Marketing Re-Imagined: Max Kraynov Of FunCorp On How We Can Re-Imagine The Marketing Industry To Make It More Authentic, Sustainable, And Promote More Satisfaction

An Interview With Drew Gerber

Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

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Longevity — Marketers need to consider the long-term impact of their work. While taking a controversial approach is nothing new, it’s important to consider how actions and content will be viewed in the context of a political / social consensus not just now, but the next six months, a year’s time, and beyond.

From an objective standpoint, we are living in an unprecedented era of abundance. Yet so many of us are feeling unsatisfied. Why are we seemingly so insatiable? Do you feel that marketing has led to people feeling unsatisfied and not having enough in life? If so, what actions can marketers take to create a world where people feel that they have enough, and they are enough? Can we re-imagine what marketing looks like and how it makes people feel?

In this interview series, we are talking to experts in marketing and branding to discuss how we might re-imagine marketing to make it more authentic, sustainable, and promote more satisfaction. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Max Kraynov.

Max Kraynov is the Group CEO of FUNCORP, a mobile entertainment app development company in the social media space, with more than 10M monthly active users on its flagship product, iFunny.

Based in Sydney, Australia, Max has been in the software development and business space for over 25 years, and is highly experienced in growing scalable businesses, investor relations, corporate governance and strategic partner management. His area of expertise is mobile entertainment, internet media, and online travel.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

I’ve always been fascinated by computers and technology. Being lucky enough to get my first computer at the age of 13, I dove straight into programming — spending hours developing, tinkering with, and experimenting with different codes, and seeing what exciting things I could create from carefully considered strokes of a keyboard.

By the time I turned 21, this fascination had already led me to some remarkable places. Not only had I been a part of creating and developing crime prevention and solution products — including helping with body identification and tracking stolen cars — but I also had worked on the world’s first mobile Forex trading service, so my resume had a handful of notable achievements early on. I’ve been developing in the mobile space since 1999, and helped shape downloadable mobile content with a one-stop solution built by Unwiredtec — the company I founded.

After selling my startup, I set my sights on other challenges — finance, investments, growth, and creating products and systems that would build shareholder value.

More recently, I spent 10 years building a flight search service, Aviasales, to become the third largest globally, before joining FunCorp as a Group CEO in 2021.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

I ask myself this question every time I turn a year older. Looking back over the last 15–20 years, I’d tell myself a bunch of things to consider doing differently:

  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help, advice or contact — it doesn’t make you look wet behind the ears.
  • Don’t hesitate to provide help or advice when asked by a person who genuinely needs it — paying it forward works miracles.
  • Don’t volunteer help unless asked, however — unwarranted advice is cheap.
  • The world is much smaller than you think — people change jobs and industries all the time, and you never know when old acquaintances will pop up in unexpected places and positions.
  • On that, be friendly, kind, and respectful — It’s a great strength, and will define your future working relationships and reputation.
  • In hindsight, 90% of all fears are unfounded and the remaining 10% are manageable — This applies both to business and people relationships.
  • Don’t try to change things outside your control — focus your energy on advancing your goals.

Although saying this, there are many, many more things that one can’t know, change, learn, or unlearn, until they’ve experienced them.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful for that support to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for him or her?

There have been so many people I’m infinitely grateful to, but one person has a special place in my heart. His name was John Legge, and he taught two subjects in my MBA program: Corporate Finance and Innovation Management. He was able to ignite my curiosity for constant learning, and questioning everything, as well as providing a number of useful frameworks for living a fulfilling professional life. I helped review some of his books and this has been one of my best life experiences.

What day-to-day structures do you have in place for you to experience a fulfilled life?

I have the luxury most people don’t have: I can focus on the complex but important issues that don’t have right or wrong answers, while being 100% sure that our team will take the best care of the day-to-day activities of the business. This takes care of the inevitable stress most top executives experience due to the uncertainty of the business environment.

My personal well-being is founded on spending time with my family, having at least 8 hours of sleep, working out 4–5 times a week, and spending spare time on reading or using our company’s products for entertainment.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

We are working on a very ambitious product called Yepp. It’s a service for people to create, modify, and exchange memes and be financially compensated for doing so. We see memes as a way to convey messages, communicate, entertain and inform in their own right.

Compensating people for their creativity is something we’re obsessed about. And humor benefits us all — there are multiple research reports out there that show that dealing with news and life events through comedy helps to reduce stress and make life much more bearable and fulfilling.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Now let’s discuss marketing. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on marketing?

While there are lots of people who I’d love to be a marketing apprentice for myself, given their incredible achievements, the last 15 years of my life have been full of exciting marketing challenges.

For example, successfully growing a brand from a 1% market share to 20%+, and increasing a brand’s unaided recall from 5% to 50%, has been incredibly testing, but ultimately rewarding, and has given me valuable insight into how to achieve successful growth through marketing. I’m infinitely grateful to my colleagues (and competitors!) who have shown me how this sausage is really made.

Throughout history, marketing has driven trade for humans. What role do you see that marketing played to get human societies where we are today?

Consumer marketing plays a more important role than it used to, and started to grow in demand once a population developed with their basic needs already met, and disposable income became more commonplace. It sounds ridiculous, but the concept of disposable income is a recent phenomenon, maybe no more than 150 years old. Marketing went hand in hand with product development to increase the quality of life of people and entire societies, beyond those essentials, and targeting that additional income.

While differentiation and positioning played a huge role in developing that luxury/disposable market, creating consumer preferences and putting a number of well-known brands on the pedestal, we have now reached the point of overabundance, when products and services are trying to differentiate themselves on the attributes and promises that don’t matter to consumers, creating noise at best. There indeed can be too much of a good thing (just look at the shelves of your local supermarket). The old adage “build it and they will come” no longer applies in the face of overwhelming choice.

Another side effect of marketing on human society is the rejection of prolonged comfort: in the marketer’s eye, consumers must always move forward with their needs, explore new places, try new experiences, replace old appliances, etc. I don’t think that constant pressure to have new experiences and things is good for our mental health.

I work in marketing so I’m very cognizant of this question. What role does marketing play in creating the human experience of “I don’t have enough” even when basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are met?

I guess it stems from the nature of the capitalist economy, where shareholders demand more from the management. More goods sold, higher consumption, more touchpoints with consumers — all this requires marketing to create the need and profitably satisfy it.

As I’ve mentioned above, this sometimes can lead to the feeling of “incompleteness” or “missing out on something”. It’s a battle royale for consumers’ wallets, and putting the focus on what people don’t have, instead of what they do, creates an unnecessary ‘need’ in consumer’s minds that can be hard to shake off.

What responsibility do marketers have when it comes to people feeling that they aren’t enough?

It’s a very broad question, unfortunately, and the answer is “it depends”. There are many aspects that marketers (and even Boards!) need to take into account:

Ethics in advertising (assuming advertising is part of marketing) — is the product or service suitable for the targeted audience? For instance, is the company trying to bypass the standards in, say, advertising alcohol where it’s illegal to do it directly? Or is the company trying to push expensive status items to underprivileged communities?

The message itself and the tone of voice — I am sometimes disgusted by companies preying on emotionally unstable people pitching their products as a remedy for self-image. When marketing takes advantage of people’s insecurities, inequities, or struggles with self-worth, that can trigger damaging consequences, and marketers need to make themselves accountable for that, and make more careful, thoughtful choices about how they vie for attention.

Overpromoting abundance — there are lots of numbers thrown around about 1/3 of all food being thrown out, or an average tennis racket being used just 3 times, or a typical fast-fashion outfit being worn just 5 times. Here lies a conflict between the businesses’ need to sell more and the consumers’ conscious decisions to consume responsibly. We’re now seeing some leading fashion retailers finally starting to tackle this problem, and marketing efforts into ‘sustainability’ are becoming more commonplace. However, marketers need to take some responsibility to ensure these aren’t simply messages, but actions — and aren’t a tactic to distract from the harmful practices they aren’t addressing.

Many 21st-century marketing professionals in a capitalistic society will discuss solving human “pain points” as a way to sell products, services, and other wares successfully. In your opinion or experience, has aggravating pain points led to more pain?

Human society is currently at the peak of its comfort. We collectively are better off than any of the previous generations (I’m Gen X and I approve this message). We live longer, eat better, have better appliances, have more free time for self-betterment (OK, for Netflix, who am I kidding?).

The ethics of making consumers aware of the “pain points” is not necessarily questionable, as sometimes products and companies exist to provide a genuine solution, without creating a requirement for further need. My biggest concern, though, is that only the pain points experienced by a certain number of people get commercial attention. Below this threshold, solving human problems becomes uneconomical, and undervalued — that’s, in my opinion, where the real problem lies.

Different cultures view trade/marketing differently. While some may focus on “pain-points” others may focus on “purpose-points”. How do other cultures differ in how they approach marketing? Please give examples or studies you may know about.

While different cultures may have slightly different strategies as to how they market — these tend to be governed by several defining characteristics of factors of their demographic. These can include, but are not limited to — income, religion, education level, age, political climate, current social issues, dietary and lifestyle habits, current trends/fads, art, music, culture, social media usage, and channels favored for media consumption.

These will all affect brand loyalty, and how a demographic perceives and responds to a marketing campaign or message. For example, In the US and UK, making fun of or taking advantage of political blunders and events is commonplace in advertising, or social media marketing — but in other countries, this wouldn’t fly.

More developed populations require more sophisticated marketing, and the rise of the conscious consumer means that marketing efforts in oversaturated territories need to be more transparent about their practices to win people over. However, targeting a demographic with a lower level of disposable income, would require a more considered focus marketing the value, efficiency, and competitive price of a product or service.

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: It seems as if we have never stopped to question marketing. In your opinion, how can marketing professionals be more responsible for how their advertising shapes our human experience of feeling safe, secure, and knowing that we matter? Based on your experience or research can you please share “Five Ways We Can Re-Imagine The Marketing Industry To Make It More Authentic, Sustainable, And Promote More Satisfaction”?

Transparency — Social media gives consumers methods of providing instant feedback in a public setting, and in the age of information and being able to search into the background and inner workings of a company, product, or figurehead, your marketing needs to match your intentions and output.

As well as highlighting the positives and being geared towards sales, improving brand loyalty through transparency — and being able to own mistakes, communicating how improvements and initiatives are being implemented, and hearing from the people behind systemic changes, can all help build a sense of trust from consumers — and sends the message that their opinions and circumstances matter.

Accountability — As I mentioned, I’ve often come across marketing tactics or ads I find abhorrent — targeting vulnerable people with manipulative messages that do more harm than good.

While there are advertising standards regulators, and the court of public opinion is stronger than ever, brands avoiding accountability — whether is doubling down on harmful messages as a knee-jerk reaction to a public outcry, issuing half-assed apologies, making token gestures to distract from wrongdoing, or simply not taking accountability or factoring in different viewpoints or consequences in the ideation and approval process — is something that needs to be left behind, fast.

Consistency — Marketing and brands need to ensure they aren’t always chasing a fad, promoting an increasingly unattainable level of aspiration in their messaging, or creating a bigger wedge between themselves and their consumers. Building brand loyalty takes time, and is often reliant on a single factor — a reliable, consistent quality of product. This should be reflected in your marketing too — while it’s great to change up styles and delivery of messages to fit in with changing trends, attitudes, and tastes, these still need to be a true reflection of your product or service, and not be overly influenced by what other companies are doing. The latter often leads to huge dissatisfaction, and sends a message about conformity to an audience who may not all necessarily agree or engage with all current trends, possibly leaving them feeling alienated.

Longevity — Marketers need to consider the long-term impact of their work. While taking a controversial approach is nothing new, it’s important to consider how actions and content will be viewed in the context of a political / social consensus not just now, but the next six months, a year’s time, and beyond.

Low blows, ridiculous claims and stunts, and provocative edgy humor — all proven ways to get attention, but notoriety is a double-edged sword. Short-term buzz needs to be weighed against long term impact and perception, and what’s funny and clever now may be heavily criticized later, so always consider the consequences, and get consensus from a diverse group when embarking on a new campaign idea. The more roundly considered your approach, the greater the chances of positive reception and long-term favorability amongst consumers.

Relatability — The unrealistic standards heralded by advancements in photoshop, airbrushing, deep fakes, and special effects is widening the chasm between aspiration and reality. Marketers need to bypass the aspiration trap and focus on messaging that reflects commonality in thought between themselves and their target market. It’s relatable to signpost something that helps people realize ‘oh it’s not just me that feels this way about XYZ’, which is why communications like memes on social media are successful: They rarely provide a visual standard that makes consumers look inward and feel dissatisfied with themselves.

Through memes, self-deprecating comedy, and observational thought, brands are likely to create a more authentic connection with consumers, as relatability helps to build trust and positive associations. To build more satisfying marketing campaigns, we should look to shared experiences, thoughts, and feelings, as opposed to focusing on what individuals are missing, or highlighting where they fall short of the ideal that’s traditionally marketed.

For you personally, if you have all your basic needs met, do you feel you have enough in life?

Luckily, the past 20 years of my life have led me to the situation when I won’t have to go to sleep hungry — now or in the future. At the same time, I’m insatiable when it comes to expanding my knowledge of life, human behavior, marketing, and creative business models. That I can never have enough of.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

The major source of joy in my professional life is seeing product dashboards of our company’s products. There’s this old saying in aviation that you shouldn’t worry if an engine is still running. It’s the same thing here: while the key numbers are up — I know we’re on the right track, and this is incredibly motivating.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe the world would be a much happier place if people didn’t take themselves too seriously or entitled. I’ve already started a “movement” by asking all my former and present colleagues and friends to double down on using the words “thank you” every time an opportunity arises. It brings up people’s emotional well-being dramatically. I hope this habit spreads virally.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

When I have time, I write a substack with my thoughts on the books I read. I retell the key points of books and match them to my thoughts and experiences.

I also encourage the readers to download the Yepp app and try a hand at creating new memes or making other creators’ memes funnier or wittier. The work we’ve put into this brings humor and entertainment to the audiences, and puts rewards directly into the hands of the creators. It’s a great space to see creators shine.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at WasabiPublicity.com/Choosing-Publicity.

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Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world