Rudy Fernandez – Host, Founder of Creative Outhouse on 2020 outlook
Episode 26: Rudy Fernandez – Host, Founder Creative Outhouse on 2020 Outlook
On Season 2 of Marketing Upheaval, our founder and host shares his point of view on the marketing landscape from the abundance of invisible creative to the over-thinking a brand.
Rudy Fernandez 0:00
Hey everyone, it’s 2020. That’s fun to say. Anyway, I hope you had a chance to listen to our guests from 2019. I can tell you I learned a lot from them. In fact, I can point to at least one piece of business we won. By using the knowledge we gained from our guests. I can also tell you that I steal some of their lines in meetings, and it makes me sound very smart. So let’s get going with what we hope to see change in 2020.
Well, we’re calling this episode “What to look out for in 2020.” Yeah, it’s not terribly original is it? Which brings me to the first thing to look out for. And this is something that I hope will change. Let me tell you story. I went to a conference last year, and I saw something that exemplified what I don’t like about where marketing is going. You know, like you I’m equally fascinated and confused by our changing world.
A lot of changes a great. Some, not so much. Anyway, I was at this conference, and one presenter showed to digital ads for a nursing degree. One had a photo with a blue filter and a smiling hospital worker with the headline, “Advanced your nursing career.” The other had a different hospital worker with a blue tinted photo, and a headline that said, “Online MSN in nursing.”
And he grinned and he asked the audience, “Which of these ads do you think performed better?” People shouted their theories for one or the other. “The one on the right, it’s more targeted!” “The one on the left shows more diversity!”
Meanwhile, all I could think was, “They’re both equally boring.”
I just see it too often: invisible creative. It’s not horrible. It’s just nothing. It has no point of view, no human connection. It’s just a data point of stock shot and an hour of someone who has Adobe Suite’s time. What causes it? I think fear. Fear and the wrong idea of how to use data.
The fear? Well, that’s obvious, it comes from the fact that marketing jobs from the CMO down aren’t always the most secure jobs in the world. So a lot of times people operate in this state of fear. And when you’re in a state of fear, all your decisions are going to be risk averse. And if you work for an agency, you know what I’m talking about, how many times have you been trying to get work approved, and your client is making decisions exclusively based on what she thinks her boss might like? And she’s scared of her boss. Has that situation ever brought about a groundbreaking piece of communication?
So rather than make a judgment call, we try to justify decisions by throwing out numbers. That’s in case someone asks why they made a certain decision. They can say it wasn’t me it was the numbers. Look, of course you need data to make a smart decision. I’m not saying that. But these days, we don’t just use data we hide behind it. Like that guy who thought that because one boring ad did 10% better than the other boring ad that it was a great ad. It wasn’t – it was crap.
The truth is will never have the actual data you need. And that is this, you need to know, what’s it going to take for everyone that I want to buy this thing that I’m selling. We’re never going to know that exactly. And if you’re doing something truly original or groundbreaking, there won’t be much data to support it. Because it’s not been done before. Every great accomplishment, even in data rich environments requires some risk. Eventually, you’re going to have to take a chance and pick something. That’s why the best of what we do is still part science and part art. We take the relevant data we have and then we create something that connects and engages with people in a profound way. So what can we do in 2020 to make the work we do better?
Well, first, let’s scare ourselves more. If the thing you’re moving forward with doesn’t scare you at least 10 to 20% on your personal meter, then you need to go back and try something else. Let’s go with ideas that are insightful and connect. Make people want to share them, talk about them, buy or believe whatever it is, you’re saying. Let’s create work that has a point of view. That challenges that looks different than everyone else’s boring crap. That’s what I wish for, for you and me in 2020, and age of creative thinking and risk taking. More ideas on that later on. So let’s move on with what we learned to help us in 2020.
This show is about the changes in marketing, but really, the changes in marketing are societal changes as well. The biggest changes aren’t about technology, although technology feels them. The real changes are about people, how we communicate and how we get information and entertainment. Our expectations of the brands we follow. Brad McAfee, the CEO of Porter Novelli talked about why brands have become so important to us. Check this out.
There’s less than less comfort or belief or trust in some of the greatest institutions, right? And so when you feel like that is waning a little bit, then people turn to the brands or organizations or institutions they are familiar with. And they may ask for those organizations to step in where they might find a void. Right? So you see these brands, and we’ve seen this over the last several years, where maybe a state takes on a piece of legislation and what their employees do, they go straight to an employer and say, We absolutely do not like that. And all of a sudden, you start to see that the employer is not going to expand in that state. It’s not going to have any more conventions in that state. And all of a sudden, that becomes a big issue, right? And it’s brands using their scale and a little bit of their power of influence, to really tackle some stuff. Some issues at hand. So I think one part is just changing dynamics at the macro level, then we’re seeing a lot of things happening. You like if you look at employees as one example, and this could be the changing dynamics, we have a lot more millennials, right? By 2020 50% of the workforce will be millennials. But if you look at that group, like there’s a little bit more of an interest on, “I want to go to work with an organization, I believe, aligns with my own personal values”. The crazy part about is when we’ve done some of the survey work, we find that people will actually take less pay to go to an organization that aligns to their own values. So you see that the employee side and then on the flip side, you have individuals, organization or consuming audiences or customer say, I would switch brands to a brand that has my same value or has a bigger broader purpose. And then on the flip side, you have like 79% of those that we’ve researched said I will boycott a brand if it doesn’t support my values. So all of a sudden, I think you’re starting to see more tangible examples of people saying, “Hey, I’m going to vote with my pocket book as well. And so you’ve got this void that people are asking to have filled, you have employees to kind of wanting somebody to fill it and also to feel more inspired at work, any have a consuming group out there to saying, “Hey, don’t forget about me. I’m going to vote with my dollars, I’m either going to vote you up, or maybe vote you out.”
I really love this quote, because it sort of encapsulated why brands are so important. Now, I suppose our government institutions and churches aren’t providing us what we need. So we’re trying to make brands fit into our value system. And now, each of us has the ability to express our feelings and values to a broad audience. Think about that. Humans have always been social creatures. But a hunter forager may have had to communicate with 150 people in his entire life. This new version of us can communicate with thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people at the same time. And modern times this type of mass communication used to be the realm exclusively of brands that would send out mass messages that basically said, this is who we are, like it or not. They had the podium, and everyone else was a member of the audience. Now, each of us has a podium, to the point where regular people have a say in your brand. Most of our guests have talked about that in one way or another, like Leigh George, founder of Freedom Marketing in Washington, DC.
For the longest time companies thought brands are about them, right? And the customers were there to help brands with their mission, right? Help make us money, buy our stuff. Well, I think the internet and social media and a lot of other factors have completely changed that relationship and consumers are in control. We know more about a brand before we decide to buy something. We have the ability to talk back in a way we never had before. Brands have to realize that their brand needs to be helping customers with their mission and their purpose, not the other way around. When you tap in, that’s why I think brands need to be at the intersection of customers’ passion, and a brand’s purpose because your brand cannot be about you because no one cares, right? People want something to believe in. They want to support a cause or a mission or purpose that is personally meaningful to them.
So we’ll probably this notion of audience shaping a brand continue to evolve. But of course, you have to take it all with a bit of common sense. Every day, there’s more and more of a conversation about the dangers of the cancel culture. And the debate is going on now. We’ve seen a lot of brands under-reacting overreact to bad comment. And the truth is sometimes people get hyped up about things that end up being not a big deal. Here’s a good example from Alan Wilson, the founder of Tripwire Interactive, a gaming company with more than 10 million users.
We had a classic example – must be seven or eight years ago, which sort of really hammered that lesson home to us when we released the first DLC weapon pack for Killing Floor 1 – DLC downloadable content – and asked people to pay for it. They were assigned grades from other weapons it’s not going to give you an advantage. It’s a cult game anyway. You’re all on the same side. But on our forums at that time that the day or two after we released that pack, there were one or two people in the building beginning to think “Oh God, we done something terrible” because those people were out with pitchforks and no, because they had not paid for it just because we were evil, money, grabbing. dirtbags. I had kind of got used to this so I sat down and it counted. It was about 20 people on the forums who were who got the pitchforks and torches out for us and and had to point out to people that we in the time that those 20 people were screaming blue murder on the forums, we sold over 100,000 units of this DLC. And you guys 20 people hate you. One hundred thousand people love you. We need to get a balance here.
Who knows? Maybe this year we’ll start to establish some societal rules about what’s a crisis and what isn’t what to get angry about and what to let slide. But it is an election year. So I’m guessing that might not happen. But one can hope. You know, side note here sidetracke a little bit to talk about the 2020 election. We talked to Brett Bruen, who is the president of the Global Situation Room and the former adviser to President Obama. His advice on how to manage bad social media: be authentic. And the really interesting thing – remember I said he was an advisor to President Obama: He pointed out how President Trump was someone who actually does this authentic thing pretty well. Check this out.
Well, I think it is this idea and you know, It’s ironic because Patrick Jephson in that former chief of staff to Princess Di and I had conversations about how in some respects, obviously not in all respects, Donald Trump had the appearance of authenticity and one not dissimilar from Princess Di. And by that we meant you had someone who was speaking seemingly in an authentic way seemingly in a direct way. Whereas Hillary Clinton whether you like her or not, was much more measured in her comments. She was different and structured and what she was saying, which does make it more difficult to resonate and you know, I have talked about before how brands candidates, you know, almost be like the skyscrapers in Mexico City, it’s less about being a very cemented and strong brand as it is having that sway if you want to take a lesson from the Trump playbook it is the ability to – not everything he says is perfect, nor should for companies or for other candidates, everything they say be perfect. There is an attractiveness to those errors and to something that is less than polished or refined. Obviously Trump takes it to an extreme. But I do believe that as we see everything today, we expect to see everything today because of social media because of that constant presence of you know, selfies and filming and do you know capturing everything we do? We want more authentic experiences and talk about how information is less institutionalized now. And so you know, the old concept, and this comes back to crisis management, the notion that you write up your press release, and then you deliver it to the news outlet, who then gives us the news anchor who incorporates it into their evening broadcast is pretty outdated. You have to be able to communicate this or across social media, you have to be able to communicate this in a way where someone else can come with a phone and capture information that or images that that would show that you aren’t be fully transparent or that that you perhaps have some level of hypocrisy in your comments. And, and so that authenticity is is not just a nice to do it is a need.
Rudy Fernandez 10:26
Wow, I just had an aha moment. You’re right. people crave authenticity more and more. And here we have a president who mostly speaks in an unscripted unpolished way, and tweets in an unscripted unpolished way. And because he’s doing that people are more willing to forgive when he let’s say is less than accurate.
Brett Bruen 10:51
So staying with some of the things Brett talked about. He’s a crisis manager. And we talked about how everybody has podiums, and that includes employees. He talked about how problems often come from the bottom up, yet they’re always treated. from the top down. So this democratization of marketing and communications goes for your employees as well. Here’s what he said about that.
How do you ensure that from the middle levels even down to the lowest levels where these problems are first identified you’re building capability not just training them on crisis response. This is what I do not get about Crisis Management 101. It is predicated on the idea that the knowledge comes from the C-Suite and then filters down. And yet the problems often come from the factory floor and work their way up. And people are reluctant to speak up about issues that they have identified, when they’re not empowered. When they don’t feel like they understand that the tools are the response and that’s why I really advocate this inclusive process of building with your team, the infrastructure and countermeasures for the crises because your team will understand better what they should look for how that crisis response works. And then ultimately, I think be more likely to identify problems. More willing to identify those problems.
So whether it’s on your personal social media or at work, everyone seems to be marketing all the time. And this universality of marketing is why the role of chief marketing officer is changing more than any other and think about it: every department needs to incorporate a level of marketing into what it does. Every person and every company or organization broadcasts, new ideas, opinions, perpetually. Marketing is part of every company from the initial contact, to customer experience, to operations to customer service, everything, which means the role of Chief Marketing Officer has gotten very, very complicated. And companies are going one or two ways with it. The first way is that the CMO has an extraordinary amount of responsibilities. And we’ve seen that they just get more and more stuff piled on him or her. So at every facet of the company, and every person’s podium falls under the CMO. The other direction that we’re seeing is that some companies are eliminating the CMO role altogether. They’re recognizing that every department and every person is responsible for marketing. The downside of the second option is that marketing isn’t something you just pick up through osmosis. It’s a specialty that’s learned and developed over time. I was joking about that with Tim Smith, who is the president of Chemistry. He used the phrase, “Sally, you’ve been here for a while you do the marketing.” That’s not how great work gets done. Great CMOs aren’t discovered. They become great through years of growing their knowledge and honing their abilities. And we talked to several CMOs last year. All brilliant, go back and check those out. One of those was Jeff Perkins, CMO of ParkMobile, one of the fastest growing companies in the country. He talks about how CMOs can gain more credibility in an organization, a concept he calls velocity marketing.
I worked in a lot of different companies and different sizes and different stages. And one of the things I noticed with Marketing Leaders is that there was a tendency to overthink and there was a tendency to be too cautious to go too slowly. And I took the opposite approach. And what I found is that I rather get stuff done quickly, and put some runs on the board and show that that I’m effective in what I do, and gain the trust of other people in the organization that “Oh, Jeff is really cranking through stuff” before I start taking on some bigger projects. Now, I was at a company a few years ago, and I started around the same time as another marketing leader. And we were the same level. And she was a she was excellent in her job. But she was very strategic. And she came and she immediately had this longterm vision that she was trying to execute against. And I took kind of an opposite approach where I saw some immediate quick wins. I said, “Well, we need a brochure for this because we’re going to a trade show. And hey, we need to redesign this page on the website”, “oh, we need to tweak this banner campaign”, “we need to update this messaging”. And those were all things that I knew we can get done very quickly. So my first three months in the company, I was just putting all these points on the board. And people were like, wow, that guy’s getting a lot done. Got it. That’s amazing. Meanwhile, my counterpart was doing all the right things, building a framework, interviewing agencies, building the team, putting a lot of foundational pieces in place for her big initiative. But everyone was looking at what I was doing and saying, “hey, that Jeff’s doing great work, let’s give him more work to do. Let’s get him on this task force, let’s put them in this new business pitch”, I got kind of the perception in the company of being someone who is highly effective. Because I was getting a lot of stuff done. Because I took this velocity marketing approach, I was putting a lot of runs on the board. My counterpart, unfortunately had the perception of someone who was too slow and effective. You know, you know, you’re in trouble when executives and company you’re saying, What’s that person doing? I really don’t understand what they’re doing.
And what it teaches you is that you have to build credibility with the organization is a marketer, not everyone understands how the sausage is made in marketing. And so if you come in, and you’re just kind of going to go into a black box and start doing marketing frameworks and hire a bunch of expensive consultants and go on whiteboards, and do a bunch of stuff, but it company is not seeing the impact, you are going to be at risk very quickly in your time year. Whereas if you look at what marketing could accomplish, and you plot out Well, these are things that we can do really quickly. These are things that are going to take a much longer period of time, do the things that you can knock out to show that you know what you’re doing, to show that you’re capable, because that will buy you the goodwill and the trust from your organization to do those big things down the road.
Now, I think this is important, because as an agency, we have to find ways to make CMOs look good. So we need to always be thinking about and recommending quick wins for them, which is part of the bigger effort. agencies need to take part in if they’re going to survive. The idea that marketing is part of every facet of a company hasn’t escaped big consulting agencies like Deloitte, Price Waterhouse, Ernst and Young, more and more, they’re doing advertising and PR for clients. They have the ear of the CEO, the CIO, the COO and now the CMO. Why? Because consultancies have always focused on the bottom line in their pitch, they’re invited to the table, not as people who are good at marketing, but as people who are good at business. And this is something that I think ad agencies and PR agencies have lost over time. They used to be the business consultants, and now they’re treated more like vendors. That’s something Tim Smith, the President of Chemistry, and I spoke about when we talked about the AOR versus project based.
Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, honestly, it’s getting tougher every day to make make money. And in our world, everybody’s saying the hourly is dead, that fee based way of ad agencies do it is dead. You shouldn’t do it, but nobody really has a better answer. And in the end, regardless, if you’re taking equity or any sort of deal structure that you’re doing, you’re still basing it on how much time you’re going to spend and what the efforts really worth. I think the bigger threat is honestly from the brands and how they’re starting to work with agencies more which is heavily project based versus AORs. I’m seeing a lot of more project and even projects saying we want to do a programmatic digital campaign. Okay, well, that’s the assignment. I get that. But what was the goal? You may be completely off and we’re even seeing now that we have two clients now that are big, big brands aand one of them is paying fees for just the ideas. Here’s the product. Here’s eight agencies, we’re all going to give you a pitch fee. And then whoever kind of gets it, we’ll go from there. It’s tough. And we’ve got clients that you know, you’re in a roster of agencies. Yeah, you’re still in when the pitch and then you’re still pitching within the pitch like fighting against other agencies.
As agencies, we always have to remember that we’re trying to solve business problems for clients. Yes, sometimes we get into weeds about the types of media the customer journey, purpose, audience dialogue, understanding the emotions, And lots of other aspects and specifics of PR and advertising to help connect with our audience. But these are all part of a larger goal. And always remember that larger goal is about revenue. Yeah, I know that sounds cold. But honestly, do you think brands would really care about anything else? If sales continue to climb consistently, they wouldn’t take our company, I spent most of my career steeped in behavior change, understanding why people make decisions and creating work that uses that knowledge to motivate people to take some action. And I talked a lot about people’s internal motivations. But honestly, in the end, we have to present and look at the numbers that matter to clients. And the ones that matter the most are the ones with the dollar signs. To that end, I wonder if there’s going to be a counter trend to all the social requirements we have for our brands. Now I know that’s not what everyone else is talking about when they talk about more purpose led brands, but maybe sometimes customer perceptions and the customer journeys aren’t always as easily effected. I’ll give you an example. I live in Atlanta, which is the home base of Chick-fil-A. Now you may have heard over the last few years, Chick-fil-A has had a lot of bad press, because they’ve donated to organizations that are anti-LGBTQ. Well, in the time that this controversy is stirred, Chick-fil-A has gone from the seventh to the third largest fast food chain in terms of revenue. According to one executive I spoke to a few months ago, one of their biggest challenges right now is how to deal with the excess of customers. And yeah, I understand that there are a lot of great branding efforts, internal motivators emotional, ego centric, habitual, all those things that get people to Chick-fil-A in the first place. But maybe it isn’t 100% about that. Maybe sometimes it’s as simple as people like Chick-fil-A sandwiches. And that’s the beginning and the end of the whole relationship. I pay you for a sandwich. You provide the sandwich and then I drive off – done. Yes, some touchy feely stuff got him there in the first place. But do they really need to know every last thing you do? Yeah, some people care. But most people don’t. They’re too busy managing their own lives to follow the supply chain of every single thing they buy. And as Alan Wilson pointed out, yeah, you’re going to have a few naysayers. And they’re going to be loud. But in the end, your sales numbers, or donations or whatever KPIs you set forth that deal with money. Those are the ones that matter the most. Those are the ones you watch. Yeah, I know, that’s callous. And let me be clear, it’s not all about the money. But it is mostly about the money. Companies need money to operate, to pay people to make a difference. To give choices and flexibility and weather storms to do most things, money is required. So my advice is when you’re talking or presenting to a client, remember that you’re always tying something back to revenue. The more we as marketers focus on revenue, the more our clients will trust us, and the more clients trust us, the more risk they’ll be willing to take. And that means to better creative, we will all produce. See how I did that? Full circle. Speaking of revenue, I gotta go work. Also, I’ll invite you to go to our website at CreativeOuthouse.com and see if we can do some of that great 2020 work together. So let’s cue up the closing music.
Thank you, Resty.
Our next episode is with the brilliant digital trend expert Katrin Zimmerman. She just blew me away, so you got to check out that episode. And also, if you haven’t listened to our first 20 something episodes, check those out. They’re worth like a PhD in marketing at least. Thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval. Our producer is Susan Cooper. Until the next episode. Remember, if the current state of marketing’s got you confused, don’t worry. It’ll all change. See ya.
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