March 13, 2023

Content & Communications: Use your marketing budget and AI to make your customers’ lives more fun and interesting (podcast episode #51)


Get ideas for public relations, social media, contests, hiring creative talent, and more by listening to episode #51 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had a fun conversation with Stacie Grissom, Director of Content & Communications, BARK.

Listen now to hear Grissom discuss turning viral moments into PR sprints, making an impact on social media during the Super Bowl even if you’re not an advertiser, and much more.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Content & Communications: Use your marketing budget and AI to make your customers’ lives more fun and interesting (podcast episode #51)

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

We’ve been exploring AI in the MECLABS SuperFunnel Research Cohort LiveClasses. But I’ve mostly been thinking of artificial intelligence in a very practical sense.

So when our latest guest shared the lesson, “use artificial intelligence and your marketing budget to make your customers’ lives more fun and interesting” I was all ears to learn a new perspective on using AI…and really, a unique perspective on how to approach marketing in general.

You can hear the story behind that lesson, and many more lesson-filled stories, from Stacie Grissom, Director of Content & Communications, BARK (the maker of BarkBox).

BARK has grown from 2,000 subscribers to over 2 million during Grissom’s tenure, where she was employee number three (now there are over 600). Over the last decade, she has hired 40 writers, comedians, and content creators.

BARK is a public company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In its most recent full-year results, the company earned $507.4 million in revenue, a 34% increase year-over-year.

Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.

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Stories (with lessons) about what she made in marketing

Some lessons from Grissom that emerged in our discussion:

A viral moment can tie into a PR sprint.

In her first job at a small business selling scarves and reading glasses, Grissom got a taste of making things go viral when she crashed the company website twice with a viral Pinterest infographic she made. In 2015, this lesson of virality exploded and she learned that you can tie a viral moment into a PR sprint. Her team produced a short video where they threw a 16th birthday party for the last surviving rescue dog from 9/11. It got a ton of PR coverage, but the ultimate win was clips were shown on NBC's Nightly News on 9/11/15. It got PR pickup many times over the years, including The New York Times,, and The Atlantic.

To make these viral moments, Grissom looked for people with not just content talent, but comedic talent as well. And those people would go on to find their own success. For example, Jonathan Graziano, who went viral on TikTok with his pug Noodle.

You don't need a Super Bowl ad to make a huge impact on social media around the Super Bowl.

Every year during the Super Bowl, the team at BARK is doing some stunt related to dogs and the big game. Their obsession with always bringing the conversation back to dogs has gotten them a ton of PR coverage, including one year with an article about how the team’s content outperformed the social content of Super Bowl advertisers – “How a little-known subscription service outperformed Super Bowl advertisers on social: Don't let the cute dog pics fool you. BarkBox knows the trick to keeping its customers engaged” article in Campaign.

For example, they made videos of dogs that looked like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, one of which appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Contests can hit it big with an audience (even if, or especially if, they are weird and off-putting)

Grissom’s team made a contest for National Dog Day and collected 16,000 emails and earned 750 pieces of earned media.

In general, she is not a contest lover. She doesn’t think they're great entertainment for your audience and they lead to fair-weather followers. But this year for National Dog Day, they did something a bit quirky. They offered to pay for 100 people to get a tattoo. of their dog. The contest was weird and off-putting to some (aka, her mom), but with the audience it HIT. Big time.

Stories (with lessons) about the people she made it with

Grissom also shared lessons she learned from the people she collaborated with.

React to something that happens online and use it to explode a moment

via Alexis Nelson, TikTok star and soon-to-be author

Grissom plucked Alexis from BARK’s customer support team and brought her onto the content team in 2016. In 2021, she left BARK to pursue her exploding influencer career as Black Forager, and she just appeared on Jimmy Kimmel! Working with Nelson, one of the biggest unlocks Grissom had was how to react to something that happens online and use it to explode a moment. From the time BTS wore the company’s toys in a music video, to the time one of their toys looked like an infamous sex toy, to their customers reaction to the company’s 420 collection, they were able to take a moment and use social + PR + BARK's internal sales channels to make some of the biggest sales days in company history.

If you aren't hitting huge moments of growth, rethink the metrics you're targeting so that you can make an impact.

via Rob Schutz, Cofounder of Ro and former BARK Head of Growth Marketing.

Grissom’s time working with Schultz was in the beginning phases of BARK when they only had a few thousand customers. He is a clever growth hacker who is not afraid to get down in the weeds to make something work. From Schultz, she learned how to approach every aspect of marketing from email, to growing social followers to nine million where they are today, to social ads with a gritty creativity. It was Schulz's idea for the team to start making content around the Super Bowl and that strategy has continued to pay dividends year after year. Schulz showed her that if you aren't hitting huge moments of growth, to rethink the metrics you're targeting so that you can make an impact.

Use artificial intelligence and your marketing budget to make your customers’ lives more fun and interesting

via Henrik Werdelin, Cofounder of BARK & Founding Partner of Prehype

Werdelin was Grissom’s boss for many of the years at BARK. He is insatiably curious when it comes to new technology and emerging platforms, and he taught her how to dabble and experiment with new tools to try to figure out how to utilize them for their own selfish business needs. Recently he's been playing with all of the new AI tools and experimenting on how to use them to help make dog people's lives more fun and interesting. He also taught her about OWNING the stuff you create. One piece of feedback he gave her once after her proposed BARK sponsoring an experiential event, "I'd rather give you that amount of money to build your own dog park versus sponsoring someone else's stuff." Werdelin thinks big and takes huge swings.

Move forward and get sh*t done

via Carly Strife, Cofounder of BARK, Partner at Ambush Capital.

Strife is a machine of a human being. She plows through problems and she taught Grissom the value of moving forward and getting sh*t done. Many times she stopped Grissom from overthinking or over-engineering a project.

Related content mentioned in this episode

Not Enough Lobster In The Ocean: Trusting their gut leads to 90,000% revenue growth at Mint Mobile (podcast episode #11)

SaaS Marketing: Always bring the customer story forward (podcast episode #42)

About this podcast

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.

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Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our discussion.

Daniel Burstein: We've been we used to publish benchmark data, and every year marketers had the same top challenge. B2B marketers, B2C marketers. Email marketers, social media marketers always the same. Not enough budget. I'm sure you're facing the same challenge right now, aren't you? Hey, I am too. However, true creativity sees an obstacle as an opportunity. And as we've talked about before on How I Made It Marketing, sometimes a giant budget leads to squishy thinking and really just a giant mess. It takes limitations and boundaries to focus our thinking and sharpen our focus. I was reminded of that truism when I read this lesson from our latest guest. You don't need a Super Bowl ad to make a huge impact on social media around the Super Bowl. We'll discuss the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories with Stacie Grissom, the Director of Content and Communications at BARK, the maker of Barkbox. Thanks for joining me, Stacie.

Stacie Grissom: Thanks so much for having me.

Daniel Burstein: So let's take a quick look at your background. You started your career as a Production Assistant at Tribune Broadcasting and an intern on CBS Sunday Morning. You had a couple of other early career roles, but for the past 11 years, you've worked at Bark, where you were employee number three, and now there are over 600 employees and now you are Director of Content and Communications at BARK. BARK has grown from 2000 subscribers to over 2 million during Grissom's tenure and over the last decade. She has hired 40 writers, comedians and content creators. BARK is best known as the maker of Barkbox. It's a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. And in its most recent full year results, the company earned $507.4 million in revenue, a 34% increase year over year.

So huge growth in your career there. We’re going to dive into all the lessons we can learn. But first, give us an idea what's your day like as Director of Content and Communications at BARK?

Stacie Grissom: I mean, so every day is different when you working with the dogs. First off, you spend a lot of time petting the dogs and giving belly scratches at BARK. But yes, I mean, sometimes we're launching a new product, sometimes we're launching a contest, sometimes we're planning events. We've opened a dog park in Nashville, planning photo shoots. Yeah. Or just like, you know, working on the day to day content and, you know, putting the food on the table, so to say. So it's a lot with content. It's a lot of cross-functional work. And, you know, working with the growth marketing team or the ad creative team, lots of different things every day.

Daniel Burstein: All right. Well, let's see if we can impact some lessons from your career as you share with us so much. The first one I want to jump into from first lesson, from the things you made in your career. A viral moment can tie into a PR sprint. So how did you learn this lesson, Stacie?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, so I think there have been like a lot of different things that we've done over the years. I think the first time that this happened, you know, so I started in 2012 and this is when like BuzzFeed, you know, the Internet is still a good place and social media is going to save us all. And like, BuzzFeed was like the coolest thing on the Internet.

And on day one, when I started at BARK in our little windowless room and in Chinatown, you know, they said, like, here's your job. You are responsible for all the content and you are also doing all the customer service. And I was like, I knew that there was going to be a catch when they said that my job was going to be all about dogs.

But so for the first few years of building up a content property called Bark Post, and we ended up getting it up to like 15 million unique visitors per month and we were producing like video content and all that stuff. But one of the things that we did was we were constantly telling stories about dogs and we found this one story of this dog, Brittany, who is a golden retriever, and she  was the last living search and rescue dog from 911. And we were like, what could we do with this dog? Like, obviously that story has so many. Like, that story has such an arc and so much like stakes to it. So we decided to make a little video about her and we said, we're going to call it Dog's Best Day. And we flew out Brittany and her mom and handler to New York. We threw her a sweet 16th birthday party. We gave her a key to a dog park on Hudson River. And it was just like a really cute little video.

Well, we released that around 911 in 2015 and it exploded. The video got millions of views. And the coolest thing was it got picked up on the NBC Nightly News. And that was like the first I'd had like many moments of like the Internet is a game. Content marketing is like such a fun game. You can like crash the company website and that's awesome. But like, that was the first time where I was like, You can take something that doesn't take that much money and get it in the national spotlight.  And so that was the one of the first times that we did that. And I think like, yeah I don’t want to go on, sorry.

Daniel Burstein: Let me ask a follow up because you say it's a game and I get what you're talking about, right. That's kind of a cool thing about digital marketing. It's I mean, almost like a casino. You can see some instant results. But, what about a craft? Because, you know, I wonder if you can kind of get into that just idea of launching Bark Post because I was looking at some of your stuff and it is it's high quality. I mean, it is an editorial publication broadcaster quality stuff in my opinion. And when I see so much content marketing, a lot of times it's like, okay, freelancer plus keywords equals leads, you know what I mean? And there's just such a focus on what can I get, what can I get, what can I get?

And I published an article recently was like, think of your lead gen as a product. Like put as much focus into your lead gen efforts as you would a product. It's not just a means to an end, it has to be a means. And so give us a maybe some background about how you got, you know, you're employee number three. I imagine you were instrumental in this. How did you get Bark Post launch? Because like I said, that is that's high quality. That's, that's good quality content there. Obviously there's a means to an end. You're promoting BARK. It's not hidden, but that's high quality content.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. I mean so I think like my boss from the beginning. Henrik,  well, first off, like I was like 24 years old when I was like, doing that. So it was like I still look back and I'm like, they gave all that stuff to a kid. And so I'm like, still a little confused on that. But I don't know I was very excited, had a lot of energy, but we did do a lot of stuff with, with freelance stuff. We had no budget to do that. And like the dog's best day example was like they were like, okay, you guys can have like a few thousand dollars. And then like the team that we had there, we were like, well, we only get like this thousands of dollars, never. So we have to like, stay up all night and make it as good as we humanly possibly can make it.

So it's in part like that. And then also like, you know, having a boss that has like very exacting standards while also saying like, you know, it was the like era of like Mark Zuckerberg's like move fast break things and that kind of kind of worked for us because, you know, we were just very confident and very fiscally constrained. And sometimes that can work. And I think like part of it is like dogs are like this universal topic where like most people in America, there's not that much that we have in common in the US. But I think dogs are one of the like one of the largest, like through lines where like it doesn't matter like where you're from, what your politics are like. Most of us agree, like dogs are pretty awesome.

Daniel Burstein: I think that's your next campaignduring the presidential election. That would be a pretty good one, you know.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: No. And to be clear, I did not mean to slam freelancers. Freelance writer, listen to our Podcast. I love freelancers, that’s great use them. But no, the idea of, you know, sometimes I see we're going to find a writer on Updike, Updike on Upwork, and we're going to give him five keywords and we're going to give him a form for, you know, a lead gen form. And this is our content marketing campaign where it seems like, as you said, I mean, you took it pretty seriously. We just have these few thousand dollars, let's make something really special and awesome and important. And so to me, I think and maybe I'm putting words in your mouth, it wasn't just means to an end. You were crafting something in the actual content you were making.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. I mean, it's like you can't I think like my general philosophy on content, like you can't phone this stuff in, like, you have to, you have to, like, work your ass off to make people care and like, you can't. Yeah, just like the, the keyword content. Like I've done all of that SEO content that is like phoned in. But the things that really resonate like on a human level are the things where you're like telling deeper stories or you're actually creating something that people can use or it educates them or it tells them like a really entertaining story, or it tells them like a story that like really hits them in like emotional, like elements of them. I think another, another time when we were like, this is like a little bit later, but we did this thing that we now call the Dog Mom Rap. And it was a couple of writers on the team I didn't even originally propose it, but it was like two of the comedy writers on my team. They're like, CC, we got to like, make this song. And I was like, okay, well, like, let's write it. And then we can like, pitch it to the people that give us our little bit of money.

And we just like, worked really hard on it and like pitched it with a lot of energy and, you know, Henrik was like, okay, you can do this, here's like $3,000. So we like wrote, produced and like shot this Dog Mom Rap. And it ended up getting like 70 million views. It was the like top performing piece of brand content for the month of May for like two years in a row. And, you know, so it's just like stuff like that. We're like sometimes if you put your like whole dang heart into something, it can work.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. I mean, I've written before like the world doesn't need another blog post. Like if you think you're going to make a viral YouTube video, look at YouTube, there's no shortage of videos. If you're going to make it have a purpose for it and have some value in the world. But I'm glad you mentioned the comedy writers, because I was going to ask you, you know, as I mentioned the beginning, you've hired 40 writers, comedians and content creators. Obviously, everyone hires writers and content creators. I think you're the first guest that has mentioned hiring comedians. So can you give us like some insight into that was one example of how you use them, but your idea behind like putting them to work and also like how do you find and hire good comedians?

Stacie Grissom: Well, the finding and hiring good comedians, one like it definitely helps being in New York City where, you know, everybody is doing standup on the side and everybody's like just like I think there's like comedians are like these, you don't do comedy unless you're like a little bit of a tortured soul and you're like processing a lot of things.

But the thing with comedy is like, it is you are editing and editing and editing yourself. And when you're doing standup, like you have to have a lot of guts and you're constantly like getting as succinct and direct and clear as possible. So I think like comedians, you know, there's a lot of like bad stand up comedians, but there's also like a lot of just like really young ones who are honing their craft.

And so I think like also dogs, like naturally lend themselves to comedy and humor in general. That was like the one thing that I came in when it was like day one. I was like, you know what? All of these like pet brands out there, they've got like the perfect little golden retriever on their web page. And their social media is just like, Oh, look how cute this dog is. But I'm like, I frickin love dogs and I love animals, but they're disgusting, crazy little maniacs. And like, the best part of them is like, they're so funny and they like, add this, like, levity to life.

And nothing in the other brands that I saw out there, like, did that. And so from the beginning I was like, we are going to be funny. We are going to tell jokes. I'm not a great comedian, but I love being around funny people. So it was just like it was a little bit like self-serving because I was like, I want to have fun at work, so let's hire some funny people. But it ended up working really well. And I think so in terms of like also sourcing folks, like it wasn't just like comedians off the street. It would be like I would notice it at the bottom of their resume. And I was like, I'm going to talk to this person. Or, I hired two people from the customer support team. They'd be like the funniest person in the team chat. They'd just be like trying to entertain the company and I'd be like, there is something special about this person. And, you know, one of them is now one of the most senior copywriters at the company. And another one is this woman, Alexis, who now is like a super TikTok star. Another comedian is this guy Jonathan Graziano. He and his dog, the late Noodle. I don't know if you've seen the like bones or no bones bit on TikTok. He was on the Today Show anyway. It was like this huge moment on TikTok. And now he's like a New York Times best selling kid's author. But they were all coming into the BARK ecosystem because they had been doing comedy.

Daniel Burstein: Good eye for talent identification there. Here's another lesson, you don't need a Super Bowl ad to make a huge impact on social media around the Super Bowl. So tell us how you've done that around the Super Bowl. Obviously, you know, there's so many marketers who kind of feel sidelined. They don't have a budget for Super Bowl, but there's also been some super creative stuff from big brands. So how have you leveraged that?

Stacie Grissom: Well, I think like it all started like when Oreo did the tweet. Like actually there was like a New York Times roundup where it was like the 26 most influential tweets of all time. And the Oreo tweet was in there. It was like the tweet that launched, you know, a million ad budgets.

Daniel Burstein: You can dunk in the dark, right?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. So that definitely I think that was like 2014 and then right after that, like that's when we started doing stuff. So every year during the Super Bowl, like we're always doing some stunt related to dogs in the big game and I think like internally it might have felt like kind of frenetic, like what is our like content mission? What is the thing that we constantly go back to? And we never really, like explicitly said this in our like brand decks and all that, but like BARK’s content mission has always been dogs are the frickin best thing that we have as humans. And so it always is coming back to that. And so the Super Bowl stuff was, was no different.

And it just so happened like that we hit a couple nerves with stuff. We made some videos of dogs who looked like Peyton Manning. One of those ended up on like Seth Meyers Late Show, like one of the pictures that we like Photoshopped. We made another one one year of like dogs who look like Tom Brady. That one worked really well. So when people have like quarterbacks that they love to hate, it was that was a good era.

But another year there were no dogs in all of the commercials. And we were like, What the heck? Like, this is crap. So we were like, Where all the dogs. So we spent the whole Super Bowl Photoshopping dogs into all the commercials. And then ad week picked that up. So it's always like a very natural thing. Like some years we would like over plan it and over Photoshop things beforehand. But for the most part, it's all about like just being in the moment, reacting to things, engaging with other brands on Twitter, and you never know what's going to happen.

Daniel Burstein: And let's talk about a time, so that's, you know, kind of playing off of the Super Bowl. Let's talk about a time when you created your own attention and interest in virality. You said, contests can hit it big with an audience, even if or especially if they are weird and off putting. So how did you do that?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. So in general, I don't like contests and like anybody who's worked with me and they propose a contest, I'll be like a friggin hate contests. Guys like they're so annoying.

Daniel Burstein: Well tell us why. Why do you hate contests?

Stacie Grissom: I think like when people do them, a lot of times they're like, we're going to do a giveaway and then we're going to say like, you have to follow us to you know, win this giveaway. So then you have a bunch of followers who are just like following you because they wanted a free thing instead of following you, because they're interested in the content that you have to put out in the world. So then it's like a fairweather follower and like, what is the value of that kind of person? But we've done a few contests and trust me, we've also done some like dud contests like that. I'm not trying to act like I'm on some like high hill of any kind. Like we are just as thirsty and desperate marketers as the rest of everyone.

But the few times where I've been like, you know what? That was a good thing. One contest was this last fall for National Dog Day. We've always been like, we've got to own National Dog Day. Like that is our thing. Loving on dogs and like proclaiming that they deserve a holiday and a made up holiday. But like, still, it's a good holiday. We did this thing where we said, we'll pay for 100 people to get tattoos of their dogs. And I remember proposing that to both my husband and like I was telling my mom what I was working on one day and she was like that is not nice. I was like, No, no, no, Mom, you don't understand. Like, people love like our people they love tattoos of dogs. Like we'd written like tons of Bark Post articles over the years and they were like super crazy, like traffic generators. We'd like share memes of tattoos of dogs and stuff. And they always, like, got really good engagement. I was like, No, no, no. I think this is something special.

So then we launched the contest like BARK wants to pay for 100 people to get tattoos of their dog, and the PR was what like exploded. We got 750 pieces of press with it. And a lot of that was all these like little local news stations picking it up and like some of them were like making fun of us and some of them were like, this is amazing. Like, I have it look at my tattoo of my dog.

Daniel Burstein: Newscaster with the chest tattoo in the middle of Ten O’clock news. Yeah.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. And so I was like, you know, it got a reaction out of people and like, the people who aren't as into dogs, you know, they're like, that is a weird thing. But the people who are like, Yeah, rock on, we're like, yeah, those are our people. So that that was a good contest.

Daniel Burstein: Well, that begs the question, Stacie, you sent over your head shot and it's got your dog in it. Do you have a dog tattoo? Tattoo of your dog.

Stacie Grissom: Not yet, but I've been, like, mocking one up.

Daniel Burstein: Potentially you’ll become your ideal customer then.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you can see from my mom's reaction if, like, that's not good, like, my parents are like, if you get a tattoo and we're disowning you, I'm like, I'm 34 years old. Come on.

Daniel Burstein: Well, so if I can kind of say it back to you, it sounds like, yes, you have that idea for that contest, but it didn't start there. You'd noticed a trend within your content. You were creating a content theme that was really resonating with your audience. Then you're like, hey how can we double down on this and go deeper? That sounds like that's what happened.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, I think that's like a thread of like all of the successes. I think like what's also like fun about being in content and about being in like social media content, you are constantly putting out content and like getting a gauge on what people's reactions are. And so I think like a super important thing when you're in content marketing is like watching those reactions and building that gut reaction over for me, like a decade. But just producing the content is like one thing, but then like really digging into the things that really hit or really fail, like that helps you develop your future ideas of things that could potentially resonate and things that could be quirky and help you like, you know, launch a contest or an event or something in like an area where no one else is. Because you have that like deep, long term understanding of like what works and what doesn't work.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, what I found too, it's not t just the metrics. It's also talking to the customers or looking at their comments or writing with them and understanding what about it either resonated or didn't resonate and in their own words. Because sometimes it's not the thing that you think is, you know. And boy getting sometimes the way they use those words, that's just golden.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, exactly.

Daniel Burstein: So in the first half of the podcast, we talk about some lessons from the things you made and you've made some very interesting things. In the second half of the podcast we talk about lessons from people you collaborated with, right? It’s what we do as marketers, we make things, we make them with people and you've had some very interesting collaborations.

So let's talk about the first one here. The lesson you said is, react to something that happens online and use it to explode a moment. And you learned it from you mentioned her previously, but you learned it from Alexis Nelson, who is now a TikTok star and soon to be author. So how did you learn this lesson from Alexis?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, so Alexis was one of those people who was on the customer support team. And I originally saw her. I would see her in like the team chats and she was just very funny. Like she had like very loud, funny ways of phrasing things. And I was like, this woman is very interesting and very funny. But then one time she came up to me at like one of the company parties and she was like, I want to be on your team. And I was like, Whoa, okay. Like then we started working together. But I bring up the customer support because the first time we had one of these, like huge reactionary things, my team, like we're the content creators, were always like engaging with comments from customers. The thing at BARK like you have to be obsessed with our customer, both the dog and for us, like the human.

The that happened was we had this ad and it was a pig in a blanket toy and we didn't think anything of it. It was a Thanksgiving box. There was nothing on it. But the way the ad looked and the way the toy looked actually resembled a very infamous sex toy. Am I allowed to say the name of the sex? It's not a bad word, it’s just…

Daniel Burstein: Apple. iTunes has a little button explicit. I already have to click that button from what you said before. So at this point you have free reign.

Stacie Grissom: Oh, sorry.

Daniel Burstein: No worries. No worries. We're all adults there.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. Eh kids shouldn't be listening this anyway. So the toy looks like it's the sex toy is called a fleshlight. And we didn't know that. And like, people started commenting on it, but what made it worse was the ad that we did. We had three sizes of the toy and it was like, you know, for your dog, like small, medium, large. And we're like, now looking back, we're like, Oh my gosh, okay. But we noticed that like, people started like, that's not a dog toy. That's a fleshlight. And we're like, whoa, whoa, whoa. So like the customer support team flagged our team. And they're like, we should start hiding these comments. And I'm like, first off, I hate it when we hide comments. Just respond, be a human, say I’m sorry. It’s better to show people that like you actually respond to the negative and how you respond to the negative.

But anyway, so the people started like commenting that. And so instead of shutting it down, like someone would be like, who thought this was a good idea? Like, that's not a dog toy. And we'd start replying funny stuff like, didn't nobody think about this design? And we would reply like, oh, we did. We thought long and hard about it. Or like someone would be like cute idea but not suitable for my girl. And we're like, okay, well that wasn't the roast that we were expecting, but okay. So you know just like us self-deprecating ourselves or like, you know, falling on the sword a little bit and also, like, making fun of ourselves that really took off. So we like, did a bunch of responses to all these folks.

And then the next morning we woke up and the ad had exploded. It was like, I need to look up at the stats, but it was like tens of thousands of people had been commenting and liking the ad andthe ad was no longer just like selling Bark boxes. It was like ripping on Barkbox and we were like ripping ourselves back. So the next morning I like, you know, this is before the pandemic. I was like, I'm not coming in to work today. I got to like, figure out how to turn this into a promo. So I worked with the growth team and the dev team and we like spun it up to be like a little gift with purchase to get this like special saucy toy. We compiled all of the funny comments that were getting a ton of engagement. We wrote an article that got like 100,000 visits in 24 hours, and then the press pickup started. I was like, Oh, this is how you do it. So like getting that moment, reacting to it, figuring out how to package it, turning it into like a business story.

And then, you know, the media was like naturally picking it up. So then we started pitching it too and we ended up getting a ton of coverage on that. And that was just like a total accident and something that, like maybe another company would have shut down. But instead we're like, no, no, we messed up and now we're going to own it.

Daniel Burstein: I wonder if you can share maybe the process you have in place or like what you personally do to monitor things, because this can be scary, what you're talking about can be scary.

Stacie Grissom: It totally can be scary. And I think like at a different company with like different bosses,  the owners of BARK, it's always been like, we got to be kind of rock and roll. And that's like one of the things that's kept me at this company for so long is like, they're very cavalier and there's like a long leash with, like what we can say. And like, they also value humor. But I think the way that you can mess it up, like a response like that is by not being honest, not being humble, not saying I'm sorry or like being just like mean. But if you're like, mean to yourself, everybody thinks that's funny. And then like a brand personified being mean to itself. Like, people love that.

So I think it's part in that, and also always thinking from the customer's perspective, always thinking from the person that you're like writing a comment back to like how will this make them feel? And just being , as human as possible. Then things can, can go well, but you definitely have to like throw your ego out the door and just be think about like, I was answering phone calls as a customer support person, and so was Alexis, and so was another woman on our team. So like, I think that background helped us make sure that this kind of thing goes well and not a huge flop.

Daniel Burstein: I appreciate your all in attitude, but I wonder, like from a business perspective, if there's anything you can share about your process. I'll give you an example for a second. Right. So I interviewed Aaron North. He's a CMO and commercial owner at Mint Mobile, and he talked about, for example, like when they launch a campaign, he is personally and some of his team are on Reddit because they're looking at like how people respond on Reddit. And he also talked about use the term fastertizing because they try to do that same thing where hop on things and he talked about Dave Foley, the actor, tweeting that he wanted to be in a mint mobile ad. And within 24 hours they edited and produced and they’re airing a mint mobile ad with Dave Foley because they had that right process in place.

So you started employee number three. I understand in a small startup like that, I mean, you're almost doing anything to get attention right. Now you move to being a public company. The scrutiny, the spotlight is hotter, right? Your reporting also to analysts to all of these things. So, if you had to like going from employee number three to going to this public company have you had to set up processes, safeguards, you know, those right type of things in place for this broad team you have to respond to this in the right way. Because you've clearly have a knack for it yourself. But for the bigger team, like, you can hit the wrong tone. And boy, that can go south real quick right?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, I would say like since we've been public, the thing is like, I've always been like the one in the weeds with people. So like, it's kind of like what you were saying to the person you're talking to before, like there in Reddit, like looking at stuff like, I think with this kind of thing, like you can't lead from being like, as a leader you can't be like the person just like conducting from up high. You need to be in the trenches with people and like, you know, like I'm responding to comments myself, like the only thing that I'm not doing as many comments as everybody else, because everybody else on the team is much funnier than me. So, it would be like we'd have little war rooms we're in like a Google like hangout for the entire day when one of these things would happen and we're all like riffing and stuff. And I'll be like, No, no, no, no, no. We can't say that kind of thing. Or like, yeah.

So I think the process is you have the most senior person in it as well. But I think like BARK is interesting because like our most successful product that we've ever sold is a collection of 420 toys. And we took the pig butt moment and then we added a process to it where like the ads and the email, like my team was helping. Like we actually wrote the email, we consulted on the design because we're like this kind of thing, it needs our input on it.

And so any time the larger company is doing something kind of controversial, then we would be involved in how it is presented. And you make sure that the, we call them the happy team, the BARK happy team, which is like our customer support team, we give them big briefs on things and then we say if you see something where you don't know how to respond, that's when we get like me and like other senior folks involved to construct their responses to that kind of stuff. So yeah, does that help?

Daniel Burstein: Yes, that helps a lot, very hands on, lead from the front. I think that's a lesson for everyone. I mean, you know, if a marketing leader isn't traditionally, I mean, everybody wants to get this kind of real time marketing approach. But I will say in my career when I started my career, I was writing print ads and, you know, and when you get a print ad  in the Wall Street Journal, that’s a great thing, right?

But the timeline on that is so different than a timeline on something real time. And I think as marketers, we've had to adapt to this. It went from, you know, the pub needs it a week before or whatever it is. We're planning this campaign, you know, months before. To instant, right, instant it's hitting, it's now and how do we react. And I think from what we can learn, from what marketers can learn a lot and I know this is a bit of your background, too, is from PR folks. Because PR folks have do this. Before my last interview we talked about crisis communications. And crisis communications they've always been that. It hasn't been like you didn't have this luxury of we've got this big six month, you know, campaign planned out. It was, oh, something happened and we better react now.

So there's great lessons, great lesson too just roll your sleeves up. You get in there, you're involved, and you're kind of leading the team from the front and letting them know, to set the right tone? And the other lesson too, which because I've seen this sometimes not happen, is prepping that customer service team or prepping the people in the front line, hey, we're launching this. There might be these types of reactions. Here are some of the types of things you should say. If you're lost, it's not all on you. I'm here to help. So, I think those are some great lessons.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, no, the customer support team is the one that we work with a ton on a day to day basis. But, we also source people from that team to join our team. So it's very, very, very collaborative.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I like the way you're using this. I've written about this before too, like customer service sometimes is seen as just a cost, a cost and expense center. But that’s one to one marketing. Like my gosh, when you make I think we should all have learned this from Zappos, right? If you make someone's day better, you know, in customer service like that is one to one marketing that is a touch point of value that improves your relationship with the customer and can go viral.

And the other thing is, too, that's business intelligence. I mean, if you're getting to directly interact with customers. And so one of the thing that I'll tell, I'll get on my soapbox real quick and we'll move on to your next story. But one of things that drives me the most crazy is the do not reply email. And I've written about this before, right? The company sends it out, you can't reply. Maybe you can go to some convoluted website where you can like put in a ticket number or something. And what a way to say like we want to get our message to you, but we don't give a crap what you have to say, right? I mean, email is a two way communication,  it's a two way medium, it's two way communication.

And so I think a lot of that to me is that legacy of like, Oh, we are a brand and we can publish an ad in the newspaper on TV, and you as customers can't talk back or say anything, so we don’t have to worry about it. But my gosh, has that changed where you're leveraging social when you're leveraging email, these are meant to be communication, two way communication tools, and it sounds like you're leveraging them that way.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, Yeah. And I can't take credit for it, when we ever do like the brand analysis stuff with like agencies and stuff, like one of the top things that people say that they love about BARK is the customer support. Like, that's one of the things that you'll see like comment after comment, and I can't take any credit for that. But I do think like it is a two way conversation at BARK it is like, hey, how's it going? Like, tell me about your dog. And I think that also is something very special that we have that I that I love so much about the company. It’s  like people always want to tell you about their dog. They can like come in and be like super mad that their Barkbox wasn't delivered on time or anything, but then you're like, you know, tell me about Obie.

And you know, people end up like sharing pictures. We actually have like artists on the customer support team where their whole job is to send out portraits to people, whether it's like a dog that passed away or like something special that someone or just to like surprise and delight. So that two way convo with the customer is super, super important, especially when you're like centered on a passion point. Like dogs, like BARK is.

Daniel Burstein: Well, let me challenge that real quick. Because I'm worried people are going to listen and say, well I don't have a fun brand about dogs. Like, I can't do that. Like, yeah, I'll just say personally, this happened a few days ago. I'd interact with Moe in customer service, you know, for my sink faucet, whatever. And tell me about your sink which is leaking, and it's just as powerful of a conversation as tell me about your dog, especially when they actually help you and send you the part you need and all these things. So I think really that obviously dogs people are passionate about, but I think any brand in any industry can do that. You know, I mean, it's something we try to do with marketing content. Like if someone, you know, we send emails, you can email back to us, comment on our social media and if someone has a question, we try to answer a question to help them as much as we reasonably can. But is not this just corporate ease back of like fill out a ticket and there's this and then there's this excuse why you can’t hear back. Or the worst thing it just bounces and That is the biggest middle finger to a customer I’ve ever seen, you know.

All right, I'll get off that soapbox and I want to talk about growth because that's something you are hugely a part of. That's something that's like, you know, the buzzword for marketing in this decade. And you've learned if you aren't hitting huge moments of growth, rethink the metrics or targeting so that you can make an impact. And you learn this from Rob Schultz, who is the Co-Founder of RO and was former BARK Head of Growth Marketing. So how'd you learn this from Rob?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, I think like so when I started working with Rob, I was like, you know, my main KPI’s were get traffic to the website, get video views on the content that you're making, And then eventually it was like sell advertising partners content and get views on that. So that was in the early 2010’s. And then Rob was actually like the fifth employee or something. So we were working together a long time, but he kind of opened my mind to larger elements of marketing and whether it was from a marketing email or growing the social followers or just like, you know, back then we didn't have like a whole suite of, like designers and creative directors and stuff like that. The social ads were like, made by us and like, unfortunately sometimes Photoshopped by me.

So working directly with Rob, like, if something wasn't working, you don't just plug along and try to hone that open rate of the email, like up it by like 2%. No, we needed to grow the email list by like 20,000, not like 1000. And we needed to grow the social by millions, not you know, 100 a day. So it was more like don't report the we have increased by 77%. It's like yeah well you increased from like 14 to like 19 like that stuff doesn't matter. And I think Rob is like a really playful person who would just be like, let's study this Instagram algorithm, let's get on the, back then it was like the popular page and forget about like, you know, you got this much engagement out of the followers. We need to be like really growth hacking this. And so I think that applied to a lot of different elements in marketing and because he was the Head of Growth it opened a lot of things and I got involved in a lot of things where I was like, Oh, this game of getting traffic exploding things can apply to almost every vertical of marketing.

Daniel Burstein: Another lesson that goes along with that that I've heard and it sounds like from what you've said, you kind of live this is make big bets, right? Make big bets like this is either going to succeed spectacularly or blow up in our face. I mean, was that kind of your approach when you're not looking for incremental growth?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, and trust me, I mean, I can give you a long list of things that have blown up in my face. And again, they hired a 24 year old to start this stuff. Yeah, but you have to. You can't, otherwise I wouldn't have been like standing on the stage of an IPO. I still am like how does an English major get to be standing on the stock exchange? But yeah, it definitely was luck and a few people who showed the  quit messing with the piddly stuff and take a bigger swing.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I think that's a great lesson for everyone listening, because the piddly stuff is the easy stuff to focus on. I heard this great thing from Seth Godin. He's like, you know, and I felt this because I believe this sometimes. He's like, if you just go home from work of the day or whatever and you've gone through and you've gotten everything out of your inbox and you've checked your checklist and you know your database is all set up, and your automation set, he’s like you didn't do anything.

He's like, you know, create something new and beautiful in the world in your day. I mean, that's what we should be doing as marketers. And yeah, I mean, I think that goes exactly with what you're saying. Don't just be incremental. And also, I mean, hopefully it's reassuring for everyone to hear that's listening is, things can blow up in your face when you do that. But hopefully net net in the end it'll all work out where you'll learn from it and you’ll grow.

Stacie Grissom: It's definitely scary. Like it's definitely scary to feel like I want to produce a rap and they're like, okay. Unless you have consistent wins, someone's not going to trust you to, like, accept your next proposal. And so, yeah, there's definitely like always that fear in your mind. But kind of the little pep talk, you got to like, shoot your shot.

Daniel Burstein: So let's talk about here's another lesson very timely use artificial intelligence and your marketing budget to make your customers lives more fun and interesting. And you learned this from Henrik Werdelin, maybe I messed that up. You can pronounce that correct? If I if I didn't. But he was a Co-founder of BARK and he's now the Founding Partner of PreHype. So how do you learn this from Henrik?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, Henrik. Henrik was my boss for a really long time and he's one of the most insatiably curious people I know. He is always looking at the next flashy thing and, you know, I'm not. For a long time he was calling me analog, Stacie because, you know, I was like, yeah, he just was like, trying to, like, rev me into, like, you should be the ones telling Henrik about this stuff that never happened. But, he taught me how to dabble and experiment with a lot of the new emerging tools or platforms. And for the last three years, he's been talking about A.I. stuff. And I haven't understood, he would send me stuff. And I'm like, I don't know what this is. And this is just like Henrik, like, going on about, like the new shiny thing. And but I think like, when ChatGPT came out, I was like, oh, I understand this now. Also, like playing with, like Mid Journey and stuff. And I think like we were talking earlier about like a lot of people are using this to be more efficient, you know, to write cover letters and things like that.

Well, one of the first things I did once I figured out what ChatGPT was doing was like, alright write a love letter to a dog in the style of Shakespeare. And then like it, spit it out. I was like, that one was pretty good. And a coworker was like, no, write a letter to a basset hound with kankle stompers and stompers and stinky breath and horrible gas in the style of Bridgerton, go. And the thing that it spit out was very, very funny. Were like, okay, my mom, if I tried to get her to use ChatGPT she'd be like no way. But if I told her to go to like a Bark Post web page and get in this mad lib of your dog and it spits out a love letter for Valentine's Day, then, you know, that's something different.

So I think, like, we haven't launched anything like super public yet with the AI, but Ahl-definitely experimenting with the things like Dahl-e and Mid Journey. I know some people on the team we're trying to get Dahl-e to design some dog toys. This stuff was really weird that it spit out, but these tools are like amazing brainstorm partners and you know, even if you don't totally use the thing that it spit back at you, it does jog your mind into a different space. And I think that they’re some of the most interesting tools to come out for creativity in the last I don’t know, five years.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Again, I wonder maybe you know an answer to this, but I wonder is there a process that you've gone through this, you know, over ten years now, Instagram, then came TikTok, Snapchat and all this stuff. A.I., you know, is there a process you use to kind of evaluate things? Because when you talk about A.I. too, I mean, we've been playing with it as well.

Here’s something we've done, for example, in the MECLABS Super Funnel Research Cohort LiveClass, we have these LiveClasses and so, you know, we'd have like a summary of a master and then we start experimenting with like, well, let's try to use A.I. to write them, right? And so what I would do, the one thing with ChatGPT is it has a limit in the character count. So you can't just put in the transcript, right? Because it's like 20,000 words for an hour class. So we take the chat log of people chatting, you know, on Zoom and that's between 5,000 words. We put it in two or three times and it writes a blog post. And so we'd start getting this out to our audience. And then the audience kind of started figuring it out. And so in the chat they'd say, hey, ChatGPT, I'm about to say something really good and so you should include this. And so it kind of gamified it, right? Because they're all marketers too. And so now the blog posts would come out and then they’d be like, Hey, ChatGPT used my thing because I called out to it, you know what I mean? But the process we use for that, in the process we try to use from A.I. and I think we're all different. You know, we're a marketing publisher, we're marketing experimenter. That's our audience is and we're very transparent with the audience. We're saying, hey, here's what we're doing kind of do it along with us.

And so that's why I wonder if you, like, had any process with technology, because sometimes behind the scenes, like if with A.I. if you're like pretending it's not there, then it kind of seems to the audience like why there's this weird response or something like that. Or even if you're going on the wrong platform, like why are they on Snapchat or TikTok or whatever it is. So have you learned anything over the years with all, like you said, there's always a shiny object, there's always a shiny object. So have you learned anything to, like separate the wheat from the chaffe?

Stacie Grissom: A little bit of it is like pushing for restraint. Like I remember when we first started Tik Tok, Tik Tok is a pretty high effort social platform to be producing content.  Like it takes a lot of energy and it takes like a very specific brain to do that kind of thing. But you know, we have like six brands at BARK. We have a lot of different business lines and we have people who have a lot of different objectives. You know, one team is like, our business needs its own TikTok. It's like, nope, we are doing one TikTok because we don't have the bandwidth to do seven. So it's a little bit like that.

And then, you know, sometimes like the world, it just becomes overwhelming. Like you need to be, the world is like screaming at you. Like, I think like ChatGPT and the  images and then like, video will be next. There's so much coverage about this, I don't want to make predictions, but it is going to change how we do things. So I think a little bit of it is restrain yourself when you don't have the resources and figure out how to negotiate with the internal teams to not do too much. And then also make sure that you're not closing yourself off from something when the world seems to be yelling that it's going in that direction.   But yeah.

Daniel Burstein: One final lesson here. You say move forward and get stuff done. And this is from Carly Strife, the Co-founder of BARK and a partner at Ambush Capital. So how did you learn from Carly?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. So Carly, she was one of the people that was in the windowless room and we were like three people. And she's just like, she's a machine. I have never met anyone like her. She is no nonsense. She is pushes you so hard in a way where you just want to do right by her. So, you will figure out how to do things as fast and well as she needs. But it'd be things like, hey Carly, I'm on the phone with this customer they're having this problem with this. And she be like, I don’t know, go ship them something from the post office. She's very efficient with her problem solving. And, you know, it started with little things like that. But it also be like, you know, the team structure when we're having to reorganize from like the Bark Post era to like the era where we're doing more social media and content marketing. She's just like extremely efficient and cuts the crap from everything and just helps you focus on the problem and find the shortest path to that solution.

Daniel Burstein: Well, wonder if there's anything for you throughout all that growth you've learned to a specific thing to prioritize. And I'll give you one quick example while you're thinking. I interviewed Sherry Lowe. She's a CMO of Exabeam on How I Made It In Marketing. And one of her lessons was bad news doesn’t get better with age. And so for her, it was like it doesn’t matter what's going on? If there's some bad news, like you can get ahead of it, you communicate it the right way to the right person. And so going through all that growth, there's got to be a million things calling for your attention. I should mention that you said BARK, six brands, it’s not just Bark Box, you sell in retail, you sell in Target, right? You sell dog toys.

Stacie Grissom: We have a food business.

Daniel Burstein: So there's gotta be a million things screaming for your attention. So is there something for you that’s always like there's a flag that comes up of like, oh, that's the thing. I’ve got to prioritize no matter what, you know, among all the cacophony of things that are going on.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, I think there are definitely priorities that come from on high. And then there are the priorities that you get to choose for yourself. So like we just launched a new food brand and that is a huge priority within the company. So we have to think like it is out resourced for, you know, compared to like, you know, Bark Box is our biggest customer base right now, but we have to focus a lot more energy on the food stuff than necessarily Bark Box.

So there's that kind of prioritization. But then there's also like the prioritization where I need to make an impact and I need to have good stuff to say to my boss. And I also need to have successes and good things to, you know, feel satisfied in your job. And so I think for that kind of stuff, it's like, what is the thing that's going to be most interesting to the customer? What is going to be the most entertaining thing? What is going to be the most helpful thing? What is this going to be the most fun thing? And that has helped me prioritize a lot of content things. When I get to choose what is that we're working on right now? Like how can we make an impact on the business?

Daniel Burstein: I like that Fun is part of your prioritization. That's nice.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. Yeah, very motivated by fun. Yeah. I mean, one other thing with the A.I. if you look at our TikTok right now, the most recent TikTok we did was one of the employees, which actually she was not a comedian, but she was a very funny person. She was a welder before she started working at BARK. And she and her brother launched this Tik Tok account in the pandemic. And they're very funny. And I was like, you know, this is a weird person. I like this. And we brought her on and now she's helped us grow our Tik Tok by like 200,000 in the last year.

But anyway, we use ChatGPT, we're like, uh, what are things that you can do to blow a dog's mind? Like, ChatGPT came back with was cover something in peanut butter. And we're like, no, we're going to cover ourself with peanut butter. So it's just like a stupid thing. But like that Tik Tok is now in the top I don't know if it's like top five or top ten of all the tiktoks we've ever created. It has like 3.2 million views. So you can use this A.I. for like weirder things than I think people intended it to be used for.

Daniel Burstein: So we’ve talked about leading from the front. Are you on TikTok covered in peanut butter or was that a delegation?

Stacie Grissom: I wasn’t, only because I was in Philadelphia, but I definitely would have been, Yeah. I mean, yeah, I mean.

Daniel Burstein: Who would pass up an opportunity like that, right?

Stacie Grissom: Yeah, most people on the team are like a bunch of weirdos like me. So they're like, Hey, let's do this.

Daniel Burstein: Find some weirdos. Well, Stacie, we talked about so much about what it means to be a marketer from, you know, hopping on the viral moments or handling the crises, hiring comedians, having fun. What are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Stacie Grissom: I think for me, working in the content space, I like to find people that have examples where they have created content or have done things online. And whether that's a blog or a TikTok or a Twitter or like, you know, some digest of the standup that they've been doing around, you know, Columbus, Ohio. That to me signals that they have a passion about this that is like outside of a job.

And I think that when you're in this kind of marketing, it's not something that you can turn off like your best ideas come in the shower and you need you need to love it. A job is a job like the things that matter in your life are like your friends and your family and all of that. But like this job is a little different and you do need to find someone who, like, doesn't shut off at 5 p.m. That they're constantly thinking about what is a funny lyric I could write for this dog rap. What is a video I could do? I'm reading this story about X, how do I apply this to my job?  So I think the number one thing that I've always found is have a little bit of an Internet trail.

Daniel Burstein: You know, I love that you say that because, you know, I've hired a lot of writers and creatives and, you know, there have been so many where, you know, we get the resume and we're interviewing as kind of a favor to someone like, oh, this is the developer's cousin or something that and they're like, Oh, I'm a writer. So like, great what have you written? Show us. Well, I have only this little job or that little job, and it's like, I think something different than from when I was coming up is anyone can create now. I mean, there's so many venues, like you said, you can publish a blog post, you can make this, you can do this, and there's no gatekeepers anymore.

And if this is something you're really passionate about, get out there and create. And that's what you've got to show, you know, like when I was coming up, building your book or your portfolio. You got internships and you try to get clients and yeah, you can have spec work, but you really want the client work. But now it's like you can build your own thing and like you found a welder on TikTok. Yeah, that's great. That's, I think that's a beautiful thing about the content age we live in.

Stacie Grissom: Yeah. Now it's, it's, it's very fun and I definitely am glad that in this one Internet has many bad things, but there is a lot of good too.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely And there was a lot of good in this conversation. Thank you so much, Stacie. I learned so much from you and it was fun to use one of your words. It was fun.

Stacie Grissom: Thank you so much for having me.

Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone from listening. I hope you learned a lot as well.

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