Episode 55 – In Marketing, listen first, listen well

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Episode 55 – In Marketing, listen first, listen well

Guy on a laptop with headphones on

My guest on the show today is Andy Harrison. Andy is the VP of Technology at Hothouse Inc and has more than 15 years’ experience in software development, systems integration and digital strategy. His expertise guides digital work from initial concept through live project launch. He is also cofounder of A3C Festival and Conference, one of the largest annual hip hop events in the country.

Highlights from this Conversation

  1. What has worked well for you?
    1. Taking time
      1. Get to know  customers
      2. Listen first
      3. Listen well
      4. Do interviews
    2. Clients don’t know what they don’t know
    3. There is always value in research, always
    4. Data removes opinion
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Don’t listen and plow forward
    2. Nonmeasurable stuff
  3. What are you excited about?
    1. VR, on and off
    2. Connections between technologies
    3. Crypto and blockchain
    4. Voice Apps

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:08] Hi, and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. A podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency, and 48in48, a non-profit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight non-profits in forty-eight hours.

Adam: [00:30] My guest on the show today is Andy Harrison. He is the VP of technology at Hothouse Inc and has more than fifteen years’ experience in software development, systems integration, and digital strategy. His expertise guides digital work from the initial concept through live project launch. He’s also the co-founder of A3C Festival and Conference, one of the largest annual hip-hop events in the country. Andy, welcome to the podcast.

Andy: [00:55] Adam, great to be here man. Thanks for having me.

Adam: [00:58] That’s such a diverse bio. I love it. Like super tech heavy and just on the side, the co-founder of the largest hip-hop events in the country. Like no big deal. Just a side thing. Like, it’s cool whatever.

Andy: [01:11] It’s not lost on me either. When you were reading it, I was thinking, that’s kind of weird.

Adam: [01:18] I think it’s awesome, man. I love it. I’ve been around the city when you’re doing the festival and it’s like, there’s a stage, there’s a stage and there’s a huge group of people. It’s just unbelievable the amount of energy and just enthusiasm that it has when the festival is going on. It’s really impressive stuff, man.

Andy: [01:36] Yeah, it’s a ton of fun. This will be year fourteen and in those years taken on a life of its own, really just driven by some great people that we’ve been lucky enough to have on the team. And they just sort of take it, run with it, and make it their own. And it’s really evolved from this baby, sort of local, regional music showcase into very much a national and international destination. We’ll do three days of a conference downtown and then we do a couple days of a live outdoor music festival and then through that whole week we’re doing, and like you said, kind of stages in pop up events and shows throughout the city, sort of like a hip-hop South by Southwest. So, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great passion project that I have, a good side hustle.

Adam: [02:23] Yeah, that’s right. A good side hustle, a fun side hustle I’d imagine. That’s amazing. So related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that’s working well for you?

Andy: [02:35] Great question. I like to maybe answer some of these questions really on the Hothouse side and in the A3C side. And, starting with the A3C side, we’re not really doing anything too probably exotic in the world of overall digital marketing, but the things that are working for us, are the sort of those bread and butter things. We are taking the time to sort of get to know our customer and taking the time to listen, taking that qualitative and quantitative information. So we’re actually talking to people, really picking up the phone and talking to past ticket buyers if needed. Sending surveys, talking to people on site, using social to really kind of listen first and then responding. People will tell us the type of event they want to have and the experience they want to have.

Andy: [03:24] I know in the A3C side, that’s sort of our vision is to be that platform. We’re not really trying to be curators at the end of the day. We’re trying to find things that people are already doing and that are already being successful at doing and saying, “Hey, you should come do that at A3C. Especially on the conference side, we have a couple of different tracks, but one of them is music technology and that is obviously a big intersection one with the digital marketing and digital stuff. But the question there is like, “Who’s already doing these things, who’s already giving these talks, what are the digital trends and can you come do them there?” And that all starts really just with listening from the marketing perspective. We asked artists, DJ’s, managers, and the music business people, and licensing people and fans, “What do you want to see, what do you care about?”

Andy: [04:12] And, I think once you start with that starting point and use that as the input to sort of guide your strategy, then these digital marketing tactics that we all know really come to life. We do a lot of email marketing, we’ll do a lot of social outreach and those things are kind of working where our paid media campaign is driven by those same metrics and segments. And that’s working really well for us. Obviously, with Facebook and everything else, you can really get the right message in front of the right person at the right time and when we take the care to make sure it is the right message and it’s measurably working with the right person.

Adam: [04:51] I love the fact that this is a marketing podcast and marketing is really primarily about pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing messaging towards people, right. To get them to do something and your response, which I think is brilliant, is, “In marketing, listen first.” I’m like grinning ear to ear. That’s perfect. It’s right on the money. We have to listen first and listen well and I think we do a terrible job typically as marketers in that case. Wouldn’t you say so?

Andy: [05:25] Yeah. I think overall we do and I think that a lot of that is some of it’s cyclical. Some of it’s sort of the changing times. I mean, it used to be having that the business and marketing landscape has changed so much in the last ten, twenty, thirty years. You’ve kind of gone from the Steve Jobs attributed quotes or sentiments I’ll probably mess them up. But the idea of people don’t know what they want. I’ll tell them what they want, right? Like [inaudible 05:56] famously didn’t believe in market and there is a certain truth to that, right? Since we’re throwing out marketing clichés, it’s the Henry Ford quote of, “If I ask people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse. You wouldn’t have built the car.” People don’t know. And I think that there’s always some truth to that. There’s always some room for sort of innovation and sort of being a visionary, but for the rest of us, for the 98% or if you’re an agency trying to help an established brand make measurable, meaningful, incremental change. There’s a ton of value in just listening first. And, we at Hothouse, we pride ourselves on challenging our clients in that way to say, “Hey, maybe you have a blind spot. Maybe the reason you’re not being as successful as you want to is because of some assumption you’ve made that seems obvious to you guys, but you’re all sort of in your world or your industry or your vertical, right?” And you’re not seeing the outside things. And we don’t necessarily know either. But what we do know is that there’s never a point where you do that research and you don’t find at least one nugget that you say, “Oh man, I never would’ve thought that. Isn’t that interesting?”

Andy: [07:12] You know, we hosted AMA panel last night and some of the insights from some of the panelists that they were just revealing from looking at raw data. Every one of them, when they talk about how they took the time to actually do the exercise and to look at the data and still it up and information, they found kind of crazy insights. One of the guys on the panel was saying their key go to market branding, I think his previous job when he was with Scott Trade, it was like discount brokerage, he was saying how when he took the time and looked at the data and looked at the SEM reports and all the great stuff you get from Google, it wasn’t in the top fifty. The thing that they built their brand on from the ground up wasn’t even in the top fifty, whereas any sort of use that to affect change.

Andy: [07:59] Yeah, absolutely. I think if you’re willing to take the time and listen and be open to the unknown to sort of embrace the fact that you may not have all the answers and really let the data tell it’s story. I keep quoting our panellists from last night, but one of the guys from Delta was saying, actually I think it was Pete Scott from Turners and data removes opinion. And that’s the idea. If you just look at what’s in there, you’re not having the conversation of I feel or maybe this or maybe that, you’re just saying here’s what the data’s telling us. And so I think listening is not just listening to your customers, it’s also listening to data. If it can talk, maybe it just sounds like binary with a lot of ones and zeroes probably sounds like a 56K dial-up modem but it’s talking if you listen to it.

Adam: [inaudible 08:50 – over talking] It’s a horrifying sound. I should wake my kids up with that. That would be great, that’s a good alarm.

Andy: They don’t know what phones are these days. Just kidding everyone. Adam and I are young and we don’t know what those things are. We’re young, hip tech guys.

Adam: [09:06] Alright, this is great man. So, next question related to digital marketing. Tell me something that has not worked well, that we can learn from.

Andy: [09:19] Man, I shouldn’t share those stories from the Hothouse side because we want our clients to still love us, so I won’t share specific ones. But I think generally, what are the common things that are there when things don’t work. And I think it’s a little bit of the flip side of the conversation of what’s working. It’s wind through their dogma or convention, brands and people like that. So, when it doesn’t work is when people take that position and they don’t listen to it. Again, there’s sort of dogma or convention or whatever they say, “Even though this isn’t working, we’ll throw more money on it and make it up in volume. If it’s not working at the $10 clip, maybe we just need to throw a hundred at it.” And so I think it is the flip side of that, it is like not listening to what data is telling you or feeling like you can just kind of muscle through and bend things to your will. Because data’s also sort of not very forgiving. At the end of the day the truth sort of settles its way out and it’s very obvious why your thing didn’t work.

Andy: [10:40] So I think that’s broadly right. I think more tactically, I mean what we’ve seen is probably the same trends as everyone has seen in the digital space. Moving more toward measurable things, more digital things because they’re sort of inherently measurable. It’s not to say that there’s not still a lot of room in the world for your bus shelters and billboards and even traditional TV ads, but I think the pressure is on those channels to become measurable because it’s the non-measurable stuff that you find to not work. I’m not saying that the non-measurable things don’t work. I’m just saying when it often when things aren’t working, at the root of it is something that either someone’s not taking the time to measure or is fundamentally unmeasurable and you realize that the past stories of success are so much built on, not really great data, not really strong hypotheses and measurements, right? Someone’s telling the story of the impact and when you dig past two layers in their PowerPoint deck, you’re like, “Oh, you pulled that out of your ass. You weren’t actually successful, or maybe even worse, you were and you have no idea why.

Adam: [11:55] You can’t just plough forward blindly and you’ve got to be able to measure and validate what you’re doing. I would 100% agree with that. That’s great. So, last question related to digital marketing, tell me something you’re excited about.

Andy: [12:10] That’s another great question. So, in running the tech department at Hothouse, we try to keep our eyes and ears open to all the latest and new toys. And through that, it’s probably an ebb and a flow of things we’re excited about. I think that over the last fifteen years, I’ve been excited about and completely over VR, like probably a dozen times, right? I’m like twelve years old, and Dave and Buster on the VR thing and I’m like, this is it. This is the future. We’re taking over and then it kind of busts and then it comes back and that does thank. And I think that’s a natural kind of flow with technology things, right? There’s the critical mass part for adoption. There’s also, I think usually the real breakthroughs are the connections and the synergy between multiple technologies that you don’t think would work well together, but you realize where either the blocker or the thing that makes something really cool.

Andy: [13:17] I think we saw that at a low level, even in smartphones, I mean until like they could be small enough and have cool enough screens and have a long enough battery. You really couldn’t do half the cool stuff we’re doing on them now. It’s just a physics limitation. I think it’s the same thing with VR. Until the sort of accelerometers and gyrometers, and graphics capabilities really got good enough, that’s really why it was a parlor trick for the last decade. I’m doing a lot of stuff and we’re getting into like some test stuff and sort of cryptography and I should say cryptocurrencies and Blockchain specifically, distributed ledgers. And if you look at the story of Blockchain, or sort of through the lens of say a Bitcoin, there’s no one piece in technology now that’s like new or novel but it was someone saying, “Okay, because we now have strong encryption and because we have networking at the place it is and because of the mathematics piece of it and the marketplace, and the ability to run enough computers to do this in a sort of sane way. I can put all these ideas together and now I’ve invented something new. That was sort of the game changer.

Andy: [14:36] So we watch those things, but specifically what are those things? There’s a ton of stuff happening that’s really exciting in the Internet of things space. There’s a ton of things that are interesting in the AI space and AI was sort of the voice apps. The Vapps, as they call them, is getting real interesting because with the Bitcoin example, you have this confluence of voice recognition being really good and the speech-to-text being really good and the AI piece is being able to make better suggestions and the hardware and bandwidth sort of ubiquity that’s happening in homes to allow that to be accessible at a price point. And that intersection of all of those things is very exciting. To me the low hanging fruit is home automation and things like that. But the cooler things or like some true AI, some processing, some quick interface to something that sort of feels like a human interaction and can make an educated guess about something you need to do. It’s very exciting. It’s going to transform marketing  in crazy ways over the next ten or twenty years because screens aren’t going away, but you’re not going to be as tied to them in the you used to be tied to your laptop. So, you had your smartphone and now you’re maybe not as tied to your smartphone if you have big brother spying on you and every room in your house. So maybe there’s a downside.

Adam: [15:58] It becomes more integrated, right? I mean all the technology becomes more integrated, more part of our daily lives. And as the AI continues to improve, it’s like you said, it will begin to better predict what we’re going to do, it’ll interact with us more seamlessly and that opens up all kinds of interesting things from a marketer’s perspective as well. Okay, so it will know Adam just went to the ice cream store, just got back in his car. He always goes to wherever next after the ice cream store. And what does that mean from a marketing perspective? You know, so there’s some really interesting stuff there. I love that.

[16:45] Well, let me see if I can recap what we got from this conversation and then you can kind of offer some final thoughts here. So, related to digital marketing, what has worked well? You said taking time to get to know customers. Listen first, listen well, do interviews, do surveys, but really dig and understand and seek to understand first before you do anything else. You mentioned, and I’m paraphrasing here, more or less that clients don’t know what they don’t know. And so by taking time to listen and research, you begin to understand what they don’t know, really understand what the problem is and then you can create marketing solutions around that, that’s going to better serve them in the long run. There’s always value in research. The last point was, I think it was a quote from last night, you said, “Data removes opinion.” So you always need to use data to be sure that you’re backing up what you’re talking about because without data you’re really just talking about opinions at that point, right?

Adam: [17:22] For what has not worked well related to digital marketing, you said, not listening and just ploughing forward and putting more money behind something that’s already not working, never works very well and it really just kind of non-measurable stuff doesn’t work very well. So, when you talk about, well we did this campaign but we don’t have any measurements behind it but it was successful but we don’t know why it was successful. That’s really not very helpful at all and not scalable and so we need to work in a better manner than that. And then as far as what you’re excited about related to digital marketing, VR, AI, and I thought what you mentioned here was really interesting connections between technologies and you made the analogy that Blockchain, there really wasn’t anything particularly new there. It was a combining of several already existing technologies that are coming together to create this entirely new thing that has the potential to revolutionize, really in a lot of ways, almost everything. And so I think you’re right about that. The confluence of technologies and how they’re coming together really is going to have a major impact on how we deal with technology viewed marketing in the future.

So, Andy, do you have any, any sort of final thoughts for our listeners here?

Andy: [18:30] you know, I think, uh, you covered it pretty good. I think, uh, you know, just generally speaking, I think it’s, it’s a really fun time to be a marketer. you know, as these systems become more complicated and more advanced, right? On one side it’s like, oh, what a great tool. Now I don’t need this person to do that job. But on the other hand, you really need people to manage the tools and not the tools to manage the people. And there’s such opportunity and I think for the brands that understand that the clients that get that road from our agency perspective are the ones that’ll be successful because the question is, could you figure it out? It’s like how long would it take you to figure out how likely are you to do it? And what else could you be doing with that time? So it’s more just about like, you know, in this sea of options, really, I’m sort of embracing that you’re never going to kind of know it all and it’s going to move too fast anyway. And really being sort of pragmatic and that always starts with good people and good partners, you know, if you have those things, you can sort of define your critical path and you can move really quick toward your goal.

Adam: [19:40] man, that’s fantastic. I totally agree with you on that. I love that. Well, Andy, this has been great. Thanks so much. We’ll love to have you back on the show soon.

Andy: [19:49] Adam. Thanks a bunch. Talk to you soon.

Adam: [19:54] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good marketing podcast to get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources.

Also, if you want to find me your host, you can find me on twitter @AJWalker and on my blog  at adamjwalker.com where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks and tune in next time.

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