Daminion Marketing Talk with Jason Falls

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Jason Falls is a Director of Digital Strategy at Cornett, a full service advertising agency based in Lexington, Kentucky. Their website is TeamCornett.com.

Jason Falls

Digital Marketing Keynote Speaker: JasonFalls.com

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Today’s guest, Mr. Jason Falls, a renowned digital marketing keynote speaker from Cornett, a national advertising agency, answers your questions. 

Daminion: Our company serves a number of leading industry players, and among them are a lot of marketing departments, designers, and so forth. They’re very interested in the topics that I understand you are a guru of, okay? Your Instagram says that you’re a speaker, thinker, humorist and a… bourbon aficionado!

JF: Yes, haha.

Daminion: I can totally relate to the latter.

JF: We make good bourbon here in Kentucky, so I like to drink it.

Daminion: My favorite is Jim Beam. What’s yours?

JF: Jim Beam’s good. I like Elijah Craig, it’s one of my favorites. And then Buffalo Trace is actually one of my clients. So enjoy theirs quite a bit as well.

Daminion: Here’s the question. What marketing failures have you experienced – for the people not to repeat certain mistakes, if you will. And what lessons have you learned from them, please?

JF: Sometimes, this is not a failure that you can control, if you’re at an agency or you’re a consultant. Because a lot of times, the client budget will handcuff you. And I think one of the biggest failures that I see in marketing today is that people try to devise strategies and tactics without really having good insights or research about their audience first. And so I think people oftentimes will make assumptions about who their audience is. And where their audience might be influenced by various channels and various people. And they may have assumptions as to how the audience understands or reacts to – or doesn’t understand and doesn’t react to – their product. And so they think they know it all. And without doing the appropriate consumer research, they go to market with ideas that fall flat. Because they thought, I’m gonna build the advertising campaign or the marketing campaign that I think is gonna work. And that’s not the campaign you wanna run. You wanna run the campaign that your prospective audience tells you is gonna work, because you’ve done research on the front end.

Daminion: So if I understand correctly, your advice would be: “know your audience first and do everything else later”.

JF: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the right way to go about it. I think back to my first communications classes that I had in college, and the very thing we learned was that you have to know your audience. So if you don’t know your audience very thoroughly when you start, you have the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes. 

Daminion: You would probably consider not knowing your audience outright, or having the wrong assumptions about your product, your potential customers to be the most important reason for the marketing failures.

JF: Right, that’s fair.

Daminion: Very interesting. May I ask you what success stories can you tell.

JF: The biggest ones that I think we like to talk about at Cornett, where I work, is A&W Restaurants. We were challenged with working with a fast-food restaurant chain. There was a press article that appeared not too awful long ago, I figure back in 2010, that said: here’s a bunch of brands that will probably die in the next decade, and A&W Restaurants was one of those. So we went in and tried to basically help them reinvent their brand and reconnect with audiences. We called it reinventing an American icon because that restaurant’s been around for so long. It was established in 1919. We did some consumer research to understand who was, really, the core A&W Restaurant customer. And based on those insights and the research we did there we came up with a strategy  – we called it Hip Nostalgia. In the last 10 – 15 years there’s been this sort of consumer trend toward looking to the past with some sort of a nostalgic view. And so we wanted to acknowledge the history of A&W Restaurants, but we wanted it to be sort of hip and trendy. With that looking back toward the past and also having good flavor for the present and the future, we’ve developed a fresh identity for the brand and developed new iconography for even the numbers that you get at the counter when you order your food. And then even those numbers are based on sort of old, aluminum signs that might hang in a gas station. Again, connecting the nostalgic view of American icons from the 50s and 60s and carhops and things like that. That allowed us to give this brand a nice refresh. And so that not only led to sort of a revitalization of the restaurant chain altogether, but A&W actually has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade as a result of that campaign. And lots of other things – it wasn’t the only thing that helped them sort of turn around the perception that they might be on the downward trend. You know, we helped them recreate the in-store experience. And we helped A&W restaurants connect their franchisees in a way that allowed them help one another with their marketing team. So it’s been a lot of fun working with them.

Daminion: It’s very interesting what you said, sir, about how you re-branded, um, basically everything about this restaurant. So maybe we could say that the way forward for this restaurant was to go back to Route 66, haha, can we say that?

JF: Yeah, I think that’s fair. That’s a good way to put it. It’s definitely sort of reconnecting, reminding people of how they first fell in love with A&W. Which was probably with their parents or maybe their grandparents years ago. And just reminding them that it’s still there and still vibrant and that it’s a fun place to go and eat.

Daminion: I love it! 

The next question kinda contrasts with the previous one – we’re now talking about the startups. So the startups basically have no history. There is no Route 66 to go back to.  What could they do? What is the most cost effective way for the startups to market their business?

JF: It still starts with understanding the audience that you’re going after and the marketplace. You should also know what products your product competes against. What vertical you’re in? What your sort of ideal target audience is from a broad level. You’ve still gotta dive in and do that research to understand who those consumers are? What it is that causes them to want to buy a new product, or at least be interested in a new product? What do they like and dislike about what’s out there in the marketplace now, so you can find a point of differentiation? And if everything’s the same, if it’s all sort of a commodity because – a tennis shoe is a tennis shoe is a tennis shoe, or a tee-shirt is a tee-shirt is a tee-shirt, and there’s not a lot of differentiation in the consumer’s mind between the different brands, how can you still set yourself apart? 

How can you be the tee-shirt company or the shoe company that people want to do business with? 

And so, if you think back to case studies like TOMS Shoes. This was a shoe company that came out and said: for every pair you buy we’re going to donate a pair to an underprivileged person who needs shoes in underdeveloped countries. And so it’s just a shoe company. It’s not necessarily fancy shoes or anything fantastic or expensive or different, but they have a different method of appealing to consumers because they said, here’s how we’re gonna stand out. And so, for an entrepreneur starting something new it’s really important to understand your audience. It’s really important to understand your marketplace and the competition. And then, how can you stand out from that crowd? And If you pick the right insight for your audience to stand out from your competition that’s usually when you find success.

Daminion: I understand. Probably many people in the startups at this point would think, well that is swell an all, but we don’t have the funds to basically reach the audience with our message however different it might be.

JF: Yeah, and there’s the problem of funding for reach. And research is one that is always gonna be there and I think it’s just a matter of prioritization. I mean, if you don’t start out with good consumer research and insights of your audience then you are basically operating on guesswork. It might be educated guesswork. You may be smart enough to make some good assumptions about your audience and you might make some good guesses and some smart decisions early on. But over time as you grow your revenue you’re gonna need to earmark some money to invest in really understanding and doing good research around your audience. So plenty of people out there have had successful companies by saying I just have a gut feel that people will buy this and this will appeal to people – and if you’re lucky, then it will work. But good, sound business and marketing decision-making and business strategy is to really understand your audience, understand that market and to make decisions based on those insights. So even if you start out small and try to grow some initial revenue, get some initial user base and customers. And here’s what’s cool. As soon as you get your first customer you have your first opportunity to mine them for insights, and all it takes is an email or a question. You don’t necessarily have to go pay tens of thousands of dollars to a big research company to get all this information. Sometimes it’s about having a focus group of 20 or 30 people that are already doing business with you and just asking them questions so that you understand their path to purchase a little bit better. And you can say hey, I’ve got 20 really good customers and I know a lot about them so now I’m gonna go out there and try to find 20 more people just like them so now I have 40 customers and so on.

Daminion:  I see. So basically you are being so honest right now that you’re effectively recommending people not to start with hiring you first, if I might put it this way. But kind of mine their own data, so to speak, to begin with-

JF: Sure!

Daminion:  …and then go from there. Well, I guess there is a reason that people like VP for digital engagement at LEGO says that you are a no BS guy. And people like editor in chief of the Entrepreneur Magazine says that “just one of the great many things about Jason Falls is that he knows how to inform and entertain in a very accessible, authentic and a human way.” You are “not an a-hole”, in their words.

JF: (laughs)

Daminion: That is very cool. 

What would be the practical marketing hacks or experiments that you could suggest for the medium-sized companies to try no matter the industry?

JF: You have to look at where your audience is. So perhaps you have an audience that is active on social channels – and obviously most people are on social media in some form or fashion. But there might be a specific group that you’re trying to reach that doesn’t necessarily have a logical place to be. For instance, B2B: if you sell to other businesses, Facebook probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; Instagram doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; but you can experiment with LinkedIn. And you try to spend some time there and cultivate leads and bring some content that might attract some people. 

Anytime you have the opportunity to experiment with paid search advertising, I think, that will also give you some really good insights. Because again, people who are using search engines are actually low hanging fruit. They’re raising their hand a little bit and saying, I can be talked into buying that if your page ranks well for what I’m looking for. So, understanding what consumers are searching for is a critically important thing for your company to understand. And you can then, of course, build your website around what people are searching for – to attract potential customers.

Daminion: Would you say that it mostly concerns SEO or the actual paid advertising online?

JF: Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean, I like to spin that with pay-per-click, because now you’re talking about people who have gone somewhere with the intent to find an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, so they’re looking for an answer. Paid advertising, online media is just putting an ad on Yahoo or whatever page, whatever website people are going to. And advertising oftentimes can be very interruptive and distractive. But if someone’s going to a search engine saying ‘I need to know how to landscape my yard’, and a local landscaper comes up as the top 1, 2 or 3 search result, now all of a sudden that local landscaper has a potential customer in front of him. So, I really like to experiment with the search engines to understand what people are looking for, what questions they’re trying to have answered. That way if I can answer them consistently I’ll rank well for search and then attract new customers. 

Daminion: Are there any tricks or services that you would recommend to use to maybe, in fact, at least a little bit, improve the positioning of the company’s website for the particular searches in the search engines?

JF: Search engine optimization is a big category. And so it really starts from how your website is built, and how each page is titled, and the description that’s on each page. And then of course the content on each page needs to be very descriptive and relevant to the types of search terms that you want to win. For instance, we have a lot of clients in the bourbon industry, in the spirits industry. And so I don’t necessarily worry too much about people who are searching for my brand name like, for instance, Buffalo Trace Bourbon. If you type in Buffalo Trace Bourbon in the search engine, you’re probably gonna find our website really quickly, because we own BuffaloTraceBourbon.com, BuffaloTrace.com, etc. So Google’s gonna naturally say, this is the website you’re looking for. What I’m worried about are people that are looking for best bourbon, bourbon cocktails, bourbon recipes, best sipping bourbon, best mixing bourbon… The non-branded terms are the ones that I need to make sure my website is optimized to attract. Because those are the terms that people who maybe don’t know me are searching for. And if I can rank well for them, now I’ve got new customers coming to my doorstep. 

Daminion: And I understand to achieve that, your website has to have not just the content tied to the particular brand, but also some kind of general useful information about bourbons. Whatever the actual bourbon aficionados are interested in. So that’s how it works – just put some useful information out there, right?

JF: Exactly.

Daminion: Okay, I guess the last question. If you are a medium-sized company, just like most of Daminion clients at this point. How would you suggest they choose their internal marketing team? It seems to be a very hard task to get the right people.

JF: You wanna find people with experience. And you wanna find people with initiatives and people who are enthusiastic about not just digital marketing or online marketing or marketing in general. But people who are enthusiastic about your business, your brand, your company. So that’s always a tricky balance. I think that what I try to look for if I were to run out tomorrow and start a new business and had a modest budget to hire a couple of people to run my marketing… I think I would probably err on the side of spending a little bit more for experience up front. Because I really want someone who’s going to help me grow my revenue and grow my user base and get to the point to where I have more money to spend. So I’m gonna err on the side of hiring someone more experienced on the front end. And instead of hiring three or four full time people, I might hire one or two full time people. And then give them a little bit of a budget to use some agency services or some software or some consultants to help them accomplish a lot of the things in the early stages of the company.

Daminion: How do you gauge the person’s experience? For example, if the person says, hey, I worked for XYZ company and I made their revenues increase three-fold in two years. But how do you know? I mean, maybe the revenues would increase anyway, haha! How do you gauge the particular person’s marketing effectiveness?

JF: Well, what you wanna look for is: are they showing you the types of success metrics in their work that you’re looking for? I can look at someone’s resume or what they say about their last couple of positions and say, hey, I won a bunch of awards. And we did these really awesome campaigns. And we got a bunch of impressions online for what we were doing. Well, none of those metrics are ‘we grew revenue’. None of those metrics are ‘we grew our user base’ if we’re a software company. None of those metrics are the ones that as an entrepreneur as a company owner, I’m going to care about. It’s great that you won awards. It’s great that you got attention, and impressions and all that kind of stuff. But if I’m gonna hire someone who’s talking my language, I’m gonna hire someone who says look, I went at the early stages of this company. And I built a strategy that increased revenue by 379% in the first year, and 700% in the second year. And we expanded from 3 people to 30 people in 18 months. And a lot of that was behind the initial sales and partnerships that I have built for the company. And here’s my references and my contacts. That’s the person I’m gonna hire, because I know they can come in and do the job I want them to do.

Daminion: I see, so basically what you’re saying is, it must be verifiable. Anybody can say anything, but you check the references.

JF: Oh, yeah, yeah, you definitely want to make some phone calls. Make sure people aren’t just telling you a story, cuz a lot of people will do that if it means getting a job. 

You’ve asked me a bunch of really good questions. So this sounds like it’s going to be interesting.

Daminion: Jason, thank you so much for spending time with us!

Jason Falls – Digital Marketing Keynote Speaker: JasonFalls.com.

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Interviewed by Alex for Daminion. Alex is a professional photographer who uses Daminion in his own work. He likes his cat fed, and his huge digital image library well-organized by Daminion.