Our talk with Steve Randazzo brings us to discuss how to deliver experiential marketing to the digital world. The full transcript for Talk Experiential episode #29 Delivering Experiences To The Digital World is followed below.

#29 Delivering Experiences In The Digital World

Steve Randazzo on episode #29 of Talk Experiential.

JOEY: Welcome to the next Talk Experiential Podcast.  I’m excited to have our guest Steve Randazzo. Thanks for joining us.

STEVE: Hey, thanks for having me.

JOEY: So, Pro Motion.  You started Pro Motion back in ’95.  Would love to learn how you started it and what it is.

STEVE:  Yeah, I’m kind of one of those guys that always wanted to have a company, and my first company was Steve’s Lawn Service back when I was 12, and then when I was at Ralston Purina, which is now Nestle Purina, I started my first  Event Marketing company. It was SJR Pro Motions, and I did, you know, local fairs and festivals.  Worked with local brands and helped them promote their brands here just in the St. Louis area. And then, when I left Ralston, I went to McCann Erickson Event Marketing, and that was a great job.  It gave me really a lot of information about how to run an agency. We turned that agency around in about 12 months, and after about 18 months, I exited and started Pro Motion. So, it seems like so long ago in some ways, and in some ways it seems like it was just yesterday.

JOEY: Right.  That’s amazing.  I mean, McCann Erickson, that was probably a big turning point for you.

STEVE: It was.  It was entry into the big agency world.  So, you know, the New York guys basically ran us and managed us.  The kind of cool thing about back in those days is there was about eight of us who left and started our own companies after all working there together there.  So, we did some really kickass stuff. And we all decided to all go off and do our own thing, so it sprouted, like, eight different agencies, and there’s a few of guys that are still standing.  You know, a few of them have sold out; a few of them have just gone away, but, you know, we have a lot of talent here in St. Louis in the Event Marketing world.

JOEY: Yeah.  Well, awesome.  Well, tell me a little bit about Pro Motion and, you know, what is your kind of core competency?  What do you guys focus on?

STEVE: Sure.  Well, we basically focus on B2B and B2C Brands, and our goal is to help them grow their brand all around the experiential space.  So, you know, we — while we use digital marketing, social media, obviously, PR, and, you know, other ways to extend our reach, the only thing we do in house is experiential marketing.  So, I have a team here in St. Louis I’ve got a small team in Nashville. I actually have a single person up in Philadelphia. So, we’ve kind of become this virtual agency in the past few years where, you know, with all the technology, we can be in multiple places and still feel like we’re together.  And it’s worked out really well. You know, for a small agency out of St. Louis, Missouri, we’ve really attracted some really cool brands, you know? We’ve worked with the NBA. We’ve been working with Disney since 2008. We worked with Tractor Supply company. There’s a number of agencies we work with.  You know, we’ve worked with, you know, most of the beverage companies out there. You know, we cut out teeth — we first started Pro Motion with Anheuser Busch, since they’re down the street, you know?

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: They supported a lot of agency work here in St. Louis, and we worked with them for 14 years.  It was really a great run, great relationship until, you know, they sold to InBev and moved on.  But we’ve done a lot of work in beverages, beer, liquor, soft drinks. Any time a brand needs to get face to face with their consumer or their customer, that’s what we do.

JOEY: Awesome.  Very cool.  Well, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot over the years, you know, from all the different things.  And I also see that you have a book out, Brand Experiences. 

STEVE: I do.  I’m really excited.  We launched that week.  It’s called Brand Experiences:  Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World.  So, it’s kind of the world we live in. You know, there’s so many messages out there, consumers — all kinds of different ways.  And in my view, not a lot of them are sticking. You know, they’re really not building a connection. There’s no emotional attachment.  There’s a couple brands that are doing a pretty good job with social media, but not a lot. A lot of them are just adding to the clutter, which is just, you know, compounding the problem that we have.  But it’s also, I think, causing a great opportunity for brand to say, I need a better connection; I need to be connected to my consumers and my customers. And, you know, the best way to do that is face to face, you know?  I had a VP of sales say to me the other day — it’s one of our B2B clients. He said, “It’s never a bad thing to be face to face with your customer.”

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: You know, I thought, well, you know what, that’s extremely profound and simple, and, you know, I kind of love that, you know?  You know, trade shows are dying. There’s very few trade shows that are really doing a great job for the people who are going to those trade shows, whether it the people who are displaying their wares or the people that are going there to try to find new products to buy.  You know, trade shows are kind of a — you know, in my opinion, they’ve kind of come and gone. And, you know, there’s a lot of B2B brands out there that are looking to figure out a better way to get to their customer, and experience is a great opportunity for B2B brands. The ROI is so clean from a B2B standpoint, because you’re right there; you can watch the customer journey, you know, with your customers.  You can take them through the entire journey. And we’ve had clients say that, you know, we cut the sales cycle in half. They’ve said we’ve doubled their pipeline. You know, we had one that said we had a 50:1 ROI on the program, so.

JOEY: Wow.

STEVE: We’re doing mobile road shows, which is basically a trade show on wheels, going directly to their customers.  There’s no competitor there, so there’s no noise. It’s one on one focus. Since we’re going to their office, we’re able to get decision makers to come out, but also the influencers.  So, you kind of get the whole food chain of that brand, you know? So, you get the buyer, but you get the VP of marketing, you get the VP of sales, you get the engineering department, you get the maintenance department, you get everybody involved.  And they’re sitting in your mobile display, and they’re having a conversation with your customers’ salespeople, and it’s amazing to watch how that whole buyer’s journey is just accelerated.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: And, you know, it’s really a great thing.  You know, that’s the one thing about the B2C, is, you know, the further and further away you get from the actual point of purchase, the harder it is to read clean sales ROI.  Now, there is return on experience; it’s still really important. So, you know, you’re still engaging the people. You’re still introducing them to the product, but you don’t know what they do after that engagement.  You can give them a coupon sometimes and they — you know, you can track the coupon, but, you know, since you’re not right there at the point of the sale, a lot of times you don’t really know how clean that sales ROI is.  In B2B, it’s as clean as can be.

JOEY: Right.  It’s amazing.  You know, when I first started my company, Air Fresh Marketing, we were a 100% digital company, and I never would go see clients.  We were just phone calls and emails. And I wasn’t even showcasing experiential, which now we are. Now it’s like, all right, we’ve got to be face to face.  But even just knowing — just with any small business, you know, you have to get out there. You know, you can’t just hide behind your computer. You know, you’ve got to know who Steve is, shake your hand.  You know, it’s building that trust up front, and it is — like you should said, you know, bring out all the different components. You know, you’re gonna build a trust quicker and just continue that customer journey faster.  I think it’s fascinating.

STEVE: Yeah, and us humans, we’re programmed to remember experiences.  So, you can probably remember, like, a great Christmas when you grew up, or you can remember, you know, a birthday present that you got, or, you know, a vacation that you went on.  Those are just great experiences that we all remember. And then, what’s going on today, especially in the digital world, is — you know, my analogy is, OK, you go to a highway and you stand on an overpass, and you watch thousands of cars go by, you know, and then the next day you don’t remember what you saw.  You don’t remember — you remember there were a bunch of — you know, yeah, I remember a Camry. I remember a tractor trailer. Maybe there’s a Volkswagen bug. I think there was a red one. But there’s no emotional connection there. There’s no engagement there. And eventually, that memory goes away. But — I’ll stick with the car analogy; if you go to an event and you have a chance to sit in a car, you can smell the car, you can feel how soft the seats are, you can turn on the stereo and hear the speakers, you know?  And if you can get in the car and do a test drive, you know, you can feel how it handles. You can feel how it starts, and stops, and turns. And you remember that experience, ‘cause, you know, it’s an emotional connection. You’re actually experiencing the value of that car. And in the digital world, unfortunately, it’s just a highway and cars are zipping by you every day.

JOEY: Right.  No, that’s a great analogy.  That’s — that makes so much sense too.  So, with your — I guess with experiential marketing, I mean, it is a cluttered world, kind of like your book with digital and how you get your target.  I mean, the next thing, is, you know, focusing on millennials — millennials and then the Gen Z, Gen X kind of group coming up. You know, they’re constantly on these phones.  I mean, we are too, obviously, but, you know, how do you get them away and be able to connect a brand? Is it, you know, through experiential marketing or — you know, how do you see and connect with them a little bit deeper?

STEVE: Well, I have two Gen Z’s in my family, and fortunately, they really — they grew up in my business.  So, I had my company before, you know, they — either one of them were born, so they love talking about what our business can do.  My daughter just graduated, just this past weekend, at University of Missouri, and she has a finance degree, and so we were talking, ‘cause she — like I said, she grew up in our company, so she’s always challenging me with marketing questions and things like that.  And so, you know, I challenge right back to try and understand, and I see that they’re on their phones so much. My daughter is — I think you have to figure out what they’re into, so whatever they’re fanatical about, and that’s what they pay attention to. They also pay attention to whatever their friends are paying attention to.  So, that’s a great thing. So, if a brand engages, you know, a person, regardless of their age, that person, if they have a great experience, they’re more apt to share that experience with someone else. And then, as humans, again, we believe what our friends and family say over any brand. So, I think that’s the interesting thing with the younger generation, is they really pay attention to what their friends, you know, have on Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever social media it has to be.  They pay attention to that stuff, and to whatever they’re fanatical about. So, Paige will be looking at, you know, fashion or something going on in the business world, and then Steven, my 19-year-old, you know, he loves cars, and he loves fishing, and he loves baseball, and, you know, that’s where he’s spending his time. He spends a ton of time on YouTube. You know, I get our cellphone bill and I look at the amount that he consumes, because he — you know, they both say that — you know, they’re home right now, and they both said to me last night, “It’s so weird, we don’t watch TV.  We do everything on our computers and our phones.”

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: So, you know, I’m like, well — you know, and Paige made a comment; we’re watching the news last night, and she goes, “I never watch the news.”  I’m like, “Well, where do you get your news?” And she goes, “On my phone. I’ve got certain apps that tell me kind of what’s going on.” But she’s like, “I don’t watch anything on TV.”

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: You know, she’s on Netflix; she’s on Apple TV.  You know, she’s consuming content that way, so they’re harder and harder to catch, but I think when you catch them, then you’ve got a real opportunity to turn them into fanatics.

JOEY: Right.  No, that’s fascinating.  It’s fascinating, you know, to even —  just, you know, a couple generations away of how they’re getting stuff, and how they’re consuming it, so that’s fascinating.  And do you see — from what I see, I just see it — you know, that generation, it’s just gonna continue diving on — you know, gonna be harder and harder down the line to actually get in front of them, because I think this day and age, we can have anything we want at our fingertips.  You know, if I want to go — if I need milk, I just go on my Amazon Now app, and I can have it within an hour. I can have liquor within an hour. And even just YouTube, it’s almost like you can get that information so quickly without like oh, I have to see a minute commercial. You know, is it something you see that experiential marketing — that these people want to actually — instead of, like, looking at their phone, pulling them away from that phone and kind of building an experience for them, I don’t know, like in the future?  I don’t know if that’s what you’ve noticed.

STEVE: They love experiences.  You know, they’re more than willing — you know, one of the chapters in my books is, “Go Where the Ducks Are”, and it’s chapter two, I think, and that’s all about engaging people at the right place, at the right time, when they’re in the right frame of mind.   And I think that’s the key to engaging anybody, whether it’s a millennial or a 60-year-old. You’ve got to catch them at the right time, and the right place, and when they’re open. And that’s the beauty of it, because they’ll come into an experience, a marketing experience, and they don’t feel like they’re being sold to.  Here’s another example out of my book, but, you know, you’re going to Sam’s or Costco, and at least in mine, when I first walk in, there’s a guy and he’s selling cable something. It’s either AT&T, or Comcast, or something. I don’t know what it is. But I don’t know what it is, because I don’t have time for him. I’m not gonna stop and have this sales call as I walk into, you know, Sam’s.  But when I go down and go around the corner and there’s a guy sitting there, you know, with a pizza sample, or, you know, some cheese, or, you know, whatever, you know, a soft drink that they’re sampling, that’s the exact same type of engagement, but one is a sales call and the other one is an opportunity for me to try something I’ve never tried before. Maybe I have tried it before. So, the first one, I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I don’t have any interest in talking to you, but you’re still there trying to talk to me.  I have no time for you. But the other one, I’m shopping. So, I’m shopping for food, so I’m open to have a slice of pizza, or a beverage, or whatever it happens to be. I think so many marketers kind of get it wrong. And, you know, if you go where the ducks are and talk to them in the right frame of mind in the right time, they have no idea you’re selling to them, because it’s just — you’re just having a conversation. You’re just being a human being talking to another human being. And that’s what you want. You don’t want the — you know, you don’t want the used car guy, you know, whose tracking you down, saying, hey, can I get you in this car today?  You want somebody to go, you know, hey, have you experienced the Bose stereo — the quality of Bose stereos in this BMW? And you’re like, no, you know, I haven’t, and all of the sudden you immerse yourself into that and you don’t even feel like you’re on a sales call.

JOEY: Right.  

STEVE: But at the end of the day, you’re learning about that brand and you’re being connected with that brand.  So, I think the more technology we get and the further away — especially the kids who have grown up with a flat screen in front of them and a flat screen in their hand their entire life, unlike me — which, you know, I didn’t start that way, but I think if — I think for that generation or those generations who are spending so much time looking at a flat screen, there’s gonna be a time where it flips, and they’re gonna really need that human engagement.  They’re gonna need a human interaction. And then, brands are gonna finally figure it out, and go, you know what, we’ve got to stop spending money — ‘cause on my phone I can hit skip the ad, or I can just swipe it left or right and get rid of that ad. I don’t have to pay any attention to it.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: But in the experiential world, you know, consumers, they come into your experience.  You know, they opt in versus opting out. They come in with a wide-open mind. They don’t even know they’re being marketed to. It’s a beautiful thing.  And it’s really a great opportunity to teach, and educate, and demonstrate. And, you know, there’s so many brands out there that are in our industry right now that five years ago I would have never had on a list of potential brands to go talk to .

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: It’s so cool.  You know, we got a phone call about a month ago, and I had never heard of this company before, and it’s a B2B brand.  Never even heard of the company, and they’re like, “Hey, we know that we need to go build an experience and go talk to our customers.”  And it’s like, that is so cool. They’re seeking us out.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: It’s a nice turn of events.

JOEY: Have you noticed that — you know, since you’ve started your company or even just being in the industry, like the past five years have just kind of exploded in the experiential world?

STEVE: Yeah, and I think because — as I remember, it was like 2008, 2009, maybe 2010, all the brands dropped all their big  budgets, you know, when their finance world was coming to an end.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: All the big brands just plummeted their budgets, so digital became an easy way to get in, and everybody believed it was gonna be the next holy grail, and my God, I can hit all these people, and it’s so efficient, and all that stuff.  And then, you know, ROIs — people started talking about ROI, and it’s so hard to read, and, you know, what is true engagement? I mean, the word engagement gets thrown around so much. You know, it’s hard to engage people on a flat screen.  So, I think the more that technology is out there, I think the more people are gonna need to be face to face, and they’re gonna have to engage, which is good for our industry.

JOEY: Yeah.

STEVE: You know, we’ve done this forever.  People, you know, think, oh, your industry  is so new. It’s like well, Wienermobile and Clydesdale’s have been around since like 1938 or something like that.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: Do you know how many years they’ve been around?  And if you really go back to, like, you know, the days of Barnum & Bailey, you know, they were doing experiential marketing, you know, 100 years ago.  So, our industry has been around a long time. It has really grown up. You know, I used to say when I started Pro Motion in ’95, all you need is a pickup truck and a ladder, and you can be an Event Marketer.  Fortunately, it’s a lot more technical now. It’s still the — you know, to get into our industry, it’s — you know, there’s a low cost to entry, but there’s so much knowledge you need to be successful. So, you know, we’ve seen a lot, you know?  Event Marketer called us a pioneer, and that was like a good news, bad news for me. Pioneer that’s kind of cool. He said we’ve been around a long time, that’s pretty cool. He just said Steven’s old. I was like, oh, crap.

JOEY: It’s a nice way of saying old, right?

STEVE: But yeah, I’ve been doing this Pro Motion 24 years, and, you know, my — I probably been — I’m 30 years in our industry, so yeah, I’ve seen a lot, but it’s all good stuff though.  It’s all good stuff. And, you know, I see the future being really bright for our industry. There’s a lot of cool things happening from a technology standpoint, but I think we’ll continue to make our industry more valuable to brands.  But I also have a fear that it’s gonna — there’s too much focus. But I don’t know if you saw South by Southwest this year. Actually, there were a couple of brands who came out with analog Pro Motions instead of doing all this high-tech stuff, and they had people coloring in coloring books, you know, so it’s —

JOEY: Yeah?

STEVE: You know, it’s like going back to the roots, and — you know, so I thought that was kind of cool.  Also, I think we need to find a balance. I think it’s gonna — it’s gonna go too far to technology, and then we’re gonna pull it back, and then we’re gonna have this nice balance, which I think is really good.  And I also think, you know, like I said, the phone call a month ago from the B2 B brand I never even heard of before, I think there’s more and more B2B brands that are saying, you know, hey, I don’t know what I’m getting out of my trade show money and I’ve got to figure out a better way to spend my money.

JOEY: Right.

STEVE: And I think that’s smart.  I think that’s really smart.

JOEY: No, absolutely.  No, this is great.  Steve, it was great talking to you.  I’m excited about your book. We will have this on our podcast in the show notes, so we would love to share that.  And Steve, would love to chat with you again or meet you in person someday.

STEVE: Yeah, that would be awesome.  Just a quick plug on the book, you can pick it up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or I have a website; it’s steven-randazzo.com.

JOEY: Perfect.  We’ll have that in the show notes, as well.  So, thanks a lot, Steve, and good luck with everything in the future.

STEVE: Hey, thanks.  I really enjoyed talk to you today.

JOEY: Thank you.

 

 

 

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