The Current Podcast

The Trade Desk

Marketing is undergoing a colossal transformation at a dizzying pace. A global pandemic continues to change the way we think about work and life. We wanted to get a handle on this changing world by talking to marketing leaders from some of the world’s most influential brands — from CPG juggernauts such as Kimberly-Clark to the global streaming giant Spotify. Each episode gives listeners a seat at the modern marketer’s table, alongside Senior Editor co-hosts Damian Fowler and George P. Slefo, as they explore— in plain English — how the world's most influential brands are adapting to the new marketing normal.

  • 22 minutes 45 seconds
    Polaris’ Pam Kermisch on marketing past assumptions in the powersports space

    Polaris’ Chief Customer Growth Officer talks with The Current Podcast about how many of the company’s customers are multicultural and have preferred style over performance.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:59] Damian: I'm [00:01:00] Damian ​Fowler.

    [00:01:05] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffreing. And

    [00:01:07] Damian: welcome to this edition of The Current Podcast.

    [00:01:09] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with Pam Kermisch, the Chief Customer Growth Officer at Polaris. 

    [00:01:15] Damian: Polaris was founded 70 years ago with the invention of the early snowmobile in 1954. Polaris takes its name after the North Star, and it's meant to reflect the location of the company's first headquarters in northern Minnesota. 

    [00:01:34] Ilyse: These days, Polaris is the global industry leader in power sports. Offering everything from Indian motorcycles to its off road racers. And all the accessories that go with them.

    [00:01:44] Damian: During the pandemic, the brands saw a surge of interest in its vehicles as people embraced outdoor activity. Although it started out as a specialized brand, it continues to build on its popularity through its marketing campaign. Think outside. 

    [00:02:03] Pam: Back in 1954, two brothers and a best friend decided they way, faster to get to their location. And they literally strapped a motor to the back of a sled and created the first snowmobile. It was ingenuity at its best. 

    [00:02:20] And when I think about Polaris today, We have recreational vehicles. We have motorcycles. We have off road vehicles. We have boats. We also have utility vehicles that help people do work smarter. And at the end of the day, it's really about getting people outside and helping to have a better way to do things, whether it's working smarter or on the recreational side, having the most epic experiences with your friends and family.

    [00:02:47] Ilyse: Very nice. Now in 2019, the brand actually underwent a new rebranding with a new Think Outside campaign. 

    [00:02:56] Ilyse: I read that there is a goal to basically grow the base [00:03:00] by 50 percent by tapping into your existing base and finding new customers as well. What was your strategy around that and how has it played out to this point?

    [00:03:11] Pam: Yes. So in 2019, We really took a look at talking to our existing customers, talking to potential intenders of our brands and talking to people we thought might be interested in what we offer. And we did some great consumer research. And what we learned is at the heart of it, we tapped into what they really care about.

    [00:03:35] And what we found is what our current existing owners care about. More people could care about. We just had to find the right people. We had to reach out to them. We had to show them how this could fit into their lives and introduce them to our brand. And it's really been a  huge effort the past few years. To find the right people and show them how this could fit in with what they  already do and make it better. And on top of bringing in more new customers, it's also bringing in new people that look a little different than our core customers.

    [00:04:11] Damian: Very interesting, because when you think what sell in a way, kind of very specialized, I don't know whether I'd it niche. 

    [00:04:22] Pam: you know, I think when you look at household penetration off road vehicles, for example, household - So you're right. It's not something where it's 70, 80, 90 percent of the market has one of these. But what I will say is if you think about some of the audiences. We do attract people love outdoor recreation. love being outside. They love adventure. They might do camping, they might do hiking, they might do fishing. We also think about the people who do property maintenance They're farmers, they're ranchers, They're hunters. So, when you think about those populations, they are much more likely to buy our products. But if you look at the penetration even within those, We don't have 80 90 percent of hunters, so there's still so much penetration opportunity within people who do the activities where it seems like they would really benefit from something that we could offer them. 

    [00:05:26] Damian: Was there a moment when you realized there was the potential to expand the audience? That's so interesting to me and I wonder how you found that opportunity.

    [00:05:40] Pam:  So I'm kind of a nerd, self admittedly kind of a nerd. And I really think that CRM and data and analytics played a huge role in this journey because prior to [00:06:00] having that type of capability, we actually didn't know how many customers we had. We had customers for decades, but we actually didn't know how many customers. We knew how many units we had sold, but units does not equal customers because you have people who have owned more than one over time. So going back a handful of years, we were able to Get CRM, take our data in, cleanse the data, de dupe our, people and, understand how many customers we had and set some goals and start measuring how many new customers came in each year.

    [00:06:35] And when I say new customers, some were brand new to the category. Some had owned competitive vehicles before, but never bought from Polaris.

    [00:06:45] Pam: some may have owned a used Polaris vehicle, but had never bought new from us. So It's not a flash in the pan sort of thing. This is a strategy that we really need to go after. And so it became very intentional to, of course, as the global leader, it's in our best interest to get existing customers and come back to buy again because we have the largest number of existing customers. But we also need to focus on bringing in new people and we've proven we can do it. So let's do it. 

    [00:07:17] Ilyse: And that first party data is huge to any brand. How is Polaris is actually getting your first-party data from customers? Can you explain that shopper journey a little bit? And may how that journey may be different from a traditional auto dealer.

    [00:07:31] Pam: And Absolutely. So if you buy a car. It has to be warranty registered. So that manufacturer will know that you bought a car from them. So if anything should go wrong with warranty, that they are able to contact you. Very similar, when someone buys one of our vehicles and it gets warranty registered, we receive the customer information.

    [00:07:54] And we certainly can use third party data to append that, but we know who owns that vehicle. [00:08:00] We also do have people who visit our website. In our dealerships, the majority of them, we call them multi line dealerships. So, they do sell Polaris, but they also may sell Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Can Am. And so, you think of it very to being grocery store being in a cereal aisle, where you have all the competitors right there in the same you may think you're going to the cereal aisle to buy Frosted Flakes and Flip and buy multigrain cheerios. 

    [00:08:32] Pam: A customer can come to our dealership thinking they're going to buy a Polaris Ranger and that salesperson can flip to a Can Am Defender. And so when you think about it, it is in our best interest with marketing to try to get that customer as committed to which brand and which product they want as early in the journey as possible to make sure that they can't get flipped at the last minute at the dealership. 

    [00:08:59] Ilyse: You know, when it comes to digital marketing, because it's such a niche product, are there specific digital channels you've found to have more potential to reach the type of consumers you're trying to reach? 

    [00:09:20] Pam: You know, I would say it's less about it being one particular channel because at the end of the day, our, our customers are, they're all over the place 

    [00:09:31] in terms of their habits, their consumption habits, and whatnot. They're 

    [00:09:34] regular people. But what's more important to us is understanding the people who buy our products. So we do have our owners. We know who our owners are. 

    [00:09:44] And we can do third party data appending, we can do look alike modeling to understand. We can't afford to go after maybe everyone who loves the outdoors. That wouldn't make financial sense. We may not be able to afford to go after everyone who owns one or two or 

    [00:10:00] five acres of property or more around the country or the world. But what we can do is do look alike modeling and use that data with our media partners to try to get more narrowed in on: Who are the right hunters that we should be going after? Who are the right type of landowners? And part of it is not only being able to find the right people but understanding which populations which segments came to our ones ended up buying, and using that info to continually optimize. But also, lot of really, smart things these days where using our current inventory and using that our media to be able to reach out to the right show them this sportsman that you looked at recently is available right now at this dealer down the block and trying to [00:11:00] drive urgency there or using other types of data that we might have.

    [00:11:04] whether they think they're shopping or not at that moment in time. 

    [00:11:08] Damian: I wonder how you're connecting this because adventure tourism is a big deal right. And that's a growig market. Is that something you're growing into? 

    [00:11:18] Pam: I, I Yes. So, several years ago we started something called Polaris Adventures. So certainly places rented off road vehicles in the past, but oftentimes they were the old ones kind of broken down and it was really important to us from a brand perspective. We're talking about if you're gonna do something from a brand perspective, build your brand. We wanted to make sure people were in the current vehicles, the most modern ones and the ones that we knew were going to give them the best experience. So we created something called Polaris Adventures. And you can go online and you can find Polaris Adventures and you can go to one of 270 locations. [00:12:00] 268 of them are in the United States.

    [00:12:01] One is in Mexico. One's in New Zealand. And you can rent a Polaris Side by Side Razor. You can rent a Polaris Slingshot, which is a three wheel roadster. Think of a Batmobile. It looks like a Batmobile. it rides on road. You can rent an Indian motorcycle if you ride motorcycles. And so you can do that in all of these different markets. And I'll tell you, even though I work at the company, I have used Polaris Adventures. I've ridden in the dunes in Oregon. I've ridden in the desert in Arizona and Mexico. I've ridden in the mud trails of West Virginia, and all, all kinds of other markets. In each one of those is a different experience because the terrain is very different. 

    [00:12:42] Rock crawling in is completely different being in the and is completely different than being different than dunes in a 

    [00:12:59] Pam: It's an [00:13:00] amazing way to people experience it. And you know what? Not all go buy one some will never buy one. Some may buy maybe at a time in life when it fits them better. And others may just put it in their Instagram feed. And guess what? I promise this. If you were to do this activity and you were to put it, in your Instagram feed, it is the best FOMO ever. All of your friends are, you know, texting. Where are you? What are you doing? and they want a piece of that. So I think it's highly relevant in today's world. And I think we're just playing a part of this growing travel market. 

    [00:13:36] Ilyse: So, much fun. have fOMO right now. just even talking about and you know, it's 

    [00:13:48] Ilyse: You described your family not as the stereotypical sports kind of family, and I would imagine there's a bunch of Polaris customers that wouldn't qualify as the stereotypical power sports types of people. Are there any types of segments that you wouldn't expect that are interested in power sports vehicles?[00:14:00]

    [00:14:08] Pam: So it's interesting if you think about maybe what you would expect to think about from traditional power sports customers. You know, you might think older white male and historically, maybe that's how the category had been, particularly with ATVs and whatnot. Like I said, half of our customers now are younger women multicultural. So let's blow that up right now. But what I will say is going back a number of years ago, We created a product called the slingshot Polaris slingshot.

    [00:14:40] And like I said, it's a three wheeled vehicle. It rides on road. it's 5. 5 inches from the ground, open air cockpit. and it's very auto like, right? So now you can actually, get one that is automatic or manual. And, When we started with this vehicle, we assumed it was gonna be about performance because that's what a lot of power sports customers like.

    [00:14:59] [00:15:00] And if you look at it, it kind of looks aggressive, so it looks like it's gonna go super fast. We marketed it. We even did demos on racetracks because it was all about performance. And it was doing okay, not phenomenal. And we actually looked at the data, and the data showed we had a much higher percentage of multicultural customers who own this vehicle, and that was really not typical of the industry.

    [00:15:25] So we did consumer insights research to understand what brought them to Slingshot, why did they love it, and what we found was they weren't coming in because of performance. It was the style that really appealed to them and they loved that when they drove around in this slingshot heads turned.

    [00:15:42] And when we said there's something to this, let's start marketing that way. First of all, I think the brand is 40 plus percent multicultural customers today. But on top of that, the white customers that are buying this love style, [00:16:00] The personalization. They love the same what's interesting is when you go slingshot meetups, a lot local groups, clubs that have organized and they all get together. 

    [00:16:10] When you at 

    [00:16:13] Damian: has 

    [00:16:14] Pam: diverse group of people you've ever seen. You multicultural, old, young, it might not be a group of people you ever would have imagined congregating, but they are loving each other and checking out each other's slingshots and talking about getting together and how much they love it.

    [00:16:32] And it's this common community that has brought these people together. And so I think we've learned some great lessons about. Sometimes you think you know, and one of the number one rules of marketing is, you know, you don't know, don't make assumptions. You need to actually listen to customers, learn from them and be willing to adapt. And that's been an awesome learning and really opened our eyes to opportunity within power sports. 

    [00:16:57] Ilyse: that's a 

    [00:16:57] good 

    [00:16:58] Pam: the [00:17:00] things and to these there's of that look 

    [00:17:11] Damian: vehicles. And then that goes out on social 

    [00:17:13] Pam: is 

    [00:17:13] Damian: that a whole 

    [00:17:16] Pam: know, white Absolutely. You know what? You know what? Here's what I will tell you. Going back, I joined Polaris in 2015 and we had done some research on the Indian motorcycle brand and the path to purchase and

    [00:17:32] back then, the number one way that people came in on the brand was word of mouth. And that's been probably for centuries and for decades, it's word of mouth. 

    [00:17:43] Pam: And in motorcycles, it might been, know, yes, your friends and family, but go to a truck stop and someone else there and you're checking out their bike you're asking they ask you how you like it. The beautiful thing today that definitely still happens a lot. But with digital[00:18:00]

    [00:18:00] Ilyse: kind 

    [00:18:00] Pam: learn from and share with. People they don't even know. And so you see people when they're shopping for a vehicle, they will ask, how do you like yours? What do you like? What don't you like? And it's authentic word of mouth. And so from a brand perspective, if you create something wonderful and people love it and you make them feel valued and appreciated as customers, then hopefully they're the ones out there selling for you. 

    [00:18:28] Ilyse: You know, you mentioned social media, and typically, at least, the younger generation are on social media. Is it more difficult to inspire those younger generations. They're known for being tied to their technology, I know the pandemic at least many people looked to go outside more. Now that it's more safe, is it harder to inspire those generations to think outside?

    [00:19:03] Pam: I don't think so. what I will say is getting outside with friends and family and sharing experiences. is something people, especially our younger people love to do. I think a lot of our younger customers will tell you that if they're new to the workforce or if they're in school, you know, they feel handcuffed to their responsibilities. 

    [00:19:26] Sometimes when you get outside, you put the phone in the glove box and you go out for a ride and you just you turn the tunes on. You have a great time. You'll get back to the phone later. No question. And you're going to stop and capture a lot of content and share with your friends on on Snapchat and whatnot.

    [00:19:42] But it is 100 percent about sharing experiences, and they love that. But I will tell you, going back in time, Innovation has always fueled our category. That's just the new news. People always want the newest, latest thing. And for a long time, it was power, horsepower. Is it more [00:20:00] CCs? Is it, you know, bigger, better, stronger, faster? I will tell you, technology is playing a very large role now in what people are choosing to shop for. 

    [00:20:10] So, a couple proof are, we have something called Ride Command. So, I want you to think about it. If you were off roading or going on a snowmobile ride, you're not on roads. And a lot of times you lose cell service out there. One of the biggest fears people have is getting lost. You're out there in the middle of the woods and you get lost. You're out there in the middle of the desert dunes, you get lost. We have ride command technology that the maps will work even when your cell phone service doesn't work. And that's super helpful. It also has a, capability ride. So say I out with different,

    [00:20:46] Ilyse: probably 

    [00:20:48] Pam: we want to ride together, but I don't want to ride so close that I'm inhaling your dust or your exhaust. So we out, but you might come to a fork in the road and take a left and I go to the right. Now we lose each other. [00:21:00] That's not fun either. The ride command has a group ride function where I can see all the other razors in my group. So we can ride together. I'm doing air quotes, but we can separate. And then I still know where everyone is. So technology, it's not technology for technology's sake. It's actually making the ride experience better. And I think that is extremely relevant to our younger customers.

    [00:21:29] called group go five 

    [00:21:32] Ilyse: sales climb. as, as more 

    [00:21:43] Pam: want to spread for sure. You know, well, at my house, you know, at least in the beginning, I was Clorox wiping the groceries. So I think we all kind of have vague memories of those days and. Life wasn't very fun because you were trapped inside unless you could go outside on a walk or do something. And we saw our [00:22:00] business really sore because on one hand, from a recreational standpoint, it was something that you could do safely outside and actually think about off road riding. You could be riding with a bunch of friends and you could each be in your own vehicle. So you were safe. You're wearing a helmet. I spent that first summer of 2020. A lot of weekends out on our boat and out there, the world felt normal. So for sure we saw sales surge. 

    [00:22:27] And we were concerned, though, thinking, Okay, this is great. But when people have other options to spend their money on, are they gonna just trade in all these vehicles and flood the market? And suddenly we're not gonna have a sustainable, you know, healthy business that we've been having. It's not the case.

    [00:22:47] We actually look very much at our repurchase rates, and we look at short term one year. We look at three year. We look at five year. We look at 10 year. When you look at the one and three year repurchase rates, they are [00:23:00] very healthy and the five year repurchase rate is very, very strong, which tells you that the customers we brought in in 2020, 2021, they aren't just abandoning.

    [00:23:12] They actually have found something that really works for them and they're continuing to come back and buy again. 

    [00:23:18] And by the way, they're going to tell their friends and family. So we believe that, It's a, good example of I always say never waste a crisis. pandemic was tough for a lot of reasons, but it certainly gave our business a boost and brought in a lot of new customers. And it seems like it's a very healthy population we in.

    [00:24:36] Damian: That's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned. 

    [00:24:42] Ilyse: The current Podcast theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Kat Fessy and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:24:48] Damian: And remember,

    [00:24:49] Pam: find the right show them how this could fit in with what they already do and make it better.

    [00:24:56] Damian: I'm Damian. And

    [00:24:57] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse. And

    [00:24:58] Damian: we'll see you next time. And [00:25:00] if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review. Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.


    3 July 2024, 10:00 am
  • 21 minutes 22 seconds
    Foxtel Media’s Mark Frain on why improving the customer experience is top of mind for the streaming age

    Foxtel Media CEO Mark Frain dishes on how the customer and advertising experience are shifting amid the proliferation of streaming.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damien Fowler.

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffreing.

    [00:00:02] Damian: And welcome to this edition of The Current Podcast.

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: This week we're delighted to speak with Mark Fra, the CEO of Foxtail Media.

    [00:00:10] Damian: Foxtel Media is the advertising arm of the Foxtel Group, one of Australia's leading media companies, with more than 4. 7 million subscribers.

    [00:00:19] Ilyse: Like many legacy broadcasters, over the last decade, Foxtel has reinvented itself for the Netflix era, building on its pay TV subscription model by adding in streaming platforms such as Binge and Kayo. It supports streaming services.

    [00:00:35] Damian: And last year, Foxtel introduced an ad tier on the service, following in the footsteps of Netflix and Disney We started by asking Mark about the state of the television advertising model in Australia this year.

    [00:00:46] Mark: Yeah, I mean, I think like the rest of the world, the TV market here in Australia is, going through significant change with the growth of, all of the streaming platforms with many of the, add tiers and add capabilities starting [00:01:00] to, launch in the Australian marketplace. Probably what is pretty unique, in terms of the Australian marketplace is that there's currently three major freeware broadcasters that all have their own, digital, platforms as well.

    [00:01:14] so they're managing transition from linear to digital themselves, but at the same time you've just got this enormous groundswell of video inventory coming from the streaming player. So we're, certainly getting towards a tipping point in the trends in the Australian TV marketplace at the moment.

    [00:01:31] Damian: Mark, could you just, put into perspective the growth of streaming that you've seen at Foxtel?

    [00:01:41] Mark: Foxtel has been on an enormous transformation for last four or five years. And if I look, probably four or five years ago, just under 10 percent of our subscribers were streaming customers. And if I look at where we are today, that number is just under [00:02:00] 70%. So a quantum growth in the type of customer we've got.

    [00:02:04] And critically, what that has also meant is that in the last four or five years, the Foxtel customer base Has grown pretty much close to 100 percent from where it was previously, and that's all been down to, the growth of streaming. And secondly, if I look at it from a Foxtel Media, advertising perspective.

    [00:02:27] And probably only three years ago that seven or eight percent of our advertising revenue came from digital. As we go into the next financial year, that number will be just under 60%. So we're the beneficiary of that change in customer base from Foxtel, from traditional broadcast TV business to one now that is, is leading and driving streaming the Australian marketplace.

    [00:02:51] Damian: Yeah, in terms of Foxtel, could you talk us through your relationship between, your existing linear model and [00:03:00] your launching of an ad tier on Binge?

    [00:03:03] Mark: Yeah. So traditionally, Foxtel has been the, major pay TV provider. In the Australian marketplace, with numerous, linear channels from sport, entertainment, news, all the typical, pay TV channels you would have, coupled with, two digital platforms, Foxtel Now, that have really been the IP services of Foxtel.

    [00:03:26] And then over the last four to five years, the Foxtel Group. Has launched heavily into streaming. Firstly, it launched KO, a dedicated sports streaming platform with over 40 premium sports, including both the major codes locally in Australia and a lot of the global content like Formula One, as an example.

    [00:03:50] About 18 months, two years after launch of KO, we then launched Binge. which is K. O. 's sister if you like, entertainment [00:04:00] platform backed by a lot of HBO, NBCU, content. So, made a significant jump, into streaming in the last three to four years. And that has allowed the Foxtel group to pretty much double its subscriber count, from being a traditional pay TV company to now one that plays heavily in streaming.

    [00:04:19] Damian: You know, in the streaming ecosystem, which we all know is highly competitive, right now, everyone's looking for subscribers and numbers, what's the competitive advantage that Binge brings to the table?

    [00:04:32] Mark: Yeah. Yeah, you're right. I mean, number one, it's enormously competitive. I think table stakes now are a premium level of content. unfortunately from the global content producers that we work with, coupled with our local content, I think we've got a significant library of content that has debt. I think if you, scratch the surface on some of the content offerings, you don't get the depth of premium content.

    [00:04:59] On [00:05:00] Binge, we've been very strict on running Four to five minutes of ads an hour on very tight on frequency capping just to make sure that, we give those customers that are buying into the value equation of subscription and advertising a very good customer experience, which includes both the content they're watching and also the advertising experience.

    [00:05:22] Ilyse: would you say Binge competes with other streamers when it comes to like content acquisition, production, and then maybe like ad experience?

    [00:05:33] Mark: Yeah. I think we're fortunate enough, that the way that almost the origins of the Foxtel pay TV business has given us relationships and longstanding content relationships with the likes of NBCU, Warner Brothers, Discovery, the BBC group, et cetera. So many of the big globally renowned, media businesses.

    [00:05:59] [00:06:00] So that has allowed us to transition a lot of that content from the traditional pay TV channels. onto an on demand platform like Binge, and then we've been a significant investor in local content. So we've been able to both produce a number of Binge originals but at the same time leverage the existing local content we've already produced across the Foxtel group. Almost, I mean, we often describe it internally as one kitchen with many restaurants. and by that, I mean by the many different points of distribution, whether that be a linear paid TV channel, or whether that be a binge, on demand platform.

    [00:06:45] so we talk a lot about, watchability as a term in our business and making sure that every platform that we represent, that the ad experience stacks up to be the most watchable experience for customers.

    [00:06:59] Ilyse: And does the [00:07:00] content you have speak to specific audiences? Or are you finding that your audience is really across the board?

    [00:07:11] Mark: There's no question. I think that's the beauty of the streaming platforms that various elements of kind of content bringing a very different audience. And we're in the streamer landscape, you're we're in this very much pause play mentality from a customer perspective. So if that content is so appealing for customers, they may come in.

    [00:07:35] And binge on that content for X amount of weeks or months and then dip back out.

    [00:07:40] Particularly with the under younger end of the market that come in and out and then maybe into another streaming platform where they've cited another bit of world kind of renowned content that's got heaps of social buzz with it.

    [00:07:52] Ilyse: Mm hmm. Yeah, right? That's what I was gonna say.

    [00:07:56] Damian: I think. Not to malign as a Gen X er. As [00:08:00] a millennial, I'm not

    [00:08:03] Ilyse: anything. Um, and so, that's interesting when you talk about, content in that way. and that has a lot to do with, viewer retention, as you mentioned. Is there anything else that, Foxtail is envisioning or, strategizing? to really hold onto those viewers or attract new ones.

    [00:08:25] Mark: Yeah, I mean, I, I think from our perspective, we've gotta, we've gotta continue to evolve, the customer and product experience. There is, there's not a moment to stand still in this streaming environment. whether that be improving the. The viewer quality from HD to 4K to 8K. I think customer expectations are so high.

    [00:08:50] And whatever we do, in terms of the content experience and the ad experience, we just got to make sure that total value equation, stacks up.

    [00:09:00] Ilyse: Yeah, you know, in the U. S. at least, bundling is very popular. especially if you're a major network like Disney that's bundling like three different of its like streaming services. What about when it comes to like partnerships with you guys? Are you looking into any of those types of offerings when it comes to like bundling?

    [00:09:22] Mark: Or, or are you looking to like partner with any network or streamer? , is kind of partnership is embedded in our model. whether that be, as I mentioned before, that the content partners, the Warner Brothers, the NBC use, of this world. So we've had a long standing relationships and partners with them moving forward and going back to the earlier points upon the value equation.

    [00:09:49] even in the core, Foxtel set top box business over time, we've continued to add, all of the streaming platforms to that service, whether it be Netflix, whether it be [00:10:00] Amazon, whether it be Paramount. So, customers have felt they were getting more of their content choices, more of their streaming platforms in, in one place.

    [00:10:10] So there's been a level of partnership with the streamers right from the outset even, with the core set, top box business, and we've carried that on, to where we are. today, in the last, few weeks we launched, Hubble, which is our, new streaming ion business. and within that, platform we've got a stack and save, opportunity for customers where.

    [00:10:33] to your point on bundling, the more subscriptions they have they get a bottom line discount and I think there's so many customers out there I put myself in that bracket that you sign up to numerous streaming services and half the time You don't know exactly how many you've got and how much you're paying for.

    [00:10:50] Um, so we've actually centralized that into One platform, one invoice, with a stack and save, kind of discount position for customers that have multiple [00:11:00] streaming options. So partnership is embedded in our model, no question.

    [00:11:03] Damian: Yeah, that's

    [00:11:04] Ilyse: easy. I wish we had that here, honestly. Because there's not one, really.

    [00:11:08] Damian: Yeah, right.

    [00:11:09] Ilyse: Kind of have to look back on everything you're charging, and that's, your card, and that's, that's

    [00:11:16] Mark: it doesn't take long for months to pass and realize you're still paying for Yeah,

    [00:11:24] Mark: In terms of like your kind of customer research or, your audience first approach, what are you hearing from your customers vis a vis, ads, the ad, not the ad experience per se, but whether, ads are a game changer for them, you know, in this era of kind of subscription fatigue and all of that.

    [00:11:43] Damian:  Are customers receptive to that ad load you're talking about and is that basically a selling point for Binge and your streaming channels when it comes to advertisers and attracting advertisers to those platforms?

    [00:11:57] Mark: in everything we do from a, [00:12:00] an advertising perspective to, respect our customers. We've got a very, customer first mentality within the Foxtel group. It's one of our, it's one of our values. And to your point, we test, the various levels. As I mentioned earlier, engagement and attention to our customers.

    [00:12:17] in terms of their level of response to the content and the advertising. And we kind of, we've seen their perceptions of, the binge brand hold really strong as we've added advertising to that platform. And you've got to look at the economic backdrop here. disposable incomes are under significant kind of, pressure, the hike in interest rates globally over the last.

    [00:12:43] 12 to 18 months have put enormous pressure on household spending. So I think the introduction of the ad tiers, not just the binge, but for a lot of the global players has been a, another, kickstart to, subscriber [00:13:00] growth levels, across the industry. And it just gives customers optionality.

    [00:13:06] and probably what was interesting When we added advertising to the binge platform, clearly we've done some modeling on what might be the churn levels of customer out of that tier and what might be the spin up into the next tier without advertising. And in both kind of cases, number one, the actual churn level in terms of those customers pulling out the platform was well under expectations.

    [00:13:39] in the zero point something kind of percent and a handful of more customers of spun up. So net, we were left with a scalable audience, even probably bigger than we actually modeled for our advertisers. So it was a really good story. So I think the research got us in the right place in terms of the ad experience we put forward.

    [00:14:00] Ilyse: I know we've written quite a bit about how, like, streaming is democratizing, sports in a way for, maybe perhaps, smaller brands to get in on sports, versus in a linear environment where it's, More expensive, usually. is that what you're experiencing? Is there a difference in brands wanting to advertise on linear versus streaming? Or, and how is that like playing out?

    [00:14:25] Mark: it's a good question. A lot of our, premium brands have transitioned into streaming at the same time to ensure they've got. Yeah. Brand presence and share a voice across both live linear and into streaming, but you're right that there's no doubt it's given opportunities for smaller brands to get on board and be involved in live sport, which historically may have been, cost prohibitive.

    [00:14:52] and what I would say in almost summary of that trend, we've, on our, major [00:15:00] sporting, properties here in Australia, whether that be the cricket, whether that be the AFL or the NRL, which I've already mentioned, in the last couple of years, we've had a record number of advertising partners on all of those kind of codes.

    [00:15:12] And that's been the blend of those big premium advertisers that have always been involved in sport, that have had the financial bandwidth to do so. Plus, A multitude of new brands that have come on, streaming. So we've got more, if you like major sports partners than you've ever had before.

    [00:15:30] Ilyse: I feel like it's also pretty interesting because when it comes to live sports streaming kind of offers an environment where, I don't know you can watch them at any point. For one thing, and then two, we've, at least we've written about how some more like niche sports are appearing in streaming environments, versus linear, and I'm curious what you think about that. Pickleball.

    [00:16:01] Mark: Great example. very timely, actually. last night I was, fortunate enough to be out with, wheelchair rugby Australia. and as an example, we brought, their content onto the KO platform, probably four years ago now. And what that has done to that code in particular, it's allowed them to grow exponentially in the number of teams that now play wheelchair rugby in the Australian marketplace, the number of participants they've got.

    [00:16:36] the number of females that are now playing it, and across those three or four years, the quality of that team has meant that they've been able to, they've won the World Cup, they've won the World Championships, and they're off to, the Olympics, later this year.

    [00:16:53] So, outside of the big ticket, sports, It's also great to show the impact you could [00:17:00] have on other sports that wouldn't be kind of, that aren't out there of competing for sports rights. It's a very different model about how you support them and their corporate growth moving forward.

    [00:17:12] Ilyse: know, it, it seems, even in Australia, it's a very fragmented media ecosystem. How are you thinking about measuring audiences, especially now with the rise of, alternative currencies? what's, the Aussie gold standard,

    [00:17:31] Mark: it's a fascinating question and I, myself and my team spend a lot of time, observing, reading, going to the U. S., the U. K. and observing the trends. And over the last probably three to four years, I mean, there has been a An explosion of alternate currencies in the U. S. when you look at the likes of, video amp and others taking the challenge to Nielsen, we observed that.

    [00:17:56] And whilst I don't think we're going to get to the [00:18:00] same level of different currencies in the Australian marketplace, I think you will see, publishers Probably grab the accountability of measurement themselves. moving forward. in this market, we've got, post town, which is a kind of, Nielsen supported, service and from a Fox sale perspective, we're part of that.

    [00:18:24] Industry standard, but we also recognize that we've got, set up box data with IP return path. We've got multiple streaming platforms. So a there's a role for us to make sure We leverage, that data probably more than we ever have. and that's not just to use it, internally in terms of retention and everything else you use your own data for.

    [00:18:52] But how do we actually use that for not just targeted advertising? How do we use it as a currency [00:19:00] moving forward? Because the depth of that data is so strong.

    [00:19:05] Now, While you were stating some of the various partnerships that you do have. And I'm just curious because it sounds like so many. how do you possibly manage all the partnerships? Especially with Foxtail's, yearly roadmap. I

    [00:19:24] it's a great question. I think, fortunately, a lot of, the content deals that the Foxtel business has is, Number one, they're multi year agreements, and therefore, the actual, the start and renegotiation dates, a lot of, a lot of those content deals are spread out across multiple years, so that gives us an opportunity to probably manage the heavy lifting part of those deals, which is often the renegotiation, and the work to move forward to continue a deal.

    [00:19:58] [00:20:00] But I think, this is not just, on the content side, this is certainly on the advertising side. One piece of feedback that we continually we get and probably more so than ever right now is the importance of senior relationships in the industry. Never have we seen probably an influx of such scale in terms of global streaming competitors coming to the market, particularly on The advertising and add to your side.

    [00:20:35] And one thing that I think we can, that can continue to stand the same good state is the senior level of relationships that we hold in the industry. And that's not, that's not exclusive to Australia. I think that's in any market. and that's one part that. We take very seriously in terms of how we manage, our partnerships, whether they be content or advertiser [00:21:00] related.

    [00:21:00] Damian: I guess we'd like to get a perspective of your, year in view. what's exciting you about the next six months?

    [00:21:09] Mark: I think going back to the point of kind of competition, we'll have, Amazon Prime will launch, its, advertising service, from a streaming video perspective later this year. Um, Paramount Plus have just announced the launch of their, ad tier. So there's enormous activity and interest in the category.

    [00:21:29] So our focus is number one, to be part of that growth curve in streaming video, if not leading in many, many areas, and probably one of the areas that I'm being truly honest, I wouldn't have forecast that it. Thank you. our involvement as a business, whether that be Foxtel Media or me personally, in audiences and in measurement, I've never been as personally involved, in that area.

    [00:21:59] And [00:22:00] I think there's a, there's an opportunity to get that right. and most importantly, getting that stands us in great stead for future growth. So seeing an explosion in both currencies and measurement, attention, engagement, and new metrics. So that feels like the new battleground for us moving forward and one that from a Foxtel perspective, we want to make sure that we lead.

    [00:22:27] Mark: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned.

    [00:22:33] Ilyse: The current podcast theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Cat Vessey and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:22:39] Damian: And remember I'm Damian.

    [00:22:41] Ilyse: I'm Ilyse.

    [00:22:42] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

    [00:22:47] Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    26 June 2024, 10:00 am
  • 20 minutes 15 seconds
    e.l.f. Beauty CMO Kory Marchisotto on betting on women’s love for live sports

    Chief Marketing Officer Kory Marchisotto joins The Current Podcast to discuss why the makeup brand e.l.f. Beauty decided to air a Super Bowl ad, and why other female-driven brands are missing out.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian Fowler.

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffreing

    [00:00:02] Damian: welcome to this edition of The Current Podcast.

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with Kory Marchisotto, the Chief Marketing Officer at e.l.f. Beauty.

    [00:00:11] Damian: Now maybe I'm the only one here, but I didn't realize that the word elf stands for eyes, lips and face. The brand was launched in 2004 and it filled a gap in the marketplace for inexpensive, high quality cosmetics. 

    [00:00:26] Ilyse: Twenty years later, and e.l.f. has become a powerhouse brand. It went public in 2016, and since then has seen spectacular growth. Its sales soared last year, driven by retail channels and some seriously buzzy marketing.

    [00:00:42] Damian: We started by asking Kory, what gives the e.l.f. brand the edge in this very competitive marketplace?

    [00:00:50] Damian: So Kory, how do you think of the e.l.f. brand in this very competitive field? And what's your competitive advantage as it were?

    [00:00:58] Kory: I like to think about [00:01:00] e.l.f. as a brand of the people, by the people, for the people, created with the people. And for that to be true, we need to be totally in tune and have our finger on the pulse of what the people want, what they like, what are their unique needs, wants, and desires. So we really think about ourselves as stewards of our community's vision of e.l.f.

    [00:01:22] And that's a very unique place to be standing. How much value and emphasis we put on that community. They're, citizens of the brand. They have a vote, they have a seat at every table, and that is by definition, a very unique competitive advantage.,

    [00:01:41] Damian: speaking of competitive advantage, you've had tremendous, stupendous growth over the last five years. And I'm just curious to hear from you, what is supercharging this?

    [00:01:51] Kory: Over the last five years, we've grown our stock price. 1, 567 percent to be exact, [00:02:00] making us the number one performing stock on the New York Stock Exchange out of 1, 600. and 15 companies. So I think that definitely deserves your tremendous stupendous.

    [00:02:11] Damian: Okay, that's good. That's good. And what do you think, if you had to put your finger on two or three factors, what is it that is driving this upward, curve, as it were?

    [00:02:24] Kory: There's quite a few things and in the essence of time, I'll distill it to the three I think are most important. But for your audience, I think it's really important to go back to the beginning to understand the ethos of the brand, because it's the ethos that powers the purpose that powers the people, That power the performance.

    [00:02:42] So if you go back to the origins of elf in 2004, let's remember at this time Facebook hadn't launched yet. iPhones don't exist. Imagine this. Can you wrap your heads around that?

    [00:02:56] And So so we're back in the dark ages folks [00:03:00] and our founders dreamt up the impossible and made it happen. So they had this crazy idea that they could create premium quality cosmetics And sell it for one dollar over the internet.

    [00:03:13] So everybody told them, first and foremost, you cannot create premium quality cosmetics and sell it for a dollar. That's impossible. Second, you certainly can't sell color cosmetics over the internet. And third, even if you figure it out how to do number one and number two, you'll never make this a profitable business.

    [00:03:30] And aren't we glad that our founders disrupted from day one. So they have this renegade spirit, this bias for action, this quest to do the impossible.

    [00:03:42] One is our core value proposition, our very unique ability to deliver premium quality cosmetics at a jaw dropping value. The second is our powerhouse innovation,

    [00:03:55] And then the third is our disruptive marketing engine.

    [00:03:58] So our core value, [00:04:00] proposition, our powerhouse innovation and our disruptive marketing engine are definitely the drivers of our last 20 consecutive quarters of growth.


    [00:04:09] Ilyse: I'm curious about your out of box marketing because you guys are known for that. You really are. how did you cultivate this approach when you came on board as cMO?

    [00:04:20] Kory: at that time, there were some major shifts happening in the company.

    [00:04:25] So, Every company goes through various stages of growth, especially in a 20 year history. And the stage that I had walked into was a transformation from investing in retail. into marketing. marketing and digital, so when I started the company in at the onset of 2019, we were investing 7%. Of net sales into marketing and digital. Fast forward. We are now up to 24%. So you can see that there's a big investment in the power of the brand and building brand equity and building Brand [00:05:00] evangelism and all the things that we've been able to do over time.

    [00:05:02] So we see that as an enormous responsibility to make their time worthwhile.

    [00:05:08] It's interesting you call yourself an entertainment company. Or you see yourself as an entertainment company. And I would assume like The new digital channels that you play in have really helped you become such a company in this day and age, especially if you're selling something to consumers online, in stores, etc. To extent would you say digital channels have really opened up these possibilities to you? And I guess, channels do you like playing in the best?

    [00:05:45] We love all our channels equally, right? It's like our children. We love all our products. We love all our channels. I see all of our channels as learning opportunities. And the most important thing to remember is that they're all there to teach you [00:06:00] something different. And even if it's the same person who's coming to see you on Instagram and TikTok, they're actually on each platform for a different reason. So it's critical that we understand what is unique about the platform itself and what is unique about the reason that the person is coming to the platform. And that gives us a unique set of experiences and learnings.

    [00:06:26] So I think you see the pattern here that every time. We enter into a new platform. We go in with a beginner's mindset. We ask ourselves, how do we create something that is going to add a tremendous amount of value to the people that are here on the platform at the intersection of what it is that we do great. So it's really always this trifecta of beauty, culture, and entertainment. And we're bringing the best of all three to the communities on each platform.

    [00:06:56] Obviously you're known for your social media strategy, like [00:07:00] with this partnership with Liquid Death, but this year you also ran a national Super Bowl ad for the first time, which is always exciting for the first time for a brand. this one featured Judge Judy and cast members from Suits. So a little nostalgic on one hand. Can you talk about the strategy here? You obviously went into the humor category. What was the thinking behind this Super Bowl ad?

    [00:07:27] So there's this big conversation in the beauty space about dupes and your audience can't see me, but I'm making quotes because that has really ignited this entire conversation about people talking to each other about judging for all sorts of things in, the beauty space. So we started to see this conversation really take off, especially around price and people judging each other for, paying for overpriced makeup. So then we looked at what was happening in culture and [00:08:00] entertainment, and there was courtroom drama taking off everywhere.

    [00:08:03] Suits had its best year of viewership. Judge Judy was the number one program on Amazon Freeview. You had all things happening with Ronald from jury duty. so it was just this incredible cultural moment of all this courtroom drama coming together. And we said, well, that's pretty outstanding.

    [00:08:23] There's a lot of drama about judging and makeup injustice happening in the beauty world, and there's this incredible moment of courtroom drama happening over here. So once we tuned into both of those things, then we said, Okay, now let's put our head in the

    [00:08:38] stars and dream what could be possible. And only e.l.f. could dream big enough to say, what if we actually got the cast of suits? What if we actually went and got them? Judge Judy, what if we actually went and got Ronald and put him in our jury box? And these are really big lofty dreams, and that's how we love to operate at e.l.f.

    [00:08:59] [00:09:00] So that was our first national spot, which we decided to do after we tested the year prior with a regional spot. And when we had done the regional spot the year prior, it had broken every record we could have ever imagined, which was the signal that we needed to tell us to lean in even harder.

    [00:09:23] Ilyse: And if I'm not mistaken, that one also had some star power in it with Jennifer Coolidge. One of my favorite actresses

    [00:09:31] Kory: major stars of that campaign, Jennifer Coolidge and Power Grip Primer.

    [00:09:36] Ilyse: Yeah. What did you guys learn from the regional ad, specifically, if there are any lessons?

    [00:09:41] Kory: So we had never done a TV spot before at that time. So to your earlier point, we grew up in digital or a digital native brand. When we started to invest larger dollars into marketing and digital, we expanded all of our digital platforms. [00:10:00] First, we learned all about creating short form, medium form and even longer form entertainment content. So we had been building that muscle over time, and we also saw that our awareness numbers were rising and we wanted to fuel the awareness and open the aperture to more audiences and expose more people to the magic of Elf. we decided to take Jennifer Coolidge and Power Grip Primer to the biggest stage that there is, which is the big game. And our hypothesis was on that particular stage, women were being underserved. you have at that time 115 million people viewing the big game, of which 75 percent said the number one thing that they like about Super Bowl Sunday is The commercials. So you have a highly engaged audience and 50% of that audience is women.

    [00:10:58] So by every metric, it [00:11:00] was massively successful.

    [00:11:02] Ilyse: That is very interesting. Especially because this year, women's sports, women's live sports, are definitely, on the upswing. And there's, it seems to be, like, more brands want to partake, more, networks want to show women's sports, more streaming, platforms want to show women's live sports.

    [00:11:24] curious. If you intend to partake in any like women's specific sports in the future and how might that impact the e. l. f. brand?

    [00:11:37] Kory: We're very excited about women in sports, and we've been in the arena for quite some time, and we believe very strongly in supporting This initiative and empowering young women to not only engage in sports, but also stay in sports. I don't remember the exact stat off the top of my head, but there is a large amount [00:12:00] of young girls who drop out of sports at a very young age, and we really want to work together with powerful.

    [00:12:07] Women in sports to change that. So we've actually been working together with Billie Jean King, who is an extraordinary legend not only in tennis, but in multiple sports as well as in women's equality at large and Working together with her has been incredible. We're supporting her women's National Hockey League And when you start to get around all of these young women and watch their, watch them unleash their incredible talents and support them along their journey, it's real fuel to want to go further and deeper.

    [00:12:45] We're also, we also worked last year with Catherine Legg, who's a female driver at the Indy 500. So there's a lot of bold. Disruptors like a Billie Jean King, like a Katherine Legg, that [00:13:00] we will continue to work with to empower women in sports.

    [00:13:05] Damian: One thing you said earlier that was really interesting to me is that you really listen in to your community. And, when you launch initiatives like this, is this, do you see this as part of a sort of feedback loop that you tap into? And I'd just be curious to hear more about that audience first approach and that whole concept of listening.

    [00:13:24] Because I haven't heard that from every marketer.

    [00:13:27] Kory: I think it's fundamental and it's a service approach. And as I said earlier, when you're a brand of the people, by the people, for the people, you have to create with the people. This is their brand, not mine. I'm here to steward it for them. I'm here to shape it with them. So the only way I can do that is by listening very intently.

    [00:13:47] And a lot of people in my position rely on reports. I've seen reports. I don't want to have a relationship with reports. I want to have a relationship with people. So as the CMO of the [00:14:00] company, I'm probably more connected to our audience than anybody in our company. And the reason I do that is to make sure that they're with me in every room I go into, whether it's the boardroom, or the C suite, or every meeting, I am there as a representative of them.

    [00:14:17] And again, I take this back to, they're citizens and I'm their representative. And I'm here to legislate on their behalf.

    [00:14:26] Another thing that I do is I go on TikTok lives And have direct conversations with them, especially if something surfaces. So for example, it was surfaced to us that our community was very unhappy that we had taken one of our limited edition collections off the market. And that was called Jelly Pop.

    [00:14:45] It was a watermelon infused. And I was really curious about that because we had replaced it with Power Grip Primer and the reason we did that is very similar formula. The reason we did that is because we heard a lot of people say that they [00:15:00] didn't want to have fragrance in it. So we're like, okay, well, why don't we make it unscented? They love the sticky texture. We'll create this thing called Power Grip Primer and, it was wildly successful. But we still had this undercurrent. No matter what post we did, people were like, bring back Jelly Peps. Primer and I'm like, I need to understand more about this. So I went on a TikTok live to understand what is it that you don't have that you want and We really got under the hood to understand that it was an obsession with the texture, the format, and the scent.

    [00:15:32] They wanted it pink and they wanted it watermelon. So, so once I found that out, I said, I, really appreciate you. Thank you for. Sharing your vote with me on what it is that you want next. Well, now you're going to need to come on a journey with me because it takes a lot to move a product through an organization.

    [00:15:50] So I took our head of innovation and he was the next tech talk live, then our head of operations, our CFO. And then if they were convincing enough, which they were, they finally [00:16:00] got to the CEO. So our CEO came on tech talk live for our community to convince him to bring back jelly pop primer. And he folded in like 60 seconds. he saw the exclamation points, the capital letters, the, the nonstop thread, there was like 5, 000 people and they were all like, bring back jelly beans. It's okay. I'll bring it back over into 60 seconds. Done. So I think you get, I tell you that story because I think it gives you a unique flavor of how committed our organization is to the people we serve.

    [00:16:31] Our CFO and our CEO are bringing our community to those Conversations because they're directly involved with them and they have their own stories to tell about the magic of that community.

    [00:16:42] So, they're basically recognizing that they are a citizen of our brand.

    [00:16:49] Damian: I love the, the way you talk about citizens of, the brand. it's a really interesting way of looking at the fan base, the customer base, or however you [00:17:00] would, [00:17:00] describe it

    [00:17:00] Kory: Yeah, I don't love the word customer or consumer, because it signifies that you're only here to buy from us versus being a part of the thing that we're doing. And what I love about Citizen Is it showcases that you have a vote, that you have a vested interest and a deciding power in the thing that we're actually doing.

    [00:17:23] And I don't find any other word that captures that in the same way. So they are citizens of e.l.f. and they do have a voice and they do contribute to everything that we do. 

    [00:17:38] Ilyse: about that citizen journey, there is quite a relationship between e commerce and in store experiences for you guys. How do. you leverage? your online audiences and then follow those citizens from app to store.

    [00:17:56] Kory: What's really important for us is to recognize that it all [00:18:00] needs to be fluid. So if you think about all of the possible touch points, some people are on 100 touch points, some people are on 10, some people are on 1. The important part is for them, it's all one world. They're seamlessly going from Our Roblox game to the floor of Target to our app to our website.

    [00:18:25] So what we need to do is make sure that we have an organization that [00:18:29] reflects that level of fluidity and that we don't have any friction points between those zones. So everything that we do has to be fluidly integrated across every touch point. So if we think about corpse paint, for example, we light up everything 360.

    [00:18:47] It's going to go. Live on our website live on our app. We're going to make sure that there are, uh, you know, social across all of our social channels. We're going to light up our live stream and we had rooms [00:19:00] in Roblox. So we basically see this as every time we turn on an activation, we turn on every switch across our entire ecosystem so that wherever you're interacting with our brand, you're finding a consistent thread throughout.

    [00:19:18] what are your priorities for 2024? What would you say is your guiding principle?

    [00:19:24] We go where our community takes us. And if I just take you on a quick journey of that, we didn't end up on TikTok in 2019 by accident. There was a hashtag of cosmetics that we didn't create that we had nothing to do with that three and a half million people were showing up to every day, which was basically them calling for us to be there.

    [00:19:46] We're hearing a lot that they want more from us in that regard. We actually did a pep talk series where it was all about these mini confidence boosts that we could bring to women. So [00:20:00] what's most important for me is not me making a decision or our teams making a decision about where we should go next, but rather going where our community guides us.

    [00:20:11] So you're going to continue to see us. On that path?

    [00:20:15] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned.

    [00:20:20] Ilyse: The Current Podcast's theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Kat Vesce and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:20:26] Damian: And remember, I'm Damian.

    [00:20:28] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse.

    [00:20:30] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

    [00:20:35] Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    19 June 2024, 10:00 am
  • 19 minutes 20 seconds
    ADT’s DeLu Jackson on why the marketing funnel is more like an ‘infinity loop’ now

    ADT’s EVP and CMO DeLu Jackson joins The Current Podcast to discuss how the company’s partnership with Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins reinforces the impact of live sports. Jackson also touches on why the marketing funnel isn’t so much a funnel anymore as it is an “infinity loop.”


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian Fowler.

    [00:00:02] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffering. And

    [00:00:03] Damian: welcome to this edition of The Current Podcast. 

    [00:00:06] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with DeLu Jackson, EVP and CMO of ADT. [00:00:12] Damian: The home security's brand synonymous with its blue octagon logo, seen on front lawns and in windows across the United States, is turning 150 years old this August.

    [00:00:28] In all those years, ADT has seen its customers needs fluctuate, technology has given more power to individuals, and the inconsistent housing market is turning out more renters than owners.

    [00:00:40] Damian: Delu starts out by telling us what messaging the brand is leaning into as it reaches a new milestone 

    [00:00:49] Ilyse: DeLu, ADT is celebrating its 150th birthday in August. That little blue hexagon basically has been known for a long time and signs in front of front [00:01:00] yards and windows across America.

    [00:01:02] How has the brand continued to evolve and how is the brand leaning into new messaging?

    [00:01:15] DeLu: you know, monumental 150th birthday. And for us, that's a really great testament as much to all the things we've accomplished in that 150 years. But more importantly, what it means for the next 150 years, because all of that's been driven by a consistent commitment to innovation, insecurity, safety and now even smart home.

    [00:01:38] So it's been the evolution of the definition of what it means to be safe, protected and connected. and for all of our history, we've been focused on making sure that we're the leader and providing that to our, customers. 

    [00:01:54] Ilyse: and I understand there's even like a new campaign coming out soon? 

    [00:01:57] DeLu: Oh, yeah. So part of this [00:02:00] innovation and this even history of it is recognizing that from our consumers always that, every second counts, right? That when we think about what we're doing, there's this tension between, living your life to the fullest

    [00:02:14] and having the opportunity to travel and do amazing things because the things that you care about are protected.

    [00:02:21] And so this idea that when every second counts, you can count on ADT and really always have is really exciting for us,

    [00:02:29] internally And externally. 

    [00:02:31] It's such a Great manifestation of what we've always been and what we aspire to provide, going forward. 

    [00:02:40] Ilyse: On that note, I remember even like five years ago I wrote a piece for Ad Age about how the brand underwent a marketing transformation to drive the message home that ADT is much more than a home security provider. With your smart home integration and your mobile security options for small and large businesses.[00:03:00]

    [00:03:00] How has that, moved the needle forward. 

    [00:03:02] What would you say is the perception of the brand today? 

    [00:03:05] DeLu: say the perceptions continue to evolve and I'd say that the one great thing is that the foundational relevance of safety and security are still  super high for so many consumers. It's what they need. And as the space has evolved to  be more smart home and connected devices and, video and cameras, we've continued to provide that and customers are programming and our messaging have continued to reinforce that. with partnerships and with our continued platform innovation to provide those capabilities. So it's been a big part of our continued innovation and commitment to innovation for safety and security. 

    [00:03:46] Damian: One of the things that's really interesting to me is your approach to ads in the campaigns that you launch. and I know that in 2023 switched from sort of more fearful or scary approach to a humorous [00:04:00] one. And I'm just wondering, you mentioned that tension between living your life to the fullest and also looking after things that matter.

    [00:04:06] Could you talk a little bit about that tension and how it informs 

    [00:04:10] your

    [00:04:10] campaigns. 

    [00:04:11] DeLu: I think it's really a really important one that we called the FUD or fear, uncertainty and doubt. And the YOLO, you only live once, and that's always been the tension that we see that the things that we protect customers from versus the things we protect them for. And we saw the insight that, That people really, lean into and get emotional about the things we protect them for.

    [00:04:40] And it really shows the value we create 

    [00:04:42] when we demonstrate that, and we don't have to scare people to do that. We just need to demonstrate that we are really 

    [00:04:49] there to take care of those things. And if we're there and in place taking care of those

    [00:04:53] things, then you can do some amazing things and live your life to the fullest.

    [00:04:57] And that's really, what our customers,[00:05:00] celebrate. And that's really 

    [00:05:01] neat for us to know that we play a critical role

    [00:05:04] Damian: That's, that's fascinating. And do you have any sort of specific examples of how, customers have shared those things that ADT has afforded them, insight into their best lives 

    [00:05:17] as it were.

    [00:05:18] DeLu: Oh, really fascinating is, 

    [00:05:21] one of our big partners, looked on, just did web search and we looked at all of these great images of what people were doing with our signs in the background. So celebrating birthdays, celebrating my, first new business as an 

    [00:05:36] entrepreneur, Celebrating graduations.

    [00:05:40] we had a video of a customer putting an alligator in a trash can in his front yard.

    [00:05:45] And that sign is there. 

    [00:05:47] Sometimes it's in the background, sometimes it's in the forefront. But it's, been a part of all these big moments. and that's really interesting because it's just there and alive, out in the world every[00:06:00]

    [00:06:00] Damian: Yeah. It's amazing. The power of that logo, actually, it's not something As prominent as, say, the Golden Arches. and at the same time, when you. think about it, it is ubiquitous. you see it everywhere, once you start 

    [00:06:11] noticing it. 

    [00:06:13] DeLu: like you said, if you go through neighborhoods and you start to really pay attention to it, you see how many places it's there, on a window, in a yard, on a business. 

    [00:06:23] it is so iconic, and so 

    [00:06:26] ever present.

    [00:06:27] Damian: Eilidh just mentioned that five years ago she was writing about ADT. And one thing that just occurred to me when she said that is in the last five years we've seen tech, undergo especially ad tech, undergo a kind of boom. And I'm interested to know how that has influenced the way you

    [00:06:44] approach your marketing,

    [00:06:47] DeLu: it really speaks to the omni channel nature of marketing. It's not one or the other, where our sales motion historically had been,

    [00:06:57] very much in the home,

    [00:06:59] [00:07:00] physical interactions and interactions with customers. The digital capabilities in terms of information presentation, information gathering, research, And even purchasing online and being able to buy online and even install it yourself.

    [00:07:15] All of that has transformed,

    [00:07:18] consumers engage with us even purchase. So we're present in all those channels now and make sure that we provide the right information based on the context of those channels. So it's been exciting, in terms of the different ways to reach consumers and connect with, their, evolving needs for safety

    [00:07:41] Ilyse: Speaking about your marketing, ADT has shifted from having an in house agency to now going back to an external partner. What basically inspired that shift back? 

    [00:07:54] DeLu: Yeah, I'd say it's an evolution, right? So a few years ago had an opportunity to [00:08:00] hire a lot of great talent and bring them in house.

    [00:08:03] of build internal capabilities time we're really, leading capabilities as that continued to involve and partners start to bring new ideas. We started to add them to the roster

    [00:08:14] and for initiatives and projects. And as we move forward, they start to 

    [00:08:18] bring bigger ideas and just through evolution and growth, our teams have added more of those back to our roster and expanded the team size. So now when you look up. it's more of an evolution than a revolution. We look up and we have a great internal team that drives certain capabilities. And then we've supplemented that With some leading partners just so that we can continue to innovate and deliver, on our customer expectations. 

    [00:08:43] Ilyse: That is interesting. are there any specific channels that you perhaps are just increasing spend and time and effort on?

    [00:08:54] DeLu: Yeah, probably the one that's growing most is connected TV and streaming, you know, as more people go there, [00:09:00] but social is increasing as people consume more information YouTube, right? Those are continuing to grow because when we think about some people, when they purchase these types of solutions, they need more information.

    [00:09:12] And sometimes advertising creates interest, but we have to go other places to find, to make the purchase decision or find all the collective information. So I would say is as much, 

    [00:09:22] communicating effectively as it is advertising and marketing. It's really the expansion of communicating effectively across all of those channels. I think that's a really

    [00:09:31] important distinction for us because we think about it as part of our communication strategy or go to market strategy, not simply what we would call marketing. It's more comprehensive. 

    [00:09:42] Yeah, it makes a lot of sense that is your go to market strategy, though, tied to, in some ways, the health of the housing market, because presumably, you're looking to reach people who are buying homes, setting up homes. absolutely. people move, relocate or, [00:10:00] remodel homes, the

    [00:10:02] self improvement craze, all of those things, those are, moments that are identified where people make the decision to upgrade a system, add a system, upgrade a system, or reactivate a system. So we definitely, are very present in those activities, online and in physical, channels.

    [00:10:18] we've also seen things like, the growth in renters. So we have a, DIY or ADT self set up product. We also work in the multifamily space, where, more users, or builders and, property 

    [00:10:31] managers can support the, units and the, renters in those units. Again, Different needs, different need states, and leading brands like ADT are providing more options for consumers to protect

    [00:10:45] Damian: That's interesting what you said about renters and the Renters leaning into using the self setup. you say a little bit more about that? What's the potential for that market right now? [00:11:00]

    [00:11:06] DeLu: DIY solutions gives people the opportunity to, you Create more affordable solutions as well as they're portable, right? We can take them with me. and so, it's just part of the evolution of the nature of security, how technology has changed it and made it more accessible and more available to more people.

    [00:11:26] So it's not just when you're in a home you own, it's in, The home that's yours, or what you call home, and that expanded portfolio has allowed us to provide protection to more families, small businesses, and again, more people.

    [00:11:43] Ilyse: Now, when it comes to generational differences between homeowners and renters, how do you look at those different subsets of consumers and target to them effectively across channels? 

    [00:11:58] DeLu: Interesting, because we look at the need state [00:12:00] and the use cases. We call them demand spaces. And really, it's sort of life stage and there's some key things, right?

    [00:12:07] How often do I relocate? Younger audiences tend to move more, right? Some even current

    [00:12:12] generations just move more in general than historically. Then you have more stable where people buy a place and they stay in a place a long time. They have slightly different characteristics. But interesting thing When you're in the business for 150 years, we've been through so many generations 

    [00:12:28] of families who have started with us, grown up with us, grown old with us and pass it on to the 

    [00:12:34] next generation. So that's again, really interesting dynamic that we've seen over all those 

    [00:12:40] decades of presence, that those, those behaviors are really about life stage, affordability, and then. Portability and mobility, relative to those, generations. And so we look at all of those signals to provide solutions that work for consumers across those need states. 

    [00:12:59] Damian: it's very interesting [00:13:00] that there's a sort of generational handing down of the brand. And I hadn't even considered that in, the context of security. 

    [00:13:08] DeLu: We have so many people who would tell us that I grew up with it. was always there. And it was that, thing that I needed when I needed something, I knew to push the button, or I knew to call, or I knew how to set it, and I remember some of my first memories of setting it, when I'm home, or I'm watching a little brother or a cousin, and so it's a really fascinating, role it's played in so many lives for so and there's just many of those, insights 

    [00:13:37] Ilyse: Now, how do you go about measuring the impacts of the campaign investments that you are making? 

    [00:13:44] DeLu: Yeah, we use a number of but I think what's really interesting for our team is because we're a direct seller, we have the ability to measure, our investments right down to not just the sale, but to the installation.

    [00:13:57] we can look in time at all of our investments in [00:14:00] our media mix and understand when we invest, have something in or out, or we change campaign or content, What's the impact through the entire funnel?

    [00:14:09] And I'm fortunate to have a great team from advanced analytics to performance measurement that works together every day with our teams to literally measure that and look at the things that are happening and changing by the day over time. So we have a really interesting, rich body of insight to help us understand, the impact of every investment. 

    [00:14:30] Ilyse: one thing with omni channel environments is that a lot of marketers are saying, basically, that with, like, CTV and, commerce, almost like the funnel is collapsing in a sense. what would you say to that? 

    [00:14:44] DeLu: I would say it's less of a funnel than a little bit of an infinity loop, right? People are gathering information.

    [00:14:52] Pre, during, post, even after they purchase, they continue to gather information, reaffirm, and right, [00:15:00] optimize their choices. So I think it's really, it's not a funnel that kind of goes to the bottom and people stop.

    [00:15:07] I think people just continue to, consume information and insights. so I think we kind of have to be always on and again, omnipresent to meet those

    [00:15:18] Damian: And speaking of omnipresent and this is a bit of a pivot, but I know you partnered last year with, Miami Marlins in a multi year deal. I'm curious to hear from you, On why sports sponsorships are part of your strategy. 

    [00:15:32] DeLu: Yeah, this was a really exciting one for us. And part of it was, beyond just sports sponsorships. This was the first time that they were doing, branded, advertising on major league baseball uniforms. What we liked about it was the context. And if you go to the stadium, you'll see when you're around third base, it says, Safe at Home.

    [00:15:52] And when they score a run, it lights up and it says safe at home brought so really neat, right? Some people were thinking it was [00:16:00] really about impressions, right? How much visibility will the, brand visible? That's a really important one. But what we saw was this great context, safe at home.

    [00:16:10] It's also a great family venue. It's great for employees. It's great for, And by the way, they play 81 games at home and 81 games on the road. So the brand travels. and then lastly, I would say really cool with the partnership, beyond the community work we do and the development of, of our philanthropy and, giving kids safe places and safe spaces to, grow up and learn sports and develop.

    [00:16:36] we also, have the patches on both arms. So when you look at visibility, it's visible for most of the game, because if you're, a right handed batter, it's on the left sleeve. And if it's on the left hand, it's on the right sleeve. Same with the pictures so that the brand is ever present. And finally, I'd say what I loved about it is, as in the stands or on the road talk about it, they [00:17:00] knew the context.

    [00:17:01] They said, well, they must need extra protection. And it's like, they understand context in which we operate. And I really love that is that it wasn't just a brand that was there. It was a brand that made sense being there.

    [00:17:17] what was really great about that. I love building on that is that when we think about media and the concept of media, this was a big part of it. we use comparisons to what are the number of impressions, media impressions and back to context, contextual delivery of our messaging with these partnerships and each of them gave us the opportunity to get, a large amounts of media and visibility for the brand in a very specific context that reinforces the things that we want to home or safety [00:18:00] help communities stay safe and these are So when you look at that from a pure media perspective, live sports. And sports in general have, broad reach audiences. they have sequentially different audiences based on events and locations. And so give us a lot of great reach, uh, and in some cases great frequency, as I described with, baseball and, on the road.

    [00:18:25] We also look at the media markets. Where do they play? You know, so really interesting when you think about it in the context of media versus just, as an event, impressions. worked environments. of [00:19:00] Sure. it really is the evolution you described I caught the tail of the digital revolution, if you will, in marketing. Where as technology started to transform the way we go to market, thought about consumers, thought about the paces which we operate. and the convergence of technology and what we call traditional marketing, right?

    [00:19:31] Digital used to be a unique thing that's set between IT and marketing. And then, as you said, they continue to converge in terms of the way consumers engage with those spaces. So then the teams started to come together. And I've been fortunate to have opportunities to work across those different disciplines And bring those things together for organizations who were going through those transformations and help individuals of all help teams of all and help organizations evolve to [00:20:00] bring those things together.

    [00:20:01] So my career has been one of sort of the brands you mentioned. amazing organization transformations around the world and really been, an exciting time to be part of marketing. 

    [00:20:13] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay

    [00:20:18] Ilyse: The Current Podcast's theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Kat Vesey and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:20:25] Damian: And remember, I'm Damian.

    [00:20:27] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse.

    [00:20:28] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

    [00:20:32] Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    12 June 2024, 10:00 am
  • 27 minutes 42 seconds
    Crunch Fitness’s Chad Waetzig on getting strong first-party data

    Crunch Fitness' CMO, Chad Waetzig joins The Current Podcast to explore how Crunch is developing their on-demand workout streaming app, how they're leaning into performance marketing versus brand-building and why digital media is the best way to reach its gymgoers.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.


    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian Fowler

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffering. 

    [00:00:03] Damian: And welcome to this edition of the current 

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with Chad Waitzig, the CMO of Crunch Fitness, who leads the brand's marketing and communication efforts for its gym locations all over the world.

    [00:00:17] Damian: Headquartered in New York City, Crunch serves 2. 5 million members with over 460 gyms worldwide and continues to expand in the U. S. and around the globe.

    [00:00:28] While Crunch has built a community of fitness enthusiasts at its physical locations, it has also been on a mission of expanding its reach on digital.

    [00:00:37] We start by asking Chad about how he'd characterize the gym's marketing goals.

    [00:00:43] Ilyse: so Chad, how would you characterize the marketing mission for Crunch?

    [00:00:48] Chad: It's really important for us, to both build comprehension around what the crunch brand experience is.

    [00:01:05] And we think we've got a pretty unique offering in the high value, low price space and in fitness, but it's also to drive leads and it's to fill that, consumer funnel, with folks who are interested in exploring a fitness workout, And building that lead base so that our franchisees, our partners in our marketing journey, can invite them into the gym, give them a free trial, and encourage them to join and continue their fitness journey with us.

    [00:01:32] so as we think about what we do day in and day out, I'd say that, 80 percent of what we do is focused on how can we introduce the brand to more people and drive leads into the system.

    [00:01:41] Damian: Now, can you talk about your latest campaign and how that works? I know you're talking about, a kind of big campaign, but you're also then trying to target local gyms and gym spaces and demographics. Can you talk about how that relationship works?

    [00:01:54] what about the new campaign? Feel good, not bad? 

    [00:01:57] Chad: Yeah. Yeah. So we're, really excited about feel good. [00:02:00] Not bad. we launched the campaign on December the 26th, which is, basically the start of our year, immediately after Christmas. and the, conceit or the gestalt of the campaign is to. recognize that as a country, we've gone through a lot of bad stuff, and, there's a lot of bad in the world, and we don't want to focus on the bad in the world, but we know that it's out there and  how do we, recognize that a way to combat that is to feel good, and to feel good.

    [00:02:31] You can do that through working out. So the whole campaign is focused on this idea of telling a story about the bad things that happen through silly, humorous, metaphors, banging your head on a drawer, getting stuck in a revolving door, waking up in the desert on a camping trip with a snake.

    [00:02:52] Attached to your face, really absurd, silly things as a metaphor for the bad in the world, and that through working out and through [00:03:00] working out at crunch, you can get those endorphin rushes. you can escape from the world. You can forget all the bad that's out there and really focus on yourself.

    [00:03:07] You can really lose yourself at crunch. so that's, the gestalt behind the campaign or the, idea behind the campaign. Now, the way we execute that campaign, and we do it in partnership with our franchisees, is through a mix of brand marketing, performance marketing, and retail marketing. And so we've designed, creative assets that kind of take you through that entire journey, whether it's television, radio, direct mail, or digital marketing assets, that really tell that story in a layered way as a consumer moves through the journey.

    [00:03:41] Damian: Yeah, that's interesting. now you mentioned the campaign, the Feel Good, Not Bad campaign is one that really dives into humor to convey how fitness can be fun. We recently had on this podcast, the CEO of BBDO, Andrew Robertson, who talked about the importance of funny ads and why they're so important.

    [00:03:59] [00:04:00] To building a brand's identity. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that. and why is Funny the right fit for you?

    [00:04:07] Chad: Yeah, first of all, I would agree with his assessment. And, at our heart, we're storytellers, right? All marketers are storytellers, and we're telling the story of our brand and our business. And humor, leveraging humor, is one way to tell that story in a way that we think breaks through the clutter.

    [00:04:26] We're a gym for goodness sakes, right? We're a place where people come to, to get better. whether that's more, more flexible, whether that's to build endurance, whether that's to lose weight, whether that's to gain strength and muscle, but we also don't take ourselves too seriously. And so we think that, our no judgments philosophy, the way we approach our members and the way we approach our experience, it really lends itself well to humor.

    [00:04:50] But the other thing to keep in mind too, is that. Humor can work in almost any business. think about insurance. 20 years ago, if you had said, we're going to use humor to tell [00:05:00] the insurance story, people would have thought you were crazy. Maybe it's more than 20 years now, but, Geico really broke through the clutter and now look at everybody in that category, right?

    [00:05:08] They all leverage humor for something that is not a very funny product. our product isn't funny, but our product and our experience is fun. And we think humor helps us tell that story. 

    [00:05:19] Ilyse: Now here we talk a lot about digital channels, obviously, programmatic, CTV, and, there's a Common philosophy or really it's just a fact at this point that, that's a good way to reach like younger consumers. is that what you are finding? Are you trying to reach millennials and Gen Zers specifically?

    [00:05:44] ​Or are you looking at whole cohorts of people? Consumers, what is your approach?

    [00:05:50] Chad: our core consumer is somebody that we call young strong on social, they are our north star. They're the group that we [00:06:00] focus on, for crunch, about a quarter of our member base is made up of. Of people 18 to 24, about a third of our member base are members 25 to 34, so the majority of our members are in that 18 to 34 age range, and that's our young, strong and social group.

    [00:06:16] Now, we run, we have, campaigns available for our network, to target seniors, active seniors. boomers, Gen, Gen Xers like me, but really our focus is on the 18 to 34 and we do find that digital media channels, are really the best way to reach that audience, right? They, by and large, they're not cable TV subscribers.

    [00:06:39] they watch a lot of YouTube. They're on social media. and we find that, one of the best ways for us to build awareness is either through CTV, or through YouTube. Uh, and those are the two channels where we are dominant.

    [00:06:52] Ilyse: And I know you've also spoken about, TV itself too, a little bit. How has like this omni [00:07:00] channel like approach really benefited your brand?

    [00:07:04] Chad: Yeah, for us, it's been a journey. today we've got 460 gyms and about 2. 7 million members, and we're celebrating our 35th anniversary, but, we're still a small business. when I joined Crunch seven years ago, we had about 125 locations and, obviously we were significantly smaller.

    [00:07:21] So our dollars, We had to make a strategic choice back then, and our strategic choice was to invest in performance marketing almost exclusively at the expense of brand marketing. Now that we've grown, and now that we're bigger, and we have the, The resources available to us the critical mass. We have found that the omni channel approach for us has paid off in spades.

    [00:07:46] Our brand awareness has tripled in the last three years, whether that's aided or unaided. And we find that then drives. more consumers to consider us. Our consideration is higher, which then [00:08:00] leads to greater lead production, and greater sales. And, the brand doesn't do it alone.

    [00:08:05] Our franchisees play a big role in that, but if we had not made that strategic shift to really focus on the Omni channel, I don't think our results would be as strong as they are today.

    [00:08:17] Ilyse: And today, are you mostly now looking at consumer retention or learning new members to join? It does seem, we talk a lot about streaming wars, but it does seem like there's quite a lot of gym wars out there now.

    [00:08:31] Chad: Yeah, you know, the fitness industry is, really an interesting one. It is competitive. so today about one in five Americans belongs to a gym, a health club, the Y, or a boutique studio. Now, that number 10, 15 years ago was probably closer to 15%, 14%. The category itself is growing.

    [00:08:51] So when, crunch wins, the whole category wins when our competitors, when the category wins, cause we are growing the category, but we do compete [00:09:00] for a lot of the same folks, people do switch gyms, they break up with their old gym, they, join a new gym. and so it is a mix for us on the acquisition side.

    [00:09:09] To both bring new people into the category that maybe are just considering a gym for the very first time, but we're also trying to steal members from other clubs that without a doubt, and our competition would probably say the same. So in answer to your bigger question, how do we think about it is about retention is about acquisition.

    [00:09:27] It really is both. 

    [00:09:29] Damian: It's interesting. you know, we did use the analogy of streaming, but there's a lot of churn in streaming. you turn off your subscription for one and then you turn it on for another. We just had some data recently that said, I think 30 percent of people who cancel return within a few months to the channel.

    [00:09:43] So, it's an interesting game, I guess. Yeah,

    [00:09:49] Chad: of our biggest sources of leads. we very much, look at our former members as potential future members, and they do come back.

    [00:09:57] Ilyse: Very interesting. Yeah. And, speaking of [00:10:00] streaming, Crunch has its Crunch Plus platform and I know this was a big kind of trend overall, no matter what category you're in, during COVID and everything was to go digital, make sure your product is available where the people were, which is their living rooms at home.

    [00:10:18] and now it's a little more than a year old. and it obviously it built on what you had before, which is crunch live. Can you tell us how this has been performing and how you would describe the divide between people going in person to the gym and potentially those working out at home now?

    [00:10:38] Chad: Yeah, really great question. So you're right. We launched, crunch plus about a year ago, and we retired an old platform that we had that was called crunch live crunch live we were the first big box gym to have our own streaming workout product it launched way back in 2013, and it was browser based [00:11:00] only.

    [00:11:00] Ilyse: Way pre COVID before it was cool.

    [00:11:03] Chad: it was cool. Before it was cool. And during COVID, we saw our daily usage. Increased tenfold, with a fairly limited library of workouts. And so we clearly realized that we needed to reintroduce our streaming products and that's how we got to crunch plus. So now crunch plus is available on, just about every streaming device.

    [00:11:23] And, we couldn't be more pleased with where we are today. versus our launch. and just this year alone versus where we finished, in December of last year, our user base on the platform is up 47%.

    [00:11:39] we have over 600, Workouts available and we're adding the goal is to add one workout a day Either through live streaming or through pre recorded content to the library And we see crunch plus as really both a member benefit. So if you are a crunch member, You get access to crunch plus and basically a [00:12:00] 70 discount off the retail price.

    [00:12:02] it's incredibly Affordable. It's 1. 99 a month. and so for our members, it's a way to take that brand experience outside the four walls of the gym, whether they're wanting to work out at home, or maybe they travel a lot and they want to take it on the road, but they can also take it right back into the gym.

    [00:12:19] And so we've got workouts that, are on a treadmill or on a spin bike, or require the use of dumbbells and other equipment that you may not have at home, We've got in the crunch gym. And so we've really created this hybrid workout environment between in person in the gym and virtual on crunch plus, and now for our retail subscribers, those that are not crunch members. they pay 6. 99 a month. ​Again, it's, an incredible value relative to other products in the marketplace, and we think it's a great way to extend the brand and reach into markets where crunch doesn't exist yet. you can get crunch plus anywhere in the world. we've got 460 locations and [00:13:00] 360 of them are in the United States.

    [00:13:01] So we have lots of growth ahead of us in terms of our physical footprint, but we love where our digital footprint has taken us.

    [00:13:10] Damian: Yeah, that's a great move. I see people in the gym with, their smartphones looking at workouts and things. It makes sense for you to have that workout associated with, crunch, or the gym in question.

    [00:13:21] Chad: that's exactly right. and we really have only started to scratch the surface of where we can take this. I mean, one of the biggest challenges for new people who have never worked out in a gym before is the intimidation that they feel when they come to the gym. And, Most people think about the intimidation as being the, I've got to lose weight before I join the gym mentality, right? the body image concerns. But think about this. If you've never been to a gym before and you walk in the door, you are seeing all kinds of foreign alien equipment with pulleys and weights and pins and benches that articulate in different directions.

    [00:13:58] Where do I even [00:14:00] start? And what we think CrunchPlus is going to be great for is to give people who are completely new to the gym experience that introduction of how do I get started? What is the best workout for me? How does this piece of equipment actually work? If I'm concerned about how I might be perceived by others, let me watch this video and see how to set this up correctly.

    [00:14:21] so we're real excited about where we're going to continue to take this platform as it continues to grow and mature.

    [00:14:26] Damian: Yeah, that's a great point.

    [00:14:27] Ilyse: could have used that for sure. Yeah, you

    [00:14:29] Damian: and you see some of these, dudes in there, they're massive and they're making it look like, child's play. I'm like, what? This,

    [00:14:36] Chad: Right,

    [00:14:37] Damian: this is scary. Yeah. 

    [00:14:41] Chad: The great thing about those guys, though, is if you ask them for help, they're going to jump right in and help you. they're very proud to share. Here's, how you do this.

    [00:14:48] Damian: Mm. It's a community, right? a fitness community.

    [00:14:52] Chad: absolutely. Absolutely. It's the community. In fact, we just did a recent member survey, new member survey, [00:15:00] and we found that 46 percent of our new members, have actually made new friends or founded a community at crunch just by joining and getting to the gym.

    [00:15:10] So we do think crunch is a great place to build community and our members that it's one of the reasons why they join. 

    [00:15:17] Damian: And speaking of community, you have recently teamed up with Amazon One. Can you talk about how that partnership improves the membership experience for your customers?

    [00:15:28] Chad: we love our partnership with Amazon. it has gone really well. And they've been, as you can imagine, they're one of the largest companies in the world. They are very sophisticated in what they do. And, they've been a great partner to work with, for those, listeners that aren't familiar with the Amazon one product, it is a biometric device reads basically the palm of your hand.

    [00:15:49] It is a touchless device. You basically hover your palm over their reader and it identifies you uniquely. So apparently the palm of your hand is as unique as your fingerprint [00:16:00] or your retina and, Amazon has piloted this in, I believe it's being rolled out in Whole Foods.

    [00:16:07] I believe they have a partnership with Panera. And then they were piloting it in their own C Store concept for a while. We got together with Amazon to really be the first to bring it to the fitness environment. And the initial application or use case is to validate a member's entry into the gym. And What we found is I think a couple of things.

    [00:16:32] there's a back office business case which reduces fraud for us. So we don't have members sharing their key tag with their barcode with friends, right? Because now I only can get in with my palm. So that reduces, that concern. But from the perspective of our members, it shows that we're progressive.

    [00:16:57] We're forward thinking. we've got the latest [00:17:00] technology and we're bringing that into the environment. and we've seen adoption close to 80 percent in the locations where we've rolled it out. There are some folks that are still concerned about having their biometric data. read by Amazon, and we respect that and we'll still have the old way of scanning barcodes at the front desk, but for the vast majority of our members, it allows them to get into the gym quickly and get right to their workout.

    [00:17:24] Damian: Mm. That is fascinating. I actually didn't know about Amazon One, 

    [00:17:27] Chad: Yeah, if you have a Whole Foods near you, next time you go to a Whole Foods, see if they've got it. it's how I use, it's how I check out at Whole Foods. it is faster than even, Apple Pay and Google Pay, I

    [00:17:39] Damian: Wow. Mm.

    [00:17:41] Chad: I think it's a pretty great service.

    [00:17:42] Damian: in general, when it comes to partnerships, how important are those kind of brand partnerships for Crunch?

    [00:17:49] Chad: they're really important and, you can think about partnerships for us, at least. We think about it in a couple of different levels. One is this kind of, Big strategic capability [00:18:00] enhancing partnership, which we have with Amazon, and we've got obviously have partnerships with some of the best, equipment manufacturers in the fitness space, right? Whether that's through life fitness or, TRX or the other, brands of the space, and we look at that as a way to enhance our member experience. We've got a really talented member experience team headed up by our chief experience officer, Molly long and, Molly and her team are thinking about ways that they can bring these kinds of big brand partnerships that are enablers.

    [00:18:34] To bear on the member experience. But on the marketing side, we also look at brand partnerships as a way to enhance your existing membership. So we do partnerships where we provide our members access to crunch only discounts. So we have one right now with Crocs where members can get a discount on Crocs shoes that's proving to be very popular.

    [00:18:58] ​And one of the ways in [00:19:00] which we talk about our membership, pricing with our members. and so one of the things that we like to say to prospective members is that if you take advantage of all the discounts that you can get through your crunch membership, all the retail discounts with our brand partners, your membership practically pays for itself.

    [00:19:14] And so we like to think that because it is a membership, you are part of a community, you are part of a gym, you are part of a club. If we can give value back to that member, it only makes that membership more valuable to them. So for us, those brand partnerships are super important.

    [00:19:30] Damian: we want to talk about first party data, of course, and we want to talk about that and how that informs some of your campaigns. And we assume, given that you have this great membership, global membership, it's not necessarily an issue for Crunch.

    [00:19:43] But how do you go about, leveraging that first party data to inform your marketing efforts? 

    [00:19:49] Chad: so obviously our first party data even more so today than in years past is important to us and being able to leverage that data is [00:20:00] an important part of what we do both on the brand marketing side, but also are we work with our franchise partners for them to execute on their local marketing side.

    [00:20:08] Our media agency of record is USIM, and through USIM, we have an identity resolution initiative with TransUnion, where we enrich our first party data anonymously, with the TransUnion data, and we use that for audience building, lookalike audience building, Former member, audience building, et cetera, et cetera.

    [00:20:29] And a lot of that is used, through programmatic. it, it informs, what we do, in terms of, our targeting. the way in which we've structured our media approach, brand marketing happens through the Crunch marketing team. We also pick up search, on behalf of our network, just given the complexities of search and the ever changing, approach to paid search.

    [00:20:54] we. We feel like we're in a better position to manage that on behalf of our franchisees than asking our franchisees [00:21:00] to do that. Really everything in between is through our franchise partners and we have four brand approved agencies that they can choose to work with And we work with them To make sure that they have access to first party data so that they can also enrich that data and do first party, audience building, et cetera.

    [00:21:20] So for us, it's a critical component of what we do. And again, of, what we spend, I would say that, from. CTV all the way down through search, probably 90 percent of our spend across the network is digital.

    [00:21:36] Ilyse: Very awesome. I actually have a question about first party data. Are you able to glean more, say from Crunch Plus? Because people are tuning in and you're able to see, what kind of workouts they're choosing, what kind of, when, they are actually working out.

    [00:21:55] It must be very revealing, even more so than your regular, gym [00:22:00] customers that come in.

    [00:22:02] Chad: it's actually, that's actually a great question and it is true because obviously we control and manage the crunch plus platform of the 600 plus videos or workouts that we have. We can see what the viewership is. We can, we understand the view through rate on each of those. We know what each subscriber is watching and what kind of workouts they're doing and the frequency with which they're doing that.

    [00:22:26] and that's rich data that. We don't necessarily have easily accessed on the gym membership side. so from that standpoint, in terms of building out new workouts, as an example, we found that the 20 minute workout videos were the most popular in the group. And yet when we launched, we were launching with 30, 45 minute workout videos.

    [00:22:51] We pivoted very quickly to doing more over 20 minute workouts. And what we found is. The 20 minutes were actually too long based on view through [00:23:00] rates. So we launched a number of what we call quickies, right? They're five minute workouts and the viewership on those has skyrocketed. that's where we've leveraged that first party data to learn on the gym side, it's a little bit more challenging, but we're actually building out more of a, first party data set around.

    [00:23:16] utilization of the gym. We know when they check into the gym. If they book and take a group fitness class, we know that they're doing that because that's an online reservation system. we know when they buy a personal training package and when they take personal training sessions. And so the next level for us as an organization is to better activate that first party data so that we can do a better job on member retention.

    [00:23:40] upselling into higher tier memberships, and cross selling into other parts of our business.

    [00:23:45] Ilyse: And based off of that, and knowing that you guys are located in 41 states,

    [00:23:51] Chad: Yes.

    [00:23:52] Ilyse: you can probably tell me which states are the fittest in the U. S. in terms of attendance. I mean, I'm just [00:24:00] curious.

    [00:24:00] Damian: just

    [00:24:01] Chad: so that's a really good question.

    [00:24:04] Ilyse: New York, I know.

    [00:24:05] Chad: I, I can, I can say I can say that,

    [00:24:09] Ilyse: work out a lot here.

    [00:24:10] Chad: there are certain markets. the southeast is one of them where the number of visits per member is higher than the average. Obviously, we have an average, per month in the southeast. Really strong gym attendance.

    [00:24:26] I'm not going to say whether or not they're more fit than

    [00:24:29] Damian: Yeah, you can't know that.

    [00:24:31] Chad: but utilization does vary based on, based on market. I don't know how much of that is driven by weather, or how much that's driven by lifestyle. 

    [00:24:39] Ilyse: who's the laziest

    [00:24:40] Chad: in New York City, New York City, we have really strong, really strong utilization of the gyms, best ever, better than pre pandemic.

    [00:24:48] Ilyse: Oh well.

    [00:24:49] Chad: but we've seen that across the board that the utilization of our gyms post pandemic has been at a higher level everywhere than versus than pre pandemic.

    [00:24:59] Ilyse: People [00:25:00] want to get out there again.

    [00:25:01] Chad: I think people want to get out there. Yep. I think they recognize that the role of fitness in, in relieving stress and anxiety is important.

    [00:25:08] Ilyse: How do you then tailor your messaging? Based off of location, especially if you're, talking to the fittest people in the U S versus the laziest,

    [00:25:18] Damian: people in

    [00:25:20] Chad: we wouldn't say that we're all about no judgments,

    [00:25:22] Damian: no, of course.

    [00:25:23] Chad: there, there is no one type, there is no one reason, there is no one way, for us at Crunch. but we do build out marketing assets that allow our franchisees, who are the closest To the member than we are here in the puzzle palace here in New York City, right in the ivory tower.

    [00:25:42] and we make sure that we provide assets that, if your club is really strong in group fitness classes, that we've got the assets for you there. If your gym is really big into strength training, which is virtually all gyms. Now we've got lots of strength training assets, or if you're into hit workouts, or if you're into [00:26:00] Kids Crunch babysitting is important because you've got a lot of younger families and they need to have child care when they come to the gym and work out and we allow our franchisees then to use those assets to tailor their marketing communications based on their local needs.

    [00:26:16] Damian: It's interesting. Now, you mentioned, maybe people in warmer climates and warmer states going to the gym maybe than others, but I don't know whether that holds true, but what I wanted to ask you about is what does the marketing calendar look like for a gym like Crunch? especially around key moments, we're here, A good third of the way into the year, but January's obviously got to be a big moment for gyms because everyone has that resolution to get fit again, New Year's resolutions, and then there's the summer, approaching, people think about, oh, I've got to be back on the beach, what should we do?

    [00:26:50] How do you strategize around those moments?

    [00:26:55] Chad: Yeah, there is certainly a seasonality to, to both visitation and [00:27:00] membership joins new members joining the gym. the first quarter of the year is the. The most important quarter of the year for us. it is our Black Friday and Cyber Monday and holiday season. and we do structure our spending accordingly, right?

    [00:27:14] So we'll heavy up in Q1, in the months later in the year when gym memberships aren't as, The demand isn't as high. We will adjust spending accordingly. So we do balance that out throughout the year. So we do marry up spend with demand. Within any given month, we will run a series of national promotions that our franchisees can opt into.

    [00:27:39] And they tend to be priced Price driven, because that's the category we're in, but we provide the support to the franchise network around the if they opt into that promotion to try to convert prospects in the system to becoming members. We do look at certain, events. So certainly we look at. New Year's resolutions, New [00:28:00] Year to you.

    [00:28:01] We look at spring break. We look at the beginning of the summer. We look at back to school. and then we look at the, to school is the last big hit when you begin to hit November and December, most consumers are really focused on holiday shopping, holiday parties, family get togethers, travel, Wrapping up their year end of their job if they're on a calendar or fiscal year, And then we start right over again on december 26th, and that's when people are like, okay, let's get back to the gym so we do take all of that into consideration but every month has a cycle and every quarter has a cycle and then obviously there's a cycle to the year

    [00:28:41] Ilyse: so there's obviously one of the biggest categories on social media is fitness. I would say there's so many fitness influencers out there these days.

    [00:28:52] To what extent do you share a kind of like common goal to get people to the gym? Do you then access and use [00:29:00] these social media personalities?

    [00:29:02] Chad: Yep. yeah, really good question. influencers in the fitness space are very important and we have worked with influencers. off and on over the past several years, we work with them today. And what we have found them to be most effective for us is around awareness building, introducing crunch to their audience.

    [00:29:26] we have tried to activate, and I'm using air quotes for those, listening, obviously, we've tried to activate those influencers to try to sell gym memberships. And we've not succeeded in that. I think their audiences see through that.

    [00:29:40] Ilyse: Hmm. Interesting.

    [00:29:42] Chad: And so for us, it's more about the authenticity of we want to invite the influencers into our gym.

    [00:29:47] We want them to get in a great workout. We want them to tell their story on that does more value for us. than them trying to sell a membership to their audience. And so we certainly work and we pay influencers [00:30:00] for some of that awareness building. But we also Work really hard to make sure that our member experience is an excellent experience for all of our members because we have influencers in our gym all the time that we may not even be aware that they're there and we want them.

    [00:30:18] We wanted to organically. Work its way through social media, and we've actually had some great success with that. And so the success comes from our fantastic operators on running a great gym on the influencers who are already members are just telling the crunch story for us. They're evangelists on. You really can't put a price on that.


    [00:30:41] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned.

    [00:30:46] Ilyse: The current podcast theme is by Love and Caliber.

    [00:30:49] The current team includes cat fussy and Sydney Cairns. 

    [00:30:53] Damian: remember I'm

    [00:30:55] Ilyse: and I'm

    [00:30:56] Damian: we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe [00:31:00] and leave us a review. Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    5 June 2024, 10:00 am
  • 18 minutes 33 seconds
    Intuit’s Dave Raggio on creating a media network for small businesses

    Intuit's Dave Raggio shares why SMB MediaLabs doesn’t own inventory, how it prioritizes privacy for its customers, and the reason consumer and CPG brands are turning to Intuit’s data. 


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian Fowler.

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: and I'm Ilyse Liffreing

    [00:00:02] Damian: and welcome to this edition of the current podcast.

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to bring Dave Raggio to the podcast. Dave is the vice president of S& B Media Labs, a B2B media network owned by Intuit, which is of course known for business products like TurboTax, QuickBooks, Credit Karma, and MailChimp.

    [00:00:22] Damian: Now Dave developed the idea of SMB Media Lab, which leans on the first party data from the millions of people who use QuickBooks, and it provides small businesses with the intelligence they need to reach their customers across channels like audio and CTV.

    [00:00:38] Ilyse: We start out by asking Dave about the origins of S& D Media Labs.

    [00:00:42] : It really came from honestly my personal frustration, in trying to reach SMBs for my, what I'm calling my day job. So, I was hired four years ago, at Intuit to lead QuickBooks acquisition marketing. And I actually still hold that position today. Um, my entire career has [00:01:00] been consumer brand. So I was with North Face before this.

    [00:01:02] Um, spent a lot of time agency side, working on a variety of clients across CPG and e comm retail. And when I got to, into it, um, I tried to essentially apply the same data sources and tactics that worked very well for me in the, in the consumer world. And it was met very quickly with the reality that SMB data is very hard to find, and when you do find it, the accuracy is just not great.

    [00:01:28] So, you know, I have a friend, um, that works in the agency that me that at the top you have enterprise level data, which is pretty high quality at the bottom. You have your consumer data, which is abundant and high quality, but between there's a big void and that's pretty much where all S and B data lives.

    [00:01:49] Um, so it started off. Kind of, it's just a joke internally that I really wish there was a company like QuickBooks that I could partner with and [00:02:00] buy media through that would allow me to find not only the scale of audiences that Intuit has, but also the depth of knowledge about how those, how those businesses are operated and run.

    [00:02:10] And then that joke kind of became a realization that it is a need for other advertisers that Intuit could very much fill and very uniquely fill as well. Just considering kind of. The breadth and depth of information that we have, um, on, on our small business owners. Um, so that was the start of it. Um, but of course, you know, we wanted to make sure that we were doing it in a way that was beneficial to our customers, um, and done in a privacy safe way.

    [00:02:38] So that was kind of the start of the journey was just the realization that we had something that advertisers would be interested in, but we also wanted to make sure that it was something that benefited our customers as well.

    [00:02:47] Damian: That void that you talk about in the middle between enterprise level data and consumer data is quite surprising, isn't it? That there wasn't anything there for those small businesses. I know that 99 percent of all businesses are [00:03:00] SMBs. So that's a huge, uh, yeah, that's a, that's a huge amount of, uh, data that's not being used.

    [00:03:09] So was it a surprising moment when, when, when you go, when you saw that and you thought, Oh, this is an opportunity.

    [00:03:15] Dave: Yeah, I, you know, there are small pockets of data where you can get very narrow in, it's just not scalable. So that was the sort of challenge. So you can go to a lot of individual professional sites. But the reality is the world of media is not built around the business that you run, it's built around you as a person.

    [00:03:31] So stitching those two parameters together, because, you know, as QuickBooks growth, We're looking for specific types of business problems. And, you know, a lot of these small business owners are not active on professional networks. Um, if they have profiles there, they're not looking at them on a regular basis or updating them.

    [00:03:51] Um, so they, they kind of become. In the shadows, like the S and B part of the data and the targeting capabilities and the need state from the business that they [00:04:00] run sits behind their sort of consumer profiles. So I think it was a surprise when I first joined, but. Logically, after a little while, I was like, okay, that makes sense of why we're not able to find the business traits and qualities that we are able to.

    [00:04:18] Damian: Yeah, that makes sense. The

    [00:04:20] Ilyse: Now, how would you go about like describing the value of these small businesses and the data that their advertisers are trying to use to reach this audience?

    [00:04:31] Dave: Yeah, um, so great question. And there's, there's a couple of different layers of sort of knowledge that we have on our, on our customer base, and we're not unlocking all of those just yet. So we want to, again, going back to the want to do what's right by our customers, we want to make sure that. All the information that we're collecting is something that they would expect us to collect, that they have full control over their ability to participate in this, and that we're only partnering with advertisers that, um, you know, have the best [00:05:00] intent for, for our customers.

    [00:05:02] With that, uh, we are layering on top of ad buys, data that seems to already exist in the market, but is much more accurate. So that was one of the sort of uphill battles that we've had in the early stages of this. So things like industry, age, revenue, employee count, these are things that on the surface appear to exist in other third party data sources, but You know, again, being on the other side of the buying of this one, I see how wildly off some of those data sources can be and the assumptions that they have about a small business.

    [00:05:34] So what we're adding on to that is just a very, very, um, deterministic one to one knowledge and accuracy that didn't exist. So we eliminate a lot of waste that comes with using some of the other data providers or even just kind of doing broad market advertising. So that's kind of the main value prop.

    [00:05:54] That said, we are working with our legal and privacy team. And our [00:06:00] executive sponsor is actually the head of privacy. So that should tell everyone a little bit about how serious we're taking this. But we're also thinking about with our customers, what value can we add to them if we continue to go into what we're calling transactional type data, if we're able to go the next step deeper.

    [00:06:16] And the reason for that is every business. on the surface may look the same in an industry size employee count, but how they run their business could be very different. So if you're a construction company, that's in the same region as another construction company, roughly same revenue, roughly same employee count doesn't mean that you invest completely different in marketing.

    [00:06:37] And you may be, Think about your supply chain very differently. What that allows us to do is actually find need states for our customers and be able to pair them with the advertisers that might be able to serve, um, solutions for them in those needs states. And so that's kind of the next wave that we're working on.

    [00:06:52] It's something that we haven't done yet, but we're hoping to unlock for our advertisers.

    [00:06:57] Ilyse: Yeah, that's definitely a good example. [00:07:00] Um, I feel like, In a, such a new kind of company like this, and I know you refer to you guys as like a retail media network, although you're not exactly a retail media, um, so it's, it's, it's definitely hard to kind of describe, I would assume, to other B2B businesses exactly what to do and how your like first party data And you essentially use QuickBooks, um, primarily, right?

    [00:07:27] Um, how they can use that data to their advantage. Is there, like, another example that you can give how, um, advertiser would use your, your media network in order to, like, reach their audience? Heh

    [00:07:43] Dave: you mentioned that, that, you know, we've, we've been using the term retail media network, but we're, we're very much not a retail media network. So we do not have owned and operated inventory and that's by design. Um, you don't start a business because you're passionate about bookkeeping in most cases.

    [00:07:55] Um, so we're leaning into as a company, AI and, and, [00:08:00] um, automation to make sure that we're trying to reduce the amount of time that That a customer has to spend in our platforms in order to, um, to get their work done. So throwing ads in there will slow that down. It's not something that, you know, someone that's already paying for subscription would, would want to have that said, there are potentially ways that we've been looking at that. Provide additional value to that. That said by not having owned and operated, I think that we accidentally fell into what I'm calling kind of the next wave of retail media network. So we are more of an audience network that can be layered on to any part of your ad buy that's programmatic. So we have partnerships with the trade desk, with physio, with DV360, with meta, and we We are agnostic to inventory source.

    [00:08:44] We just allow the advertiser, whatever their KPIs are across the board to just get more efficient and more focused on just the right people. And that's been, um, again, slightly different than what most retail media networks are going, but attending a bunch of [00:09:00] conferences, that seems to be really the hot topic of your own and operated inventory is great.

    [00:09:04] It is the last. bottom, bottom, bottom of the funnel that you're able to, um, that you're able to really leverage. We are able to address full funnel campaigns with that audience targeting.

    [00:09:18] Damian: That's very interesting. What kind of advertisers in this space are keen to take advantage of this opportunity to reach these millions of small businesses?

    [00:09:29] Dave: Yeah, it's so that's been one of the larger surprising things when we started this up. So we built this assuming insurance, banking, credit cards, those would be the The sort of the very close in some of the software SAS providers. Um, that has been very true for us that that's where we're seeing a lot of interest, but we've had a lot of consumer brands coming to us.

    [00:09:48] There seems to be a wave of interest in small business as a segment for a lot of advertisers. So we've had one of the largest CPG brands approach us. I worked at Method for [00:10:00] a while, so I know firsthand that shipping a bottle of hand soap is very expensive, and it's only a 3 bottle of hand soap, but it's mostly water and fragile, so you're upside down in your e comm costs.

    [00:10:12] So the area where e comm works really well for CPG brands is concentrates in large formats, and the normal consumer do not want that. It is very profitable to go that direction. Um, so they reached out to us, same thing with one of the largest beverage companies reached out to us cause they want to be in more restaurants, more independent restaurants than the chain restaurants.

    [00:10:30] So it's been a little surprising across the board of, you know, who's really approached us. Um, and, and some of these non traditional sort of B2B, as you would think about it are really the ones that have a ton of interest.

    [00:10:42] Ilyse: yeah I must say. It seems like B2B is on like some kind of upward trending line right now. Um, we are seeing like a, an increase across like all channels, I feel like, maybe. Like, um, maybe that's due to like, I don't know, the rise of like [00:11:00] LinkedIn or like, um, just more businesses coming forward. And being created in general, maybe the pandemic even, I don't know, it's, it's curious because I do feel like even like channels like CTV, for instance, there's a lot more like B2B kind of marketing happening.

    [00:11:16] Is

    [00:11:16] Dave: Yeah. We're seeing the same thing and we're excited that we're kind of showing up at the right time for that. You know, I think our hypothesis on that is, um, very much correct. There was a small business boom during the pandemic, but a lot of advertisers I think have, have started to kind of run out of scale and saturation that they can have amongst the sort of consumer.

    [00:11:36] And this is an entirely new audience with tremendous spending power that you can talk about different products that you wouldn't want to put, you know, on a Super Bowl spot. You know, the CPG brand is not going to run a large format concentrate ad in the Super Bowl, but there's now a new path and a new audience that is kind of untapped.

    [00:11:54] And we're also seeing that also in the marketing space. So a lot of the major social networks and ad providers. [00:12:00] Their next target is all the S and B's because they've got so much share of wallet amongst the enterprise level brands that their, their next growth area is going to have to come from the long tail of S and B's.

    [00:12:10] Um, so we're happy because we truly feel like we are the most accurate and best way to reach those S and B's. Um, so we're, we're hoping that, that, you know, everything kind of comes together.

    [00:12:20] Damian: Is there a, is there some kind of nuance in terms of the channels that advertisers trying to reach businesses use versus, you know, more traditional, you might say consumer channels? I mean, they're obviously consumers. are also business owners and business owners are consumers. But is there a different sort of way that you're thinking or the advertisers are thinking about leveraging, um, the data that you're providing?

    [00:12:48] Dave: We've not seen that. So kind of going back to the challenge that brought this whole thing to life is that The the line between them as a small business owner and them is just a person [00:13:00] is almost indistinguishable between the two of those. So The nice thing is because it's programmatic wherever they happen to be We're able to find them and able to serve them relevant advertising at that point I think that Um, it really the, the majority of channel selection will come down to the objective of the campaign.

    [00:13:22] So we had a major global logistics company that was very focused on brand advertising and we were running them on connected TV with Vizio. We were running them on some digital video formats. We had another SaaS provider that was very focused on cost per leads. And we. Much heavier on the social and programmatic, uh, display side of things.

    [00:13:41] So it's really more of what's the objective dictates kind of the channel mix itself. But, um, in terms of are there subtle nuances or specific places we go? Not really. We kind of just follow, follow the sort of, um, friends that we're seeing with the, with those small business [00:14:00] owners.

    [00:14:00] Damian: Totally makes sense.

    [00:14:01] Ilyse: Now, you've described SMB MediaLabs as the next wave of retail networks, which is very interesting. I like that kind of quote right there. Um, you've also said it's like a more open network than some others. Can you describe why that is?

    [00:14:20] Dave: Yeah, so I would say we're not the next wave. I think that we are ahead and riding the next wave. So I don't say that we are defining it by any means, but, um, we were open in the fact that we're not relying on our own inventory. So we can go. Pretty much anywhere. Um, and if an advertiser comes to us and they have a specific DSP that they really want to work with, we can onboard those DSPs if they're not already in our network.

    [00:14:44] So a big part of our, of our product is really making sure that we have the largest breadth of inventory sources and partnerships available, that we can develop campaigns in partnership with the advertiser and the agencies that actually, um, can [00:15:00] span wherever they believe that their customers are, whatever their objectives are.

    [00:15:03] So that's, that's the open part. Of what we're doing. Um, and because of that also, like there's just easier capabilities for them to, to measure it because they're already using a lot of the DSPs and platforms that they're, they're using for their normal campaign. So we're not any sort of walled garden that has hidden metrics behind the scene, which I know is also, you know, a challenge for a lot of retail media networks as well.

    [00:15:26] Ilyse: That's awesome. How do you, going about your own advertising for this network, how are you basically scaling it?

    [00:15:34] Dave: Getting the word out and, uh, getting people to, uh, to, to try it. So we have had, um, I think we're, we're in, in month eight now, and we've had a number of large advertisers come in the data's, the data and the audience targeting is performing extremely well, that is something that, um, was a concern of mine going in that, you know, a, is there enough people that are interested in S and B's and we already [00:16:00] talked about how that, you know, You know, has been something that we've been able to check that box and say, yes, there is a ton of interest from advertisers across the board.

    [00:16:07] The second one was, have I convinced myself that our audience quality is as good as it is. Um, and the data that's come in as, as shown that it's, it's performing extremely well, both on brand metrics and on cost per action. So, uh, our goal right now is to just have as many conversations and just do as many tests as possible.

    [00:16:26] And let the advertiser see how well it performs comparatively to other things.

    [00:16:31] Damian: I guess the next question would be how well does it perform? You know, what kind of data insights are you getting back to provide to advertisers?

    [00:16:39] Dave: Yeah, so, uh, we are seeing so we've done some disco studies on brand ones, and we're seeing on average 30 to 40 percent increase in brand metrics, which is huge. That was not that's actually outside of what we anticipated and hoped for on that one. And I think probably the big one was when we've run some cost per lead campaigns for SAS [00:17:00] cloud service.

    [00:17:01] We cut their CPLs by 75%. So just eliminating the inaccuracy and focusing your spin on deterministic direct connections with those advertisers or with those, with those customers as has worked extremely well.

    [00:17:18] Damian: Yeah, that's a high fidelity audience. I, I, I like that phrase.

    [00:17:23] Damian: I guess we have to have a question about ai, right? We have to talk about ai.

    [00:17:44] Um, you know. In April, Intuit introduced an AI assistant to its core product. Products, I should say, um, in TurboTax. It's going to shorten the time to file taxes, credit karma, users [00:18:00] get personalized financial information advice, I should say, and users can generate marketing content in MailChimp. You know, how are you and SMB Media Labs using AI?

    [00:18:09] Yeah,

    [00:18:13] Dave: we built, we are a managed service. So we are doing the buys and executing for the time being. That is something that is very difficult to scale because for us it is kind of core to Google. Make sure that the, that the media that we're buying, not only is targeted, but it's performing.

    [00:18:29] So there's a lot of optimizations that we want to be able to make recommendations on and act on. Uh, it's hard to do that. You know, our goal is to have hundreds of advertisers. You can't optimize hundreds of advertisers. So there are tools that we are bringing on board that actually use AI to understand how the various campaigns are performing, are able to serve up some sort of triggered recommendations based off of that.

    [00:18:51] Um, and that allows our team to scale and really make sure that everything that we're doing is. hitting the benchmarks and exceeding the benchmarks that we want them to do [00:19:00] across all of our advertisers.

    [00:22:09] Damian: One question I guess from that is, you know, the actual marketing of the SMB, uh, the actual marketing of SMB MediaLabs, how do you think about that?

    [00:22:21] Dave: Uh, well, the marketing of SMB Media Labs is a lot of. Conversations like this. Um, so I'm a little bit on a podcast tour. I am, I'm going to be at Cannes. So we do have a space in the media link to a can where we're going to be having a number of meetings, speaking engagements. Um, it's, it is different enough that it does require a little bit of explanation and, you know, in full transparency, there's an added hurdle that as it stands now, we are a managed service.

    [00:22:45] So, um, it is. It adds complexity to what a traditional we are not doing the model where we just park our data and anyone can go and pull it like through a marketplace. We still have to control. And that's that's because we want to have the highest bar possible for how we [00:23:00] control our data. So it just takes more conversations.

    [00:23:03] But, uh, You know, we are doing some programmatic media buying and we're doing some digital out of home in the elevators of a lot of the major agencies in New York City. So we're, we're trying to really focus in on, on both the agencies and the advertisers that would be interested in something like this.

    [00:23:19] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned.

    [00:23:24] Ilyse: The current podcast theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Cat Vessey and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:23:30] Damian: And

    [00:23:30] remember I'm Damian.

    [00:23:32] Ilyse: I'm Elise.

    [00:23:33] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

    [00:23:38] Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    29 May 2024, 1:20 pm
  • 21 minutes 24 seconds
    Las Vegas Raiders’ Kristen Banks on marketing to old and new fans alike

    Las Vegas Raiders’ SVP of Marketing Kristen Banks joins The Current Podcast to discuss the importance of balancing old and new fan bases alike, and not just in Las Vegas.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian [00:00:01] Illyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffering and

    [00:00:02] Damian: welcome to this edition of The Current [00:00:04] Illyse: This week, [00:00:05] we're delighted to talk with Kristen Banks, the SVP of Marketing for the Las Vegas Raiders, formerly known as the Oakland Raiders, and for a while the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982 to 94,

    [00:00:18] Damian: but since 2020, the Raiders have made their home in Las Vegas, and this year the Raiders hosted the Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium.

    [00:00:26] That's the first time in NFL history that a Super Bowl was played in the state of Nevada.

    [00:00:31] Illyse: In fact, the match was the most streamed in history by a record setting audience.

    [00:00:37] Damian: Now, although the Raiders weren't playing in the match, the event marked a watershed moment for the NFL, for Las Vegas, and the game in general. [00:00:45] We started by asking Kristen what all that attention meant to the Raiders.

    [00:00:51] Kristen: it's incredible. Uh, you know, coming into working for a brand that's been around 60 years. So the Raiders organization is [00:01:00] been, you know, around since 1960 and they've never hosted a Super Bowl. So for the first time, you know, coming to a new stadium being built in Las Vegas in 2020, not having it open for the first two years that the stadium was in full operations because of the pandemic, And then fast forward to this year hosting the Super Bowl on a wide, really global stage. [00:01:26] was incredible. It was incredible for the brand. It was incredible for the city of Las Vegas. And I think it really represents a new chapter in sport and what's happening in this city.

    [00:01:40] Illyse: And you know, also thanks to streaming and probably also Taylor Swift a little bit, let's be honest, we're seeing new fans come to the NFL.

    [00:01:49] Kristen: What I would say is again, drafting back to the pandemic is that there's, you know, there was already a change in consumer behavior and how consumers were 

    [00:02:00] absorbing and watching content. Certainly with the pandemic that increased that aptitude. And so you saw this incredible spike in how people are consuming content, certainly migrating away from being cord cutters or potentially Cord nevers who had a cable package and moving into streaming services.

    [00:02:20] Certainly you see that even more so with the younger population and Gen Z. It's about simply. Being available to every audience type that's out there, and that could be on their mobile phone, on their tablet, when they're watching the game, still on regular television, but going to social media platforms or YouTube to consume additional content that only enhances the experience.

    [00:02:46] Damian: That's interesting. One of the things that you said to me, Kristen, was about that streaming and second screen experiences that, in effect, there's a sort of virtual community of fans who are sharing content as the action is happening and unfolding. [00:03:00] How do you think about that and leverage that as a marketer? [00:03:02] Because that seems like a pretty exciting real time opportunity.

    [00:03:06] Kristen: It's such a unique world, right? Particularly for younger audiences, we'll say, under the age of 25, if they haven't documented it, then it's almost like it didn't happen. So, as a brand and as a marketer, you have to think about when someone's attending a game, when they're watching it at home, how are they engaging with the experience? [00:03:30] And how are you giving them? A opportunity to tell their story and what it means to engage and experience that activity with the brand. [00:03:40] , I'm quite new to the Raiders organization. I joined, um, six months ago, right at the start of the 2023 season. the height of Super Bowl. And so my team is deep in the throes of the strategy and planning of how do we build audiences and how do we ultimately create customer journeys long [00:04:00] term. [00:04:00] When you think about the avidity scale of the very core passionate fan who maybe is a season ticket member, buys merchandise can't get enough of the Raiders podcast that type of fan. is very different than a very casual fan so for a very casual fan, I'm not going to immediately try to sell them on a season ticket member because they're likely not at that stage of ready to make that commitment financially, ready to make that time commitment. [00:04:31] So how do I get them to watch a piece of content? So it's really about building out each person individually and saying, okay, this subset of fans represent this group and follow this typical pathway. [00:04:45] And these types of fans that are much more avid may follow a very different pathway. And this is what this looks like.

    [00:04:51] Damian: I'm very curious on the, you know, when you mentioned the coach and the teams and all that dynamic that goes on, how much access do you and [00:05:00] your marketing team have to that? How do you, how does that kind of infuse what you have to do on the, on the executive front?

    [00:05:06] Kristen: From week to week, you know, win or loss, you know, there's this constant narrative that's playing out on a real time stage and on social media and live on broadcast. And so then you have to say, okay, how do we ultimately take that draft quickly? If maybe a player made a stunning catch, or had a, you know, a fumble, or did something on the field that was really extraordinary, how do we then, you know, how do we dovetail off of that? [00:05:39] How do we create content? Taking those things that are really quick hits and ultimately doing a quick turn to be relevant and, you know, in that social media moment of continuing to capture that interest and intent.

    [00:05:55] Damian: That's really interesting. And the way that advertising now is deployed in a much more agile [00:06:00] way makes that all the more possible, I assume.

    [00:06:03] Kristen: Right. I would say, there's challenges with that. Yes, for sure. It's. It's easier to do nowadays. I mean, certainly you've got social media, you've got digital content. It's easy to push something out, but you also have the challenge of, as you think about customization and personalization and audience segmentation, what does that look like, right? [00:06:24] Is it five different messages? Is it three different messages? Is it one different message, but a different channel? So, you know, Even still, when you're trying to move as quickly so that you're still relevant, and it's happening, that lightning in that moment, you have to also be able to take a pause, say, what's the strategic approach here, and is this reflective of the right audience, and where do we ultimately push this to make it relevant?

    [00:06:52] Illyse: I feel like the NFL and sports leagues overall, There's a lot of, like storylines that you can actually, draw from, and, like, [00:07:00] personalities. , everybody has their favorite player their favorite moment in time that that player, really succeeded. [00:07:08] How do you then use these storylines to, like, infuse your marketing content as you think about, keeping things relevant and authentic?

    [00:07:17] Kristen: My background is sports and entertainment, which has really what I'd like to say is baked in stories and they're happening on a daily basis, right? I think it's why when we then partner with brands or we bring in partnerships and we say, okay, brand X, Y, Z, who maybe doesn't have some of those built in storylines to play from, how do they make what they're doing, you know, speak to the fan base

    [00:07:43] Illyse: do you think that even work with brands that don't have an obvious affinity with a sports team? Like how do you create then like extensions of the story?

    [00:07:54] Kristen: I'll pick on maybe a little bit of finance and insurance because maybe they're not as sexy, [00:08:00] but, in naturally partnering with a brand or a sports property helps allow that to happen. And then it creates that opportunity to say, Okay, well, that finance or that insurance brand, you know what, when there's a setback, oh, that may relate to somebody's personal life in how they're investing, right? [00:08:20] And that's easier for brands to attach to versus having to try to create something from scratch. one of the interesting narratives that came out of 2023 season was certainly with our Interim head coach, who's now the head coach, Antonio Pierce. [00:08:44] And he's an incredible figure and certainly quite the motivator and just, gives these incredible speeches and really. Kind of these amazing lines that just play really well into marketing. Um, and it was, okay, how do [00:09:00] we create a whole blackout kind of experience? It was clear they weren't going to be making the playoffs, but how do we still make it impactful to the fans that they want to show up, that they want to watch, so if you take that story of, okay, everybody's going to dress in all black in the way that he does. [00:09:17] Show up and represent, which is usually kind of one of his sayings and to see that come to life, to see many of the fans dressed in all black at the game, to see messages of encouragement posted on social media. And then, which it was incredible to see him walk off the field and have people chanting. [00:09:39] For the coach, that's that's quite unheard of. So that was a really cool. Um, it was a really cool moment to see and witness and from a marketing side, help create that,

    [00:09:52] Damian: yeah, so the executive side of the Las Vegas Raiders, you've got a very powerful story there too. And I know that it's a team [00:10:00] of firsts with the first female black president of an NFL team and more. [00:10:05] I wonder if you could talk a little bit about, you know, that side of the story.

    [00:10:09] Kristen: I think, you know, the Raiders has a really an illustrious history. , you have, you know, the first black head coach. You had the very first female president in the NFL. They all came from the Raiders. Now you have the very first female black, uh, president of the Raiders. And so, you know, it's an organization that's been in firsts. [00:10:33] Over the past 60 years, and so it's incredible to say that, you know, whether it was, , Mark Davis, our owner of the Raiders, or his father, Al Davis, they constantly said it was really always about just finding the right person for the role and really just that. And not, and diversity and inclusion becomes just part of that because you want to make sure that you're representing [00:11:00] the audience in the right way.

    [00:11:02] Kristen: And to be at the forefront of doing that is to make sure that in the back office, and on the field, and in the coaches and staff all reflect that representation as well. And so I think that's just a fabric of the Raiders DNA that's always been present. But To be here now, to be part of the leadership team, to have, a female president who's African American, to be a part of that executive group as myself being a female and being in sports, it's really trailblazing and it's an exciting, uh, time for sure

    [00:11:37] Illyse: Do you believe that then has an effect on the marketing? I know, there are obviously a ton of female, NFL fans out there and Raiders fans, I'm sure. And, I feel like. Often, though, football is more marketed to men. Do you feel that having more women in those, [00:12:00] power roles really speaks to the women that are fans?

    [00:12:04] Kristen: Yeah, I think it has to. I think it's a natural influence and that, you know, whether it's women, whether it's other ethnicities, whether it's different backgrounds, different cultures, all of that is really important because if you think about just, right, I'll just take Las Vegas because that's obviously where the Raiders, our home base is now. [00:12:28] We certainly reach a lot of other markets and audiences, but I'll talk about Las Vegas, which is. You know, naturally, just about 50 50 split in between men and women. 28 percent of the audience in Las Vegas is Hispanic. 11 percent is, is Asian Pacific Islander. Las Vegas is called the Ninth Island for a reason, a lot of Hawaiian transplants. [00:12:53] And also 10 percent is African American. So, you look at that really [00:13:00] diverse fabric of people in Las Vegas who could potentially be fans of the Raiders, and who ultimately we want to ingrain so that they feel the Raiders are their hometown team. The employee base should reflect that and I would say for sure, my background, my experience, and even my team around me, should reflect the diversity and diverse opinions of those communities for sure.

    [00:13:29] Illyse: One of the most interesting facts about the Las Vegas Raiders is that you're a legacy brand, but you're now in a new location how do you ensure that you're engaging those fanbases while reaching new fans?

    [00:13:45] Kristen: I think it's making sure that nothing that you're doing is going to, Be damaging to the core or feel not authentic. We certainly have still quite a fan base in Los [00:14:00] Angeles and Oakland [00:14:00] but then to say, okay, now we need to bring in. New fans, completely different that are not part of those generations that are introduced to the team because now we're here in Las Vegas that has never had an NFL team before that honestly never had any professional sports team up until the last. Five, 10 years, that would have been completely frowned upon in what was formerly called Sin City. [00:14:28] You never want to upset the core. But you want to make sure that you're doing something that still pushes the envelope a little bit so that you're constantly growing and adapting.

    [00:14:38] Illyse: And, you know, I'm curious about this too because, you know, we're living in like a digital world now. Anybody can go on and stream like a Raiders game, no matter where they are. With fan bases, especially across cities, across states, does location matter as much these days to be a fan of a particular NFL team?

    [00:14:59] Kristen: You know, [00:15:00] I think, think it depends. I think it depends on who you ask, and I think it depends on what type of fan and what avidity scale. And the reason I say that is, is I'll say, you know, the Raiders, we are very, proud of the fact that we have a season ticket member. In every state in some 15 countries, um, that are, that grace our stadium. [00:15:23] I mean, that's a little bit of, you know, a little panache to say that, but on top of it, you know, how fans have access, you know. Can look completely different to I mean, certainly your bread and butter are the people coming in the stadium, but the bigger appeal, the bigger growth potential are those fans watching at home. [00:15:44] And what's that experience? And to your point, at least that could be done really anywhere, right? And then to what they have access to. Um, some of that, you know, depends on live broadcast rights and where, games are aired. [00:16:00] But there's also an incredible amount of content, and for anybody under the age of 20, getting them to watch a full game sometimes is a challenge anyway, so they're going on TikTok and watching some highlights. [00:16:12] So, those really casual fans, keeping them engaged, which can be at home, on the go, in a different city, in a different country, is certainly relative and important, too, to the Raiders overall growth.

    [00:16:28] Damian: So, Kristen, you talked, you mentioned that Vegas is pretty new to sports, but I do know that, you know, your background, which is very interesting. You're a lead marketer for the UFC, which was one of the original sports franchises in Vegas, along with boxing. I wonder about you. [00:16:47] You know, um, learned from that experience and you, you were in, the midst of, this in, as, as the city has kind of evolved into this sports center in a way. It

    [00:16:56] Kristen: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I [00:17:00] moved to Las Vegas back in 2015. was with the UFC for eight years there, formerly worked in entertainment for NBCUniversal in Orlando. so I'll say I've always been, had a background of cast of characters and rich stories to play with. But on that end, you know, when we moved back in 2015, Very different landscape. [00:17:22] One, there was no stadiums. and there certainly was no talk of baseball, basketball, or really any other national sport. and so UFC had planted a flag many years ago as already being a boxing town where you'd have, you know, big events. [00:17:40] But what I will say is, is that is good timing of having that past experience because you're trailblazing. You're saying, okay. How do we set a flag here? How do we do this? How do we make this work? How do we get fans engaged locally? To then parlay that into what I'm [00:18:00] doing now, which is working for the NFL and working for, a team locally that has such an incredible, brand recognition, brand storyline. [00:18:12] And building from that is to say, okay, well, I can take some of what I've learned from UFC trailblaze and say, how do we make that cool and relevant, to new fans here in Las Vegas?

    [00:18:25] Illyse: Speaking of Vegas how is the Raiders , leaning into sports betting in any way?

    [00:18:30] Kristen: In Las Vegas, because of naturally the betting and the gambling and maybe it feeling like, Oh, this is, this is too taboo for a sports team to come to Las Vegas. but today, you know, some of our partners are sports betting partners. Um, we have MGM bet, who's a corporate sponsor. We have DraftKings, and there are league partnerships with sports betting partners.

    [00:18:56] Naturally, I'd say, it's really working with the [00:19:00] teams individually to say, hey, how do we make sure that we make sure that the game stays pure, that it's really just more of a fan focal point, but that those two don't intersect. [00:19:12] Illyse: Yeah, It's definitely interesting. The Raiders are kind of, I would say different from a lot of other NFL teams and I'm curious about what you would say about why that is. For instance, like the nickname, I know Raider Nation is, is really strong and the fans are . Maybe some of the most spirited in, yes, in the league, I would say. What do you think?

    [00:19:38] Kristen: They really represent and tap into what the Raiders brand is, which is about individuality. [00:19:46] It's about, being yourself authentically. It's about doing it in such a way that's very different, almost cosplay esque. Playing into that it's the team for maybe the [00:20:00] non sports fan, you know, and silver and black, and how cool are those colors that everybody looks good in black. So I think there's, there's just so much fun. [00:20:12] And then I think about, you know, just where the Raiders came from to, you know, our incredible history of Al Davis being the owner, and commitment to excellence, having pride and pride and poise, those things and that and that kind of ethos, plays into everything of what we do, and I think that the fans gravitate to that because it's something they can identify with.

    [00:20:39] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. [00:20:41] We'll be back next week so stay tuned. [00:20:44] Illyse: The current podcast theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Kat Vesey and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:20:51] Damian: And remember [00:20:52] Kristen: You never want to upset the core. But you want to make sure that you're doing something that still pushes the envelope a little bit so [00:21:00] that you're constantly growing and adapting. [00:21:02] Damian: I'm Damien [00:21:03] Illyse: I'm Ilyse.

    [00:21:04] Damian: we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave a review. Also tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report,

    22 May 2024, 10:00 am
  • 19 minutes 45 seconds
    NBCUniversal's Alison Levin on strategic audience buying, the power of brand storytelling and the Paris Olympics

    NBCUniversal’s ad president talks upfronts, strategic audiences, brand storytelling, and the Paris Olympics.

    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.

    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm damian Fowler.

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: And I'm Eileen Sliffering.

    [00:00:02] Damian: Welcome to this edition of the Current Podcast.

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with Allison Levin, who joined NBCUniversal as the President of Advertising and Partnerships earlier this year.

    [00:00:15] Damian: Allison oversees all ad sales initiatives for NBCUniversal across national and local markets, as well as for the company's Peacock streaming service, which will be the streaming home 000 hours of Olympics coverage for the first time.

    [00:00:30] Ilyse: It's no doubt going to be a summer of sport for the legacy broadcaster which owns the media rights to the Olympics through 2032 and for the first time the slots on Peacock are open to programmatic buyers.

    [00:00:44] Damian: that's not all. Just this week, NBCUniversal returned to Radio City Music Hall in New York City for its annual Upfront presentation, celebrating the company's diverse slate of programming. We started by asking Alison about this year's [00:01:00] event.

    [00:01:00] Alison: Yeah, I mean, it's, this is such a, an incredible busy time of year for all of us. And it really is such a great, like forcing function to take a step back and to have these conversations with clients, both agencies and our brand partners about. What it is that they're excited for the next 12 months.

    [00:01:17] How do we want to partner together? And what does the future hold, right? there's so many conversations that are in quarter often, but this is the opportunity to really look ahead and talk about the future of our work together. and so I would say from the conversations we've been having, and we've been having, hundreds of conversations across clients and agencies, we're really hearing like.

    [00:01:36] Two big themes that are coming out. And the first is about strategic audiences. So for those of us that have been in, digital for a long time, this isn't a surprise that, you know, buying off of a more precise audience, like someone who's in market for a car or household income or leveraging. A client's first party data is just a more effective way to place [00:02:00] media than, buying adults 18 to 49.

    [00:02:03] Like someone had said to me once that adults 18 to 49 is a family reunion. It's not a buying And it's it stuck with me ever, since. And, We are hearing loud and clear from clients that they are really excited to move into more precise audiences, not just in streaming and across digital, but really looking at it on the linear side too, and having one buying tactic across the full portfolio.

    [00:02:27] And, when you think about Consumers like at the end of the day, we're all consumers. We're all viewers and viewers have a relationship with IP, not delivery mechanism, right? And so as marketers we're hearing from marketers, they want to have that same execution strategy and they really want to find their target audience.

    [00:02:46] Wherever they may be across a full portfolio in a more precise way. So I would say that's one key theme we're hearing a lot about. and of course that has great implications on programmatic. it has implications on our one [00:03:00] platform, total audience product, Opta, and how we, actually help leverage data to find our audience across our full portfolio. And then. Another really interesting conversation that's been coming up quite a bit. And we just were in a client meeting this morning where this was like front and center, but was how can we partner with our brands to tell stories within our stories? Right? Like, and if you just take a step back, like storytelling is, the fundamental part.

    [00:03:30] Of our foundation. It's how we have learned as human beings, how we've grown. It's our number one form of entertainment is being entertained by stories. And I include sports in that. Like there is a beginning, middle end of sports. And so as we talk to marketers, they really want to And work together to stand out, to tell stories within our stories.

    [00:03:50] Like even thinking about Jake from safe farm, that's a story, right? Like these brand, champions are storytellers too. So I'd say the combination of what we're hearing a lot in market is [00:04:00] strategic audiences. So moving to more precise audiences across linear and streaming, and then going deeper and big content moments, whether that be sports or Bravo or big live events, like Thanksgiving day parade and more.

    [00:04:15] Damian: That was really interesting. So it's actually getting quite granular and clients have to pay attention to what's actually happening in the programming. I'm

    [00:04:26] Alison: I mean, like that's really how these moments stand out is like taking IP together and helping infuse a brand into the IP.

    [00:04:36] Damian: going to switch a little bit, but related, but obviously it's going to be a big summer for NBCUniversal with the Paris Olympics, which, you have the media rights to in the US. And I've been hearing that you've been setting up major events like the opening ceremony, with the Paris Olympics.

    [00:04:51] record revenue. Maybe this is an obvious question, but why is this inventory so enticing for [00:05:00] advertisers?

    [00:05:01] Alison: Yeah. I'm four months into my time at NBCU and, just the, value and interest in this asset is even Stronger than I imagined truly. And I think, when you think about it, it makes complete sense of why this is so interesting for brands and so exciting for consumers.

    [00:05:18] But like, I think from a brand perspective, just even thinking about the state of mind that people are in when they're watching this, There, especially right now, in times when people are divided, like opportunities and places and content that bring people together that are really moments of joy and happiness and suspense.

    [00:05:38] so the mindset that you are reaching people in, in that moment is really just, So valuable from a marketer perspective. and then I'd say the second is just reach, like how much reach the Olympics actually drives the share of attention it drives. So from a marketer perspective, like you find this audience in this really engaged mindset in [00:06:00] moments of happiness and togetherness, we're all rooting for team USA.

    [00:06:04] And then it also has such incredible reach and share. Of attention during this timeframe, where everyone's talking about it, everyone's watching it. So what an opportunity from a marketer perspective to really break through. and then you add to that, like the consumer experience too. So thinking about Peacock and all we're doing on the Peacock side, on the Olympics that we're going to have thousands of hours of content.

    [00:06:27] All of the different games, like never before, different consumer experiences as well. And so that, that combination is just so powerful and we're

    seeing such excitement from the market to surround the games and be in the games.

    [00:06:41] Damian: one of the great things about the Olympics is there's so many sports on offering it. people have so many different interests. And so you can go from surfing to track and field to soccer. So it's really an amazing opportunity.

    [00:06:54] Wanted to just also touch upon Talk about the fact that for the first time you're going [00:07:00] programmatic on your streaming service in terms of selling the inventory around the Olympics. Why is that so significant?

    [00:07:10] Alison: I mean, from our perspective, we believe deeply in the power of programmatic and strategic audience buying. and for brands programmatic access really democratizes access to these incredible events where Olympics is one of them, like just even taking a step back, our entire live sports inventory from the NFL to big 10 and more now programmatically Transacted and with that, the number of advertisers in 2023 actually grew 87 percent year over year and the sports revenue doubled, right?

    [00:07:45] So there's just incredible momentum on the number of advertisers that have access to these huge moments. Like they're huge from a reach perspective. They're huge from an attention perspective. And now we're adding Olympics to that. And so when you think about. What is the [00:08:00] television of today? what is the opportunity for today?

    [00:08:02] It's precise audiences. Bought in real time and measurable and the ability to optimize. Like now you can do that with Olympics and with all of live sports across Peacock, like it is amazing how much this really changed in the last few years. And so we're so excited to truly. Bring this opportunity to advertisers that historically have not been able to participate.

    [00:08:25] Um,

    [00:08:26] And we're just so excited to, to see, all the momentum and get some learnings from it as well.

    [00:08:32] Ilyse: Yeah, you know, we, always write about how, like, CTV, but now especially like live sports is like democratizing TV, as you say, when it comes to live sports and perhaps especially like now Olympics, are you seeing certain advertisers more interested or is interest really like spanning across sectors at this point?

    [00:08:54] Damian: point?

    [00:08:55] Alison: across. Sectors because, and I think the Olympics is a really interesting example because the point [00:09:00] that you made before, there's so many different sports to, so you might be really interested in, swimming or as a brand or rock climbing, you can be specialized, but really from a, taking a step back from a sports perspective, like it drives incredible reach.

    [00:09:17] And fandom, it's one of the greatest stories told, right? And there's such anticipation as you watch it and suspense. And so that's something that all brands of all different categories really have been interested in, and we've seen just an incredible momentum. And then from the consumer side, it's been tremendous, the ratings.

    [00:09:38] And I think one of the, the thoughts when streaming came out and we started to put live sports on Peacock was that would cannibalize ratings on linear, but we've not seen that come to life. Like in last year's rating on sports, actually on linear grew and streaming grew. So streaming is just bringing in a whole new audience of viewers that we weren't, that we weren't accessing before.

    [00:09:59] and so [00:10:00] it's such an opportunity from a consumer perspective. We're creating more ways for them to watch in different ways, but it's also creating and opening up a new door to advertisers that maybe have not been able to access the properties before.

    [00:10:13] Ilyse: It definitely seems like it's just Changing overall, evolving rather, including as what's happening with this week with upfronts. Really programmatic buys can happen at any time now and that's like altering the traditional upfront marketplace in a sense. Are you seeing this, are the upfronts basically shifting to that always on marketplace?

    [00:10:38] Alison: What we're seeing on our end is that there really is a finite amount of truly premium professionally produced content. and that is across the board in linear, but also in streaming. And so when you pair that with wanting to find strategic, more precise audiences, or you have a big sale coming up [00:11:00] on, weekend and you want to heavy up during that timeframe, like Locking in those audiences and reserving them is still incredibly important.

    [00:11:08] And so the role of the upfront and the fact that the upfront is a futures market and you lock in the inventory ahead of time is still. very important. And we're continuing to see that this year and for next year's upfront. But I think the ways that you want to place that upfront, the ways that you want

    to say, I'm going to spend this amount and I want it for this audience, but what is the actual tool that you might use to run your campaign?

    [00:11:31] I think has changed. So if you want to run it as a PG deal through a DSP or PMP deal, that's certainly something that's. That brands have been interested in, and there's a lot of benefits to that too. So I think both things are happening where the upfront is still an important process, reserving inventory is still important, but the, underlying, tools you use to place that upfront, I think have been changing.

    [00:11:55] Ilyse: Now, when you first announced your Olympic programmatic effort [00:12:00] a few months ago, you stated, and I thought this was very interesting, we're taking back ownership of performance. We drive performance just as well, if not better, than your Metas and your Googles. Can you go into how investing with NBCU drives this performance for marketers?

    [00:12:17] Alison: Yeah, the team probably at NBCU is like, maybe you might be sick of me hearing, getting on my soapbox about this, but I just think the idea that there is, a media. Activation type called performance media drives me a little bit bonkers because it, it leads people to believe that the rest of it doesn't perform.

    [00:12:34] and someone had told me the other day, and I thought this was so interesting that I want, they, they said, I think that television advertising has a Branding problem, ironically. And I'm like, I actually think it does too. when you take a step back and you think about what drives performance for advertisers, what moves products off the shelf, what gets people into a dealership, what drives people to studios, it's massive [00:13:00] reach getting as many people as possible.

    [00:13:02] It's finding the right audience, leveraging first party data, connecting to third party data. It's tools that help you optimize to get smarter and smarter as you go. And then it's real time attribution. And when you take a step back, NBCU reaches 90 percent of us households in a given month.

    [00:13:22] We have massive reach. We deeply know who our consumers are. We have first party data on over 90 million households. We partner with ad tech to help with real time optimization. And we're getting smarter and going deeper on real time attribution. And so I think to me, the real, the real difference here and the one that we're really excited to work through with our clients is getting faster attribution and measurement in their hands so that they can understand performance and don't have to rely on MMM models that can take nine months to a year.

    [00:13:54] And it's not actually that the performance is any less than these other players. [00:14:00] It's the perception of the research and the attribution studies that they don't have as quickly as possible. Like we were just in this. Client meeting and she was telling us like all of these social platforms are all claiming incrementality on all this and yet They're not even selling as much as in aggregate They're all saying they're getting credit for right like there needs to be a reassessment of what does attribution?

    [00:14:23] actually mean how do you look at it holistically? And I think there's, leveraging NBCU's portfolio and understanding the power of the platform as quickly as possible is goal number one for us this year.

    [00:14:36] Now I know you think about the user experience a lot, on Peacock, on really all of your platforms. What about the ad experience?

    [00:14:48] Damian: TV

    [00:14:48] Ilyse: to me is, it seems to be just getting more and more personalized. Why do you think this is important to viewers? Peace.

    [00:14:56] Alison: Yeah, I personalization makes a better, experience for [00:15:00] consumers and it makes a better experience for brands, right? It drives performance for brands. And, I do think this is such an important element. If you think about the calculation of performance and what drives performance for an advertiser, how a consumer sees that ad, what is their mindset at, and what is the experience around seeing that ad is so So critical and I think sometimes underappreciated, for peacock, we take this so seriously.

    [00:15:27] Our ad load is the lowest, one of the lowest, if not the lowest of all the premium AVADS. When you are a buyer, you own the pod from a category perspective. So if you are a financial service brand, you own that pod and there's no one else that's near you for the minutes before you Between those breaks, like that is so powerful from a brand perspective and it drives results with the consumers they're trying to reach.

    [00:15:53] our pause ads that we run are beautiful and done creatively and it drives incredible impact for brands [00:16:00] too. And when you add that combination of, innovative ad units, a great consumer experience, we just see time and time again that it drives results. And we hear everyone's, people tell us all the time, like they are users of.

    [00:16:12] Peacock, but also other streaming channels and they feel the difference like, and if you feel it as a consumer, it also means that when an

    advertiser shows up, you are feeling a different way about them and their products in that moment. So we just take that so seriously. And the fact matters, Peacock was built for advertisers first.

    [00:16:31] We didn't retrofit as in after the fact. And so it really allowed us to be really thoughtful about building both of these at the same exact time versus figuring one out and then trying to get the other one shoved in there after the fact.

    [00:16:44] Damian: I read that local markets have a really significant influence on audiences and that national brands can connect with audiences more effectively when they speak with a local voice. And I know that your remit is across national and local. as you oversee that, what's your observation, on that [00:17:00] point?

    [00:17:01] Alison: Yeah. we've been. I'd say it's really been exciting. working across the national and local teams and there's been so much momentum on the local business, around digital and our ad property called spot on. It's our offering that we have. That's basically allows you to find your audience across Peacock and other digital endpoints, in specific geos and DMAs.

    [00:17:25] and I think a great example of where we're going with this is the launch of spot on auto. So that product in particular actually syncs up with constellation, as a key partner there with tier three auto and let's see tier three auto in a seamless way, activate across our peacock inventory. And as you know, like there's.

    [00:17:46] Tremendous opportunity in that category, tremendous, growth from a digital standpoint. And so new tech products and innovations like that to go capture the tier three auto market, but also other local markets [00:18:00] has been really exciting for us. An area of opportunity. And then to your point, when you marry that with what is the, national, business doing right.

    [00:18:08] So the tier one and what is the impact of running tier one plus tier two auto plus tier three auto on driving people to a dealership. So we're really excited about the early findings we're seeing from spot on auto and a lot more to come there.

    [00:18:22] Damian: Goes back to driving performance. Thanks.

    [00:18:24] Alison: Exactly.

    [00:18:27] Ilyse: now one final question for you. As obviously we're going into this huge summer for NBCU with Olympics programmatic on Peacock. Looking into your crystal ball, what do you imagine for the future ahead of that? How can NBCU even top that?

    [00:18:43] Damian: didn't

    [00:18:44] Alison: excited for this summer and I'm so excited for Paris quite personally. Um, but I think one of the things I think that's underappreciated about NBCU, we talked about this a bit at 124, that we've been leading in television [00:19:00] and video innovation. For decades, right? The first NFL game ever aired on NBC was a hundred years ago.

    [00:19:07] The first viral clip ever on YouTube was SNL. The largest streaming day ever was on Peacock. And, I'm excited for us to take back that narrative a little bit in the market. We've been quietly leading an innovation for decades where you continue to do so. And we do it because brands have always been in our partners.

    [00:19:27] Number one for us, they're,what we think about when we wake up and we go to bed at night, like making their campaign successful. And we've been innovating to do that. And we are continuing to do that. So I just say like, just thinking about everything we've been doing on Peacock over the last, 12 months.

    [00:19:45] everything that we were doing on attribution and measurement, all of our work on strategic audiences and Opta, just imagine what we'll do in the next 12 months. Like we're just hitting our stride right now and there's just so much runway ahead for us. And, we've got [00:20:00] great partners that have been here testing and innovating and building alongside of us.

    [00:20:05] Ilyse:


    [00:20:05] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back next week, so stay tuned.

    [00:20:11] Ilyse: The current podcast theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Cat Vessey and Sydney Cairns.

    [00:20:17] Damian: And

    [00:20:17] remember I'm Damian.

    [00:20:19] Ilyse: I'm Elise.

    [00:20:20] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review.

    [00:20:25] Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report

    15 May 2024, 10:00 am
  • 25 minutes 58 seconds
    Hearst Newspapers’ Michael Irenski on the value of local journalism, keyword blocklists and Popeye

    Hearst Newspaper's Vice President of Programmatic, Mike Irenski, joins The Current Podcast to explore the value of local journalism and what advertisers need to know about it. 


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.


    Damian: I'm Damian Fowler. And

    Ilyse: I'm Ilyse Liffreing.

    Damian: welcome to this edition of The Current Podcast.

    Ilyse: This week, we're delighted to talk with Michael Eirenski, the Vice President of Programmatic Revenue at Hearst Newspapers.

    Damian: Now Hearst has a legacy that goes all the way back to 1887 when William Randolph Hearst acquired the San Francisco Daily Examiner and founded the Hearst Corporation.

    Ilyse: Only 137 years later, the legacy of the brand continues as the publisher of 24 dailies and 52 weeklies, including papers such as the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Damian: Hearst Newspapers has a unique insight into journalism in the U. S. at a local and a national level, even as publishers are under pressure to find fresh ways to fund their newsrooms.

    Ilyse: We talk with Mike about the value of local journalism and what advertisers need to know about it.

    Mike: Yeah, so Hearst newspapers has grown a lot. it's funny. I, most people don't know this, is actually 137 year old brand. We've been around, during the same amount of time as some of our friends, down the block or a couple but I think what's really differentiated us is, That, over the [00:02:00] years, we have thousands of employees.

    We have, award winning content. And, really unique our strong local presence. When people think of. being stale, and I think it's a little bit different here at Hearst Newspapers, is that we've always constantly been evolving.

     And we take pride in our core product. But I think what is particularly unique is that we have been actively engaging in our local communities over the past dozens of years. And, have really listened to our audiences. So some of the things that, come to light for us is that we are continuing to lean into And we've been [00:03:00] recently as of this year, expanding into, puzzles and gaming. We have, a big comics presence and own, several, large IPs, from Popeye to Betty Boop. And we've also been rethinking about the types of, long form content that we So it's been an evolution over time, but I think what we've really just, continued to lean into is, local community aspect. And we've seen the returns as a result.

    Ilyse: I had no idea that Hearst is in the IP game so much as it is.

    Mike: Oh my gosh. I, it's very funny when I first started here, the other side of the floor has a Popeye paraphernalia throughout the office. And I just thought people are really into Popeye. I didn't know that it was anything that we, But it is, one of many, which is fascinating. There's a large video game called Cuphead, which has a Netflix show that is actually something that we also own the IP for.

     So it's fascinating and [00:04:00] a growing part of our business.

    Ilyse: Ah, so interesting. Now, with so many, local publications, how does that affect Hearst Newspapers, approach to something like audience segmentation?

    Mike: Oh, my gosh. It's very funny because each market is completely different. Albany readers that relevant, accurate information that is happening, regardless of where they are.

    But something we like to say internally is, the national stories are conversations that are being had with everyone, but the local stories are conversations with your friends or your neighbor or your family. And as a result, I think that gives us some level of differentiation. I also joke around that we cover high school sports as if it's the NBA [00:05:00] finals.

    And while we might not say focus on the Royals, this came up recently, where I was curious in our newsrooms, are we talking about the Royals? Are we providing any content? And the newsrooms have been if the local community isn't really asking for it, that it really isn't, we'll cover it, but it's not just something that we lean into.

    And I think what I'm very proud of is we stay close to the zeitgeist, but we never follow the zeitgeist. We are really leaning into what our local communities want. And with those boots on the ground doing it, we have just amazing, journalists and, video content creators who are talking to the people.

    comes out in 

    Ilyse: It's very much community first,

    Reader driven. Which I'm sure helps when it comes to advertising as well.

    Mike: Not only our readers react to our content, but also how they react to the adjacent advertising associated to it. And, with [00:06:00] that is something that we're constantly up leveling at the national level and talking to the big brands and agencies on, but just seeing that performance at the local level is a microcosm of the things we could do, but it's very inspiring when you're able to drive business to a small entrepreneur or local business.

    Damian: Mike, I feel really inspired by, local newspapers. I grew up in Britain and I remember getting the Yorkshire Evening Press. It used to be an evening paper and just that's how I got interested in journalism, just looking at all that.

    People are interested in what's happening, in their backyard.

    And at the same time, of course, you get the national stories and international stories in there too. As well as the TV listings that I was interested in. Anyway, I digress. But, that value of local journalism has been, of late, it's been under threat. It's been challenged. And local papers, we've, reported on have basically been, closing newsrooms and the like, across the United States and indeed other countries.

    But, how do you [00:07:00] think about that, in, in a world where people want local journalism, and how advertisers need those local audiences to advertise too? What's the inherent sort of like challenge and how do you think about that?

    Mike: Yes, I think about it often. I also think about, coming here is, it's very hard. I don't need to talk myself up or what we do here. but it's a very hard conversation that's being had, our industry touched upon it perfectly. There's a lot of threat and what we've, I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we do, across all of our properties and just Hearst brands, we have the reach.

     The reach play is not the challenge for us, but it's the ongoing, challenge that we have with advertisers who are looking not to run on it's very funny because people see the value of news, but then you'll talk to an advertiser and I've had advertisers say this to my face that, Hey, we don't run a news.

    I'm [00:08:00] sorry. We would love to run, but we can't. And, something as a case in point is, the recent eclipse, that, passed over the United We saw from our Eclipse content, when you think of the eclipse, the first thing I did was I went to my, local sites to see where, what time does it start here in New York?

    Where can I be? Where can I watch it? You can't get that everywhere. And those are the experiences that we are constantly trying to bring to advertisers is that there's a perception with news that it is not brand safe, that you do not want the right, alignment with the news.

    breaking news content. But the large majority of our content is informative to come, spend with us, we're also trying to challenge them [00:09:00] to think a little bit differently.


    I think if we can get past that, I think we're actually going to be funding. The open internet, but also, quality journalism the industry will get there.

    Damian: That's interesting. Do you think that advertisers minds are being changed a little bit, or is it that there are new tools to offer more nuance in terms of what they can advertise against?

    Mike: addressability for them and their campaigns, but how do we get smarter about our contextual, And I think what [00:10:00] we're trying to do in partnership with our advertisers is show them that, an article about, again, our high school sports team shooting that basket that won the game is very different from, a gun shooting or some type of gun violence.

    So those are the parts that we're hoping we can get advertisers to lean into and build with us. But until some of the technology is there, it's gonna be really a very manual, open dialogue that we're having with them. But I think it's changing. I think especially with the cookie deprecating, it, this is my personal feeling is that it's gonna really spring back to the content, to the quality, and to the objectiveness of that content, that's gonna bring advertisers back to us.

    Damian: There's one more question. You mentioned at the top, the importance of content variety, and you mentioned long form. Journalism and that's another form that's been disappearing un unless it's in national magazines, why is that important and why is a variety of [00:11:00] content an important factor for, a newspaper, publisher, when it comes to finding advertisers to embrace that content and be next to it.

    Mike: Yeah, it's a great question. What we've seen is the long form content, especially as it relates to the weekends, people really are looking to understand what's happening at the local level, but they're looking for just, I think more than just the two or three paragraphs, about, what's happening there.

    [00:12:00] They're 

    Spectrum of what is happening at home.

    And I think that's what's really important for us, is to just show, you can cover the breaking news all day, you can maybe get the hits from, search, and maybe everyone's curious about that advertisers might not want to run against, but the majority of what people are coming to read us on is, what happened yesterday and what should I be doing this weekend?

    And I think those are things that we can answer for them.

    Damian: Yeah.

    Ilyse: Totally, and outside of specific content, [00:13:00] There's been, like, a number of major publications, including the New York Times, that have leaned into the subscription model, especially as, they realize, cookies will be going away, we need to make sure our revenue model is still intact, we need people reading the news, should this be free, it's, we are providing a service, there's a whole list of reasons why, 

    a subscription model has been implemented, and part of that is enlarging, also your footprint through podcasts and other apps, but as we've all seen, not everybody has that kind of scale to do that. What role should advertising play then versus that subscription model?

    Mike: Yes. Great question. I am a proponent of advertising helps fund the open internet. I will always champion that. And I also say that we have a phenomenal, customer engagement and consumer marketing team that is driving [00:14:00] an amazing subscription business. But I, Looking at the evolution of subscriptions, I think, especially in a market, economic market, that there's a lot of choice now, and especially with things like streaming.

     I think there's a lot more penny pinching, that is happening. In a past life, I've, really analyzed are people willing to have multiple newspaper subscriptions or are they really just leaning into one and Just have that brand loyalty and something that we've been really taking a hard look at is one, who's subscribing to our Publications but where are they and I think something that we've been taking that look at is it in DMA?

    Is it out of DMA? So we're catering to that subscription audience. But at the same time, we know there are going to be people that aren't going to subscribe. Maybe they don't have the budget to subscribe and we still want to provide them that same level of quality content and news and informative news.

    So we've [00:15:00] been a little bit different in that we have two types of, publication formats. We have a free model and a paid model are paid is exactly what it sounds like. It has a lot more of that long form, behind a paywall, investigative journalism, some of that content. 

     but there's a different type of content that we're sharing that is allowing, people to still stay informed and still, Be engaged in their local community.

    And what we're hoping is that it will have this flywheel effect where when people see the type of content that we're putting out there, 

     And that's how we've been thinking about it, and we have a lot of investment on our free model.

    Ilyse: that note, you mentioned this before that you guys have implemented like more games, and you're not the only ones, looking to gain or find more ways to really gain more first party data, especially as like cookies deprecate. Are there any other [00:16:00] strategies that Hearst is using?

    I guess looking into to create and build that free content model.

    Mike: We have a robust first party data set. It's very important to us. I just want to plug that everything the extreme, quality of being privacy compliant and really lean in. We take, we really value the first party data that we have. But with that being To your point, we've been really thinking of different types of experiences that we can unlock for our users.

    , as we mentioned, we have a new site called Puzzmo that if anyone ever wants to play Spell Tower, I highly recommend it. It's an extremely fun game. But what's really great about the Puzzmo site is there's an interactive community aspect to it where you can play games. With your friends, you can time yourself.

    There's a bit more of a [00:17:00] social activation to it. That we've been really having a lot of fun with and we're seeing the returns back on the well.  

    And we have, other partnerships that are currently in the works as well that are gonna help, bring different forms of content, like that to, better just help people, understand what they're doing with their time, , with probably a little bit of free time that they have. We just want to help them relax a little bit more.

    Damian: like that, yeah. I know what you mean, though, about still feeling cooped up. Somehow that pandemic mentality didn't fully go away. I don't know. 

    Mike: It's very true. It's very true. And it's, that's been the fun part. really trying to figure out, I, again, I got, I recently got into hiking because of our content. But just knowing that I can find something to do this weekend, and share it with, friends and family. And Google and there's just a choice.

     We [00:18:00] help narrow it down for you.

    Damian: Yeah. Speaking of Google, here's a little segue. We've already mentioned cookie deprecation several times in this conversation.

    I just wanted to zero in on how you think about that identity conundrum that publishers are facing right now. What are the sort of solves for it that you're thinking about?

    Mike: Yes. So we've been very leaned into, the identity, I'll call it ecosystem and identity resolution. We are. pretty lucky with that first party data that we do have. Being 137 year old brand and loyal readers we've been collecting this for quite some time. I think we've also been ready for the cookie to deprecate for quite some time.

    It's been a challenge when things keep getting pushed back, but what we've

    Ilyse: ready. Sorry. Sorry.

    Mike: but what really leaning into is

    Making sure that, we understand how do we still provide [00:19:00] relevant advertising in a cookie less world. And as a result, we've been leaning into the deterministic side of the house.

    We have, millions of email email addresses and that we, that people have consented to give us. We're being very smart about it. We are creating opportunities. It's very funny. I think back on newsletters when I first got into this industry, and it was just static creatives that you see when you news.

    And, but we've been really thinking outside the box of how do we, Utilize these premium more. How do we lean into a newsletter strategy that isn't just, Hey, this is what happened, then I would go into, I would share that we're working really hard on the contextual end as well.

     because you guys are so local, I think you would be a great source to talk about DMAs. Where would you [00:20:00] say is your largest markets and how do you then incentivize readers?

    Yes I think about DMAs all the time. I will say that we, while we have, we provide that national reach, I would say our largest DMAs are typically Houston San Francisco and and, Albany, New York. Many, I would say all of Connecticut, just the entire state of Connecticut.

    We, we have a slam dunk in coverage. But I think what's really interesting, I'll use San Francisco Chronicle as a great example of. And I didn't know this until I really started here, which is people who are reading the San Francisco Chronicle, they're obviously reading it in San Francisco, but a lot of people travel to LA or work in Palo Alto or are traveling all throughout California and are actively reading the Chronicle.

    And then I have a bunch of friends who've told me this, who are Ex San Franciscans who now live in New York, [00:21:00] who are San Francisco Chronicle subscribers. And what we've been really trying to track is understanding people who have brain loyalty, who want to know what's happening in their community but maybe aren't there anymore.

    So we've market coverage. And in New York but we want to be there letting them know everything that's happening.

    So it's been a very fun project of mine, [00:22:00] which is just slicing and dicing the different parts of America to see where are our second, third, large, fourth largest DMAs as it relates to our core key markets. And how do we come up with a different strategy? I think going back to even the whole free, paid, what are we doing with cookies?

    Of it all is we've actively are looking into the DMA aspect as well to see, maybe paying for a subscription for the San Francisco Chronicle is tough when you're in New York and you're living a busy life. In which case, maybe we do something a little bit different for them. Maybe we provide them different incentives to come back to us.

    So that's been a something I've been working on actively on the back end, which has been a lot of fun.

    you see a big surge during an election year?

    Coincidentally this year has been, normally we do, this year's been a little different. I don't know if it's here in America, at least at a national level, People either have, [00:23:00] already. into the back half of the 

    Damian: That makes sense. Given the fact that there wasn't so much hoopla around primary season, there was no real need for a primary this year, right? On either side.

    Mike: Exactly. It's, and it's very interesting too, because I think it's thrown some of the political agencies and trading desk for a loop a little bit. there are certain people that we can rely on and we actively are talking to, and even they're like, Hey, I got the money, [00:24:00] but We're doing it laterand uh, you when it comes to budgeting, we budgeted that it would be a little bit more of a stronger year, but I, I think we're hoping that over time, people are gonna pick it back up.

    Ilyse: Yeah not to resort back to the doom and gloom, but, and bring up a certain Company again. But, so Google recently threatened to remove links and pause investments for California publishers in response to the pending California Journalism Preservation Act, also known as CJPA, due to them having to basically pay a fee to link Californians to news articles. Is this concerning to Hearst at having, of course, properties in California, and if so, why?

    Mike: I'll say local news is always under pressure. Just over, even ongoing State law as it relates to privacy. I think these are just things that are going to [00:25:00] continue to happen and you know we have to remain steadfast in our position of what we do and forming people and communities as business as usual, but it's something that we are very close to and we are continue to work with a lot of our people Largest partners and the walled gardens to ensure that,

    But it's something that we just, we, again, it's an, it's another day and another challenge. And I firmly believe we're going to get through it.

    Ilyse: So Mike, how would you say news blockers are basically an impediment to advertisers? 

    Mike: it does. And I would say it's really from these fourth parties. I think it's the way we're getting tagged, even at a keyword level, lot of our advertisers. Are running if they're not running against an allowless block list on the domain level, which we've had to unblock, we've had people spend with us and want to do a buy with us, and then we later find [00:26:00] out that they, we were on a block list for news.

    But I think the difficult part as it relates to is someone will not want to run against any type of Donald Trump content or Trump. And. That will get tagged as not brand safe as relates to their advertising buy. But in actuality, the content itself is not brand safe. It's just, I think the, like we, if we said, Hey Trump is the new Republican candidate who needs to is for the candidate that.

    Content is deemed not brand safe and we remove that we don't think advertiser would run on, but the challenge has been how an [00:27:00] article about Trump being the new candidate versus advertisers, both of those are equal, and we just need to figure out a better way to inform them of those types of things. I always, I again, I'll use shot block list, and we will talk about basketball shots and people shooting three pointers to win games.

    And that content will be tagged unbrand safe when it's probably the most brand safe community based content that you're going to get. So those are the challenges that we're actively engaging with people on. It's just informing them more about the contextual relevancy and [00:28:00] less on individual keywords and isolation.

    Ilyse: Awesome.

    Now, outside of your localized newspapers, how does Hearst newspapers overall market yourselves? Is there a national story you're trying to tell?

    Mike: Yes, there definitely is. so across newspapers I also will plug, I run a team called Hearst Mosaic we and sell across both newspapers and TV. We have about 86 million uniques monthly. We have a really large audience. 

    We can give you national reach, we can give you local reach, but at the end of the day we can give you performance and we have an engaged audience who wants to hear from you.

    Ilyse: need to. 


    and that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. We'll be back [00:01:00] next week, so stay tuned.

    Ilyse: The current podcast's theme is by Love and Caliber. The current team includes Kat Vesey and Sydney Cairns.

    Damian: And remember, I'm Damian.

    Ilyse: I'm Ilyse,

    Damian: And we'll see you next time. Please subscribe and leave us a review. Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report, a weekly roundup of what's happening in the world of digital media.

    8 May 2024, 10:00 am
  • 21 minutes 58 seconds
    Ford’s chief futurist imagines how AI could grow the relationship between drivers and their cars

    Ford’s chief futurist joins The Current Podcast to discuss how preparing for the future is imperative for marketing.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.


    [00:00:00] Damian: I'm Damian Fowler. 

    [00:00:01] Ilyse: And I'm Ilyse Liffreing. 

    [00:00:02] Damian: And welcome to Season 9 of The Current Podcast. 

    [00:00:05] Ilyse: And we're kicking off this new season with Jennifer Brace, Chief Futurist at Ford. 

    [00:00:11] Damian: Now, Jennifer has deep roots at Ford. Not only did her father work for the company, but she started working there 20 years ago, first as an engineer. 

    [00:00:20] Ilyse: Now her days are filled with keeping an eye on all things that could impact Ford's business in the future. Everything from AI to the latest consumer trends. Her team is often keeping track of four different futures at once. 

    [00:00:34] We started by asking Jennifer about her title, Chief Futurist. [00:00:39] Jennifer: I'll be honest with you and tell you that, uh, Apparently my future in skills were not intact when I started working for Ford because I would have never expected to be in such a role. That being said, what I do as the chief futurist is I spend a lot of time paying attention to trends and signals, paying attention to 

    [00:01:00] the categories that we refer to as steep, meaning social, technological, economic, environmental, and political. Um, you'll notice I did not mention automotive. That is also by design. And what I like to think of my job is paying attention to all the things that are happening outside of automotive that might come back and impact our business or the environment that we have to operate within. 

    [00:01:24] So, I actually never say that I predict the future, I say instead I help teams prepare for the future. So, Uh, you know, contrary to the, the title of futurist, um, I can't actually see the future. I wish I could. I was disappointed when I found out like the job did not come with a crystal ball that worked or anything like that. 

    [00:01:43] Ilyse: You say that, that does not include automotive. By design, you say. Why is that? 

    [00:01:50] Jennifer: Well, the truth is there's a ton of experts in the automotive space within this company, and I'm happy to lean on them for their expertise and understanding whether it be, 

    [00:02:00] um, the future of, you know, engine propulsion systems or battery technology and things like that. I let them kind of own that space. 

    [00:02:07] And when I want to know more about it, I can talk to them about what they're seeing and how they, they continue to see it evolve. 

    [00:02:13] So a lot of what I do, I like to say that, um, part of our job is to connect the dots so by connect the dots, I mean, if we're seeing something happening, maybe in, education, if we're seeing something happening in mental health. What my job would be to do in my team is we're going to take some time and we're going to say, okay, if we're seeing this happen over here, can we connect the dots to get it to a point where it might come back and impact our business and come back and impact our products or services, um, the environment that we're operating within. 

    [00:02:42] So a lot of the times we're starting at the very high level. Then we talk about how it could impact the market. And then we get to how it could impact Ford or a specific product, depending on, um, what work we're doing at the time. 

    [00:02:53] Damian: One of the questions just based on what you just said, you know, you're sort of looking at current trends. But then how do you kind of extrapolate 

    [00:03:00] from those current trends? A kind of future scenario. And what's the kind of chronology of that? 

    [00:03:05] I mean, what's the time shift? Are you looking out a year, two years? 

    [00:03:10] Jennifer: So the answer is yes. In terms of timeframes, we do look at an array of timeframes. I would think of the one year timeframe is a much clearer. Then say the five or 10 year time frame. So of course, the farther out you go, the more kind of opportunity that the trend could shift or change. 

    [00:03:28] So when we're looking at trends, often what we're doing is number one, we're we have to take data that we see today. Um, but we'll also we'll go back and we'll try to understand whether the trend has momentum. We'll look for other signals to help us Start to quantify that trend for example, if you're understanding where venture capital dollars are being spent or even how many times a term is brought up in, uh, earnings calls, something like that. 

    [00:03:53] So when we're thinking of trends, we're all, my team, we're always trying to add some of that, um, that data element to make sure that we're 

    [00:04:00] proving to ourselves that we're taking it through some checks and, and gateways to ensure that we do believe it's a trend that has some staying power. 

    [00:04:08] And then the other side of that, when we're thinking about how the future might be different, I think of the trends as the things that we feel confident in. We, things are things that we quote unquote know, or we expect to continue moving forward, but the other half of that are, are the things that we don't know, and that's what we would call uncertainties, um, and those uncertainties. 

    [00:04:28] are duly named because they could go in any direction and we don't pretend to know what direction those might go in. We look at both trends and uncertainties, uh, to consider how different futures might play out. 

    [00:04:42] Damian: That's fascinating. And how, given all those different scenarios, do you determine which of the scenarios are the kind of headline scenarios? I mean, I know that you talk about different futures. Do you winnow it down to a specific number of futures? 

    [00:04:58] Jennifer: Yeah. So usually what 

    [00:05:00] we, the way we tend to do it, if we like doing for future matrix, if you will, if you take two critical uncertainties, uh, typically we would pick dependent on the problem. We will pick whatever uncertainties we feel are the most impactful. 

    [00:05:13] So, with the state of EVs, for example, we might look at the regulatory landscape might be one of those where it could become, you know, more stringent or less for that matter. And then we might take another access something say like, um, maybe social acceptance. Of EVs. How's the public feeling about it? 

    [00:05:33] It's kind of a mix of art and science, if you will. 

    [00:05:35] Damian: Do you find that, um, you're ever surprised by something that's gone away? 

    [00:05:42] Jennifer: Yeah. You know, it is a constant. Kind of moving beast, if you will, in terms of where we see momentum and energy. It's rare, to be honest with you, for us to consider something, a trend, we take it through several gateways. So it's rare that it goes away completely. 

    [00:06:00] If it's something that we've considered a trend. 

    [00:06:03] Um, I'm I'm calling it out that way because the way that my team works, we're very Um, scientific with what we consider to be a trend, something that has gone through a lot of gateways for us to believe that it's got lasting power versus something that would be a signal. Now a signal, we don't know what way it's going to go. We don't know if it's got lasting power yet. So it's the type of thing that we would start tracking because it's a signal and we'd want to be paying attention to it. 

    [00:06:28] But, um, the signals don't always grow up to be fully fledged trends. 

    [00:06:33] Ilyse: That's really interesting. I mean, especially when the culmination of all those trends become like four different futures, which is a lot, a lot of futures. [00:06:42] Jennifer: It's a lot to think about, isn't 

    [00:06:44] Ilyse: a lot to look at at once.

     [00:06:45] Jennifer: feedback sometimes from teams that they're like, but can't we just pick one?  

    [00:06:51] do we have to think about four? 

    [00:06:54] Ilyse: Yeah, you know, and when you say, um, you guys don't predict but you prepare,

    [00:07:00] can you explain the difference a little bit 

    [00:07:02] Jennifer: So when it comes to predicting, um, that is saying that we can see the future and this is what it looks like. And the truth is nobody, nobody really has that power. 

    [00:07:13] And that's why we say that we help people prepare because the truth is, if you've made a prediction. And you're wrong. And one of these uncertainties comes up and changes the game. You've put all your eggs in one basket and you're in trouble. I like to say that COVID made our job a lot easier and trying to convince people that betting on a single future could be dangerous, so that is when we're asking teams to be prepared for the future by considering more than one. Uh, more than one scenario. 

    [00:07:45] What we're asking you to do is to kind of recognize where your blind spots might be in your current strategy and how you might pivot if you need to. So it can be used in, you know, in product and, um, in different parts of the business and, and of course, um, also in marketing, 

    [00:08:00] uh, a lot of what we're doing when it comes to the marketing side is trying to understand. 

    [00:08:05] sentiment. So where are people? How are they feeling? What are their needs? How are their, um, how are their needs or sentiments shifting? We'll do things like trying to understand how people feel about Technology like AI is a great, um, a great example that, uh, that we've been talking about quite a bit in the last year or so, uh, and how people are feeling about it and, and understanding where people are at and how we might see that evolving helps us. 

    [00:08:34] Within marketing to understand, um, how consumers might be willing to accept a technology, how they expect it to work into their lives or what they expect out of the brands and the companies that are using a technology, how they expect to hear about it, understand its use, all of those things. So it's understanding where. 

    [00:08:50] where consumers are at, and then starting to think about how, how that might look different moving forward, or maybe how different generations are approaching 

    [00:09:00] it. All of that becomes useful information from a, from a marketing side as we're trying to communicate and connect with our consumers, and, and of course, trying to develop new products and services to meet their needs. 

    [00:09:10] Ilyse: Now, you mentioned COVID and the impact that had, um, and who could have predicted that one? I don't know, maybe you guys did, maybe you knew it was coming up 

    [00:09:19] Jennifer: will say there were lots of warnings. World Health Organization, CDC were certainly warning everybody that pandemics were On the way with how connected we were as a society and, and how, um, how we had seen some signals that the truth is that we saw signals before that there was Mark, uh, MERS, there was SARS, Ebola. 

    [00:09:38] Um, so there were some signals, but most, most would agree that we didn't necessarily take them seriously enough to be prepared. COVID jolted us so much because it was this thing that we all, even though we had, I don't know, maybe just my team, but I think a lot of people would have said, oh, right. I remember that. Oh, I remember that there were some other, um, epidemic type things that 

    [00:10:00] were, that were talked about, but it didn't hit me directly. [00:10:02] So I didn't think about it. Um, But if you really go back, the signals, the signals were there, But I'm not making any predictions on what the next big kind of black swan event will be. 

    [00:10:13] Ilyse: Are there any other, would you say, micro or macro perhaps trends that brands should be paying attention to? 

    [00:10:22] Jennifer: There's a lot of things that are happening that, um, that we all need to be paying attention to. AI, we can't, we can't stop talking about it. Right. It's bringing up a lot of questions, I should say, um, in terms of the way that we operate, the way that we work, the way that we interact and engage with our services, our everything that's around us, 

    [00:10:41] um, the other thing that is very highly connected to that would be trust and how are people. building trust? How are they gaining trust? Do they believe the information that they get? Where is the trusted source of information? what we are certainly seeing from a, um, a high level is that people trust 

    [00:11:00] those around them. 

    [00:11:01] You know, they, they build a trusted circle of friends and family. That's the number one. Number one trusted element in their life is their friends and family and, uh, we continue to see, you know, trusted institutions going down. We are seeing some increases in trust in businesses, but even that has some, some ebbs and flows, big business versus small business or tech company versus, um, versus something else. 

    [00:11:24] I think there's a lot, a lot to be said about how people are feeling in general when it comes to mental health and wellness that continues to be a huge, huge topic. And we do see differences in generations. So we see our younger generations being more likely to say that they have mental health as a stressor, they have more anxiety, they feel lonely more often than our older generations. 

    [00:11:47] Um, the other thing I would say, um, talking about our older generations is understanding how, how they're living. Our boomers are in retirement, but are they really retiring? They're staying super active. They are, they are kind of 

    [00:12:00] redefining, um, their, uh, their golden years, if you will. 

    [00:12:03] Damian: That's really interesting. As a Gen Xer, I feel like, you know, I used to be, uh, the youthful generation, but that suddenly caught up with me, which brings me to my point, which is like, The future is now in lots of ways, and what I mean by that is, are there predictions that you have talked about from five years ago that are now being realized, as it were, in real time, so you can say, chalk that one up to success? 

    [00:12:26] Jennifer: Um, I would say a few years ago, we were talking quite a bit about, um, divisiveness growing in our country and how that might, how that might come into play. But lots of different things with respect to technology and how we see the technologies in our lives starting to, to grow in play apart. I smile a little bit when I say that because I feel like a lot of the conversations I'm in this year, people are talking about AI, like it's brand new thing that we've never heard of before. 

    [00:12:55] And we're suddenly inundated with it. Um, but we've been talking about it for a long time 

    [00:13:00] and even back in 2019 when we asked people about AI, like they were reporting that they didn't understand it or that they were afraid of it and what it could be and what it could do. And we expected that it would continue having a large role in people's lives. And we have certainly seen that, um, grow and more recently kind of, rocket and take off, if you will, as generative AI has taken hold. [00:13:26] Ilyse: So yeah, it seems like you guys knew all along. 

    [00:13:29] Damian: Ha ha, yeah. 

    [00:13:31] Jennifer: I would love, I would love to claim that, but, um, but, 

    [00:13:34] Damian: be modest. Don't 

    [00:13:35] Ilyse: Don't be, yeah, don't be 

    [00:13:36] Damian: modest. You know, we talk about AI, but you know, if you had to sort of pick some other hot topics, as it were, that Ford is, not necessarily hot, maybe they're not hot yet, but maybe they will get hot. But if you had to pick some that Ford is looking at when analyzing these possible futures, are there any? 

    [00:13:52] In your, you know, on your dashboard, if I can use an automotive metaphor that, you know, you're, uh, really focused on. 

    [00:13:59] Jennifer: 

    [00:14:00] I would say topics that we continue to explore, right. 

    [00:14:03] When it comes to, uh, several years ago, autonomous driving was, um, was kind of. A big, big topic that we talked about a lot. And we've seen that evolve a bit, right? So where we're focused more on assisted assistance features, um, continuing to, to help make the drive easier for a driver, um, without, necessarily being able to, to do this full autonomous, uh, Future where we're taking them from, you know, the door of their house to the door of their work without them having to lift a finger. 

    [00:14:33] Um, so we're not there yet. Uh, when it comes to technology. So, so the supportive technologies there, we continue to investigate and we continue to look for ways to make it easier for consumers. So, so leaning into that.

     [00:14:47] Ilyse: Do you feel, though, that technology overall has kind of caught up with the forward thinking nature of your job? 

    [00:14:54] Jennifer: I mean, absolutely. The good and bad, right, is about technology is that it continues to evolve and it feels like 

    [00:15:00] it's moving faster every day, 

    [00:15:02] often what we say is, it's hard to imagine unimaginable tech because in, you know, 10 or 15 years, if we think of technology as being a thousand times. Stronger or better than it is today. The easiest way we would look for signals might be reading scientific papers. It might be looking at patents often at some of those earlier things that sound almost a little bit weird. years ago, talking robot sounded kind of weird and now. We see examples of that 

    [00:15:34] Damian: Yeah. 

    [00:15:35] Jennifer: place right when we think about AI and chatbots and whatnot. [00:15:40] So if I see something that sounds a little bit. 

    [00:15:43] weird, uh, to try to like squash my immediate reaction of, Oh, that's crazy. Oh, that'll never happen. And instead lean into it and try to understand it and say, well, what happened? What would it be like if that became a thing? 

    [00:15:55] Ilyse: Yeah, you spoke to me briefly for your profile, which is on 

    [00:16:00] TheCurrent. com, and you were telling me a little bit about how AI could eventually work its way into the overall, like, car experience, especially for, like, on the consumer side. 

    [00:16:13] Jennifer: Yeah, sure. So, you know, we're not talking about anything specific when it comes to the technology in our cars, but thinking about it in terms of what we see happening outside of the car and and how that might change the experience. I think that really kind of obvious, easy application is with the way that you are interacting with your car with if you're asking it to do something, being able to have a more natural two way conversation and in a lot of ways, anticipate some of the things that you might need. For example, if you are up, uh, going into the office and let's say you're up an hour earlier than usual or something like that. Wouldn't it be great if your car said, Hey, would you like me to order? Uh, you know, the Venti at Starbucks instead of your 

    [00:17:00] usual ground day? 

    [00:17:00] You're up early today. Creating a relationship or in having it feel like it's almost your friend helping you along, understanding what you need and as, as technologies improve, that is the type of thing I would expect to be able to, to have a, a stronger relationship and for the car to be able to understand, um, not only what you're asking of it, but also to even anticipate What your needs might be as it learns your habits and behaviors and, and starts to, to get smarter. 

    [00:17:30] Damian: Something just occurred to me, you know, I know you're focused on on an automotive kind of scenario. 

    [00:17:35] But do you think about digital advertising and where that's going to? Is that something that intersects with what you think? 

    [00:17:42] Jennifer: There's a lot of questions happening with respect to AI. I think digital advertising is a, is a fascinating space. If we think about ways that AI might help content creation easier. 

    [00:17:52] Um, I would also expect that it would make it easier to connect with specific consumers and understanding what they need or what, um, what might 

    [00:18:00] resonate with them. Understanding, you know, kind of where they're at, whether it be kind of physically where they're at, or even like mentally what space they're in, as we get better understanding of that, I would expect that AI should be able to help with that. 

    [00:18:13] Ilyse: Now, you weren't always a futurist, or even a marketer, you actually come from a background of engineering why did you move into the marketing side of things? And how would you say your engineering background has really helped you in your marketing positions at Ford? 

    [00:18:31] Jennifer: I would say. It was not an expected career move. If I'm honest, it was, uh, an opportunity that came up, uh, when I was in engineering, I spent a lot of time working on our in vehicle technology, on our sync systems, and this was at a time when, uh, I joke we used to always carry like Garmin systems like navigation systems in a bag. 

    [00:18:54] We were carrying them into our cars at the time when I started working on putting a touchscreen directly in the 

    [00:19:00] car and having all of those controls kind of in one spot. I ended up working with our marketing team quite a bit to help them with the communications, both to train our dealers and our customers for how to do these things that were all new at the time. So that was kind of when I got my feet wet with, with marketing was more helping them, uh, because I understood the technical side, but as I've, you know, moved into the marketing organization and understood more about the ways, um, that it is utilized and that it comes into the process, it is super helpful to have a background of understanding the engineering side of the work, and I can help to bring that knowledge into the conversation. 

    [00:19:38] Um, sometimes it's just as simple as, Oh, if we're going and talking to the engineers, let's make sure that we've got data to back up all of these things that we're saying, because. You know, the, that will get them bought in to what we're saying. They don't want to hear a pretty story. They want to see the data. 

    [00:19:53] Damian: When I was growing up, I remember I had this book called The Science in Science Fiction and it explained why certain things were possible in science 

    [00:20:00] fiction films. For instance, you can't see lasers in space. Alright, there was a disappointment to me when I read that. 

    [00:20:05] But my question is, um, you know, you look at the science And you also think about the future. So I'm wondering if you read a lot of science fiction, if you kind of those two things kind of work for you. 

    [00:20:17] Jennifer: Yeah, sometimes. 

    [00:20:18] So I do less of the reading. Sometimes I, I will watch it more just because usually, um, honestly, like. TV and media. They do a great job of pushing our thinking. Like Black Mirror, for example, um, Right. That's a great one. It's, it's kind of a, often it's like these cautionary tales, um, but they really do a good, a good job of taking something that we see today and pushing it into the future and enforcing us to think about how that might happen. 

    [00:20:47] Ilyse: Obviously, a new technology is great and can be helpful, but there can also be, like Black Mirror has shown us, um, some very terrible things that can happen because of those, um, such great 

    [00:21:00] technology. Um, as a futurist, my question to you is, what keeps you up at night? 

    [00:21:05] Jennifer: Where do we begin? Right now, I think it, we are on the cusp of, of some very, um, potentially concerning advancements when it comes to, I think generative AI is a particularly scary one right now because of. How good it's getting at, at faking or at looking and sounding exactly like the real thing. 

    [00:21:29] That one is, is particularly concerning. I think that we're going to see a lot of it. It's a political year here in the U S uh, in terms of the election coming up. So I, I will not be surprised if that comes up often. I'm curious to see how that's going to play out. 

    [00:21:43] Damian: And that's it for this edition of The Current Podcast. 

    [00:21:45] We'll be back next week, so stay tuned. 

    [00:21:48] Ilyse: The Current Podcast's theme is by Love Caliber. The current team includes Cat Fessy and Sydney Cairns. 

    [00:21:54] Damian: Cairns. And remember, 

    [00:21:56] Jennifer: signals don't always grow up to be fully fledged trends [00:21:58] Damian: I'm Damian. 

    [00:21:59] Ilyse: I'm 

    [00:22:00] Ilyse. 

    [00:22:00] Damian: And we'll see you next time. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review. Also, tune in to our other podcast, The Current Report.

    1 May 2024, 10:00 am
  • 19 minutes 33 seconds
    How MLS plans to capitalize on 2026 World Cup fever

    Major League Soccer’s VP of Brand Marketing, Jesse Perl, joins The Current Podcast to discuss how young people are growing more interested in soccer, the league’s deal with Apple TV+, and the importance of building local support for MLS teams.


    Episode Transcript

    Please note, this transcript  may contain minor inconsistencies compared to the episode audio.



    Ilyse Liffrieng: (00:01)

    I'm Ilyse Liffreing.

    Damian Fowler: (00:02)

    And I'm Damian Fowler.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (00:03)

    And welcome to this edition of the current podcast.

    Damian Fowler: (00:10)

    This week we're delighted to speak with Jesse Pearl, the VP of Brand Marketing at Major League Soccer 

    Ilyse Lieffring: (00:16)

    For Millennials and Gen Zers. It almost feels like the MLS has been around forever, but actually the league wasn't founded until the USA's successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Before then, the US just wasn't a serious contender in the soccer game or football as it's commonly called across the world.

    Damian Fowler: (00:34)

    Times have certainly changed, but the league still has to compete with the likes of sports juggernauts like the NFL, which has long reaped higher viewership and fandom in the US. Jesse talks to us about the unique challenges the MLS faces compared to other sports leagues and how he's prepping for the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup and how he envisions MLS as a brand.

    Jesse Perlman: (00:57)

    I feel really kind of privileged to, you know, be in the role that I am because I think brand really guides how we think about what MLS is and, and what we stand for in the world. And I think there's no real separation, no real daylight between the MLS brand and and MLS. And I think it's really, it's kind of the, the DNA and and the heartbeat of who we are. And I think one of the first things about the MLS brand that's really important is that we are proudly North American. There's a lot of stuff in the world, there's a lot of sports in the world, there's a lot of soccer in the world. And being North American, being kind of uniquely North American, this idea of creating our own North American version of what soccer means is actually really powerful. And I think if, if we look at all these different places across North America, the US and Canada, where MLS is thriving, I think it is about being able to tap into something that really represents, you know, what those cities are.

    Jesse Perlman: (01:49)

    There's a kind of an attitude and a spirit of North America that is really kind of transcendent in culture, right? I think North American culture itself is, is an export. And for us it's this idea of being really positive and confident, but in a really sort of positive way. So this kind of infectious positive North American spirit and attitude where we're kind of getting to remix the best of international soccer as well as the best of North American sports traditions and kind of make our own thing out of it. We've got playoffs, right? That's not something that happens in soccer, but I think we just kind of witnessed why it's, why it's great. And all of that sort of creates this idea of, of another part of our brand, which is this idea that, you know, without overstating it, it's a soccer movement here that's happening in, in North America that's kind of sweeping North America. So how we get to all that really is through our supporter groups, our supporter culture, the TFOs, the chance, the Kapos, all the things that they kind of bring to the party is, um, it's really kind of the secret sauce of all of this.

    Damian Fowler: (02:45)

    And what's fascinating about this as well is the fast evolution of this. I want to sort of date myself and say I arrived in this country just after college in 1994, and that was when the US last time the US hosted the World Cup and now we we're seeing it's gonna be hosting it again with Canada and Mexico in 2026. So that's basically three decades, you know, and you've seen this tremendous growth of professional soccer. Could you talk a little bit about those bookends and you know, how you've seen the trajectory of the sport, how quickly the sport has grown in those three decades?

    Jesse Perlman: (03:16)

    It's pretty staggering, and I think even the biggest optimist, I don't think would've bet that we'd get to where we are as quickly as we did. The 2026 World Cup is such a great kind of marker to, to kind of measure these things because you know, our story, the story of MLS starts with the 1994 World Cup for sure, right? We fulfilled what the hope and the potential, you know, was, you know, we launched in 96, you know, on the heels of the 94 World Cup. And by the way, that's in no way to say that we're declaring victory in its job done for us. I think to be in 29 cities, to have the amount of soccer specific stadiums we have to have the support that we have in these MLS communities that are, you know, settin record attendance to look at media partnerships like Apple that I think are rewriting the scripts in sports media to have the current reigning ballon d’or World Cup champion greatest player of all time messy here in our league, you know, to look at the young up and coming players, homegrown players, stars from, you know, some of the most storied teams in in South America and players that'll also, you know, will sell for record fees that go on to win Champions league games.

    Jesse Perlman: (04:26)

    And, and so I think it's really, I think the complete picture of everything that we could have hoped to set out to do. But for sure, you know, the the best is still yet to come.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (04:35)

    But you know, North America, particularly the US I would say, aren't known for being big soccer fans. So what would you say are like the challenges and then the opportunities of marketing soccer in this context?

    Jesse Perlman: (04:49)

    You know, I do think it's changing when you look at youth, when you look at Gen Z, when you look at six to 14 and 14 to 18, and these critical ages of where fandom is really, you know, set and takes root, soccer's a top sport of interest, that's been the trend and that trend is continuing and it's really favorable for us as a sport. You know, millennials, right? Are, are now parents of young kids and, and we know the influence that parents have on the interest of, of their children. And there are some kind of studies came out, uh, recently naming MLS as a top 10 fastest growing brand along among millennials right there alongside our, our great partner, you know, apple tv. So especially as marketers means that we've just gotta constantly think about how do we infiltrate culture in all kinds of creative and, and unexpected ways that are, that are true to us.

    Jesse Perlman: (05:36)

    We've got nothing but respect and admiration for the other North American sports leagues, whether that's the NFL or NBA or I think what we've got all is respect and admiration. I think we're also able to kind of look at, you know, some of those traditional North American leagues as traditional. We really feel like we get the permission to to be the enemy of tradition sometimes. And, and, and we love that. So I think kind of being able to stand for the things that differentiate us is ultimately how I think we'll continue to, to win over time.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (06:03)

    Are there any numbers you can point to that show the growth of the MLS over these past three decades?

    Jesse Perlman: (06:09)

    Big picture. There's, you know, there's probably a few things that are, that do really kind of stand out and I think kind of signal the continued kind of really explosive growth. Um, you know, one of the most important in sports is attendance. And we're continuing to set record attendance year over year. We just had another record year. That's a huge indicator. You know, ultimately there's um, we're in entertainment, right? And we're competing against, you know, sitting at home on your couch and binge watch and Netflix and you know, going to the latest restaurant and whatever else you can do. And I think for people to be motivated to go out there, go to the stadiums in record numbers kind of says it all. And I think in addition to that, we can look at things like valuation of an MLS franchise. You know, I believe LAFC was reported in Forbes as just crossing the, uh, the billion dollar threshold for franchise valuation.

    Jesse Perlman: (06:56)

    I could tell you when I joined in 2007, 2008, that was not the value of an MLS franchise. And all those kind of economic indicators I think are, are really healthy. And um, even if it's not necessarily an exact quantified metric, you know, the ability to go out there and, and have a, you know, media partnership like Apple again, right, or Adidas partnership in these best in in category global brands, I think again is another indicator. And I think the last one that's worth mentioning is the brick and mortar kind of growth. Here again, I think when I started we had, you know, a handful of soccer specific stadiums and now virtually all of our teams are, if they're not already playing in a soccer specific stadium, they're in the process of open the doors on one.

    Damian Fowler: (07:35)

    One other thing that stands out to me is as to go back to that nineties thing, I remember when I came here, I could, it was hard to actually find, you know, international games on the dial, on cable channels. Obviously in the last few years we've seen this sort of flourishing of the game across many streaming channels. I mean, you can watch the Premier League on Peacock, you can watch Champions League on Paramount Plus and media and the presence of media is such an important driver of fandom. Is that one of the big factors for the MLS?

    Jesse Perlman: (08:07)

    No doubt. Similarly, right? Like growing up, you know, in the nineties being a huge soccer fan, right? You had to work so hard to seek it out. I remember running to the Barnes and Nobles to get my monthly magazine of 442 or World Soccer and um, that was how you stayed current. Now there's so much access, right? Ultimately I think that's a good thing for us, more people watching more soccer. I think it just, you know, increases the amount of interest and curiosity and, and conversation. And there's certainly a lot of, you know, competition for eyeballs. And you know, what we're trying to win more than anything is as hearts and minds. And, um, it's great for you to be a fan of other soccer teams and clubs and leagues and we really do embrace that. But if you're here in the US and Canada, you really can't get up close to that, right? And so being a fan of MLS just means something different. That's where we really feel like it's a huge differentiator that access, you know, to kind of be a part of an MLS community.

    Damian Fowler: (09:00)

    Can you talk a little bit about the significance of the Apple TV season pass?

    Jesse Perlman: (09:05)

    It's a game changer. It really is in so many ways. I mean, I think the first thing for me is as a marketer, as a, as a kind of brand leader, there's probably no brand that's more recognized and admired than Apple on the planet, the ability for us to become an Apple brand, which I think is what's happened, right? It changes the perception, the reach of Apple, the scale, the reach, the deep love and admiration for their brand that people have. All those are really just kind of the starting points. But when you get inside the sort of Apple world and you kind of realize and learn like how many incredible layers there are to their growing and expanding ecosystem of products and services and ways for MLS to show up and, and be a part of that, you know, we just officially wrapped our first season together.

    Jesse Perlman: (09:50)

    When we kind of think about all the things we were able to do as co marketers, even year one, it's been a really fantastic starting point and we had some incredible activations around Messi, his game here in New York. We were able to work with our friends and partner with them at New York, Red Bulls and Apple to have this, you know, kind of takeover in Times Square of a live viewin party that sort of traveled around the world. That moment of people gather in Times Square to to watch Messi on a giant Times Square billboard. And I think some of the real sort of inside culture things that we did with Apple Music, you know again, partnering with great club like Nashville had a kit inspired by a Johnny Cash, the Man in black kit working with the Johnny Cash Estate and Apple Music. We all kind of came together working with some incredible music artists and talents to cover Johnny Cash songs. And so these really kind of integrated kind of campaigns that we were able to to do. Um. 

    Damian Fowler: (10:42)

    I wanted to ask you, uh, Jesse, about the kind of cross-fertilization with international leagues. You know, I'm a big fan of Liverpool, I watch the Premier League every weekend and you know, obviously there's La Liga and then, you know, la bundesliga, all of those things, you know, and football from south of the border. How does that work? How is that an important factor in driving fandom and is it a sort of cross fertilization or is it like a separate kind of group of fans?

    Jesse Perlman: (11:07)

    No, I think, I think it's really additive are clubs that are really succeeding and have these, the thriving kind of fan bases that they do. Those fans are also fans of other international soccer teams and, and we love that it's part of the, the thing that we love about soccer as a sport for anybody that truly loves it, it's the kind of international dimension is like what makes it different than other sports, right? For me personally, it's been a lens to kind of learn about the world and learn about other cultures and it really kind of expands people. We're never shying away from that. I think we want everybody who's a fan and has a team in, whether it's in, you know, the Premier League or the Bundesliga or Serie A or anywhere else around the world, or Argentina or Mexico, Liga MX, you know, we want them to know that they're invited to still be loyal fans of, of those teams, whether it's passed down from generation to generation or something they discovered on their own. 'cause all that is complimentary, right? I think, you know, that's part of what being a soccer fan, you know, looks like. So we, we embrace it.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (12:05)

    As much as it's a global game. It's very much made up of very localized fans at the same time, how important are local efforts in each city? For instance, building stadiums or the infrastructure, how is that key to driving that local support or community supports?

    Jesse Perlman: (12:25)

    Really as important as anything. And I think it's been what's defined this incredible growth period for MLS. We were kind of chatting earlier about like what it means to be North American and the importance of this kind of brick and mortar investment and building these like incredible cathedrals to soccer. And I think not just building stadiums, but building 'em in the right places, right? Building these in the kind of heart of the downtowns. I think it's made all the difference and, and continues to, and it's really timely. I mean, we just had MLS cup in [email protected] field, brand new state-of-the-art best in sports anywhere in the world placed to watch live sports. That stadium was rocking, you know, it was completely electric fan, 28, 30,000 strong in the rain, right? Singing enchanting for 90 minutes and the streets were alive, the city was alive. And you don't have to go back that far to just kind of be reminded of how this franchise went through like one of the most traumatic things you could go through in sports, right?

    Jesse Perlman: (13:20)

    There was ownership change, there was concern about what the crew still be around. It's an emphatic like not only are they here, but they just won MLS cup again. On and off the field I think it's so important that it's so local. You know, I think what Columbus represents to crew fans is, you know, is so different than the team that, that came to play them in Columbus. These clubs, they represent really different ideas and communities and, and fan bases, but the common thread is that what they really represent is their cities and, and the idea of their cities in this moment in 2023, I don't think there are brands that better represent Columbus and you know, how it sees itself. I think it being local and localized and really kind of deeply rooted in these, you know, local communities and cultures has been the difference maker.

    Damian Fowler: (14:07)

    As I mentioned, I'm a Liverpool fan, and Anfield is, you know, very much a Liverpudlian tradition and they have the traditions there. And at the same time, if you look at the field, it's absolutely international. And so it's that beautiful kind of conjunction of the local and the global. Wanted to ask you about that international presence, you know, the, the MLS of course has been drawing headlines. How do you see the star power playing into your marketing efforts?

    Jesse Perlman: (14:31)

    It's another part of what makes sports sports, right? Star players. It's another part of why people tune into sports, why they care about sports and love sports. And you know, certainly people are fans of teams and clubs and, but people also really care about players, right? And some of them will become fans of a team because they're fans of a player. The other thing that's so special about sports, and I think even more so with soccer is who's gonna be the next star? The idea of like the emerging stars, especially we think about these homegrowns the future of the US men's and for the US and Canada national teams. And you know, I think as we look at, you know, Messi, right? We're equally excited about Benjamin Cremaschi learning from a guy like Lionel Messi every day, right? These kind of, you know, future world beaters that are coming through MLS and we're really spending a lot of time and, and energy and focus on how do we continue to hype up all the right players, but especially these, these up and commerce, these emerging stars and really sort of build their brands on and off the field and help more people kind of, you know, fall in love with them because they have incredible stories and we're gonna be hearing about them for years to come.

    Damian Fowler: (15:35)

    I heard that the Messi shirt in that iconic pink sold out instantly, impossible to get.

    Jesse Perlman: (15:41)

    It is, uh, I can tell you firsthand, I, uh, I failed as an uncle on, uh, on Hanukkah to come up with the goods for my nephews. So it is truly, it is a scarce product.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (15:51)

    You know, along with more like just sports documentaries out there on streaming channels, there's also like the rise of live sports at the same time. How would you say the rise in like live sports and streaming contribute to the rise of soccer overall in the us?

    Jesse Perlman: (16:06)

    Well, I think it's only increased the amount of soccer that's available for sure. I think we've got more access to more soccer here in the US than just about anywhere in the world. You know, there's probably a lot of people that'd be surprised to learn that, but you know, as a Liverpool fan, I'm sure you'd agree, there's a lot of people in the UK that like, man, that is a pain point in life is just how hard it can be to, to kind of watch the, so you wanna watch and the amount of blackouts and how you kind of just gotta jump through hoops to, uh, be able to watch games sometimes. And so we're spoiled for choice here, and I think streaming has only increased that to me it's an indicator of this is the sport for the future, right? Gen Z and, and younger fans, linear TV is not where they're spending their time, right? They're spending their time on devices and streaming and places like YouTube and, and places like Apple tv. And so I think it's great for us that we're ahead of the curve on that respect as far as kind of live games, and I think we're just so well positioned for that.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (16:59)

    The US also gets to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup along, of course with Canada and Mexico. How are you planning to ladder up your marketing to this massive global event,

    Jesse Perlman: (17:13)

    I guess can't reveal all the secrets, but No, it's very much in focus for us and to really be thinking multi-year about not just how does the marketing kind of ramp up to the World's Cup, but how does all of our activity as a business really deliberately think about what that's gonna mean for us. I think what's really interesting is during the World's Cup is gonna be the noisiest loudest, most crowded for anybody else marketer. I think everybody's gonna be trying to find a way to talk about the World Cup and soccer, whether, whether they've got the official, you know, FIFA rights to do that or not. And I, and I think all that noise is gonna be, is gonna be good, good, right? I think soccer is just gonna really bleed into the mainstream conversation, uh, in a way that'll kind of eclipse, um, you know, anything before it.

    Jesse Perlman: (17:59)

    But I think as, as you know, as marketers here at MLS I, I think the most critical moment for us is actually gonna be what do we do the day the World Cup ends? You know? And I think that's really the incredible opportunity for us to seize because, you know, that kind of World Cup Fever that everybody's gonna catch, the World Cup's gonna be incredible, but it's gonna, it's gonna come and go. There's gonna be a lot of people here that aren't gonna be able to make it to World Cup games that maybe wanted to or maybe wanted to take their kids to it, or it got priced out, or there's only so many seats in so many games. And for MLS to really make sure everybody knows where they can find us, how they can find us, again, I think meet that, meet that moment is, is gonna be, uh, I think it's really gonna be the, the big unlock for us.

    Damian Fowler: (18:46)

    And that's it for season eight of the current podcast. Stay tuned for our next season of interviews with the industry's top marketing leaders.

    Ilyse Lieffring: (18:54)

    The current is produced by Wonder Media Network. Our theme is by love and caliber. The Trade Desk team includes Chris Brooklier and Kat Vesce

    Damian Fowler: (19:02)

    And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave a review. Also tune into our other podcast, the current report, our weekly digest of what's making news across the open internet. And remember,

    Jesse Perlman: (19:14)

    Especially as marketers, means that we've just gotta constantly think about how do we infiltrate culture in all kinds of creative and, and unexpected ways that are, that are true to us.

    Damian Fowler: (19:25)

    I'm Damian,

    Ilyse Lieffring: (19:26)

    And I'm Ilyse. 

    Damian Fowler: (19:27)

    And we'll see you next time.

    13 March 2024, 10:00 am
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