctor. They have the exact same last name. One is an Australian immigrant. The other is an Irish immigrant. I am here in the middle, a pug-nosed American marketer.

We’re not all the same on this block. We’re not all the same in this town. The only way you can tease the three of us apart is in the data. It’s in the data. It’s in the details. It’s in the specifics. If you’re doing lookalike modeling, I look at who are our best customers individually and what characteristics they have. I can then go out into the marketplace and try to find people that mirror them as closely as possible, not on some theoretical framework.

How can you get to the attitudinal aspect of those lookalikes around the notion that you want people who have a shared belief?

That is still relatively tricky, the emotional component. What I’m speaking of is largely behavioral that is for people that behave a certain way. What’s behind the behavior is not something that our software and our technology solve for. That’s critically important. We watch people’s feet and their wallets. Other people look at the other.

It’s the actions. Talk a bit about that. What are the actions that you can observe and build lookalike data sets from that you couldn’t in the past? We’re not just talking about demographics. We’re able to go a lot deeper into actual behaviors.

Demographics are a very small part of what most people are looking at. It’s much more behavioral. A good customer will go to a website 3 times and spend X amount of minutes. Within 72 hours, they will look at the same items on their app. If they are a mixed retailer in terms of physical and eComm, then they’ll go to a store and touch, feel, and look. They’ll make sure that it’s good and then they’ll generally buy on their app and get it delivered because that’s more effective than having to lug at home from a showroom, for example. That’s what we see.

It’s X amount of research physics. Within 72 hours, they do it with an app. They visualize this in your home. They take a picture of your room and take a picture of the furniture. Within a week, they visit a showroom if there’s one available to them, and then within 48 hours, they’re putting something in their cart. If you assume that is the customer experience that you’re looking for, there are things as a marketer you can do to make sure that’s happening.

If they go to the site, you can ping them in 24 to 48 hours to also check it out. You’re like, “Look at this in your room with the app.” If they do that, you can then say, “Did you know that within 12 miles, there’s a showroom and that particular product is there? You can go see it, sit on it, touch it, feel it, etc.” After they do that, presuming they identify themselves, and there are different little tricks to do that as well, then you can ask for the order. If they don’t make it immediately, you can perhaps provide an offer, etc. If you know that, then you can take that model out into the marketplace.

You are talking about this idea of understanding customers and behaviors. One thing that you said was interesting is the importance of being a keen observer of people and life in the sense of what active listening means. Can you talk a bit about that and how foundationally important that is?

This goes back to a guy. I learned from a guy. Dr. Bob Deutsch is his name. He had this thing about observing people in life. He was an anthropologist. The way he would do it is an anthropologist of the current-day humans in your area. This goes back to things that we used to do before we had all this data. The data is great, but your senses are also great.

What Dr. Bob would espouse would be things like, “Make sure you take the subway whenever you can. Look at what people are reading. Look at how they’re dressed. How many are congregating together? What do they look like? Where do they get off? How do they get there? If you were a retailer, walk around the store. What do they touch versus what do they look at? When do they stop? Do they look at the price? Do they look at the label? Do they hold it up to themselves?”

It is a very important thing that you can do both physically with your five senses or however many you have and do it digitally. You could also look at behavior. If you put those two things together, you get not just the what, but in some cases, you get the why. Why do they do that? Why do they put certain toys in a toy store at this level of the store? It is because that’s eye level for a little kid.

How do you get a kid to give a shin kick to Mom or Dad that they want the thing? You put it where they can see it, touch it, and play with it. They probably do buy things more than they used to, but generally, they need Mom or Dad to make a purchase. You have to market to them to get their interest and then market to mom and dad to make the purchase.

It’s very hard to be a great marketer in the ivory tower. That situation has been exacerbated by COVID and all the other things where people are working more in their houses like I am. It’s super valuable to make sure you’re out there amongst them and hearing, seeing, and getting a vibe for what’s going on in the marketplace. It makes you much better at what you do.

What are some of the ways that you can do that, for example, maybe if you work in B2B?

We spend a lot of time on, “What are our customers reading? What events do they go to? Who do they think of as thought leaders?” All of those things, we ask. We avail ourselves of all those same things even if they don’t directly relate to what we’re trying to do so we can get into the headspace of, “I get the agenda. That’s not directly related to the job they hired us to do, but this is the agenda behind that. That makes more sense.” It is the cyclical nature of the seasonality of their business. It’s not directly germane to how we talk to them, but it’s critically important in their non-frontal lobe. In the back of their head, that’s always on. The more we can understand that situation, the better we are at our jobs.

Some of that, to your point, is even observable. If you’re not asking those questions, which a lot of people don’t, for example, if you find the hundreds of your customers or even lookalikes that you are targeting, go to their LinkedIn profile. You can see what people are posting and what they write about themselves. You can aggregate and collect all of that. It’s impossible not to come out of it with insights.

1000%. What you find out is that people have great dimensions. We all have these robust lives. The more you do account-based marketing where you narrow the aperture a little bit, you’re not looking at every potential customer on the earth. You are looking at a few key ones, to your point, through non-stalker risk observation. You can go, “I know a little bit more about what makes her tick. I see what’s important to her. It’s about DEI. It’s about values. It’s about the currency of technology. She’s giving the breadcrumbs. Let’s follow them and playback the messaging.”

With all the experience that you’ve had, when you look at where you are and you look at the teams that you mentioned, what are some of those core leadership principles that you bring in the day-to-day?

I haven’t changed my leadership principles since the beginning of time. Fair, firm, and friendly is the methodology that I like to use. It hasn’t changed. I haven’t felt the need to change it and I don’t think the people who work for me do. If you’re generally equitable, which is not to say to treat people identically but fair, if a decision is made and we go, “Oh,” people know that. They’ll spend a lot less time dragging their feet.

Friendly, I spend a lot more time with my coworkers than I do with my wife and children. That’s twisted and sad, but it’s the world that we live in. You have to bring a little bit of joy and a little spark of life to it or else you’ll burn out or they’ll burn out on you. It’s one way or the other. You have to bring those. The people who are hungry, the people who are agile, and most of the greats I’ve ever worked with have huge amounts of imposter syndrome. They’re never satisfied with where they are. They always think they have something to prove. That’s time immemorial. That hasn’t changed even a little bit.

Is that something that you look for when you’re hiring talent? If so, how do you ascertain that in an interview process? We’re all familiar with the artificiality of what that process can be like.

I try to gauge people’s competitive level. I’m not talking about sports competitive like, “I was the captain of the rugby team.” They have high standards. They take it personally. They are very concerned with doing a good work product. It means something to them. I make it my job to dig into that a little bit because there are a lot of people who have the skills, but generally, it’s the will that separates. Will comes first for me. Skills, we can teach. Will is harder.

Do you have any good tips like the kinds of questions that you ask or aspects of how you structure an interview to get to that aspect of it?

I don’t. I will give you one tip. It is something I learned. I can hear the collective eye roll of your audience. It was in one of these corporate improv things. What dawned on me is the key to being successful at improvisation is having no thoughts in your head whatsoever. It is a completely empty head. I’m not thinking, “I want to say this. I want to ask this. I want to do this. I’m going to do this.” I have nothing at all going on. You say something and that’s all I have to work with. I’m like, “Let me go into that. You said you were interested in customer experience. What kind of customers? What kind of experiences? Have you ever done this?” One thing leads to another.

I try to get you to say something and then I take that and try to take it a little bit further. You respond and I try to take it a little bit further. I have a script. Hopefully, our people are not tuning in to this because we do have a list of things we’re probing on, but I’m not particularly good at that. It feels very wooden to me. I need to listen to what you say, ask a question, and ask a follow-up.

You took the nothing-going-on-in-your-head joke from me because that is exactly what I was going to do. What I took away from your point is this notion of starting with no thought that allows you to then do active listening and ask that next question. You ask the why or the what that gets you to the insight. If you start with predisposed ideas, you might miss what someone might say because you’re thinking about the next question that you were going to ask.

That generally doesn’t give you anything. If I say, “What do you like to do for fun?” and you say you like to watch Liverpool Football Club, and then I say, “How good are you at math?” That doesn’t follow. That’s me going through a series of questions that don’t follow. It’s like, “You like Liverpool?” and you’re like, “I like Liverpool.” That’s how people get to open up and you start to reveal your true character.

That is a great point to end. This has been a thoroughly insightful conversation. I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for being on.

Thank you for having me.