January 11, 2023

Corporate Marketing: Feedback is respect (podcast episode #44)


Get ideas for product launches, public relations, and networking by listening to episode #44 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had a high-energy conversation with Lucas Welch, Vice President Corporate Marketing, Highspot.

Listen now to hear Welch discuss the power of integrated storytelling and community, bringing your whole personality into work, and so much more.

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

Corporate Marketing: Feedback is respect (podcast episode #44)

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“Encapsulate the essence of the offer in the top four inches of the page,” Flint McGlaughlin teaches in Above-the-Fold Strategy: 4 ways to write powerful sub-headlines.

And this essence should inform your entire funnel, from initial ad to final conversion.

I was reminded of this quote when our guest shared the lesson “PR and storytelling come first” – essentially, the story should be the essence of your campaign, it should kickoff the campaign as well as inform its downstream messaging – so I asked him about it.

You can hear how he responded, along with many more lesson-filled stories (and even a How I Made It In Marketing rap), when you listen to this episode with Lucas Welch, Vice President Corporate Marketing, Highspot.

Welch manages a team of 14 people and four agencies and oversees a $3 million budget.

Highspot has raised $650 million in venture capital funding since launching in 2012. Most recently, the company closed a Series F round that valued the company at $3.5 billion. It has millions of users around the world.

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

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Google Podcasts

Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Some lessons from Welch that emerged in our discussion:

The power of integrated storytelling and community

For a product launch while Welch was working at Chef Software, he made a concerted effort to reach across the aisle to demand generation and community managers to ideate a strategy. They landed on an integrated approach that taught him about the power of integrated storytelling. They paired an exclusive story by Cade Metz in WIRED magazine and on WIRED.com with a live product launch led by the company’s co-founder and CTO, Adam Jacob, as well as a nurture stream both targeting the community and the broader open-source ecosystem.

They pulled in beta users to collaborate and contribute to the live discussion to help demonstrate the power of the product. For example, they worked with leading DevOps voices like Nathen Harvey to test early-stage code and provide feedback about the product’s functionality along with input into the value the product delivers.

As a result, they were able to garner excitement from all audiences that they targeted from one tactic or another. All of this led to a significant spike in site traffic, excitement across community threads, significant inbound demand interest, and positive reception of the continued owned and earned media for weeks.

This was the first time he really took a chance on what marketing, community management, and communications could do together, and this perspective continues to inform his strategy and thinking today.

Feedback is respect

When Welch wrote the first press release of his career, his boss returned it entirely marked up. He took one look at the number of edits and immediately took it personally. Welch even had to take a walk to stop himself from marching into his boss’s office to defend his work.

When he had calmed down and got the chance to sit down and discuss the feedback, he learned that the edits were teaching him to write a stronger release – for example, arranging the narrative the way a reporter would, avoiding jargon, and keeping the content concise. This instance taught him how to sit with the reality that feedback makes us better and that providing helpful feedback shows respect and admiration for our teammates.

Bring your whole personality into work

When interviewing for his current position at Highspot, the leadership team – which skews older on average than much of the company’s employee base – invited him to leverage his role in part to help use marketing to liaise internally.

When Welch started, he tapped into his personal passions and previous projects. For example, he used to be a rapper (he was part of the scene when Macklemore built his fan base), and he worked to incorporate his love of hip-hop and the Seattle rap scene into moments like employee all-hands, or content like internal promotion videos. He gets to emcee major company events and has interviewed Abby Wambach and Bozoma Saint John from the event stage.

The response was increasingly positive, and he was fielding requests to bring some of his thinking and expertise into new areas. From this, he learned not only about bringing his whole self – the idiosyncrasies, the good, bad, and even weird – to work, but also about fostering opportunities for others to do the same.

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

Welch also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:

PR and storytelling come first

via Jay Wampold, CMO, Pulumi

Wampold taught Welch the most important pillars of brand building and how they work together to achieve brand goals. A lot of people think that paid advertising and marketing is the key to cutting through the noise – but Wampold taught Welch that PR and storytelling come first.

Taking the lessons he learned from Wampold into account, he believes that PR, communications, and storytelling is how brands get built – marketing and paid media is the key to defending the brand you’ve built and taking those efforts to the next level.

Build genuine connections that uplift all involved

via Gary Wenet, Executive Management Consultant (works with companies like Amazon, Oracle, and Remitly)

Wenet has a knack for connecting people – and he does so in a way that prioritizes energies, compatibility, and building true connections.

There’s a lot of talk in the industry about building your network and relationships, but Wenet facilitates connections not just for hiring or networking, but for forging relationships that teach people and make people better. He has been Welch’s mentor from his final internship before diving into the world of full-time marketing roles and connected Welch with Wampold.

Wenet taught him the importance of tapping into people’s energies, strengths, goals, and motivators to build genuine connections that uplift all involved.

Learn it all

via Jon Perera, CMO, Highspot

Pre-March 2020, Welch was the senior director of content and communications at Highspot, and events and demand generation weren’t a part of his role. Perera came to him and presented an opportunity: the head of demand gen left, and Perera offered him the opportunity to take over that team on an interim basis, stewarding the ship until there was a backfill. Welch was admittedly hesitant to take the opportunity, but Perera reminded him of one of the company values: learn it all.

It was an opportunity for Welch to learn, grow, and stretch himself. The pandemic, of course, threw a wrench in a lot of the plans they had on the docket that were reliant on in-person events. He was able to come in with a relatively fresh perspective, ready to learn from the team, and increased collaboration. From this experience, they learned a lot about what the company really needed from this part of the business, and Welch learned what he was capable of as it relates to curiosity.

This was a tipping point in his career where Perera pushed him somewhere he didn’t want to go – but it made him grow as a leader, contributor, and asset to the business.

Related content mentioned in this episode

Above-the-Fold Strategy: 4 ways to write powerful sub-headlines

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 tough transcript of our discussion.

Daniel Burstein: We work in a creative profession, and it's a little easy to fall in love with our own ideas and creative output. I know I've had to get to the point with my own ego to be able to actually value feedback and not feel threatened by it. But I've never heard it put better than this. Just three simple words, feedback is respect.

What a great way to look at it. We'll hear the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories from Lucas Welch, the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Highspot. Thanks for joining us, Lucas.

Lucas Welch: Daniel, so excited to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. So I'm going to just cherry pick a bit through LinkedIn, your career, give a few previous roles you had some people know who I'm talking to. You were the Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at EMC Isilon. You were the Senior Director of Communications at Skytap. But right now you're the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Highspot, where you manage a team of 14 people for agencies and a greater than $3 million budget. Highspot has raised more than $650 million in venture capital funding. Most recently, the company closed a series F round that valued the company at $3.5 billion, and it has millions of users all around the world. So give us an idea, Lucas. What is your day like as Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Highspot.

Lucas Welch: Well Highspot has given me a really unique opportunity that I'm grateful for. The significant portion of my time is focused on trying to bring my peer group. So I sit at the executive level that reports to the people that report to our CEO. I spend a significant amount of time across that group. Vice President of Product Marketing, Vice President of community, Vice President of Enablement. Obviously, we have a really strong enablement team at sales enabled company. Trying to think through the tightest, most collaborative motion where we can take our message to market in the most simplified way, cut through the noise and really be a credible partner to both our prospects and our customers. And how they themselves can use enablement to drive strategic growth for their businesses.

And so it's a significant amount of time trying to find the work and the collaboration, the alignment opportunities between our teams. Because it's very easy, particularly in these hybrid or fully virtual work environments, to go into your silo, start doing your thing, think you've got a great idea, but not think about the downstream impacts on Team A or Team B.

So there's a good amount of trying to figure out how to lock arms so that we're doing a few best things together. And then that, of course, relates to helping my team understand what the primary objectives are, what their role is in them, so they can see the impact of their work on what the business is trying to achieve. And of course, given the coaching, the content reviews, the time, the support that they need to be successful in their roles. So it's a lot of across a little bit above and a good amount of down in terms of trying to create the collaboration, the communication that I'll have is executing with efficiency to try to help our customers be the best they can.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, and that's actually the perfect setup for the first lesson here. that collaboration. So the first lesson from the things you made in marketing you talk about the power of integrated storytelling and community. So I would think that collaboration would be successful to get that right message all over the organization. Why don't you tell us about you learned this earlier in your career. How did you learn this lesson?

Lucas Welch: So I had the opportunity to work at a company called Chef Software that was open source. So if anyone out there either is working at or has worked at an open source company, you know, it really rests on the power of that community, that open source community that is not getting paid to contribute to your software programs. And that's a really interesting dynamic because, you know, as the rise of the developer, if you will, has taken place in so many businesses, even non-tech businesses use development of software to drive their innovation.

There is still this very large community worldwide that just loves to collaborate on making great software that they can all use and they do that out of their own goodwill Often trying to solve their own problems, but by nature, also solving others. And so Chef was based on a very thriving open source community. And as I learn more about this community, I learned like traditional demand gen tactics, as you might have them in other B2B companies or other companies all that. Weren't going to be the same when a good amount of the people that use your software are never going to pay for it. And a good amount of the development that's happening on your software is being done for free.

And so the kind of traditional tactics, we want to take a lead, we want to convert it through the funnel, we want to turn into a closed one opportunity and repeat that cycle. Certainly those were there, but you had this other dynamic of how do you capture the investment and the opportunity that the open source community gives you without over leveraging it and pushing them away by trying to sell them too hard?

And so as I learned about the power of community at Chef, I was running communications so that was PR, AR and Content. And I didn't have a lot to do with the demand gen engine. And I was really focused on our message, our story and how to take it to market. We had a really important new product, a new open source project that we were going to launch. And this was going to both offer the open source community a really new, exciting opportunity to develop and take that software to the next level. But also solve some of the thorniest challenges for our commercial customers and helping them manage increasingly large sets of applications based on the infrastructure that either cloud or physical servers that our Chef software was already automating.

And so as I thought about how to take this story to market and as you just heard me right there. Not the easiest story to describe to a layman, if you will. And so, as I thought about what we needed to do, I realized that just doing the communications flow wouldn't be enough. And so I spent a good amount of time talking to our demand gen team, talking to our community team, and as opposed to us each create plans in a silo. Harkening back to what I talked about in my current role, we started to create a collaborative, integrated plan. How would we leverage the community, beta testers, early adopters, people who could both make the software better and speak to the software's benefits? How would we leverage demand gen but again in that community aspect, do so in a way that was respectful of the people that weren't necessarily going to buy our software, but also created the demand down the funnel for those that very much could benefit from the commercial version of this new open source project.

And then lastly, we needed a great story. And so working with an awesome PR firm called Revere PR, they still are in full operation if you're looking for a great firm. We spent some time crafting a story that we felt would be differentiated and cut through and get us to the level of Wired magazine. And over about two years, myself and our CTO and co-founder, Adam Jacob, we built a relationship with a reporter named Cade Metz. I believe he's now at the New York Times covering AI. And Cade and Adam would just kind of shoot about open source software and science projects. You know, we spent two years not getting Chef coverage as much as Adam would provide background or context on complex subjects so that Cade could write about Google and other large organizations. But eventually we felt this project, this new launch, was going to be the story that Cade would really want to dig into and cover himself.

And so we pitched him the exclusive. He liked the story. He wanted to do it. We got everything from an in-person photoshoot with Adam in San Francisco to an above the line home page for the day of the launch story from Cade Metz on Wired.com and in Wired magazine. And we coordinated up with the demand team doing a webcast in which Adam and some of those beta testers from the community would demo some of what the software could do for your application sitting on that infrastructure in terms of automating their deployment. And would allow those community voices to come through and talk about the scale and the potential of it.

We also had some customers come and talk about how this would solve their thorniest challenges. And of course, through a long tail advertising promotion of the webcast, we drove, I think nearly a thousand live attendees, which, if you think about webinars today, is pretty impressive. And so that brought both the open source community and our commercial prospects and our existing customers, who of course would be prospects for the commercial version of this new project all together at the same time, to see the power of it paired with that Wired magazine story. So that's adding like pomp and circumstance and excitement about it overall. And that awareness impact put a huge spike in our website, huge spike in leads to the sales team, created a whole new burgeoning community within the Chef community on this project that quickly became at the top of the different Reddit threads that were tracking Chefs releases.

And so we had this kind of culmination of all of the parts of marketing working together, demand, community, communications, analyst relations, etc., to put everything together at one point in time to really capture as much awareness as we could, funnel that to sales, but also drive excitement in the community. And the results were website traffic. We crushed our quarterly number the next quarter by selling the commercial version of that software. And we created a new, thriving community that, even though Chefs been acquired, still exists today doing great things in terms of automating both applications and the infrastructure underneath it.

Daniel Burstein: So first of all, that's beautiful. That's that's a great example of integration. And I wonder when you're crafting that story, what role did feedback play from that open source community. Like how did you engage that open source community before you went live? Because I mean, that's a great story of how you empower the community. We've seen just as many stories of companies that shot themselves in the foot because they went commercial. They alienated the community. That Reddit thread became hate posting, you know what I mean? So it can go in the opposite direction to when that Wired article comes out. They're like, these jokers, they're ruining it. You know what I mean? It wasn't like the early days. So I wonder, like, did you engage in any sort of feedback before you're going public, before you're working with the press, before you're, you know, bringing it all out. And so, you know, the kind of pretest and know that launch would be successful.

Lucas Welch: Yeah, totally. I mean, and clearly you, you know, the vibe. So Adam Jacob, you know, a perennial individual, I just can't say enough about the time I got to work with Adam. So he was deeply involved in something called DevOps from the very early days now kind of DevOps has turned to cloud ops and it's all kind of changed. But at the very core, that was all about developers and engineers working together to create software that worked when you deploy it.

And Adam had steeped himself in this community, he would go do talks around the world for free, you know, not going to the main stage because they paid him, going to the main stage because he wanted to help. And so he had become a pretty public and known figure in these dev ops communities and everywhere from like Ghent, which I think is in Belgium. My geography is not good enough to really tell you all the way through, like Austin, Texas. And so what that meant is when it came time to kind of work on this new project and figure out whether or not we were headed in the right direction through Adam and another man, Nathan Harvey, who also did a lot of work for the chef community. We already had all these touch points where it's very easy to give them access to the open source project and say, hey, just give it an hour, you know, mess with it, try this out, tell us what you think. And so that began months before we got to pitching Wired magazine and even longer before we finally got to that launch moment.

And so we totally went deep into the community. What I call it, almost like the 25% mark. So well, before you think it's ready for broad public consumption, you're giving them very early stage code to mess with test, bug, bash, etc.. And the result was to your point, we got great feedback and we got input on how to roll it out. What is the value here? How do you keep the integrity of open source? While I was also seeing the commercial opportunities so that by the time we had our message, that message was actually informed by n to a degree written by the open source community users that had helped us test the software in the code and make sure it was what we were going to say it was so that it had authenticity and it had integrity.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah I mean, I love what you did there. I think not only did you get the messaging right, but then by getting those users involved when it came out, they felt like part of that. And so they were excited to see it come out.

Lucas Welch: Totally, now they're invested in the success of it. And so they're championing it. They're getting people to come in and contribute to the code base, which again in open source is really the key. You need active use, you need people continue to contribute and it really worked.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, well, let's talk about feedback. Let's talk about feedback in our careers because you know, I started as a writer, boy I felt that feedback. I got to work in sales enablement in my career. Let me tell you sales folks give feedback. And you say feedback is respect. I like how you word that. So how did you learn this lesson? Feedback is respect..

Lucas Welch: Respect. Yeah. So my first press release did not go as planned. I went to the University of Washington here in Seattle Washington. Came out with degrees in communications and creative writing. So as I entered the workplace, started answering phones at a PR firm and getting some early PR work under my belt. You know, I thought I was a really good writer. I'd gone to college for it. I'd written tons of papers. I'd worked with authors who'd won National Book Awards when I was at U Dub. So I'm unfortunately feeling myself a little bit too much.

And I get into the work world and the assignment is, you know, write a press release about this gaming company's new game. And like, Oh, this is a cakewalk.Boom, headline subhead, paragraph quote, etc.  Turn in thinking my manager at the time is just going to say, oh, wonderful, Lucas, thank you for gifting us with this near Shakespearean press release. I've never seen one better than this. Wow. Why don't we just put you in charge of the whole account?

And instead, it only took about an hour and it came back and it was almost all red. And now this is, there's no Google Apps at this time. So this is Microsoft Word. This is only red feedback lines. And it looked bad. It looked really, really bad. And I took that personally. In fact, I had to take a walk around the block, calm myself down before I felt like I was prepared to go ask my manager, like, What's up here? I gave you a great press. Please do not recognize the art that I've turned in. So I took a walk around the block, came back in, took a deep breath. I said, hey, can we chat for a second? They said, Of course. I said, You know, I don't understand. Like I thought I did a really good job. You've just ripped it up. Like, What am I doing wrong?

And they said, Lucas, I really want to help you get better, and I believe in your potential. And I see your opportunity and I respect you enough to tell you where you've missed the mark and here's how you missed the mark. And they walked me through a number of different elements. You know, I was too long in the headline. The subhead was repetitive. You know, the first paragraph didn't immediately lead with the news. The quote was too long and didn't sound like someone would really say it and had some jargon in it. And so they walked me through all of these point by point examples of here's what you did, here's what to do next time. And they really spent time.I mean, we probably spent 45 minutes sitting side by side in their office, going through point by point, all the things that I didn't do correctly but could learn from and implement in my next version.

And as I walked out of that office, as opposed to feeling downtrodden or like, may I just continue to get trampled on here? I felt inspired and really excited and not only revised that press release, but I actually saved the red line version. I didn't save the final version. I saved the red line version on my desktop at SS&K, the PR firm I was at for the entirety of my time there. So that I could always go back to it. Remember that experience, remember the feedback that I got and of course apply that to the work that I would do. And so they respected me enough to not let me kind of continue to operate thinking I had it locked when I didn't, and instead give me an early course correction that taught me that feedback almost always is being given out of respect for the person receiving that feedback from the one, giving it and trying to help them progress, learn and see things that they can't because we all blind spots. We've all read a headline 17 times and not notice that a word's misspelled because spellcheck doesn't pick up all caps. And so this respect, this opportunity to help someone achieve their potential comes with some, you know, sometimes some harsh criticism. But that's meant to give you the opportunity to improve.

Daniel Burstein: That was a flashback for me when I heard that. I remember the first piece I wrote professionally in my first job was a three panel brochure, and it was and I got the print out back three panels. Both sides are not that much copy in a three panel brochure, and there was more markups than there was copy on it. I remember getting it on my desk, and I just thought maybe being a professional writings is not for me. Maybe I don't have it. But let’s fast forward, that was very early in your career. Let's fast forward to today and you talk about bringing your whole personality into work. So how are you doing that in Highspot?

Lucas Welch: I am and will be forever grateful for the opportunity that Highspot has given me. When I was interviewing with Highspot, I got the opportunity to talk to the CEO, the CMO, Jon Perera and a number of folks across the marketing team. And I think I'm a pretty personable guy you know, I try to be professional and polished and so is having all these conversations and high bar has such a high bar for talent. And so I've never done a loop as significant as this loop. I think I eventually talked to six or seven people. So I've talked to all these individuals and I'm kind of feeling like, hey, either you want to hire me or you don't. So they reach back out to me, say, hey, John the CMO must have one more conversation with them. And I’m like really, I mean, what else is there that we need to talk about? You know, tell me I don't have the job. And so I come in, meet with John and John said something that I'll always remember. He said, You know, Lucas, everybody loves you, thinks you're perfect for the role. But sometimes the way you come across, you know, we're not sure if this is you putting on a persona or this is actually you.

And we want to make sure that if we're going to invest in you and give  you this opportunity, that like this is your true and authentic self, because that's very important to Highspots culture is that everyone feels comfortable bringing their true and authentic self. And you know, I don't think he said it quite in these words, but he's essentially saying something along the lines of, I've never met someone quite like you and I want to make sure this is legit.

And, and so I, I was a little taken aback at first, but then he gave me a story of his own career trajectory and where he had a similar conversation with someone to help me have more context of where he was coming from. And what was so cool about that is it gave me the opportunity first to recognize how serious Highspot was about having people come in, truly be themselves and ensure that they're fit for the culture which has paid dividends for us since I joined and certainly was paying dividends for them before I did.

And then second, it gave me an opportunity to reflect and kind of think through the seven interview conversations I had. And what was really neat is at this time I was interviewing for multiple jobs. I had a job I didn't necessarily need one. So as I took, you know, 30, 60 seconds to kind of say, all right, John, give me a second, let me think about my answer to this. I realized, wow, like I really had been myself because I didn't have to get this job, but I very much wanted this job. And so I was bringing who I really was to those conversations. And so I was able to then reflect that back to him and explain, Yeah, this, this is really me. In fact, this is maybe even more me than I've done in an interview loop before because I feel confident where I'm at, but I want to show you who I really am and what I can bring to the table. And if that's a fit, then I know this will really work.

And so what that set up is true transparency and candor about both who I was, who my boss John is, how we would relate to each other and what I could bring to the business. And so since then, they've given me so many opportunities. I close every one of our company meetings that happens every Friday and try to give people some context and synthesis around what they've heard and some uplifting or guidance as we go forward into the next week. I get to emcee our major customer events and our all company kickoff. I get to interview folks like Abby Wambach from the U.S. Women's Soccer Team, or Boz Saint John, who is the CMO at Netflix. I get to have these dynamic conversations in front of these audiences trying to bring messages to people, and it's all because Highspot given me the opportunity. As you notice, I'm a little verbose to talk that talk, bring my energy and try to use that energy to inspire others, to engage others, and to communicate a clear message.

And so through that very initial interview with John, all the way to the work I get to do today, you know, Highspot has given me the chance to reflect who I really am. And I hope, you know, beyond all the work and the impacts and the interviews and things I mentioned, I hope the really, really big impact is that for Highspot employees and those like our customers and prospects who attend our events, they see someone being their real self in the workplace and can feel a little bit more comfortable being themselves. Because I believe that's how we'll do the best work. It brings more diverse perspectives to the table. It helps people feel more comfortable with who they are and more confident in sharing their ideas and their opinions. And that's how we make the best decisions. That's how we create the coolest stuff. And that comes from people feeling comfortable being themselves. And if I can make a little bit of an impact in helping others feel like they can be themselves, then I've done my job.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. I mean, especially in an era like now when many of us are working from home and you can see actually what's going on in those people's lives. But let me ask you this. You know, in interviewing marketers, I've learned sometimes being themselves, they bring their background into their role. So, for example, I interviewed the CMO of Dashlane. He was an engineer. And when he got into sales and marketing, he sold like an engineer, didn't even realize what he was doing, just trying to help people and became very successful. So I understand you have a background in the music industry.

Lucas Welch: That is true. Yes, I I was a rapper back in the day and a hip hop promoter. I went by the name Peoples because I'm for my people back to that, encouraging people to be their true self. And I did this kind of 2005 to 2009 in Seattle, Washington, got to do a number of cool shows, promote some cool shows. Certainly was on the scene doing the circuit when Ben, a.k.a. Macklemore, was starting to build his fan base. And it really put me in touch with some really cool people.

Frankly, it taught me some of the marketing principles I still use today how to create demand, how to use teasers and little snippets of the value you can offer to get people to lean in and want the whole thing. I gave my music away for free before people were really doing that because it was less about the music. I knew the show money was where the money was going to be for me to profit, and that's how essentially the music industry is built today. And it taught me a lot of really cool things. I met some people that are still lifelong friends today and still have a huge love and listen to a ton of hip hop in my daily life.

Daniel Burstein: So have you been able to bring that into like is there a sales enablement version of Thrift Shop that you've brought into? Highspot.

Lucas Welch: Beamer Well, I mean, there's 16 bars of it at least. So at this year's company kickoff. So every year we've done a, you know, an all company event that kind of brings everybody together to get us ready on what our strategy is, how we're going to accomplish that strategy, what we're trying to achieve for that fiscal year. And of course, pre-COVID, we were a relatively small company. Everybody can meet in Seattle in person and COVID happened, it became virtual. And now we're so large that we generally can't bring everyone together at the same time. So we still conduct it virtually, but kind of have listening parties at regional offices around the world.

And so for this year's virtual momentum is the name of the event. I had the chance to work with a great production company, both in-house. We have an awesome video team as well as a company called SHW and we did film to a degree a bit of a rap video. And so I took an instrumental, gave them 16 bars about the strategy for the year and how we would accomplish it. And I wouldn't say it was as catchy as Thrift Shop, but I'm pretty pleased with the performance.

Daniel Burstein: So it wasn't a beat down of a competition or anything like that.

Lucas Welch: Now we were laying a diss is track down in my pocket if you ever need it. Now, if one of our competitors drops a diss track, then I'm ready to answer. But generally I prefer to take the high road.

Daniel Burstein: So we've never had any musical performances. This this will be I don't know exactly where your episode will be in in the forties and up to, you know, 40 something episodes. We've never had a musical performance on the How I Made It in Marketing podcast, yet would you be able to drop a few verses right now?

Lucas Welch: Oh, I got something for you, Daniel.

Daniel Burstein: Bring it. Let's hear it.

Lucas Welch: Okay, so this is How I Made It In Marketing Podcast episodes in the forties, first ever eight bars about how I made it in marketing. And here's what I got for you, Mike. Check. One, two, one, two. I can't say I've made it, but I'll take it. And I'm grateful. My bosses in some losses helped me set the table to tell great stories on ever bigger stages. My advice take feedback and create in phases. Embrace the draft, laugh and stay humble, perks don't replace the work. You got to hustle, know the data, but trust your gut to make choices and create stories with a diverse range of voices. Peace..

Daniel Burstein: Word,I love it. Thank you, Lucas. Thank you. That that is hopefully that will go down in history the first ever rap song about in the How I Made It marketing podcast. Thanks for doing that.

Lucas Welch: Well, maybe people were passively listening. Maybe we've got them actively listening.

Daniel Burstein: Now I it, grabbing attention. That's a key thing that a marketer does. Well in both rap music I think, and in marketing, it's not just the things you make, but it's the people we make them with that are so important. And so in the second half of the podcast, we tend to talk about the people we collaborated with and the lessons we learn from them.

And the first person you mentioned was Gary Wenet, who is an Executive Management Consultant (works with companies like Amazon, Oracle, and Remitly. And you said from him, you learn to build genuine connections that uplift all involved. That's something I've already kind of heard you talking about. So it seems like this is really affected your career. How did you learn this from Gary?

Lucas Welch: Totally. A huge shout out to Gary. He's in Costa Rica right now, enjoying the holiday. So I actually got connected to Gary through my dad and that would be like if there's some folks earlier in their career listening to this right now. Like lesson one is there's no shame in tapping your family as you're trying to build your connections in your career. You never know who your Uncle Bob or your Aunt Kourtney knows.

Daniel Burstein: Bill Gates did it. You're in Seattle, all right. Bill Gates did it.

Lucas Welch: Exactly. So I think, you know, often you hear this go build your network and it's like, all right, I got to go hit people up on LinkedIn. And it's like, well, who do you already know that might know somebody? And unless you ask, you don't know who they know. So through my dad, I met Gary Wenet we went and had breakfast at a place called CJ's Eatery here in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. Unfortunately, it no longer exists. I'm a young guy just finishing up college, meet Gary and I'm sitting with him trying to pay attention. But this was when we still had the Seattle Sonics as our NBA basketball team. Head coach of the Seattle Sonics and two of the players are sitting at a table, two tables away from us having their breakfast before practice.

So I'm trying to like focus on what will eventually turn out to be one of the most important conversations of my career. But I can't help but be like, but those are the Seattle Sonics over there. So I was able to focus at least once the food showed up and Gary and I had, you know, kind of a general get to know each other conversation. But through that, he being just such a master of kind of understanding people's energy level, what they're going to be passionate about, what's going to get them excited and inspired and equally what might deflate them. You know, I could tell he's kind of thinking about who he knows. That might be a good connection for me.

So as we work through the conversation, you know, as we're finishing up, he hasn't done really anything to help me other than talk to me. He says, I'm going to connect you with my man Jay. And I was like, well, you know why? What is Jay do? He's like, Don't worry about it. You and Jay will really build a relationship. You're going to love each other. I've got you covered. Wait for an email. And that was a little bit cryptic, didn't give me a ton of guidance on what to expect, but eventually he did connect me with Jay Wampold. Jay Wampold had an opening in his PR firm SS&K to answer the phones and in your spare time do a little bit of early stage PR work. And so for just coming out of college, having finished some internships, pretty good first role made a lot of sense.

And I meet Jay at his office at SS&K and right away I saw what Gary was saying. Jay and I both love to tell stories, so in the interview we get out of his questions really quick and he's asking me stories about things I wrote or ways I approached different situations in college. I'm asking him questions about how he got to where he is and why PR versus advertising versus anything else. And so what was supposed to be you know, he's the head of the firm supposed to be a pretty short interview went almost double the time to about an hour of our time, just starting to exchange stories because that was something we were both passionate about. And Gary knew that that would be a connection point for both of us, really, without telling either of us. That's what he was saying.

And so that was the first of many experiences I've had where Gary will either have someone come to me or he will direct me to someone, and I will always benefit from that conversation because whether it's storytelling or a passion for fashion or a passion for coaching and mentoring, those who are early in career, all things I care about and I know many others who may be listening do, Gary, finds these connection points among people in his network, puts them together. And what happens is they are inspired by each other, which then gives them more positive energy in whatever they're doing respectively. And I think there's something about kind of manifesting that energy into the universe because it creates this increasingly large, positive energy flow that Gary is creating through his network.

And so it's not about getting your next job or, you know, creating a network so that you can tap into them. It's much more about putting like minded and like energy individuals together because that will inspire the next creative idea, that will inspire the next job move, that'll inspire the next opportunity to coach someone to the next level. And Gary has taught me that that's how you build a network and that's how you put goodness in the world. That, of course, comes back to you.

Daniel Burstein: And I think there's some great linkage here because you talk about your next key lesson was from Jay Wampold, the CMO, Pulumi. I mean, this is how our careers naturally work, right? We have these linkages, these steps that we didn't realize going into it. But in hindsight, we're like, oh, wow, this led to this led to this. And you said from Jay you learned this really key lesson early in your career, PR and storytelling come first. So how did you learn this from Jay?

Lucas Welch: Yeah, totally. So, you know, Jay and I first connected on that storytelling passion. Mine was coming from you know, very early days, as I said, creative writing background at University of Washington, thinking I was going to write the great American novel. His, of course, came from really having honed and become an expert in professional storytelling to build brands.

And so as I'm answering phones, hello, thank you for calling SS&K, how can I direct your call? I also got time to sit in on pitch meetings and see how Jay, another man, Jay Porter, who's passed away but was an incredible influence as well, and others at the firm would pitch big ideas. That's literally the crux of their kind of IP was the big idea in the center of a PR campaign. They would pitch these big ideas to pretty big brands considering how small the firm was, and they would really be trying to help people understand that there is a story they must tell and that story will be a narrative thread through everything they do their website, their product marketing collateral, how they talk to media, A&S relations, their demand generation, their advertising, etc. But if you don't have a really strong, cogent story at the core, all of that stuff will eventually fall apart, or at least be less effective than it could be. Because you're sending mixed messages that aren't authentic, that don't relate to each other, and eventually your audience either tunes you out or you're not capturing as much of the audience as you can.

And so I got this really cool opportunity to sit in these pitch meetings where, you know, I had no role other than to take notes, send recaps and just absorb. And I got to see firsthand, literally front row, how some of the best in the business would start with this idea of storytelling. Start with this idea of, Hey, before you buy a bunch of advertising and before you do X or Y, know your story. Know what your big idea about why you're different, why you're special, why you matter is. Build that, create the creative tissue around that. And then that gives you the core to do everything else. And so what I saw through success after success of his clients was that it really was building the story first that helped the brand become real, and then you could go out and essentially defend it with advertising, create that awareness, and bring people back to that story.

And that worked indeed, with one of our clients. Isilon Systems was the company that SS&K represented. Eventually, Jay moved internal at Isilon Systems, took me with him, and Isilon was my first big success. We went public in 2006. We eventually got acquired by a company called EMC, now Dell EMC in 2009 for $2.5 billion, which at the time in the Pacific Northwest was one of the biggest tech acquisitions in history of that region. And it was all back to the story that Jay had pitched them back in an office way back when, about how their brand simple is smart for their new type of data storage was really going to be something that took them to the top.

Daniel Burstein: So I wonder if you can tell me, how do you take that little nugget of a story and how do you communicate it internally and externally to your vendor partners to make sure that every touch point of a marketing campaign or customer interactions reflects that story?

And so, to give you an example, real quick that I got thinking when I was hearing you say some of the stuff is we have a free marketing course and in session number 15 Flint McGlaughlin teaches to encapsulate the essence of the offer in the top four inches of the page. And so he's talking about the landing page like okay whatever the essence of the offer is should be on the top of the page and flat out there. And hearing you talk in this episode about the importance of collaboration that you're bringing in, you know with all different departments. Hearing you talk about integrating those stories as you did and hearing you talk about, you know, working at these larger organizations. There are many vendor partners. We’ve talked about you’ve manage up to five agencies at once, right? They all need to be aligned on the story. There's all your peers and there's in sales, there's and marketers and product are so many different, you know, groups that really have to if you're going to communicate this story analyst relations PR, you know, they all have to understand that story. So have you learned anything in your career, any examples? Any advice on how do you get everyone aligned speaking from the same page and getting that story right?

Lucas Welch: I think I've got some good ideas. I don't think I've fully cracked that nut. If I did, maybe I'd be even further along in my career than I am. Well, so I think one is you've got to keep it simple. So I know that sounds maybe cliche or straightforward, but it is much harder to keep things simple then you often think that it is.

And you know, Isilon’s slogan, as it eventually became, was simple is smart. Their storage system was quite simple. But I think that does apply to your message. If you can't describe your core message in one sentence and do that to someone that doesn't already know what your product does, then it's too complex. And so I think number one is how do you really boil down the essence into one sentence, literally 11 words and a period, not five commas in there and two asterisks and a dash.

And give yourself something that from grandma to the CEO to the person sitting next to you on the plane, the person at the concert, when they say, hey, what do you do? You can give them a crisp value statement. Because that at least means from the salesperson who's on the front lines to the customer success person working with customers, all The way to the engineers who may not ever interact with a customer but still are building the product. Everybody can at least have that one sentence to understand this is what we're all about. So I think that that is important because you can literally write that down and give that to everyone.

Speaking of writing it down, I do think with that kind of simple brand promise sentence, you do want some level of supporting messaging underneath it, again, as simple as possible. At Isilon for instance, we had a one pager of what that was, and this is back when you printed a lot of stuff. We laminated it and every salesperson had that on their desk by their phone. And so it just gave them a reference point and hopefully a sense of confidence that they could represent the brand. You know, we've, of course, moved around printing and laminating cards, but I still think, you know, Highspot is a system that literally puts the most important, most relevant content a salesperson needs used for a conversation in front of them for that conversation.

So we still use that today to put the key messaging in front of our sales folks as our customers do as well. And so I think having that very simple codified one pager that allows you to have your brand promise and the supporting messaging together so that anyone anywhere can read it. And this is key, when the  anyone anywhere a piece that probably would be my next one, is if you're operating in any level of an international business, you really need to make sure that you have an international input into creating that brand promise in messaging, because it's very easy in America to say, Oh, everyone's going to love this.And you've used a football metaphor. And as it turns out, the vast majority of the world views football as soccer.

And so you need to make sure that you're bringing in an international perspective all the way down to the colors of your brand palette so that your brand can have international resonance and global connectivity. So I think keep it simple. Write it down in as few words as possible. If you're going international, ensure that it's not a here you go, international teams, we've come up with this. It's a give us input, give us feedback, give us ideas and we'll make sure it's inclusive and representative. And I think the last thing I would say is differentiation is really difficult, right?I mean, particularly in technology where so many software providers essentially do some version of the same thing. So how do you differentiate? Well, at that Highspot, we ran an exercise early this year where we had not just exacts not just a think tank of the leaders, but also salespeople and post salespeople on the front lines, come in together and talk about what we thought was different.

And it was very interesting to hear CEO say what he thinks is different versus hear a person who's in the trenches calling down prospects and what they think is different. And it needs to really work much more for that person calling down on the phones than it does for the CEO, because that person on the phones is on the front line. And so by doing this one day exercise, we use an easel and whiteboards and write things down. We came down to that two or three things that we think are fundamentally different and the words that we can use to describe them that are different than all of our competitors that do sound a lot like us. So keep it simple, write it down, international perspective and bring together a cross-section of your business to identify your differentiators, not just those at the top or those at the bottom.

Daniel Burstein: The I think the cross-section is so important sometimes CEOs or especially founders they can be the worst because they don't really have a good understanding of what the customer's talking about, what the other competitors are out there. I remember we have something we call a value proposition workshop. I mean, a lot of what you're talking about, we'd call a value proposition. And there was one of the founders and he stopped in the middle, you know, because we're talking you got to bring about the customer's perspective. You got to bring skepticism, right? If you're going to do this well. And he talked and was like wait one minute is get me to understand one thing before we go on. And we were talking about this is like what we have right here is a Ferrari. And what everyone else has a bicycle. And you know, and then had to say you got a challenge that and I said  yeah, that may be true and I'm on your team. I agree. But look around at the world. There's a lot more people that have bought bicycles than have bought Ferraris, you know. So we need to understand who is your market and what are their other options, because only when you understand the other options do you understand, like you said, that differentiation.

Lucas Welch: So I love that there are many more people who have bicycles than Ferrari’s and I think that will continue into the entirety of humankind.

Daniel Burstein: And this is where I think marketers do a service to founders, to CEOs, some of those folks. Because when you're talking about startups, pre-IPO companies are people who have put the work into the product side, whether it's technical or health care or something else. You know, they've put part of their life into it. This is where the feedback is respect comes in. They delve sometimes a lot of their money into it, a lot of their wealth, a lot of their time, you know they sacrificed so much into it. So it should be hard for them to get this really honest perspective of how the marketplace sees it. And that's where as marketers, you know, we do best to be an advocate for the competition and advocate for the audience and advocate for the customer.

And to say like, oh, wait a minute, I hear what you're saying, but there's all this other stuff out there. What really makes you different and better? And that I think that is a true service we can serve to any CEO founder, you know, and anyone at that level to help them see that perspective. But one of the challenges, at least I found in working in B2B or in working in complex companies, working in tech is, you know, I was a creative you start as a rapper just understanding this stuff, you know, just understanding it.

So I love your last lesson. You said learn it all not a low bar. You said you learned this from Jon Perera the CMO of Highspot, who you work with now, how did you learn this from Jon? How do you how do you even like live up to that?

Lucas Welch: Yeah, it's a tough one. You know, I'll admit, I've never really bought into the growth mindset type of thing. Like I'm all I truly do believe in, you know, kind of consistent curiosity, I think. I don't know if you've ever seen and listeners out there may recognize The Princess Bride. You know, you keep saying that word. I don't think it means what you think that it means.

And so let's kind of set the growth mindset baggage aside for this conversation. But what one of our guiding principles of our culture is, learn it all. So we really use that to mean is when you walk into a room, no matter who you're walking into the room with and who you are in that room, you're coming in with the idea that you don't know it all and there will be something you don't know and that is okay because that is an opportunity to learn, which will help you get better and which will help the rest of the group get better.

And so it is this kind of embrace your natural curiosity and humble yourself enough to step away from the well I'm the expert and my way goes. And so what I've learned from Jon and you know, Jon's been an instrumental part of my career is I was hired at a Highspot to do content and communications, and so I had a small team. The work was by and large going well. And a couple of months before COVID, the individual who was running our demand gen team departed the company, and Jon gave me the opportunity to consider whether or not I would manage that team.

And I had a visceral no to that. I didn't want to be responsible for leads, I didn't want to feel like kind of I carried a number like a salesperson. In fact, I made some purposeful choices in my career to not be in demand generation. And as Jon talked to me about the opportunity, you know, I will always respect him for this. He came to me with that learn it all idea. He said, you know, Lucas, worst case is you manage this team, you learn from them in a few months, we’ll hire a backfill. That person can report to me and you'll have learned a new skill that may serve you well. And you've helped the business. And he was right, because I learned so much from that team, many of whom are still at Highspot today, about how real, true, modern demand generation or acquisition and growth marketing as people often call it works.

And I'm no mathematician. You probably don't want me doing your taxes. I am no Excel wizard, but the concepts are fascinating to me. Understanding conversion rates through the funnel. Thinking about the differences in your segmentation, your customer base, the velocity of deals, how does that apply to what you can predict versus what you don't know and how does that inform investments? There are so many cool things that I started to learn, absorb, unpack, dove into because Jon had given me the motivation to say, hey, I know you're an expert in comms, but you're not an expert here. And that's a bit of a blind spot for you if you really want to take your career to the next level. And even if you don't think about all that you could learn that you don't have access to today, that will make you more valuable not only to the business but to your peer group.

And so over the course of the next six or seven months, a little thing called COVID happened, which fundamentally changed how we would have to approach demand generation. So I not only was learning demand gen itself, but then I had to learn through the pivot of going all virtual, no more in-person events, etc. And what was really cool about that is that everyone across the marketing team was learning. We all had to change what we were doing. We all had to take new approaches. The whole world was taking new approaches. So that almost intensified the learning opportunity and gave me some partners in that journey because all of us had to learn then. And so I am forever grateful for Jon for giving me that opportunity. As it turned out, we were I was able to steward the ship. Eventually we did hire a fantastic demand generation leader, but that person reports to me. So we've built out what I call a truly integrated corporate marketing team that takes the brand at the top and comms and content marketing, but flows that through our demand gen, digital funnels, our website as well as field marketing and events. And it's only because that day in Jon's office before we really knew what was about to hit us with the pandemic, he said, Hey, this is an opportunity to go learn. It's an opportunity to be curious and help yourself grow and help others grow. I encourage you to take it and I'm, as I said, very grateful that he did.

Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you, Lucas. I think we've learned so much from all the stoies from your career. We've talked about humility, consistent curiosity, I love that, creativity, flexibility. So if you had to break it down for our listeners, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer in your opinion?

Lucas Welch: Well, a little bit of inside baseball, of course. Daniel gave me great preparation for this interview and so I thought about this. But now as we've gone through the conversation itself, I almost feel like I want to adjust my answer a little bit. So I do think that consistent curiosity phrase, I think that's certainly very important. No matter how much education, no matter how much experience you have, no one human being can know it all. And particularly in marketing, where things can shift so quickly, you know, your web traffic could dive or spike month over month. What do you learn from that? You know, a certain A/B test on an advertisement or a website hero banner could fundamentally change what you're doing in a matter of weeks in terms of traffic and engagement.

And so I think being naturally and consistently curious about what's working and what's not and not taking kind of tied to that feedback is respect point, not taking questions from others about what's working and what's not like you need to defend your work. But instead just continued to opportunities to yourself be inquisitive and self inspect and look at your work and continue to try to learn from tapping around you both the quantitative data side, but also the qualitative side.

So I think consistent curiosity for sure. I think, you know, people often say creative and I may even have written this down and one of my original answers, but I think it's all right to not be the most creative person in the room. And you can still be very successful in marketing. But I do think you want to be passionate about something that connects with the people you're trying to connect with.

And so maybe you're not the person that comes up with that big idea like I talked about with Jay and SS&K, but you are passionate about getting a big idea to your audience and giving them something new, giving them something fresh, giving them something that connects. And you want to have that passion because paired with that curiosity, that means you're able to learn.

And once you really feel like you've learned and found the thing that's going to connect, you're passionate about taking that out to the market. Because you're going to need that energy because of course, there will be challenges, barriers and problems along the way. So I think consistent curiosity, passion for taking something different and fresh to your audience. And I think last would be empathy for your audience. I saw a tweet yesterday about someone talked about the bane of their existence was the blanket holiday greeting from the vendor that you don't even work with. And  you know, to a degree I agree with that statement. Like, if you're going to send a holiday greeting, well send one that has some meaning and some purpose and some humility in it. Don't just blanket people with a reindeer. And I do think that's a pretty good point about how can you think about your audience, what they really need and want from you, not what you just want to give them. And the more that your concern and your empathy and your thoughtfulness about your audience, what they care about, what they go through, what their challenges are, so that you meet them on their terms versus on your own. I think the better you'll be able to develop the marketing that will connect with them.

Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you, Lucas, for sharing your stories and lessons from your career. Even your musical skills, your passion really showed through today. And thanks for let me learn you.

Lucas Welch: Totally Daniel it’s been an absolute pleasure. Again, I really appreciate the opportunity. This was a ton of fun.

Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone for listening.

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