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The Most Human Company Wins
Episode 58

The Most Human Company Wins

CI to Eye with Mark Schaefer

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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In this episode, Mark and Erik talk about how your most loyal patrons are your marketing department, the difference between “personalized” and “truly personal,” and the five human truths that businesses must understand to succeed in the 21st century.

Erik Gensler: Mark, thank you so much for being here. I’m very excited to share your thoughts and ideas with our audience.

Mark Schaefer: Thanks, Erik. It’s an honor to be here.

Erik Gensler: So, in your book, you say, “Most marketers are disregarding the revolution that’s happening right under their noses.”

Mark Schaefer: Well, when I write a book, it’s because I see something that doesn’t make sense, that I get curious about a question or a problem. And in this time, all over the world, whether I was talking to marketing leaders at a big company or at a non-profit or at some arts organization or a start-up, they were all telling me, “I just feel stuck. I feel lost. I’m falling behind. My marketing doesn’t work like it used to,” and I just heard this so much, I thought, “What’s going on? Is there something I could do to, kind of, identify this core issue and maybe help people dig out of this?” And what I found, Erik, is that … My original hypothesis was that technology is moving so fast that everybody is feeling overwhelmed. But when I really dug into this, I found out something even more profound—startling, really—that not only has our technology sort of moved ahead of us, but our customers have moved ahead of us and as organizations, we’ve been sort of thinking about marketing in a certain way. Maybe we iterate from year to year. So, maybe we change our Facebook ads a little or we change our LinkedIn profile a little or we add video. But what’s happened is that customers are now hyper-empowered through technology and their expectations, how they communicate, how they discover ideas and brands and events is completely different and, in fact, two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us and a lot of people when they hear that for the first time think, “What? What? How can that be? I’m doing all this work. You’re telling me two-thirds of it is out of my control?” But when you reflect on how we buy, how we hear about things, how we look for reviews and testimonies, how we talk to our friends, the impact of things that we see shared on social media, it starts to come together and make sense, especially for the generation of the digital natives, that truly two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us and it’s not gonna get any better and it’s not gonna come back to the way it used to be, so we really don’t have a choice. We have to figure out, how do we get into that two-thirds? How do we get invited to these conversations? And you asked me about, “What is this rebellion?” and this is one of my favorite stories from the book when I was doing research: the first remote for a television was invented in 1950. So, basically, as soon as there were ads on TV, people were trying to figure out how to get around them.

Erik Gensler: Mm.

Mark Schaefer: And so, this revolution, this rebellion, against marketing and advertising has been going on for a long time. Now, we’ve got about a third of adults in the United States having ad-blockers on their mobile devices. That, you could argue, that’s the largest consumer rebellion or the largest citizen rebellion in history. We’ve got millions and millions of people saying, “No, I’m not taking these ads anymore,” so the challenge of the book is, now what do we do? And that’s what I try to answer through the book, Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins.

Erik Gensler: I love that and let’s dig into that a little more. So, the subtitle, The Most Human Company Wins, what do you mean by that?

Mark Schaefer: I truly believe, sincerely, with every fiber in my body, that the most human company will win, that we’ve become intoxicated with technology as marketers and we overuse it. It’s not that technology is bad; there are certainly many unbelievable ways that we can use technology. But we’ve become lazy because technology is so easy and it’s so cheap and it’s pretty easy to measure—which is important by the way—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it works and we’re tending to rely—and I’m not talking about everybody here but I’m just talking in generalities—we tend to over rely on technology when these consumers that have rebelled against marketing advertising, they want something else. They want to be acknowledged. They’re looking for companies and organizations that share their values and share their interests and will help create meaning in their lives and that sounds pretty high level, but if you look at the trajectory of marketing today and the best marketers and the best organizations, that’s exactly what they’re doing and that’s where we all need to go because, like I said, we don’t have a choice. Over the history of how consumers have rebelled against companies, they’ve won every time and they’re going to win this time, too, so we’d better listen to them and deliver what they want.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I love in the book one of the examples you give is, you talk about scrolling through Instagram without concentrating to see which ones are friends-

Mark Schaefer: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: … and which ones are brands and you can tell.

Mark Schaefer: (laughs) You can tell. I’m glad you picked up on that example because I think a lot of people, a lot of organizations, they think, “Well, you know, we’re on Instagram and look, we’re telling our stories on Instagram,” but it’s still an ad (laughs) because it doesn’t fit.

Erik Gensler: That’s right.

Mark Schaefer: It’s not native to the platform and it sticks out like a sore thumb. And I actually do a little exercise in the classes that I teach at the university where I’ll just show some of the ridiculous things that companies are putting on Instagram and it’s just an in-your-face kind of ad. It’s not helpful whatsoever and I think to work today … One of the metaphors I have in the book is that we used to think of the world as a mass audience. We would have mass communication and mass broadcasting to try to just reach as many people as we want. And today, through technology, people have the ability to self-select into like-minded islands. So, there are ballet islands. There are symphonic islands. There are artistic islands. There are sports islands. There are cat islands. And these islands are populated on the web. It could be a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group or a Twitter audience. They’re populated by friends and family and even some of these people we call “influencers.” And today, the goal of marketing is to be invited to that island and to be invited to that island, you’ve got to be sort of native to that island. You have to be a friend, you have to fit in, you have to be there when they need you, and, most of all, you don’t show up uninvited (laughs). That’s just rude. So, you really have to think about, “How do we get invited to these self-selected islands?” because that’s where the action takes place. That’s where the conversations are today and we need to find some way to imbed ourselves in those conversations.

Erik Gensler: You talk about the human voice and how genuine it is and how companies mostly know how to communicate in a humorless mission-statement language or a brochure and I look at arts organizations, particularly some of the traditional classical arts, and for years, that’s how they’ve communicated. They’ve communicated through brochures. They’ve communicated through direct mail. And to make that leap, that leap from the formal 20th-century language to a more casual, human, 21st-century language that is respectful of platforms and is more human is hard and a lot of them have made it but a, a lot of them are still struggling.

Mark Schaefer: I see lots of great examples out there. So, for example, I see some symphony orchestras sort of turning over the voice to the musical director and letting the inspirational vision come through, the humor come through, the stories come through. They should think about the stories that will appeal to their patrons. That’s what arts organizations have been doing from the beginning. What’s that emotional connection? Is it about the art, the story behind the art, the music and the passion of the music? How do we get those donations? There’s only one way: through passion, through a belief that this reflects my values and I want to do something better for the world. That’s where companies are heading. So, I’m actually very optimistic about the arts world.

Erik Gensler: You mention there are five human truths that businesses must understand: that people wanna feel loved, they wanna belong, they wanna protect their self-interest, they wanna find meaning, and they want to be respected. You sound like Brené Brown.

Mark Schaefer: I want to be the boy Brené Brown. That’s my goal.

Erik Gensler: (laughs) Me, too.

Mark Schaefer: I’ll just tell you right now, Erik.

Erik Gensler: Me, too.

Mark Schaefer: Someday, you’ll say, “Mark Schaefer: the boy Brené Brown.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Mark Schaefer: (laughs) And I do truly admire her, but the reason I bring this up is to once again emphasize that we’ve put too much stock in technology. The tail is wagging the dog. And I use the example of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, of course. And someone asked him one time, “Jeff, what’s the new technology? What’s the new thing that you’re excited about?” and he said, “You know, that’s a very interesting question, but a more important question is not what’s changing, but what’s staying the same? Because that’s how we’ve built our business.” He said, “Look, we built our business on the idea that customers want low prices, they want vast selection, and they want fast delivery. It’s impossible for me to imagine ten years from now that someone tells me, ‘Jeff, I love Amazon but I wanna pay more.’” And so, what he’s done is he’s organized the technology around these three things that aren’t changing, but what most organizations are doing today, they’re preoccupied with all the change going on in technology. That’s why they’re feeling overwhelmed and that they can’t keep up. It’s easy to get back on track. Let’s just focus on the unmet and underserved needs of our customers. What are they crying out for? What’s not going to be changing? And those are those five human truths that I talk about in the book. That’s where the priority should be.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I love that. One of the things that you go back to quite a bit in the book—and this is something when I have to summarize this book, one of the things I say—is your line that’s, “Your customers are your marketing department.”

Mark Schaefer: Yeah, absolutely.

Erik Gensler: And for years, we’ve talked here at Capacity about Permission Marketing, Seth Godin’s seminal 1999 book that talks about strangers into friends, friends into customers, and customers into evangelists, and what you’re talking about here is giving your customers the tools to be your evangelists.

Mark Schaefer: Well, exactly. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. So, when I go into organizations, I think a real key idea is that the people who are sharing your ideas and your content online are your greatest marketers. I call you’re your “alpha audience.” The economic value of creating content on a website is zero unless it’s seen and shared. So, who is doing the sharing? And typically, when I go into big companies in, like, a consulting engagement, I’ll ask them, “Do you know who is sharing your content? Because those are your biggest advocates and those are the people who are creating the real economic value for you on the web,” and I’ve never met a company that said, “Yes,” but I’ll bet most art organizations know their greatest patrons. I’ll bet they’ll know the people who are their advocates in the community. So, now the goal becomes, “These are our marketers. These are our patrons and our greatest advocates. How do we help them do the job? How do we embed our stories, our values, our passion in their lives so that they can do a better job helping us?” That’s really the key mindset change for successful marketing today.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I was recently in Houston at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and they’re doing a van Gogh exhibition and in one of the galleries, they’ve brought in, essentially, tools to help people evangelize about this exhibition. So you-

Mark Schaefer: Oh. Tell me about it.

Erik Gensler: … can actually-

Mark Schaefer: What did they have?

Erik Gensler: … You know that famous painting of his—and I can’t remember the name—but it sort of looks like a skewed room and there’s a tiny chair in the back.

Mark Schaefer: Mm. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: They’ve recreated that painting as a room that you can go in-

Mark Schaefer: Oh, that is brilliant.

Erik Gensler: … so you can put your kids in that room, you take a picture-

Mark Schaefer: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: … put it on Instagram and you tag it as The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Mark Schaefer: Right.

Erik Gensler: How much more valuable is the cost of making that versus running a print ad?

Mark Schaefer: That is exactly the point. Nowm I love that case study, so let’s just dissect that a little bit. Number one, people really don’t believe our organizations and our ads. They just look at these things and they say, “Yeah, that’s what we expect you to say. We expect you to tell us how fun it is, how great it is. Well, I’d rather believe my neighbors.” So, how do we create something visual, something fun, something that’s immersive that just makes people take out their camera and tell the story? So, that is a great example. I absolutely love that and you’re right; creating something fun and immersive like that probably cost less than some sort of a print campaign. That’s the way we need to be thinking with our marketing today is, “How do we give these customers … how do we arm them with our stories?” And by the way, about 10% of the population, the research shows, are sort of super-sharers. These are the people who love sharing stories. They love sharing things that are relevant to their lives, interesting, visual, and relevant. And so, if you arm them with that, if you give them the opportunities, you don’t even have to find these people, just like this museum example. I’ll bet you, if you ran the statistics, about 10% just blew up the internet with that experience at the Houston Museum.

Erik Gensler: I can’t wait till the exhibition’s over and I’m gonna pull those numbers and I bet they’ve gotten hundreds of thousands of impressions and one of the other stats I think about a lot is … Someone I had on the podcast named Colleen Dilenschneider, who is with this company called IMPACTS Research, and she did a lot of analysis and says that what people say about you is 12.8 times more powerful than what you say about yourself as a brand.

Mark Schaefer: It’s everything. When I was growing up in business… You know, I mentioned the statistic—about two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. Well, it hasn’t always been that way. Before the internet, before social media, in my early days in business, I would estimate we did control 90% of the message because the only way to really hear about something or discover something new was through our messages, through our advertising. We controlled it. Today, it’s two-thirds and you know what, Erik? By 2025, it’s going to be 90/10 the other way.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Schaefer: And so, back in my early days of marketing, you’re exactly right; a brand was what we told you it was.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Mark Schaefer: Today, a brand is what we tell each other and that’s a part of this mindset that we have to just accept and embrace this chaos, that we don’t control the sales funnel, we don’t control the customer journey, loyalty is in decline, people don’t believe us, and we’ve got to switch this mindset to say, “How do we make the customer the hero? How do we make the people who come to our shows the hero in a way that makes them so excited they want to tell our story?” because that’s the brand.

Erik Gensler: You talk about in the book how, “The greatest companies are fans of their fans.” Can you talk a bit about that?

Mark Schaefer: I think that quote actually came from my friend at Nike and in his research, he came upon this revelation and he said, “The young customers said, ‘We’re tired of hearing about all these heroes. How can we be a hero? Help us be the hero.’” And there’s really an important lesson there that so often in marketing, and especially if you listen to the content marketing gurus out there, it’s all about starting with our “why” and finding the arc of our story when in fact, nobody really cares. I mean, it might be somewhat interesting, but what people really care about is their “why.” They really care about the arc of their story. And so, why not put the customer first? Make the customer the hero of the story. Make the people who are coming to the concerts … celebrate them in some way. Make them the centerpiece of the marketing because people care about their own self-interest more than why you’re here and what your founder story is. Maybe they’ll read that one time, but that’s not why they’re gonna be loyal to you. They’re gonna be loyal to you because you’re making them feel great. You’re aligning with their lives and their needs and their values in some way or maybe you’re just helping them have a more fun and entertaining life. But you need to put the customer at the center of your marketing.

Erik Gensler: Who does that well?

Mark Schaefer: North Face (laughs). If any of your listeners wanna experience one of the greatest examples of content marketing I’ve seen in years, go to YouTube and look for a video called “Question Madness.” It’s two minutes long and it’s all content generated from their customers. It’s people falling off of cliffs and skiers in trouble and people crying and bleeding and screaming in anguish and as the music swells, then they’re conquering the mountain and they’re conquering the ski slopes and they’re winning the marathon and all of the content in this video, as I said, comes from YouTube and Instagram videos. It was all created by the customers. So, number one, the customer is the marketer. The customer is telling the story. But the thing that makes this so powerful is the people that engage in these extreme sports are outside the boundaries of society and there’s only one voice in the video and it comes at the very beginning. It comes from Alex Honnold, the fellow that was featured in that Free Solo movie.

Erik Gensler: Oh, I love that movie.

Mark Schaefer: He said, “It is kind of weird how people question your way of life, why they question your motivations,” and then it opens up into this video. Now, Erik, here’s what just … really just inspired me. One of the first comments under the video was, “Now that’s how you advertise,” but it wasn’t an ad, not, at least, in a typical sense and North Face didn’t pay to put this on the Super Bowl. They just put it out there on YouTube. It has over eight million views now. What’s happening here? What North Face is doing is they’re saying, “You do belong. You’re not freaks. You’re not outsiders. You belong and, specifically, you belong to us.” There’s a huge opportunity there for the arts community. We have a belonging crisis in our world. We think we’re a click away from a friendship or a conversation when the fact is, the research shows profoundly that the more time people spend on social media, the more lonely and isolated and depressed they are and I think arts organizations have this opportunity to step in, reach out to people, and help them belong in a fun way, to make them feel like they’re part of their community. That’s probably my favorite chapter in the whole book because I approach this very skeptically. I mean, you can belong to a church. You can belong to a sports organization. But can you really belong to a nonprofit organization or a company? And what I found was the answer is, “Yes, absolutely you can and at the end of the day that may be all the marketing we have left.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and you talk about the value of in-person experiences and I think arts organizations have a real opportunity there.

Mark Schaefer: Oh, huge. Huge. Well, it’s the difference between enjoying music on the radio—you might like the song, you might like the artist—and then going to a concert, a live event, with your friends. Now, that song turns into something emotional. There’s a communion there. There’s an experience. There’s an attachment that never goes away. When I was talking to some of these companies and organizations who are succeeding, who are adjusting to this human-centered approach to marketing, one of the things I heard over and over again was, “When we brought people together, that changed everything.” If you want to be the most human brand, you’ve gotta look for opportunities to show your face, show your smile, show your heart, show your passion, and doing that in a live event, it changes everything.

Erik Gensler: I love how you talk about, “Companies are people,” and not hiding behind this corporate speak and, sort of, showing the human element, sort of ripping away the curtain or the veneer that telling the story of the brand. And I think your example in the book is about Ivory soap.

Mark Schaefer: Yeah, well I think that’s really a magical example (laughs). It was a profound lesson for me because I’m sort of a marketing geek. I love learning about it and studying it.

Erik Gensler: Oh, me, too (laughs).

Mark Schaefer: And it, and as I … Oh, I know. We’re two peas in a pod. And I think when I get curious is when I see something that I just don’t understand like, why is Ivory soap failing? Ivory soap, in the 1960s, had about 50% market share and today, it’s less than 3%. Now, it’s a product made by Procter & Gamble, the biggest advertiser in the world with the smartest MBAs and the greatest advertising agency relationships. How can they lose so badly? It’s not like soap is being outsourced. It’s not being replaced by artificial intelligence or solar panels.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Mark Schaefer: Everybody uses soap. But it’s not just soap; it’s Tide and Crest and Pampers. And it’s not just Procter & Gamble; it’s Unilever and Johnson & Johnson. All these traditional companies and all these traditional brands are dying. And because they’re dying, the advertising agencies are dying. And it just doesn’t make sense. And then one day—this is sort of the signature story that opens the book—I was visiting some young friends and I went into their bathroom and they had soap from the Knoxville Soap Company. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was cucumber and grits soap. And I had just been reading how all these companies are in decline. So, I asked my host, “Why did you buy this soap? Procter & Gamble has been advertising to you for your whole life. They’ve spent millions and millions of dollars on trying to get you to buy their soap. Why do you love this brand?” And she thought for a moment and she said, “You know, I don’t know if I love this brand, but I love the hands that made it.” And she went on to tell me about the family that runs this business and how they’re trying to create a sustainable business and they give back to the community and they show up at community events and they support the maker movement and they treat their employees really well. She said, “That means a lot to me.” And she was so enthusiastic about this, she made me want to buy the soap. Now, think about this: there was no advertising here. There was no sales funnel. There was no traditional marketing in any sense. She loved the people. This was the most human company. Who do you love at Ivory? Who is it? Where’s the emotional attachment? People just can’t build that emotional attachment to “lemon-scented” anymore or 25-cent coupon. In fact, she paid ten times more for that soap than a bar of Ivory soap and that’s where we are today. The most human company wins. Procter & Gamble is not the most human soap company and they’re gonna lose. And it’s very, very difficult for these big companies to change and that’s why I really think non-profits and arts organizations, they’re lean, they’re mean, they’re nimble. They can adjust and they’ve got the stories to tell, so I really believe they can show us the way.

Erik Gensler: What you’re talking about here is how marketing needs to be artisanal and, in fact, you expand on that. Can you talk a bit about that?

Mark Schaefer: People just don’t believe what you say. They want to see it. They wanna see companies demonstrate their values in the communities, in the neighborhoods where they live, in their homes with their families. And that’s really hard for big companies to do. It’s hard for them to scale down into neighborhoods and show people that they care, but that’s where the conversations are taking place. And so, marketing almost has to be artisanal. I know that’s sort of a word that’s being beat into the ground. Everything’s artisanal these days. It’s like an episode from Portlandia or something.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Mark Schaefer: (laughs) But I can’t think of a better word where people want something that’s for them, that’s handcrafted. And there’s a difference between “personalized” and “personal.” I talked to a fella today who was a chiropractor and he told me this story about how he learned how one of his patients … it was a family and the children had some sort of chronic condition and so these children would come in and he would have to work on these children who were in pain. And he learned that these children loved books and every day and every night the mother would be reading books to these children. Well, he found this service that creates books that puts the name of the child in the book! So, you’re creating these books just for the children. Now, “personalized” is an email with your name on it; “personal” means, “I love your family and I’m paying attention. I see that you love to read and I saw this opportunity—” and I think he said it cost him less than 50 bucks to get these personalized books— “and I care about you. And I appreciate that you’re putting your trust in me with your precious children. Here’s my gift to you and this is something personal.” Now, he told me that that family has become a lifelong friend that has brought him an untold amount of business for less than $50 just because he cared. He showed he cared in a real way, in a human way and that’s the difference between “personal” and “personalized.” People are sick of personalized. Personal, that’s artisanal.

Erik Gensler: I think you said businesses believe 75% of their communications are personalized and customers feel more like it’s 17%.

Mark Schaefer: Companies think they’re doing a great job and people say, “No, not even close.” I mean, it’s a big gap. And I think that’s sort of the statistical evidence of the rebellion, is that companies have their head down. They’ve just been, kind of, doing their marketing one way year after year after year and, “We hired this person to do this and that’s what they’re going to do,” and maybe you iterate a little bit year to year to year, but at the end of the day, you need to look up and see, “Our customers aren’t there anymore. We need to change. We need to adapt. We need to adopt.” And that’s the new mindset.

Erik Gensler: No one’s impressed with a mail merge anymore, importing your name in the subject line. It’s, it’s no longer personal. One of the ways I’ve summarized this book, too, is that we need to stop treating our customers like a line in a database. That’s how I think marketers see customers is a line in a database and that’s just not good enough anymore.

Mark Schaefer: You know, I, I like the fact that you said, “The way I summarize the book.” That means you’re telling the book to other people.

Erik Gensler: Oh, yeah (laughs).

Mark Schaefer: So that’s … you are living proof that you, Erik, are my marketing department and I thank you.

Erik Gensler: (laughs) That’s what this podcast is. So you do talk about the decline in loyalty and suggest some strategies and I love this one and I have to say we’ve started to put it into practice and the first piece of advice you give is, “87% of people are not brand loyal,” and your recommendation is to take exceptional care of the 13% of the customers that are true loyalists. I love that.

Mark Schaefer: The idea is that chances are, those 13% who love you the most, who love you so much they can’t get enough of you and they just want to bring all their friends along, that’s the marketing department today and I present a lot of different strategies in the book to sort of re-establish loyalty. There’s an important clue in the McKinsey research that was sort of the bedrock of a lot of the book. And they said, “The reason that loyalty is in decline is because the emotion is gone.”

Mark Schaefer: We’ve become too obsessed with technology. We’ve forgotten about the emotional part. We’ve forgotten about getting out there and meeting people and seeing people and talking to them and getting to know them and we need to embark on new strategies and, maybe, unfamiliar and uncomfortable strategies that may be difficult to measure. But we have to make those changes if we’re going to win in this new world.

Erik Gensler: I’ll give you another example of this that some smart art organizations are doing and there was a lot of talk about this a few years ago and they were calling it “surprise and delight.” So, if you took a first-year subscriber, so someone who said, “Okay, I’m gonna subscribe. I’m gonna buy three or more concerts,” some organizations were sending someone from the organization to welcome that person at their seat or to leave a handwritten note on the seat-

Mark Schaefer: Wow.

Erik Gensler: … or to leave something that said, “Here’s a chocolate bar. Thank you for being a subscriber.” When they added that personal touch or that gift or that acknowledge- that human acknowledgement that, “We see you,” the renewal rates were way higher than the test group that didn’t get that.

Mark Schaefer: Yeah, and I think there’s an important truth here, something we can learn from that example: it was something that was meaningful. It was in context. It was appropriate. It was a handwritten note. There was a human touch.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. “I went to the symphony and the director of development came and introduced herself to me and thanked me for being a subscriber.” That’s remarkable. It’s a human connection and it’s going back to what you said about the five things that people want. They wanna feel loved, they wanna feel belong, they wanna be respected. That’s it and you see that in restaurants too. One of my favorite restaurants that I’m super loyal to, they know me, so they’ll give me a free dessert or an extra pour of wine and that small connection is all it takes for me to go there.

Mark Schaefer: That’s all you need.

Erik Gensler: Yep. Yep. Cause they see me.

Mark Schaefer: And think about that in an arts setting. There’s so many opportunities to do that. Probably the most memorable meal I ever had, I did a workshop in Bangalore, India, and somebody from the workshop was the general manager of a brand-new hotel in the city. And he loved the workshop so much, he said, “I want you to come to my restaurant tonight. Bring three of your friends. It’s on me and we’re gonna show you what our city is about, what our hotel is about.” And when I got there, there was a line of people waiting for me to give me little gifts, to give me flowers, just to shake my hand and welcome me. And then they escorted me up to the restaurant and it was one of the greatest meals of my life. Talk about emotion, talk about something I will never forget, a story I want to tell—by the way, it was the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangalore, so there. Go there if you ever get a chance.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Mark Schaefer: Go to their restaurant on the top floor (laughs). Because I am their marketer and I will go back to that place. I’ll stay there every time I visit because they just gave me such a personal, amazing, memorable human experience.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and it’s not that hard to do. You just have to shape your culture around it.

Mark Schaefer: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: There’s a hotel in Seattle that I went to for years and the second time I went back, they said, “Welcome back, Mr. Gensler.”

Mark Schaefer: Mm. Mm. Mm.

Erik Gensler: “Last time you were here, you said you liked the New York Times. Would you like that again this stay?” I mean, that was amazing. It’s so simple. It’s a line in the CRM that I asked for the New York Times, but the fact that they said … It drives me crazy when I go to a hotel for a second or third time … There’s a hotel I always stay at in LA. They never say, “Welcome back.” It’s so easy to do.

Mark Schaefer: It is and the thing that I think a lot of people miss, Erik, is that most of the time, this is a natural extension of who you are. So, for example, my daughter worked for the New York City Ballet. She was the events manager for the New York City Ballet and she took a pay cut to go there. She had another job in New York City but she wanted to work in that environment. She wanted to be associated with that. She had a natural passion for the arts and for what they were doing. And so, think about what would it take, instead of doing a print campaign and a direct mail piece, what would it take to unleash the passion of your employees? They love you probably more than anybody. In the case of my daughter, she took a pay cut to work there because she just believed in it so much. Those are the best advocates you can possibly have and we know people may not believe your ads, they may not believe your brochures, but they believe each other. They believe other people. They’re gonna believe your employees. And today, increasingly, brands aren’t built on advertising impressions like the old days. They’re built on human impressions. So, what can we do to look at the people who organically love us and help them unleash that power? And I think, increasingly, the personal brand is the brand. I think if you look at someone like Tesla, they have a higher market value than Ford Motor Company. I think a lot of that is Elon Musk, is that people just buy into his vision and his authenticity. You know, love him or hate him, the guy is real. And who’s the person that you love at Ford or some of these other companies? So, I think, increasingly, the personal brand is becoming the organizational brand and that’s something we need to think about in every organization.

Erik Gensler: I interviewed for the podcast recently the CEO of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a super forward-thinking organization in San Francisco, and they’ve really re-thought what an arts organization is and Deborah Cullinan who’s their CEO … when you click blog on their website, it goes to her personal Medium blog and it’s her writing and it’s videos of her. And I think a lot of CEOs are scared to do that. They’re scared to make themselves that vulnerable, to put themselves out there, but you feel that connection and you’re like, “Oh, there’s a person behind this brand,” yeah.

Mark Schaefer: And I understand that fear. It can be weird. It can be scary. But it also can be very powerful because we talked about how people don’t believe brands in advertising anymore, but they do believe experts. They do believe entrepreneurs and they believe business leaders. That does create a lot of credibility, a lot of emotion and you see that with your friend in San Francisco and a lot of the best companies are adopting that too. Today, having a social media presence is a life skill and if more of our employees had that life skill and we encouraged it, nurtured it, amplified it, gave them some room to do it, then we would win.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Well, Mark, I wanna be respectful of your time and so, we’ve come to the last question and the question that I ask is what we call your “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership team, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses?

Mark Schaefer: Well, it’s very simple: this road toward human-centered marketing may seem strange and unfamiliar, but the place to start is to number one, look at the things that you’re doing with your organization and if you’re doing things that people hate, stop it.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Mark Schaefer: It’s just that simple. Get out there, talk to customers, see what they love, and go do that. Be more human in everything you do, in every customer touchpoint, in every phone call and email and text message and event that you host. Think about, “How do we show our faces, our real faces, our smiles and our passion? How do we insert that humanity into everything we do?” because I know the most human company will win.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.

Mark Schaefer: Thank you Erik. It’s been a delight. And thank you for preparing so well for the interview. It’s been fantastic.

Erik Gensler: Oh, thanks.

About Our Guests
Mark Schaefer
Mark Schaefer
Business Consultant and Author

Mark Schaefer is a globally-recognized business consultant and author. His customized programs specialize in content marketing, digital marketing, social media, and personal branding. Mark is the author of six best-selling marketing books, and his most recent release, Marketing Rebellion: the Most Human Company Wins, is a must-read for arts marketers.

Read more

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