Get ideas for managing a creative team, marketing with zero budget, and elevating your people by listening to episode #32 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had an inspiring conversation with Julien Rio, Assistant Vice President, International Marketing, RingCentral.
Rio discussed career goals, startup experience, and much more.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Marketing is no longer a creative (-only) job,” our latest guest says.
I have lived this lesson as well. I started my career as an advertising copywriter, writing print ads that appeared in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal. Yes, we got overall results, like how many times we made the phone ring.
But fast-forward to today. When I watch our free course about creating and optimizing high-converting webpages, I am impressed with how granular the data about creativity is now. Which headline worked best. Which CTA. And on and on.
When I asked our guest how he used data to inform the creative process, he said he always looks to three sources:
This is just one of the lessons you’ll learn from our latest guest – Julien Rio, Assistant Vice President, International Marketing, RingCentral. Rio manages a team of 40 and a several-million-dollar budget. RingCentral is a publicly traded company with $2 billion in revenue.
Listen to our conversation using the embedded player below or click through to your preferred audio streaming service.
Some lessons from Rio that emerged in our discussion:
Rio says it is incredibly number driven, with objectives and pressure, a lesson he learned when he arrived in the SaaS-world, coming from the B2B2C toys industry.
Rio says that once you've learned how to bootstrap, you're less budget-driven and you can think outside the box. He learned this bootstrapping at Lalamove. Before getting a large funding, he would do Sunday leaflet distributions in the street to get unfiltered feedback.
Careers are no longer linear, Rio says. Being happy is much more important than salary or title. In his career, he moved from Web Developer to Marketing Director.
Rio also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:
via Shing Chow, startup founder and ex-poker player
Chow taught Rio how to take the Pareto approach in everything you do.
via Jennifer Ablain, Senior Marketing Manager
Ablain taught Rio to never fear anyone taking your job because they know your tricks. Your people are your best asset, and you can only be as strong as they are.
via Max Ball, Senior Analyst, Forrester
Ball taught Rio that it takes roleplaying and public speaking skills to be a marketer. Don't take yourself too seriously, he says.
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.
Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a tough transcript of our discussion.
Daniel Burstein: I read Kelsey Grammer’s autobiography. So far in it, the actor best known as Frasier, discusses talking to an insurance salesman who equated selling with acting. In other words, pretending. Grammer's actor’s indignation got the best of him, and he explained that a true actor isn't lying. They are tapping into a deep well of truth about their character. And I look at marketing the same way.
Some may equate it with lying, and I'm sure some marketers do lie. But I believe successful, sustainable marketing success requires finding a golden nugget of truth about your company's products or services that resonates with your ideal customer, and then communicating it clearly and credibly. In that way. Marketing is like acting to me. So when I read this lesson in a podcast guest application, I saw I wasn't the only one making this analogy. Marketers aren't so different from actors. Our latest guest will tell us the story behind how we learned that lesson with a little bit different view from mine, along with many other lesson filled stories. Joining me now, so happy to have Julien Rio, the Assistant Vice President of International Marketing at RingCentral. Thank you for joining me, Julien.
Julien Rio: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure and definitely a great conversation to come.
Daniel Burstein: And joining me from Paris, France. So, bonjour.
Julien Rio: Bonjour, half US half French. That's the best possible type of conversation.
Daniel Burstein: Great. Yeah. Right across the Atlantic. So let's take a look at you what you do. So you have a team of 40 that you manage. You have a several million dollar budget that you manage. And RingCentral, for those not familiar with the company, it's a publicly traded company with $2 billion in revenue. So Julien, what is your day like as Assistant Vice President of International Marketing at RingCentral?
Julien Rio: Well, that's a great question you're asking. I'm not quite sure there is a day that looks like another day at RingCentral. I'm going to tell you why. I joined the company, I believe, roughly four or five years ago now. And there is no better time to join a company in that specific industry than the past five years. If you think about it, when I started my career at RingCentral that was pre-pandemic. So I was talking to people. We're working in the office telling them how our communication and collaboration technology could help them connect with their customers, engage with their employees, improve collaboration in an office space. Then the pandemic hit us, and now we are working with companies that are shifting 180%, trying to figure out how do I move from on-premises to cloud, how do I make sure that we have security in place, that people are equipped, that they get everything they need? And as a marketer, I think the question was, how do I help them? How do I vocalize this concept? How do I make them comfortable with a shift?
And then fast forward another two years we are almost out of pandemic. And now we have companies thinking about going back to the office, companies thinking about staying remote because it’s the best thing that happened to them and most large majority of companies thinking I'm going to be in a hybrid mode for the next many years.
So, my days are incredibly different. One from the other. But we have that common theme because there is no better time to join that industry. I've seen the whole evolution. I've seen my job changing entirely over the three different periods, working with a cool company that invests so much in technology and evolving, working with cool stuff like A.I. and all the things. That's so exciting to be able to promote this product, explain how it works, support and help people. And there are so many things that we are doing on a daily basis that it feels like every day is special.
Daniel Burstein: So it sounds like a lot has changed, but there's a word you used twice that I love. That seems to be the same commonality, you said help, and I love that because as we mentioned in the pre call we're going to get into this my gosh marketing's become so data driven, so results focused we can kind of lose this, help. That is beautiful. That is essentially what we marketers should do. Right? We should help our audience by communicating to them and helping them understand how they can solve their problems, often with our product, but sometimes not with our product. Does that resonate with you?
Julien Rio: Absolutely resonates. And that's, as you said, that's the very heart of everything in marketing. All the rest is shiny things and beautiful storytelling. And we do a lot of cool things, but at the heart of it, if we don't help people, then what we're doing is meaningless. So definitely the core here.
Daniel Burstein: Now I do like beautiful storytelling as well. And let's get into your first lesson because it ties into that. You know, I think something we kind of both had the same background in being on the more creative side of marketing. I started as a copywriter. You said, marketing is no longer a creative only job. Right. So how did you learn that lesson?
Julien Rio: The hard way probably. Well, it was written nowhere in the stars that I would have a marketing career for sure. In the early days of my career, I was working for the toys industry, and the toys industry was incredibly exciting. It was very creative, driven. I was asked to make cool videos that would appeal to kids, obviously we were talking about toys, but also with something in it that would appeal to parents because ultimately they own the money. So talk about buyer persona. That's exactly where we were. Adding a lot of creativity, adding skills around, you know, editing videos, shooting videos, directing videos. They were everything about building cool packaging, finding the right design, fine tuning the products, all this creative stuff that I absolutely loved and I moved from one career to the other, evolved in different types of roles within marketing.
I was in pet care for a while. Medical devices, electronics, hospitality. I've tried many things. And then I moved to the SAS industry. And the SAS industry B2B was quite a different world for me because yes, we still have this creative thing which is still important. That's still part of being a marketer. You have to somehow to be able to think out of the box.
But now you add another layer that is completely driven, completely different, and very often going in a very different direction from what you are used to. Meaning, those creative people like I believe I still am need to be a little bit disorganized and think out of the box and build cool stuff out of chaos. But now in the SAS world, you need to be numbers driven. Because we talk day in, day out about budgets, about leads, about L tool, about ups, about pipe, about pipe size, about conversion rates, about coverage rates and all this kind of things.
And when you're coming from a world where we're just asking you make a cool video so that it has an impact, and it talks to people, make sure we have a few more followers on Instagram with a few nice pictures there that's going to make people want to subscribe to our channel. And then suddenly you're being told, now you're going to be a pipe because we need pipe, because we're going to have this pipe to support the sales team because they have quotas, and we need to hit our targets. And that's a different world entirely. And it takes a lot of adaptation to get there. It probably even takes a little bit of a schizophrenic brain at some point because you need to be incredibly organized when you're in your Excel sheet, you need to start thinking in terms of numbers and projections. And every now and then you need to go back to your creative mind that is based out of chaos and smart and brilliant ideas.
And that has been such a journey for me, trying to move from that creative to that number driven career. But it's also, beyond the difficult part, it's also an incredible thing because think about it this way. You may like to drive a very beautiful car and it's very cool because you have the car, it drives fast and it's very nice way of driving it. It looks very cool from outside, but you have no idea what's under the hood. Now, if you start moving to the other side and start looking into numbers, it's like looking under the hood and understanding what is the engine, how is it working, why is it so powerful? And now, instead of just having the cool car that everyone envies, you also know exactly how it works. And why is it so good and how can you improve it and how can you leverage the engine that's under the hood. And that's exactly what marketing is all about. Now you have the creative and cool part, but you also have a strong impact on what your company is building and you're being more impactful than ever before and you control it. And I find it absolutely amazing to have now both sides of this equation as a marketer.
Daniel Burstein: I got to use that analogy now, the race car analogy, I like a sports car analogy. Well, let me ask you like this, does it present a management challenging? How do you manage creatives and keep them inspired in this environment, in a corporate environment, whether they're directly on your team, whether they work for your vendors or ad agencies. And I'll tell you a story for mine real quick of I've written about this before. You know, you take these creatives, right, who like you said, I love the word chaos, right? Creativity naturally is a bit chaotic. And then we would walk into this, you know, I work from home now after COVID, but we would walk into this building with, you know, four walls and, you know, offices and cubicles, the exact opposite of what, you know, a creative should be.
And so how do you keep these creatives motivated? So one thing I would do with my art director, I would joke around, we'd be working on whatever project and I'd say, look, we were wild mustangs, right? We were wild mustangs roaming free on the prairie. And lightning would strike in the distance and it would glint in our eye, you know. But now we've come into this kind of corporate creative world. It's kind of like we were captured, and now we're on the pony ride at the fair and we're just kind of going around in the circle while kids are riding us at the pony rides. You know, we've got the noose around our neck or whatever, and there's some kid jamming a rock in our mouth and saying, Oh, hey, you know, he likes to eat it, trust me, you know?
And even though we're going through that with whatever, you know, project we've got jammed at us, we've got to keep that wild glint in our eye. We've got to remember that we were once mustangs with lightning shooting in the distance. And so what can we do on this project to bring that? I like you say chaos, but to bring that kind of wild Mustang feel to it within the confines of this county fair, within the confines of this, you know, corporate environment.
So I just wonder, like, how do you still motivate and inspire and attract creatives who are naturally, like, more chaotic and might not fit into that that round, you know, hole that square hole that we're trying to fit them into.
Julien Rio: I think that's a mix of many things. One thing is to differentiate what people’s skills are. I have some people in my team who are incredibly creative and I try to limit as much as I can their involvement with numbers and excel sheets and all this kind of stuff. Because I know that's not what motivates them. That's probably not what they are good at, and that's going to be a lose lose for the both of us. So I'm trying to shield them from that. Beyond that, I'm also trying very hard to empower people, to tell them that you are completely allowed, if not strongly encouraged, to come up with new ideas and maybe they're going to work. Maybe they're not going to work. But if you don't tell us, you'll never know and you'll be frustrated because we now live in a world where you probably have a CV for yourself for the next job you're going to apply to. But your best CV is actually what you've done, what you've told the world you've been doing, and when you are able to tell the world, I've worked on this project, I was a creative mind behind it. That's much more powerful than adding another line on your CV saying, I've worked from this company that makes that number of billions of dollars of money a year.
So this is incredibly important. Now, what we do concretely with our people is telling them to find the time to leave aside their day to day business to be creative with things, I can give you a concrete example. A few weeks ago, I think you did not have it in the U.S., but you may have heard what's happened, what was happening in London. We've had all the train strikes over summer time, which very common thing in France. Trust me, not so much, not so much in London. So that was worth noting. And we had all these campaigns running in the U.K. and then my team came up to me and said, Look, we got our campaigns running. We don't want to retouch them, they are working.
But we were thinking, what if we had a few ads around being able to work from home when your train is not able to bring you to your office? And they built all this super nice creative with a few word plays around with nice pictures and all of that. They launched it. We just said, Let's try it, if it fails, it fails. If it works, fantastic. We've learned something new. Incredible feedback, many new comments, many good and positive comments, very large number of impressions with a very small cost attached to it. And that just had an impact, obviously, for the campaign itself, but that had an impact for people internally thinking, wow, I just had an idea.
I turned it into something. It was accepted. It was launched in just a couple of days. No, 50 rounds of 20 VP's who need to give their approval because otherwise you kill creativity altogether. Just empower people. And then they launch stuff and tell them that was great. What's next? Now that's behind us. What's the next one? How do we get smarter about these kind of things? And I absolutely love these kind of exercises.
Daniel Burstein: That's beautiful. I mean,I used to have a saying, I hate to say this because it’s pretty negative. But I would say, you know, IT and Legal are where good creative ideas go to die. You know what I mean? And that's kind of how sometimes it feels in the corporate world where you've got this, you know, you're creative, you're excited, you've got this great idea. And then either the legal department or the IT department, they take all the reasons that can't be done. They squash it versus having like I like what you're saying there. It's kind of like, you know, improv. To have this idea of yes and, it’s like a yes and idea. So it's kind of really the whole organization. If you're going to have corporate creativity, has to think this way. Don't just quash the creative idea. Either like you said, hey, that's a low risk let’s give it a chance, let’s air it out because not only it'll work, it won't work. We'll get results. What a way to motivate and inspire a team when they own a creative idea and they get to see it in the world. But even for some, you know, bigger ones are riskier ones, like give it a chance at least. Because if you’re a creative if you're at least working with people in different departments who are giving it a chance and then you kind of, you know, come to the conclusion together, hey, it won't work. Or maybe we can modify it and create it together. That's so much more a better way to inspire a creative versus like you said, they have like ten VP approvals, you know, and they're just going to grind. It's going to be a meat grinder that by the time it gets out of there, it's going to be they won't even recognize it. So kudos to you. That's beautiful.
Julien Rio: And well, I encourage that kind of thing because I think some of the best memories of my early career is around true creativity without obstacle of approvals. A perfect example for me was many years ago I was working at a company that just signed a marketing partnership with Durex. And I was not in the industry at all, but we had that partnership with Durex where we're going to do free deliveries of their condoms to different, different places around town.
And we got that approval to come up with creative campaigns. It just had to be approved by both brands to make sure that we were not going off entirely. But there would be no legal, no financial involvement of any sort. If it was smart, if it was fun, we could just launch it. I spent three days with my team locked in a brainstorming room. Definitely the best three days of my career. We came up with so many concepts, so many ideas, so much creativity, and what came out of it on the other end was something that was applauded. I think at that time we even won an award of some sort for some local contest, and that was just, you know, that was probably the best team building exercise I've had in years because we did that together and there was just so much pride to get from it.
Daniel Burstein: And yeah, that's why I call this podcast, How I Made It In Marketing, right? It's obviously a play on words, how he made it, how you became successful, how you came to be the VP. But like I said, in marketing, we make things. I mean, that's exciting you made those campaigns, your team made those trade ads and you go home from work every day and, you know, like I made that, you know, there's a lot of industries that don't have that. And so that's exciting that you foster that.
Let me ask you this in terms of data, do you use data or how do you use data to inform the creative process? You have any examples of that? Because, you know, that's where I've really seen data change and the creative process change over the decades that I've been involved in. It can really help inform the creative process. So for example, we have a free digital marketing course and we teach how to create and optimize high converting web pages. And you know, there's a creative element to that, but there's a lot of tests, there's a lot of experiments we show in that. And as a creative, it's great to see, well, maybe you think it would be this headline or maybe you think it'd be that headline, but then you test and you see what works better and it really helps you learn more about the customer and inform that creative process.
So do you have an examples of that you mentioned, you know, that data is kind of what's under the hood and the engine use that data to kind of get into your engine of creativity.
Julien Rio: Yeah, well, absolutely. There are two types of data we are leveraging and three sources for creativity. The first source is people's brain, their gut feeling, their talents, definitely the source number one. But we add two sources of data on top of this. The first one is around studies, survey, customer feedback. So we spend a lot of time analyzing what our customers are telling us and we build by a person, we build customer feedback charts that we really understand who they are, what they care about, what resonates. Do they prefer the blue? Or the reds? Do they prefer that word or another one? Does he want some technical jargon or do they want it to be vulgarized? So we have all this data to start building our audiences, our ads, our content, our pages.
And then comes the last one. The last source is the one that's not forgiving, the last source is actual results. So we get the creative mind. They get entertained by all this information, they build the ads, they put it in the machine, and then it goes in front of our customer's eyeballs. And then either it works or it does not. And we absolutely use A/B testing in everything we're doing so that we're going to test blue against red. The surveys tell us that red is working better, but actual facts tell us, Hey, Blue's better. Forget about red, let's move on and iterate over and over again until we get something that's closer to perfection, knowing that we'll never reach it anyway. But definitely, you know, getting direct feedback from what has the best clicks, conversions, impressions, all these kinds of thing are incredibly valuable to feed the creative team to build the next round.
Daniel Burstein: Well, there are two things you said there that I don't want the audience to overlook that I think are fantastic. One, something we talked about a lot on this podcast, you know, getting that two types of data, that kind of opinion type of data, then actually testing it and getting results to see what really works. That's fantastic.
But the other thing is, I think most people who answer that question would have said, we have two types of data. We have this and that, right? We have the feedback from customers and we have the testing. You added the third and there the talent of the team. The gut the team and I think that's beautiful to consider that as another good point of data, that's just too great.
Anyone listening, that's a great management practice and great management technique to understand and value the opinions and talent of your team. So, you mentioned you weren't always on the enterprise side as you mentioned, RingCentral, large company, $2 billion in revenue. You weren't always a guy who worked in large companies and you said having startup experience is incredibly valuable. So how did you learn that lesson?
Julien Rio: Well, I did not just always work in large companies. I've tried my very best to avoid large companies most of my career. And I really thought they would not last more than three or six months getting into RingCentral. And I happen to love it and get so many opportunities of learning, trying new things, growing that I stuck around.
But at first that was definitely not part of my plan. And the reason why it was not part of my plan is because I've been growing up in the startup industry. I've been working multiple either startups or small companies that you know where you talk to the founder each and every day not one with 15 layers above you and you've just seen your founder in the newspaper, one where you interact with him, you have a coffee with him. And I love that, that environment.
And I've helped bootstrapping a few startups, one specifically at the time was called EasyVan, I was in Hong Kong at the time was not living in France, I was in Hong Kong and I was one of the first people in the company. We were 20 or 25 at the time, it was probably number 26. When I left there were over 800 people. So that's a pretty good ramp up. And when I worked there, yes, I was a startup and yes, we were about to get another round of funding. But in the early days there was no money. I was being told you're the first marketing hire, note we have 25 people, 20 of them are developers, three or four probably sales or finance or HR or whatever. You're the first marketing person. You're going to build a team, you're going to build a program, you're going to build a campaign. And for that, we're going to give you a $0 budget. Are you interested? I'm all in.
And that was incredibly exciting because when you start your career working with millions of dollars, you very quickly lose a sense of the value of money. When you start in a startup, you have to bootstrap, meaning you have to be creative, you have to know how to build something out of nothing. I remember we did a bunch of different things with no budget. We could not do SEM (search engine marketing), we could not do LinkedIn, we could not do digital of any sort, could not buy databases or do any of that. One of the things we did was realize that a good portion of our audience, again, we were in Hong Kong at the time, a good portion of our audience was meeting up every Sunday in different places of the city. So we've decided, okay, we need these people to be aware that we exist, that we have a service that's going to make their life easier.
So we built kind of contests where they could win different types of prizes. We started printing fliers, we packaged all that, and me and my team decided for the next few Sundays in a row we would meet in the streets early morning until late afternoon, distributing fliers, talking to people, asking them to download the app. At the time, there was a logistic app to help people move goods from A to B a little bit like you would do with Uber, but not for a taxi really to move goods and stuff. And then we were in the street distributing fliers, explaining what the app is doing, encouraging people to download it on their phone, showing them how to download it, giving them some free credit. They could use it right away to bring their stuff back home from wherever they were that Sunday, back to their home on Sunday evening. And I don't know if it was incredibly successful or not from a ROI perspective, but that was incredibly insightful.
Because first for the company, we've learned so much. We've discovered who our customers are, what they care about, what they think about the app. Is it working? Is it not working? How would they do it differently? What would do they wish they had in the app that they don't have right now? Why they never noticed us before? Where should we start doing advertising? All these kinds of thing we would never have heard of if we just relied on, you know, a third party survey or this kind of thing. And that was incredibly insightful for myself as well, because I have discovered everything you can do with zero budget.
I've discovered how motivating it is to work with a team that goes out with you on a Sunday and builds that company with you from scratch. I've discovered how far I could push my own limits. And that was an incredible thing. And you don't do that when you get to $15 million funding already behind you because there's no reason for you to do that. I think that's the best thing you could do when you start your career learning how to do things with nothing.
Daniel Burstein: That's great. So that's a great example of something I call customer intimacy, right? Because how do you stay close and intimate to the customer? And so now in fairness, like you said, that is easier in a small company in a startup. So now moving into the enterprise space, how do you make sure you keep that customer intimacy?
I know you vaguely talked about surveys and A/B tests. I just wonder if there's any out of the box things you've done to keep that customer intimacy because we've published data before that shows customer experience leaders like the companies that are way better with customer experience, they've outperformed the S&P 500 index. And the laggards that greatly underperform that customer experience is so vital. So when you're right, they're looking at that app with someone and clicking through and seeing how they're using it, like, Yeah, wow, you're so intimate with the customer. You can understand how to create a good customer experience. What do you do in a large organization to keep that customer intimacy, to make sure you create a strong customer experience?
Julien Rio: Well, your question was, what do you do in your company that's out of the box? I'm not sure my answer is going to be that out of the box, as you would expect. But we do a bunch of thinking in that direction. Obviously, we have all the surveys because it's absolutely necessary, especially RingCentral is obviously doing enterprise. We have some major customers, but we are doing SMBs as well and there is no way we spend all of our time with the few hundred thousand customers we have, right?
So surveys are a necessary evil to collect feedback and make sense of it. We are doing cabs, meaning we have this top level events where we bring customers in and discuss behind closed doors what they like, what they don't like. They have an impact and they influence the future roadmap that's incredibly important is that it's core building versus just we build and we see whether they like it or not.
And from a marketing perspective, we also have all the customer events. I'm not just talking about the conferences and the trade shows, which are important, but I'm talking about all the more intimate events where we organize dinners and we bring our customers in and for the next 2 hours. Yeah, because in France we spent some, some time around, around a glass of wine. We spent two, three, 4 hours around the table talking about who they are, what they care about, obviously, what they think of the product, what they would do different, why they are happy or unhappy with us, but also who they are on a personal level so that we understand what was a logic? Who is that person who purchased my product? What motivated him or her to make that decision? And spending time, even though I don't distribute fliers no longer, spending time with people directly. Even better if there is wine and food is actually incredibly valuable to make up your mind on you know, what people actually think and how they think.
Daniel Burstein: Well, there are some things in there that many companies are doing. But one of the things that you mentioned that I think is in fairness, probably a little more out of the box is that co-building, you know. We've seen that value co-creation can make such a difference, but I think many companies, especially many larger companies, are still stuck in that product development cycles, waterfall, whatever you want to call it, cycles they had where our job is to build the thing in marketing. Your job is to go out there and generate some demand, right?
Versus that's beautiful, co-building, actually work with the customers to create the thing they need because one, you'll probably create a better product for people like them. But two all those customers that you're doing that with you have such a more intimate relationship with them right now, they kind of have partial ownership in that product as well. So that's wonderful.
Julien Rio: They become Brand Ambassador, exactly. And that's a long term business that you're building with these people.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. You know, I interviewed the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, and, you know, I was asking him, everyone kind of wanted to do this user generated content thing and everyone wanted UGC (user-generated content) for marketing. And I'm like, how do you do it? And he's like, well, you can't just say like, Oh, we need a lot of bowling to be done. And now like, how do we get these people to bowl. Like you got to figure out like how do you tap into their interest? What do you want to do? And I mean, Wikipedia, I think to me is one of those greatest examples of co-building where people are so passionate. So now they're keeping like 24 hour shifts to make sure, like Queen Elizabeth, the second, you know, Wikipedia page is up to date. And again, it wasn't by saying, here's a thing to do and how can we, like, kind of trick people into doing it? It was by saying, how can we build this thing with them? So because I guarantee all those Wikipedia editors, they feel like they're a key part of Wikipedia. It's a part of who they are.
So if you're doing that as an enterprise communications company, that's beautiful. You mentioned here's a great career lesson. Don't get too comfortable, learn how to uncover and seize opportunities. So how did you learn this in your career progression?
Julien Rio: Well, I think, as I said earlier, I don't think it was written anywhere in the stars that I was going to become the marketer at some point. When I was still in high school, I guess, I was thinking about becoming a cook. And at the time I visited a cooking school, and then I realized that it meant working Sundays, holidays and different shifts. And that's where I realized I was not going to happen anytime soon.
So I decided, okay, what about business school and I moved to business school with no idea whatsoever I was going to do in the future. I had a taste of sales, I had a taste of finance, I had a taste of marketing of IT, many different things. And it just felt like marketing was a natural evolution, but that was no plan. And at the time I had teachers telling us, you need to build a map. You need to start thinking 30 years from now, where do you want to be? And working from that, what are going to be the next milestone that you need to hit for you to be there in 30 years?
And I was just 30 days ago, I wanted to open a restaurant. Now you tell me I need to plan what I'm going to do three years from now. I don't know what I'm going to do 30 minutes from now. And that was the scariest thing for me. So I tried to kind of listen to it, even though I didn't know how to do that, and I just continued on my own path.
Then I moved to Hong Kong and in Hong Kong I decided to follow an e-commerce major, which seemed to be the right thing to do. Everyone was talking about e-commerce. Internet was becoming gigantic. That was a future that sounded like business. It was good. I joined the class and realized 80% of my classmates are actually coming from an engineering degree. They all know how to code Java, C, C++, all this kind of stuff. I just know the basics of marketing and sales and we end up coding stuff.
So I had to learn all these things from scratch while I was working with engineers and I realized I love it. And moving forward, I get out of school and decide, okay, now am I marketing? Am I a developer? You know what I think I love developing stuff. So I started my career as a web developer for a year or two, can't remember what it was. And then in the middle of that row, my boss at the time came to me and said, Julien, you seem pretty creative. We don't have a marketing person. What do you say on top of your web development responsibilities, building website and web software and all this kind of stuff? What if I give you some budget, a camera, a few tools, and then you start being more creative? And I started, I said, Yeah, I've no idea what I'm going to do, but I've been studying marketing for eight years, for five years. So at some point, hopefully it's going to become useful. And I started doing marketing stuff and then moving to a social media manager role and moving into a different and I kept moving to a different role all the time because I just seized opportunities, not always opportunities outside my company. I'm not saying that people should be searching for a new role every other day. That should not be something. You should be able to stick to something you enjoy. But if opportunities show up, even if they are difficult, even if you're going to have to get out of your comfort zone, even if it feels a little bit too big for you, that's exactly when you should say, yes, I'm going to do that, because if it is difficult, I'm going to learn something.
Maybe I will fail and I failed quite a few times throughout my career. But you're going to learn something. You're going to learn something about the role, but you're going to learn something about yourself. And based on that, you're going to be able to build your career. The way I see it is careers are no longer linear and I'm so happy I didn't draw on the map 30 years from that where I'm going to be because I would not be where I am today if I followed the linear path, I'm where I am today because that's just an accumulation and of lucky opportunities that showed up and that I was eager enough to seize and try and succeed or fail, but then move on to the next and keep going. I've been in that role for five years now and I'm not thinking about moving, but if in the future, within the company or outside the company, there is a new opportunity and I'm like, Wow, I'm going to learn so much from that is going to be so tough. I will probably seize it because that's really how you grow as an individual.
Daniel Burstein: I think that's great. You know, I hated hearing, though. What's your five year plan? What's your ten year plan? I know what your talking about. I never was asked a 30 year plan that is really ambitious to be able to plan that far in the future. But yeah, you know, you talk about it's kind of like a kismet or a luck, like, I love this feeling in your career or in marketing of like you work hard to learn your role, to prepare, and then, you know, life happens and you find out and you look and you find and you seize those opportunities because I think we see this with marketing organizations, too. When you try to be too stringent and to kind of tight on your plans, then you're not going to get to the right places. It’s easy to break, it becomes brittle, right? But when it's flexible, I think we saw this with COVID and I think maybe you mentioned with COVID, too, when you kind of have that flexibility and the agility built into the organization or built into yourself and you don't have these kind of fine lines of like, wait a minute, I'm just this thing. Then you're a lot more likely to be successful.
We all had to pivot during COVID and in our careers. You know, I love COVID, not because I love COVID, but I love COVID because it was such an example of having to react to something and pivot. But there are COVID’s we deal with all the time like you mentioned, you could have been in retail and have to deal with the emergence of e-commerce. You could be in marketing and have to deal with the emergence of AI, right? So when you approach it from that lens of flexibility, from that lens of, okay, let me uncover and seize opportunities, that kind of is your 30 year plan, right? I'm going to go down this path, you know it's almost like if you're watching a movie of that, you know, hero's journey, I'm going to go down this path and on this path there's going to be villains and gargoyles and this and that, you know, and I know you know, here's my true north. I want to go in a certain direction. I have creativity. I have developed those skills, whatever it is. And I'm going to take whatever comes at me and I'm going to handle it the best I can. So anyway, I think the career coaches in college should be teaching this versus get your specific plan because whoever had a plan in, you know, January 2020, how much does it really matter when March 2020 came along, right?
Julien Rio: So very true. But there is and there is another exercise I usually ask my team to go through during tough times and COVID for obvious reasons, has been a tough time for many people. I'm asking them when they feel they're stuck, when they feel it's too tough and they don't feel the evolution anymore. I'm asking them, can you take an hour, cut everything else, and just for an hour, try to think about where you were a year ago, which position, what did you know? What did you not know? And what has been your evolution for the past 12 months, 24 months, 36 months, whatever it is. And when you do that exercise, you usually realize, assuming you're seizing opportunities, you usually realize that you've grown a lot. You did not even think about it, because that's just a natural evolution. It's not like overnight everything changes, it's incremental changes.
But when you take the time to look at the past, you realize how much you've been doing over the past few months and how much you've evolved. And once you do that, you realize that because I've done all this actually nothing is really impossible. I thought it was impossible 12 months ago. Just look at what I've accomplished now. And now you have a new, fresh look at what your future is like. You don't feel stuck anymore because you realize there is a lot that you are able to do and you just did not even see it. But it's worth looking back every now and then.
Daniel Burstein: I think that's a great exercise. Things seem so obvious in hindsight, don't they, right? We don't know where the roads are going, but they seem obvious in hindsight. Well, that ties into that. Let's talk about this next lesson. Let's shift now into learning some of the lessons from the people you collaborated with. You know, as I’ve talked about in marketing, we do two things. Basically, we build things and we build things with people. So let's talk a lesson from the people you collaborate with. This was via Shing Chow, he was a startup founder up La La Move?
Julien Rio: Correct.
Daniel Burstein: La La Move, and he was an ex poker player in Macao when you were in Asia. And this ties very well into what you're saying. You're saying take risks, fail early and learn fast. So I think talks a lot about kind of pivoting. So how did you learn this from Shing?
Julien Rio: Well, if you if you'd allow me to just explain who the guy is because he's such, such a unique individual. I met Shing back in 2012, probably 2011, something like that. He had started this career at Bain Consulting, so he was not top level consultant with an incredible brain. When you look him in the eye, you could see the gears working behind incredibly bright guy, not very a people person, didn't have much social skills, but had this incredible brain of his.
And then he worked at Bain for a few years and at some point he decided, what am I doing here? Yes, I'm making money, but I don't enjoy any of that. So I'm just to leave that career behind. What he enjoyed doing, though, was playing poker games with his friends every now and then. So because he had that gigantic brain of his, he moved to Macao.Macao, for those who don't know, is the Las Vegas of Asia not too far from Hong Kong? About 2 hours, 2 hours by boat, if I recall, he moved there and he became a professional poker player. Fast forward two-three years. He's got millions in the bank because he's actually good at playing poker. The fact that he doesn't have much social people skill is probably what helps you have a poker face and having a brain that can count numbers I'm pretty sure had a positive impact.
But now he has a few million in the bank and he's back to square one. What am I doing? I no longer enjoy what I'm doing here, so I'm just going to quit and he folded his next career as a poker player. Now he has this few millions of dollars in the bank and he does three things. Thing number one is he buys a very nice apartment for his mum to make sure that she's safe for the rest of her life. Second thing is, he buys a nice apartment for himself because, well, you kind of need to treat yourself good every now and then. But then he still has all that money in the bank and he's thinking, okay, now I want to have an impact. What am I going to do with that? So now he builds a company to vulgarize. It is kind of Uber but for logistics. So they are moving goods from A to B, you book a van on your app and they are picking up your stuff, delivering it on your behalf. He built that company. He had a few million to get it started. But very quickly, that's back to the story I was telling earlier. There is no money to spend on marketing and you need to bootstrap it. And then after some early success, he gets a second round of funding and now money is flowing in again. And he tells me, look, Julien, we've been working in the past without any budget. We've hired you with a budget to spend. Now we do have budget and we could be spending millions here and millions there and hire a ton of people. But what I want to do is to follow the parital rule 80% of your budget, 80% of your focus, 80% of your activities should be our bread and butter.
You're going to have to focus on what's working, what's having an impact. Don't waste that money. We need to save it because we need the business to grow. Because so many startups die quickly after a round of funding, because they burn everything and there's nothing left. We need to be smarter about this. So 80% of everything you do is going to go to things that do work.
But then here comes the other 20%. And the other 20% I want you to get crazy with it. I want you to be creative. I want you to think out of the box. I want you to try many things and fail as many times as necessary until you find that golden nugget that you're going to be able to bring back to the 80% and keep growing it with the rest of your activities. I want you to really try new stuff, but don't jeopardize the 80%. This is what's keeping us alive. Make it work and get crazy with the rest.
And I found this lesson was incredibly valuable from someone who has had such a crazy career going to both extremes. Having this level of, I don't know, this level of smartness in the way you manage your budget. It's still something that I have with me today and that's something that I'm telling my teams go crazy with a 20%, but still keep the business running by being realistic with the other 80.
Daniel Burstein: So I assume that 20% money might give you a new idea that you could pivot to. So, I mean, this is I wonder if you can think of any examples where you experimented with that 20% and wow, that something really hit and we found something that pivoted.
So for example, I mean, we hear about pivoting commonly and in startups, you know, you're small, your agile, you're able to move quickly. I was interviewing Kristen Russell, CMO of symplr on How I Made It Marketing podcast. She was talking about a startup she worked in earlier where, you know, by customer intimacy, by being close to the major banks that they were going to work with, they shifted from a B2C to a B2B product. Huge pivot, you know. So I wonder, did that 20%, I don't know if gamblers call this become the play money, the crazy money where they can just kind of go wild with. Did you gamble on anything? And did you learn something that you could pivot to with your kind of bread and butter money there?
Julien Rio: We did more than once, actually. We did not pivot the entire company model, but we pivot entirely our marketing approach, we started the 80% was just growing some very small pocket money we had on SEM, this kind of strategies. And we just grew it so it represented 80%. Yes, it worked. But that would not allow us to do ten X would just allow us to stay in business. With this other 20%.
We tried many other things around. How do we get creative around events, not just show up at events, but how do we get contact information of those people long before they show up at the event? How do we build relationships? How do we go visit them so that we turn this into actually something concrete by the time we reach even. We built a bunch of strategies trying to nail buyer personas and getting it from their eyeballs online.
And whenever this worked, we would bring this along to the 80%, reduce the SEM spend that just kept us alive but did not help us grow. And that's how the company when I entered, we were 25 people. When I left, we were 800 people. Today they are 3000 people in the company. That's how we managed to, you know, to grow exponentially by just bringing the creative stuff back inside whenever you can. But be realistic with it. Don't burn all of your cash. Just have that fun money to play with it. And that's super valuable. That's one of my top lessons.
Daniel Burstein: That don't go all in on black or red or gamble at all. Just. But you got to gamble some, right? You got to take some of it.
Julien Rio: Exactly.
Daniel Burstein: Let's talk about a management lesson. It's a great management lesson. You say share your knowledge to elevate your people and you learn this from someone who reports to you. Jennifer Ablain, Senior Marketing Manager at RingCentral. So how did you learn from working with Jennifer?
Julien Rio: Well, I have to start a few years earlier than Jennifer, I guess, when I started my career in Hong Kong. I don't know if it's specific to Hong Kong or if you find this in other places. I did not have that experience, but in Hong Kong I was told so many times by so many people, don't share your tricks. Being a marketer is like being a magician. As soon as you share your tricks, they are no longer your tricks. There is no magic around it. Everyone knows it, everyone is leveraging it and you kind of lose your edge. And the logic behind it most of the time was fear of being replaced. If you teach your tricks to your people or to your colleagues, soon enough, your management is going to realize you're not needed because they know what you do so they can do your job and this person could do your job for a cheaper price. Why would I even keep you around?
And there was that kind of fear that that I felt for many, many years in Hong Kong. And it just goes completely against my personal beliefs where there is very few things I love more than actually feeling like I know something I'm going to be able to share with others. Now, fast forward, I've been sharing stuff with my people for the past many years, but I want to take the example of Jennifer because I think she's the best example there is. I hired Jennifer four or five years ago. I lost track of time now as an Event Manager. So her role was very well defined, very clear, very limited. That was events only, nothing else. And she was absolutely brilliant at it. She nailed each and every event, managed to save costs, increase the ROI on each and every event that was from logistic and result perspective that was beautifully done.
But after a while she just felt like she had seen everything, tried everything. There was nothing much more for her to learn or to grow to from that Event Management role. And I so happened at the time to have a Campaign Manager that was just about to open up. But she lacked many, many key skills that were required for that. So what we've done was kind of training for the role, doing a lot of mentorship together, sharing as many tricks as I could, sharing whatever I had experienced myself that she could get into this role. Six months later, she had the role and she just nailed it again. Absolutely amazing. Best performance I had seen in a long time. That was brand new for her. She was even building the role from scratch because she was not even replacing anyone and she just nailed it. And a few months, years later, again, time is not my strong suit. I just realize that she kind of covered everything she had to cover in this role, and she wanted more and she wanted to grow. And she had the skills for that.
So same thing again. I've been sharing everything I knew that could help her in her career. And now, for the past 18 months or so, she's been the Marketing Manager for France, managing the entire marketing team, all aspects, including campaign, including event, including everything else. And she's nailing it again, triple digit growth the previous year and got the team on board and everything working and she's taking a very similar approach where we're not holding back on knowledge we have we're just sharing it with her. Whether it is how to use software, technology is incredibly important, right? But how do you make the best use of a PowerPoint or an Excel? How do you know the right formula is going to save you 5 hours a week, which turns into a big number by the end of the year? How to make your point nicer or how to communicate with people so that they get on your side vs. Creating conflict.
All these things that sound very simple, but many people don't take the time to teach them. What I realized with her and many others is when you share that with your people, not only you elevate them, not only you empower them, but because they are so much better and they are growing so strong and so fast. They are actually supporting you. They are making your life easier because they are doing their job incredibly well. That frees up some of your time so that you can focus on other things and start thinking about your own career, what you want to learn. And if I had to boil it down to one single thing here is don't be afraid. Your magic tricks are not magic tricks. They are things that will benefit others and you at the same time share as much as you can. Mentorship is the best thing around.
Daniel Burstein: Yes. Well, thank you for sharing on this podcast. Your generosity of spirit is evident. So I love what you say. I mean, I've heard that attitude, too. I heard it recently from a colleague who works in the IT industry who is like, I'm not going to share how I do this. They're going to replace with an outsource vendor, you know.
But like you said, to me, I just feel like it's a more fulfilling way to do things. You know what I ean, it’s just a more fulfilling way to have a career that you help grow these people. You teach what you know you learn from other people. But I mean, what you said at the end, I was about to ask you about if you hadn't said it, that's how you grow your own career, right?
Yes, you want to become replaceable if you want that next rung of the ladder, if you want to grow, if you're not replaceable. You know what? I've seen some people who are very, very not replaceable. They never grow. They're always stuck in that role because no one else could ever fill it. And so they get passed over when really they could be the next great leader.
All right. I wanted to end on this lesson because I opened the podcast with it, it was my favorite. I love this is a lot of fun. You said, marketers aren't so different from actors and you learn this from Max Ball, Senior Analyst at Forrester. So how did you learn this from Max?
Julien Rio: So, I met with Max just before joining RingCentral. He was working at RingCentral at the time. He was a Product Manager for the Contact Center piece at the time. I met him over Twitter because I was a big Twitter fan at the time. I met him over Twitter, we had a few discussions and I moved to RingCentral. We spent a lot of time together, even though he was in California while I was in Paris. Then when he left RingCentral, moving to Forrester, where he's a Senior Analyst right now, we built a podcast together, or should I call it a video cast? I don't know what that vlog of some sort. I don't know how you call it these days. Around what we call the CX therapy where we look into customer experience.
So I thought I knew everything about Max, but then I realized I did not because one day I went to probably Enterprise Connect, I think it was in Orlando, Florida. I went there, I had a presentation of my own. Before my presentation, Max was on stage, so I went there and I had never seen such a thing before. When you go to conferences, usually you have these people who are just killing the entire atmosphere where they stand still reading their notes for 30 minutes straight and it's incredibly boring. You have some other who are more comfortable on stage, but still there's such strong business underlying that they're going to tell you about their company for 10 minutes before they even get to the heart of what you wanted to listen to. And usually they lost the entire audience.
Max was none of that. The guy was before the presentation hopped off the stage, grabbing people in the aisles, getting them to sit down and listen to him in the most friendly way. Not like on a fish market. People trying to get you to buy some fish, much more friendly than that, grabbing people's attention. Then he was on stage and he was talking to people. It was business. It was about Contact Center it was about technology. But he hasn't used any of the jargon. He hasn't used any of the features. He was telling people about themselves. He was building the story. He was reacting to what people were saying in the audience, that he could really, you know, engage with them versus just reading from a script. And that was like going to a play that was like enjoying a show. I was at the musical and I was just enjoying it. I was learning stuff people were enjoying. No one was checking their phone, but his art of storytelling and an acting, because it was really acting just stuck with me because I've always loved going on stage. I really enjoyed the vibe of having an audience and trying to captivate them and the fear of losing them and having them play with their phone. I always enjoy the thrill here, but I've never been that good.
And seeing the guy on stage. I just realize how important storytelling is to a marketer obviously on stage, but just writes about how you write your stories, how you write your blogs, how you build your ads that’s not feature centric. And I just felt marketers are more than marketers. We have to be somehow actors because that's how we can tell that story to the world that's going to captivate people and bring additional customers and business ultimately.
Daniel Burstein: It kind of brings us around for we were talking in the beginning about the creative data type of person. You have to be both creative and understanding the numbers and data and results and some of the things, but you still need the creative. You can't lose that. And I was wondering, you know, when I think of a good actor, a really good actor, it is like I said in the beginning, they're good at tapping into an internal truth. But a lot of times it's the details that matter, right? You know what I mean? If they get that accent just right or the look or the mannerisms and I wonder as being a marketing leader at your level now, you know, VP level, you said you have 40 reports. Is there any time where you found a detail that really mattered in the storytelling that you were trying to do through your marketing, through your presentations, even internally?
I think have a great example we got earlier. I interviewed Dr. Mara Einstein, the professor of Media Studies at Queens College on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast earlier, and she talked about in her marketing career. She was working on the VH1 one Awards, VH1 Honors Award show, so it's kind of a Hall of Fame show. And for the different honorees, they made a specific thing just for that honoree, like a specific plaque or whatever. And when it came to Stevie Wonder for his, they didn't have any glass on the front so he could feel it, you know, because, of course, Stevie Wonder is blind. And that little detail thinking through who that customer in a sense was Stevie Wonder thinking through what his customer experience would be, and just removing that glass so he could actually feel it since he couldn't see it. That is what made the whole difference in the concept. The concept wouldn't have worked without that. So I just wonder, like as a good actor, have you ever seen like this little detail will make a big difference in the story I'm trying to tell through my marketing, through my team, in my presentation.
Julien Rio: There is something I've seen that there was before the pandemic when we could still go. We can go now, but then when we could still go to conferences in person. There was something that I've seen in one presentation on stage that reminded me of stand up comedy. You know those comedians are very good at, most of them, is they would be able to engage. They have their show. It's all planned, all return, all scheduled. But every now and then they would start engaging with the audience and getting something back from them. That could be the name of a person. That could be a story, that could be their job, that could be whatever it is. Then they will keep it. They continue to show and 30 minutes later, out of nowhere, they reengage with that person. They still have his name, his job, his whatever. And they can shift the story around so that it includes him as a character in the story.
And I felt that once, it was a conference that was about marketing, there was a software can't remember if it was Hootsuite, math, social, one of these things I can’t remember which company was doing this. But I found this absolutely amazing. The guy was telling his story early in the presentation, brought someone in asking about a specific example of how we use X, Y, Z technology to manage his social media. And 20 minutes later during the presentation, because he was not just spitting out a script that was written for him because he was really telling a story, he managed to bring the audience back in telling that story again and explaining how that solution of his could fix these kind of issues. And I found it so nice because if you build your story based on what your audience is giving you, they're going to be able to relate. Now, maybe it's only that person in the audience that's going to be able to relate, but you just don't have time to ask everyone for their feedback. But at least you have that person who is now an ambassador because you brought him in with you in your story. He feels concerned by it. He's going to listen through the end and he's going to travel with you. And I think that's something you can do through, I love talking about stage because that's something that I'm passionate about. But the same thing happens whether you're writing a book or a blog post, get your people, get your audience to provide you with insights, leverage it because if they feel they read about their own story, that's definitely a story they want to read. If you're just talking about yourself, you better be a very important person for them to read about you.
Daniel Burstein: That's so true. And specifically, this is what I've learned in speaking at events when I've had a chance, you know, good stand up comedians. Yes, they have the same act, but they also try to serve it to that audience in a unique way. You know, each audience they have every night. And one thing that I found that is super helpful. I know I see some speakers. They just kind of, boom, come in 5 minutes before they're set or, you know, they're going to speak on stage. They get their speak and they leave. And one thing I've always done is I've tried to attend as much of the conference that could even if I'm the first speaker on the first day, eat breakfast, talk to people, talk to as many people as you can, because then you can understand how should I pivot for that unique audience?
And yes, and you can call out people in that unique audience versus just kind of giving your same kind of 10,000, 30,000 foot speech that you do every place else because you don't understand the little intricacies or differences of that group, especially with conferences where there's different industries and slightly different, you know, levels that you're talking to or slightly different industries, it can really make a huge difference.
That's great. So well Julien, I think you win for the most analogies of any guest I've had so far. So, I think we've talked about we've had sports cars, stand up comedians, actors, magicians, maybe even poker players. There's so many things that we can relate to this career that we call marketing. But if you had to sum it all up, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Julien Rio: Well, I think it boils down to three qualities, and all of them have multiple layers, obviously. But if I had to say three, there would be creativity, because as marketers, we have to be creative. And that's why I think we still have some time before we are replaced with AI machines, because we need that human feel of what looks good, what sounds good, what's different, what's unique. And this level of creativity. As far as I'm concerned, only human beings can bring that. And that's incredibly important to the to the marketer's job.
The second one is being good with numbers. That's was definitely not something I was ready for five, six years ago. But now that's part of my daily life. And again, once you look under the hood and you're able to understand the numbers and the logic and the and the mechanics behind that makes you so much more impactful and so much more powerful in the way you do things. So creativity, numbers.
And the last one you say, I keep using analogies and it's probably because vulgarizing things, making it enjoyable for everyone, making sure everyone is on the same level and have the same level of understanding. That's a key skill of storytelling, especially in an industry like mine. We at RingCentral, we do collaboration communication, sounds good on paper, but once you start looking under, there is so much, so many technical terms, so much complexity, so many ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and this kind of stuff. If you are not able to make it understandable for the larger audience, then you're going to miss your audience because not everyone understand the jargon. So storytelling is absolutely key. And I must admit I love having analogies to make it work.
Daniel Burstein: Analogies are beautiful because if you compare something people know to something they don't so they understand. So you've given us so much understanding today. Thank you, Julian. merci beaucoup. That's my best French.
Julien Rio: Merci beaucoup Daniel, that was a real pleasure. And thank you very much for all the smart questions. I hope I was up to your expectations.
Daniel Burstein: It was fantastic. I think it was really helpful for everyone who listened. Thank you for joining us everyone.
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