Read on for our talk with Erik Huberman of Hawke Media to find out what works best for individual brands in experiential marketing.The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #17 What Works in Experiential Marketing for Individual Brands is followed below.
#17 What Works in Experiential Marketing for Individual Brands
Erik Huberman on episode #17 of Talk Experiential.
ERIK: Thanks for having me.
JOEY: Yeah. Well, you’ve been on a crazy couple trips here. I feel like on social media, you’re doing a lot. You’re traveling a lot with what you guys are doing. I’d love to hear a little bit about you and how you started Hawke Media.
ERIK: Sure. Yeah. Basically, background’s in e-commerce, so what threw me into e-commerce was graduated in 2008 and went into real estate as a commercial real estate agent exactly one week to the day before the entire banking industry collapsed, so quickly realized that wasn’t going to work out very well and started looking for options, and ended up launching an online music company, and then consecutively launched two fashion companies, both of which I sold. And then about four and a half years ago now — it’s getting older — started advising and consulting for a lot of large and small brands on how to grow better businesses using digital. And some of the big ones were like Red Bull, Verizon, Eddie Bauer, Bally Total Fitness, The Limited, a bunch of startups, and kept running into the same challenge, which is when it came time to execute, it was tough, because there were two options, either hire in-house or hire an agency. What I found was hiring in-house wasn’t cost effective, and that’s if you could find the talent, but on the agency’s side, it seemed like 98 percent of agencies had no idea what they were doing, and the few that were any good tended to be really expensive, or want long contracts, or have some other barrier that they put up that made them hard to work with. So, got sick of it, decided to hire my own team. Started with seven people, an e-mail marketer, Facebook search, influencer affiliate, web designer, and overall strategy, went back to these companies and said, “Everything’s a la carte, month to month, cheaper than hiring in-house, but basically we can spin up a team that fits your needs based on this menu of services. So, that’s how we started. Fast forward. It’s been almost four years now, and we’ve gone from seven to about 120 people.
JOEY: Wow. Well, congrats on the success. I’ve been following you the last couple years, and just pretty impressed on how fast it got to grow. But I think the biggest thing, it sounds like you’ve really found a need, a niche, for these brands that really — usually it’s a couple people that they just don’t have the access of people to help run it, but it sounds like you can come in and pretty much be that extension to help with a lot of the execution piece.
ERIK: Yep, that is the idea is we can basically come in and identify any holes in someone’s bandwidth or expertise, and then spin up a team on an a la carte month-to-month basis to basically fix that.
JOEY: Awesome. I guess, kind of diving in, is there any projects that you’re kind of excited that you’ve done in the past through Hawke Media?
ERIK: Yeah. I mean, we’ve grown over 550 brands at this point, so there’s many. I mean, we were the early partner to Beauty Con for two and a half years, helped them grow to be the behemoth they are, which has been really fun. There’s a lot of really cool brands, Raden, the luggage company; Tamara Mellon, who is the co-founder of Jimmy Choo and then spun out to start her own shoe company, and we’re their marketing agency. There’s a lot of really cool companies we’ve been able to work with. And then, we also have worked with a lot of startups that couldn’t quite afford us on some hybrid equity deals and have been able to spin up these basically ownership positions that we now have a decent portfolio of about 27 companies, some of which have completely crushed it. So, there’s one right now that I’m really excited about called Brandable. Basically, they create products for influencers, like Epic Meal Time snack line and all these different ones, and then get them placed in big brick-and-mortar retailers, and they’re just crushing it. I’ve never seen a company grow faster. I always thought of myself as a hotspur (ph) until I met the founder there, and now I just feel like I’m sitting still.
JOEY: Oh, that is exciting. And then the other product that really just turned me on — I know we’ve partnered on an event before in Santa Monica for our Talk Experiential launch — but I know that you guys created kind of a pop-up shop for a couple brands. You want to kind of explain that?
ERIK: Yeah. So, we did what we call “the nest,” which was basically a revolving co-retail space on Abbot Kinney, so the hottest street in L.A., in Venice for the summer. We basically brought in 10 brands at a time and spread and rotated them out over three months, so we had 30 brands total on a month-to-month level. They came in — they just kind of sublet, was the model, so we just about broke even on the thing. Everyone on average broke even from a revenue standpoint, but it was such a good marketing play, a ton of press, a ton of influence to marketing, and they got a lot of real-time customer feedback on the products. It was a very successful experiment. But also, I would’ve bet — retail as a business is super tough, especially in those key places.
JOEY: Right. Well, and just the expense, too, of just being their retail side. Just being able to work — I mean, you’ve worked with 550 brands. You’ve probably seen a little of everything. Tell me a little bit about where you see brands are going. And I know there’s a lot of noise out there. How can you get a brand to actually become something that people will buy into? And I’d love to hear kind of from your side of it.
ERIK: Yeah. I mean, it really is about being authentic. I mean, that’s the brand stories, and brand is kind of synonymous with trust in our world. Edelman did a study that 75 percent of people say trust is the most important factor when purchasing something, so your brand and what you stand for — as long as it’s authentic and people believe it — is where that trust comes in, that when they’re trying to decide what to buy, they know that what you said is true, and they know what comes to mind when they think of you. The example I give is like — speaking of traveling internationally — if you’re traveling in an exotic place and you’re sick of local exotic cuisine, sometimes you just want a hamburger, and generally you’re going to feel comfortable going into McDonald’s. The worst food for you — don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to promote McDonald’s — but anyone that’s traveled to a third-world country and spent real time there, at some point having just a McDonald’s hamburger sounds pretty good, ’cause there’s that brand that you trust, that you know what you’re going to get. And there’s something to that with any type of brand. Coca-Cola has the same thing.
JOEY: Right. Oh, absolutely. Well, yeah, especially your trip to Tokyo, here. I’m sure it was like, “I just need a burger.”
ERIK: That’s happened. Japanese food is incredible, but I was also only there for three days or four days. But, yeah, if I was there for months — I mean, I don’t know. Tokyo’s also a pretty international city. That’s why I was saying “third world.” But other things, like if I went out to buy clothing — I went and bought sneakers there. There was a collaboration between a local Tokyo sneaker shop and Reebok. I know Reebok. I know they’re good shoes, and then I got this local spin on it, but still, it’s confidence in that.
JOEY: Right. Absolutely. And you come up with a great point. I mean, authentic and trust is where they have to begin, and trust, you’re not going to just jump into — I’m overlooking a Target right now. Just building that trust is so key on any medium. And I know you do a lot of different marketing, from the influencer to the social media to marketing. Do you see one helping out better, or does it really depend on the brand and where their target audience is?
ERIK: It’s not about where their target audience. It’s what are they selling. Is there a need-based product? Is it something you can create demand for? There’s a lot of different reasons to use these different channels.
JOEY: Got it. Okay, cool. So, yeah, you guys were growing Hawke Media. What’s the long-term goal with what you guys are doing in working with brands?
ERIK: Yeah. I mean, we really want to — and we’ve accomplished it; now it’s about getting the word out — but we want to be the best marketing partner to all size companies. So, if a company’s having, again, problems with either getting things done or understanding what to do, we want us to be the first name that comes up, and call us, because we’re going to do the best job and also not lock them in to anything or charge them obscenely. That’s the idea is truly on all facets, we want to be the best marketing partner, and so we’re doing everything we can to accomplish that.
JOEY: Right. Absolutely. I guess my other question, too, is technology’s really taking over our world. Technology is kind of my world. I love tech, and I’ve talked to this on other podcasts, but anything from Amazon now — I’m sure you guys have that in Santa Monica. You get two-hour delivery. I don’t even have to leave my house. It’s interesting even just how we get our content. I call it the “edible content,” the Snapchat days. I know we’ve kind of talked about authentic and trust, but how do you get a brand that can build that trust fast, but also get through that muddy water of all those brands out there in your face?
ERIK: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, because it’s getting harder and harder to do that, and I think that it’s going to get harder to launch a new brand, to be honest. The best way to do it now is to make your site a destination that’s above and beyond just when someone wants to purchase something, so things like creating a good media company behind your brand so that people actually come in to digest content and not just there to buy, so that you can capture that audience for a longer period of time, because where you’re going to have to make up for the fact that it’s getting harder to get new audience is making sure that your existing audience sticks around longer.
JOEY: Right. There’s the old companies as well — and I’m sure you’ve seen it too — they’re trying to get to a level of, “Hey, we want to be cool and sexy,” and the term ‘experiential’ gets them excited, but they don’t know what the heck they’re doing. I guess getting that audience that are long term for you, getting them excited, but then getting that new audience, how do you tie the two together? So, I know you mentioned you really want to get your audience — if it’s a long-term company or brand, your core group of people — you want to target them and making sure that they’re going to continue, but how do you tie in to keeping them, but also adding up new customers?
ERIK: Yeah, so it really shouldn’t be a — there’s no reason not to do both. The same thing that should attract new customers will keep your existing ones. Again, the same thing is relevant. So, obviously the tactics are different. You have to go out there and get new customers in a different way. That’s where advertising comes in and things like that, but they’re all going to respond to similar content. Now, you can get deeper and deeper once people are educated with the brand and want to see different things. You don’t need to just highlight who you are. A lot of what we do is like — the top-of-the-funnel advertising, as well as we have some initial drip campaigns through e-mail marketing — will kind of bring people into your world, and then from there, a lot of times we set up e-mails and set up content more through, again, a drip campaign and different segmentation so that not everyone’s getting the same thing. And the people that are furthest down your funnel are who you’re building for, and the people that are at the top of the funnel are getting content that you maybe created a year or two ago, but you’ve created an evergreen way so that they continue — you don’t have to stay on this hamster wheel keeping up with everyone. You’ve built that funnel, and it’s just about getting people in it and then worrying about the end of the funnel as well.
JOEY: And the next thing, too, I know a lot of people talk about is the influence for marketing. I feel like that’s something that obviously has been not new, but it’s obviously a little bit more engaging just with social media, because there’s now so many outlets that you can add that in. But do you want to talk a little bit about that, on how to use influencer marketing? What are kind of the best strategies to use that with a brand? More talking about influencer marketing, right? And I apologize if I’m just kind of running down the questions with you. I’m on your website, kind of just looking at some of the other things. We really haven’t talked about influencer —
ERIK: So, how to leverage influencer for a brand? Is that just —
JOEY: Yeah, exactly.
ERIK: Yeah. So, influencer marketing, honestly, it’s become more of a trust factor than anything. It’s not really a direct response channel, and it’s kind of gone away from that. Our company has grown over double this year, but influencer marketing has actually declined over last year, and it’s not because we’re having any trouble selling it. It’s because we’re not selling it as much. Traditional endorsement deals are working really well. These micro influencers and basic influencers that were driving great results one and two years ago are just not driving results anymore. So instead, we’re sending that up so that when people are searching for you and trying to get an idea of who else has said positive things about you, there’s some trust out there and some third-party validation, social proof to prove it. But it’s not an ongoing thing in the same way it used to be, and it’s really hard to scale, so it’s more campaign-driven now than it was before when it comes to brand activation.
JOEY: Got it. I mean, because I see a lot of the Instagram models and try to do the influencer, but, yeah, I think you kind of hit the point, there. It can be difficult, because we get a lot of people that come to us asking for it, like, “Hey, we want influencer marketing.” Obviously, we don’t do that, but I guess it’s trying to take their company to whoever this influencer’s level and trying to create that excitement and engagement out of it, obviously, is an interesting way.
ERIK: And, well, what the problem is, authenticity is what drove influencer marketing as a positive source, and that authenticity went away when it became a commodity and a channel. So, the problem is, clients always love to chase buzzwords; hence, why you get asked for it all the time. We refuse to allow that. We won’t chase buzzwords with them. So, that’s one thing that’s set us apart is, yeah, we can sell the hell out of influencer marketing, we could sell the hell out of SCO, but we only sell it when it actually is going to benefit the client, not just because we can sell it. And that’s a big differentiator between us and most agencies, to be honest, because most agencies don’t know better. Their feedback loop is, “People are buying it, we’ll sell it,” and ours is, “We know how to build these businesses. We’re not going to sell stuff that doesn’t make sense.”
JOEY: Well, and the way you’re selling your company is the authentic and trust. From how we’ve grown our agency, it’s exactly what you said. I mean, you’ve got to build that trust first, and there can be big budgets out there, and you can’t just go after a revenue or, “Oh, there’s a million-dollar project,” and just say, “Hey, we’re going to just do whatever we can to make it work.” If it doesn’t work, it’s not going to work, so why waste people’s money? And I really liked hearing that, just hearing the authentic and building that trust first, because that’s obviously key.
ERIK: Yeah. No, I agree, it’s super important. I mean, and it’s how it should be. I actually think it’s a great trend to be a part of.
JOEY: Absolutely. And obviously there’s so many other companies that think that they can become a company. And even just on the entrepreneur level, like, “Hey, make two million dollars in a day or in a month; buy my book,” or something like that, and they haven’t even started a company before. So, it’s interesting. How do you look at marketing? And again, I don’t mean to throw these random questions. I just had a thought come out there. Some people say marketing is just a bunch of bullshit; it’s just a bunch of nets to get someone to buy a brand. I guess, how do you look at it, running your company? How do you look at it in a different light?
ERIK: Yeah. To be real, marketing is, frankly, a bunch of bullshit that gets you to buy a brand. You can actually state that. Let’s be real. It depends how you define “bullshit,” but that is the goal is to generate revenue, and to get new customers for a company and maintain their existing customers. So, at the end of the day, that’s what it is. That being said, it’s a necessity and a valuable thing. I always talk about this. In the Bay Area, we’ve had a really tough time breaking through many walls in the Bay, because there’s such a different culture of marketing up there, even though we’re not far. We do much better work in New York than we do in San Francisco, even though we’re in L.A., because people get it in terms of culturally. In San Francisco, there was one quote that was floating around a year or two ago. Jeff Bezos said it: “If you have a good product, you don’t need marketing.” And what’s hilarious is Amazon’s a publicly traded company. You want to check their P & L and look at how much they spent on advertising? It’s obscene. The fact that that quote was floating around and being taken as gospel was ridiculous. And at the end of the day, what it is is if you have a good product, you’re going to have a good word of mouth and good repeat business. That is true. You should, and you should be able to spread organically, and it should be able to — people should come back and buy. At that point, which is what we hope for in a client, then all marketing does is get you a lot of those foot soldiers to build the word of mouth quicker so it speeds up the process, and then it reminds people quicker, so it increases that velocity of the repurchase. You still need a good product for it to be successful. It’s really hard to market a bad product. It’s really easy to market a good product. That’s kind of the point. But if you want to be patient and wait around for when someone decides to tell their friend, and then they go through their purchase cycle, and then they get introduced to it, and then they tell two friends, and it slowly builds that way, fine, or you can just consistently load it with thousands of people who are also going to tell their friends, and you can just move a lot faster. So, it’s a function of putting gas on the fire. And then, when you’re at a large scale, you’re going to have people trying to come after you and steal your customers, and it’s a defense mechanism as well, and staying top of mind is the key. That is the key in any business is when people want or need a product like yours, you need to be the one they think of.
JOEY: Right. Exactly. Well, and you hit it on the nose, there, is just it’s interesting, just the different markets and the way people think. We get a lot of requests from San Francisco. Usually, we will get requests from companies that just landed 50 million, 100 million, 200 million, and they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just like, “All right, we need boots on the ground, and we just need to spread the word.” I guess the other point, too, of that is making sure you have a good strategy up front, just throwing things to just see if it works. From my understanding, it’s very difficult to make it a scalable type of program. When you do take on a client, where do you begin with the conversation? Either do they come to you saying, “Hey, I need help with e-mail marketing,” — and I’m sure it’s all of the above, but I’d love to just see how a brand could start working with a company like you.
ERIK: Yeah. No, every once in a while, it’s someone coming to me like, “I specifically need X, Y, Z. This is what I want to hire you for, and let’s go.” That’s actually pretty rare, but that happens. Usually it’s, “We need help growing this,” and we, Hawke Media, will do an audit to determine where the (inaudible – 00:21:38) is and then tell them what we want to do, because most of the time, people are coming to us for expertise. They’re not looking to us just to be order takers, and so they want to know — and we want to buy in. I’ve had to tell people no many times when they’re like, “We need this.” We’re like, “No, you don’t. You need this. That is not what you need to spend your marketing on, and we know this.”
JOEY: Right. Exactly. Well, and I think, too, that’s how you guys — you becoming that influencer and that leader in the industry, they’re coming to you as that thought, like, “Come to us. Help us out on the marketing side.” That’s great.I know you guys do a little bit of experiential, and this is an experiential podcast. Tell me a little bit about your experience with the experiential side, and where do you see it going in the future.
ERIK: Yeah. I think it’s hugely important in becoming — the thing is, experiential marketing and that kind of physical experiential marketing is becoming more of a rarity, and so I think it’s such a unique way these days, which is crazy, but to connect people with people in a physical location or physical way is rare enough now that it helps you stand out, so I actually totally believe in experiential marketing. It’s a fast-growing part of our business, because people don’t just want to interact digitally. It’s a very surface relationship and superficial relationship with a brand when you just see a few Facebook ads and buy. For me, I just bought a pair of shoes off a Facebook ad, which, first time in a while that I’ve bought something through an ad, but they were cool shoes.
JOEY: And it was targeted to you.
ERIK: Yeah, it did a good job. I needed them, and it was funny. But that being said, it’s not that I’m going to have some emotional connection with that brand now. I just kind of like the shoes. If they threw a party and I was there, and we got size per shoes and I need a custom pair, whatever it is, I’d have a lot more of a connection with that brand and probably buy more in the long run. So, there’s an ROI (ph) to experiential, and it’s about creating that emotional connection with your customer, but it also creates just a longevity to a brand that you don’t get when you just send ads and send e-mails.
JOEY: Right. Well, and being in that experience, it is fascinating, revoking that emotion for them to enjoy that brand. You talk about Tokyo. That’s almost experiential marketing. There’s a McDonald’s right there. You’ve experienced, or you’ve had that emotional connection. Whether it’s shitty food or not, it’s still a place where you grew attached to it, just how they’ve done on marketing. That’s great.
ERIK: Yeah. And it’s important, right? That’s where we try to sit is that happy medium between direct response, driving sales right away, and branding, where we’re building that emotional connection and that trust factor on an ongoing basis.
JOEY: Right. Exactly. And just with experiential marketing, obviously it is a growing market. It’s been around for a while, but now I believe that brands are starting to actually have their own budgets for experiential — because I think they understand that need, too, just being aware that target market is, creating that experience. How do you see that tying into the digital world? Do you guys do that as well, kind of that experience?
ERIK: Oh, yeah. You have to tie it into the digital world, whether it’s capturing contact info while you’re doing the experience so you can follow up with them. Like, leveraging digital, bringing people in through digital, and then having the experiential happens, so a lot of times we’ll use Facebook ads or e-mail marketing to get people to the actual experience. So, it’s always a combination. That’s the big thing with marketing in general, this question included, is nothing’s in a vacuum. It’s not all segmented. It all works together. And the more you can do at the same time, the more synergistic it can be.
JOEY: Anything else before we head off on this podcast? I mean, I appreciate all your insight. I follow you a lot, and it’s been exciting watching what you guys have accomplished, and really just being able to be part of really big brands’ marketing. I think, one, it’s fascinating, and I’m sure you guys have learned a whole ton over the years, growing with these companies.
ERIK: Yeah, we’re number one in discounts. Some big brands are fun to work with. We have a few clients that are massive that are really fun. But I have to say, the startups and the early stage companies are actually where we have our most fun, and they’re the most volatile, but you also have the craziest times with those. People will just do ridiculous things. I’m going to quickly share this story. We had a guy threaten to sue us, because when we started doing lookalike targeting, which is very standard. We took this customer base, uploaded it into Facebook, built a targeting list based on who had already purchased his product, and started targeting, and he’s convinced — when he had, like, two out of twenty of his subscription customers — oh, sorry. So, I was just going to say, he was convinced that those two customers were stolen by Facebook and by us, and he was going to sue us both for stealing his customers.
JOEY: Are you serious?
ERIK: Yeah. So, there’s volatility to both sides. And dealing with big companies, you deal with bureaucracy. You deal with not getting paid in time. You deal with them strong-arming sometimes. There’s a little bit of an ego there, and it’s not unanimous. This is one percent of both that give both a bad name. At the end of the day, 99 percent of the people we work with are amazing. We have awesome customers. We love working with them, and it’s really fun. We just have a good group, and we frankly walk away from people we don’t like working with now. We’re finally in a place that we will, and what’s nice is, even though we’re at that place, it’s not that common. It’s very rare that we have to do that, because, yeah, people get passionate, but they’re usually great people. Entrepreneurs are fun people to work with.
JOEY: Right, yeah, and they’re just fun people to be with and work with, and like-minded people, and that’s why we’re part of these founder organizations. I’d rather hang out with those type of people anyway. To your point, too — and it sounds like especially these startups, the sky’s the limit. There’s not all that red tape that goes up the chain to do something. Especially if they can get a decent-sized budget to do something, it seems like the sky can be the limit on really just taking them to that next level.
ERIK: What’s funny is our biggest main clients are series A level companies, like a few million in revenue to 20 million in revenue are our biggest clients, not the multi-billion-dollar organizations that we work with, because their budgets are all allocated a year in advance to a hundred different things, and they’re doing so many different things at once. They’re a lot harder to get big budgets from than a company that just raised some money that really wants to fire on all cylinders with one partner.
JOEY: Right. Now, do you see, growing with those partners — with your outsource CMO, is it?
JOEY: I guess, how do you look at it? Is it something you recommend that they hire an in-house team? How do you scale with them?
ERIK: Yeah. So, the reason for the month-to-month is not because we hope to be fired in a month, it’s because we hope to pivot and change on an ongoing basis. So, the needs of a company changes consistently throughout their growth phases, and it’s constant. They need different things at different times, and they should absolutely hire certain things in house at certain stages in the company. Pretty quickly, you probably want at least one person in house, a decision maker on the marketing side, working with us, because one thing we can’t do is make the final decision for a company. We’re not there. So, we’re happy to make recommendations and get it almost to the finish line, but we need a yes or no from someone in house, and that can be the CEO for a little while, but at some point, they shouldn’t be the one doing that; it should be someone from a marketing perspective. From there, it just depends. Media buying probably never makes sense to bring in house unless you just somehow find a team of rock stars, but that’s rare, because we’re always going to have more insight and a better relationship with Facebook than you possibly could. We’re spending more money than almost any one brand spends on Facebook, so we’re going to have a better relationship, we’re going to get to the top faster, we’re going to get early insight into different programs. You just can’t compete with us. And we have insight into hundreds of other brands and what they’re doing, so we’re going to learn faster. We’re going to know what’s happening in the ecosystem that you can’t do internally. Now, on the other hand, let’s say content creation. We can do a lot of good content creation and bring ideas to the table, but at some point, content’s really more of an internal thing than knowing what everyone else is doing. And you can probably get a good content person in house, but for a while, it probably makes sense to use us. It just depends on the company and what the core competencies are and what the core deliverables are, because a lot of it, they can leverage us in a very positive way, and some things over time make sense to bring in house.
JOEY: Right. No, that makes complete sense. Thanks for explaining that. And another thing, too, is you guys are learning really fast on what works, what doesn’t work, and building those relationships fast, and that’s why you need a company like you.
ERIK: Yeah. Almost everyone we work with, we put what we call an “outsource CMO,” but a high-level marketer that’s like a strategy consultant on the account, and that, more than anything, always makes sense, because early on, they can help you avoid pitfalls and guide you through what we’ve seen happen 500+ times. And then later on, they still can be that adviser to your CMO that’s like, “Hey, this is what we’re seeing,” and get on a weekly call, talking through where you measure up against other companies, how you’re doing in terms of what you’re not taking advantage of, how are things performing, how should they be, like ongoing. We don’t charge too much for that, for the results you can drive from that. It makes sense at every stage.
JOEY: Right. No, that’s great. Well, it’s been fun having you on here. I really appreciate you joining, here. I know we’re going to be probably meeting up here again in the near future, and, yeah, I hope to do another one here soon.
ERIK: I would love that. Thank you for having me.
JOEY: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, and have a great day.
Find the list of full Talk Experiential episodes here.