My guest today is Matt Kerbel.
Matt previously worked for General Mills, Activision, Lyft, and MeUndies and is now head of marketing and brand strategy at Canoo, so he has a lot of diverse experience under his belt. And if you’ve not yet heard of Canoo, they create electric vehicles for subscription and are due to launch in 2021.
In this episode, he talks about developing a marketing organization where brand, performance, and creative marketers all work together in balance. Plus the importance of the entire team getting involved with the end goal.
listen to this episode
- Can a marketer be both brand and performance-orientated?
- Being relevant not just today but in the future
- Taking raw research data and turning it into something actionable
- Why creating a brand personality that reflects a person is so powerful
- Creating three or four core pillars that you stand for
- The importance of building your brand foundation with the entire team
- Ensuring that everything you create is measurable
- Picking a metric that matters
- Ensuring diversity within your marketing
- What marketers should learn today to help them in 10, 20 and 50 years time
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders, and tech people. who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you learn how to develop a marketing organization where brand performance and creative departments are actually working together with the same goals, the same purpose, and basically how to find balance between brand performance marketing, creatives, and to make them work together. So, yeah. My guest today is the head of marketing and brand strategy at Canoo. It’s a LA-based company, creating electric vehicles for subscription only. Quite interesting because they are launching their first vehicle in 2021, so next year. Prior to joining Canoo, my guest worked for General Mills, Activision, Lyft, and MeUndies. So a lot of diverse experience there. Matt Kerbel, super happy to have you on board.
Matt: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.
Louis: So it seems like, if go on LinkedIn and actually talk to experts or interviewing people, like I do, it seems like marketers are either, quote-on-quote, “creatives,” they’re very into their brand, very into creating strong brand image, making sure that it’s a lovable brand that people talk about to their friends, and then you have the very heavy performance-based, direct-response type of marketer who writes super solid sales copy and just tries to generate a response out of you every time they can using paid PPC, using landing pages and all of that. So what’s your experience in this? Why not both? Why can’t a marketer be both brand-oriented and performance-oriented?
Matt: Yeah. So one key problem that I see over and over again throughout my career, and particularly, I would say this is mostly for digitally-native ecommerce companies, direct to consumer, is this trade off, this unnecessary trade off between brand building, creativity, and ultimately efficiency. Right? So companies will often follow the beaten path of the crowded social landscape because they can test quickly and, quote-on-quote, “efficiently,” and be where they think that their people are. But in doing so, they often fail to create a culture that’s grounded in research, empathy, calculated risk taking … I say calculated because, if you do an exceptional amount of research, you understand your people and the risk taking becomes less risky … and ultimately, creative investment. Right? And as a result, they milk for short-term growth at the expense of building a powerful connection with an audience that could have loved them and not waited for the next discount code. Right?
And I think that, ultimately, what I’ve seen is that these marketing organizations ultimately become very siloed. People are working against different KPIs. Foundational brand elements that are never quite finished or aligned upon and you often have a quick reflex to take the more measurable path versus a creative risk that was worth investing in. And my perspective on it, and this is just me, but it is that it should always just be called marketing. Right? It should be one organization. It should be focused on the same KPIs. Everybody should be rowing in the same direction. And there’s many things that you can do to set yourselves up for success, both in the short term and the long term. And that really harkens back to balance. And I’m happy to talk about what that means.
Louis: So I don’t think that what you say is only relevant to the direct-to-consumer-brand companies. I think it’s the exact same problem everywhere; b2b, SaaS startups, consulting agencies. It’s always the same thing.
Louis: So I would say that this episode is very much relevant for everyone involving marketing in some ways because I’ve heard this from many different industries. So, yeah. I wouldn’t say it’s only relevant to direct-to-consumer type of brands. So let’s just take an example. If you say that, in a marketing organization, we only have performance-based marketers, meaning their goal is to generate a response from consumers as fast as possible through a campaign, landing pages, generating a direct response, getting something from them straight away. What are the issues with just having performance marketing in your marketing organization?
Matt: Yeah. So I’m going to give my friend, Mayur Gupta, some credit here. He’s the CMO of Freshly, but he often … and both he and I often talk about what we call same-day gratification syndrome. Right? So in other words, the short-term, lowest acquisition cost mindset without realizing the long-term damage that it does to the brand and, ultimately, growth. Right? So you start by setting an acquisition cost and top-line revenue goal. You spend 100% of your marketing on direct response, click bait, conversion, conversion, conversion. Right? You realize that your acquisition cost is higher than you’d like. You start adding discount codes and band aids to acquire more competition, get stiffer, more discounts. You’re continuing to reinforce a negative behavior. Right? The goal is always not just that people are talking about your brand, but it’s how people are talking about your company and your brand and your offerings. Right? You can buy people, but ultimately your retention, which is meant to be, obviously, much less expensive than acquisition, actually almost becomes an acquisition exercise again to get people to actually repeat.
So the net result is that you eventually lose market share. Your brand doesn’t really exist. There’s no sort of emotional or cultural connection that’s irreplaceable and your offer stops working because competition comes in. Often, people that maybe have VC money and don’t care about profits yet. So you’re going to get into a money fight. When I was working at Lyft and we had to take on Uber, if we would’ve had that mindset 100% of the time, we would’ve lost because Uber had a lot more resources than we did. So we had to really think about, how can we differentiate from a brand standpoint? And the perspective we took at Lyft was honor the drivers even more so than the passengers. Right? Uber was focused on, “Let’s put the customer first, the person in the backseat.” This is very traditional taxicab, next level, and they were successful in making you feel more special than you had growing up with cabs.
But what we said was, well, I think the biggest issue that people had with ride sharing at the time is getting in the car with a stranger and, ultimately, not knowing who they are. And so we said, well, if we can focus on them and how interesting they are and the fact that they’re doing this probably as a side hustle, not necessarily as their primary occupation, let’s encourage you to want to get in the car. So we had a big, pink, fuzzy mustache, which made it more approachable, and we actually encouraged you to get in the front seat and fist bump your driver and have a conversation and learn something and the time will pass from point A to point B because we’re actually building brand and community. And that’s a long-tail thing. Right? Obviously, Uber won very early and they had sort of a first mover and went global and swept up a lot of market, a lot of drivers, a lot of customers in the process.
But Lyft, from a brand standpoint, when you ask people, including my boss right now, James, who came from Uber and I came from Lyft, part of the reason why he hired me is because he felt like we’d beat them on brand. Right? People who love Lyft truly love it. And so the solve here is not to necessarily reduce your focus on acquisition or performance, but to invest in parallel in building the brand, investing in content, investing in educating your consumer on the value of your product. So you can make 50% of your performance dollars, hit 100% of your growth goals because you’re using 50% of your marketing dollars on the brand. So you focus on that serendipity, that irrationality of marketing, you seek to obtain a multiplier effect from the top-of-funnel activities to drive organic and authentic connections that make people share and evangelize on behalf of the brands.
And today, consumers are ultimately the owners of successful brands, not us. So the negativity comes in if you don’t do that and you focus on same-day gratification syndrome. Not only is it a struggle for your business externally to consumers, but if you don’t do this, then the mindset can extend into culture and I’ve seen that happen before where cross-functional team members feel the brand has cheapened, it’s a ploy, it’s driven by behavior, negatively reinforced by push tactics and then it makes employees want to tell others about your company less and, ultimately, want to work there less, which is bad.
Louis: So great answer to a simple question. I like it. I would say one thing, though, about the discount point that cheapens the brand. Some brands rely on discounting …
Matt: Of course.
Louis: … because that’s part of the brand. That’s what customers want. Right? Some people don’t like discounting or couponing because they save money, because it’s a game. They feel like they are gaming the system. Right? And so some businesses are entirely based around people wanting to game the system and this is why they keep doing coupons, because that’s what their consumers like. So there are certain conditions where this type of activity is actually worthwhile, but that’s not the point of this episode. And then we’ll reverse the question before we go into a step-by-step to how to find the balance between the two things. Now, let’s say we have a marketing organization that only does creative brand-related type of activities and don’t do performance-based marketing at all. Are there any issues with that?
Matt: Yeah, there absolutely are. I think that the concern where we’ve gone from these sort of broad phases over the last 50 years of going from a black box of the Madmen days, so to speak, of anything that we do is going to convince consumers because the creative is going to be so good and we don’t have to worry about the measurement of that. It’s just going to all translate into revenue. That’s absolutely unacceptable, as well, but as I just mentioned, so is growth at all costs. Right? And so is the focus on the short term. So ultimately, the solution lies in a balance. Right? And you also don’t want to just have organizations that are like that because, ultimately, you may have misaligned KPIs.
So an example that I’ll give would be, if you had a major blockbuster movie launch, the next Avatar is coming out or whatever and it’s big enough, people are excited enough that they’re going to pre-order tickers. Right? So pre-orders is really what everybody at the organization or on that team should be aligned towards, but they release a trailer and the trailer gets the most views of any blockbuster movie ever. Right? And the creative team is like, “We did it, guys. We got the most views ever.” Well, that doesn’t translate to the sort of north star KPI of pre-orders, which is ultimately going to dictate probably how your movie is going to do at the box office. Then you have an issue. Right? And a lot of creative departments will, I think, be … People in companies are lazy. Right? They want to rely on their expertise. They want to rely on what they’re comfortable in, but ultimately, at the end of the day, you have to orient people towards the same goals.
And that’s where having a balanced organization, and that’s really the key here, of both brand and growth or brand and performance, what have you, and a balanced team made up of sort of generalists and specialists is critically important because, as I said in this other example before, you still want to have 50% of your dollars … and I’m just using 50%. It can be 60%, it can be 30%, whatever. It can be 80%, but some significant portion of your dollars on performance, trying to orient towards shorter-term growth goals. Right? But then you want 50% of your marketing dollars oriented towards brand building, which takes time, but also can have an immediate and longer-term impact, depending on the efficacy of the creative. And that harkens back to more foundational things. Right? Like, how well do you really understand your intended audience?
And those are some of the things that I think are critically important that everybody across department and, to be honest, cross functionally across organization, there should be involvement in those strategic activities where you are going on the journey of learning about who you’re trying to target so that everybody is aware. And then, as you set up the foundational elements, what is your mission, your vision, your beliefs, your pillars, your personality?
Louis: So let’s talk about all of this.
Louis: Let’s go into details now because you’re talking about a lot of interesting stuff I know in my head, but it’s not practical enough yet. Right? So let’s make it practical for people. Let’s imagine, folks listening right now, they want to know, okay, that’s all well and good. You sold me on the creative plus performance base, you sold me on having a balance. Now, how am I supposed to do that some more when I go back to the office? Right? So what is step one? It seems like you talk of researching your audience, understanding them very well. Maybe that’s step one. Let’s say, if I was hiring you as a consultant in a company and you had to set that up, where would you start? What would be step one?
Matt: Right. I think that, first of all, ensuring that you have the right people in the right seats. So even before you start research, you want to make sure that you have that balanced team. You want to make sure that you have the right people that are actually going to be focused on the right activities. Do you have subject matter experts, but do you also have generalists who are able to be agile and adapt and do different jobs? So the first thing is taking a look at the team and making sure that that’s correct. Obviously, not everybody is going to be able to have robust teams. So let’s just take the hypothetical example that you have a very small, scrappy team and everybody is doing everything because it’s a startup organization. That’s fine. So the real first step from there, yeah, is prioritizing research and prioritizing establishing the brand foundation to ensure that everybody can be aligned to what it is you’re out to do, ultimately, your brand purpose, the pillars of things that are important to your consumers.
So how do you do research? Well, there’s a million different ways. It obviously depends on the resources you have, but certainly you can actually talk to humans. You can, obviously, scour the web to understand what people are saying. You can read reports. You can hire consultants. You can do a million different things that can enable you to really, really deeply understand what are the pain points, needs, wants, desires, et cetera of the people that we are going after? And ultimately, the most important thing is that you understand, who are the segments that we want to target? Demographically, behaviorally, psychographically. And then equally important, who do we want to deprioritize?
And so how we do it here at Canoo is we think about, who is the sort of … because we’re pre-revenue, because we’re launching in 2021, we’re trying to understand, who are our earliest adopters? Who are the people that have a mindset alignment with our offering, as well as what we’re seeking to do, from a purpose standpoint. We’re seeking to evolve the automotive industry and sort of democratize electric vehicles and the membership, a subscription-based membership, which is something that automotive companies haven’t really been able to do yet. But then, there’s also a halo effect. So if you target this sort of bullseye, then who else is going to be interested? And then there’s also going to be a sort of fast follower or late adopter segments who are probably going to adopt maybe three to five years after you’ve actually been launched and there’s going to be people altogether who you should never take stock in because they’re never going to want to purchase your offering because of X, Y, and Z reasons.
So you really have to understand all that because that’s going to pay dividends in the long run, as you are putting dollars against marketing. Right? You’re trying to find, how can you achieve a situation where one dollar that gets you $5, that gets you $10, that gets you $20. And so the research is critically important.
Louis: So let’s break that down because you’re giving a few sources, but it’s still not … I think you can go one level deeper. Again, let’s say I’ve hired you as a consultant and we need to get some results relatively fast. We need to have some research done relatively fast. We need to have that ready so that we can kick off the actual marketing work of creatives and performance and all of that. So out of all the sources, you said a million sources, out of all of them, from your experience, what are the most efficient? What are maybe the top three or even the number one thing you would do if you had no other choice but to do this thing? What would it be?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I think that there are some platforms out there. So one that we use is called Remesh.ai. And what it does is it actually uses artificial intelligence to take what is typically a focus group and actually remove the bias. So ultimately, how this works is that you have, let’s say, 50 to 100 people who are answering questions as they’re being asked by a moderator. They’re all at their own computer. They’re not in the same room. And ultimately, what happens is they answer a question and then they get other people’s responses, A or B, put in front of them recurringly for a couple minutes. Right? So respondent 13 and 52’s answer and then respondent 16 and 26’s answer.
And ultimately, what that helps you understand is everybody is picking A or B, A or B, a or B each time. That helps you understand what is popularity and what is consensus of those answers. Right? So without people knowing where the answers are coming from, you’re getting a sense of, okay, what answers are people saying? But that’s really just that person’s opinion. Nobody else is gravitating towards that versus what are answers that many people are gravitating towards because there’s something here, there’s something universal here. Right? So we really loved using Remesh as a tool because it helped us to sort of qualify what answers make more sense and what we should focus on versus what not to. And the key there is ensuring that whoever you have actually participating in the research is not lukewarm to you. Right? You have to qualify people beforehand. So you have to work very closely, as a team, to ensure that you’re getting the right people in so, that way, you can ensure that they’re going to be people that can afford your offering or that are living in parts of the country that are actually going to be able to access your offering. So we’re launching specifically in LA in 2021. Well, we better make sure that we have people in California who are on those surveys. So Remesh is a great one. That’s just one example that we used recently.
Louis: So that’s a specific tool, right? But beside that, I think, what you’re getting into, is you could do the same just interviewing people. You could do the same by maybe sending surveys or just talking to people one on one.
Louis: So beside this tool that might not be there in two years, five years, 10 years, you briefly mentioned that, you briefly mentioned the wants, the needs, the problems, and whatever. So once you’ve qualified those people, once you know they fill the demographic and whatever, do you also qualify them in terms of whether they care about electric vehicles, whether they have already a Tesla? What do you do? Do you actually just talk to people who are very, very likely to be strongly interested in what you do or is it wider?
Matt: So you have to ask about a few different things. You have to ask about, generally, yes, are they predisposed to electric vehicles? Are they predisposed to subscriptions? Things like that that are, obviously, more higher level and then you have to cross reference that with two other things. Are they predisposed to our specific offering? So do we ask them questions about Canoo and do we put images in front of them and try to get a sense for do they think the car is really cool or really weird? And do they think that a subscription is more attractive than a lease or financing or ownership, right? And why or why not?
Then the other thing you have to understand is, from sort of of a willingness to pay standpoint, these would be what they pay today or what they would be willing to pay for something like this. So those three things, you have to triangulate. Their predisposition to electric vehicles, even if they don’t have one today, do they want one? Do they hope that their next vehicle is electric or do they hope to have one at some point in time or do they care about sustainability? Then, do they love our offering? And then, also, would they have a willingness to pay that we feel would match up with what our pricing is ultimately going to be, which we haven’t gone public with yet? Right?
So those people, which will probably, early on, be a smaller percentage of the population, are the people that you need to focus on right away because they’re going to not only be the early adopters, they’re going to be the ones who are going to evangelize.
Louis: So now, we know who they are, the people who want to ask questions. What do you want to know out of them? What do you try to understand?
Matt: You try to understand as much as possible because you’re going to want to understand the communications and things that are going to resonate with them. Right? So you’re not always going to talk about sustainability. For us, here, we actually talk about understanding people’s lives in cities because we’re going to focus specifically on launching in major urban areas. We want to understand their hobbies, we want to understand their use cases. How would you potentially use this in your life? Is this going to be for road trips or is this going to be for commuting. Right? And we also want to understand the things that have been painful for them as a function of owning a car. So do they hate going to the DMV and standing in line? Do they hate dealing with repairs or registration or do they hate dealing with insurance? Do they hate dealerships? All of those things are critically important in terms of figuring out, how do we cater messaging to them that is going to resonate as far as showing that we have a much more convenient and valuable value proposition, as a function of our pricing and everything that comes with Canoo?
I then I think the other thing is that you want to understand, how do you connect with them as humans? And our thing at Canoo is that we’re trying to be less of a car company and more of a company that really starts with people first. So we’re really focusing on the user value versus an if we build it, they will come mentality. And a great example of that is how we’re trying to build a community around our wait list. So we launched our wait list, which we called a first wave, a couple weeks ago. And rather than just putting money down and sitting on a wait list for a year and a half, two years, we actually made it free to join, open to anybody, and we actually had gamification principles embedded into the wait list to make it fun.
So one is that, if you refer other people or if you take surveys, which help give us information about you as a person and can help us sort of qualify you as a customer and learn more about how we can optimize our offering for people, those things allow you to move up in line. So if you have a successful referral or if you take a survey, you can actually move up in line.
Louis: [crosstalk 00:24:45]
Louis: I’ve seen that many times before. Right? In a lot of stuff while waiting, is like that. But I want to go back to what you said before, which is, okay, you’ve qualified those people, you’re asking them a few questions. And it seems like the question you’re asking them about is the pains of the current solutions they’re using. So in this instance, it’s owning a car or potentially renting a car for holidays and whatnot. Right? Am I correct? The potential wants in the future, are they open to subscription and whatever? But I think this is very … How do you say that? It’s very rational, I would say, type of information. It’s very … I wouldn’t say basic, but this is kind of, yeah, you want to know that. But then beyond that, do you ask, are you trying to gather questions or to ask questions that are more beyond the type of message that they like, the type of other brands that they like that might not be at all related to automobile industry so that you have creatives that correlates with that? What is it you like to ask those people?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Of course. I mean, we’re trying to understand what types of social media platforms are they on and who do they follow and why? We try to understand the personifications of our brand. So who would be driving our car and what types of brands, to your point, do we inspire them and why? Is it about education, is it about entertainment, is it about connecting with them, is it about diversity in marketing, is it about standing up for causes that resonate with them today and not just trying to stand up for a cause because that seems like the expedient thing to do, but does it actually connect back to their sort of overarching purpose?
So we’re asking all kinds of things that will help us, of course, create creative that is going to resonate with them, that’s also going to, to my point earlier about sort of DR performance-driven marketing is that we have to have things that are able to transcend. And my biggest mandate to my team and the companies that I work for is not just to understand consumers, but really understand today’s consumers and to also understand what’s important to them, looking forward. So it’s really critical for us at Canoo that we’ve created a vehicle that is ready for a near future that is more electric, more autonomous, more connected, increasingly shared because, ultimately, people are going to be sitting in the back of one of these without a driver in our couch-like backseat in the next 10 to 15 years. Right? And it’s going to be electrically powered and it’s going to be driven by cameras, radars, and sensors.
So we have to also understand, how do people feel about that? Are they excited about that? And how can we paint the picture of how cities are evolving, whether that’s youthification or whether that’s just issues that are happening in cities, and how can we fit into that equation, moving forward? So it becomes bigger than just product marketing. I mean, if we’re going to be just another car company, we would just show our car all the time and that’s fine. But for us, we’re trying to humanize it. We talk about being more like Supreme than Tesla. It’s really about people and culture and being relevant and creating something that resonates with people today and tomorrow versus looking backwards. So all the questions that we’re asking, to your point, are really about understanding all of these types of things.
Louis: So, yeah. You’re looking forward to the future and painting the future that you want to see so that it fits with the product that you’re going to sell. The new game that some people are playing versus the old game, the old game of people owning a car, not using it for 95% of the time versus the new game …
Matt: That’s right.
Louis: … that some people are starting to play, which is they don’t pay 15 grand for a car that stays idle. They just rent stuff. They just share stuff. They save money this way and save the planet, on the other side. Okay, so that’s interesting. That’s the question you ask. That’s one that you want to know. Now, you have this information. You’ve already hinted at a few things you’re doing on the back of that, but imagine, again, you’re a consultant for my company at this stage. So you only have this research and none of the stuff that you are describing with the company you work for right now has been created just yet. You have a lot of certainty about your journey at Canoo and what you’re doing, but imagine that you don’t have those answers just yet, that you need to actually develop them.
Louis: So let’s say you have this research. You actually understand those top customers, understand their wants, their needs, the problems, the current solutions, who they are, who they follow on social media, why they like those brands, what do they connect with, how do they see the future? Now, you have this information, which is probably gold, but it’s not gold in a format that you can use right now. You need to transform it to make it available. So how do you take that and make it into the balancing, the creatives with the performance? How do you take this raw data into something that you can action? What’s the next step?
Matt: Yeah. So I think that a lot of people would jump to making a bunch of different creative executions based on the information that you have and testing. Right? And learning. And certainly, you can do that in parallel if you want, but to me the most important thing is ensuring that the entire organization has been able to synthesize it, understand it, and then… but you take the time as a team, no matter how small or big, to establish what your overarching brand foundation is. So what is your purpose, your mission, your vision, your beliefs, your pillars, your personality? How do you show up? And then having a cadence that you refresh then, periodically. But if you do this, if you can establish pillars, let’s say it’s three to five things that you want to focus on because that’s what important to the priority segment that you’ve identified, then that will make the entire organization row in the same direction versus it ultimately can get to the point where it becomes very subjective.
So if you don’t do this, you may ask 10 different people at the organization, how old is my target consumer? And they may say anywhere from 22 to 45. Right? And tell me about them. You’re going to get seven different answers. Or, what do we stand for? You’re going to get 12 different answers. So it’s really, really important that people take the time to do this work. It’s hard, but it’s really, really important. And once you get there, if you can do that, then you can be a lot more agile and focused in terms of the creative exploration that you go on because it’s all grounded in the same foundational work.
Louis: I completely agree with this right. It’s insane, especially in marketing, when you should be pretty close to customers, to consumers. So you have a lot of internal knowledge. Crazy how, as soon as you open the … talk to other people in the organization that are not in marketing or even sometimes just within the marketing team, it’s crazy how the knowledge differs, how people have assumptions. So you really want to control that from the start. You really want to tell a story, internally, so that everyone gets behind. Right? Now, there’s a lot of buzzwords that you mentioned and I know [crosstalk 00:32:17]
Louis: … from you it was just purpose, mission, values, vision, et cetera. A lot of it could be very synonym, like what’s the vision? How is vision different than a purpose? So beyond that, you mentioned those five kind of core items and I like that. It’s more like, what are the top five things you want people to remember about us, as a company? Right? So are you married to a specific concept or, when you meant the five concepts, are they just the core ideas? It doesn’t matter if you call them vision, mission, purpose, whatever?
Matt: No. Let me take the bullshit out of it. Okay?
Louis: All right. Please do.
Matt: Right? Let’s do it. So your mission is an action-oriented thing. It’s what everybody at the company wakes up to do every day, that day. Right? What are you selling? What are you seeking to achieve? And this should be something that is relatively tangible. Your vision is lofty, it’s ethereal. It’s something that may never be achieved, but you want to get closer to that someday. It’s a world where blah, blah, blah. It’s better, more sustainable, it’s more stress-free, it’s greener, what have you. Right? Your beliefs fundamentally reinforce both of those. So it helps you articulate exactly what you stand for. These are the things we believe, which means that, if there’s things that don’t align with these beliefs, then we don’t believe those. And that is not what we stand for. So it helps to make very, very concrete how these things come to life.
The personality is, okay, well, when I’m writing copy or when I have visuals that are communicating to people in some way, shape, or form, what do we sound like? What do we look like? And I think that a lot of companies will just start doing shit and, quite frankly, it’s really, really important that you take the time to think about, are we approachable? Are we crass? Do we use exclamation marks? Do we just use periods? Right? And do we use emojis and do we take political stances? All of those things are really important. And if you can basically create a personality of a brand similar that you would think about a person, it becomes really, really powerful. Now, can that be wide ranging and diverse? Sure. Sometimes I’m serious, sometimes I’m sarcastic, sometimes I’m funny or I think I’m funny, but I’m not, and sometimes I can be more subdued. A brand can do that, but it needs to be very focused and zero in on how you want to be perceived.
And then your pillars, the last thing that you talked about, your pillars should be the sort of core things that you want to stand for. So maybe it’s three or four things. For us, maybe it’s focusing on having a bold product. Maybe it’s a business model that makes you feel peace of mind, that’s seamless. Maybe you want to talk about the future of cities and what that represents for people, what have you. Right? So those are the things. And then are the closest to actually how we show up and the types of things that come through, but it all lathers from your mission, your vision, which, as I said, your mission is very tangible. Your vision is something that you aspire to over decades. So hopefully, that’s helpful.
Louis: It is.
Matt: It probably sounds bullshit-y, but …
Louis: No, that’s fine. It’s fine. For us, as marketers, I think it makes sense to me, but what I can’t help thinking about is, how do you convince people outside of the marketing team to believe that it’s not bullshit? How do you go to the product team, to the engineers, to C-suite? And potentially the CEO needs to be behind this. Right? The CEO needs to be the person actually sharing all of this. It can’t just come from a marketing executive, or maybe it can.
Matt: So you have to go on the journeys together. As marketers, we want to be involved in things that are not only based on advertising, whether it’s CX or product innovation or establishment of KPIs and strategic planning or employer branding with HR. Well, okay. If we want to be involved in those things, then we have to take cross-functional partners on the journeys with us when it comes to research and when it comes to establishing these foundational elements. Right? So if you’re just having a dog and pony show at the end and you’re saying, “Hey, here’s our person. This is Brad,” or, “This is Jen,” or whoever, “And, hey, here’s our mission, here’s our beliefs, here’s our vision, wah lah,” very, very hard to get buy-in. And just like any meeting where you’re going to speak to the important people who are the decision makers who can move things forward, if you don’t have a room of people that are already in consensus and have various viewpoints and expertise and backgrounds, et cetera, and it doesn’t seem like you’d necessarily done your diligence, even if you have.
And so, to me, anytime that we do this, we have people from all of the departments, whether it’s engineers, whether it’s finance, whether it’s product, whether it’s customer experience, whether it’s HR, all those things should have at least one representative who can go on the journey with you to represent that function and that way of thinking. And if you do that, then you’ll set yourself up for alignment and the process will actually, ironically, go a lot quicker.
Louis: So we’ve identified the customers we want to reach. We’ve asked them the right question. We’ve built our brand foundation. We’ve built those brand foundations with the entire team or just inside of the marketing team. So now, it seems like we have this strong foundation to get started and actually ship stuff. Right?
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s right.
Louis: What’s the next step? What do you do then with all of this?
Matt: Right. So I think the next step, assuming that you have the right team in place, you have subject matter experts and you have generalists and you have this great, diverse group of people that can get after it. You get after it and the reason that you have a strong bias to action is because, ultimately, you know exactly what you need to do. I think you’d want to build, obviously, your strategy. Right? You want to get that aligned upon at the leadership level to ensure that they know the activities you’re going to focus on, but if you know, ultimately, your consumer to the extent that you should, your targeted segments, then you should start deploying creative. Right? And that’s where it’s important to have that test and learn and optimize mindset because you’re never going to hit a home run right out of the gate. And if you do, fantastic. Good for you.
But I think that there’s always improvements that can be made and that’s where you have to continue to have a balance of a short-term and long-term mindset where there’s going to be some things that are harder to measure and they’re higher up in the funnel and they’re things that you do to bring people in, in a really unassuming, but approachable and inclusive way where people latch onto your brand and they start to take notice. Then there’s other things that are a little bit more direct and measurable. And so you want to have that portfolio of activity happening across the potential channel levers that you could pull. So for me, we figured that out as a team and we start partnering with creative and we start saying, “Okay, we want to deploy across these different channels.”
And let’s say, hypothetically, we’re targeting a target that’s much more gen Z, then yeah, you’re probably going to have things like TikTok and Byte and Snapchat as part of your strategy, as some of the tactics that you use. But if you’re just doing … Edward talked about this on your podcast a few weeks ago, but if you’re just doing Snapchat filters just to do Snapchat filters without actually understanding why you’re doing Snapchat filters, then you’re flushing money down the toilet. Right?
Louis: And generations have… are as different inside the generation than they are to other generations, as well.
Louis: We need to be very careful about gen Z meanings and all of that. Yeah. You can make a lot of generalizations. However, if you don’t get research right in the first place, you know better.
Matt: That’s right. That was generalization. Right? Yeah.
Louis: I know.
Matt: That was generalization.
Louis: I like to catch you on it, just for my own enjoyment. But, no. To be more serious, beyond gen Z, beyond your research and whatever, so that’s all well and good. You start deploying creatives and stuff, but then what I’m still struggling to understand is how you make sure that the brand activity, the ones that are top of the funnel that are there to really raise affinity and whatever, still gets some portion of the share because when you start … let’s say, if I hire you, I want results now, as well as results in two years because I kind of understand that brand is important, but how do you convince someone to spend … I don’t know, like you said, 50%? I mean, I know it’s arbitrary, but how do you convince the CEO, let’s say, who doesn’t necessarily understand that, to actually spend this money and show that it works on the brand side?
Matt: Right. Well, everything is measurable. Right? So you still have to have plans that are grounded in what you expect to measure. So if you’re going to do experiential marketing, if you’re going to have an event, then you can monitor traffic, you can collect leads, you can have a digital, obviously, component to the event where you are broadcasting that out and you’re capturing engagement and you’re directing people to the site, et cetera. So there shouldn’t be anything that you can’t measure. If you need to AB test something, doing something in one city and not in another, or if you are going to be trying a variety of different channels, then don’t necessarily stack them right at that moment. Try to work early to understand what’s working and what’s not and then optimize towards the ones that are. But fundamentally, everything is measurable. And so to get them to support from a monetary standpoint, you shouldn’t just go in and say, “Hey, I think we should do this because this feels good.”
At the same time, people understand that those more traditional tactics, whether they’re TV or whether they’re radio or, today, we’re talking about a podcast, right? Podcast is becoming a very, very big deal. Or in-real-life experiences, those are things that can still have a tremendous amount of impact and a multiplier effect if you do them right. Right? I think, if you know your consumer really well and you want to have an event, you should do something that is going to surprise and delight the and resonate and add value for them versus, on the flip side, if you’re just going to do ads in social media, then you need to ensure that the creative is resonating, as well. Right?
So regardless of what you do, whether it’s top of funnel, middle of funnel, or lower in the funnel, everything should have creative and communications that is going to really excite and entice your consumer to, ultimately, move closer and closer to conversion. So for us, when we put together these plans, we want to make sure that anything that we’re doing we can tie back to commerce. That’s the most important thing, fundamentally. I always talk about that with my teams, if we’re going to do an experience. So when we revealed our Canoo, our first vehicle to the world in September, we had three different events across LA over a couple months, called it a reveal tour, and we were able to engender a tremendous amount of press, positive press and earn media, which then was able to beget us a lot of traffic, emails, which ultimately we were able to convert to wait listers, which is where we’re at right now. Right? We don’t have sales yet, so we’re trying to get as many people on the wait list as possible.
And so if we don’t focus on those KPIs and if we don’t have very single person across the organization focused on those true north KPIs or that one specific KPI, then they shouldn’t give us the money and we shouldn’t do it.
Louis: So that’s what you were mentioning at the start, right? Have a true north metric across the company and across marketing that you all share.
Matt: Right. That’s right.
Louis: For you, as an example, would be number of people on the waiting list.
Matt: That’s right.
Louis: And actually, you mentioned Edward’s episode and I remember him talking about a way to monitor brand activity, even TV channel, radio, stuff that are quite intangible where you can’t necessarily say, “Enter this coupon code, TV20, to get 20% off,” something a bit more subtle.
Louis: You mentioned testing a bit in two cities, so you can basically do AB test in real life.
Matt: That’s right.
Louis: Meaning you take a city with 500 thousand people, roughly the same demographic, and another city with 500 thousand people, roughly the same type of population, and just blast creatives, brand, events, whatever in one city and you don’t do nothing in the other.
Matt: That’s right.
Louis: And you monitor them what’s the difference in terms of your KPI. So what’s your advice on picking one metric that matters? Because I know from experience it’s incredibly tough. Everyone wants to measure multiple things.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, ultimately, it needs to be whatever it is that’s tied to conversion and, ultimately, the health of the brand. Right? So some people use ratios to understand what’s actually working. So if you’re looking at something like monthly active users, you should also understand your daily active users to understand the amount of people who are actually active monthly, on a daily basis. So you get the health and the engagement of the active users. So I think also looking at long-term revenue as a function of acquisition costs. Right? It’s okay to sort of 2X, spend more for a user that’s ultimately going to be 4X more valuable. So if you use acquisition costs alone, then it’s not actually indicative of the health of your business, but if you’re doing it as a function of the long-term revenue, so once we actually get to launch and we have people that have joined the membership and we start to see the trends of how often people are churning, causing, et cetera versus the people that are lasting longer, then obviously we’re going to want to acquire people that are more predisposed to being longer-term members with us.
So I think, right now, it’s easier for us. We’re focused on ensuring that all of our activities are oriented towards getting people to join the wait list. But once we get into actual launch, then that true north metric will shift more towards something that is indicative of what are the better health indicators of our business.
Louis: Yeah. You get closer to the money. I think that’s what experienced marketers do more than others, is really this connection with revenue, profits, making sure it doesn’t stay fluffy. You mentioned TikTok, the TikTok views is not the ultimate true north of your marketing department. Otherwise, you’re in deep trouble.
Matt: Right. Unless you work for TikTok. Yeah, exactly.
Louis: Unless you work for TikTok. So we’ve talked about building creative … those brand foundation. We’ve talked about doing the right research, qualifying those brand foundation. How do you then … Is there something here, in this kind of method that you’re laying out here, that I’ve forgotten to ask you about that you feel needs to be mentioned to kind of close the loop of how to find balance between creatives and performance-based marketing?
Matt: I think one thing that is really important that is often an afterthought, but is getting a lot of attention these days, is making sure that the group of people that you have at the start is diverse. Right? People from different professional backgrounds, cultural backgrounds that you bring a different vantage point to a variety of key issues. Right? If you look around and you’re a bunch of white men in a room, you probably have a problem because there’s a large chance that you’re going to have female customers. Right? And you’re going to have customers and people from varying backgrounds. If you look at where the direction of this country, at least, is going, it’s increasingly diverse. Here in California, one in two people is Hispanic.
So I think it’s really important that you take a look at your teams, you take a look at the makeup of your teams and you ensure that, on one hand, you have people that come from diverse backgrounds. On the other hand, as I mentioned, you want to have generalists and specialists. Right? You want to ensure that you have people that are deep into subject matter and can own those disciplines and help you move and be on the cutting edge of those particular things, but then you also want to have generalists who are able to take on those projects that are more gray. Right? And are able to navigate ambiguous and uncharted territory.
So for us, we’re doing something that’s sort of never been done, so we absolutely have to have a balance of both. We can’t just have people that are all generalists and we can’t just have people that are all specialists. So the HR portion of it, I think, is really, really important and often one that is sort of left to the wayside.
Louis: Yes. I completely agree with you. I think there’s plenty of research done proving that the more diverse your team is … and we’re not necessarily talking about demographics only.
Louis: We need psychographics where they believe in all the better because they represent your customers. So amen to that. Yeah, Matt, you’ve been a pleasure. Thank you so much for going through all of this intense questioning with me. I knew you had a lot of stuff under your sleeve that I just wanted to make sure you got a chance to tell them. I have just three questions before I let you go.
Louis: What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Matt: Yeah. So I think that it’s important that … I mean, it makes sense, based on what I’ve been saying. Right? But focus on the simple things before you dive into the complex things. Someone could talk about AI and blockchain and XR and wearables and sustainability, et cetera, and all that shit. But for me, again, it’s important to focus on the foundational things that we can rely on. So you need to know, who are your people and have you put them at the center of every decision? What do you stand for and what change are you motivated to make in the world and are you relevant? And I mean this culturally and I mean this as a function of what your intended consumer cares about. Right? So if we talk about gen Z, I don’t want to generalize for an entire generation, but in general, they’ll be the most ethnically-diverse generation in American history. By 2030, they’ll make up 30% of the labor force and they’ll have the deepest understanding of growing up in a natively-digital age.
So what are you going to do about that before thinking about a chat bot for your business? Right? So the long-term thinking is always just as important as the short-term, if not more. And the key to it all is to find the right balance. So again, who are those people? What do you stand for? And how are you relevant to them? And I think that, whether we’re talking about 10, 20, 50 years from now, regardless of where the technology is and whether you’re working side by side with a robot or not, those things are always going to be critically important.
Louis: Great. What are the top three resources you’d recommend our listeners? So could be anything from podcast, conferences, books.
Matt: Yeah. So I recently read a book by Ben Horowitz called What You Do is Who You Are. He’s one of the founders of Andreessen Horowitz and has more experience investing in startups than most people on the planet. It gives four different historical perspectives about leadership, based on historical data from slave rebellions to the samurai to a prison gang leader. And he examples principles from these and puts them into a modern light. He’s trying to examine what great company culture should look like. And I think, when I read this, it helped me think about how I can operate in a better and more empathetic way and make positive progress to understanding others and what drives behavior. So What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz is awesome.
Another book that I love, which is an oldie, but a good, is Good to Great by Jim Collins. So people have probably read it. If you haven’t, you should. Jim talks about concepts you can apply to any business, like the flywheel and the hedgehog concept. So hedgehog is actually about the intersection of three things; what you’re deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine. So when you figure this out, you as the hedgehog develop the, “psychs,” quote-on-quote, that you need to fend off other foxes trying to impede on your turf. It also talks a lot about people, focus, discipline, and patience. And the one thing that Jim notes, which I think is relevant to what we’ve talked about over the last hour, is that not one of the good-to-great companies focused obsessively on growth, not a single one. It’s really important to have that balance, short-term and long-term perspective.
And then the third, if I’m being honest, is LinkedIn. Honestly, on LinkedIn, by following other marketing leaders, companies, and even hashtags related to marketing and leadership, it’s been super invaluable for me in terms of keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening, trending, et cetera in our industry. So if you’re not on LinkedIn, I recommend giving it a try, in particular because it’s gained a ton of steam in the past year or two. There’s probably a lot of bullshit, so buyer beware, but I think it also can have a lot of merit. So check it out.
Louis: Yep. Absolutely agree on the three there. Good to Great is an absolute fantastic book and I love the fact that they use actual data research for [crosstalk 00:55:28] the research to build the conclusion, which is not the case for most books. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing this one. Matt, again, you’ve been a pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing your playbook in detail. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Matt: Yeah. So in terms of Canoo, go to Canoo.com and you can find Canoo basically anywhere that social media exists, actually including our own podcast called Get In, Let’s Go, but @Canoo in Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, et cetera. And then, me, mostly on LinkedIn. Look me up, Matt Kerbel, and I’d love to connect.
Louis: Thanks, Matt.
Matt: Cool. Thanks, Louis.