Transcript of Louis Grenier’s Everyone Hates Marketers podcast episode
- Big brands have an 18x multiplier on each dollar they spend on brand building
- Applying principles learned from big brands, long and short, being already known
- Big moment: finding out what no one else can do, differentiation
- Big moment: striking a deal with Marketing Week to build our brand
- Extreme Differentiation
- Both differentiation and distinctiveness is important
- Doubts, Research, Van Westendorp Pricing Model
- Revenue vs profit, or profit is everything
- Testing out the idea of Mini MBA, micro market research
- Overcoming fear and acquiring scalability with Digital Mark
- You’re always gonna look like a fucking idiot, even if you’re right
- Is it a gift that you can recognize brands?
- What other long stuff do you do?
- Writing a blog like a teenager
- Why is LinkedIn so interesting for you right now?
- Telling what you want on social media
- Finding out what are the core genes of the brand
- Do you do anything else top of the funnel?
- Are we gonna use the “b” word to describe Everyone Hates Marketers? Is it a brand yet?
Big brands have an 18x multiplier on each dollar they spend on brand building[5:30] Let’s start with a preamble. The most important thing to realize first all is small brands mostly stay small. Everyone wants to know about small brands. If you look at a conference of marketers or a virtual conference most of them work for smaller brands and there’s a lots of them and I get asked this question or a version of this question all the time, ok, what about a small brand, but we cannot afford to do this, we cannot afford to do that. The first thing I say, and I don’t mean to be a prick, you can’t afford to have multiple channels, you can’t afford to have excess share of voice, you can’t afford to have big mental availability, you know what’s gonna happen? You’re gonna stay fucking small. The problem is you’ve been reading all of this David vs Goliath bullshit about how David’s gonna be nimble and do karate and beat up Goliath. That’s not how capitalism works. Capitalism doesn’t work that way. The thing is just horseshit. What happens is Goliath smashes the fuck out of David and goes home. The first thing to say is, the odds are massively against us. If you look at that work that was done by Data-To-Decesions about seven or eight years ago, being a big brand is the biggest single advantage you can have for effectiveness. It’s an eighteen times multiplier on the dollars you spent. So for every dollar a small, little brand spends the big brand spending the same dollar, not spending more, has an eighteen times multiple because they are already big. That’s super fucking unfair. So first of all there’s no way I’m working for you, even if you pay my rate there Louis, because I know it’s fucking pointless. Second of all the brand game doesn’t really get going for about four or five years. I’ve worked with relatively young brands, when they were seven, eight, ten years old. So I worked with Sephora for example, the big cosmetics chain and we have a wonderful little program called Incubator, where we take the two hottest, fastest growing little brands and we work on them and we help them and we incubate them. But even those brands still need four or five years already, before we can really get into brand strategy. The first three or four years are about finding you way, getting some loyalty, understanding the path. There’s not a lot of brand strategy work can be done in years one to five. All you would say to anyone with a new brand is don’t create more than one brand. Don’t be a fuckwith. That would be my consulting advice in an envelope to everyone with less then five million euros in revenue and less than five years. Don’t create two brands, or you’re an idiot. Now, let’s get that out of the way.
Applying principles learned from big brands, long and short, being already known
I have actually done this because my own work, Mini MBA, which is my own brand, I became a founder late in life and had to do this exactly as you described, for a small unknown brand that we started three and a half years ago. We will get close to ten million euros of revenue this (2020) year, from a standing stat. So to your question, how did we do that, and absolutely right, we thought long and hard about it. What did I learned from all the big brands, to try to do this in a small way? I knew that we needed to do long and short, first of all, I believe in that, and I applied it to my own business, and I also believe that if you do good long, you can do good short.[12:12] Accidentally, we’ve got that advantage of being a known entity already. But I think that was part of the strategy in the sense that you pick something I’m really proud of Mini MBA because it was a strategic creation. Being a brand consultant was an accidental product of being a branding professor. You become a branding professor because that’s where your research goes, a few companies call you, before you know it, you’re a doing brand consulting. It’s not strategic, it’s mostly gravity. Mini MBA was a creation of how do I make money in a scalable way when I have a young family. I think that I really did think hard about what can I leverage that I have that will enable me to make money. I think you have to start with what you got. You don’t start from a carte blanche as you say. It is a carte blanche but there’s also core stuff that you can draw on. The 60:40 thing is interesting because that was one thing I didn’t just advice clients on, I believed in it, and I said how can I start a business that maintains 60:40? The thing we did, that was smart I think is I said I miss the long, I’ll do the top of funnel stuff, I’m doing it right now with you right, you’re not paying me for this as far as I know, and I like you, so I’d do it anyway, but what’s in it for me? And the answer is: this is the long. It’s top of funnel, it’s reaching people who don’t know who I am, or what Mini MBA is, and if I do this about three hundred times a year, which I do, we will get somewhere, and we will create that, which I can then leverage down below. Now, the down below, I’m shit at. I’m not a performance marketer, so then I got myself a good performance marketer, Sam, who runs a pretty tight game of LinkedIn and Facebook and pixels and all that shit that I don’t really understand and we worked together very nicely in the sense that while he thinks what I’m doing is like fuck, I don’t really get what you do, yeah, OK, do a talk on that, whatever. He is my numbers man. And I’m like yeah, pixels and stuff, blah, blah, blah, look at how many people are listening to Louis’ podcast. See what I mean? I think that’s a lesson. I’ve never met an agency, never mind a marketer that can do the long and the short well. I’ve met people that can do both badly, so I think you want long and short people and that was absolutely deliberate from the start.
Big moment: finding out what no one else can do, differentiation[15:32] I tell you the exact moment I’ve worked it out and it’ll help other people to help other people their moment out. So, I’m busy walking the dogs, four, five years ago, in the fields. I remember I’m having this moment of very extreme clarity which was I’m the only person that can do this, because there are lots of people running online courses, but they don’t have the credibility or twenty five years of teaching at top business schools to get away with it, so they gonna run pockey digital training course, and probably give more away for free. On the other side you’ve got a whole bunch of professors, very talented professors in some cases but their universities will never allow them to run a rogue Mini MBA type subject which will cannibalize what the business school is offering. So they won’t be allowed to do it. And there’s me in the middle, who’s an adjunct professor now, because I can’t be bothered doing the full-time job, who has the chops, but also has the freedom and I can tell you, that was the exact moment I said right, I’m definitely gonna do this. I think for your listeners the thing is, find something that no one else can do. That sounds old school advice, it doesn’t mean that in theory other people can’t do it, it just means they can’t do it as easily or as well as you. There are more things, more niches I think, that people really understand. I think that was the key moment.
Big moment: striking a deal with Marketing Week to build our brand
The other key moment was working out Marketing Week who I write for, right about six hundred thousand unique visitors a month, and I worked out literally on the back of a cigarette packet while drinking a very large amount of red wine, at a bar called Jimmy Watson’s, that if I could get a one percent conversion rate off those six hundred thousand people that were visiting each month, I’ll make enough money to pretty much retire. It turns out not a bad estimate of how it all played out. I think most people need to interrogate their background work out what is it that I can do, that most other people can’t do, and can I make money from this? Now, having said that, I’m not an entrepreneur, and I’ve never really been comfortable with entrepreneurs, I think is more the market, the way we did the marketing that counts. It’s the marketing that’s interesting. So, I’d say to small marketers, first of all, it’s gonna be though, use your niche, use your creativity, and have a backup plan, and long-and-short is just as important for you guys and do something that no one else can do the same as you. They’re the main things. The other one is, small brands can take risks, where big brands can’t. You can say fuck. You can say, we don’t wanna work with these guys, you can do something a bit differently. Never underestimate how hard that is in a big company to do anything like that. It quickly evaporates, right? So you do have that chance to take risks. A lot of marketers say, bravery is important in marketing. No, it’s not. If you’re a fireman or a nurse it’s important, but there’s no such thing as a brave marketer. The minute we say that outside of a marketing circle, bravery is very important to marketers, we just sound like total fuckers. Taking risks and pushing it a bit within the context of marketing, super important for small brands. If we were working together, Louis, I’d say, take some chances, long and short from the start, interrogate what you can do well, and then play up the role of the founder. So again, I’ve done that with Mini MBA, but I saw first hand when I worked with LVMH on the history of all the great brands, the original story was the story of the founder and then it became the brand. People forget that over time. One upon a time, Louis Vuitton was a man that visited rich people and designed their travel boxes. He was literally a man, and his reputation was the start of the brand. was a man that became famous among certain women in Paris in 1947 before he became a perfume name. Do you know what I mean? We forget that with time. Again, the first five to ten years of a brand’s life normally rides on the personality of the founder and then it starts to get corporate. We used that to our advantage and I would recommend that for your setup as well.
Extreme Differentiation[21:09] Maybe for the bigger brands, it (extreme differentiation) becomes less important. So you get on the the to Ds, right? So, the story is fantastically important moment for marketers. We go back 25 years, “Differentiate or Die” is published, literally, differentiate or die. If you don’t do differentiation you’re totally fucked and by the way, that isn’t just a book title, that’s how it was taught, it was done, it was explained, everything. If you’re old enough to remember the 80s, that’s how we played the game. Here comes Ehrenberg-Bass in their black uniforms and what they say is listen, no, no, no, no differentiation, it’s bullshit. What you wanna do is be distinctive. So, differentiation again technically is how I’m perceived different from my competitor, distinctiveness: wipe the competitors from the board. That’s not the point. Distinctiveness is literally, do I stand out, do I come to mind, do I look like myself, am I present in your consciousness. All we’ve seen with Ehrenberg-Bass is a swing from one extreme to another. Now, if you got a conference, you’ve seen this Louis, people go: differentiation does not exist anymore, there’s no such thing as differentiation. That’s bullshit. You certainly can have differentiation, it’s just not unique, it never was, but you can certainly be more of things than other people and therefore different relative to the competition. I think that’s a great place to start when you’re a small brand, right? Be different or at least have a story that’s different. Than, don’t get me wrong, I still think more of the challenge is distinctiveness. I believe what Ehrenberg-Bass has done is exactly right. Most of the challenge is then coming to mind, being there all the time, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me. Don’t forget, it’s me. By the way, it’s me. Now, the reason companies haven’t done that, is they think everybody knows it you, because they work there every day, Louis sat there going, fuck, everyone knows my podcast, I mean it’s practically every day, there it is. It’s a tiny little bleep on the horizon of most of your listeners. The more you realize that, the more you realize, yeah, put your hand in the air, take your clothes off man, make them know it’s you. Stand out. It’s me. Once they know it’s you, you can maybe add a little sprinkle of differentiation. I think the star of a brand should still be what can I do different or more, or different, or alternative from everyone else, but that doesn’t then stop the idea of distinctiveness, and then, hey me, over here, me, me, me being still the core challenge.
Both differentiation and distinctiveness is important[25:32] I’m with you Louis on the bothism point. I did the Ogilvy Lecture this year at the Marketing Society in the UK and I made it about bothism. I used differentiation and distinctiveness as one example, in the sense that neither is wrong or right and in fact when you put them together they’re better then either one separately. And in the same way to your question, I think augmenting a product and being simply better to use ‘s phrase, is a brilliant way to do things, but why not be differentiated and then be simply better as well? The point that a lot of people miss, the nuance they miss is, I learned a long time ago, I worked with a very smart team at a bank, who’d been given the goal of increasing Net Promoter Score. I believe in Net Promoter, not completely, but I think it’s a great metric. They discovered the best way to increase Net Promoter Score is telling customers they are increasing Net Promoter Score. So of all the strategies , you say we’re a bank, that’s dead keen on increasing our Net Promoter Score and in fact we’ve already increased satisfaction levels by this much, NPS goes like that. In the same way I think one of the keys to differentiation is telling people: I’m super fucking differentiate from anyone else. This is where Steve Jobs was just the best bullshitter in the world. People do a disservice to Steve Jobs because they take him to literally. Steve Jobs just told lies man, just bullshitting his head off, to the amazing advantage of Apple. Lying and exaggerating are part and parcel of our game. I think that augmentation is good so is telling people you’re differentiated and ideally you should do all of it at the same time. There’s no trade-off here, I mean between these different things. We’re completely different from anything else that’s out there and also we’ve augmented it to make it even better than before.
Doubts, Research, Van Westendorp Pricing Model[30:03] The big challenge for me is, I lost, I don’t know, 500 gran worth of consulting because I didn’t travel, we made the first class and filmed it in green screen and all of that, and then it’s an interesting one, because you really don’t know, I’ve never made anything, I’m always advising everyone else. So I produced something, it was only really at the end of the process, I was like, oh shit, this might not be any good. You know what I mean? That full hits you. The only thing you got then is your research. I did pretty good qual research, no quant at start. I did one piece of quant which was pricing. I did a little bit of pricing research which was invaluable. I’ve gotta tell everyone on this podcast, I did not a lot pricing work indirectly and directly, I did McKinsey work once on conjoint pricing, I’m not a pricing expert, but I got pretty good practical experiences of it.
The one thing I remember about pricing that always impressed me is the Van Westendorp pricing model, which is this crazy Dutch guy, who’s long dead, created this 4 open ended question-matrix which allows you, you can learn about it in WikiPedia, Van Westendorp Pricing Model, right, 4 open ended questions and it gives you a pricing frame. Now, if you talk to a bunch of pricing Nazis they gonna tell you oh no, it’s not good, because of this reason and this reason. Listen, it costs virtually no money and it made me about, I don’t know, 2 million Euros, because it sad, no, no, you thing you should price it here, but actually you could price it over here and you’ll lose almost no sales and it worked out to being exactly right. We actually did one class, I did it with a small bunch of target customers, and then after we got the first class of 250, I said to them, alright, you’ve already signed up, at whatever price it was. But, think back to when you were about to sign up for the course. We’re not gonna change your price, let me ask you four questions, not scientific at all, they’d already come through the funnel:
- At what price would the Mini MBA have been so cheap you’d have thought, yeah, it wouldn’t be any good? And then literally type in the price, right.
- At what price would it have been low enough that you’d have though, that’s good value?
- At what price would it have been so expensive, you’d have said, I cannot afford that, it’s not worth it?
- And at what price would it have been expensive, but you’d have thought, I’m still gonna look at it, even though that’s a little pricey?
You literally put the percentage scores on the 4 axes and it gives you a hole. It gives you a hole, which is where you can price it. That’s what I did and it worked. But I knew, it was gonna work, because it always worked in the past. Now you can spend literally a million dollars on conjoint and get a percentage point more accurate than by Westendorp, or you can do it for free. I teach it now in the Mini MBA and I show them the data from the previous class to make the point. Let’s talk about online training. The first thing every Muppet does that wants to do digital online training is they look at their operating model and they go: ah, there’s no costs to give it away free, so they go: OK, this training’s free. So anyone who’s senior will never do it and anyone that’s junior does it and goes: it’s fucking worthless. You know what I mean? You’ve already killed your baby before it’s born, right? Nothing can be good and cheap. Ever. So you know holding a line on price and holding the right line, absolutely key to make money.
Revenue vs profit, or profit is everything
By the way, while we’re at it Louis, the big one for me, the biggest one of all, revenue not fucking important. Profit? Everything. So I was looking after work for Gilles Hennessy the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of the son of Richard Hennessy, who founded Hennessy. Gilles was one of the toughest, most brilliant, fantastic business people I’ve ever had the honor of working for. Once I boasted to him in a meeting that Benefit Cosmetics which is a sister brand of Hennessy, had done a really good year of revenue. I’m not gonna tell you the figure, let’s say, it was a 100 million Euro, whatever, I can’t believe how successful they’ve been. And he went: what was the profit at that revenue? And I went, I don’t know. And he went, stop talking about it then. And he’s right. He’s fucking right. The whole D to C argument, Direct To Consumer bullshit, in Forbes and fucking Business Week, hear that, Gilles’ point, yeah, that’s great, oh, you’ve just done 13 million Euro in the D to C business revenue. What was your profit? Oh, you’ve lost 15 million. Yeah. Come back when you can make a profit. I can take this mug, that I bought from Yeti, that cost 12 dollars, and I can sell it for 50 cents, right, and make 50 cent revenue. There’s no skill in that. But buying this mug for 12 dollars and selling it for 20 bucks, that’s hard. I know this sounds basic, it isn’t basic, because most marketers don’t know the difference between the 2 things.
Testing out the idea of Mini MBA, micro market research[37:05] The one other thing I had as a marketing professor was once I had the idea, then my wife said I’ll chop your balls off if you don’t work at it, if you go away anymore, and then what I had was qualitative research. So, what I did was I went to my MBA students who were the kind of MBAs that I thought if they weren’t doing an MBA what would they do? You know, they were in my mind the guys I would go for, late twenties to mid thirties, wanted to do marketing, but not necessary the most confident people, but very, very smart. I sought out those guys specifically. When you teach 3 of 4 classes a year you teach 3 or 4 hundred people, so there were about probably a dozen people I sat down with over a beer or a wine or just said can I have a coffee with you, and I said, right, I’ve got an idea of doing this thing, and I described the basic Mini MBA. I’ve said imagine you aren’t doing your MBA, would that be interesting? What would be interesting about it and what wouldn’t be and what would it cost. So I did that about a dozen times and I’m proof testing and I’m also learning and I’m doing some . So there’s a little bit of qual there early on that really did kind of proved that I was right but also set me in a different way. Then, absolutely, we create the syllabus, we get a whole ton of feedback, and you know, we test and learn, we test and learn.
Fear[38:51] I was filming in a studio in Melbourne at a little street called Smith Street in this tiny little green-screen smaller than this place I’m talking to you today. I always remember coming out and it was a long day of filming and I come out at the end of the day and I always had this weird feeling like oh there’s something twinkly going on here. I came out thinking oooh, I don’t know what this is but there’s something unusual, I gonna have a beer before I flew home and I be like oooh, there’s something weird, I could feel it every time. But than as we get closer and closer to launch I’m thinking to myself I might just be clinically mad at this point. There is a moment where you know enough that there is a very thin line between cracking it and being just completely diluted. At this point there’s no way to know. There’s nooo way to know. I know there’s no way to know but it doesn’t help. Yeah, I was very worried because lose at 2 different levels. I’ve lost 600 grand of opportunity cost money I could have been just working for big brands, while I’ve been doing all this shit, and I also lose because I’ve made a class that isn’t very good and I also lose because I’m meant to be able to market something and build brands and I cannot fucking do it. You know, so, I’m not very good.
Overcoming fear and acquiring scalability with Digital Mark
So on all those levels I started to shit my pants probably about a month in but at this point, the other thing Louis, which is different from your game with the podcast is then there comes this fascinating moment between video Mark and real Mark. And that’s the best bit. So the best bit is, I’ve spent 25 years as a luxury working class man. What I mean by that, is I’m completely working class, all my ancestors were coal miners we have absolutely no money of any kind. I went to the worst school in England, literally the worst school in England. So I know working class, working class is me. Although I was getting payed 20 grand a day it sounds weird I was still working class because you literally got payed by the day. I’d say you had to get up and fly to I don’t know, Bonn or Stockholm or somewhere and then earn 20 grand, but you had to like earn it. And then I suddenly discovered video Mark, virtual Mark who was, once you built him and did the class he was like way better than you. He was on time, he was prepared, he was reliable, he was always ready to go, and he was scalable and as the years passed he was younger than you as well and fitter and you know. So what happened over time I learnt to suddenly go: digital Mark does that, I don’t do that anymore. That’s a fascinating moment. Suddenly you get this thing where your entity is working for you but he’s not you anymore. I find that very post-modern and very interesting. And he keeps working, it’s not like your podcast. So right know, I’m teaching 2000 students. Today. I’ve no idea what I’m teaching them, I know I’m doing a really good job, and we know we gonna be doing high ratings but that’s not me anymore, it’s virtual me. I find that whole thing very trippy but extremely arousing, had to earn money by the day and suddenly have scalability it’s astonishing. The keyword is scalable, Louis. Scalability was always the thing I wanted. Once you got scalability, man, it’s a different game.[44:11] The course is 3 months long, 5 hours a week, for 12 weeks. What I worried about was the evaluations. So when I’ve taught in business school for twenty-odd years, you know, all you worry about is your evaluations at the end. There are some famous stories of marketing professors getting fired because they altered their evaluations. So, any professor is in-built into this. We don’t really worry about class as we get towards the end of the class we start worrying, well, oh, maybe it’s not very good, particularly when it’s a new class and it’s not as good as I think it is. That’s when you get worried, yeah, because virtual Mark was teaching now, and real Mark was sitting there shitting himself going: fuck, I hope this is good, because it might not be. That was a genuine moment of fear. But yeah, the evals were great, everyone was happy, the class was, you know, 250 people, so the only thing was: is that it?. I remember flying home when the second course was just starting from England with my dad with me actually flying back and I got off the plane in Australia and he said: what are you doing, I said I’ve gotta see where our numbers are. Because I didn’t really cared about the first class and I didn’t really cared about the second class but I wanted to know what the delta was, because that was the moment where if it starts, you know, you’ve done 250, then you get a 100 then you get 40 and it’s over, or it goes, as it went 250, 500 and suddenly you’ve got that trajectory, right? That’s the moment where you go, OK, it’s not just the first class liked it, we picked up more people for the second class. There’s no limit on the class size, LinkedIn will tell me that there’s literally no limit on the number of people we can target. So, the minute I get that trajectory I started going, oook, here we go.
I created a model that didn’t have a financial risk. I mean there was a big financial hit, in the sense that I was not earning a lot of money, but it wasn’t as if we’ve dumped the mortgage to make a manufacturing plant and there was, you know, a big fix cost. I wouldn’t have tried. I just couldn’t. I mean first of all let’s be clear, this is a child’s approach to business. I had a proper income from teaching and writing, and that was more than enough. So, I can’t even imagine that other level, where you put everything on the line. Fuck that, right? This isn’t even a real scary story. It was more the idea that you would look like a complete fucking idiot and you would have wasted about a year and a half of your life. And by the way, nobody except about a handful of people who were in my family circle thought it were work. So, Marketing Week, you know, who were my partners in this and the publishing company, I had to push them very hard to do this, they were really not interested. I had to make them take half the profits which is now looking like a really fine deal. They were like, meh, OK, that thing you’ve wanted to do, what is that again? You really did feel like: are you mad? There is a thin line as I said between delusion and actually having a really good idea and I’m not quite sure the line even exists. There was definitely that feeling, that I’m gonna waste my time, I’ve been to a studio filming myself, I can’t build brands, I can’t market anything, my online class sucks, I look like a bit of a dick. You launch it, its out there, like Mark’s got a Mini MBA product, what is that? So you promote it, half-thinking if this doesn’t work I’m gonna look like a total dick. So yeah, all of the above and I think that fear isn’t even a real fear. I wouldn’t have lost anything other than look like a cock if it hadn’t have worked. It was still pretty hardcore.
The other thing is, don’t underestimate being a professor. What we do when we start off in our carriers is get up in front of like 70 or 80 managers and tell them how to do it better, right? And then we go and consult. Like I fly to Switzerland and tell chocolate executives how to sell chocolate better than they’ve been doing for the last 25 years. So we’re already pretty used to shitting our pants. Anyone that doesn’t shit themselves … I get to hotels in Hong Kong, or where ever in my consulting life, and the night before, until relatively recently, until the night before, you’d still be shitting your pants about is this fucking nonsense, they gonna just laugh at me when I get there. You know what I mean? So it does toughen you up for that.
Most of the people I’ve worked with, that are way more successful and famous than me are much more nervous about it. It’s usually the ones that aren’t feeling the nerves that are shit house. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking those that don’t get nervous are usually pretty bad. You need the nerves to be good. I used to spend a long time working in fashion, even though it doesn’t look like it, and Lagerfeld was the man, right? One of the hundred things Lagerfeld said that I thought was fantastic was that, you know, are you nervous about the show this year because, you know, there’s this and there’s that, and he said, of course I’m nervous, he said, but we must dominate these things, we must dominate them. And he’s right. That’s the thing. It’s not that you don’t feel it, it’s that if you’re Der Kaiser, or you’re good, you go: oh, there it is, right, I’m shitting myself, this is fuuuun motherfuckers. You know what I mean? Now I’m shitting myself, laugh at yourself, I’m really shitting my pants. Enjoy the fear. The fear is better then the triumphalism later on if it’s working or not working, is far less interesting. If you understand the fact that you’ll be dead soon, I idea that you feel you’ll shit your pants and you laugh at yourself shitting your pants is fantastic.
You’re always gonna look like a fucking idiot, even if you’re right[52:12] My columns have been not always correct, right? But sometimes they’ve been very correct. Let me give you one that was wrong. I was always convinced Facebook was gonna be broke in 5 years, and it was completely wrong. But many of them have been very impressive. When I called Apple winning the smart phone wars 5 years before it happened, or even better, I wrote an article about Nokia, going: Nokia are fucked, and my editor refused to publish it because it was nonsensical, and I said, no, no, no, there’s too many executives saying too many stupid things, they’re fucked here. I tell you, that Nokia article was bang on the money. I just did a retrospective of my last 10 years of articles, the people I wrote about came back and said whether it was right or not, and usually I wasn’t too bad. The point is, nobody remembers. I was the only guy, I think, saying social media didn’t stack up. When Oreo had the famous tweet, I wrote an article the next day saying: it’s horseshit. The numbers don’t add up. Social media doesn’t replace traditional TV. I got slated for it at the time, and then later on when it turned out to be true, and the people from Oreo said: argh, that was fucking bullshit, nobody remembers that. You don’t get credit later. People just remember you being wrong, even though you’re fucking right. When I wrote the Nokia column I got a bunch of shit from a bunch of people going: you’re a fucking idiot, right, from the Nokia fan club. And then when Nokia went fucking crazily bad about a year later, nobody remembered my article. So you don’t get credit later for being right at the time. It’s a really important point. Really important. You’re always gonna look like a fucking idiot, even if you’re right.
The only thing that makes that worthwhile is there’s a very good line that not enough marketers use which is I’ve worked with a couple of time with private equity guys, and I really enjoyed it. They’re complete fucking space aliens. They’re fucking weirdos. Fucking weird fuckers. Completely soulless, really exciting great people to drink with. They look at the world from a category point of view. They love guys like me, because I have some like ability, to spot brands, but they’re like, we don’t care. We know this is the category we need to be in, now which brand should we pick, you tell us, we’ll buy it. I had lovely times with them, but the thing with those private equity boys through and through and through is that they have this, I don’t know, how do I describe it, this ability just not to actually really care how it plays out. They’ve already won. They’ve got the exit, before they go in, so they already won it. That’s a concept we miss in marketing, right, what’s your exit? Before you go in if you got the exit plan you’ve already won. We really don’t look at it long term like that in marketing. The other thing they used to say was: how can we make money from this knowledge? The only reason it makes sense to have some forethought, and marketers don’t lean this way, I would convince them of something in a buy and then they would say, right, OK, I can see the play, entry, exit, how can we make money from this knowledge? It’s a really interesting capitalistic point. If you really are sure of the knowledge, no one’s gonna give a shit that you were right later, unless you make money from it early.
Is it a gift that you can recognize brands?[57:08] No, no, no, no, no. That’s a very good question, but it’s a very important point. The last thing you ever do trust you know a fucking thing. What you do is you go and look at the data. When we created the branding course, I divided brand management into diagnosis, strategy and tactics, we talked a little bit about it in the last podcast. I use podcasts rather than readings on the course. There’s no one’s reading anything anymore, right? So podcast people do, and they love them. I could not find a podcast on doing diagnosis of a brand and doing research literally anywhere. So I had to go on a podcast and do one on diagnosis to fill the gap. Everyone wants to talk about fucking using Tik Tok, but this question you’re asking me which is how do you know, well, you look at the history, you do your qual, you talk to loyalists, you do quant if you can, you talk to some retailers and you put all that together, you can spot it a mile away. It’s no me walking in going: uuuh, I can spot that, I feel like that chicken has a big dick and that one is a pussy, right?
If I don’t know, how I know, if I get that feeling I would push back heavily against it because I think that that’s dangerous. I think you can have a feeling about something but then you go and check. There are certain things you look for: you look for a strong founder, you look for a category that’s got potential, obviously, you look for notoriety and salience
and then you particularly look for loyalists that are passionate about the brand that come from a very enclosed, very high level group of people, they’re very rare, particularly with premium brands, there wasn’t a group of people who discovered the brand first among their friends who were very influential later in a very organic way. There are certain things you look for, right? I’ve worked with Tatcha. The Thatcha is a famous brand in cosmetics because Unilever just bought it for a billion dollars. I’ve worked with the founder of Tatcha and the CEO who were both very very smart and I think they always knew it was gonna be a winner and I was always very skeptical until I saw 3 things. I saw the product, I know nothing about cosmetics, but the way they were doing it was something special. I saw that Sephora, who were the main retailer, said about them which was these guys are the future, that’s a retailer. Always trust your retailers, right? They’re always miserable, but if they say that, you go: uh. And then the loyalists I saw, there were a lots of them and they were completely: there was nothing else in their book like it. And when you put those 3 things together plus this cool founder and a smart savvy CEO, who’s been around the tracks before, I’ve worked with him before, and you go: yeah, these guys are a set. Now, I couldn’t have told you it was gonna be a billion dollar acquisition, but you knew pretty early on, it was gonna be something else. But, you always check, Louis, you always check. Everyone has a favorite wife or a favorite husband and then you have to check, you know?
What other long stuff do you do?[1:01:43] I mean it’s mostly me. I give you a good example. So, for 20 years I’ve got payed pretty well to write for marketing magazines, newspapers and it did pay me pretty well. I was always very negative about people who wrote for magazines who didn’t get payed. I was like, ah, you’re fucking worthless. I was making quite a lot of money from it. The problem I got was with paywalls. Although I realize why you want a paywall, it doesn’t make sense for me to be behind it, and in the end with Marketing Week, I love Marketing Week, I wanna write for Marketing Week forever, it does the job for me, but the problem was, I mean there was a big debate about brand purpose, I don’t know, about 2 months ago, and all my stuff is behind a paywall now, so you gotta pay, you know, 500 Euros a year to read it. And there was this big debate about brand purpose, that I was, I think a part of the early discussions, I was in there early, and people were asking me for my column but I couldn’t send it to them because it was behind a paywall. That made me realize, why am I doing this? I mean I can make and I’m making these figures up, right, because I shouldn’t reveal actual money, but let’s say it’s a 100 thousand Euro per year to write columns. Is that really why I’m doing this? Because if that’s why I’m doing it, I can make far more doing other things with my time, the reason I’m doing this is to be top of funnel. So what I should do is talk to Marketing Week and say put me in front of the paywall, and don’t pay me anymore, because I’m not really doing this for the money, I’m doing it because of how it feeds the machine of Mini MBA. And that’s exactly the conversation we had and my editor is very good, we talked about it, and we got to that conclusion without us falling out or anything, because I understand why he wants a paywall, it just doesn’t suit me. So, that’s a good example of a top of funnel decision, right? I turned down a 100 grand, hypothetically, in favor of doing stuff for free in order to drive more salience and awareness, and I think that’s a good example of podcasts, talks, articles, LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn, and it’s always been useful for me and I think I average about a 100 thousand views of my posts eventually, I know that are all views, but I got good evidence to suggest 25 to 30 thousand are properly read, usually often by the same people but no always. I’ve only got to convert a percent of those guys. I give you a good stat. On LinkedIn you get your rolling 90 day average of who’s looked at your profile and that means they actually clicked and looked at you. My average is probably hovers between 20 and 30 thousand views over 90 days. So, if we take the 30 thousand views, what it was that translate into, that means that every 9 days I’m getting 3000 views, so I’m getting 200-300 views a day. All we have to do is make sure those people are the right kind of people, which they are, and Mini MBA will prosper. LinkedIn for me is top of funnel. It certainly got bottom of funnel potential, but it doesn’t really for us. LinkedIn is amazing top of funnel opportunity and I think more small businesses should realize that.
Writing a blog like a teenager[1:05:27] I have 2 new strategies, Louis. First of all we’re doing a retrospective for the Festival of Marketing where all the columns that people have complained about and commented on are now gonna be free. We’ve got Byron Sharp tonight commenting on my article about him. That was great. It’s a really good session. Then we’re doing something for Christmas where we’re basically making them all available for free. So we will get close to get them back out there but from now on, they’ll be free for the next 10 year they’ll be free. It’s very interesting. I can just write a blog, like a teenager, or I could be a journalist, and get the 100 thousand Euros, hypothetically, or I’m trying to get a bit in the middle. I’m not doing it for money anymore, but I still wanted it to be a magazine article, not a hey, look at me, I’m blogging. By the way that’s something important, Louis, that I’m always impressed with about you, so many people in our industry talk about our industry, to the point where you’re like fuck, like so many columnists talk about the columnist who wrote about the other columnist. You fucking losers. Nobody fucking cares. We’re plumbers. We’re electricians. Oh fuuuck. Talk about the work, the work is interesting. The rest of it isn’t interesting at all. It’s like fucking bullshit. I occasionally slip into it and then I pull myself out of it. [1:07:36] I mean all these blogs talking about other people, so, first of all, there’s no point doing Twitter or LinkedIn unless you’ve monetized it. I think a lot of people don’t get that. If I didn’t have Mini MBA or originally a column to promote, I wouldn’t do anything on Twitter or LinkedIn, what’s the fucking point, right? I’m keeping touch with my colleagues and stuff but I wouldn’t be putting things on there. I think a lot of people have this kind of post-modern view of social media where they do the social media thing and there’s no fucking point to it. The whole point is it’s top of funnel. Otherwise what’s the point of it? I’ve seen these people on twitter, they talk about their kids, talk about what they’re eating, and it’s like Jesus, you gonna have problems there down the track. The best one was recently, there was a guy who tweeted I no longer use LinkedIn and I no longer go on Facebook and I choose no longer to go on Instagram. I said to him on Twitter: why the fuck are you tweeting this then? You fucking loser. And they’ve got all this fucking ah, he’s a good guy, just making a promise, and I’m like fuck you. You’re making this fucking statement on social media that you’re not into social media, you’re a fucking loser. You know what I mean? Get a grip.
Why is LinkedIn so interesting for you right now?[1:09:35] It’s unique and I know the LinkedIn guys pretty well, I worked with them a little bit over the years in New York, it’s a good story actually. My argument to LinkedIn has always been: when LinkedIn came along, they looked at Facebook and Twitter and everything else and they said, right, well, you got TV and cinema in outdoor top of funnel B2C, bottom of funnel digital media, more targeted, that’s where you do digital stuff. So, here comes LinkedIn, B2B, LinkedIn says, well, we’re kinda like digital media for B2B, so we’re bottom of funnel. Except, they never were in my opinion. They’re not a performance marketing tool. In B2B the bottom of funnel is the sells force. That’s who activates. It’s one of the fundamental differences. The sells force goes out and does the performance. But you think about top of funnel for B2B, what have you got, CNN and golf tournaments. There’s nothing there. So, I think strategically LinkedIn missed their biggest opportunity and now are rectifying it. It’s B2B top of funnel stuff that hands over sales leads to the sells force. That’s why I think it’s such a winner for me and for Mini MBA because we’ve been able to use it organically, but also the brand course we got, and I’m not gonna try to sell it via your podcast, Louis, heaven forbid, it’s better than anything else that’s being taught at the top business schools, never mind online courses. You’re going to a Harvard to the MBA elective in brand and they come and do my Mini MBA. Let’s talk baby, right? We’ve got a Net Promoter Score plus 80, right? I got MBAs from top schools who do the course and they’ll tell. Anyway, my point is, we have this course but we have ironically a marketing problem which is we got a great course in brand management and we know there are brand managers with no training we just have to link the 2 together and what do you know, we can go out to every brand manager in the world, with brand in their title, and we can target them with pretty decent content that will start the top of funnel process going and will lead to other things. I think that’s a fantastic opportunity for us. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not the most expensive approach either. So I really think LinkedIn’s got it for now. We can talk about Tik Tok replacing Facebook which is apparently a real thing, I still think LinkedIn’s got it. Here’s another one for your like, what I would say is LinkedIn’s gonna survive the tunnel. What I mean by that is when you get to my age, I’m 50, right, what you realize is you got a bit of experience, starting to call it, not perfectly, but you really start to see the vectors, you can see where things are playing. Bit more wisdom, not too much, but just a bit more and therefore you can spot what’s gonna happen. But also if you 50 unless you’ve made some horrible errors, by the time you’re 60, you’re out, right? Anyone who’s working past 60 is a fucking freak in my opinion or hasn’t earned enough money. My point is, at 50 you can see the tunnel and predict it quite well in some cases but you can also see that some things are beyond the tunnel. I know LinkedIn’s gonna be the dominant engine for B2B for the next 10 years, and after that, who gives a fuck? Literally, who cares, man? Because it won’t be of any use to me. That’s the weird thing about your fifties I think is you start to able to spot things but also that beyond those things, you don’t care. That’s a new one on me. In my forties I wasn’t thinking that way, as I started my fifties I’m like, yeah, OK, who cares man. I’ve seen that on older managers I’ve worked with, this kinda like da di da di daaa, yeah, yeah, I see that, you guys are going to be fucked, but I’m going to be gone before that happens.
Telling what you want on social media[1:17:53] I tell you exactly when, it was when I payed off my mortgage. It changes someone. Not to be necessarily rich, but not to have a mortgage anymore, you suddenly feel, oh, fuck it. If I had a mortgage, I’d still be oh, yeah, brand purpose, it’s important, and oil companies are good because I might need to make money from that down the track. I think the freedom of not having a debt on your house, even though you’re not rolling in money liberates you to be like oh, you know what, I can’t be bothered anymore, fuck this. It started with social media because it was just horseshit. While it really was horseshit, and I didn’t know if I was wrong or right at the time, but it was like it just didn’t stack up to me and I remember thinking at the time, this would be 2010-ish, I started giving talks about this and if I’m wrong, somebody will point out I’m wrong. And nobody did. And the more I went on, the more I’m thinking, hang on a minute, by now, somebody should have told me I’m wrong and nobody is. But that started with I don’t have significant debt on my property anymore, I own my own home. That liberty came from that, before that I didn’t say anything. You’re right, people like it, I try not to be personal, I try to be like what you said is stupid. [1:23:52] It became strategic at a certain point when I saw it working. A client said to me you know the reason we love you is because you tell us the truth and you don’t bullshit us and I really had no idea that was the case. What happens of course as I’ve seen with brands a hundred times over, what starts as an accident, becomes a core competence and then it becomes embedded through strategy. Take Sephora, the reason Sephora has so many different small brands is, when it was acquired by LVMH, a lot of the big suppliers starting with Chanel, didn’t want to supply them for a while because they were owned by one of their major competitors. So they had to fill the shelves with any old small brand for a little while and that became a wonderful part of Sephora’s DNA, this incredible range of big and small, new and old, and they realized it at some point. I’ve seen that literally a hundred times, a brand does something by chance, or because it has to and it becomes something very attractive and then they realize it and then they enshrine it. I’m a good example of that in a small way. I lost my temper a few times and I’m from a background which is very Northern, straight English call it what it is, and when I did that, I went, oh hang on, people really like that, and no one else does it, or very few people do it.
There’s a great column which is about Gery Hamel. Have you ever read that column of mine? You’d love it. So, I give a talk with Gery Hamel who is a famous strategy professor, and I start off and then Gery Hamel takes over after me and no one remembers me or even notices me, even though my talk’s way better than Gery Hamel’s, because Gery Hamel is Gery Hamel, and everyone in the audience has come to see Gery Hamel and I’m like, fuck, what is he doing that I’m not doing, and the answer is, he’s being payed to be Gary Hamel, and I’m being payed to give a speech on branding and open up for Gery Hamel. At that point I go, right, I’m not doing this anymore, I’ve gotta make myself what I teach to some degree.
It’s a function of time, I think it would be false to do it. The joy of it is that it happened when it happened for a reason. If I went back in time and advise myself to be like that earlier, it would be fake. I think that’s really important. You can’t fake it, you can exaggerate it a bit. When I say, you’re full of shit, or something, I’m not doing it for effect, I’m mostly doing it because I think they are full of shit. And people can smell it a mile away.
Finding out what are the core genes of the brand[1:30:12] Back up past the honesty and calling it in a straight forward way. That’s not what people should do. That’s what I did in my little place. If you look at what I believe brands are they are a synthesis of two or three things wrapped together. One of my things is no bullshit, whatever it might be. That’s one of my genes in the brand, not in me, but in the brand. It doesn’t mean, that your listeners should be that right? So when should I have that no bullshit thing? That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is over time through accident, and through birth, and through weird stuff, and synchronicity, you may have got two or three things which are marketable in a certain category at a certain time. Those three or four things aren’t necessary what I’ve got. What you’ve got is something else. Work out what they are mostly by listening to other people because you won’t be aware of them, then you can solidify and use them as a base. One of my biggest insights, and it sounds so obvious, is there’s no such things as brands in general. Whenever you see brands small b, plural s, you’ve made a mistake. The whole point of a brand is it’s capital b, no s. There’s nothing you can generically learn from me about what to stand for. To your excellent question, you can learn about process and so forth, but where you end up should be in a completely different place from me and hopefully somewhere even more lucrative and better, right? So the danger here is you listen to someone like me saying look, what I’m is this, this, and this, I think, and that’s what works, you’ll be something else. You need to be something else, right, and it’s a different combination. That sounds real obvious, but it’s really, turns out, very hard for people to grasp. Finding the special genes and then driving it the way you need to drive it, very, very tricky. There are no train tracks. And you see it with brand managers. Brand managers often switch from one brand to another and they can’t manage the process of changing what they do because they don’t get that this brand is a totally different brand than the previous one they worked on. There’s only about 20% of marketers in my experience, you know, step back, do the diagnosis, get a new set of coordinates, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s a real skill to be able to drop one thing and move to another. That’s the point here. The process and your questions are getting at that, that’s great, but the outcome and the product and all of that needs to be completely smooth and gushing and elegant. That might be it. That’s the point. You’ve gotta look hard at (a) what you’ve got, (b) what will work and wrap it up together and it’s particularly important because what we’ve been saying throughout this podcast, I think is, for those first 4 or 5 years the brand doesn’t stand on its own two feet, the founder holds it up. And at some point the founder becomes the brand, right? And than the brand will take off. And that’s cool. But until that happens, you’ve gotta carry it and I think that authenticity is important, but can also be a little bit gained and focused as well. [1:34:02] This “making a mistake” thing has became a bit of a meme. When I was teaching at MIT, it was really big at MIT, make mistakes, it’s great to make mistakes. When I did this Ogilvy talk this year at the Marketing Society, one of their questions was, tell us about the big mistakes you’ve made. And I haven’t made any. I mean I’ve made some small ones, and I thought I could make something up about getting something wrong which would be like it would make me look humble, and people got uh, he’s learned a lot there, and I thought, fuck it, I’m just gonna say I haven’t made any big mistakes, I never intended to, so I didn’t, and I don’t intend to in the future. That mistakes thing, I’m not saying it’s unavoidable, what I’m saying is that kinda pornography where we say, oh, I wanna make mistakes, so I can learn, yeah, great in a fucking theoretical universe, but when there’s money and time involved I’d much prefer not to make any fucking mistakes and learn from my successes. That’s super un-cool and super un-trendy, but I think the point is it’s better not to really make mistakes and if you are making them, stop making them real quick and not go, uh I learned from this big mistake, you know, that changed my life. Better just to get it fucking right and learn from the research as much as possible. I think that’s key. So I’d say, yeah, you need to test and learn, embrace serendipity, but the big skill I would suggest most people need is you need to know when the big fucking moment is upon you. Lot of people don’t know.
I give you one of my favorite examples. They did an article years ago about people that have survived massive accidents. Lone survivors. Fascinating article. They all told the same story. So there was a guy who survived a terrible tragedy in the UK, the Zeebrugge tragedy. So a ferry going across overnight from England to Zeebrugge to Bruges, it sank the car ferry loaded up with water, in sank, like 100 people died. The one guy that survived was like walking around the ferry and the ferry was listing, and he said, this is fucking crazy, this fucker’s going down, and his cars there and all his possessions and everyone’s having a beer, and what he says is that you don’t get the dramatic music, like you get in the movies, so it that was happening, you know, in the movie version of the Zeebrugge disaster you start to hear that dom dom dom dom dom … and he said there was just people laughing and joking, but he thought, he said, look it’s fucking going down. So he got a ring and he jumped into the North Sea. Even when he jumped into the North Sea, I can remember him saying I think I’m having a breakdown, because I’ve just jumped into the fucking sea. You know, he was telling people, and the people went you’re fucking mad, and he jumped into the sea. Sure the fucking ferry went down, he was one of the few guys to survive.
I think that concept of being able to see big moments when they come, when everyone else isn’t noticing them, is definitely something I’ve been conscious of. Like when I went to Wharton on a postdoc, I remember thinking oh no, this is fucking it, if I screw this up, I won’t get another chance. Looking back on it 30 years later, that’s absolutely the case. If I hadn’t have made that Wharton postdoc I wouldn’t got to Minnesota, I wouldn’t have got to LBS. I haven’t always been successful, don’t take it the wrong way, but I haven’t failed much, and I’ve certainly spotted moments where right, we’re gonna triple down on this fucker, because if I don’t this one will pass me by like a ship in the night. I think that’s a key one for your people. You gonna get 6 or 7 moments, you will get some failures and how you handle them defines you as a person, yada, yada, yada, but there’s gonna be 6 or 7 opportunities that everybody gets dealt, but if you spot them you gonna go, oh fuck, hang on, this is one. This is one of those. I think that’s a real skill.[1:40:15] It’s not just not being nervous, it’s being like, right, fuck everything else, this is the one. I did a video case about the Tide campaign that won the Super Bowl advertising thing last year. I think it was Saatchi (Saatchi & Saatchi NY) North America campaign briefed in by Procter & Gamble. The thing the Procter & Gamble did was, they briefed them very well, Saatchi came back with 3 different creative options, and Saatchi said that one, the first one, it’s a Tide ad, you know, that’s the one, the other two, burn them. That’s the one. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s being able to spot and then double, triple down on that one and just get everything else out of the way and not waste your resources on it. That’s a rare skill I think, if you get it right those 4 or 5 times, it pays you back and if you don’t you miss them and you never realized you missed them. [1:41:37] I think that’s right. Then there’s a third level. Just committing to something makes it better, you’re absolutely right. But then there’s that extra level I’m talking about which is committing to it and it’s a giant fucking thing it you keep going that way, you know what I mean? That’s the extra. We’re talking in a lifetime these 4 or 5 things come along that you should spot 3 or 4 of them and go this is crazy but this is the one I should do. But it’s not just going ah, I can spot this, it’s then going I’m gonna act on it and go hard. When you do get punched in the balls by life, the Americans are right, I mean I do love Americans for a lot of things they believe, they’re the moments that define you as a man or a woman. Not the victory, not this stuff we’re talking about where you’ve met most of your opportunities, how you handle those inevitable moments where you do get kicked in the balls and whether you can take it and whether you can almost enjoy it. I remember when I was in knee deep in 2 properties, I was consulting like mad, we weren’t running short on the money, but it was like, fuck, this is hard, and I took a job where I had to get up at 3 AM and fly to Sydney and do a really shitty job for a really quite shitty client and get home 2 days later. Miserable work, right? In a very uninteresting category. But I can remember getting up each morning and walking through the rain to get a taxi to the airport, thinking this is the bit where you find out if you’re a man or not. This is where you get to find out if you’ve got the stuff, because this isn’t fucking easy. This is really hard to do this on such little sleep but I’ll get to find out now, this test will prove to me that I’m made of the stuff I think I’m made of. I actually enjoyed that like the Americans say you do, you should enjoy that feeling of ah, this is the test. If you feel that way you can never really go wrong because the bigger the kicking the balls the more you’re like right, I’m gonna prove you wrong. [1:44:29] You can control it a little bit. With Mini MBA I didn’t leave business school until it was very successful. There’s 2 years with Mini MBA where I’m still teaching at business school. So, I’m all for hedging bets if you can. But nothing’s gonna be the same at some point. [1:44:57] Like Jean-Christophe Babin, so Jean-Christophe Babin was the CEO of TAG Heuer, now the CEO of Bvlgari, I learned so much from Babin, because first of all he is a sensationally nice person, just fucking great guy, I think he’s got 5 kids, fantastic wife, he goes skiing every weekend, he re-built TAG Heuer, he’s done a brilliant job on Bvlgari, he likes having a beer, he likes buying Porsches, not expensive ones, just likes Porsches. He’s just a fucking great guy and what you get from these great guys, these proper winners, is stable, lovely to everyone. Life’s short man, and just go for it because if you don’t, what’s the point? There’s a sense of that feeling that I get from a few people I’ve met, you get an almost energy from them, which is, if you don’t do it man, what you gonna do, you know? Just get on with it. And if you fuck up, you fuck up, but if you trust yourself a little bit and you’re a little bit knowledgeable, you’ll be alright, you’ll probably call it, you gotta back yourself.