Not all of the returns are necessarily measured in ROI, but there should be a reason you’re making an investment in time, people, and capital. Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Mathias.
Michael Mathias is Chief Executive Officer of digital agency Whereoware. Mathias has an impressive track record accelerating growth for companies at all stages, with expertise spanning marketing, software, professional services, big data, analytics, and technology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Very early in my career, I was in pure advertising, or at least I thought I was. I imagined becoming an Advertising Executive — corner office on Madison Avenue and all. At my first ad agency, I worked for a large client with very robust, multi-channel advertising needs. And unfortunately for this client, things got pretty screwed up, sending the wrong materials and feeds to the wrong outlets. So with ignorance on my side, I jumped in to sort out the “data” issues, and have found myself ever since at the intersection of marketing, advertising, data, media, technology, and analytics.
Back when I started out, there wasn’t a “digital marketing” career path, and no one sought out that type of career. Marketing technology wasn’t yet the thing it is today, and advertising usually met up with data and technology by mistake. By showing a proclivity toward the intersection of the creative and the coordination and integration piece, I ended up going into digital marketing by accident.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
With years of distance from it, I’m still not sure if it’s necessarily funny, but it did teach me an important lesson fast.
I worked with a very large cable company that’s still around today, that produced lots of shows and content. They had a promotion running, where they would send $50 rebate checks to new subscribers to encourage them to switch carriers. It was a huge success; 10s of thousands of responses. When the promotion finally ended, we compiled the information, found the new and existing subscribers, and parsed out who would receive the checks or not.
Well, when it came time to distribute the checks, the files were mixed up and everyone who shouldn’t have received a check got one, and those who should have received one, didn’t. It was a mistake to the tune of 7 figures that nearly killed our agency.
It was one of the roughest moments of my career, but a massive lesson I carry with me to this day: it’s all about the data. You must understand what’s happening with the data at every point before moving forward.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I learned early on — if you’re going to be dumb, you better be strong. In the early days, I was fortunate to be a part of a couple of fast-growing organizations that have since become very successful.
The culture was if you didn’t know something, it didn’t stop you from doing it. We were doing things that by conventional wisdom (and in hindsight), we shouldn’t have done, but we didn’t know any better. That ignorance allowed us to be bold — we willed things to happen and it worked out. I learned that you don’t let the idea of what you can and can’t do govern what you’ll try.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Whereoware is big enough to matter but small enough to care. What I mean by that is we typically play against companies that are substantially larger than we are. We punch way above our weight class for our size and our resources.
It’s a testament to our focus on a core of primary technologies and tremendous passion and investment in providing strategic services and guidance in all aspects of marketing.
We thrive on helping clients extract value from tech. By being smaller and more nimble, we can more intimately partner with clients to help them realize the whole value of what we’re delivering. We live in a digital marketing space where technology is critical, but we’re not prescriptive when it comes to tech. Our expertise is in enabling a meaningful outcome — helping our clients grow their relationships with customers, regardless of technology.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Sometimes, the folks you dislike at the moment, are the ones that help you the most.
I worked for a very demanding CEO early on in my career — hard to work for, with high expectations. Any question he asked should’ve been answered in one of two ways: yes or no. Either answer was fine, but if you strayed away from either in your response, you’d get nailed to the wall. Once you answered yes or no, he was willing to hear your reasoning.
This taught me a lot about executive communication, better decision making, and overall clarity of purpose. People process information in different ways. As my career developed, I’ve found myself adopting a similar way of processing information: getting the answer before hearing the explanation makes more sense to me now.
Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
This is twofold: on the agency or supplier side, don’t ever stop talking to your clients. As a service provider, you can talk yourself into so many things that aren’t pertinent or real (shiny object syndrome), but nothing creates focus like the tangible needs of your clients. Anchor your growth roadmap on what’s best for your clients. And clients bring energy and focus to your business.
To clients: agency partners and suppliers work with a wide variety of diverse businesses and industries, so rely on their breadth of knowledge. Set aside time to learn from your partners and ask questions about what’s going on. Don’t just tack on questions here or there, but intentionally invest time in understanding the bigger picture — use their expertise to your advantage. This keeps you fresh with new ideas.
There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history?
Hands down: The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World. It appeals to my dry and absurd sense of humor, and I love the idea of “cool mocking cool.” It really speaks to me. It’s impressive and bold for a commodity product in a crowded marketplace. Dos Equis is a comparatively small player in their industry, punching way above their weight class, which I always admire.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like?
The blueprint starts with a clear plan of what you’re trying to accomplish and learn. “Blueprint” tactics can vary, but without an end in mind, it’s quite difficult to find success. I do firmly believe there is a hierarchy of items to contemplate to find success, and the first should always be data used for targeting. All campaigns have targets, and if they don’t, see point one.
Targeting trumps everything. You could have weak creative, lame messaging, and an unappealing offer, but in front of the right person, it will still perform. Likewise, with perfect creative, messaging, and offer in front of the wrong person, you’ll fail.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
There is a winning sequence for every individual. It’s a continuation of 1 to 1 marketing — something marketers have white boarded and promised across the industry for decades and technology and data are finally catching up to. The future of marketing is using different optimization techniques, like artificial intelligence, to quickly and cheaply unlock the perfect conversion formula for each customer (business or consumer) based on the sum of their behaviors.
What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?
- Focus on your people. I wish someone really drove home to me that if you focus on taking care of your people — your clients and staff — the money will come. It takes a long time to realize that without guidance.
- Sometimes you get fired because you deserve it. Sometimes you get fired just because.
- Be authentic, all the time. It’s too hard to remember all the stories if you’re not.
- What you do as an individual is irrelevant. This is especially important because when you start out in your career, it’s all about what you can do. Some stay on that path and find plenty of success, but I’ve learned throughout my career that what I can personally accomplish is irrelevant. What matters is what my team can achieve. My job is simply to enable their achievement and stay the hell out of their way.
- Not everyone is going to like you. You can try to please everyone, but you won’t, and that’s ok.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
I don’t obsess over the next shiny object when it comes to technology. Tech is an enabling force. I’ve used it throughout my career and been on both the bleeding and trailing edge. I very much appreciate and respect what technology can do. But the best tech does its job and fades into the background. It lets you understand your data and make it actionable.
I normally don’t make tech friends right away with this comment, but I never want to make tech the centerpiece of any discussion. Don’t mistake that for it’s not important; on the contrary, it needs to perform so flawlessly that you don’t think about it and focus on what it can do. It’s like racing a car. You don’t want to be thinking about whether or not the wheels are going to stay on, you want to be focused on how to win the race.
For small businesses, I’d say the best advice I can provide is to have a business reason for whatever you are doing with technology. Not all of the returns are necessarily measured in ROI, but there should be a reason you’re making an investment in time, people, and capital. Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I find myself most compelled by the big thought pieces — McKinsey, Bain, Harvard Business Review, Boston Consulting Group. These are typically the most interesting to me as they force you to think beyond this week, month, or year. I also take a lot of inspiration on the design side from the arts, architecture, music, and even the culinary space. They may not sharpen my marketing skills, but they enhance my appreciation for design and UX. I gravitate toward things that speak to both sides of my brain: the creative design and the practical application.
One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If somehow there was a movement to cut down all the noise that we live in, to be able to slow down a little when we need it, and just be quiet and be able to spend more time with your own thoughts, then sign me up!
Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us!
Author: Kage Spatz is a Forbes-ft. CEO & Strategist for Good — giving Marketers, Entrepreneurs, & Strategic Partners an additional income stream. Monetize the same US-based Customer Traffic, Data-Driven Content, & Online Sales experts used by an NBA franchise, the Fortune 500, & more. Business owners are serving the needs of more humans with Spacetwin.